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Book review: Mormons are ready for ‘Lights Out,’ Ted Koppel writes; everyone else not so much

First Published      Last Updated Oct 26 2015 10:00 am


Non-fiction » While Mormons are ready for “Lights Out,” Ted Koppel argues that a cyberattack could blindside everyone else.

The LDS Church — with its bishops' storehouses and parishioner pantries replete with food, toiletries and other disaster supplies — is the high-voltage line of emergency preparedness, ready to disperse those supplies in a crisis.

That includes, hypothetically, a widespread loss of electricity. If that happens, the other 98 percent of Americans are in a lot of trouble, according to Ted Koppel.

In his new book, "Lights Out," the man who has spent 50 years or so on television uses a far older medium to discuss a 21st-century concern: the U.S. power grid and what would happen if it shut off for weeks or months for a large swath of the country.




There's a question about how likely that is. Koppel's book quotes the pessimists and optimists but does a poor job of separating facts from fiction. "Lights Out" also lacks focus.

Koppel contends the power grid is vulnerable to a cyberattack. He points to lack of industry security standards, how power companies are dependent on one another to buy and transmit electricity and how hardly anyone seems capable of keeping determined hackers out of a computer.

Yet he offers no examples of successful cyberattacks against the electrical industry. His contention is that since hackers have stolen information from retailers and Sony, then a digital attack on our electricity is imminent.

"Lights Out" reports that Russia and China have the technological ability to hack the U.S. power grid, but the book also points out that such an attack would constitute an act of war or be part of warfare itself. If America is at war with Russia or China, then we have problems greater than a blackout.

Even in the event of such an attack, Koppel reports, it's unclear the blackout would be more than isolated. The outages he does cite were a result of natural disasters or overgrown tree limbs.

In the case of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, according to "Lights Out," 95 percent of New York customers had their power restored within 13 days. That was a long time to be without heat, running water or electricity for your medical devices, but it's not the months-long phenomenon Koppel says is coming.

Koppel tries to make his points with language that diverts from his intention. In explaining that it's tough to convince Americans of risk and the need for preparation, he points to a 2014 survey that found 39 percent of adults wrongly believed President Barack Obama was born outside the United States.

Rather than complain about two-fifths of us, Koppel might have explained the threats better and motivated action.

Mormons are already motivated to prepare for disasters, and Koppel praises them.

He devotes three chapters and portions of a fourth to LDS preparedness. (Koppel arranged his tour of various LDS facilities by calling Sen. Orrin Hatch, who contacted Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the faith's governing First Presidency, who called Koppel.) Portions of two other chapters discuss a company in Saratoga Springs that makes and sells emergency food and kits.

Koppel finds one concern about Mormons that's just loony. Throughout the book, he is fixated on the idea that an extended power outage will lead to anarchy. He devotes six pages to asking, if the LDS Church has given instructions to followers on how to store food and fuel, why hasn't the faith specified when it's OK to shoot hungry beggars.

Really. Koppel recounts a conversation he had with a Mormon couple in Cody, Wyo., in which he is pressing them on what they are going to do when a crowd of starving people are outside their home wanting their foodstuffs.

The Wyoming couple said they would give their food to the needy even if it meant going hungry themselves. That answer doesn't seem to satisfy Koppel, who responds in the book by pointing to high rates of gun ownership in the Intermountain West and lack of "don't shoot the hungry person unless" instructions from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He implies Mormons won't be that altruistic when a crowd is beating at their doors.

The need for preparation, both on a personal and mass scale, is the strongest part of Koppel's book. "Lights Out" persuaded my wife and me to buy a propane heater on sale, though we don't fear a cyberattack will knock out our electricity for weeks.

There's a tree outside our house. Power lines run through the limbs.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

 

AT A GLANCE

“Lights Out”

Ted Koppel

Crown Publishers

Pages » 277

Cost » $26


Koppel in Salt Lake City

Ted Koppel will speak at the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics.

When » Nov. 4, 3 p.m.

Where » Orson Spencer Hall, 260 S. Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City

Admission » Free and open to the public


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