Imagine you are riding an underground subway of a major metropolitan city when you are suddenly plunged into darkness as the train comes to a screeching halt, trapping you for hours. For many people in Brazil, this frightening scenario has happened more than once. Brazil has a history of random blackouts, from storms to fires to cyberattacks, that have forced those who live there to prepare for the possibility of darkness at any time.
1999: The lightning blackout
In March 1999, a bolt of lightning struck a substation in Sao Paulo, causing a massive chain reaction that cut power to Itaipu, a huge hydroelectric power plant. This one lightning strike left 97 million people in the dark across Brazil for 5 hours – bringing the biggest cities in the country to a complete standstill.
According to Power Technology, “Approximately 60,000 people were stranded in Rio’s underground subway. To prevent looting and assaults, 1,200 military police officers were deployed in Rio and the city tunnels in São Paulo were closed.”
While the power outage only lasted 5 hours, the widespread effect and the timing caused complete chaos. The blackout occurred in the evening, so many people went back to sleep. However, for those citizens outside their homes, it was scary.
In an article in Brazzil entitled ‘The Darkest Night,” the author writes, “There were reports of robberies in almost every big city without electricity […] More than 60,000 people were on Rio’s subway when lights went out. The evacuation operation required 200 Metro workers and lasted until 2:30 in the morning. Dozens of passengers, however, afraid of being assaulted in the dark streets, refused to abandon the stations Estácio and Del Castilho, forcing transit authorities to take them home or to safer places in their vans.”
The sad truth is evil likes the dark. People will take advantage of those caught unaware in the dark. The random lightning blackout in Brazil is a clear example.
2005 and 2007: The cyberhacking blackouts
The chaos caused by the blackout of 1999 caught the attention of cybercriminals, according to some sources. In a 2009 60 Minutes report, they blamed, “A two-day outage in Espirito Santo in 2007 on a hack attack. The blackout affected three million people. Another, smaller blackout north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 was also triggered by computer intruders.” To this day, whether these blackouts were the result of cyberhacking or electrical grid issues or weather is still hotly debated. But, it is worth noting, Brazil is “home to more cyber-criminals than any other nation and Portuguese is becoming increasingly popular in the hacker underworld” according to the Foreign Policy Journal.
2009: The blackout storms
In November 2009, storms uprooted trees, affecting a hydroelectric dam. According to Power Technology, “Major parts of Brazil and the whole of Paraguay were blacked out for two to four hours on 10 November 2009 when strong winds and heavy rains caused three transformers on a high-voltage transmission line to short circuit, affecting a total of 67 million people.”
Once again, the major cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, experienced a complete blackout as the Itaipu hydroelectric dam also went down. Since the dam is located at the border of Paraguay and Brazil, both countries were affected.
During this blackout, a large number of car accidents were reported due to the blackout causing a lack of street lighting.
2012: The fire in the Amazon blackout
In addition to weather and cyberactivity, Brazil has also experienced blackouts due to fires in the Amazon. In 2012, a fire in a power substation in the Amazon caused the grid to go down in northeastern Brazil. As a result, 53 million Brazilians experienced another massive 4-hour blackout.
Moreover, fires in the Amazon also caused daylight blackouts in 2019. According to the NY Post, “Massive fires burning in the Amazon rainforest caused a daytime blackout in Brazil’s largest city this week. Day turned to night […] in São Paulo and the darkness lasted for about an hour […] Photos and videos posted on social media showed eerie scenes of cars driving with their headlights on and pedestrians walking against blackened skies in the mid-afternoon.”
Steps you can take to protect yourself in the event of a random blackout
As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a country with more sophisticated electrical grids. However, even our advanced grid has failed, and chances are, it will again. That’s why it is important to put yourself in the shoes of a Brazilian for just a moment and consider what you would do if the lights suddenly went out. It’s more than simply losing lights in your home. When an entire grid goes dark, it means traffic signals are out, elevators stop operating, credit card machines do not work, and criminals get busy.
Take these steps today to protect yourself in the event of a blackout:
- Purchase a portable charger. Our mobile devices are one of our most essential survival tools. Not only do they allow us to communicate, but they also function as flashlights and GPS devices. This is why you want to always have enough charge. Purchase a portable power bank or a solar charger.
- Stock up on batteries. Many necessities in your home will also run on batteries when the power is out. Keep your battery supply stocked.
- Place flashlights in easy to find places. It’s one thing to stock up on flashlights, but it’s another thing to know where they are in the event of an emergency. Keep your flashlights in a designated spot in your home, in your car, and in your go-bag.
- Pack a go-bag. If the grid goes down and the world seems to lose its mind, you need to have a bag with emergency essentials ready to grab and go.
- Invest in a generator. During a multiple-day blackout, a generator will make all the difference. If you live somewhere where power outages are common, invest in a generator.
- Have cash. Keeping cash on hand is a standard rule for emergency preparedness, but especially when the power is out because ATMs and credit card machines don’t work.
- Keep the tank full. Blackouts can also affect gas stations, so it is wise to always keep your car’s tank and your generator’s tank full.
- Utilize surge protectors. Protect the lifespan of your electronics by using surge protectors, which will protect them in the event of sudden power outages.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors. Sadly, many people suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning during power outages. This tends to be the result of using generators indoors (always keep your generator outside) and gas ovens.
- Practice situational awareness. As the blackout events in Brazil demonstrate, criminals will take advantage of these types of situations. Therefore, you must practice situational awareness. Be aware of your surroundings, take note of who is near, and avoid danger.
Remain alert and stay safe, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply