An Objective Critique of “American Blackout” by J.A. in New Jersey

Last night I was able to sit down and watch the National Geographic channel’s “American Blackout” show on (without family interruption!)   I would like to offer an unbiased critique of the show.

The message of the show was very simple – to reach out to the average non-prepping American and illustrate how unprepared the general population is.  The producers of the show used very generic stereotypical characters in order to relate to the widest possible audience.  Every “type” of victim portrayed made simple but life threatening mistakes that were clearly illustrated to make a point about the importance of being prepared.

The format of the show, a series of video blog diaries in a reality show format, was a delivery tool chosen to reach the widest possible audience.  Most people today own “smart phones” and their daily lives are tied to sharing every aspect of their existence via social media.  Most people are so swept up in the drama of the moment and reporting it to their friends that they don’t have any common sense in a dangerous situation.

Of all possible TEOTWAWKI scenarios, the one that is the most easily believable to the masses is a hacker attack on the electrical grid – people understand hackers and computer viruses and we all have experienced the upheaval caused by going without electricity for a night due to an electrical storm or car accident at the pole on the corner.  The producers had to use a the most believable scenario that most people have experienced and could relate to.

Below are generalizations about the types of “sheeple” characters represented (we all know people like this, and we all know people who are not like this – please don’t hold these generalizations against me). 

“Gemma”.   This character represented the young, wealthy urbanites who can afford to have very nice things in their lives.  These people are concerned with living in the right places, knowing the right people, wearing the right clothes, and socializing at the right parties.  They live in the “now” with very little thought given to the future.   These “me me me” individuals generally possess a victim mentality (that when bad things happen it only happens to them), someone else is always responsible, and it is always up to someone else to help them.

Learning Point – Having all the latest and greatest techie gadgets will not keep you alive.  Always have a manual can opener and other manual kitchen gadgets on hand, and keep cash on you.  Each home should have a first aid kit.  The door to the apartment was sub-standard quality and not properly reinforced against break ins.    Venturing forth from a secure location can be dangerous.  Also, don’t eat food from a warm fridge as it can cause food poisoning.

“College Kids in Elevator”  These characters represented young people that can function without their parents watching their every move, but generally are still children mentally.  Young people give very little or no thought to “what if” scenarios as help (aka their parents) is only a phone call away.

Learning Point – the one student who kept saying “I can’t to this” actually became the one who used his head to solve problems and keep himself and a friend alive.  He illustrated the importance of keeping a clear head and using available resources for survival.  Ken, the first casualty, illustrated that there will be people who take unnecessary risks because that cannot think clearly in a stressful situation.

“Molly’s Family”.  Young suburban family living the middle class dream.  Probably living paycheck to paycheck, loaded with credit card, student loan and mortgage debt.  Obviously the family loved each other very much, but very little thought was given to the future, apparently it was just easier to run out to the store whenever they needed something.  Possibly their debt load did not allow putting away extra supplies.

Learning Point – ATMs will not work when there is no power.    The family bond is extremely important, and the ability to keep hope and faith alive and to stay close with each member of the family.  It wasn’t covered in the show, but I believe the mother of the newborn illustrated the need and importance for breast feeding versus bottles and formula.  Most formula requires water to mix, and water to clean and sanitize the bottles.  A mother’s breast is always ready for her baby in any situation.

“VJ Boy”.  Young teenager acting as though his mother is a bane to his existence, and yet is still totally dependent on his mother’s financial and emotional support.  This boy illustrated that the average 14 year old is still a child.  The foolish boy was very fortunate he was not shot when going out at night, and the fact that he managed not to shoot himself with his mother’s gun was a miracle.

Learning Point – Parents should have all guns secured.  The boy could easily have shot someone or himself as he did not have proper firearms training.  The mother should have had emergency contact information on the refrigerator (at the very least the name/location of her work).  The family did not have an evacuation plan in place where to meet in case of an emergency.  This scenario also touched briefly on the importance on preparing for pets.

“Prepper Family”.  I believe this is a depiction of the gun-ho armchair prepper.  He has read the books, stored the food, bought the beans, bullets and ammo, and yet has missed the point of preparing – testing your preps and being a part of  a prepping community and working with others outside of your family.

Learning Points – I have several points to cover here:
·         Although I can appreciate the charity of the father by taking the daughter’s boyfriend to the retreat and showing him the supplies, he risked his OPSEC and the life of each family member by bringing in a person he didn’t know he could trust.
·         The father should have taken the time and energy to befriend his neighbors at the retreat location.  By sharing some of his supplies with like-minded individuals, he could have had allies helping to protect the retreat, instead of making enemies that would raid the retreat.
·         The retreat itself seemed poorly planned.  The scenes of dry, arid scrub-type land appeared unlikely to have a natural water source or the ability to grow a garden in a long term grid-down situation. 
·         The gas/fuel was too easily accessible to thieves and should have been hidden better.
·         The father should have tried to blend in better – the camo outfit, obvious perimeter fencing, and gun on his belt all suggested that he was protecting something worth stealing
·         I question the mindset of a parent that would put a ten year old boy on guard duty.  Again, had he befriended his neighbors, the additional like-minded adults could have shared the protection of the retreat.

By following the trials and tribulations of the characters, the producers of the show repeatedly hammered home the reasons to prepare.   The following basic preparedness tips were covered:

  • Importance of storing at least 10 days of non-perishable food and clean drinking water
  • Keep cash on hand
  • Manual can openers
  • Importance of carrying supplies in your vehicles
  • Solar cell phone charges
  • Avoiding riots/mob scenes
  • Traveling, if possible, will be dangerous and slow
  • Government response will be slow
  • Emergency responders will be overwhelmed
  • Store baby supplies such as diapers and formula
  • Store batteries
  • Keep hand-crank radios to know what is going on

Important subjects that were not addressed include:

  • Preparing for handicapped people, special needs, the elderly, and pets (unless you count the thirsty cat). 
  • Barely touched upon was the fact that international aid is an invitation for rival countries to set foot on American soil.
  • Sanitation was briefly touched upon, but should have been elaborated on more.  At least one scene depicting a person taking a pail of pool water and pouring it into the back of their toilet to flush would have been educational
  • The entire show was filled with cell phones, but not one land line phone was used
  • The blackout occurred in the summer and people complained about not having air conditioning.  Had the blackout occurred in the winter, the initial casualty count would have been much higher.
  • Every person depicted was dependent upon the government for handouts (food and water) in a urban or suburban situation.  The program did not portray any farmers or homesteaders as examples of self sufficient people.  Not one person in the program was shown harvesting from a garden, fishing, or even collecting eggs from a back yard chicken coop.

Interesting to note, of course, was the point made from the clip of the ham radio operators that there will be government conspiracy groups trying to incite riot.

The overall story line of the show was unbelievable – a nationwide cyber attack on the electrical grid repaired and running in 10 days is unrealistic.  I agree with what others have said that the initial mass casualty count would be much higher, and that it would take months if not years to have the electrical grid operational. 

That being said, we have to remember that this was a television show, not real life.  One only has to look at the Philippines right now to see how bad it can really get.

I think we, as preppers, whether beginning or experienced, tend to forget that so many people out there do not think like we do.  We have trained ourselves to always have the mindset that disaster can strike at any time, and that we have to be ready.  What we sometimes forget is that all of us, at one time, did not prep.  We all had something happen in our lives that made us wake up one day and say yes, we need to start preparing.

The intended purpose of the show was not to teach people how to prep, only to make them realize that they should make basic preparations.  If even one person watched this show and said, “Wow, I should store some food and water”, then the show has been a success.  The wonderful thing about prepping is that it doesn’t matter when you start, as long as you do begin to prepare.

Let us hope that this show was an eye opener to some of the viewers, and that they too received the message that now is the time in their lives to start preparing for the future.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

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