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EARTH EX 2020 – “Working together to secure our world” – FAQs

The all sector global resilience exercise EARTH EX starts on 1 September 2020, register now to prepare your organisation and your family for a ‘black sky’ event.

What is EARTH EX?

EARTH EX is an all sector global resilience exercise game that takes place online. It simulates a ‘black sky’ scenario where disaster strikes and electric power is lost, causing cascading failures across power grids, cities, countries, and across the infrastructure systems that protect and connect us, and provide our critical services – water, energy, transport, telecommunications.

How do I play?

Register for EARTH EX 2020 to play before 1 September 2020.


You can play as an organisation or as an individual/family.

Note: There are exercises you can play at any time on the EISC’s website, but EARTH EX 2020 is the only worldwide multi-sector exercise.

When does it take place?

The event opens on 1 September 2020 and remains open until 31 October 2020 to enable you to take part at your convenience and for organisations to convene a suitable group(s) of participants. You can play for a few hours, a whole day, or make it a multi-day exercise.

With modern infrastructure networks interconnected on national and global scales, multi-sector planning is essential to support restoration and sustain affected populations in severe disasters. EARTH EX aims to give organisations and individuals the opportunity to take part in all nation, all sector resilience collaboration and training for complex catastrophes.

What do I need to know/to do to play?

The exercise is self-facilitated, and you don’t need to prepare anything in advance.

However, organisations are advised to nominate a facilitator and note taker, and to take part in the exercise in a group that can represent their organisation’s various teams/departments. This helps them to get the most out of it as a resilience preparedness exercise.

In the run up to the event opening, training and support materials will be provided for participants and their facilitators. You will have access to this and recordings of previous webinars once you register for EARTH EX 2020.

What does a facilitator do?

For organisations that are going to play EARTH EX we recommend that they identify both a facilitator and note taker. They will help to advance the dialogue within the exercise construct and keep an eye on the clock. They will feed back at various points of the exercise and make sure that everyone is involved, and that the difficult questions are asked. Support is provided in the run up to the event start date.

Who is behind EARTH EX?

EARTH EX is run by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council (EIS Council).

The EIS Council hosts national and international collaboration on resilience and whole community restoration and response planning, addressing severe, national and global scale hazards to lifeline infrastructures. https://www.eiscouncil.org/

Where did EARTH EX come from?

EARTH EX came from an idea from the CEO/President of the EIS Council, Dr Avi Schnurr. In order to improve resilience, people need the chance to learn more about the threats by experiencing them. This helps individuals and organisations to understand what the impacts might be so that they can understand how best to develop their response plans and work with others across different sectors and internationally.

Why should I take part?

Now in its fourth year, this is a unique opportunity to take part in a global resilience exercise, to immerse yourself and your team in a disaster scenario and decide whether you are ready or not for a real-life incident. In 2018, 1200 organisations and 10,000 individuals took place from 9 nations and we this year promises to be even more comprehensive. The participant organisations will be able to use the learnings from the exercise in order to improve their own planning and preparedness to acute shocks.

The Resilience Shift hosted exercises in partnership with EIS Council in 2019 to use multi-stakeholder scenarios to explore the resilience of critical infrastructure with multiple organisations. The outcomes from these are published in a workshop report.

How does it work?

EARTH EX uses state of the art, high quality video simulations for setting the scenario and for the video injects that take place as the exercise moves forward.

The exercise explores the development of situational awareness and communications, encourages you to develop a course of action, and this year will particularly emphasise the need for decision making. It will put you on the spot. It will also explore your ability to be part of the solution.

For organisations, it’s an opportunity to test out your crisis response structures and procedures and to understand your interdependencies.

For individuals it’s a chance to think about what you can do to keep your family and home safe, how you might prepare better for emergencies in the future, and how you might take care of yourselves and help your community in such a circumstance.

What has EARTH EX got to do with critical infrastructure resilience and the Resilience Shift?

The Lord Toby Harris of Haringey, UK co-ordinator for EIS Council, highlights the storms of 2015 in this feature and why he believes the UK is not prepared for such a ‘black sky’ catastrophe.

“As the consequences for our society are potentially so serious, I think it is more than justified that today we should all be asking ourselves some questions about how we would cope if it happened here – or for that matter anywhere in the world.” (from feature)

The Rt Hon. Lord James Arbuthnot of Edrom, MP, former Chair of the UK Parliament Defence Committee.

“The breakdown of civilised society as we know it would be very rapid. There’s too much talk about well we mustn’t worry the people about this sort of thing, that’s precisely what we need to do.” (from EIS Council video)

Dr Avi Schnurr, EIS Council, CEO and President

“Countries typically are poor at dealing with predicted threats before they hit. When you deal with threats of this magnitude, when you deal with threats that can bring down the foundation of modern society you cannot tolerate even the first example of the threat. We have to use our imagination. We have to find a way to invest now in the tools that we’re going to need when one of these threats happens.” (from EIS Council video)

John Heltzel, Brigadier General (RET), EIS Council, Director of Resilience Planning,

“There’s nothing else like this in the world. This is a unique exercise opportunity and whether you’ve been in emergency management or organisational response for 10 years or for one year, you’ve never seen anything like EARTH EX.” (from Resilience Shift interview)

“We give you the opportunity to become part of the response solution. For an individual or a family the idea that you can actually make a difference in your community is an amazing thing to get involved with and EARTH EX will give you the opportunity to think that through.” (from interview)

Juliet Mian, Resilience Shift, Technical Director

“The Resilience Shift is pleased to have partnered with the pioneers at the Electric Infrastructure Security Council (EIS Council) to explore how a simulated catastrophic scenario encourages multi-sector stakeholders to think about their role within the whole system and challenge their response and recovery plans.” (workshop report)

Xavier Aldea Borruel, Resilience Shift, Programme Manager

“Our infrastructure is interconnected and interdependent. A major incident in one location can cascade rapidly and have an impact on critical infrastructure systems elsewhere, affecting their ability to function, to connect communities, provide essential services, or to protect society. How well prepared are we for such an event? The impacts of a major loss of electricity supply would rapidly expand into water, communications, food supply, finance, and beyond.”

What causes ‘black sky’ hazards?

These can be caused by natural hazards such as extreme terrestrial weather – storms, floods, fires – but also extreme space weather – solar flares.

Malign attacks could also be a cause – cyber attacks, terrorist attacks on the grid, or an electro-magnetic (EMP) pulse attack.

Could a black sky event really happen?

This video by the EIS Council sets out the various things that can cause a ‘black sky’ event and the likely impact on our critical infrastructure and on our lives.

Mini case studies of ‘black sky’ events of different scales and causes include:

Wildfires – California, 2019 – California’s largest utility has warned residents they may be left in the dark this summer. PG&E plans to power down parts of the grid whenever there’s a high risk of wildfire. The last two fire seasons were the worst on record, and the utilities’ electrical equipment caused much of the damage. This year, for the first time, the company may shut down the giant, high-voltage transmission lines that serve as arteries to the system, possibly leaving large cities like San Francisco and San Jose, hundreds of miles from a wildfire zone, in the dark. This is raising concerns about how widespread power shutdowns will affect the most vulnerable.

Heatwave – New York July 2019 – “With over 40,000 customers blacked out, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rips [electricity company] Con Edison: ‘They should have been better prepared’” –  USA Today. About 46,000 New York City customers had no power for many hours because of continued heat and high usage, just one week after a transformer fire turned off the lights for nearly 75,000 people. Cuomo urged residents to check on their neighbours, especially the elderly, at increased risk of heat-related illnesses. New York deployed state police, generators and light towers to provide support. The company continued to urge power conservation, such as by turning off non-essential appliances.

Governance/infrastructure failure – Venezuela, 2019 – Nationwide recurring electrical blackouts in Venezuela began in March 2019. The first widespread blackout from 7-14 March was the largest power outage in the country’s history and affected the electricity sector in Venezuela in most of its 23 states as well as Roraima border state of Brazil causing serious problems in hospitals and clinics, industry, transport and in water service. At least 43 deaths resulted. Between 14 and 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states were again without power from 25-28 March, at least four people died as a result of the three-day lack of power. During the month of March, Venezuela was without power for at least 10 days overall. The ongoing power outages worsened the crisis in Venezuela and “suffering, cutting off water supplies and leaving hospitals and airports in the dark”.

Thunderstorms – UK, June 2019 – Torrential rain and thunderstorms have lashed parts of the UK overnight as unsettled weather continues to cause disruption across the country. Homes were left without power and roads were flooded in parts of the South East, while Lenham in Kent saw 42mm of rain in the space of just one hour. UK Power Networks was unable to specify how many homes in the area had been affected by power cuts but said it was “several thousand”.

Flooding – UK, December 2015 – Storm Desmond led the River Lune to flood (described as a ‘once in a hundred years event’). It swamped an electrical sub-station serving the city of Lancaster in the north-west of the United Kingdom. More than 60,000 homes and businesses, and at least 100,000 people, were left without electricity for four days. A review by the Royal Academy of Engineering (‘Living without electricity‘) found that this lack of power supply disrupted transport, communications and the ability of the emergency services to reach people in need. ATM (cash) machines went out of action, garages were unable to dispense fuel as their pumps needed electricity to operate, traffic lights stopped working, the train station had to close. Text messaging, digital radio and the internet ceased to be available.

Solar storm – Canada, 1989 – (NASA) On March 13, 1989 the entire province of Quebec, Canada suffered an electrical power blackout caused by a solar storm. During the 12-hour blackout, millions of people found themselves in dark office buildings and underground pedestrian tunnels, and stuck in lifts. People woke up to cold homes. The blackout closed schools and businesses, kept the Montreal Metro shut during the morning rush hour, and closed Dorval Airport. Across the United States from coast to coast, over 200 power grid problems erupted within minutes of the start of the March 13 storm. In space, some satellites tumbled out of control for several hours.

Massive failure in power grid causes blackout in Argentina and Uruguay, 2019 . (the NY times) A blackout stripped all of mainland Argentina and Uruguay of power affecting tens of millions of people in an electrical failure that officials called unprecedented in its scope. “There was a failure in the system, the type of failure that takes place regularly in Argentina and in other countries,” Argentina’s energy secretary, Gustavo Lopetegui, said at a news conference. But then, he said, “there was a chain of events that happened later that caused a total disconnection.” In Buenos Aires, a city of almost 15 million people, cars slowed to a crawl as traffic lights went dark, and trains and subways stopped on their tracks. The Argentine water company AySA asked customers to ration water because its distribution system had been shut down.

And not forgetting the largest power outage in history:

Infrastructure failure – India, 2012 – Two severe power blackouts affected most of northern and eastern India on 30 and 31 July 2012. The 30 July 2012 blackout affected over 400 million people and was briefly the largest power outage in history by number of people affected, beating the January 2001 blackout in Northern India (230 million affected). The blackout on 31 July is the largest power outage in history. The outage affected more than 620 million people, about 9% of the world population, or half of India’s population, spread across 22 states.