Electricity is central to the ability of almost all modern societies to function. Hospitals, air traffic control systems, street lights, modern sewage systems, most forms of communication, and the U.S. financial services industry are all dependent upon electricity. A major attack on or failure of the nation's power grids would shut down the country. The government uses a term to describe the importance of electricity to the country's ability to function: critical infrastructure. That phrase, especially prominent since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, denotes those components or sectors of American society whose collapse would impede the entire nation's ability to function, with wide-scale disruptions to virtually every aspect of our daily lives. The so-called "Northeast blackout of 2003," during which the electrical grids for the northeastern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario suddenly failed, provided an important lesson to the governments of both Canada and the United States regarding the fragility of electrical power grids on which all countries depend. While most people's power was restored with six hours, the sudden and total loss of electricity left over one million people without access to any item or service dependent upon electricity to operate.
Most people take electricity for granted, but most recognize that their lives are severely disrupted by power outages. Washing machines, the ability to recharge cell phones, lights, refrigerators, electricity-powered stoves and ovens (as opposed to those operated by natural gas) all become useless when their power supply is interrupted. The amount of perishable food that has to be discarded when power outages extend beyond a few hours -- and many do -- represents enormous financial losses, to say nothing of the shortage of food that can result. Electricity has an enormous impact on most lives. Its absence threatens the stability of even the most advanced civilizations.