The shocking images of innocent civilians leaving Ukraine are a stark reminder of the brutality of war, but also of the need to be prepared in a world where events can change rapidly. Several years ago I wrote a Brookings Press book called Megachange: Economic Disruption, Political Upheaval, and Social Strife in the 21st Century. He argued that we live in an era of large-scale transformation and that we should expect surprising developments in the 21st century. At the time, I did not imagine a Russian invasion of Ukraine or millions of refugees forced by violence to go to Poland, Hungary or Romania.
However, recent events remind us of the need, in contemporary times, to prepare for the unexpected and to think about survival strategies. War can be a massive disruptor, especially when powerful nations are involved, and people should anticipate the ramifications for money, food, medicine, and the information ecosystem.
This is especially the case in the digital age, as we have all become accustomed to easy access to information, ubiquitous digital devices, and the ability to purchase goods and services online whenever we want. and have them delivered to your doorstep in a few hours. But the onset of war in Ukraine and the dramatic disruption to civilian life reminds us to prepare for scenarios where current digital conveniences may not be available.
In this article, I present a brief guide to surviving digital warfare. Even in countries far removed from Ukraine, I argue that we need to think about cyber risks, threats to critical infrastructure and our digital economy, and what steps people should take in case hostilities break out. would spread beyond Ukraine.
cash is king
The main characteristics of our contemporary system are the ubiquity of mobile devices, the easy access to electronic payments and the ready availability of credit cards and digital payment systems. For years we have proclaimed the convenience of digital services and how they empower people and allow individuals to control their own destiny.
Yet people should understand that much of the war in the 21st century is digital in nature. Although much of the media coverage focuses on tanks, troops and missiles, contemporary warfare is likely to have a digital component that disrupts ATMs, email communications, power grids and digital transactions.
In this situation, it is important to keep a cash reserve in case the banking system or e-commerce is disrupted. A few years ago there was a power outage in Washington, DC and my local outlet couldn’t accept credit cards or digital payments because their computers were down. That day, I happened to have enough cash to pay for my purchases, so it’s good to have enough cash to deal with short-term emergencies.
Consider alternative diets
In the digital age, we sometimes forget how much our existence depends on critical infrastructure powered by digital components. Over the past year, we’ve seen our automotive sector hampered by a shortage of chips, our reliance on global supply chains, attacks on critical infrastructure, and how so many aspects of healthcare health, education and transportation depend on electronics.
We take our electricity grid for granted because we use it to watch the news, charge our phones and power our laptops. But for years there has been been allegations that Russia planted malware in our power gridand in the event of armed hostilities could disrupt power grids without sending a single troop to the United States.
Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine and threatened the United States and NATO, we must understand that cyber warfare can pose considerable risks. There probably wouldn’t be a single Russian soldier on US soil, but that doesn’t mean our power grid and critical infrastructure are secure. Just like a Russia-based criminal group allegedly disrupted the country’s gas supply in their 2021 hack Colonial Pipelinethat nation or individuals within its territory could do so on a larger scale with the electrical grid, gas supply, or other essential materials.
Professors at some German universities complained on social media sites that their emails were lost for several hours. While the origins of these issues are unclear, the issue highlights vulnerabilities in basic communications and the need for personal vigilance against malware, phishing attacks, and ransomware removals.
Having solar panels to charge cell phones and mobile generators to power a refrigerator or microwave should be basic planning in cases where cyberattacks are real and just as threatening as a highway full of tanks. These items are readily available online and provide useful power backups in the event of cyberattacks.
Secure your precious papers with a digital backpack
The refugee crisis in Ukraine highlights the need for short-term survival items and essential documents such as passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, financial documents, medical records and identity cards. Experts suggest preparing a go pack or digital backpack who has survival tools and records of valuable papers, documents, certificates and photos. This is particularly the case for financial and medical information that is difficult to replace, but also for any material that you may need if you have to move quickly.
Store food, medicine and necessities
In Washington, DC, I live within walking distance of about half a dozen grocery stores. I shop every few days and am a model of just-in-time food sourcing. When I need something for dinner, I go shopping a few hours before the meal. I am rarely disappointed as my local stores are almost always fully stocked with the items I wish to purchase.
In times of war or armed hostilities, however, people should not assume a ready and uninterrupted supply of food and medicine. As America discovered at the start of COVID, many of our medicines and supplies are made in China, and if the Ukrainian conflict spreads beyond that country, Americans should not assume production schedules and normal supply chains. Instead, there will be bottlenecks, shortages and price gouging that will complicate all of our lives.
My grandfather during the Great Depression kept the family farm alive by selling meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables to nearby towns. He was unfamiliar with what we now call the “slow food” movement and the use of local distributors. But he personified locally grown food and helped city dwellers survive the food shortages of that time. There’s a clear lesson today for city dwellers, which is to befriend the local growers who populate your town’s farmers markets.
Prepare for political upheaval
A final point to consider is how war can have surprising domestic political consequences. While Franklin Roosevelt served four terms in the 1930s and 1940s, let us recall the case of Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency was cut short by setbacks in Vietnam, and how the war jeopardized the second term of George W. Bush .
War can redefine the national agenda, generate shifts in political coalitions, and bring people who were previously antagonistic together in a common cause. As the cases of World War II, Vietnam and Iraq demonstrate, war can lead either to unity or to division. With our current high levels of political polarization, we should not expect our domestic politics to be quiet when there is armed aggression and complex geopolitics. At times like these, people should expect the unexpected and not be surprised by large-scale political developments.