Hurricanes are one of the most powerful meteorological phenomena on the planet, a violent vortex of wind and water that can stretch hundreds of miles. This article explores Bitcoin’s weaknesses in a hurricane scenario and how Bitcoin users can prepare for that possibility.
Hurricanes can have winds of up to 200 mph, enough to obliterate everything in their path. During Hurricane Andrew, which hit Miami in 1992, most houses, buildings, and trees were torn apart. This isn’t a rare occurrence; on 14 September 2018, a super typhoon of equal intensity to Andrew but of a far bigger size, smashed through the Island of Luzon in the Philippines. Hurricanes occur during the summer across the tropics and sub-tropics of every major ocean basin on Earth.
With almost any hurricane, there is major disruption to power grids which can cut of access to electricity for weeks or months. This is the first and most obvious way that a hurricane can impact unprepared Bitcoin users who won’t be able to use Bitcoin the entire time power is off. Usually, internet service and phone service go down simultaneously and may stay down longer than power.
Bitcoin users can prepare for this by buying satellite internet, which connects to satellites instead of the local grid. This is a good way to ensure internet connectivity regardless of damage to local internet lines and phone towers. The Blockstream Satellite network is one project aiming to provide people without internet an opportunity to connect to the Bitcoin network with equipment that costs around USD 100. Satellite coverage currently includes large parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Another precaution may be to purchase a fuel-powered generator with enough fuel stocks. The generator will provide electricity while the power grid is offline. Buying a giant rechargeable battery pack is also a good idea so the generator doesn’t have to be running all the time, since it is extremely loud and emits large amounts of toxic fumes.
There have been other methods developed to use Bitcoin even without internet, including a recent “off-grid” method successfully trialled for the Burst cryptocurrency, which could theoretically be further developed for Bitcoin.
Keeping Bitcoin safe
Of course, the sheer brutal force of a hurricane can easily destroy a Bitcoin user’s computer. The wind can be enough to decimate an entire house but water can be a far more serious issue. Hurricanes bring in storm surges from the ocean that can sweep away houses, or at the least inundate them and destroy equipment. Storm surges can be as high as 20-30 feet in a worst case scenario, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which submerged New Orleans and the surrounding coastline.
Additionally, hurricanes are some of the most prolific rain makers, and have been known to unleash multiple feet of rain. This can cause flooding just as bad as a storm surge, especially near rivers. This exact scenario is occurring in North Carolina as of this writing, due to more than 2 feet of rain from Hurricane Florence. There was also over 10 feet of storm surge along the coastline in some parts of North Carolina.
In the case of freshwater flooding or storm surge, the satellite internet and generator won’t make a difference since the equipment will be destroyed. If a Bitcoin user didn’t store their private key anywhere but on a computer, a flooded computer could mean an irreversible loss of funds. Even if a Bitcoin user stores the private key in a hardware wallet or physical backup, that can just as easily be washed or blown away by a hurricane.
Extreme measures to ensure the survival of a computer and Bitcoin private keys require some creativity. Basically, a Bitcoin user would have to create a completely waterproof storage box that can withstand extreme pressures, and then anchor this storage box with steel rods that extend many feet into the ground. When the hurricane comes, a Bitcoin user should throw the computer and private keys into this safe, and of course, secure it with a lock since the user might not be able to come back to it until much later.
Of course, the far easier and time-tested way is to store private keys or recovery seed off-site. Many users store their seeds on paper, breaking them up into two or more parts. Some even commit the seeds to memory, not a too difficult task for mnemonic seed phrases. Bitcoin wallets are easily recovered or restored via their private keys or seeds, so even if the original copies are lost, access to Bitcoin funds are never lost as long as users have their private keys or seeds.
That is a sure way to hurricane-proof your Bitcoins.
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