Out With A Bang. How Bad Could An EMP Attack Be?
I first heard about the EMP threat (electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear detonation) in 1980 while working at a company that manufactured Geiger counters. This was disturbing information for an 18 year old or for anyone. I considered myself fortunate that I did not live close a prime target for a nuclear attack.
Then, about seven years ago I found a government commissioned report on the EMP threat and I realized that it didn’t matter where I lived. Everywhere in lower 48 states is the prime target. I discovered that the North American electrical power grid could be disabled by a nuclear detonation in space above the United States.Click here to view the report
Some, who have not read the report, may ask “Is the EMP effect on the power grid and other infrastructural systems just theoretical?” The answer is no. In 1962 the United States launched a 1.4 megaton nuclear device into space from a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.
The device was detonated 250 miles above the earth’s surface. The electromagnetic pulse knocked out over 200 street lights and damaged a telephone microwave link in Hawaii. The detonation was about 900 miles away from Hawaii.
What does this mean for us?
There are a lot more electronic devices now than in 1962 and integrated circuits (microelectronics) were almost nonexistent then. If the pulse is big enough it will damage or destroy satellites, radio and television transmitters, telephones, computers, micro-controllers, cell phone towers and telephones just like the microwave link in Hawaii was damaged.
Many think that since the cold war is over, the threat of an EMP is a thing of the past. Actually the threat is greater now than it was during the cold war. If the Soviet Union had launched an attack we would have also launched an attack and both sides would have lost.
Today there are more countries with Nuclear weapons and more in the process of acquiring them. There are also plenty of hostile non-state organizations that may be able to acquire nuclear weapons. Also the United States has been busy making new enemies all over the world since World War 2.
If a successful EMP attack were to be launched tonight what would happen?
It hasn’t happened…yet and as such anything stated is all speculation; but consider this scenario:
AA (average American) wakes up late for work (no alarm). There is no electricity at his house. AA checks with the neighbors. The electricity is out on the whole block. AA tries to call his work. His cell phone does not work. His neighbor has a non-cordless phone but there is no dial tone. AA decides to take a quick cold shower but changes his mind. It is 35 degrees outside. The water is too cold. A large snow storm will move in this afternoon and the temperature will not rise above freezing for over a week.
There will not be any running water in a week and even if there was, it would be untreated. AA and his neighbors try to find out what is going on by listening to a portable radio. Only two portable radios in the neighborhood seem to be working but all they hear is a quite hiss at full volume. Someone finally gets it. “It’s an EMP attack”.
Most of the neighbors don’t believe it. Soon the conversation among the neighbors becomes heated. A few of the more vocal of the group have decided how best to make use of another neighbor’s portable generator. This will be the last time all the neighbors go outside for chat. The grid is down and in less than a week society will unravel and fragment into tiny pieces the size of individual houses.
Most cars will not work due to the electronics controlling almost every function of the vehicle. It matters little since no oil is being refined. No gasoline is being transported by truck and no gas station can pump gas.
No food is being harvested except by hand. No trucks are delivering food. No contracts are being fulfilled for grocery stores to stock their store shelves since no orders can be sent.
No one is talking on the phone. No one is faxing, paging, texting, skyping or tweeting. No banks are making electronic transactions and no one can withdraw cash since the banks are all closed. It matters little since the computers can not verify that you have the funds and cannot record the transaction. Besides, what are you going to buy? No one is shopping. The stores are closed.
In less than a week every grocery store, bakery, restaurant, brewery and food processing plant will be picked clean of anything edible. Will there be food airlifted in to feed the hungry masses?
No one Knows.
After a successful EMP attack, the Federal government will have at least four main issues to deal with.
1. Continuity of government including communication, security, transportation and other issues such as food, water and sanitation.
2. Preservation of the military to insure the ability of the United States to defend against possible secondary conventional attacks.
3. Insuring the power grid gets fixed, which could take months (That is correct…Months).
4. Emergency response to affected areas (everywhere). Is FEMA up to the task? How could any or all government agencies make sure over 300,000,000 people have water and at least one meal every day until the grid is up and running again?
The resources do not exist.
The whole western world is “just in time”. All the systems need to be operational to continually push the stuff needed to survive into one end of all the supply lines and then distribute stuff at the other ends. But all the systems are down and the supply chains are broken.
Which of the four priorities will get the most resources? Which will get the least? Perhaps state and local governments will do better?
This is essentially the biggest game of musical chairs ever played. If you want to survive you have to make sure you have a chair when the music stops.There is another threat that can have the same results as an EMP event. Solar flares. From time to time the sun ejects clouds of electrons and other particles as well as x-rays. Solar flares are usually harmless but sometime they are powerful enough to affect the power grid.
There are two notable cases of solar flares unleashing enough energy to cause major damage to us:
The most recognized one is the solar storm of 1859, also known as
The Carrington Event, which caused telegraph systems all over North America and Europe to fail. There were even reports of the telegraph lines actually catching fire.
The second most widely known destructive solar event happened in March of 1989 when a geomagnetic storm caused a power outage that left 6 million people without power for 9 hours.
Read about it here.
If the solar storm of 1859 were to happen today, what would happen? The below excerpt from National Geographic article sheds a little light on what you could expect:
What can you do to survive a large EMP event or a repeat of the largest known solar storm?
If you have prepared for various other emergency situations you are on the right path. How long do you think the supply chains will be down? How long will you be on your own? Think about it. Make a decision and plan accordingly.
The EMP threat is different from many other threats because it has the potential to affect a huge geographical area; Perhaps the entire continent. But what is truly unique is the potential destruction of electronic devices, even ones not directly connected to the power grid.
It will happen in the blink of an eye and can come without warning, if it ever comes at all. It can come from a terrorist organization or even from our own sun but regardless of the cause, the end result of an EMP will be the same…
The digital web that connects us will be severed and then only those that have the skills and knowledge to survive outside of their comfort zones will really be able to thrive.
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