Congress is beginning to pay significant attention to the potential–some would say likely–threat of an electromagnetic pulse devastating the economy, health, and safety of the United States.
WHAT IS EMP?
The Congressional Research Service describes Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) as “an instantaneous, intense energy field that can overload or disrupt at a distance numerous electrical systems and high technology microcircuits, which are especially sensitive to power surges. A large scale EMP effect can be produced by a single nuclear explosion detonated high in the atmosphere. This method is referred to as High-Altitude EMP (HEMP). A similar, smaller-scale EMP effect can be created using non-nuclear devices with powerful batteries or reactive chemicals. This method is called High Power Microwave (HPM). Several nations, including reported sponsors of terrorism, may currently have a capability to use EMP as a weapon for cyber warfare or cyber terrorism to disrupt communications and other parts of the U.S. critical infrastructure. Also, some equipment and weapons used by the U.S. military may be vulnerable to the effects of EMP. The threat of an EMP attack against the United States is hard to assess, but some observers indicate that it is growing along with worldwide access to newer technologies and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
The impact of EMPs was noticed during the 1960’s, when both the Soviet Union and the United States conducted above ground nuclear tests.
An EMP can also come from unusual solar activity, as recently reported in aNational Geographic report. A very modest version of EMP-type issues occurred last February, when a solar flare interfered with GPS signals and radio communications.
In the past, however, more significant solar activity has occurred which would, if it happened today, significantly damage or destroy much of our modern infrastructure. According to the National Geographic Report,
“The biggest solar storm on record happened in 1859. That storm has been dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth… the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment.
“In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world’s high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt…What’s at stake are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives.”
A WND analysis provides a further example: “Even as far back as 1921, solar flares interfered with man’s technology.At 7:04 a.m. on May 15, 1921, the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th Street shut down due to a ‘solar event.’ At the same time in Sweden, a telephone station was ‘burned out,’ and the solar storm interfered with telephone, telegraph and cable traffic over most of Europe.”
The nuclear weapon scenario is becoming increasingly likely, particularly since the cuts to the anti-ballistic missile program instituted by the Obama Administration. The devastation doesn’t have to come from a full-scale nuclear attack. A single well placed weapon, delivered by a smaller national source such as Iran or North Korea, or even a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda, could produce a devastating result.
THE EFFECTS OF EMP
Consider the effects of both the electrical grid and portable electronics being shattered until wholly new equipment could be manufactured and emplaced:
- Reservoirs would be incapable of pumping water.
- Planes, trains, trucks and autos, all of which now depend upon electronics, would be incapable moving.
- Deliveries of food and medicine would cease.
- Emergency vehicles, police cars, and even military equipment would be rendered harmless.
- Hospitals would be incapable of servicing patients beyond a few primitive functions.
- Heating and cooling systems would be inoperable.
- Communications by radio, television, and telephone would be eliminated.
According to a Washington Free Beacon study quoting Dr. Peter Pry of the Congressional EMP Commission and Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, “an EMP event could wipe out 90 percent of America’s population.”
“The threat of an electromagnetic pulse weapon represents the single greatest asymmetric capability that could fall into the hands of America’s enemies. Should a nuclear weapon from a rogue state such as Iran be detonated in Earth’s atmosphere at a sufficient height above the continental United States, the blast of electromagnetic energy could immediately cripple America’s electric power grid. Currently, the vast majority of the United States’ infrastructure is unsecured and exposed.
“According to some experts, just one properly placed EMP blast could disable so large a swath of American technology that between 70-90% of the United States’ population could become unsustainable.
“The danger posed by electromagnetic pulse weapons, as well as naturally occurring electromagnetic pulses, has received increased attention over recent years from organizations including NASA, the National Association of Scientists, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”
On May 8, The House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Infrastructure Protection held a hearing to discuss the potential crisis. Rep. Franks testified that “catastrophic civilian casualties” could be caused by an EMP.
At a NASA forum held in 2010, Dr. William Fortschen stressed that an “EMP event could result in a civilian casualty rate of upwards of 90% within year due to the breakdown of water, sanitation, medical and food distribution systems, along with the breakdown of social order, law enforcement, and command and control.”
“Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the
United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication.
“EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of
catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.
“The common element that can produce such an impact from EMP is primarily
electronics, so pervasive in all aspects of our society and military, coupled through critical infrastructures. Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow. The impact of EMP is asymmetric in relation to potential protagonists who are not as dependent on modern electronics. The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
The Center for Security Policy has extensively reviewed numerous governmental studies discussing EMP. In its recent publication entitled “Guilty knowledge: what the U.S. government knows about the vulnerability of the electrical grid, but refuses to fix” it quotes the Final Report of the Congressional Committee on the strategic posture of the United States:
“The United States should take steps to reduce the vulnerability of the nation and its military to attacks with weapons designed to produce electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects…From a technical perspective, it is possible that such attacks could have catastrophic consequences…Prior commissions have investigated U.S. vulnerabilities and found little activity under way to address them. Some limited defensive measures have been ordered by the Department of Defense to give some protection to important operational communications. But EMP vulnerabilities have not yet been addressed effectively by the Department of Homeland Security. Doing so could take several years. The EMP Commission has recommended numerous measures that would mitigate the damage that might be wrought by an EMP attack.”
“…state and local governments remain poorly prepared for an EMP attack. A 2007 survey of state adjutant generals, the officials responsible for overseeing National Guard units, found that few states were prepared for an EMP attack. The survey, conducted by the Institute of the North in conjunction with the Claremont Institute, found that although 96 percent of adjutant generals surveyed indicated that they were concerned with the threat posed by an EMP attack, few had analyzed the actual impact details of an EMP attack. Furthermore, few of the adjutant generals surveyed indicated that they had made preparations, such as training, EMP hardening of systems, and the creation of formal emergency response plans for an EMP attack. Overall, most states have not taken action to address vulnerabilities to EMP attacks.”
The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack has made the following recommendations:
“It will not be possible to reduce the incentives for an EMP attack to an acceptable level of risk through defensive protection measures alone. It is possible to achieve an acceptable level of risk and reduced invitation to an EMP attack with a strategy of:
Pursuing intelligence, interdiction, and deterrence to discourage EMP attack against the US and its interests;
Protecting critical components of the infrastructure, with particular emphasis on those that, if damaged, would require long periods of time to repair or replace;
Maintaining the capability to monitor and evaluate the condition of critical infrastructures;
Recognizing an EMP attack and understanding how it effects differ from other forms of infrastructure disruption and damage;
Planning and carrying out a systematic recovery of critical infrastructures training, evaluating ‘red teaming,’ and periodically reporting to Congress;
Defining the federal governments responsibility and authority to act, and conducting research to better understand infrastructure system effects and developing cost-effective solutions to manage these effects.
“The cost for such improved security … is modest by any standard-and extremely so in relation to both the war on terror and the value of the national infrastructures involved. Costs at later times may be adjusted to deal with the then-apparent threat and future levels of effort required.”
According to various estimates, the price tag cost to protect the nation’s entire electrical grid would be $1 billion to $2 billion; some estimates indicate that protecting all of the nation’s essential resources could cost $100 billion. When one considers that President Obama’s Stimulus package cost over $700 billion, that is an affordable figure to counter so vast a threat.