Source: EMP Commission (PDF)
Abstract: 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 (EMP Commission, 2004).
Report Of The Commission To Assess The Threat To The U.S. From Electromagnetic
Date: July 22, 2004
Source: Committee On Armed Services House of Representatives (PDF)
Abstract: The CHAIRMAN. Okay, folks. We will fire up here. Today is our prayer breakfast, and, you know, that is very important for Members of Congress, a very important beginning of the day. We have a few Members over there right now. I think Ike is still there, but we will come to order and Mr. Taylor will sit in for Mr. Skelton here.
The hearing will come to order. Our guests this morning are members of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States From Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. Its Chairman, Dr. William Graham, will give us the highlights of the Commission's report, and he is accompanied by several distinguished members of the Commission: Dr. John Foster, Mr. Earl Gjelde, Mr. Henry Kluepfel, General Richard Lawson, Dr. Joan Woodard and Dr. Lowell Wood.
We would like to just thank you all first for putting in the time that you have on this Commission. Welcome to the committee. We all look forward to your testimony. We appreciate your appearance.
I also want to remind Members that Commissioners will deliver a members-only classified briefing in 2212 after the hearing.
National security experts have known about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) for decades, at least since the atomic bombs were used at the end of World War II. During the Cold War, we thought about it primarily in terms of ensuring the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, so we hardened a large number of our military systems in order to operate in a nuclear environment.
Since the Cold War, however, several trends have forced us to think about EMP in a new way. The proliferation of nuclear weapons and the rise of new nuclear powers with small nuclear arsenals have forced us to think about EMP as an asymmetric threat in its own right. At the same time, our economy is increasingly dependent on the electronic systems vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse.
We heard a lot about this problem in the 1990's, but nobody had a good handle on it. So this committee took the lead in creating a national commission to look into the problem. We are here today to review its findings and recommendations.
So, folks, thanks again for appearing before the committee. We look forward to your testimony.
I want to turn to my good friend, Mr. Taylor, to make any remarks he might want to make.
We also want to give thanks to Roscoe Bartlett for his great work in this area and initiative and Curt Weldon who has also undertaken this as a very major part of his agenda. We have Members on the committee who have really focused on this problem. We think it is timely, and I want to let them make a comment or two also.
But, first, Mr. Taylor, do you have any remarks you would like to make?
Mr. TAYLOR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am going to, if you do not mind, read a prepared statement by Mr. Skelton.
''Mr. Chairman, I join you in welcoming our distinguished witnesses. Thank you for holding this important hearing.
''I appreciate the hard work the Commission members undertook to better understand a threat that is viewed by most as complex and arcane. As the report points out, to launch an EMP attack, an adversary needs a ballistic missile, a nuclear warhead, the ability to mate the two and the ability to fire it to the right point in the atmosphere or space so the detonation produces an electromagnetic pulse.
''Clearly, China and Russia have this capability, and perhaps a rogue nation like North Korea, but an EMP attack is not an easy task for a terrorist group, the threat I worry about most, unless they get outside help. This is why I think the Commission's report underscores the need for more vigorous leadership by the United States on nuclear non-proliferation.
''We should be making it as difficult as possible for terrorists to get a hold of uranium or plutonium, the key ingredients to nuclear weapons. Non-proliferation is not foreign aid. It is our first line of defense.
''It is not foolproof, but there are no foolproof answers to thwarting a nuclear weapon attack, including an EMP attack. But my making it difficult to acquire fissile materials, we also make it more likely that we can detect when a terrorist group obtains them. There is no down side to a tough nuclear non-proliferation regime.
''Today, U.S. nuclear non-proliferations programs are plodding along at the pre-September 11 funding levels. They are being held up by bureaucratic issues, like liability.
''I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses, but I believe what we hear from them today should spur Congress to insist on a more vigorous non-proliferation program.''
I yield back the balance of my time (Committee On Armed Services House of Representatives, 2004).
Title: EMP Effects On Vehicles
Source: Future Science
Abstract: One of the most common questions about electromagnetic pulse is about the effects of EMP on vehicles. I have resisted writing much about this in the past because so little is known about it.
First, however, because it is a point of so much confusion, it is important to point out that there is no known mechanism by which a solar storm would destroy an automobile, except for making fuel unavailable due to loss of the power grid. Even the most massive solar storms are not known to contain the fast E1 component, which is the part of a nuclear EMP that can destroy items that are not connected to extremely long lines.
Astronomical gamma ray bursts that produce an huge E1 component have occurred during the history of the Earth, but the extreme rarity of a damaging gamma ray burst means that it is much less likely than an asteroid strike. Also, the stars in this part of the galaxy have settled into their relatively tranquil middle age; and damaging gamma ray bursts are even less likely to occur today than in our planet's prehistoric past. The only direct EMP dangers to automobiles results from nuclear EMP (and from non-nuclear EMP weapons of very limited range).
The question of EMP damage to automobiles is so complex that it cannot be answered definitely for the reasons discussed below. The one thing that does have a broad level of agreement among those who have studied the matter is that obtaining fuel after any kind of electromagnetic disaster would be a matter of extreme difficulty. Any particular vehicle may or may not run, until it runs out of fuel; then it will not run any longer until the fuel production and distribution system can be re-started.
Any statement concerning the effect of nuclear EMP on vehicles would depend upon details such as how your vehicle is oriented (in other words, which direction it is facing) with respect to the nuclear detonation. It would also depend upon the height of the detonation, the gamma ray output of the detonation, the distance and azimuth to the detonation, and the local strength of the Earth's magnetic field between your location and the detonation point.
It would also depend upon whether your car is parked outdoors, in a concrete garage, or in a metal garage. Obviously a metal garage is best, but concrete is somewhat conductive and will provide a little bit of protection compared to outdoors.
There have been a number of isolated tests of vehicles in EMP simulators over the years. The manufacturers of the cars wouldn't even say which cars had been tested, and the cars were usually transported to the EMP simulators in such a way that the make and model was hidden from view. So we not only don't know the result, we don't even know which cars were tested. One Ford Taurus was tested on video by the Discovery Channel, but that was only one particular vehicle.
The U.S. EMP Commission tested a number of cars and trucks. Although this was the most comprehensive set of tests on vehicles that has been done, those tests were very poorly done because the Commission was financially responsible for the vehicles, but did not have the funding to pay for any of the vehicles they tested. The vehicles were borrowed from other government agencies, most vehicles from the Department of Defense; and they had to be returned to those lending agencies in good condition.
Those vehicles were tested up to the level that some sort of upset occurred, then further testing was stopped on that vehicle. In most cases, after the initial upset occurred, the vehicle could be restarted. In most of the remaining cases where the vehicle could not be immediately restarted, a latch-up had occurred in the electronics, and the battery could be momentarily disconnected to "re-boot" the electronics, and the vehicle could then be restarted. This temporary electronic latch-up failure mode caused by EMP is something that almost never occurs in automobiles during a typical lifetime of operation.
Only one of the vehicles tested (a pickup) could not be restarted after some minor work, and it had to be towed to the shop for repairs.
Very few of the vehicles were tested up to the maximum level of the EMP simulator. There was considerable disagreement among Commission staff members about how to report on the testing that had been done. Some EMP Commission staff members believe that the wording of the paragraphs in the EMP Commission's Critical National Infrastructures Report about the effect of EMP on vehicles is quite misleading.
For an excellent audio discussion the testing done by the Commission on automobiles and trucks, listen to EMPact America Radio Program number 41, which contains a discussion of this matter between the Chairman of the EMP Commission and a prominent staff member of that Commission.
In particular, the discussion about the testing of vehicles was roughly between the 46 minute and 54 minute marks of this 96-minute program.
The following quote
is the report on the EMP Commission testing of vehicles from pages 115-116 of
the EMP Commission Critical National Infrastructures Report:
The potential EMP vulnerability of automobiles derives from the use of built-in electronics that support multiple automotive functions. Electronic components were first introduced into automobiles in the late 1960s. As time passed and electronics technologies evolved, electronic applications in automobiles proliferated. Modern automobiles have as many as 100 microprocessors that control virtually all functions. While electronic applications have proliferated within automobiles, so too have application standards and electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) practices. Thus, while it might be expected that increased EMP vulnerability would accompany the proliferated electronics applications, this trend, at least in part, is mitigated by the increased application of EMI/EMC practices.
We tested a sample of 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory, with automobile vintages ranging from 1986 through 2002. Automobiles of these vintages include extensive electronics and represent
a significant fraction of automobiles on the road today. The testing was conducted by exposing running and nonrunning automobiles to sequentially increasing EMP field intensities. If anomalous response (either temporary or permanent) was observed, the testing of that particular automobile was stopped. If no anomalous response was observed, the testing was continued up to the field intensity limits of the simulation capability (approximately 50 kV/m).
Automobiles were subjected to EMP environments under both engine turned off and engine turned on conditions. No effects were subsequently observed in those automobiles that were not turned on during EMP exposure. The most serious effect observed on running automobiles was that the motors in three cars stopped at field strengths of approximately 30 kV/m or above. In an actual EMP exposure, these vehicles would glide to a stop and require the driver to restart them. Electronics in the dashboard of one automobile were damaged and required repair. Other effects were relatively . Twenty-five automobiles exhibited malfunctions that could be considered only a nuisance (e.g., blinking dashboard lights) and did not require driver intervention to correct. Eight of the 37 cars tested did not exhibit any anomalous response.
Based on these test results, we expect few automobile effects at EMP field levels below 25 kV/m. Approximately 10 percent or more of the automobiles exposed to higher field levels may experience serious EMP effects, including engine stall, that require driver intervention to correct. We further expect that at least two out of three automobiles on the road will manifest some nuisance response at these higher field levels. The serious malfunctions could trigger car crashes on U.S. highways; the nuisance malfunctions could exacerbate this condition. The ultimate result of automobile EMP exposure could be triggered crashes that damage many more vehicles than are damaged by the EMP, the consequent loss of life, and multiple injuries.
As is the case for automobiles, the potential EMP vulnerability of trucks derives from the trend toward increasing use of electronics. We assessed the EMP vulnerability of trucks using an approach identical to that used for automobiles. Eighteen running and nonrunning trucks were exposed to simulated EMP in a laboratory. The intensity of the EMP fields was increased until either anomalous response was observed or simulator limits were reached. The trucks ranged from gasoline-powered pickup trucks to large diesel-powered tractors. Truck vintages ranged from 1991 to 2003.
Of the trucks that were not running during EMP exposure, none were subsequently affected during our test. Thirteen of the 18 trucks exhibited a response while running. Most seriously, three of the truck motors stopped. Two could be restarted immediately, but one required towing to a garage for repair. The other 10 trucks that responded exhibited relatively minor temporary responses that did not require driver intervention to correct. Five of the 18 trucks tested did not exhibit any anomalous response up to field strengths of approximately 50 kV/m.
Based on these test
results, we expect few truck effects at EMP field levels below approximately 12
kV/m. At higher field levels, 70 percent or more of the trucks on the
road will manifest some anomalous response following EMP exposure.
Approximately 15 percent or more of the trucks will experience engine stall,
sometimes with permanent damage that the driver cannot correct. Similar
to the case for automobiles, the EMP impact on trucks could trigger vehicle
crashes on U.S. highways. As a result, many more vehicles could be
damaged than those damaged directly by EMP exposure.
Automobile manufacturers have also done EMP testing on their own at the EMP simulator at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. There was a news release from the White Sands Missile Range web site about this testing. Since that White Sands statement disappears from the web occasionally, I have reproduced it below.
Testing at White Sands involves much more than firing rockets and missiles. In fact, in the past few years, one of the missile range's labs has done considerable testing for the automobile industry.
First of all, the military is very concerned about the battlefield survivability of its communications systems, vehicles, computers and other electronically based systems. If someone were to explode a nuclear bomb in the upper atmosphere, one of the byproducts of the blast is a very powerful electromagnetic pulse covering millions of square miles. This pulse induces an electrical charge in material which conducts electricity -- like the components of a computer or battle tank.
If the pulse is strong enough, the electronic components can be fried or severely damaged. It is very possible, then, to have such a high altitude nuclear explosion from which personnel will suffer no ill effects but they may be out of business because none of their electronic gear will work.
At White Sands, the Nuclear Effects Directorate has the capability to simulate and evaluate the various effects of a nuclear explosion -- including the electromagnetic pulse. For example, when the Abrams was being developed as the U.S. Army's main battle tank it was put through extensive electromagnetic testing at the missile range. Its electronic components were protected by various "hardening" techniques during development so they would survive very powerful pulses. The test and evaluation done at White Sands validated the adequacy of the "hardened" design.
Electromagnetic pulses and fields exist in our everyday lives, but are much weaker than the ones found on a battlefield. For instance, kitchen appliances and televisions produce electromagnetic fields. Citizen band radios and cellular phones all radiate electromagnetic pulses when they are transmitting. Even garage door openers emit weak electromagnetic pulses when they are used.
These devices can interfere with one another if they get too close to each other. This is why most airlines do not allow passengers to operate computers, stereos and other electronic devices when the plane is landing and taking off. The emissions from these electronic devices could interfere with sensitive electronic gear on the airplane.
Automakers were concerned about common sources of electromagnetic radiation in relationship to the airbag mechanisms, anti lock brakes, computers, etc. found in most cars today. For example, they wanted to make sure that a driver's day wasn't ruined because the car's airbag went off in his or her face while going 65 mph just because the guy in the next car dialed up a cellular phone, a trucker used his CB radio or they drove past a radio station.
So, the missile range has subjected computer chips and whole cars to all kinds of electromagnetic radiation in order to prove that such devices will not fire unintentionally.
When the testing first started several years ago range officials thought it was a good story and asked the automobile companies if the range could invite the news media out. The answer was a firm, "No."
Not only can we not tell you much about the testing, at the request of the companies, but range personnel report the automakers sometimes arrive with their cars wrapped in brown paper so no one can see them. Apparently some of the cars are advance models and manufacturers don't want anyone to see the new designs until the appropriate time. Secrecy wears many hats and is certainly no stranger to business.
At a time of cuts in the military this commercial testing has been welcome at White Sands and contributes to maintaining the current workforce.
(The above release
was last modified by the White Sands Missile Range Public
Affairs Office on April 8, 2010.)
Today's automobiles have published standards for electromagnetic shielding, but there is not much consistency in shielding requirements. You can check this list from Clemson University for a partial list of the many and varied standards for electromagnetic shielding of automobiles. Most automobiles and trucks have a similar appearance, at least close enough that we can tell when a object is an automobile or a truck just by looking at it. When it comes to wiring and electronics, however, the differences are much more striking. This fact makes generalizations about vehicles and EMP very difficult. Even if every make and model were tested on one occasion in an EMP simulator, the EMP resistance could be changed dramatically just by moving a wire or by changing the way that a cable is routed. This makes statements about the EMP resistance of any particular make and model nearly meaningless. This is why you will not find a listing anywhere of which makes and models of vehicles are EMP resistant.
As I pointed out on another page on this web site, retrofitting an automobile to make it EMP-resistant is a project that would be too difficult and expensive for most people. For those who want to try, the only authoritative document that I know to be available is one called "EMP Mitigation - Protecting Land Mobile Vehicles from HEMP Threat Environment" which was just published in March, 2011. To find this document, go to the Protection Technology Group page, then click on the Knowledge Base link at the top of the page. Scroll down on the Knowledge Base page until you get to the article that you want. The article specifically applies to military vehicles, but has relevance to commercial vehicles as well. Note that the part of the referenced article that refers to bonding of "all metallic structures to a single point ground system" is referring to an electrical chassis ground on the vehicle, not to an earth ground.
The easiest way to retrofit some EMP protection into an automobile is to use the snap-on ferrite cores described in the EMP Personal Protection Page. These snap-on ferrite cores can be snapped on over all kinds of unshielded bundles of electrical wiring in an automobile or truck. You will have to go through the wiring on your automobile thoroughly to determine the size of the snap-on ferrite core that you will need to order. So this will involve going through an inspection of your car's wiring twice: once to measure the size of each bundle of wires, and again to install the snap-on ferrite cores after your order arrives. The snap-on ferrite suppression cores are not a perfect solution. They will only help to suppress (but not eliminate) fast voltage transients on the bundles of wires that are accessible to you.
I also must re-emphasize the fact that during Soviet high-altitude nuclear tests over Kazakhstan in 1962, rugged diesel generators having no solid state parts were burned out by E1 EMP. In an important international electromagnetics conference in 1994, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, General Vladimir Loborev delivered an important technical paper in which he stated, "The matter of this phenomenon is that the electrical puncture occurs at the weak point of a system. Next, the heat puncture is developed at that point, under the action of the power voltage; as a result, the electrical power source is put out of action very often." This illustrates that even vehicles without an electronic ignition or other electronic components are not immune from EMP.
The main advantage of a well-maintained older vehicle may be that it is likely to be much easier to repair if it does sustain EMP damage. The Soviet experience is a warning to keep critical electrical spare parts on hand for the older vehicle. This includes things like ignition coils, mechanical distributors, generators and starting motors. In particular, any critical item with a coil of wire that is insulated using enamel or a similar substance may be prone to breakdown, and needs to have a replacement part on hand. Also, as I have said on other pages, a good supply of automotive fuses is also critical.
The worst thing about nuclear EMP and motor vehicles is if you happen to be driving in heavy traffic when it happens. In this event, simultaneously, a certain percentage of vehicles will stop running (perhaps temporarily), many more drivers will be instantly distracted by strange electrical behavior happening inside of the car, and the traffic lights will abruptly go out or go into a flashing mode. This instantly creates the worst traffic jam in history in certain localities, and vehicular accidents at some busy intersections are likely to be severe or fatal. If you have an working motor vehicle in a post-EMP situation, there may not be any clear roads to drive on.
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is where you are likely to be going after a nuclear EMP event. If you live in a fairly secure area, the best choice may be not to go anywhere at all for a very long time. If you live in a less secure area, and know a more secure location where you can stay, you need to think through as many scenarios as possible in advance of the event. If you plan to go to the grocery store after the EMP to purchase emergency supplies, it will be too late. The grocery stores will be closed for a very long time, starting at the instant that the EMP hits and disrupts the inventory control system and the data processing systems that handle payments. It is also very likely that the electrical power will be out as well.
More important than fuel for your car is fuel for yourself. If we are unfortunate enough to experience a nuclear EMP attack, many people will starve to death or will die from lack of critical medications, while they have a perfectly functioning automobile in their driveway. When it comes to surviving disasters, it is imperative to calmly think through what is really important.
Finally, it would be appropriate here to say something about the effects on vehicles of the real nuclear EMP tests that were done in 1962. There have been reports of damage to automobiles in both the United States and Soviet high-altitude tests in 1962. Those reports were all unconfirmed verbal reports, and the verbal reports were made many years after the events. In addition, problems with the electrical ignition system were one of the most common causes of automobile problems in the early 1960s, so it is impossible to know whether any vehicular problems that occurred at about the same time as the high-altitude nuclear tests were actually related or were just coincidence. I tend to think that they were just coincidence. The Soviet military diesel generator problems were definitely related to the nuclear tests, although those diesel generators were probably connected to long external wires during the nuclear tests. (The Russians have not shared many details about this.)
Since we know that EMP can punch through electrical insulation, especially on things like motor and generator windings when they are connected to external wiring, it is certainly plausible that damage could occur on vehicular electrical systems even if the vehicle contains no solid-state electronics. The plausibility of this sort of damage in a future EMP is higher when one realizes that the EMP field strengths that were experienced in populated areas in the 1962 tests were only 10 to 20 percent of what could be experienced with known nuclear weapons.
In particular, in the United States Starfish Prime event in 1962, the maximum electric field pulse experienced in Hawaii was in the range of 5,000 to 5,600 volts per meter. The worst EMP effects of the Soviet tests over Kazakhstan were about 7,500 volts per meter in the area where problems were actually documented. The EMP may have been as high as 10,000 volts per meter in un-monitored areas of Kazakhstan, but not any higher. We know that it is possible to rather easily generate 50,000 volts per meter with an old second-generation nuclear weapon of the proper design. There are reports that it is possible to make nuclear weapons that will push beyond this 50,000 volts per meter limit.An EMP of 50,000 volts per meter would undoubtedly damage some cars, both with and without solid-state electronics. What percentage of vehicles would be damaged, and which particular vehicles would be damaged, is something that even the best EMP experts can only make guesses about. The total available data is just too limited, and the number of variables are huge (Future Science, 2008).
“EMP 101” A Basic Primer And Suggestions
Source: One Second After
Abstract: What is an EMP?
EMP is shorthand for Electro Magnetic Pulse. It is a rather unusual and frightening by-product when a nuclear bomb is detonated above the earth’s atmosphere. We all know that our atmosphere and the magnetic field which surrounds our planet is a thin layer which not only keeps us alive, but also protects us from dangerous radiation from the sun. On a fairly regular basis there are huge solar storms on the sun’s surface which emit powerful jets of deadly radiation. If not for the protective layer of our atmosphere and magnetic field, those storms would fry us. At times though, the storm is so power that enough disruptive energy reaches the earth’s surface that it drowns out radio waves and even shorts electrical power grids. . .this happened seve ral years back in Canada.
View the detonation of a nuclear bomb, two hundred miles straight up as the same thing, but infinitely more powerful since it is so close by.
As the bomb explodes it emits a powerful wave of gamma rays. As this energy release hits the upper atmosphere it creates a electrical disturbance know as the Compton Effect. The intensity is magnified. View it as a small pebble rolling down a slope, hitting a larger one, setting that in motion, until finally you have an avalanche.
At the speed of light this disturbance races to the earth surface. It is not something you can see or hear, in the same way you don’t feel the electrical disturbance in the atmosphere during20a large solar storm.
For all electrical systems though, it is deadly.
What Happens when this "Pulse" Hits the Surface?
Those who might remember ham radio operators, or even the old CB radios of the 1970s can recall that if you ran out a wire as an antenna you could send and receive a better signal. The wire not only transmitted the very faint power of a few watts of electricity from your radio, it could receive even fainted signals in return. As the Pulse strikes the earths surface, with a power that could range up to hundreds of amps per square yard, it will not affect you directly, at most you’ll feel a slight tingling, the s ame as when lightning is about to strike close by, and nearly all the energy will just be absorbed into the ground and dissipate. The bad news, however, is wherever it strikes wires, metal surfaces, antennas, power lines it will now travel along those metal surfaces (in the same way a lightning bolt will always follow the metal of a lightning rod, or the power line into your house.) The longer the wire, the more energy is absorbed, a high tension wire miles long will absorb tens of thousands of amps, and here is where the destruction begins as it slams into any delicate electronic circuits, meaning computer chips, relays, etc. In that instant, they are overloaded by the massive energy surge, short circuit, and fry. Your house via electric, phone and cable wires is connected, like all the rest of us into the power and communications grids. This energy surge will destroy all delicate electronics in your home, even as it destroys all the major components all the way back to the power company’s generators and the phone company’s main relays. In far less than a milli second the entire power grid of the United States, and all that it supports will be destroyed.
Wouldn't Circuit Bbreakers and Surge Protectors Stop it?
This is where the effect of EMP starts to get complex. All electricity travels, of course, at the speed of light. The circuit breakers that are built into our electrical system or the ones you buy to plug your own computer in to, are designed to “read’ the flow of current. If it suddenly exceeds a certain level, the breaker snaps and takes you off line, thus protecting everything beyond it. More than a few of us have found out that when you buy a cheap surge protector for ten or twenty bucks sure it will snap off, but the surge has already passed through and fried your expensive pla sma television or new computer. Unlike a lightning strike, or other power surge, an EMP surge is “front loaded.” Meaning it doesn’t do a build up for a couple of mirco-seconds, allowing enough time for the circuit breaker to “read” that trouble is on the way and shut down. It comes instead like a wall of energy, without any advance wave building up as a warning. It therefore slams through nearly all commercial and even military surge protectors already in place, and is past the “safety barrier” and into the delicate electronics before the system has time to react.
What about Cars?
Here is more bad news regarding EMP. =2 0If you own a 1965 Volkswagen bug or Mustange you’re ok. . .there are no solid state electronics under the hood, it still has an old fashion carburetor, the radio still might even have tubes rather than transistors. However, even that is in question. In 1962 both we and the Soviets detonated nuclear weapons in space (saber rattling during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and it is reported that a number of cars. . .their ignition systems a thousand miles away from the detonation were fried because of EMP. (Check out a few of the more “tech head” links on this site for detailed explanations). From about 1980 on, cars increasingly went solid state and by the 1990s were getting ever more complex computers installed. Consider a visit to the mechanic today. He runs a wire in under the hood, plugs it into his computer and within seconds has a full diagnostic, types in what his computer is suppose to do, the problem is solved and you are handed a rather large bill. Great modern conveniences from airbag sensors, to fuel injectors and all of it more and more dependent on computers. At the instant the “Pulse” strikes, the body of your car and the radio antenna will feed the overload into your vehicle’s computer and short it out.
Some police departments are even now experimenting with using a specially designed bumper on their car for high speed chases. If they can brush up against the car they are pursuing the officer just hits a button, and through his bumper a high energy surge will be released, flooding into the car being pursued and shorting out its computer system. Result. . .whether you are being chased by the police with this new device, or an EMP burst has been fired off. . .your car will essentially be a useless hunk of metal that will slowly roll to a stop. In that instant, most of America will be on foot again.
This is a terrifying aspect of an attack that no government report has publicly discussed along with the potential casualty rate in the first seconds after an attack. Commercial airliners today are all computer driven. In fact, from lift off to landing, a pilot no longer even needs to be in the cockpit, a computer can do all of it if need be. When the pilot pulls back on the “stick” it is no longer connect by wires stretching all the way back to the tail and the elevator assembly. Instead, his motion is read by a computer which sends a signal to an electrical servo-motor in the tail, which then moves the tail. In short, the entire plane is computer driven. It is estimated that at any given moment during regular business hours, somewhere between three to four thousand commercial airliners are crisscrossing the skies. (There is a fascinating site you can find via Goggle that shows typical air traffic around the world during a twenty four hour period. From dawn til way after dusk, the entire USA is one glowing blob of commercial flights crisscrossing our sky). All of them would be doomed, the pilots sitting impotent, staring at blank computer screens, pulling on controls that no longer respond as the plane finally noses over and heads in.
Somewhere between 250,000 to 500,000 people will die in the first few minutes. . .more than all our battle casualties across four years of World War II
Aren't We Preparing? Isn't there Replacement Equipemnt in Place and Trained Personal Ready to Act?
The frightening answer is no. This author has spent over four years researching this topic, interviewing scores of personnel from Congressmen and Generals, to your local police chief and sheriff. At your local level, since 9/11, first responders have received hundreds of hours of training and briefings on all sorts of terrorist scenarios. Only a few have told me that they even discussed the topic for more than a few minutes at an official level. As to emergency stockpiles of supplies and crucial replacement parts, there is nothing in place.
EMP, has managed to “stealth” its way on to the highly dangerous list and few, except for a small number of personnel in the Pentagon, various research labs, and men like Congressman Bartlett (R., MD) who heads the Congressional Investigative Committee on EMP, are aware of it. For one it has a certain “sci-fi” sound to it, which makes many dismiss the potential before the discussion has even started. Second, the only way to truly evaluate the threat and demonstrate it is to detonate a nuclear weapon, something we have not done since the full test ban went into effect decades ago. It is therefore not “visible” to us, the way another airliner smashing into a skyscraper is now forever imprinted on our national psyche, feared, and prepared for. Next, with all the competing issues and threats in the world, EMP simply does not have a “constituency” of influence. Only a few members of Congress, our military and scientific community are issuing the warnings. There are no Hollywood stars placing themselves in front of cameras with this as their cause, the few times it has been used in popular movies, it has been portrayed inaccurately, often absurdly.
And finally, the impact is so overwhelming=2 0that it triggers a psychological sense of helplessness, and therefore why bother, since if it happens we are finished. It is the same response that happened between the 1950s-60s. When first confronted with the threat of a nuclear attack, tens of billions was spent to prepare, in fact our Interstate Highway system was initiated in the mid 1950s as a national defense effort to provide avenues of escape from cities in the event of nuclear war, a means to bring in emergency supplies and to move our military. Plans were issued to citizens on how to build bomb shelters and all children were drilled in what is seen now as the absurd “duck and cover.”
Something happened though by the mid-1960s. The threat was no longer fifty to a hundred small atomic bombs dropped from bombers, it was now a rain of thousands of hydrogen bombs, delivered within minutes by ballistic missiles. In this atmosphere of overkill, attempting to prepare seemed ridiculous, futile. The standard phrase became “the living will envy the dead,” so why bother? Civil defense finally became an object of derision, the realm of a few survivalist nut cases.
That threat is still there, and to this day our nuclear forces stand ready to respond, which has indeed been the only defense left. . .”if you nuke us, we’ll nuke you,” a policy known as “mutual assured destruction,” a zero win game.
EMP is different, it is not a rain of thousands of bombs, needing a vast and powerful military to deliver it, which means Russia and China are the only real threats in that realm. . .but unless seized by madness, their leaders know such an attack, within minutes would be met with thousands of bombs annihilating their country as well. It is a balance of terror that has now endured for nearly sixty years.
An EMP attack is different since it only requires but one nuclear weapon, detonated 300 miles above the middle of the United States. One bomb. The launch could even be done from a container ship somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico and in that instant, the war is already over and won.
An analogy. Aircraft carriers existed in 1941 but few saw them as a true strategic threat. Most in the military and their civilian leaders saw the role of carriers as platforms for launching scout planes, spotting targets, and acting always in support of the trusted and proven battleship. No one seriously considered the potential of putting half a dozen such carriers into one group and launching a full out attack in the opening minutes of a war. We all know what changed that belief forever, but by then, it was too late for the nearly 3,000 Americans who were killed on that Day of Infamy. The next Day of Infamy will be infinitely worst.
Who Would Do this and Why?
Given the hatred and fanaticism of some of our enemies today, if they can obtain but one nuclear bomb, the temptation will be there. It does not even have to be a nation such as Iran or North Korea. . .it could be a terrorist cell who with enough money buy the components and then destroy their definition of “the great Satan.”
What would Happen after the Attack?
Unless you are in a jet liner, plummeting to earth, or caught in a massive traffic jam of stalled vehicles on the interstate, you might not even know anything has changed. Sure the power is off, but we’ve all been through that dozens of times. You call the power company. But the phone doesn’t work and that might be slightly more unnerving. You might go to your car to drive around and see what happened and then it becomes more unnerving when the car does not even turn over, nor any other car in your neighborhood.
Twelve hours later the food in your freezer starts to thaw, if it is winter and you don’t have a wood stove the frost will start to penetrate in to your house, if summer and you live in Florida your house will be an oven. And that will just be the start.
Law enforcement will be powerless without radios, cell phones, and squad cars, unable to know where there is a crisis and how to react. The real horror show within hours will be in hospitals and nursing homes. They’re required by law to have back up generators, but those generators are “hot wired” into the building so power can instantly kick in if the main system shuts down. That “hot wiring” means the Electro Magnetic Pulse will take out the generators and their circuitry as well.
If you are familiar with what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, multiply that ten thousand times over to every hospital and nursing home in America. Nearly everyone dependent on life support equipment in ICUs will be dead within hours. Nearly everyone in nursing homes dependent on oxygen generators, respirators, etc., will be dead or dying while depending on the time of year temperatures within plummet or soar.
As to medical supplies, not just in hospitals but across the nation to every local pharmacy, they are all dependent on something called Fed Ex. As we have perfected a remarkable system of instant delivery, guided by computers, local inventories have dropped to be more cost efficient and even for reasons of security with controlled substances, which to ordinary citizens means pain killers. Supplies will run out in a matter of days. Those of us dependent on medications to control asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other aliments which a hundred years ago would have killed us shortly after the onset. . .will now face death within days or weeks, unless the national power grid comes back on line quickly and order is restored.
How Long would it Take?
Here is the bottom line of the entire issue and why the threat of a single EMP weapon is so dangerous. There is the serious potential that we might never be able to restore the system. One might ask why? It just means replacing some circuit breakers, pulling out fried chips in our cars and replacing them with new ones etc.
It is not that simple. The infrastructure America has developed since the beginnings of the Industrial Age, is now so vast, intricate and fragile, that it is like a delicate spider web, which if touched by a flame can instantly vanish.
A few examples to illustrate what might seem an extreme statement.
The incredibly complex system that creates electricity, starting from a hydro-electric dam, a glowing nuclear reactor, or coal fired plant, leaps through hundreds of circuit breakers, perhaps thousands of miles of wiring, across high tension lines to sub stations, and finally to the outlet your computer is plug into. This single line will now have hundreds of breaks in it, each one having to be replaced.
Any of us who have lived through a major disaster such as a hurricane, ice storm, or tornado, and then gone several days without power know the sequence, h ow much longer the wait seems to be, and then finally the welcome sight of a power company repair truck turning on to your block. . .and that truck might be from a power company five hundred miles away. All our disasters have ultimately been local in nature, Andrew in Florida, Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi or one this author went through with Ivan in North Carolina. The disaster is local, even if fifty thousand square miles are affected, help streaming in from neighboring states, caravans of power trucks, each carrying not just experienced crews, but ladened down with all the replacement parts necessary to put electricity and phone service back into your house. When Ivan hit my town, dumping 30 inches of rain, wiping out the power grid and water supply, in less than twelve hours thousands of gallons of bottled water had arrived from Charlotte, power companies from Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia were arriving, the special parts needed to replace my town’s shattered water main from the reservoir were air lifted in by a national guard unit.
Consider though if the entire nation is “down.” Quite simply there are not enough replacement parts in the entire nation to even remotely begin the retro-fitting and replacement of all components. Every community will be on its own, struggling to rebuild. . .on their own.
Example two. A member of your family has type one diabetes and if you do have that in your family you know that failure to properly monitor and treat can result in death within a matter of weeks at most. Start with the testing kit. If it is one of the new electronic digital models, changes are a small hand held unit, not plugged into the grid will in fact survive. If it is an older kit that still uses testing stripes and you are running short of those stripes of paper, you already have a problem.
Where does insulin come from? In an earlier age it was literally made from the ground up pancreas of sheep and horses. Today it is manufactured via genetically altered bacteria and cells. There are several such factories across the nation which do this, producing millions of vials a day.
We are not even going to get into the complexity of where do the vials, the rubber seals and such come from. But with the shut down of power the factory goes dark and the complex environmental controls to insure the proper safety of the bacteria “batches” is now off line. Within days it will cease to function for that reason alone.
But it will most likely already be off line. What of the workers? Will t he next shift show up when cars no longer run? Unlikely. And those on the job? No matter how dedicated most must leave within a day to see to their own families and chances are not return.
Of the hundreds of thousands of vials waiting in refrigerated containers for shipping, what happens to the coolant? And where are the trucks to move it? If the insulin is, in fact, already in the “pipeline” so to speak, if aboard a Fed Ex plane we already know that tragic fate. If on a highway it will be stalled. . .and so on to your local pharmacy where the few vials in the current inventory will be snatched up by panicked customers within hours and then hoarded away, regardless of the need of others. And even then, how will you keep the insulin temperature stabilized and when that fails, how swiftly does the potency drop?
But one other factor, the syringes to inject the medicine. Any of us over 45 or so can recall the dull terrible needles in our doctor’s offices. (As a child I recall my grandmother boiling my diabetic grandfather’s needles.) After use they were stuck back into an autoclave (powered by electricity) and carefully sterilized. . .and then came the disposable syringe. Where does that needle come from. Again a long back track to an oil field, to a cracking plant, to a factory that, in sterile conditions turns the plastic into the barrel of syringe, to a mine where ore is turned into steel which is milled at remarkable tolerances into a needle point. . .and again shipped and shipped again and finally to your house.
The point of these few examples is that in an age not so long ago, nearly all that we needed for our lives was produced locally, and then came railroads, which could link a farmer’s wif e in Nebraska, via a catalog and telegraph to the Sears office in Chicago for that new set of dishes or a replacement part for a threshing machine. . .to our complex web of today. Few of us ever realized that with each advance in convenience and the latest new gadget or necessity we took another step towards dependence which in a global market today means that the chip needed to repair an important computer might be made in Japan, and ordered via a sales rep at a desk in India, and yet we expect it to arrive within two days and see nothing remarkable about that. Globalization with all its benefits and woes for some workers here, has made us infinitely more dependent on a global network of communications and transportation. . .that fragile spider’s web.
There is the true nightmare of EMP. Once the entire system collapses, how and where does anyone build it back when that one crucial part you need is in a warehouse in Shanghai or Seoul and you don’t even have means to even ask for that part.
You Mention in your Book that 90% of Americans Might Die within a Year, Isn't that Fear Mongering?
When such numbers were discussed during the height of the Cold War, the numbers were indeed real, as they are now with the use of but one weapon to create an EMP burst.
The tragic thing is how we can discuss such numbers now in a society where the entire nation went into stunned mourning after nearly 4,000 died on 9/11.
The death of an individual is a tragedy. The death of a million a statistic.
The first few million deaths are tragically obvious. Those aboard commercial flights, and even most private flights, those in nursing homes, hospices, and hospitals.
The next few million are obvious as well. Those with severe aliments requiring careful daily medication or treatment, such as those awaiting transplants, people undergoing dialysis, those with severe heart ailments both known and not yet realized. We are use to emergency response within minutes when we snap open a cell phone and call 911. The stress, fear, even the unaccustomed physical exertion of someone having to walk ten miles to get home will trigger heart attacks, strokes, etc. We are a “hot house bred” generation, in fact several generations now. Our water supply is carefully controlled and delivered instantly and on demand, hundreds of gallons of it a day. Our food, wrapped in sanitary packages has expiration dates stamped on it. Where will you get drinkable water in a city after but several days? Frankly when was the last time any of us had to live without a flush toilet and anti-bacterial hand wash by the sink? Food that starts to thaw, which we were always cautioned to throw out, food in a refrigerator that is now at room temperature. . . do you throw it out or risk eating it? If your house is fully electric how do you cook it properly?
These few questions alone lead to a clear path straight to an entire nation heading into gastro-intestinal aliments within a week to ten days at most. Any of us who have traveled overseas, especially to third world countries have weathered them an d survived. . .thanks in part to modern medications once back safe home in the USA. But we are now the third world country. Very young children and the elderly can die in less than a day from severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Without plenty of clean water and modern waste removal, the problem gets far worst, especially in temporary refugee centers.
Compound this with the fact that by the end of the week millions of Americans will be on the road. . .walking. The tragic lawlessness we often see in the wake of a large disaster will most certainly explode given that police are near powerless to react in an organized manner and national guard units will not even be mobilized since how do they mobilize if no vehicles run and all communications is still down.
Millions, many of them the most vulnerable will make the choice of abandoning the cities rather than try and fight to find a gallon jug of water or a few cans of soup. Beyond this fear, summer or winter many urban dwellings will be unlivable. The multi million dollar condo on the 40th floor is now a nightmare 400 foot hike straight up, lugging whatever water or food you might get. They will be unheated, or roasting ovens, designed of course with perfection climate control. . .that no longer works. Many will be driven, as well by the false hope that relatives out in the suburbs or better yet “out in the country” will of course have plenty of food and be willing to share.
Our interstate highways will become nightmare paths of exile as our largely urban population tries to fan out to find food that once was shipped in.
Millions could and will die on that road. Where do they get safe water? The nearby stream or river is now a dump for raw sewage since purification plants are off line. Once stricken on the road by the results after drinking this water, where does one get help, basic medication, more water to keep you hydrated.
Within a month the next level of die off will be in full development. Those who survive the initial onset of illnesses from polluted water and food, and survive, will nevertheless be weakened, knock down a level. Even if they do get lucky and have food stockpiled, or find a source, chances are it will not be balanced at all and the first onset of nutritional imbalance will lower the immulogical system even further.
Now is the time that
more serious diseases will appear.
Pneumonia, especia lly in the winter due to exposure. More exotic and dangerous types of food
poisoning such as salmonella due to a complete collapse of sanitation. Various forms of hepatitis, even diseases
not heard of in a generation or more. . .measles, scarlet fever, and
In addition, the number of injuries will have soared. Few of us today are truly use to the back breaking kind of manual labor of the 19th century. Even most laborers today use modern equipment to do 99% of the actual work. Unfamiliar with axes, shovels and saws, people will break bones, cut themselves, or just suddenly die from strain. And waiting now are the infectious diseases where an ordinary cut, once treated with a few stitches instead becomes an avenue for gangrene, a rusty nail is again a threat of tetanus.
And finally, violence against ourselves. At what point do we begin to kill each other for food, water, shelter? At what point does a small town mobilize, barricade itself in and make clear that any who enter will be shot because there is not enough food to share, and any new stranger might be a carrier of yet another disease.
By sixty days true starvation will be killing off millions and by 120 days mass starvation will be the norm. Those lucky enough to be in rich farm producing areas, with the knowledge of how to gather food by hand, and then preserve it, will have a temporary surplus, but even then, if they do not ration it out wisely, as did our colonial forefathers, they too will starve before the next crop is in the ground come spring.
Months later, yes help from old allies might be flooding in, but how to move it, distribute it and at the same time provide medical aid and also rebuild the electrical grid, step by step will still be overwhelming tasks.
As said before, “the death of a million is a statistic.” Our statistic could very well be that in a year’s time, nine out of ten Americans will be dead. Dead from but one weapon, our global position shattered forever as we revert back into a third rate power, if we even still survive as a united system of states.
Is there Anything that can be Done before It Happens?
Not a wide eyed sci fi novel or something sensationalistic, or even something set long after the event, like the book “The Road.” But instead it was my goal to write a novel like the classic “Alas Babylon,” or the more well known “On the Beach.” To do something that might trigger a response, any kind of response. It was my good fortune, while researching for the book that I met Captain Bill Sanders of the Navy, one of our country’s leading experts on EMP and Congressman Bartlett who heads the Congressional committee that issued a little known report on the threat of EMP. Both of them provided me with valuable information, which I must always emphasize was not classified, and encouraged me to get the story “out there.”
I therefore wrote the novel from the perspective of a single dad with two daughters, li ving in small town in North Carolina. .and what he will do, and finally must do to try and keep his daughters alive. And yes, it is very autobiographical. I am a single parent of a teenage girl, and I live and teach in a small North Carolina mountain town that is the actual setting for my story.
My greatest frustration and something I hope my novel will stir is the realization that only a minimal effort, to start, could radically cut the number of casualties after such an attack, perhaps by a full magnitude from over 250 million dead to less then 25 million dead. . .which is still a horrific number.
An off the shelf purchase of hand held two way radi os by every local police, fire, sheriff, and emergency response department in the country would mean, that if then properly stored along with a large stock pile of batteries that within minutes after an attack, a nation wide network of communications would be back up and running. This can not be emphasized enough, that proper communications and what the military calls “command and control,” will go a long step towards maintaining public order.
Another inexpensive step is just simple training. We are a nation that sadly has become entirely dependent on someone “up the ladder” passing orders as to what to do. Very few of us today are conditioned to think and act independently. This has to be reversed in the event of an EMP strike. Every first responder should be trained to be able to recognize an EMP hit, and in coordination with their local departments, have a plan in place as to what to do first, and then next, and then after that. This author would recommend a first step being the seizing of supplies at every veterinarian’s office in the country. That might sound strange, but vets are most likely the only ones in your community that have a full array of surgical equipment, anesthesia and pain killers. Armed with this equipment, medications seized from pharmacies, dentist offices and doctor’s offices, and then set up at a local school, staffed by local doctors and nurses, would mean that each community has made a major step towards tending its injured, ill and elderly.
Other training would be oriented towards how to organize a community, locating vehicles that still run, and retro fitting those vehicles, that had minimal electronics in them, so that law enforcement, medical, and fire control have transportation.
A next step would be public education for all citizens, similar to the programs in place during the 1950s. How to recognize an EMP strike and then what do you do? After Katrina we have learned to now start educating our citizens that they must rely upon themselves and their own good judgment, and not expect government to come instantly to the rescue. Contrast the chaos in the days before Katrina to the orderly evacuations when Gustav hit New Orleans this year.
But a week’s worth of emergency food stockpile and water, just recycling used milk and soda bottles, filling them with sterile water and storing them away could buy a precious week’s worth of time, nation wide. A few simple medical supplies such a sterile bandages and just a basic family first aid manual. Simple things even our grandparents, still living on farms knew, about how to insure water is safe, where to put a privy pit, and properly store any food that might last long term. If a family member has a serious il lness or condition keep a full level of medicine on hand and not wait until the bottle is empty before refilling. This alone could be a life saver for millions, buying extra weeks or a month or two.
Above all else educate to a post EMP survival. To turn to community organization, to help and rely on neighbors and not some distant agency, to have a plan in place to help local nursing homes with the elderly, to have an entire community, be it a neighborhood in a city, or a small town in the Midwest, ready to take care of itself and insure public safety and law while the nation gradually stitches itself back together.
Ironically these were plans already put into place across America of the 1940s and 1950s, this author can recall receiving civil defense booklets at school to take home to my parents and my father was the local civil defense coordinator for our neighborhood just outside of New York City. We took the threat seriously and we acted as Americans, to prepare, with the memories of WWII still fresh in our minds. This preparedness fell away. . . it should be restored.
The next step, which will cost more, will be crucial as well. The analogy is simple. We all know that America’s industrial might literally saved the world from Nazism and Japanese Imperialism once we got into the war. But that industrial might did not appear overnight. It took over two and a half years of build up after Pearl Harbor before we went fully on to the offensive with D-Day in Europe and the push towards the Ja panese main islands in the Pacific. What truly saved us though was not the effort after Pearl Harbor but the effort BEFORE Pearl Harbor. We did not want to fight, we were about the most reluctant nation on earth in 1940 when it came to getting into the war. . .but we did have the wisdom to start the build up then. . .building factories, training millions to work in them and millions more to learn how to fight. If we had not done that in the two years prior to Pearl Harbor nearly any historian will tell you. . .we would have lost World War II.
In this post industrial age power is no longer steel plants, mills, factories and yet more factories. It is now precision electronics, communications, computers. . . and the heart blood of all that is electrical power.
Congress has estimated that a full retro fit to our power grid to withstand a large scale EMP strike could cost up to half a trillion dollars. . .and the chances of that bill ever passing is remote to say the least.
And yet, there is another path at a fraction of the cost. Stockpiling of key components overseas. Any major component being manufactured today for our electrical grid, that could be destroyed by an EMP strike, we should make but one more of each and then store those components at military bases overseas. Within hours of a hit on the continental United States, military aircraft outside the strike zone can be lifting that precious cargo back to the mainland and the rebuilding can begin.
Of late, our nation’s railroads have launched an advertising campaign which is actually true, that in terms of tons per mile, our railroads are still the most effective means of moving goods. For an investment not much more than the cost of a couple of B-2 bombers, or a squadron of F-22s, several hundred diesel electric locomotives could be pulled off line, their components harden to withstand an EMP strike, then parked inside silos and bunkers at military bases across the country. Within hours after an EMP strike these powerful machines could already be at work. It will be laborious at first, for every other train in the country will have stalled on the lines. They have to be shunted off the main lines, switches reset by hand. . .but once cleared, a single train could move ten thousand tons of food to a stricken city and on the return run, evacuate thousands to where the food is out in the countryside, or back to military bases. Within weeks a nationwide transportation grid could be up and running again. . .yet another factor that will reduce fatalities even more.
A further step would indeed be a logical stockpiling of crucial medical equipment and supplies, especially medications with long shelf lives or can be frozen while in storage overseas or in underground facilities.
The final step in training and preparation. . .our own military. The power generation capacity aboard a modern aircraft carrier can supply a medium size city, a destroyer or frigate a large town. Attention should be focused on training our military, especially our Navy whose overseas forces and ships would be unaffected by a strike on the continental United States to return to save America. Within a few weeks both coasts, studded with several hundred ships could become focal points for rebuilding, as replacement components, food and medicine are moved in via ships, loaded aboard trains and distributed into the heart land.
It is a war. It is a war in which we will take casualties undreamed of in our worst nightmares. . .but it can be survivable if we act and prepare now.
Is this Merely a Sci-Fi Story or is it Real?
An editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology, after reading this author’s novel declared. “It is not a question of if it will happen. . .it is merely a question of when.”
Across six thousand
years of recorded history mankind has known war. Across six thousand years humanity has
tended to focus its best minds on the technology of war, to speak bluntly how
to better kill our neighbors. Never
has a weapon been invented that it has not ultimately been used. And ironically so many “new” weapons, when
first revealed are declared to be so horrible as to render war
unthinkable. And all have ultimately
Given the fanaticisms of some of our enemies today, some of whom believe that the creation of the Apocalypse will be their own fulfillment of a religious destiny, it would be madness not to think that such an attack within the next two decades is not just possible but in fact likely.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: A Preventable Homeland Security Catastrophe
Date: October 20, 2008
Source: Heritage Foundation
Abstract: A major threat to America has been largely ignored by those who could prevent it. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack could wreak havoc on the nation's electronic systems-shutting down power grids, sources, and supply mechanisms. An EMP attack on the United States could irreparably cripple the country. It could simultaneously inflict large-scale damage and critically limit our recovery abilities. Congress and the new Administration must recognize the significance of the EMP threat and take the necessary steps to protect against it.
Systems Gone Haywire
An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. In an attack, these particles interact and send electrical systems into chaos in three ways: First, the electromagnetic shock disrupts electronics, such as sensors, communications systems, protective systems, computers, and other similar devices. The second component has a slightly smaller range and is similar in effect to lightning. Although protective measures have long been established for lightning strikes, the potential for damage to critical infrastructure from this component exists because it rapidly follows and compounds the first component. The final component is slower than the previous two, but has a longer duration. It is a pulse that flows through electricity transmission lines-damaging distribution centers and fusing power lines. The combination of the three components can easily cause irreversible damage to many electronic systems.
An EMP attack on the United States could materialize in two forms: nuclear and non-nuclear. The most devastating form, and most difficult to achieve, is an EMP that results from a nuclear weapon. This form destroys any "unhardened" electronic equipment and electric power system- which means virtually any civilian infrastructure in the United States. The pulse occurs when a nuclear weapon explodes above the visual horizon line at an altitude between 40 and 400 kilometers. The detonation of the nuclear warhead releases photons in the form of gamma radiation and x-rays. These energetic particles scatter in every direction away from the blast. Many of the particles descend and interact with the magnetic field lines of the Earth, where they become trapped. The trapped electrons then create an oscillating electric current within the field, which rapidly produces a large electromagnetic field in the form of a pulse. Once the pulse reaches electronic equipment, it negatively interacts with them and either disables, damages, or destroys them. An EMP generated by a nuclear weapon could affect all critical infrastructures that depend on electricity and electronics within the vicinity of the nuclear warhead blast radius. A nuclear weapon with a burst height of approximately 100 kilometers could expose objects located within an area 725 miles in diameter to the effects of EMP.
A non-nuclear, or improvised, EMP is a radio-frequency (rather than gamma or x-ray frequency) weapon. While easier to conceal and not requiring a missile, a non-nuclear EMP must be detonated close to the target and does not produce as much damage as the nuclear version, affecting largely localized areas. But such a weapon could be harnessed as an "E-Bomb" (electromagnetic bomb), a stand-alone weapon that is easier to hide and maneuver. It is difficult to estimate the exact damage of an improvised attack, but in 1993 EMP testing by the U.S. military shut down engine controls 300 meters away at a contractor site. Not large-scale by any means, but damaging enough to cause concern.
It was not until the United States began high-altitude testing of nuclear weapons over the Pacific in the early 1960s that the potentially devastating effects of EMP on even distant ground targets attracted widespread attention within the U.S. defense community. In the 1962 Starfish Prime test, during which a nuclear weapon was detonated 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Johnston Island in the Pacific, electrical equipment more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) away in Hawaii was affected. Street lights, alarms, circuit breakers, and communications equipment all showed signs of distortions and damage.
In 1997 and 1999, the House National Security Committee and the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee held hearings on the potential threats to civilian systems in America from an EMP attack. Congress subsequently established the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, also known as the Graham Commission after its chairman, William Graham (former science advisor to President Ronald Reagan). The Commission issued a report in 2004 that evaluated the threat to the U.S. from an EMP attack, assessed vulnerabilities in both military and civilian systems, and offered recommendations for overcoming these weaknesses. The Commission recommended hardening key power nodes as well as storing spares of essential but hard-to-build components of the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructure for communications, finance, and emergency public services. Congress held hearings the same year to evaluate the Commission's recommendations, but little tangible progress followed. The Commission was re-established in 2006 to continue monitoring the EMP threat.
A few select sites have been hardened against an EMP attack since the threat was identified. Air Force One, the airplane that carries the U.S. President, is designed to withstand an EMP attack. During the Cold War, the U.S. military hardened its most important military systems, such as U.S. nuclear weapons systems, against EMP threats. These efforts have decreased since the end of the Cold War, despite the continued vulnerability of these systems. Presently, most efforts to counter the EMP threat are focused on initiatives to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. These efforts include programs like the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.
Comprehensive threat assessment and scenario planning for EMP attacks remain underdeveloped. This inaction is in the face of warnings, such as the one in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review(QDR)which stated clearly that the "expanded reliance on sophisticated electronic technologies by the United States, its allies and partners increases their vulnerability to the destructive effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP)." Yet, the Department of Defense has not implemented the QDR's proposed EMP Action Plan. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has focused on other urgent threats, such as from conventional explosive devices or chlorine bombs, concluding that EMP is simply not a large enough threat for its attention. Even the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), the plan dedicated to ensuring that U.S. critical infrastructure is protected from terrorist attack, does not directly address the EMP threat. Congress has recently reassumed its leadership role on EMP by holding hearings on the issue in July 2008, but its ability to compel executive branch action in this area is limited.
While many non-federal homeland security authorities in many U.S. states express concern about an EMP attack, a comprehensive survey found that state-based emergency responders and National Guard units have done little to prepare for such an incident. Alaska, perhaps because of its relative isolation from most federal emergency response assets and the state's vulnerability due to its reliance on satellite-based communications, is a notable exception. In May 2007, the Alaskan state government announced it would include EMP when it next revises its emergency response plan. The state's homeland security officials plan to address the vulnerability of the state's electric and telecommunications infrastructures as well as related integration, implementation, and survivability issues. Alaska's efforts are considerable in comparison to other states; most have not even touched the issue. Limited state preparedness for an EMP attack is especially dangerous given the inability of the U.S. government, itself mostly unprepared for an EMP strike, to render much if any immediate assistance.
Americans remain gravely ill prepared for an EMP attack. In fact, the average U.S. city has only three days worth of food and health care provisions. Most Americans do not have enough batteries to keep flashlights working for any period of time, much less generator capabilities. And many of the country's most vulnerable citizens rely on the electricity grid for medical equipment, such as dialysis machines. Even standard medication will be difficult or impossible to come by if EMP disables pharmacies and transportation networks.
A Weapon of Mass Disruption
EMP has been dubbed a "weapon of mass disruption" because of its ability to devastate its target by disrupting electronic infrastructure. The August 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected Ohio, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and parts of Canada demonstrated the potential effects of a wide-area EMP attack. During that incident, more than 200 power plants, including several nuclear plants, were shut down as a result of the electricity cutoff. Loss of water pressure led local authorities to advise affected communities to boil water before drinking due to contamination from the failure of sewage systems. Many backup generators proved unable to manage the crisis.
The day of the blackout brought massive traffic jams and gridlock when people tried to drive home without the aid of traffic lights. Additional transportation problems arose when railways, airlines, gas stations, and oil refineries also halted operations. Phone lines were overwhelmed due to the high volume of calls, while many radio and television stations went off the air. Overall, the blackout-which lasted only one day-cost $7 billion to $10 billion in spoiled food, lost production, overtime wages, and other related expenses inflicted on more than one-seventh of the U.S. population.
In the case of an EMP attack, depending on whether it is nuclear or improvised, the damage could easily prove more severe. An EMP detonation could affect car and truck engines, aircraft ignition systems, hospital equipment, pacemakers, communications systems, and electrical appliances. Road and rail signaling, industrial control applications, and other electronic systems are all susceptible to EMP. Electromagnetic energy on a radio frequency will travel through any conductive matter with which it comes into contact-from electrical wires to telephone wires, even water mains-which can spread the effects to areas far beyond ground zero.
A successful EMP attack could result in airplanes literally falling from the sky; vehicles could stop functioning, and water, sewer, and electrical networks could all fail-all at once. Food would rot, health care would be reduced to its most rudimentary level, and there would not be any transportation. Rule of law would become impossible to sustain; police departments would be overwhelmed.
Communication abilities would be limited, preventing federal, state, and local governments from communicating with one another-severely limiting abilities to shift needed resources around the country. During the 2003 blackout, some communications systems remained intact. Cars and aircraft were not directly affected and rapidly resumed operation after the electrical system recovered a few days later. In an EMP attack, however, the damage to power lines, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) control systems (for utility systems infrastructure), and commercial computers would very likely be permanent due to fused power lines and lost data-which would require replacing the entire electric system in the affected area. One estimate warns that the likely costs from the detonation of an EMP weapon over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area could exceed $770 billion. Millions of Americans could suffer death or injury, and social chaos could ensue.
Besides the domestic consequences of an EMP attack, it would also be difficult for the U.S. to organize a coherent retaliatory strike against the aggressor. America's armed forces may simply be unprepared for an attack, or our national devastation could prove too distracting. Furthermore, it may be too difficult to rapidly determine the perpetrator of the attack, for instance, if a compact E-Bomb were smuggled into the U.S. If a nuclear warhead is detonated in orbit, there is a strong potential for substantial damage to U.S. and other satellites as well as any spacecraft in use at the time of the explosion. The military applications of such satellites are critical for defense systems that rely on GPS guidance, such as ballistic missiles and many conventional military strike weapons. The adverse impact on U.S. space-based communications, early-warning assets, fire-control systems, overhead sensors and imagery, and geospatial intelligence would be substantial as well.
Near-term recovery could prove impossible because of America's dependence on extensive transportation networks and other electricity-powered infrastructures. America's infrastructure is highly interconnected, as was demonstrated during the blackout. A problem in one part of the country can translate into problems across the United States, contributing immensely to lives lost and property destroyed during an EMP attack.
Potential U.S. Adversaries Have the Knowledge-and the
The range of actors that might attempt an EMP attack against the United States is obviously-and distressingly-large and includes conventional military regimes, rogue states with limited conventional military capabilities, and terrorist groups that seek to inflict catastrophic damage on America. Both Russia and China have dabbled in EMP technology for decades.
There is evidence that suggests that certain Russian nuclear weapons have already been optimized to generate enhanced EMP effects. Just this year, Russian scientists claimed to have developed a compact apparatus that can fit on a dining table. The electromagnetic pulse associated with this device could amount to billions of watts of power in a single platform. Analysts have also identified Chinese military writings that discuss using EMP weapons in international conflicts.
For countries less dependent on modern technologies and electronics, including both rogue states like Iran and North Korea as well as stateless terrorist groups, EMP provides a potential way to attack the United States through asymmetric means. EMPs could be used to circumvent America's superior conventional military power while reducing vulnerability to retaliation in kind. It would certainly not be impossible for a terrorist organization, especially if state-sponsored, to acquire or construct an unsophisticated ballistic missile (non-working Scuds are reportedly available on the open market for $100,000) and use it in an EMP attack against America. Such a missile could be launched from a freighter in international waters and detonated in the atmosphere over the United States without warning.
The materials used to build non-nuclear EMP weapons can be easily acquired or manufactured by moderately developed terrorist groups with even limited financial resources. Although the potential impact is less, an improvised EMP could still inflict major damage. The construction of a nuclear weapon is much more difficult and requires a good understanding of physics, electrical engineering, and explosives; but these terror groups are actively seeking to gain this knowledge, and rogue states could see opportunity in collaborating with these groups to accelerate the process.
The Time for Action Is Now
The U.S. cannot continue to ignore the EMP threat. While some progress has been made in hardening potential U.S. targets against attack, including critical military and government systems, the vast majority of electrical systems are unshielded and unprotected, especially in the civilian sector. If properly shielded, electrical devices and systems can generally survive even the strongest EMPs. Congress and the new Administration must:
Perform More Research on the Threat. Further research is needed in order to ensure that America can respond to the EMP threat appropriately without wasting government resources on flimsy or useless security measures. Although there are numerous methods to harness EMPs capable of affecting electronic systems, there is still a theoretical limit to what damage they can produce in terms of both geographic size and intensity.
Some EMP weapons release just enough energy to disable small electrical devices while others can destroy all the electronic devices and systems within a city block. Altitude plays a major role in whether an EMP attack will be successful; lower heights typically expose a smaller surface area to EMP damage. Some systems are simply more vulnerable to EMP attack than others, such as devices plugged into power grids and commercial computer equipment. The U.S. government must gain knowledge of the attributes and capabilities of EMP and understand the amount of money, time, and effort that will be required for meaningful prevention. EMP research should also include actions by Congress to simulate the effects of an EMP attack on Washington and other high-value targets and re-examine the Graham Report recommendations.
Build a Comprehensive Missile Defense System. The most likely method of EMP attack would be a ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead. Building a comprehensive missile defense system would allow the U.S. to intercept and destroy a missile bound for the United States. The mere implementation of such a system would go a long way to prevent an attack by dissuading those who wish to carry out such actions and sending a clear message that the U.S. takes this threat seriously.
Those opposed to missile defense in Congress and elsewhere have attempted to paint such an endeavor as a waste of resources that does nothing to further American security. 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age, A Reader, a collection of essays by pre-eminent defense scholars, emphasized the need for such measures, and recent missile testing by Iran demonstrates that other countries are actively involved in developing missile programs-which could be used against the U.S.
Incorporate EMP Attacks into National Planning Scenarios. The National Planning Scenarios are 15 all-hazards planning scenarios used by federal, state, and local officials in disaster response exercises. The exercises can determine capabilities and needs and address problems before a disaster instead of after the fact. Given an EMP attack's unique nature and its ability to paralyze the U.S., individualized preparation is necessary. EMP must be added to the list.
Develop a National
Recovery Plan. The U.S. must identify the key power grid and telecommunications
infrastructure that is critical to preserving our nation's core capabilities
and create a National Recovery Plan. This risk-based approach recognizes that
certain infrastructure is key to recovery after an EMP attack. By taking
measures to protect this infrastructure, we can lessen the recovery time from
According to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) "Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs," a private company should prepare to function without electricity for a short period in order to maintain uninterrupted operations. While this time period will certainly vary by industry, encouraging the private sector to prepare in this manner and to develop company recovery plans will allow the government to focus on bringing key infrastructure back online. The private sector can move toward this goal by investing in more adequate infrastructure now.
A Threat too Big to Be Ignored
Although many in Congress and the White House tend to ignore the EMP threat, America's potential adversaries will not. To these adversaries, EMP technology represents the opportunity to inflict-with relative ease-catastrophic and lasting damage on the United States that could threaten our very existence. Preventing such an attack depends on the U.S. government's ability to understand the very real chance and the devastating consequences of an EMP attack-and to take the actions necessary to prevent them.
Prepared For An Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Or Severe Solar Storm
Source: Future Science
Abstract: This statement is commonly known as Clarke's Third Law. Many people have heard this quotation, but few people really think about its implications.
We now live in a world that is so completely immersed in advanced technology that we depend upon it for our very survival. Most of the actions that we depend upon for our everyday activities -- from flipping a switch to make the lights come on to obtaining all of our food supplies at a nearby supermarket -- are things that any individual from a century ago would consider magic.
Very few people in industrialized countries do work that is not directly assisted by electronic computers, although that computerized assistance is often quite invisible to the average person. Few people think about things such as the fact that whenever we buy some food item at a supermarket (and many others are buying the same item), the next time we go to that same supermarket, they still have about the same supplies that they had before. There are invisible infrastructures all around us that are made up of advanced technology. Most of us just take the magic for granted.
Few people stop to consider what would happen if, in an instant, the magic went away. If our advanced technology were suddenly and completely destroyed, how would we manage to survive? A nuclear EMP could make the magic go away. I hope it never happens, and I don't think that it is at all inevitable. It makes no sense, however, to be blind to the danger. It is both much less likely to happen -- and also less likely to have a catastrophic impact -- if, both as a civilization and as individuals, we are prepared for an attack on our advanced technology. A nuclear EMP would be a seemingly magical attack upon our advanced technology, the technological infrastructure upon which our lives depend.
Among all of the kinds of electromagnetic disturbances that can occur, though, it is important to keep things in perspective. It is possible that a nuclear EMP may never happen where you live. On the other hand, a severe solar storm that will destroy most of the world's power grids appears nearly inevitable at this point. Protection against the damage of a severe solar storm could be done easily and rather inexpensively by the electrical utilities; however it is not being done, and there is no sign that it will be done. A severe solar storm poses little threat to electronics, but would take down the most important power grids in the world for a period of years. This is a special problem in the United States, and is a severe threat in the eastern United States. So, more important than preparing for a nuclear EMP attack is preparing for all of the ramifications of a severe solar storm which would cause an electrical power outage that would, in most areas, last for a period of years. Most standby power systems would continue to function after a severe solar storm, but supplying the standby power systems with adequate fuel, when the main power grids are offline for years, could become a very critical problem.
In the mid-20th century, electricity was regarded as a convenience. By the end of that century, electricity had become something that most people literally cannot live without for more than a few weeks. This profound change has happened so gradually that very few people have even noticed.
This is a page about some of the things that individuals can do to prepare for an electromagnetic pulse attack. I'm an electronics engineer who has been thinking about the EMP problem for more than 3 decades. I even have an ancient Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 4P that has been retrofitted with a complete electromagnetic shield. It's just a personal antique, useless for anything but a personal reminder of how long I've been thinking about this problem. That early-model personal computer didn't even have a hard drive.
I've spent much of my career working with radio and television transmitters on high mountaintops where there is a lot of lightning and other kinds of severe electromagnetic transients. Many engineers who spend their careers working in fairly benign electromagnetic environments don't realize the fragility of our technological infrastructure. On this page, I'm going to concentrate on a nuclear EMP attack, but much of this also applies to natural events such as unusual geomagnetic storms due to extremely large solar storms.
The threat of a sudden EMP attack that causes a widespread catastrophe is certainly nothing new. Consider this Cold War era quotation from a widely-read and highly-respected publication more than 30 years ago: "The United States is frequently crossed by picture-taking Cosmos series satellites that orbit at a height of 200 to 450 kilometers above the earth. Just one of these satellites, carrying a few pounds of enriched plutonium instead of a camera, might touch off instant coast-to-coast pandemonium: the U.S. power grid going out, all electrical appliances without a separate power supply (televisions, radios, computers, traffic lights) shutting down, commercial telephone lines going dead, special military channels barely working or quickly going silent." -- from "Nuclear Pulse (III): Playing a Wild Card" by William J. Broad in Science magazine, pages 1248-1251, June 12, 1981.
The situation would
be much worse today than in 1981 due to our profound and ever-increasing
dependence upon electricity and electronics for the basic maintenance of our
lives. In addition, the last remnants of the pre-electrical
infrastructure, and the knowledge of how to use the components of that
infrastructure, is slowly and completely disappearing. Some people have
said that the long-term loss of the power grid would send us back to the 19th
century. That belief is quite false because we have no 19th century
infrastructure and very little 19th century knowledge. A long-term loss
of the power grid would send us back at least 500 years.
First: Another brief note about severe solar storms (and similar natural events), and then I'll get back to nuclear EMP. Solar storms would primarily affect the power grid, and are not likely to harm things like computers. Also, solar storms would only disrupt communications temporarily, and would not be likely to cause direct harm to communications equipment (except for satellites). An extremely large solar storm, though, would induce geomagnetic currents that could destroy a substantial fraction of the very largest transformers on the power grid (possibly over much of the world). If this happened, electric power loss due to a large solar storm would be out for a period of years and possibly decades. Unlike nuclear EMP, such a solar storm is an eventual inevitability.
The last solar storm that could have caused this level of damage happened in 1859, before the power grid was in place (although in 1921 a large solar storm, of briefer duration than the 1859 event, occurred which affected only a small area of the planet). The power grid has only been in place for a tiny fraction of one percent of human history, and a really large solar storm (of the size and duration of the 1859 event) has not happened in that time. There is a general assumption that any solar event that is similar to, or larger than, the 1859 solar superstorm will simply never happen again, although there is no justification for such an assumption -- in fact, we know that this assumption is false. There is a good possibility that such a solar storm will happen in this century. If it happens in the current situation without spares for our largest transformers, a large part of the worldwide power grid (including 70 to 100 percent of the United States power grid) will be down for years.
A 2008 study by Metatech found that the time required to obtain a replacement for any one of the 370 or so largest transformers in the United States was 3 years. In a solar superstorm that affects vulnerable areas of the entire world, delivery times could easily be much longer. The United States, which currently has no capability to manufacture those transformers, will be at the end of a very long waiting line. There are some companies in the United States that certainly have the capability of moving up from the ability to manufacture medium-sized power grid transformers to the capability of manufacturing even the largest transformers. So far, that capability has not been developed, although there are signs that this unfortunate situation may change in the coming years. Since such a expansion of manufacturing capability requires a lot of electrical power, the capability cannot be developed after an electromagnetic catastrophe. The capability has to be developed before there is an actual critical need. In the past two years, at least two companies have expressed the intention of getting back into the large transformer business, but it will take a considerable length of time to develop this capability fully.
Because of the inevitability of a large solar superstorm, we have to accept the fact that the current electric power grid upon which our lives depend is only a temporary infrastructure. This temporary infrastructure has served us very well, and we now have entrusted our very lives to it.
The fact that the electric power grid began as a convenience, but has become a necessity for sustaining life, is both one of the most beneficial, and one of the most dangerous, facts of 21st century existence. We do not know how long the current power grid will last; but if it not replaced by a robust permanent infrastructure in time, hundreds of millions of people will die when the electric power grid collapses simultaneously in many countries. How such a collapse occurs is very well known, and the methods to either prevent it, or to have spare transformers in place to fairly quickly repair it, are also well known. Although these preventive measures would not be terribly expensive, they would take some time to put into place; and those things have never been done.
Provisions for insuring islands of power production within the country that would prevent millions of deaths could be put in place fairly quickly, and much less expensively, but this also has never been done -- or, until recently, even been seriously considered, except by the few scientists and engineers who have seriously studied the fragility of the electric power grid. There are finally signs, in 2011 and 2012, that this situation is beginning to change.
I am repeatedly asked about "Faraday cages" for solar storms and protection of automobiles against solar storms. I must repeat that this is an area where solar storms and nuclear EMP are very different. Solar storms only produce something similar to the E3 component of nuclear EMP. "Faraday cages" are not relevant for solar storms for anyone at ground level (unless you are planning to launch a satellite). Solar storms will not destroy your car,(at least not any of the solar storms that have occurred in the past million years). If you own an electric car, though, it may be wise to avoid charging it during an active geomagnetic storm.
Many people who say that they have off-the-grid power systems, however, are interconnected to the power grid in order to sell their excess power back to the grid. From an EMP or solar storm standpoint, this presents the worst of all possible worlds. Such an interconnection exposes a so-called off-the-grid system to all of the dangers of the power grid.
Even though solar storms primarily affect the power grid, customers can communicate the importance of EMP and solar storm protection to their local electric utilities. Devices such as the SolidGround system made by Emprimus can be installed by local electric companies on all of their large transformers that are connected to very long lines.
Although a major electromagnetic disturbance that would destroy large parts of the electrical grid is almost inevitable in the next century, it is important to keep things in the proper perspective. There is a reasonable chance that people will come to their senses in time, and have the electrical power grid protected before such an event happens. Although a hardened power grid does not seem likely in the near future, the dangers to the power grid are becoming much more widely known.
Another encouraging trend is the fact that far more people are prepared to be self-sufficient for at least a few weeks than was the case just a few years ago. The greater the number of people who have made at least minimal preparations for a disaster, the smaller will be the impact of the disaster.
Even apartment dwellers on a very low income can have a level of preparedness that will be of significant help. By buying an extra can of soup or other reasonably nutritious canned food every week or two, you can build up a food reserve -- before you realize it -- that will last you for at least a week or two. A week or two of "breathing room" after a disaster can give you great peace of mind and allow you to stop and think and plan for a future course of action (while the unprepared are all in a great panic). It is even possible that additional help will arrive after a week or two. The most important thing is to store at least a two-week supply of drinking water. There are many plastic containers of all sizes that can be stored in a closet that won't take up an excessive amount of space.
One kind of convenient containers for water storage in small spaces are the one gallon polypropylene plastic bottles that are used for Arizona brand teas. Although these plastic containers are marked with the Resin Identification Code 5 or 7, the Arizona Beverage Company web site states that (at least, as of July 2012 and earlier) the plastic does not contain any bisphenol-A in the container, so they should be safe for long-term water storage. These one-gallon plastic containers with screw-on plastic lids should be a convenient method of water storage for many people. Do not keep the water in storage for a very long time without putting new water in occasionally, though.
What Just Happened???
The most important piece of information you can have after any sort of unusual electrical event is information about what happened. If there is a bright flash in the sky at the same time that the power goes off, and you've been worried about nuclear EMP, your first reaction may be to assume the worst. It may, however, be just cloud-to-cloud lightning that happened at the same time that a distant cloud-to-ground lightning strike knocked out the power. Even if you thought the sky was clear outside, there may have been a distant thunderstorm, and lightning bolts sometimes travel remarkably long distances.
If it is a nuclear EMP, though, you will want to know about it right away, and the local radio and television stations are going to all be off the air. Most of the internet will also be down. There might be some telephone service if you are very lucky, but anyone that you would call probably won't know any more than you. The only way that you will get any timely information will be by listening to broadcasts originating on other continents using a battery-operated shortwave radio.
If you have a shortwave radio, it is likely to be knocked out by the EMP unless it is adequately shielded. To be adequately shielded, it needs to be kept inside of a complete metallic shielded enclosure, commonly known as a faraday cage, and preferably inside nested faraday cages. A faraday cage is an total enclosure made out of a good electrical conductor such as copper or aluminum. (Steel also works well, but it is more difficult to make a total enclosure with steel.) Large faraday cages can get extremely complicated. For small portable electronics, though, completely covering the electronic equipment in aluminum foil makes an adequate faraday cage around the equipment. The foil covering needs to be complete, without any significant gaps. Wrap the device in plastic or put it in an insulated box before wrapping the covered device in foil. (Otherwise, the foil may simply conduct the EMP energy into the device more effectively.) A single layer of foil may not be adequate. In order to enclose the equipment in a nested faraday cage, place the foil-covered device in a plastic bag, such as a freezer bag, and wrap that bag completely in aluminum foil. If you really want to protect the equipment against a large EMP, add another layer of plastic and foil. The layer of plastic need to be the thickest plastic bags that you can easily find. (They don't need to be terribly thick, but do try to find some heavy-duty bags.)
Just adding many layers of foil directly on top of foil won't do as much good, due to what is called "skin effect." I won't bother to explain skin effect here, but you can look it up if you're curious. Don't worry too much about skin effect, though. I only mention it here because many people have the misconception that when it comes to shielding, the thicker the better -- and this is definitely not true after a certain thickness is reached. Layers of shielding separated by insulation works much better. As a practical matter, though, wrapping with 2 or 3 layers of foil helps to assure that you actually have a good shield around the equipment.
Of course, any antennas or power cords need to be either disconnected or contained completely within the faraday cage.
One question that arises frequently is whether a gun safe or a galvanized trash can makes an effective faraday cage. Technically, it may not be correct to call either of these a faraday cage because they are not constructed of the best electrical conductors. A galvanized metal trash can, though, can be a very effective electromagnetic shield. The interior of the body of the galvanized metal trash can should be lined with some material to electrically insulate items stored inside the container from the metal exterior. (Cardboard probably works better than any other inexpensive material for this. Liners such as plastic trash bags may be too thin for this because of the momentary high voltages that could be induced on the exterior during an actual EMP.) Do not place any insulation at a point where it would interfere with the electrical connection between the metal lid and the metal body of the trash can. It would be a good idea to wrap items placed inside the metal trash can with a layer of aluminum foil in the "nested faraday cage" manner described above.
The question about using gun safes as an electromagnetic shield cannot be answered because there are so many variations in construction that would affect the shielding efficiency. In particular, the electrical connection between the door and the rest of the safe is usually not very good. Such a safe probably has some shielding effectiveness, but in most cases, the shielding is very minimal.
You'll need to keep plenty of batteries on hand for your radios. There are some models of shortwave radios that have hand-crank or solar power, but those "emergency radios" that I've tried don't have very good shortwave reception (although, as explained below, many inexpensive shortwave radios could suddenly become very adequate after an EMP event). A common complaint about radios that use hand-crank power is that the hand cranks are not very sturdy, however the radios will continue to function by using conventional battery power (or solar power if it is available.) If you do use the hand crank on an emergency radio, though, do not treat the hand crank too roughly. I still recommend keeping plenty of batteries on hand.
Energizer makes lithium batteries with a 15 year shelf life. Although small batteries were not damaged during the 1962 high-altitude nuclear tests, it would be wise to wrap each sealed package of batteries in a layer of aluminum foil. Future EMPs may be much larger than the 1962 events. Also, battery technology is evolving and the sensitivity of newer types of batteries to EMP is unknown (although the cylindrical batteries tend to provide a certain amount of shielding just due to the way that they are constructed.). I generally prefer Energizer batteries for cylindrical batteries (AA, AAA, C and D sizes) and Duracell for 9-volt batteries. The 9-volt batteries contain 6 internal cells in series. In the Duracell 9-volt batteries, the cells are spot welded together, whereas most other popular brands use a simple press-fit interconnect for the cells. The Duracell spot-weld method generally makes for a much more reliable connection in this type of battery.
The idea behind having a shortwave radio is to be able to directly receive radio stations on another continent that has been unaffected by the EMP. The radio that I like best of the portable, and not too expensive, receivers is the SONY ICF-SW7600GR. This model is not cheap, but you can usually find it for at least 25 percent below its "list price."
Another good shortwave radio for the price is the Grundig Traveller II Digital G8. This Grundig radio is much less expensive than the SONY ICF-SW7600GR. You can usually find the Grundig G8 for around 50 U.S. dollars. In using the Grundig radio recently, my only complaint was that it seemed to be much more susceptible to electrical noise than many other shortwave radios. Electrical noise is always a problem when listening to distant stations, but, of course, in a post-EMP situation, electrical noise would cease to be a problem.
Grundig also makes a somewhat better radio known as the S350DL, that sells for about 100 U.S. dollars. This radio is larger, and many people find it easier to handle. It also has a number of features, such as bandwidth and RF gain controls, that are difficult to find on other radios in this price range. The tuning on the S350DL is analog, but it has a digital readout. Some of the annoying aspects of the tuning dial in earliest models of this radio have been corrected in current versions.
The National Geographic Store sells the Grundig S350DL radio, which is pictured at the bottom of this page.
Many people have legitimate complaints about nearly any shortwave radio that can be purchased for less than 300 U.S. dollars. Those complaints are often valid if the radio is to be used frequently in today's high levels of electrical noise and radio frequency interference. In a post-EMP situation, or any situation where the regional electric grid goes down, the situation will be very different.
Many people have bought or kept old vacuum tube radios for use after an EMP attack. Although vacuum tubes are thousands of times more resistant to EMP than transistors (and discrete transistors are much more resistant than integrated circuits), other components of vacuum tubes radios can be damaged by EMP. In fact, vacuum tube radios actually were damaged in 1962 high-altitude nuclear tests. Vacuum tube radios also have the disadvantage of requiring much more power than solid-state radios, and electric power will be a rare commodity after a nuclear EMP. Although a vacuum tube radio would have a high likelihood of coming through an EMP event undamaged as long as it was turned off and not connected to an antenna, a modern solid-state shortwave radio kept inside of a nested faraday cage is the best form of insurance for obtaining information after an EMP event. (Many people don't realize that most vacuum tube radios still in existence have an early solid-state device called a selenium rectifier that is quite vulnerable to EMP damage. Although replacement selenium rectifiers are still sold for old radios, they are difficult to find, and you would probably find them to be impossible to get after an EMP attack.)
One important misconception about electromagnetic shielding is the common belief that it should be "all or nothing." When it comes to critical small spare items like an emergency radio, it is important to go to some extra trouble to insure the best shielding possible. Simple small nested faraday cages are so simple and inexpensive that you might as well make sure that a few items are very well shielded. When it comes to less critical items, though, such as items that you use frequently, a less-complete electromagnetic shield could easily make the difference between having equipment that survives an EMP and equipment that does not survive. It is a very common misconception that certain items must have military-grade shielding and other items are nothing to worry about at all. Real world electromagnetic disturbances are much more messy than that.
A nuclear EMP will severely disrupt the upper atmosphere, so it could be several hours after an EMP before you get decent shortwave reception with any radio, but that will be long before you could get information from any other source. If you're in the United States, you may be able to get emergency information from a local NOAA Weather Radio station. I believe that a few NOAA emergency transmitters are EMP-protected, but most are not. Repairs to many of these transmitters may be able to be made by military personnel, who can also supply emergency power to them for a while, but that emergency power may not last very long. If you're in the United States, though, it is important to have a NOAA Weather Radio. These radios really are inexpensive, and whenever the NOAA transmitters are working, they can provide local information that is critically important. Like your shortwave radio, an emergency NOAA Weather radio needs to be kept in a nested faraday cage until you need it. NOAA Weather Radios could be especially important in the case of a large solar superstorm, where the radios would probably continue to work and give information, even though much of the power grid could be out for years.
Many people severely underestimate the need for information in any kind of a disaster. In recent examples of long-term disasters (such as the breakdown of civilization in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s), many people actually died while undertaking risky activities in order to obtain information. Many 21st century humans have an addiction to information that, although it has greatly improved their standard of living, it would cause them to take even greater risks than people did only a generation earlier. The important thing is to think about the importance of information well before any sort of a disaster happens.
If you have a spare laptop computer, it can also be stored in nested faraday cages, just like your radio.
LED and CFL lights: LED lights (and, to a lesser extent, compact fluorescent lights) can be very useful for post-EMP use because of their efficiency at a time when very little electricity may be available. Both LED lights and CFL lights, though, are very sensitive to EMP.
LED lights are solid-state diodes that are made to conduct electricity on one direction only. In the case of LED lights, the LED itself has a very low reverse breakdown voltage. Most LED lights will handle a fairly large voltage spike in the forward direction, but not in the reverse direction. LED lights are currently the most efficient form of lighting that is available. LED lights also can last for a very long time. I know of one case where a device that I built at a television transmitter site in 1980 has some of the older (1970s) type of LED indicator lights that have been operating continuously for more than 30 years.
Compact fluorescent lights can probably be stored without any kind of EMP protection because the base of the light is so small that they are unlikely to pick up enough voltage for the imbedded transistors to be damaged. CFL bulbs are almost certain, however, to be damaged if they are in a socket at the time of an EMP since they have two switching transistors embedded into the base of the CFL. These switching transistors, although they are out of sight, would very likely be damaged by high voltages picked up by any wiring external to the CFL device itself.
If you learn that you have been in an EMP attack, don't make any premature assumptions about how bad it may have been. It may have just hit a part of the country, or it may have been with a relatively small weapon so that the power grid may be back up and running in a few weeks. It also could be from a large weapon, or multiple weapons, that totally destroyed the infrastructure of the country. There is an enormous spectrum of possibilities for an EMP attack. Don't be fooled by the either-or myth, or any of the other common EMP Myths that are discussed elsewhere on this web site.
Much of what has been written elsewhere about faraday cages is based upon the assumption that the faraday cage is going to be a room or building sized structure. Large professionally-built faraday cages need to be well-grounded, but for smaller faraday cages, such as you would use to shield a radio or a laptop computer, any wire running to a ground is likely to just function as an antenna, and possibly as a very efficient antenna for gathering EMP. Grounding for EMP is a very specialized area of technology. In fact, grounding for just about any application other than simple static discharge or some basic kinds of electrical safety are also very specialized areas of technology.
As the Soviets learned in 1962, even large underground conductors (such as underground power lines) can absorb huge induced currents from nuclear EMP. The same thing can happen to underground conductors like cold water pipes, which are commonly used for more primitive types of grounding. In a nuclear EMP, a cold water pipe ground may become a large underground antenna if it is connected to a long underground pipe. Although these underground pipes probably won't pick up very much of the fast E1 pulse, they can pick up rather large DC-like currents, and you don't need unexpected electrical currents coming from what you thought was a ground connection. (The corrosion of underground pipelines due to the electric currents induced by moderate solar storms has been a well-known problem for decades.)
For shielding small items like radios and other electronics equipment, use the nested faraday cage system of alternating foil (or screen) and plastic, and don't bother with the ground connection (unless you plan to physically bury your equipment). EMP grounding gets very tricky, and the ordinary rules for grounding do not apply. (Most high-power transmitter antennas are actually at a DC ground.)
I sometimes regret using the term faraday cage at all because that term has a very specific meaning in the engineering world, and few non-engineers understand the difference between a faraday cage and a partial (but possibly quite adequate) electromagnetic shield. A steel enclosure is not a good enough electrical conductor to be called a faraday cage, but it may provide enough electromagnetic shielding to protect its contents. A related popular myth is that there is a sharp and well-defined boundary between what is protected from EMP and what is not.
Military systems have very rigid specifications for electromagnetic shielding because they are trying to protect against a multitude of unknown factors. Unless an individual has a very large amount of available wealth, such a high level of protection is probably not going to be relevant for an individual. The level of shielding that is adequate in any particular case depends upon a great many factors, including the strength of the EMP, the distance and direction to the weapon and the electromagnetic sensitivity of the particular equipment that you are trying to protect. This electromagnetic sensitivity varies greatly with every electronic device, and the sensitivity changes rapidly as technologies change.
A few days after an EMP attack, a lot of people will become really terrified as their food and water supplies run out, and they discover that there is no way to obtain fresh supplies. Within two or three weeks, the military services will likely come to the rescue for many people. If the size of the attack has been very large, though, that period of relief will probably not last very long. An even larger problem for food distribution is that any kind of centrally-directed distribution, no matter how well-intentioned, is highly inefficient. If you drive into any very large city with enough food for everyone, no centralized organization has ever figured out how to devise a mechanism that is anything close to being as efficient as the marketplace to get the food to everyone. In any case, most people will soon simply begin to starve to death.
For many people, their first concern regarding an EMP attack or a solar superstorm is the protection of their personal electronics, or even their automobiles. For nearly everyone, though, the first real problem they will face will come from the loss of power to the pumps that supply their water -- and with the computers that maintain the only local food supplies. Although most individuals cannot do anything to protect critical infrastructure computers or to protect the power to critical central utility water pumps and sewage systems, some advanced planning can increase the chances that you will have an adequate supply of food and water.
Whatever the scope of the EMP attack, the longer that you can remain at home and be fairly self-sufficient, the better things will be for you. This is likely to be especially true during the first few weeks after the EMP event. In most industrialized countries, it is not customary for individuals to keep very much in the way of emergency supplies in their homes. In fact, many people who do keep many emergency supplies are regarded with some suspicion, thought to be "survivalists" or some other strange breed of humans. Disasters are frequent enough, though, that any prudent individual should maintain some basic level of self-sufficiency. Most people in industrialized countries see large-scale emergencies happening frequently on television, while maintaining the irrational and completely unwarranted assumption that it will never happen to them. Therefore, it is the people who do not plan for personal emergencies who ought to be regarded with suspicion as a strange and irrational breed of human.
There are several very reliable companies that specialize in these emergency supplies. The MREs (meals ready to eat) used by military services, especially during emergencies, have to be made on an industrial scale, and they are available for sale to individuals during non-emergency times. The MREs are not the best choice for emergency supplies, though, because of the limited lifetime compared to canned dehydrated and canned freeze-dried food. Many of these same companies that make MREs also make freeze-dried food in cans, which have a far longer shelf life and a much lower daily relative cost. After any sort of large-scale disaster, these supplies are only going to be available from government agencies, and government agencies will only have a finite supply. Many basic emergency supplies can be purchased in advance of the emergency from reputable companies that have been making these emergency food supplies for years. The food that these companies sell normally has a shelf life of 5 to 25 years or more, depending upon exactly how it is prepared and packaged. Although I do not want to get into the process of naming companies, one that I believe to be one of the best, especially for those who have not thought about the subject before, is Emergency Essentials.
For any emergency food supplies that you do get, it is important to get food that you personally like and are actually likely to use, even if a personal emergency never happens. Then, if an emergency does happen, it will be you, not distant relief workers, who will determine what the content of your food supply is. If you get food that you actually like, you will be motivated to actually use it, and you won't have to throw it out as it approaches its maximum storable life.
Some people keep only grains as an emergency food supply. Although some raw grains have a very long shelf life and a high calorie density, they do not have an adequate spectrum of nutrients for long-term use. In any emergency situation where scarcity of food is a long-term problem, we are likely to see the return of long-forgotten nutritional diseases such as scurvy and various kinds of other vitamin deficiencies, especially of the B vitamins and vitamin D.
Don't forget about water. Few people keep an emergency supply of water, in spite of the fact that it is inexpensive and easy to do. Almost every country of the world has a period of days every year where many people in some large area are without drinkable water. In most countries, nearly all of the water is pumped by electric motors. After a major EMP attack or a solar superstorm, electricity for most of those pumps is going to be unavailable for a very long period of time. It would be easy for most cities to have a protected emergency electrical supply in place for critical pumps; but, like most EMP protection activity, although it is easy and could possibly save millions of lives, it is not being done.
A good source of information and products in a situation where the electric grid is down, especially for obtaining well water in such a situation, is the Lehmans web site. Lehmans sells galvanized well buckets, which are long narrow metal buckets that will retrieve water from a well when the pumps aren't working. Metal well buckets can also be used to retrieve fuel from underground fuel tanks when the pumps are not working. Lehmans is often out of stock of these galvanized well buckets. They have been getting to be difficult to find since people have gotten concerned about the fragility of the electric grid, but having a well bucket can be life-saving.
It is also a good idea to have plenty of fire extinguishers. The immediate aftermath of either a nuclear EMP attack or a large solar superstorm is likely result in a number of fires, along with the elimination of the water necessary to extinguish the fires. Both the E3 component of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, as well as the DC-like currents induced by a large solar superstorm, are likely to overheat thousands of transformers that are connected to long wires. Although it is the destruction of the very large transformers in the power grid that could keep the power grid from being restored for many years -- many much smaller transformers, such as those on utility poles, and spread throughout suburban neighborhoods, are at risk of overheating to the point that they cause fires. Although the great majority of the smaller transformers are likely to survive, many of these transformers are very old, and some small fraction of them are likely to severely overheat.
Medicine is another very important thing that must be considered. If there are medicines that are required by someone in your household, it is always prudent to have an extra supply on hand. In many countries, insurance restricts the amount of medicine that you can buy. It is often actually less expensive to pay the full price for prescription medicine, especially when generics are available. Buying prescription medicine out of your own pocket makes it much easier to stockpile a supply for emergencies. There is a fairly new web site operated by a physician that discusses the problem of medicine storage for use during disasters. See the Armageddon Medicine site.
If you want to really be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, and increase the probability that the country can return to normal within a few years after an EMP attack, then you can be prepared to become part of the new infrastructure. The more electronics equipment that you can store under nested faraday shielding, the better. If you want to be able to use that electronics equipment after the batteries run down, you will need a personal power source. A simple small electric generator, one that does not depend upon electronics to start or run, is always a good idea. After an EMP attack, though, fuel for the generator will be a scarce commodity. Solar panels can be used to supply a small amount of electricity indefinitely, especially if you also have some good rechargeable batteries that match the voltage of your solar panel. I don't know how resistant solar cells are to EMP (mostly because solar panel technology is ever-changing and rapidly evolving at the present time), but if you have something like a 50 watt solar panel, you can store it in a nested faraday cage. Only very rare individuals are going to be able to have full electric power after an EMP attack, no matter what advance preparations they might like to make. In a post-pulse world, though, any amount of reasonably reliable electricity is going to be a real personal luxury.
If you have solar panels that are now in use, you can obtain some EMP protection by proper shielding and transient protection on the wires going to the panels, and by surrounding the panels with aluminum wire cloth (also known as hardware cloth). Aluminum wire cloth is somewhat difficult to find, but it is available. Aluminum wire cloth with openings of 0.4 to 0.5 inches will not only supply a certain amount of EMP protection, but can provide some protection against larger hailstones that can cause damage in severe weather. The wire cloth will block some of the sunlight, but the right size of wire cloth will block less than 15 to 25 percent of the sunlight. If you are making a new solar panel system, some consideration should be given to putting the solar panels inside of a cage made of aluminum wire cloth. This is much easier to do during the original installation. The cage of aluminum wire cloth should completely surround the panels. If your solar panels are mounted just above the ground (as opposed to a rooftop system), don't make the mistake of assuming that the soil below is a mystical perfect ground into which EMP magically vanishes. In a ground-mounted solar panel system, the wire cloth enclosure needs to go underneath the system, preferably underground.
If you plan to use solar cells or battery power, you will probably want to keep a small inverter under shielding. Inverters that can step up ordinary 12 volt DC power to a few hundred watts of household AC are not terribly expensive. For people who own protected photovoltaic solar cells, a number of DC-powered appliances have recently become available. Transient protection (capable of reacting to the fast E1 pulse) must be supplied on the electronic components of any solar cell system, such as the inputs and outputs of charge controllers and inverters. Any wire runs of any length should be shielded.
If you're trying to protect an existing solar panel system, protecting the wiring (even if it is shielded) from transients will require the services of someone knowledgeable in EMP transient protection. In most cases, the most economical solution is to keep spare components, especially inverters and charge controllers, stored under electromagnetic shielding.
If you do have access to post-EMP electricity sufficient to run a microwave oven occasionally, that can be a very efficient way of cooking food in many situations. Microwave ovens are about 30 times as efficient as conventional means for cooking food. The problem is that most microwave ovens couldn't be turned on after an EMP event due to the sensitivity of the solid-state control circuitry. The magnetron that generates the heat in a microwave oven would probably survive an EMP just fine. Microwave ovens are heavily shielded, but the sensitive control circuits are outside of the shielding. A few microwave ovens are controlled by a mechanical timer, and these would probably be fully functional after an EMP (assuming that you can occasionally get enough electricity to operate them). You can still find mechanical-timer-controlled microwave ovens occasionally, although they are getting harder to find every year. I bought one about five years ago at K-Mart for $40 for post-EMP use. I have recently seen small microwave ovens with electro-mechanical controls come back onto the market.
The chamber of an older microwave oven is an efficient faraday cage for most purposes which can be used for shielding small electronic items. It is important that any microwave oven used for this purpose should have its power cord cut off close the the body of the microwave oven. This should be done both to prevent accidentally turning on the microwave oven with electronics inside and to prevent the power cord from acting as an antenna to conduct EMP into the interior of the oven. Some newer microwave ovens have a chamber that is designed to shield microwaves, but may not effectively shield some lower frequencies. Anything that you are hoping to use as an electromagnetic shield should be tested by putting a radio inside of the shield tuned to a strong FM station. If you can hear the FM station while the radio is inside of the shield, then the shield is not adequate. There are so many things that can go wrong with electromagnetic shielding that any shielding that you are using should be tested first using the FM radio test. This test should be repeated using a strong local AM station. (Be sure to remove the batteries from any equipment before putting it in permanent storage, though.)
Laptop computers are generally much easier to protect from EMP than desktop computers. This is true both because of the smaller size of laptop computers and the fact that desktop computers have numerous cables which act as antennas for EMP -- and which conduct the pulse directly to the very sensitive electronics inside the computer. Even laptop computers must be well-shielded and without any connections to unprotected wires. The U.S. military contractors have developed shielding devices so that laptop computers can continue to be used during EMP attacks. Devices such as these, however, are not available on the commercial market.
If you want to store larger items in a faraday cage, you can use copper screen or aluminum screen. Most commercial faraday cages use copper screen, but copper screen is expensive and is difficult for most individuals to obtain. Bright aluminum screen works almost as well, and aluminum screen can be obtained in rolls at many building supply stores such as Home Depot. Don't worry about the fact that this screen is not a solid material. The size of the tiny ventilation holes in the mesh of ordinary window screen is irrelevant to EMP protection. Aluminum screen can make a very effective electromagnetic shield. Ordinary ferrous (iron-containing) window screen is not a good material for a faraday cage because it is a poor electrical conductor. Iron-containing material such as steel can be an excellent EMP shield, but the problem with things such as iron-containing screen is the difficulty of getting a good connection between various parts of the screen.
Do keep in mind, though, that anything even approaching a room-sized faraday cage is likely to only be a partial shield unless it is carefully and professionally designed and maintained, something that is completely impractical for most individuals. A partial shield, though, can often reduce electromagnetic signals from the outside by a critical amount. When I was working at a broadcast transmitter site that had an unacceptable level of electromagnetic radiation from the FM broadcast antenna into the area at ground level where the vehicle was commonly parked, I had a carport built with copper screen imbedded into the roof of the carport. The reduction in electromagnetic radiation beneath the carport was quite dramatic -- as actually measured using professional equipment. Since nuclear EMP comes in from a fairly high angle, it is likely that a similar arrangement, but using aluminum screen, would reduce the EMP substantially, possibly enough to protect vehicles and other large items stored below the shielded structure. In the case of the carport that I had built, I grounded the imbedded screen because I knew that the wire leading to ground would not act as more of an antenna than a ground for the shield. (I also knew that the ground at the bottom of the carport was an extremely well-designed ground.) Although most small faraday cages should not be grounded because of the "accidental antenna" problem, if a carport shield can be well-grounded at all four corners, then a direct wire going to a ground rod at each corner would probably be a good idea.
One question that most people don't think about is how to test the shielding efficiency that you are using. Most people don't have access to professional electromagnetic field measuring equipment, and they certainly don't have any nuclear weapons laying around the house. The most damaging part of a nuclear EMP has frequency components that run roughly from the AM broadcast band to the FM broadcast band. The components that are most likely to damage ordinary small electronic items are near the FM broadcast band. Therefore, you can make a rough test of your shielding effectiveness by tuning a radio to a strong FM station and see if your shielding silences the radio so that you can't receive the FM station. You can try the same thing with AM. In general, the good electrical conductors like copper or aluminum will be better at shielding the higher frequencies in the FM range, while steel cases may perform better in the lower-frequency AM band. The AM and FM reception test is an imperfect test, but it will give you some valuable information, and it is the only thing available at any reasonable cost to most people.
It is important to have all of the computer data that is important to you backed up onto optical media, like CD or DVD. Paper printouts are fine, but after an EMP attack, most of the data on paper printouts will simply never get typed back into computers, so those paper printouts will just become your personal mementos.
CD and DVD data (in other words, optical media) is not affected by EMP. Even if your computers are destroyed, if the country's economy can get re-built after an EMP attack, then new computers can be purchased from other continents. If all the computer data is gone, then recovery is going to be many years later than it would be if the data could just be reloaded from optical media. Computer data runs our modern world. It is a major part of the invisible magic that I mentioned at the top of this page. If you own a small business, that computer data can be especially important. (It is probably not a good idea to use double-sided DVDs, though, since there is the remote possibility of arcing between layers during electronic attacks. It is best to just use single-sided single-layer media.) For long-term storage of data, archival grade CD-R and DVD-R media are available at a reasonable price from manufacturers such as Verbatim and Memorex. The archival grade media are much more likely to last for many years or decades, and they don't cost that much more than standard media. Most stores don't carry archival grade media, but they aren't that difficult to find, especially on larger electronics stores on the internet.
Protecting most of the electronic appliances in your house against EMP, if they are plugged in and in use, is probably hopeless. There is always the possibility, though, that you will be near the edge of an area that is affected by an EMP attack. For this possibility, the combination of ordinary surge suppressors and ferrite suppression cores could be very valuable. There is at least one company that makes surge suppressors that look much like ordinary retail store surge suppressors, that are designed to be fast enough for nuclear EMP.
Ferrite suppression cores are those imbedded cylindrical things that make the cylindrical protrusion in the power cords on sensitive electronics equipment. They can be very effective to protect your equipment against ordinary transients --such as the type that occur constantly on the power lines and slowly damage your electronics equipment. The ferrite suppressors on power cords (and inside of many surge protectors) are usually the common type 43 ferrite material, which offers a considerable amount of protection against ordinary transients, but would do only a little to protect against the very fast E1 component of a nuclear EMP. You can buy separate snap-on ferrite suppressors, including snap-on ferrite suppression cores with type 61 ferrite, which will absorb much faster pulses. The ferrite cores with material 61 don't cost all that much more than the older ferrite, and they should attenuate the spike from a nuclear EMP much better than type 43 material. If you're in an area where there is a strong EMP, it won't attenuate it enough to do any good at all, but if you're at the edge of the affected area, or just get a nearby lightning strike, or have a lot of ordinary voltage spikes on your power line, these snap-on ferrite cores with material 61 could be extremely valuable. They are sold by companies such as Mouser Electronics. Look for items such as Fair-Rite part number 0461167281 or 0461164281.
Items like surge suppressors and ferrite suppression cores are only going to be effective against relatively small pulses that come in through the power line. A large EMP will totally and completely fry your large screen television by directly inducing currents in the equipment itself that are far too large for it to handle. The same is true for much of the other electronics in your home. There is no reason to assume, though, that any EMP attack will be maximally effective -- or that you will never be right at the edge of the affected area. Also, even if an EMP attack never happens, an endless barrage of small voltage spikes is eating away at your electronics equipment every day unless you are doing something to protect against it.
There are all kinds of EMP attack scenarios. There are many situations one can imagine where the area around the edges of the EMP zone is extremely large. There could be entire large cities where even the unshielded equipment with minimal protection mostly survives, but everything unprotected is fried.
There is actually quite a lot that can be done to protect your electronics from a small EMP attack or if you happen to be at the edge of the EMP-affected area. If you live in a lightning-prone area, many of these things will give your electronics equipment a much longer lifetime. Repeated hits from small electrical transients is a major cause of electronic failures, ranking second only to heat as a cause of most types of electronic failure.
It is important to read the EMP Commission Report on Critical National Infrastructures, so you'll have some idea of the scope of the EMP problem. Note: This is a 200-page report (7 megabytes), and could take a half-hour or more to download if you are on a slow dial-up connection.
This EMP Commission report is the best information, but definitely not the last word, on likely EMP effects on today's infrastructure and equipment. The EMP Commission relied heavily on data from simulators, and this data does not explain all of the effects that were actually seen in the 1962 nuclear tests, especially in the Soviet EMP tests over Kazakhstan.
One thing that you'll discover in that Critical National Infrastructures Report is that automobiles and trucks seem to be more resilient against EMP attacks that what is portrayed in most fiction. Although many vehicles would be rendered inoperative, and it will be a regular "demolition derby" on streets and highways, many (but not all) vehicles that are not running at the time of an EMP will be likely to run after they are started (although there is a very high probability that your car will experience electronic damage outside of the electronic ignition system, and your car may have to be started in an unconventional way. It is also possible that you may have to momentarily disconnect the battery so that electronic modules can recover from an EMP-caused latch-up condition, a situation unique to EMP.) It may be necessary to have a maintenance manual for your car so that you, or someone you know, can figure out how to bypass the damaged modules in your car.
Vehicles, especially gasoline vehicles, have to have a robust amount of electromagnetic shielding around the entire electronic ignition system. Otherwise, the ignition noise from all the automobiles would render radio and television sets unusable (especially car radios). Today's automobiles have published standards for electromagnetic shielding, but there is not much consistency in shielding requirements. You can check this list from Clemson University for a partial list of the many and varied standards for electromagnetic shielding of automobiles.
Some additional information on vehicles may be found on the EMP Effects on Vehicles Page.
The most difficult part of operating a car after an EMP event (or even a solar superstorm) is likely to be obtaining gasoline. It is very foolish to ever let the level of gasoline in your tank get below half full. In a wide range of emergencies, one of the most valuable things to have is a full tank of gasoline. A solar superstorm will NOT damage your automobile; but by knocking out the power grid, it can make fuel almost impossible to find.
It is important to remember that the last time an automobile was actually tested against nuclear EMP was in 1962. Everything since then has been in simulators that we hope are close to the real thing.
One common question people ask is about grounding the frames of cars. In most situations, attempts to ground the frame of a car are more likely to just make matters worse by providing an accidental antenna for EMP. The safest way to provide a modest amount of EMP protection for a car is to keep it parked inside a metal shed.
Retrofitting an automobile to make it EMP-resistant is a project that would be too difficult and expensive for most people. For those who want to try, the only authoritative document that I know to be available is one called "EMP Mitigation - Protecting Land Mobile Vehicles from HEMP Threat Environment" which was published in March, 2011. To find this document, go to the Protection Technology Group page, then click on the Knowledge Base link at the top of the page. Scroll down on the Knowledge Base page until you get to the article that you want. The article specifically applies to military vehicles, but has relevance to commercial vehicles as well. Note that the part of the referenced article that refers to bonding of "all metallic structures to a single point ground system" is referring to an electrical chassis ground on the vehicle, not to an earth ground.
(I'm not giving a direct internal link to that page on protection of vehicles because the Protection Technology Group has been making extensive changes to its web site in recent months, and the exact location of the article on their site may change.)
I highly recommend any of the articles on the Protection Technology Group Knowledge Base page as an excellent source of information about EMP and/or lightning protection.
In the 1962 Soviet high-altitude nuclear tests over Kazakhstan, even military diesel generators were damaged. This process was apparently started by a large voltage spike from the fast E1 component of the pulse punching through the insulation on the wiring at a single point. According to Vladimir M. Loborev, one of the chief scientists who studied this phenomenon, "The matter of this phenomenon is that the electrical puncture occurs at the weak point of a system. Next, the heat puncture is developed at that point, under the action of the power voltage; as a result, the electrical power source is put out of action very often." (From his report at the 1994 EUROEM Conference in Bordeaux, France.)
This should be a warning to anyone who is planning to use any very old vehicle for possible use after an EMP event. If you have a pre-electronic-ignition era vehicle, it is important that you also have an electrical wiring diagram for the vehicle, and plenty of fuses (and I do mean plenty of fuses) and some critical electrical spare parts. My own personal experience in maintaining a 1959 model RCA high-power television transmitter until the year 2000 tells me that it is very easy for high voltages to punch through old insulation. Although post-EMP repair of these older vehicles may be easier than repair of a modern vehicle, it can be very frustrating, since very old insulation on electrical wiring can become extremely brittle.
To protect small generators from the kind of insulation puncture in the windings that was experienced in the 1962 Soviet tests, it is likely that simple MOV transient protectors (wired across one of the 120-volt outlets) on most generators would provide sufficient protection. The MOVs are not fast enough to capture the leading edge of the EMP spike, but it takes a lot more energy to punch through enamel insulation than to damage microelectronics, so it is likely that these MOVs would provide adequate protection for the insulation. Small MOVs are readily available from companies such as Radio Shack (part number 276-568). (It is unlikely that these MOVs would be fast enough to protect any microelectronics that may be in the generator, though.)
If you are constructing any kind of EMP protection that does need a ground connection, make sure that it is a good-quality ground. If the soil is dry, rocky, or otherwise likely to be of poor conductivity, proprietary commercial grounding compounds are available to enhance the conductivity of your ground rod to the earth. Bentonite is a material that is widely used in drilling industries that can also greatly enhance conductivity between the grounding system and the earth. I have found bentonite to be very effective as a grounding material. For most people, bentonite is easier to obtain and much more practical than the proprietary commercial grounding compounds. If it is not feasible to bury a ground rod vertically, a fairly good ground can be made by digging a trench as long and deep as is feasible, then placing flexible copper tubing (such as is used in plumbing) in the trench, covering the copper tubing with bentonite or other grounding compound, covering with topsoil, then using the above-ground part of the copper tubing for the ground connection. (I have done a lot of grounding, and I have never in my entire career pounded a grounding rod into hard or rocky soil. That is an exercise in futility. Either drill a hole for the grounding rod so that you can surround it with bentonite or grounding compound, or use a long horizontal trench.)
I have the first draft on-line now of a separate page on this web site about grounding for EMP, and how to construct a ground that is likely to avoid the "accidental antenna" problem that is so common when non-engineers try to construct an electrical ground for EMP. (If you think that a water pipe or the ground wire on an AC outlet is a good ground for EMP, then you should definitely forget about grounding. Neither of these connections is anything close to being an effective EMP ground.)
Steel enclosures of various kinds are often suggested for use as an EMP shield for storing electronics equipment. Although steel can be a good electromagnetic shield for lower-frequency components, I have found it to be considerably inferior to better electrical conductors such as copper and aluminum in actual measurements in intense electromagnetic environments. Steel has different characteristics from better electric conductors such as copper and aluminum, so the best situation if you are using an steel enclosure is to add a layer of copper or aluminum screen or foil as an additional layer of shielding. (Steel tends to be better at shielding lower frequency components, but aluminum and copper are better at shielding the higher frequency components that are more likely to damage smaller items.) Actually, there is evidence that the very best EMP shields would be alternating layers of steel and aluminum or copper, with an insulating material separating the layers of metal. (This is how some electromagnetically shielded buildings are actually constructed.) The main problem with consumer steel enclosures is that they are usually painted to resist corrosion, and the paint is an electrical insulator that keeps the steel from really electrically surrounding the objects inside. This is why a galvanized garbage can with a lid works quite well as an EMP shield, but a painted steel cabinet doesn't work nearly as well.
One very effective means for isolating disturbances on the power line from electronics equipment is the use of a "double-conversion" type of "true online" UPS (uninterruptable power supply). Any very large E1 pulse coming in on the power line would destroy the UPS, but the UPS would have isolated the equipment from the power line transient before failing. It is important to note that most uninterruptable power supplies on the market are NOT the "true online" type, and are of very limited usefulness for isolating the equipment from the power line (even for ordinary voltage spikes). Most inexpensive uninterruptable power supplies let much of the voltage spike hit the equipment before switching to internal battery power after the AC line power has failed.
The best of the small true online UPS units are those made by SOLA, but they are also rather expensive. Tripp-Lite makes a series of true-online double-conversion UPS units that are less expensive and are easier to for most people to find. (Many major UPS manufacturers have been rather deceptive in the past about whether their UPS units are actually the true-online double-conversion type, although most companies are becoming more honest about the architecture of their UPS units since the difference in actual equipment protection is quite considerable.)
The true online UPS units can also isolate equipment from the effects of the solar-storm-like E3 pulse or the effects of an actual solar superstorm. Although the principal effects of E3-type events for the individual is total loss of power from the power grid, these events could cause extreme distortions in the AC power waveform for a short amount of time until the grid collapses. This extremely-distorted AC could burn out motors and damage electrical and electronics equipment in a very short amount of time unless measures are taken to isolate the equipment from the power line by using a true online UPS or a ferro-resonant transformer. Certain types of ferro-resonant transformers, such as the SOLA CVS series, can isolate equipment from power line distortions by insuring that the equipment gets either a pure sine wave or nothing at all. The SOLA CVS transformers are also extremely effective at blocking most voltage transients from getting into equipment, although they won't completely block extremely large and fast transients such as those from the fast E1 component of a nuclear EMP.
One very important consideration for anyone using a UPS or a ferro-resonant transformer for protection any equipment containing a motor of any size (even a refrigerator) is that motors have very high start-up currents, and neither UPS units nor ferro-resonant transformers are designed for motor operation. If you are trying to use either a UPS or a ferro-resonant transformer to protect any appliance where a motor is a significant part of the load, you have to select a UPS or ferro-resonant transformer that has several times the rated load of the appliance.
Because electronics equipment is becoming more vulnerable to voltage transients all the time, the surge suppressors that are sold for protecting expensive consumer electronics are getting better all the time. Today's consumer AC plug-in transient suppressors are much faster than those sold just a two or three years ago, and many of the newer units will absorb much larger voltage spikes. Although none of the consumer-type surge protection devices are likely to be completely effective against EMP, they may be helpful in protecting some types of household appliances.
If you have a small business with too much critical data to routinely back up onto optical media, you should consider looking for a data center with EMP protection and plenty of backup power. Many data centers are actually quite fragile, and many have proven to lack even the ability to survive a severe rain storm. Some data centers, though, occupy former military facilities and claim to be EMP-hardened. You may want to consider backup data centers such as Infobunker and Cyberbunker.
Those who trust in the inherently fraudulent concept of "cloud computing" will find that, after a major electromagnetic disturbance, the "cloud" will have dissipated into the clear skies. When you send your data away into a mystical "cloud," it actually goes onto real servers; and the vast majority of them are much more fragile than the computing industry will admit; and this fragility has been proven by real-world failures.
For anyone with two-way radio equipment or radio receivers that are already extremely well-shielded and also well isolated from the power line, but left with the vulnerability of a connection to an external antenna, EMP protection devices can be obtained that are made by Polyphaser. The Polyphaser EMP protection devices for antenna connections generally use only type N connectors (so you may need an adapter), and the cost is generally about $125. Polyphaser does not sell these devices directly to the customer in small quantities, but they can be purchased through some specialty electronics retailers if you know exactly what model number of Polyphaser device that you want.
For conveniently protecting small electronics, such as laptop computers, when they are not in use, an aluminum briefcase should be very useful, but there are large differences in the shielding ability among different metallic briefcases. First, the briefcase needs to be a solid metal aluminum briefcase (not the less expensive "aluminum briefcase" that is actually made largely of aluminum-colored plastic). (The aluminum-colored plastic briefcases are useless as an EMP shield unless a considerable amount of additional electromagnetic shielding is added.) If you are unsure of the electromagnetic integrity of your aluminum briefcase, a layer of electromagnetically shielding metallic spray paint can be added to the exterior of the briefcase. The cans of electromagnetically shielding spray paint tend to be rather expensive, but they can be purchased from companies such as Mouser Electronics. For maximum effectiveness, there needs to be good electrical contact between the two halves of the briefcase, especially at the hinges and the latches. A well-shielded briefcase should be able to completely eliminate reception of an FM radio receiver that is tuned to a strong FM station and placed inside the briefcase with the latches secured. Repeat the test with an AM station.
Many lessons about what to expect after an electromagnetic event can be learned from the aftermath of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. Unfortunately, the information about these events after the initial earthquake and tsunami by the news media in the United States has ranged from horrible to non-existent. Nearly all of the deaths and suffering after the first hour of the tsunami have been due to the absence of electricity and electronic communications. Just about the only place to get accurate information about the aftermath of the tsunami has been from NHK World. NHK has shown things like what happens when you try to open the grocery stores after power is restored after a prolonged outage, and the difficulties of supplying the grocery stores from the food warehouses when the inventory control and computerized ordering systems are not working.
It should also be noted that the problems experienced in Japan by certain nuclear power plants are likely to be serious problems for any country in the aftermath of a severe solar storm or nuclear EMP. This has been discussed in connection with EMP long before the tsunami in Japan. Nuclear reactors require a reliable external source of electricity for cooling systems after any sort of scram shutdown.
It is important to remember that ionizing radiation from a high-altitude nuclear EMP detonation will not reach ground level (unless, of course, the weapon fails to reach "high-altitude.") The following information is included because of the possibility of an electromagnetic event leading to a nuclear power plant accident (and because I've been frequently asked about it).
For any type of moderately large radioisotope exposure, there are basically three ways to reduce the medical impact of the exposure. One method is with a chelating agent. Chelating agents bind to the radioactive element and aid in its excretion from the body. Chelating agents also bind to a broad range of chemically similar elements in addition to the radioactive substance that you are targeting, including elements that are necessary for human life. Chelating agents should generally not be taken continuously for any long period of time because they will cause deficiencies of important mineral nutrients if they are taken continuously for too long.
The second way of overcoming a radioisotope exposure is to consume a large amount of a stable (non-radioactive) isotope of the element being targeted. The most common use of this method is the use of stable iodine to block the body's absorption of radioactive iodine by taking large doses of stable iodine, usually in the form of potassium iodide. This general method can be extended to minimize the absorption of other radioisotopes as well, but you have to use the right elements to target the right radioisotopes.
The third way of minimizing damage by radiation is to consume powerful antioxidant mixtures. Except for neutron radiation, ionizing radiation (alpha, beta and gamma radiation and X-rays) cause biological damage through oxidation damage. Animal studies have shown certain combinations of common nutritional antioxidants to be very effective in minimizing radiation damage. Single antioxidants do not work nearly as well as well-formulated combinations of antioxidants. In the separate page on antioxidants for radiation, there is information about the combination of nutrients that have good evidence of being very helpful in cases of radiation exposure (and that are readily available in many countries).
In the event of a nearby nuclear power plant meltdown, there are three radioisotopes that pose most of the danger to humans. One is radioactive iodine, which is easily taken up by the thyroid gland. Potassium iodide tablets are readily available that can saturate the body with iodine and prevent most of the absorption of radioactive iodine in the human body.
Another radioisotope is cesium-137 (as well as cesium-134, which has a much shorter half-life and is generally produced in much smaller quantities).
The standard antidote for radioactive isotopes of cesium is pharmaceutical grade Prussian Blue. (Do not use any kind of Prussian Blue that is not made for human consumption, or you are likely to just make yourself sicker.) The United States, and most other major countries, maintain stockpiles of pharmaceutical grade Prussian Blue. In the United States, these stockpiles are deployed at various sites across the country. Nevertheless, the doses of Prussian Blue are unlikely to reach individuals before they have already absorbed a significant dose of radioactive cesium.
An alternative antidote for radioactive cesium is potassium. A healthy human body will try to tightly regulate its internal levels of potassium. If potassium levels are not saturated in the presence of radioactive cesium, the human body will try to absorb the cesium instead. Although potassium is a common element in the human diet, taking too much potassium can be dangerous, or even fatal. A potassium intake that overloads the body's regulatory system can result in heart rhythm problems that can be fatal. This is the reason that, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of potassium that can be sold in over-the-counter supplements to no more than 99 mg. per capsule. Timed-release potassium tablets are available by prescription in larger doses. The prescription timed-release tablets release potassium slowly over time to prevent a dangerous potassium overload. One simple way to saturate your body with potassium with very little risk of potassium overload is by eating bananas. Bananas have a large amount of potassium, but the human digestive system cannot absorb the bananas from potassium too rapidly. So potassium overload from bananas is very rare. (It is true that all bananas are naturally slightly radioactive, but if there is a lot of radioactive cesium in the environment, the very tiny amount of radiation from bananas is the least of your problems.)
In any kind of nuclear event (or any event where the electric power grid is down in an advanced country), you are unlikely to be able to go to the store to purchase bananas. If the power is out, then buying any kind of food in most advanced countries is likely to become quite impossible. Fortunately, freeze-dried banana slices in cans are readily available from nearly any company that sells freeze-dried foods for long-term storage. The thickly-cut freeze-dried banana slices maintain their taste quite well. (In fact, you may have difficulty in resisting the temptation to simply consume them as a snack.) Consider keeping some freeze-dried bananas in your long-term food storage.
The third radioisotope that is a significant problem after severe reactor accidents is strontium-90. Strontium-90 is not generally as widely dispersed in reactor accidents as it is from nuclear weapons detonations within the lower atmosphere. Strontium-90 can be particularly dangerous, though, since it is likely to be taken up by the bone, where it can remain in the body for long periods of time. The absorption of strontium-90 can be limited by taking adequate calcium. The human body has difficulty distinguishing between calcium and strontium, and is more likely to absorb strontium-90 when there is an inadequate amount of calcium in the body.
Another way of limiting the absorption of strontium-90 is by taking natural (non-radioactive) strontium. In the United States, and some other countries, natural strontium is available as a nutritional supplement, usually as strontium citrate. In many other countries, strontium is available as a prescription medicine in the form of strontium ranelate. Both the nutritional supplement and the prescription medicine containing strontium are used to strengthen bones. Human bone that has some of the calcium replaced by natural strontium has been shown to be significantly more fracture resistant that bone that contains only calcium.
(Although the subject is outside the scope of the material on this page: for the unknown radioisotopes that may be present in a "dirty bomb" detonated at ground level, the antioxidant mix may be the best medical defense. The same can be said for the detonation of a salted bomb, which could be produced by a country intending for the weapon to be used by terrorists at ground level. A salted bomb would not be a militarily useful weapon, but could be easily built by a nation intending to use it as a terrorist weapon simply by constructing a simple fission bomb with a cobalt tamper.)
For more information on health matters related to radiation, see the Radiation Emergencies - Health Effects and Treatments page at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The aftermath of the 2011 tornados in the United States has exposed the vulnerability of the cellular telephone system. Most cell phones are too small to intercept enough EMP to damage them; but the cellular repeaters, which are necessary to the operation of the cellular telephone system, are very vulnerable in a wide range of disaster situations. Unfortunately, the cellular telephone system was not designed with any peer-to-peer (direct cell-phone-to-cell-phone) capability. This means that if the cellular repeater stations go down, your working cell phone becomes useless.
Some cellular telephone companies have developed mobile repeater stations for use in disaster situations. These have proven themselves to be mostly for show, and quite inadequate in any real-life large-scale emergency situation. Although these mobile cellular repeaters work quite well, there just aren't enough of them, and they can't get to the proper locations fast enough.Your personal EMP and solar storm protection plan is likely to be very different depending upon where you live, and how many other people live with you. The only way to make an effective plan is to try to imagine an unpleasant future where you are suddenly thrust back into the middle ages. One thing that an EMP or a severe solar storm won't destroy is the knowledge of how to re-build effectively. Hopefully, even if we don't get an robust and permanent infrastructure built in time to prevent a catastrophe, the rebuilt post-pulse electrical and electronic infrastructure will be something that is permanent, and that all of us can finally trust, unlike the very fragile infrastructure that we have today (Future Science, 2009).
The EMP Threat: The Role Of Missile Defense
Abstract: Among the threats facing the United States are short-range ballistic missiles launched from vessels such as freighters, tankers, or container ships off our shores to detonate a warhead that could have catastrophic Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) consequences for the United States. No national strategy addresses either the EMP threat or underwrites a serious program to counter the delivery of EMP by a ballistic missile launched from a vessel off our coasts.1 Commissions, studies and hearings have produced no action beyond the byproducts of efforts to defend the United States against ICBMs that might be launched by a country such as Iran or North Korea, or our overseas troops, friends and allies against shorter range ballistic missiles.2
While in no way discounting the need for effective missile defenses against the growing ICBM threat, it is also imperative that the United States address the more immediate threat posed by the possible attack by shorter-range missiles, and the EMP threat in particular. Although some enemies of the United States are developing long-range missiles, they and others already have short- and medium-range missiles that could be launched from ships near our coasts. Several years ago, Iran tested a short-range ballistic missile in a way that indicated an interest in developing an EMP capability—so this threat is not hypothetical. It also must be remembered that terrorists might purchase such missiles—even possibly armed with nuclear weapons.
After discussing the potential for a successful EMP attack, we suggest what can (and should) be done to counter such an attack by using existing and near-term missile defense capabilities, beginning immediately. Currently deployed Aegis ballistic missile (BMD)-capable cruisers and destroyers, if appropriately stationed, can today provide mid-course-phase intercept capability, particularly during the threat rocket’s “ascent phase.” As soon as practical, a boost-phase intercept capability should be added to the Aegis system.3 Existing and planned improvements to Aegis BMD-ship capabilities should be accompanied with: (1) Aegis Ashore, consisting of the Navy’s interceptors based on land (as is being planned for European sites) in U.S. coastal regions; and (2) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) armed with advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM)-sized missiles.
In addition, Aegis ships, other Navy combatants, and “deep water” Coast Guard ships could interdict vessels that threaten a coastal EMP attack if they have sufficient warning to locate and disable/destroy such ships before they can launch an attack. Such operations would place a special burden and responsibility on early warning and intelligence capabilities, and would have important command and control implications, as discussed later in this White Paper.
The EMP Threat
During the Cold War, an ICBM attack from the Soviet Union could have brought us unthinkable devastation and destruction within 30-35 minutes. Although that threat has receded since the end of the Cold War, we now face the possibility that within the much shorter time (on the order of five minutes) that it takes to execute an EMP launch near our coasts, we could be put back into an pre-industrial economy facing possibly irreversible societal breakdown, as William Forstchen so graphically describes in his recent book One Second After and as the 2004 bipartisan Congressionally-mandated EMP Commission set forth in its detailed report. Short- and medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads could be launched from the sea against targets on land, including cities. They could also be launched with nuclear warheads to detonate at altitudes sufficient to have devastating EMP effects.4
According to the EMP Commission, the United States faces an EMP threat that could have catastrophic consequences from even a single nuclear warhead. The EMP threat arises from the ability, whether by terrorists or states, to launch even relatively unsophisticated missiles with nuclear warheads to detonate from 40 to 400 kilometers altitude above the Earth’s surface, with greater heights-of-burst exposing larger areas on the ground to EMP.5 Such action would provide the attacker with high political-military payoff in the form of devastating consequences. An EMP attack would constitute an asymmetric strategy against the United States, which is heavily dependent on electronics, energy, telecommunications networks, transportation systems, banking, the movement of inventories, and food processing and distribution capabilities.
The EMP Commission reported that EMP was an unanticipated result of a nuclear detonation at an altitude of about 400 kilometers during the Starfish nuclear weapons tests above Johnston Island in the Central Pacific in 1962. Effects, felt some 1400 kilometers away in Hawaii, included “the failure of street lighting systems, tripping of circuit breakers, triggering of burglar alarms, and damage to a telecommunications relay facility.” The Commission also reported that 1962 high altitude nuclear tests conducted by the Soviet Union also produced damage at distances as far away as 600 kilometers to overhead and underground buried cables, together with surge arrester burnout, spark-gap breakdown, blown fuses, and power-supply interruption.
The destruction and mayhem caused by an EMP explosion would be far more substantial today given the ubiquity of more fragile electronics and our greater reliance on them to run critical infrastructures. Moreover, an EMP burst could directly affect the 3,000 commercial and military flights airborne over the United States at any given time, possibly causing them to crash. Most of those aircraft, equipped with electronic-interface fly-by-wire control systems, would become unguided missiles, plummeting to Earth and leading to many thousands of fatalities and enormous physical damage.
Such a weapon need not be detonated directly over the United States itself to produce major damage to America’s critical infrastructures such as telecommunications, banking and finance, fuel/energy, transportation, food and water supply, emergency services, government activities, and space systems. U.S. satellites, both civilian and military, are vulnerable to a range of attacks that include EMP, especially in low-Earth orbits. Again, as the EMP Commission concluded, “The national security and homeland security communities use commercial satellites for critical activities, including direct and backup communications, emergency response services, and continuity of operations during emergencies.” Such satellites could be disabled by collateral radiation effects from an EMP attack on ground targets.
Thus, it is obvious that an EMP attack would have cascading effects. Disabling even one of the elements of our critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications or electricity, would have severe consequences for others – effects from which an advanced, technologically dependent society such as the United States might not easily recover. An EMP attack on the United States would have global consequences, extending from Europe to Northeast Asia and in and beyond this Hemisphere given America’s interdependence with other economies. By the same token an EMP attack against other technologically advanced economies, such as Japan or Europe, would have major effects in the United States. The services essential to coping with the consequences of a terrorist attack, such as hospitals and emergency services, might be disabled and therefore unavailable when and where they were most needed. As Senator Jon Kyl has pointed out:
“A terrorist organization might have trouble putting a nuclear warhead ‘on target’ with a Scud, but it would be much easier to simply launch and detonate in the atmosphere. No need for the risk and difficulty trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon over the border or hit a particular city. Just launch a cheap missile from a freighter in international waters – al-Qaeda is believed to own about eighty such vessels – and make sure to get it a few miles in the air.”6
Several countries either
already have, or could soon acquire, such EMP attack capabilities. For example,
during the May 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbia, members of the Russian
Duma, meeting with U.S. congressional
counterparts, reportedly speculated about the paralyzing effects of an EMP
attack on the United States.7 Iran is reported to have tested whether its
ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3 or the Scud, could be detonated by
remote control while still in high-altitude flight. One plausible explanation
for such tests is that Iran is developing the capability to explode a
high-altitude nuclear weapon that could destroy critical electronic and
technological infrastructures.8 Without a countervailing strategy that
includes a missile defense configured against an EMP attack, the United States
will remain especially vulnerable to the EMP threat given its extensive
dependence on high-tech, electronic infrastructure that cannot easily be
hardened to withstand such an attack.
Given that EMP could have devastating and possibly permanently crippling affects, the United States must have the capability to deter or defeat an EMP attack. In particular, this means that we should seek all means to prevent a threatening vessel from approaching U.S. territorial waters close enough to launch an EMP threatening ballistic missile—and failing that, to intercept the missile in its ascent phase before it releases a nuclear warhead. We should increase deployment of – and continue to improve – this defense capability, which will be imperfect initially.
One of our goals should be to introduce uncertainty in planning for the would-be perpetrator of an EMP attack. This can only be accomplished if we have some defense, as contrasted with no ability to intercept an EMP launch, which could lead a potential attacker to conclude that there are no major obstacles to such an attack. The architecture
18 CEC is a sensor netting system that allows many ships to pool their radar and sensor information together, creating a more detailed picture than any one ship could generate on its own. The data is then shared among all ships and participating systems at sea, in the air, and on the ground, using secure frequencies.
19 In 2009 U.S.
defense officials announced an increased focus on developing technologies for
ascent phase intercept (API) to hedge against the growing threat and to realize
the greatest potential for reducing cost and increasing the operational
effectiveness of missile defense. This decision was based in part on a Defense
Science Board 2002 Summer Study, which underscored the advantages of ascent
phase intercepts and that they are significantly less challenging than boost
phase interception. Among other benefits, APIs allow interdiction before
countermeasures are deployed, minimize the potential impact of debris, and
reduce the number of interceptors required to defeat threat missiles in the
later stages of a threat missile’s flight. See DefenseNews. “MDA Request
Kills KEI, Focuses on Ascent Phase, May 7, 2009: http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4079560
proposed in this White Paper contains essentially three components – Aegis BMD ships, Aegis Ashore, and UAV capabilities, in addition to meeting enhanced command and control and intelligence/early warning requirements.
Defensive interceptors on Aegis BMD-capable ships operating off U.S. shores could offer extensive protection because of their ability to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in their ascent and midcourse phases.
This sea-based capability could be supplemented with a ground-based SM-3, Aegis Ashore. This could constitute a reinforcing layer deployed at various locations on land, and could constitute the main defense against an EMP attack along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It would have the added advantage of requiring an electrical power generating capability that would be hardened against EMP and therefore could be available for emergency response.
The proposed architecture includes a UAV component to strengthen boost- and ascent-phase interception of short- and medium-range missiles. UAV-borne sensors and missiles could be stationed off our shores to detect ballistic missile launch preparations and a missile’s infrared signature if launched, as well as to intercept it.
Command and control issues are formidable but not insurmountable. Efforts to provide maritime awareness seek to identify and prevent suspicious vessels from getting close enough to the U.S. coast to launch an EMP attack. Failing that, an effective intercept in the face of the very short warning time requires prior authorization for the on-the-scene commander to launch anti-EMP interceptors. Data from sensors must be available in seconds, not tens of minutes. In light of EMP timelines, battle management and command, control and communications must be reassessed and improved.We urge that, as a matter of priority, steps should be taken to build into U.S. warning systems and missile defense systems the means to address this twenty-first-century national security threat. What is suggested is a system that would deter a would-be EMP attacker; detect a ship carrying a ballistic missile and preparing its launch; and/or, provide early warning and intercept the missile if launched (IFPA, 2010).
EMP Threat: Fact, Fiction, And Response
Date: January 25, 2010
Source: Space Review
Abstract: A nuclear weapon explodes high above the US, unleashing a deadly electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that almost instantly knocks out much of our electrical grid. The electronic control systems in our water, oil, and gas distribution systems fail, and other infrastructure such as telecommunications and transport grind to a halt. While it would be far too high up in the atmosphere (40–400 kilometers) to directly kill people by blast and heat, such an attack would have “the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society”, according to the congressional “Commission to Assess the Threat to the U.S. from EMP Attack”.
But how likely is this scenario and what should we do about it? The methodology and conclusions of the EMP commission have already been criticized a few years ago [1,2,3]. Here I examine the salient technical issues and attempt to compare the threat of nuclear EMP with that from a powerful “once-in-a-century” geomagnetic storm.
The precise effects
of nuclear EMP are difficult to predict but depend on, among other factors, the
yield of the weapon, the detonation altitude, as well as upon the geographic
latitude and the magnitude of the local geomagnetic field. Knowing the type of
adversary who may entertain such an attack allows us to narrow down the sorts
of weapons that may be employed, how they may be used, and thus the type of
threat we possibly face.
I first briefly describe the source of the various types of electromagnetic pulses that are the sub-components of what is generically termed “EMP”: E1, E2 and E3. To properly assess the effects of EMP on electric power systems, appropriate specifications of these E1, E2, and E3 sub-components are vital. I follow by a short review some historical US and Soviet high-altitude nuclear explosions that took place 1955-1962 in order to see what may be learnt from such archival data. Lastly, I evaluate the possible threat we may face from an EMP attack, as well as that from geomagnetic storms, and conclude with some suggested responses.
Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulses
During the course of a nuclear explosion, gamma rays are produced both by the fission process, and by inelastic scattering of neutrons in the material of the device. Most of these energetic gamma rays are absorbed by the material of the weapon itself and never escape. For typical bomb designs, just 0.1-0.5% of the total bomb yield is expected to be radiated as prompt gamma rays. The higher number corresponds to simple low-yield fission weapons with relatively thin outer casings, and the lower number applies to the more complicated two-stage thermonuclear devices. These prompt gamma-rays are emitted in a relatively thin (on the order of a few meters) spherical shell whose radius increases at the speed of light.
As a nuclear EMP device is exploded at an altitude of between 40–400 kilometers, the downward directed gamma rays collide with electrons in air molecules of the thin upper atmosphere transferring their energy to the electrons via the Compton process. These electrons are ejected from their parent molecules at high energies and, once liberated, collide with other electrons creating a cascade of roughly 30,000 electrons for each original gamma ray . The electrons spiral in the magnetic field of the earth emitting coherent synchrotron radiation. Since this radiation, and the initial excitation gamma-rays, both travel at the speed of light, the EMP radiation field “piles-up” in an analogous manner to a “sonic-boom”: the electromagnetic radiation formed at different distances from the explosion arrives virtually simultaneously to an observer on the ground. The source region of the pulse is located, primarily, in an approximately 10-kilometer-thick region of the atmosphere roughly between 25 and 35 kilometers altitude: well above a 35 kilometers, the density is too low for much production of Compton scattered electrons and much below 25 kilometers, most of the prompt gammas are absorbed . The pulse has a risetime of nanoseconds and usually decays within a microsecond or so. During that short time it can induce fields of, typically, 100 to 30,000 V/m at ground level. However, any ionization present in the source region will tend to “short-out” the EMP. High-energy X-rays are also produced during the explosion and these will enhance the ionization in the high-altitude EMP source region. This source of ionization was largely ignored in EMP assessments until 1986. The inclusion of the X-ray ionization in more recent modeling has lowered the assessed values of the peak EMP fields.
The exact value of the induced peak electric field depends upon the bomb yield, its design, and other factors already mentioned above, such as the detonation altitude, local magnetic field strength, and the geographic latitude of the explosion. Higher geomagnetic field strengths and higher latitudes (i.e. farther away from the equator, north or south) will typically create a stronger peak EMP field, other things being equal.
For a large device (greater than 100 kilotons), significant EMP fields will be induced out to the tangent radius: i.e., the whole region on the Earth’s surface which is within line-of-sight to the high-altitude explosion will experience the EMP pulse. For instance, a detonation at 100 kilometers will expose a circular region of radius 1,120 kilometers on the earth’s surface to the pulse, and a 40-kilometer detonation will expose a region of radius 710 kilometers. The electric field expected towards the periphery of these exposed regions will be roughly half the peak field for high-yield weapons, but—importantly—it will be significantly less in that region for a smaller (~1 kiloton) device . For a burst at high northern latitudes, such as for Europe or America, the peak field region occurs in a broad arc located south of the burst “ground-zero”, due to the orientation of the magnetic field [Fig 1]. Also, since the radiation is produced by electrons’ motion transverse to the Earth’s magnetic field, those electrons moving right along the magnetic field lines will not radiate. There is, therefore, also a region of near-zero field strength just north of “ground-zero”, where the downward-angling magnetic field lines from the elevated burst site intersect the Earth, as shown in the figure below.
The exact pulse profile (rise and decay time) also depends on the location of the observer in the exposed region: in general, further away from the peak-field region the pulse will have a slower rise and decay. 
The above discussion applies to the prompt, high-amplitude, “E1”, signal from the nuclear detonation. However, this pulse is immediately followed by lower-amplitude, but longer-lasting, “E2” and “E3” EMP signals.
The E2 part of the EMP arises from previously scattered ambient gammas, as well as from the inelastic scattering of the weapon-produced neutrons from the nuclei of air molecules—a process which also yields copious gamma-rays external to the device. The eventual capture of the progressively slowing neutrons results in additional gamma-rays, as does the prompt decay of some of the fission products. The sum of these variously-produced gammas leads to an impulsive Compton electron current (due to the separation of the electrons from their parent molecules) that depends on the polar angle because of the atmospheric density gradient. There is also a non-compensated vertical current directly below the detonation. The resultant “E2” pulse has a duration of up to about 1 second. 
The even lower-amplitude—but longer-lasting—E3 EMP pulse comes about as a result of the ionized explosive fireball expanding and “expelling” the earth’s magnetic field (due to the fact that it is an electrically-conductive region), in a “heaving” action. For this reason, it is also known as the Magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) pulse. This pulse can last up to 1,000 seconds or longer and has with a frequency of less than 1 Hertz.
Directly under the burst point, a temporary layer of ionized air is created by the atmospheric absorption of X-rays produced by the weapon. This region tends to shield the area under the burst for the “early” portion of the MHD-EMP signal. As time progresses, however, the hot ionized air under the burst begins to rise and move across the earth’s geomagnetic field lines causing large atmospheric currents to flow. These ionospheric currents likely account for the second phase (>10 sec) of the MHD-EMP signal. 
Lastly, the auroral motion of charged particles from the detonation, spiraling along the earth’s magnetic field between conjugate points in opposite hemispheres, results in a final EMP at extremely low frequencies, typically 0.01 Hertz. The E3 (and Auroral) EMP is the most similar to that associated with natural geomagnetic storms, and is the one that most directly threatens long-line power delivery systems . The E3 pulse is low frequency pulse which, unlike the high frequency E1 and E2 pulses, can penetrate the ground, where it can induce substantial electric currents in very long (over 100 kilometers long) buried cables. .
Coupling of the Three
EMP Components to Ground Systems
An EMP affects electrical systems by “coupling” to them: in effect, electrical devices, and their attachments (e.g. power cables), simply act like antennas which pick-up the EMP signal. The different types of EMP—E1, E2, and E3—couple in different ways to the various types of electrical systems.[11,12]
The prompt E1 couples well to local antennas, short (1–10 m) cable runs, equipment in buildings (through apertures), and can disrupt or damage integrated circuit (IC)-based control systems, sensors, communication systems, protective systems, computers, and similar devices. The most common protection against the effects of E1 is the use of electromagnetic shielding, filters, and surge arresters .
E2 couples well to longer conductive lines, vertical antenna towers, and aircraft with trailing wire antennas. It is similar to lightning in its time-dependence, but would, of course, be more geographically widespread, while being lower in intensity, especially for a low-yield weapon. As the EMP commission acknowledges, the E2 pulse would not, in general, be an issue for critical infrastructure systems since they already have protective measures for defense against occasional lightning strikes.
The E3 pulse couples well to power and long communications lines including undersea and underground cables. The low frequencies (sub-Hertz) of E3 make shielding and isolation difficult. Experience from both geomagnetic storms and 1960s-era Russian and American nuclear testing indicates that there is a great likelihood of commercial power and landline disruption from E3 pulses of powerful (>100 kt) nuclear devices. Small isolated systems will however, typically, be unaffected by E3. The E3 environment is so slowly varying that quasi-DC analysis models are appropriate for estimating the behavior of the induced power system responses.
Dr. Radsaky and Mr. Kappenman have summarized the effects of E1 and E3 from a large nuclear device in their statement before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology:
For the operation of the electric power grid, the… E1
and E3 pulses are the most important. Research performed for the EMP Commission
clearly indicates the following concerns:
1. Malfunctions and damage to solid-state relays in electric substations (E1)
2. Malfunctions and damage to computer controls in power generation facilities, substations, and control centers (E1)
3. Malfunctions and damage to power system communications (E1)
4. Flashover and damage to distribution class insulators (E1)
5. Voltage collapse of the power grid due to transformer saturation (E3)
6. Damage to [High Voltage] HV and [Extremely High Voltage] EHV transformers due to internal heating (E3)
The E1, E2, and E3
EMP subcomponents scale differently with weapon yield (and design) so it is
important to be clear what effects one is interested in: i.e. effects on
IC-based electronics (which couple strongly with E1) or electrical power
systems connected to long-lines (which couple most strongly with E3, and
auroral EMP). The salient issues are, then, what strengths of E1 and E3 pulses
one may expect over what parts of the country from the types of devices
adversarial states possibly possess (or may possess in the foreseeable future)
and, of course, how likely the actors are to carry out such an attack. Before
addressing those questions, it is useful to review the actual measured effects
of EMP from Cold War era nuclear tests.
Direct experience of nuclear EMP effects is limited and not all the data is publicly available. There were a total of about 20 Soviet and US tests , between 1955 and1962: 13 US tests and 7 Soviet ones. Many of these were powerful megaton-range weapons and their effects cannot be simply interpolated to lower yield weapons (such as new nuclear proliferator states may possess), nor is it trivial to infer what effects they may have had upon the much more sensitive modern electronics. Of course, it is also important to recalibrate the expected effects from similar weapons exploded in different parts of the globe: detonations further from the equator, or those taking place in a high magnetic field region, will generally lead to stronger peak E1 pulse amplitudes, other things being equal.
In particular, lower-yield weapons—such as those feared by EMP commission from small adversarial states and/or, possibly, terrorists cells—will have a substantially smaller E3 component than the megaton yield weapons simply because of the size of their ionized fireball is much smaller. This means that the effect of smaller (~kiloton) weapons on long-line power and telephone cables, which couple most effectively to E3, will also be much less than in the megaton cases; however, the E1 fields from such weapons may still be sufficient to disrupt and/or destroy the electronic controls of the power-delivery systems, as well as computers, Blackberrys, cell phones, etc., located within or close to the peak-field region.
The advent of modern solid-state circuitry (ICs) as compared to the vacuum-tube technology of 1962, has dramatically increased the susceptibility of electronic equipment to the E1 pulse. Modern ICs are about a million times more sensitive to prompt E1 pulses than the early-1960s era electronics.
A good source for information on American Cold War era high-altitude tests is the publicly available document, “US High Altitude Test Experiences” , which states:
Starfish produced the largest fields of the high-altitude detonations; they caused outages of the series-connected street-lighting systems of Oahu (Hawaii), probable failure of a microwave repeating station on Kauai, failure of the input stages of ionospheric sounders and damage to rectifiers in communication receivers, Other than the failure of the microwave link, no problem was noted in the telephone system. No failure was noted in the telemetry systems used for data transmission on board the many instrumentation rockets. There was no apparent increase in radio or television repairs subsequent to any of the Johnson Island detonations. The failures observed were generally in the unprotected input stages of receivers or in rectifiers of electronic equipment; transients on the power line probably caused the rectifier failures. There was one failure in the unprotected part of an electronic system of the LASL Optical Station on top of Mount Haleakala on Maui Island.
For a more detailed study of the Starfish test’s effect upon the streetlights in Honolulu the reader is referred to Sandia Laboratory report “Did High-Altitude EMP cause the Streetlight Incident?” by C.N. Vittitoe .
The first two of the Soviet “K-Project” high-altitude nuclear tests over Kazakhstan in 1961 were only 1.2 kilotons (at 150 and 300 kilometers altitude), so the EMP could be carefully measured, but these tests, apparently, did not have much of an impact on the 1961 infrastructure of Kazakhstan. This is unsurprising because of the hardier electronics of that era (which would be less susceptible to E1), as well as the smaller E3 pulse from such small devices.
Of the Soviet tests, test 184 (290 kilometers, 300 kilotons) appears to have caused the most problems with the civilian infrastructure in Kazakhstan. At that detonation altitude the horizon radius is about 1900 kilometers, which means the pulse would have affected all of Kazakhstan. This test caused damage to the overhead power and telecommunication transmission lines, as well as to diesel generators. Reportedly, the diesel generator problems occurred some time after the detonations due to dielectric breakdown in the generator windings.
According to Jerry Emauelson (see also presentation by Dr. William Graham ):
Other known effects of Test 184 were that it knocked out a major 1000-kilometer (600-mile) underground power line running from Astana… to the city of Almaty. Several fires were reported. In the city of Karagandy, the EMP started a fire in the city’s electrical power plant, which was connected to the long underground power line. The shielded electrical cable was buried 3 feet (90 cm.) underground. The geomagnetic-storm-like E3 component of the EMP… can easily penetrate into the ground. The E3 component of the Test 184 detonation… began rising immediately after the detonation, but did not reach its peak until 20 seconds after the detonation. The E3 pulse then decayed over the next minute or so.
Indeed, the main damage in the Soviet test #184 appears to have been caused by the E3 component by its coupling to the long-lines which functioned as antennae for the low frequency pulse. This E3 component (related to the size of ionized fireball) would be expected to be much smaller in a 1-kT type weapon that appears to be of most concern to the EMP commission now. On the other hand, it is very important to recognize the fact that geomagnetic storms, on occasion, can induce more powerful pulses than the E3 pulse from even megaton type nuclear weapons. This will be explored further in part two of this article.
different sources concur that prompt peak E1 component of this 300-kiloton
Soviet test was not excessive: between 5 kV/m and 10 kV/m. This is likely a result of the pre-ionization effect in two-stage
The strength of the EMP is dependent upon strength and orientation (dip-angle) of the geomagnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic field varies across the globe and also varies with time at a given location. Since Kazakhstan’s latitude and magnetic field (magnitude and orientation) are similar to that over the continental US, we would expect very similar EMP fields from a large (300-kiloton) two-stage device exploded about 290 kilometers over the continental US. Of course, such devices are not available to new nuclear proliferator states.
It has been argued that the lack of damage to both the power and communications systems in Hawaii from the 1.4-megaton Starfish test counters the prevalent view that EMP is devastating to such systems . However, it should be noted that the line-runs in Hawaii were considerable shorter than on the continental United States, so one cannot dismiss the vulnerability altogether based only the empirical data collected in Hawaii.
While high E1 fields may not couple to the long-lines in a power delivery system, the E1 pulse could disrupt/destroy the IC-based controllers for power-delivery systems, leading to at least temporary failure, and possibly more serious effects in the hardware. As the EMP commission reports:
[T]he local switching, controls, and critical equipment have become largely electronic with concomitant vulnerability to [E1] EMP… The continuing evolution of electronic devices into systems that once were exclusively electromechanical, enabling computer control instead of direct human intervention and use of broad networks like the Internet, results in ever greater reliance on microelectronics and thus the present and sharply growing vulnerability of the power system to [E1] EMP attack… The E1 pulse can upset the protection and control system, including damaging control and protective system components, and cause the plant to trip or trigger emergency controlled shut down… Given the range of potential E1 levels, analysis and test results provide a basis to expect sufficient upset to cause a plant’s system to shut down improperly in many cases. Proper shutdown depends on synchronized operation of multiple controllers and switches. For example: coal intake and exhaust turbines must operate together or else explosion or implosion of the furnace may occur. Cooling systems must respond properly to temperature changes during shut down or thermal gradients can cause boiler deformation or rupture. Orderly spin-down of the turbine is required to avoid shaft sagging and blades impacting the casings.
Electronic control systems are effectively, according to the EMP commission, the Achilles’ heel of our power delivery network. While it is uncertain what the exact implications of losing such control systems would be on the major hardware (e.g. transformers, turbines, etc.), it is best to be prudent and assume substantial damage may result, at least in the peak E1 field region, for a large nuclear device. (The spatial extent of this peak-field region, for the types of the threats most feared by the EMP commission, see Fig 1.) Outside the region exposed to a substantial E1 pulse cascading grid failure may well occur, but since the associated hardware damage would not be expected there, it would reasonable to assume that that portion of the grid could be resuscitated after a short outage.
Specifically regarding nuclear power plants, in the early 1980s a Sandia Laboratories analyzed the “worst case” scenario and concluded that EMP poses no substantial threat to such plants based upon both analysis and simulated EMP tests. 
For the reasons outlined above, one cannot simply use the peak E1 field numbers to calculate the effects on long-lines. It is the weaker, but longer lasting and lower-frequency E3 pulse that causes the greatest direct damage to power delivery systems, as it is this component that couples to the long-lines .
EMP Effects upon
The effects of EMP on ICs include malfunctions and loss of data, thermal runaway, gate-insulator breakdown, avalanche breakdown, tunnel breakdown, and metalization burnout. The energy required may be provided by the surge itself and/or by other sources (such as the power supply or storage capacitors). As successive generations of electronics pack ever more components into smaller spaces, this increasingly inhibits the ability of the circuit to conduct away the heat that results from the typically intense, short voltage and current flows generated by an EMP.
Tests with EMP simulators have shown that a very short pulse of about 10-7 Joule is sufficient to damage a microwave semiconductor diode, and roughly .05 J will damage an audio transistor, whereas 1 J would be required for vacuum tube damage [ref. 5, pp. 522–4]. More precisely, the limit is defined in terms of the instantaneous (few nanoseconds risetime) power delivered to the IC . A few watts to a few hundred watts of power are sufficient to destroy most ICs, when delivered in a few nanoseconds (e.g. 10-7 J /10-8 sec = 10 W).
Thus, how quickly the EMP E1 pulse is delivered affects the consequent IC damage. Note that the pulse length increases as one goes further from the peak field region , and this is another reason (besides the natural decrease of the E1 field strength) to expect somewhat less damage towards the periphery of the exposed region, especially for a small (~1 kiloton) device.
The effects of
prompt, E1 EMP on ICs cannot be calculated directly without knowledge of the
details of the particular electronic system set-up. An E1 pulse acts on an
electronic system by inducing surges in the interconnections (cables, wires,
inductors, etc.), which arrive at input, output, and power-supply terminals of
solid-state components to cause transient and/or permanent failures. When
applied to solid-state parts, a nuclear EMP can be considered a quasi-static
field because most of the EMP energy is carried by the spectral components
below 108 Hz, which corresponds to a wavelength of about 3 m.
Investigations have shown that the direct effects of such a field are
negligible for most purposes if its electric and magnetic components are less
than 100 kV/m and 600 A/m, respectively .
Thus, EMP hardness assurance of ICs is concerned with EMP-induced voltage surges rather than the actual EMP field intensity, per se. To be able to properly asses the induced voltage surges one must be able to characterize EMP voltage surges that may arise in wires and at the terminals of solid-state components and then determine the response of a particular solid-state component to the voltage surges. It is important to note that an EMP can induce powerful voltage surges even when the electromagnetic field itself is moderate in strength. This occurs in electronic systems with suboptimal layouts, such as those with long connecting cables that act as antennas. EMP-induced surges are also strongly dependent on the orientation of the parts relative to the electric and magnetic fields, the precise parameters of the solid-state components, the amount of shielding provided, and the method of grounding.
In recent tests, three types of failure were observed: upset, temporary failure due to latchup, and permanent damage caused by secondary effects . Upsets occurred from 1- or 10-microsecond pulses. While a 0.1-microsecond pulse was found to be too short to change the charge state of parasitic capacitances and corrupt the data, its steep (~few nanosecond rise-time) leading edge activated latchup of the components. Even a few hundred volts of induced voltage was found to be sufficient to cause permanent IC damage.
Lightning shares many of characteristics of E2, but contrary to what is often quoted, its magnitude can exceed even the peak E1 fields in the discharge region . Research on lightning indicates that a stroke may contain significant components with rise-time of less than 10-7 sec and electric fields greater than 106 V/m—more than a order of magnitude greater than even the highest peak E1 fields, from the biggest nuclear devices. . Although the aforementioned Russian study  indicates that it is the sharp leading edge of the pulse, with components from 10-9 to 10-8 sec that are of most concern to IC latchup, the implications of lightning research for EMP vulnerability is a critical topic to include in any future peer-reviewed study of the EMP threat.
EMP Commission Tests
Although the EMP commission carried out tests of the robustness of various devices to E1, the unclassified version of the commission documents do not contain many meaningful technical details. We simply do not know level of EMP stress applied in the quoted tests, and whether they would be appropriate to a large (>100 kilotons) or a small (~1 kiloton) type device.
e.g. The EMP commission states that:
…at relatively low electromagnetic stress levels, a portion of a DCS process controller provided false indications of the process status. An operator interface indicated a switch was on when in actuality it had been turned off, while internal voltage and temperature were reported as out of their normal operating ranges when they were actually normal… In addition to false readings from the sensors, direct malfunctions of some tested control elements were also noted. Additional control element effects included the failure of pressure transmitters, which included both physical damage and loss of calibration data required to indicate proper readings… Communications systems based on Ethernet components similar to those found in PC networking systems suffered substantial degradation and damage effects when illuminated by the simulated albeit low-level EMP pulse. These damage effects are significant since they require the systems to be physically repaired or replaced in order to restore the normal communications capabilities… General-purpose desktop computers and SCADA remote and master terminal units… were the most susceptible to damage or upset of all the test articles.
But since we are not informed of the numerical values of various levels of EMP stress, it is difficult to independently ascertain just how vulnerable the devices are to the range of threats from various yield devices. And again, it should be remembered that the pulse length increases as one goes further from the peak field region , and this, together with the natural decrease of the E1 field strength further from the peak-field region, may be reason to expect less disruption and/or damage towards the periphery of the exposed region, especially for a small device.
The bottom line is that, indeed, our infrastructure is vulnerable to significant E1 and E3 pulses. While significant E3 would not be expected from a low yield weapon, it would be expected from a solar storm. And as explained in the following section, while a small weapon could certainly produce substantial destructive E1 fields, such fields would be restricted to only a small region of the country.
Dependence of EMP on
Weapon Yield and Detonation Height
The EMP commission’s executive report expresses the concern that “terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear weapons may well calculate that… they may obtain the greatest political-military utility from one or a few such weapons by using them—or threatening their use—in an EMP attack.” Given that scenario, such a warhead would likely be launched by one of the Scud/No-dong/Shahab family of missiles. Since the payload of such missiles is limited to ~1000 kilograms, and only relatively crude technologies are available to such actors, we can safely assume that the yield would be on the order of ~1 kiloton . By comparison, the gun-type U-based Little Boy (15 kilotons) weighed 4 metric tons (4,000 kilograms), and the Fat Man (21 kilotons) was an implosion Pu-based device and weighed 4.6 metric tons.
The EMP effects of a crude one-kiloton device , though still substantial, will be dramatically less than that of a one-megaton device. Firstly, a megaton-range EMP weapon is not very sensitive to the detonation altitude: any altitude between roughly 40 and 400 kilometers will yield a very strong E1 EMP pulse at ground level. On the other hand, the EMP effects of a smaller, one-kiloton warhead, is quite sensitive to the detonation altitude . To boost the EMP lethality of a simple one-kiloton fission weapon, it must be detonated much lower than the hundreds of km that would expose the entire continental US to harmful electric fields. In fact, the “sweet spot” for maximizing the EMP lethality of such weapons would be a detonation altitude of about 40 kilometers—significantly higher, or lower, and the peak fields at ground level will decrease.
This lower altitude implies a smaller region on the ground will exposed to high E-fields, as the “horizon” (the farthest extent on the ground with direct view of the detonation) is closer to ground-zero. For 40 kilometers altitude, the maximum extent of the induced EMP E1-fields is within a 725-kilometer radius. In reality, this is an overestimate because the EMP far from the peak field region is inherently limited in strength by the lower initial gamma-ray yield for a small device, and the distant pulse also has a wider (and, thus, less threatening) pulse time-profile. Although in standard texts it is shown that the E-fields expected at the periphery of the exposed ground regions are roughly half the peak fields, this applies to large (>100 kilotons) devices . For smaller devices the peripheral fields will be expected to be significantly below half the peak field. A reasonable estimate for the extent for the destructive EMP E1 fields from a one-kiloton burst at 40 kilometers is about 10 times the altitude, or ~400 kilometers radius [Fig. 1].
Thus, a standard “crude” one-kiloton device will not expose a very large area of the US to high E-fields, both because it will have to be detonated lower in the atmosphere to boost its EMP, and also because its EMP is inherently limited in strength.
Secondly, although a one-kiloton weapon could have a substantial peak E1 component in a limited region of the country, this component does not couple well to long-lines, and would not induce large currents in long cable runs. At the same time, a small weapon would have a significantly smaller E3 component (which is driven by the size of electrically charged fireball) than a megaton-range weapon, which, again, means that long-lasting country-wide power outages would not be expected.
Serious long-lasting consequences of a one-kiloton EMP strike would likely be limited to a state-sized region of the country. Although grid outages in this region may have cascading knock-on effects in more distant parts of the country, the electronic devices in those further regions would not have suffered direct damage, and the associated power systems far from the EMP exposed region could be re-started.So-called “super-EMP” devices could boost the EMP, even for a low-yield weapon by, for instance, reducing the shielding of the fissile core in a preferential direction—say, downwards—and thereby increase the gamma-rays escaping in that direction. Such weapons would, typically, use non-spherical, e.g. cylindrical or linear, implosion techniques to match the asymmetry of the shielding. However, while these super-EMP devices will boost gamma-rays which can cause a more powerful E1 pulse, they will not induce a powerful E3 signal. Also, due to the fact that the super-EMP weapon will be directional, it is unlikely to affect a large part of the country: it could cause havoc, but, again, only in a small region of the country. To obtain a higher E3 pulse one must have bigger fireball from a larger device (Space Review, 2010).
Attacks—What The U.S. Must Do Now
Date: November 17, 2010
Source: Heritage Foundation
Abstract: Most Americans—whether members of the public or politicians in Congress—ignore or are unaware of the very real threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. A nuclear device detonated high in the atmosphere above the American mainland can easily disable the country’s electrical grid—shutting down nearly all communications, transportation, and service systems. Overnight, daily life as Americans know it will be a thing of the past. There are ways to prevent devastation from an EMP — and the U.S. must invest in them now before it is too late. Two of the country’s preeminent national security experts explain how to prevent the worst.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack represents one of the greatest threats imaginable—to the United States and the world. An EMP occurs when a nuclear device is detonated high in the atmosphere—a phenomenon of which America’s enemies are well aware. The electromagnetic discharge can permanently disable the electrical systems that run nearly all civilian and military infrastructures. A massive EMP attack on the United States would produce almost unimaginable devastation. Communications would collapse, transportation would halt, and electrical power would simply be non-existent. Not even a global humanitarian effort would be enough to keep hundreds of millions of Americans from death by starvation, exposure, or lack of medicine. Nor would the catastrophe stop at U.S. borders. Most of Canada would be devastated, too, as its infrastructure is integrated with the U.S. power grid. Without the American economic engine, the world economy would quickly collapse. Much of the world’s intellectual brain power (half of it is in the United States) would be lost as well. Earth would most likely recede into the “new” Dark Ages.
All past calamities of the modern era would pale in comparison to the catastrophe caused by a successful high-altitude EMP strike. Still, recent disasters do offer insights into how to mitigate and respond to some aspects of this threat. Major urban blackouts, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent earthquake in Haiti illuminate the most daunting challenges. These disasters suggest that the most vital aspects of mitigating the effects of an EMP attack are: (1) a resilient U.S.–Canadian electrical grid; (2) integrated catastrophic planning; and (3) redundant means of global communication.
In the end, however,
even with farsighted mitigation measures there is little question that a
nationwide EMP attack would be crippling. Thus, while pursuing mitigation, the
U.S. should take all possible measures to protect and defend the nation against
a ballistic-missile attack that could be used to deliver an EMP strike, as well
as pursue aggressive counter-proliferation measures against rogue states
developing nuclear weapons.
Thinking the Unthinkable
In many respects, an EMP attack is a unique and unprecedented threat to the United States. EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. EMP is most often created from gamma rays emitted during a nuclear explosion. At altitudes between 40 to 400 kilometers, these gamma rays produce high-energy free electrons that give rise to an oscillating electric current that destroys electronic equipment.
The direct effects are due to electromagnetic “shocking” of electronics and the stressing of electrical systems. Indirect effects include the cascading damage that occurs because of these shocked, damaged, and destroyed electronics and electronic systems that are embedded in critical infrastructure. These indirect effects can be even more severe than the direct effects. For example, surges might simultaneously cause electrical fires and incapacitate traffic control and emergency dispatch systems. In turn, responders will be unable to respond to resulting mass fires.
An electromagnetic pulse consists of three components: E1 is a free-field energy pulse that occurs in a fraction of a second. The generated “electromagnetic shock” then damages, disrupts, and destroys electronics and electronic systems in a near simultaneous time frame over a very large area. Faraday cage protection and other mechanisms designed to defend against lighting strikes will not withstand this assault. Only specialized technology integrated into equipment can harden it against EMP. If the electromagnetic distortion is large enough, the E1 shock will even destroy lightly EMP-shielded equipment in addition to most consumer electronics. Devices that incorporate antennas by nature accept electronic signals and cannot be shielded against E1, meaning trillions of dollars worth of electronics will fail after an EMP assault, regardless of protective measures. E1 is also particularly worrisome because it destroys Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition components that are critical to many of our national infrastructures.
E2 covers essentially the same area as E1 but is more geographically widespread and has lower amplitude than E1. The E2 component has similar effects as lightning. In general, it would not be a critical threat to infrastructure, since most systems have built-in protection against occasional lightning strikes. The E2 threat compounds that of the E1 component since it strikes a fraction of a second after the E1 has very likely damaged or destroyed the protective devices that would have prevented E2 damage. The syncretistic effects mean that E2 typically inflicts more damage than E1 since it bypasses traditional protective measures, vastly amplifying the damage inflicted by EMP.
E3 is a longer duration pulse, lasting up to one minute. It disrupts long electricity transmission lines and subsequently causes damage to the electrical supply and distribution systems connected to these lines. This E3 element of EMP is not a freely propagating wave, but is a result of the electromagnetic distortion in the earth’s atmosphere. In this regard, E3 is similar to a massive geomagnetic storm, and is particularly damaging to long-line infrastructure, such as electrical cables and transformers. A moderate blast of E3 reportedly could directly affect up to 70 percent of the U.S. power grid.
The timing of the three components is an important part of the equation in relation to the damage that EMP generates. The damage from each strike amplifies the damage caused by each succeeding strike. The combination of the three components can cause irreversible damage to many electronic systems. With the combined damage from earlier E1 and E2 blasts, E3 has the potential to destroy the nation’s electrical grid and thus inflict catastrophic damage on the United States.
In practice, the precise EMP effects vary depending on many factors. One of the most important variables is altitude. The most effective altitude is above the visible horizon. If detonation is too low, most of the electro-magnetic force from the EMP will be driven into the ground, creating deadly nuclear fallout that deprives the weapon of its non-casualty appeal. Damage is inversely related to the target’s distance from the epicenter of detonation. In general, the further from the epicenter, the weaker the EMP effects. Yield is another factor to consider. The higher the yield, the greater the effect. Even so, since the effects travel through electric lines and waterways, and have secondary spill-over impacts on other infrastructure, it is difficult to predict the possible extent of damage from a large-scale EMP attack.
For the past decade, the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, chaired by Dr. William R. Graham, has investigated the EMP threat to the United States and how it can be reduced. The commission’s specific areas of analysis have included:
- “the nature and magnitude of potential high-altitude EMP threats to the United States from all potentially hostile states or non-state actors that have or could acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles enabling them to perform a high-altitude EMP attack against the United States within the next 15 years;
- “the vulnerability of United States military and especially civilian systems to an EMP attack, giving special attention to vulnerability of the civilian infrastructure as a matter of emergency preparedness;
- “the capability of the United States to repair and recover from damage inflicted on United States military and civilian systems by an EMP attack”; and
- “the feasibility and cost of hardening select military and civilian systems against EMP attack.”
The Graham commission’s bottom line is that an EMP attack will put an end to the functioning of the U.S. electrical infrastructure and much of the hardware that runs everyday life.
The multiple components of EMP are each highly damaging in their own right and combined have the potential to inflict catastrophic damage to the major infrastructures throughout the United States. Moreover, the sequential and nearly simultaneous delivery of E1, E2, and E3 pose a complicated threat that could destroy much of the electrical infrastructure and other critical services under current conditions. The United States has seen the rapid growth in its dependence on electronics, telecommunications, and information technology. This technology has infused itself into the nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR). These include the energy sector, banking and finance, petroleum and natural gas, transportation, food services, water, emergency services, and space systems. These technological innovations have brought great benefits, but also make the United States—and its component states and localities—vulnerable to an EMP attack.
Although the altitude necessary for an effective nuclear-based EMP minimizes the likely damage from the nuclear thermal blast and radiation, large numbers of casualties would most likely occur from the sheer loss of power. Airplanes would literally fall from the sky, cars and trucks would stop working, and water, sewer, and electrical networks would fail. Food would rot, medical services would collapse, and transportation would become almost non-existent. The United States and other highly developed countries are especially vulnerable to such attacks, given their dependence on extensive transportation networks and other electricity-driven infrastructures.
One crucial commonality is the widespread use of automated monitoring and control systems, which the Graham commission has labeled the “ubiquitous robots of the modern age known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.” These SCADA systems, along with Digital Control Systems (DCS) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) have penetrated into every critical area of the nation’s CIKR. While these systems provide increased operational benefits and agility, they also increase vulnerability to an EMP attack. The fact that these systems have frequently replaced manual controls both on-site and at remote locations is one of the crucial factors that have intensified the possibility of cascading damage within and across the infrastructure sectors.
Lesson #1: Lights-Out Fall-Out. An EMP could destroy much of the electrical grid within the United States. The largest vulnerability in the country’s electrical grid is the power-transmission infrastructure, which will suffer significant damage under an EMP attack and is extremely difficult to repair. The transmission grid is composed of substations and transformers that step power up and down as power lines are switched in order to transfer high-voltage long disaster power to a lower voltage more suitable for consumer use. This grid is essential to maintaining electrical distribution if some power generation is lost, as this system can reroute electricity to where it is needed most. Substations are exposed to both EMP and the elements while situated in remote areas, are full of cables which can act like antennas, and are dependent on telephone lines in order to function. Two high-value components of the transmission infrastructure, transformers and capacitors, are very sensitive to both E1 and E3.
The combination of these factors makes it highly unlikely that U.S. substations will remain unscathed after an EMP attack. The equipment used in the transmission grid is costly, specially produced, and has to be ordered from overseas before replacement in the U.S. Those with the expertise to replace transformers and capacitors are likely to be overwhelmed if much of our infrastructure is damaged, only delaying the replacement of equipment that generally takes two years to be manufactured and delivered. The severe deficiencies in America’s ability to replace its transmission infrastructure must be addressed in order to reduce the catastrophic effect of a successful EMP attack.
A good model for this potential disorder is the New York City blackout of 1977. On July 13, 1977, two lighting strikes caused overloading in the electric power substations of the Con Edison power company. These lighting strikes, the equivalent of a minuscule fraction of E2, caused the Indian Point power plant north of the city to fail, as well as the subsequent failure of the Long Island interconnection—a regional, or larger, synchronized-frequency grid. Failure of the Linden–Goethals 230,000-volt interconnection with New Jersey resulted in the protective devices removing overloaded lines, transformers, and cables from service. As a result, a power failure spread throughout the New York area. This blackout lasted only one day, yet resulted in widespread looting and the breakdown of the rule of law throughout many New York neighborhoods. The estimated cost of the blackout was approximately $346 million, and nearly 3,000 people were arrested through the 26-hour period.
The blackout in New York City resulted in an immediate breakdown of the social order. The police were outmatched and had no chance of stopping such massive theft, largely having no choice but to stand by watching the looters from a distance. In North Brooklyn, a community of more than a million residents, only 189 police officers were on duty. The New York Police Department was completely overwhelmed in its efforts to preserve order. The social order degenerated so quickly that Time magazine called it a “Night of Terror.”
There were many of explanations for the sudden violence in the aftermath of the blackout, with justifications ranging from racial animosities to culture, even to weather, but the simple fact is that during disaster, “‘under stress’ or ‘exceptional circumstances,’ the poor saw ‘no reason to play by the rules.’” This astounding amount of violence occurred in the course of a single day. After an EMP attack, cities will likely lose power for weeks and months, and the National Guard cannot occupy every major city, assuming it is able to mobilize at all. The historical evidence from the 1977 New York blackout bodes poorly for the prospect of maintaining order and the rule of law without electricity.
The August 2003 Northeast blackout that affected Ohio, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and parts of Canada—though marked by less social disorder—also demonstrated the potential effects of a wide-area EMP attack. During that incident, more than 200 power plants, including several nuclear plants, were shut down as a result of the electricity cutoff. Loss of water pressure led the local authorities to advise affected communities to boil water before drinking it due to contamination from the failure of sewage systems and other health threats. Many backup generators proved unable to manage the crisis. The initial day of the blackout brought massive traffic jams and gridlock when people tried to get home without traffic lights. Additional transportation problems arose when railways, airlines, gas stations, and oil refineries halted operations. Telephone lines were overwhelmed due to the high volume of calls, while many radio and television stations went off-air. Overall, the blackout’s economic cost was between $7 billion and $10 billion due to food spoilage, lost production, overtime wages, and other related costs inflicted on over one-seventh of the U.S. population.
In the case of an EMP attack, the damage could prove even more severe. During the 1977 and 2003 blackouts, some communications systems remained intact, while motor vehicles and aircraft were not directly affected and rapidly resumed operation after the electrical system recovered a few days later. After an EMP attack, however, the damage to power lines, SCADA control systems, and commercial computers would likely be permanent due to fused power lines and lost data, which would necessitate replacing the entire electric system in the affected area.
The vast amounts of electronic and telecommunications systems supporting the financial industry have never been hardened against an EMP attack despite physical attacks posing one of the largest threats to operations. If these systems were damaged, consumers would be forced to operate a cash economy, or, since cash withdrawals would be impossible without financial records, a barter economy. The August 2003 Northeast blackout is considered a successful test of post–September 11 safeguards, but it happened under ideal conditions for the financial market. It occurred after the 4 p.m. closing time, was largely over by 9 a.m. the next day, and business was light as usual for a Thursday in August. Even then, some traders could not access the NASDAQ electronic exchange by telephone, ATMs failed all over New York City and elsewhere, transportation systems were interrupted regularly, power outages continued to randomly disrupt business, and many companies had trouble obtaining backup diesel fuel for their generators. Banks borrowed a total of $785 million from the Federal Reserve System to compensate for imbalances. This was the result of a disruption that lasted a matter of hours, and a few days at most, not the weeks or months that an EMP is likely to inflict.
The banking and finance sector relies on one of the most advanced information-technology systems to transfer millions of transactions daily, and depends on the telecommunications networks to maintain critical voice and data transfers. Disruptions of these networks could result not only in disruptions of operations, but also a loss of confidence by the public in the national economy. While the banking infrastructure was designed robustly against a wide range of threats, it was not designed to withstand a complete communications shutdown. The backup power generators and battery backup systems, while allowing for an organized shutdown of the electronic systems, were not designed to last for the amount of time that will likely be required to restore power. It could be weeks or months before services are restored and it remains to be seen what a national shutdown of this vital infrastructure sector would entail long term. Particularly in the direct aftermath of the EMP attack, banks will find it difficult to provide the public with the liquidity necessary to purchase essential goods. Indeed an EMP attack that shuts down the electronic data retrieval systems would render banking transactions virtually impossible. The inability of customers to access funding at such a critical time will certainly be a factor in maintaining a civil and orderly recovery.
Many Americans have experienced the burdens of a short blackout. But the U.S. could not survive as a unified civil nation with the long-term loss of the electrical grid. Ensuring a resilient U.S.–Canadian power grid is vital. An essential component of mitigating the threat must be an early warning system, system-situational awareness, and robust command and control to ensure cooperation between government agencies and private companies during a crisis.
Lesson #2: Losing Infrastructure. An EMP attack would heavily damage the U.S. transportation sector, which would significantly impair recovery efforts in the wake of an attack. Transportation networks are crucial for the supply of life-sustaining goods and services. These networks are increasingly incorporating electronics into their systems, so the transportation network is increasingly vulnerable to EMP. Any damage to the network has a significant impact on the distribution of goods and will significantly influence the nation’s recovery after a disaster.
The effects of EMP will immediately disable a portion of the 130 million cars and some 90 million trucks. Since millions of vehicles are on the road at any given time, there will be accidents and congestion that will impede movement, particularly in large metropolitan areas. Stoplights and train crossing signals will shut down or malfunction. The longer-term effects on the automobile and trucking infrastructure will hinge on the ability to obtain fuel and the recovery of commercial power. Police may be needed to replace automated traffic controls at the same time that they are critically needed for other emergency services.
The U.S. rail network depends directly on electricity. Though passenger rail is only lightly developed in this country, America depends heavily on rail for transportation of fuel, food, and unfinished products. Railroad freight traffic in 2003 totaled 1.8 billion tons, much of this coal for power plants. The rail infrastructure is especially critical for the continued generation of power, and will hamper restoration of the electrical grid if the nation’s railroad system is damaged. Though the rail lines themselves are unlikely to suffer destruction, the control computers onboard the locomotives, traffic signals, and control centers will most likely be disabled. These elements of the rail infrastructure must be hardened in order to ensure that power plants will have an adequate fuel supply if disaster strikes.
America’s aviation industry will be destroyed after an EMP attack. Communication and tracking equipment will be devastated. New airline designs, such as the Boeing 777, may fail in flight due to the lack of a direct mechanical or hydraulic link for safety procedures. Airline control towers as well will suffer significant damage, and likely will ground the aviation industry for a significant time. The airline industry is not crucial for national survival, but it will be needed for the shipment of international aid, yet all air traffic in and to the U.S. will likely be grounded after an EMP assault.
U.S. sea transportation will not be critical to recovery unless other transportation cannot recuperate within a week, and by that time the nation may have already irrecoverably collapsed. But sea transport will be essential to revitalization of the U.S. economy after critical recovery, and its resilience to EMP is therefore important. Many of the nation’s seagoing vessels are likely to experience the effects of EMP, and if they do, they will lose communication as a result. More important, American dockyards may be significantly impaired by EMP. Cargo cranes contain upwards of 100 vulnerable computers and sensors, and the distribution centers linking shipping containers with the U.S. trucking industry may be destroyed.
The U.S. food infrastructure depends heavily on the transportation sector. The production of food in the U.S. is increasingly reliant on electronics in vehicles such as tractors and combines, which have similar EMP vulnerability to semi-trailer trucks. The storage of food is directly dependent on the electrical infrastructure to power refrigerated warehouses, yet the distribution of the nation’s food supply is entirely at the mercy of the trucking industry. Without refrigerated warehouses and with increasing spoilage in supermarkets that have only three days of backup stock, the country’s food infrastructure will be only more dependent on the trucking sector. Transportation will be the key to the food infrastructure after an EMP attack, which increases the societal impact if the U.S. loses a significant portion of its transportation infrastructure, making it extremely important to harden these systems against the effects of an EMP assault.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans. Katrina is currently the best model for an EMP attack, since the hurricane and subsequent flooding disabled and demolished the power and transportation infrastructure. Similar to an EMP attack, a large proportion of the population was not able to leave the disaster zone where power and transportation infrastructures had been completely destroyed.
Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the evacuation of the city too late to effectively mobilize those who did not have access to cars, and instead allowed 10,000 people to stay in the Superdome in order to ride out the hurricane. More stayed in the Ernest Morial Convention Center. In total, about a fifth of the city was unable to escape before the effects of the hurricane hit the city. Much of the city was unable to mobilize when disaster struck, deprived of food, water, power, and transportation. The direct impact of the hurricane on the city caused minimal damage, incurring a few casualties and destroying some buildings, such as part of the roof of the Superdome. True disaster struck when New Orleans’s levees failed to contain a flooded Lake Pontchartrain from reaching the streets. The mayor did not fully realize the scope of the catastrophe, nor did the Louisiana governor or the President, which caused emergency response agencies to lag behind in mobilization to New Orleans. Immediately after the disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allowed 1,000 rescue workers to take two days to arrive, while 2,000 more were given an entire week to mobilize to New Orleans. Federal disaster response did not anticipate the near-immediate and complete breakdown of the social order, with looters and gunmen running rampant.
One day after the hurricane struck, flooding in neighborhoods developed into a massive outpouring that destroyed much of the city. The metro area lost power. Katrina turned into a situation in which the resources of military, FEMA, and police forces had been devoted to a failed effort to restore order throughout the city while those displaced and in need of aid languished.
By Tuesday, September 6, more than a week after the landfall of Katrina, 10,000 people remained to be rescued from the city. Moreover, much of the city was destroyed and order had not been restored. Katrina exposed many flaws in the national capacity to respond to a catastrophic event, and poor advance planning made an effective response nearly impossible. FEMA was prepared to respond to a normal disaster, but had not prepared for something as overpowering as Katrina. Overall, this hurricane cost $81 billion in damage and caused around 1,500 casualties.
The failure of transportation in New Orleans exhausted emergency generators for use by cell phone towers, hospitals, and police forces because fuel could not be delivered. Electrical failure resulted in widespread looting and the spoilage of food supplies throughout the city. This partial knockout of both power and transportation created a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions and threatened to destroy one of America’s major cities. Federal, state, and local governments failed to adequately respond to Katrina during the first week of disaster; this lenience will not be possible with EMP, since the entire country’s, not just a city’s, disaster-response capacity may collapse. Relocation to the Houston Astrodome, the slow arrival of FEMA housing, or a massive nationwide recovery effort would be impossible after an EMP attack.
In the aftermath of an EMP strike, the delivery of aid and restoration of order within the first week of catastrophe will be crucial in order to prevent the permanent collapse of the nation’s cities. The delivery of aid in a chaotic post-strike environment will be impossible without robust pre-disaster planning that integrates federal, state, local, private-sector, non-governmental organizations, and international support.
Lesson #3: Delivering Assistance. The U.S. communications infrastructure will suffer severe disruption in an EMP assault. The crucial role that telecommunication plays in the health and well-being of modern society cannot be overstated. The loss of this infrastructure would seriously impede the routine communication between individuals, business, and government. The vital components that make telecommunications possible include send-and-receive devices for voice and data, such as standard and cellular phones and personal computers. They also include mediums such as fiber and copper, wireless and cellular transmission facilities, and monitoring and management systems that identify, mitigate, and repair problems that can impact the services that make modern communication possible. The major elements of the civilian communication equipment networks have electrical systems with circuit boards, integrated circuit chips, and switching equipment such as routers that are inherently susceptible to EMP attack. The good news is that fiber is resistant to E1 attacks and much of the backbone of communication networks are often located or housed in facilities that are designed to protect this equipment from EMP effects or lightning, so there is some built-in industry protection in these areas.
A key factor in regard to communications in relation to EMP attack and other disaster situations for that matter is that the times when these assets are most needed for emergency services and recovery efforts is also when they are barraged with extra demand. At least four times the normal call traffic can be expected. In previous disasters, this higher level of traffic lasted through the first four to eight hours, and a slightly elevated level of traffic, for 12 to 24 hours after the event occurred.
Telecommunications in America consists of four overlapping vital systems that allow the modern economy to function: wireline, wireless, satellite, and radio. They are of critical importance to society. The overlapping functions within this infrastructure allow the system to operate if one aspect of it has been completely wiped out. The use of electromagnetic waves for the transportation of communications signals reduces the amount of hardware that can be conceivably damaged by an EMP explosion. The communication infrastructure is only considered to be vulnerable to E1 pulse. A number of measures in place, such as grounding, bonding, shielding, and the use of surge protectors, are considered insufficient to protect against an electromagnetic attack. Each of these infrastructures is unique in its ability to suffer injury from EMP, and should be considered a separate system with unique protection plans.
The recent transition from copper line to fiber optic cable as the backbone of the wireline infrastructure has given this industry significant protection from EMP shock. The EMP commission considers fiber optic cable “highly survivable” and has focused instead on the transmission infrastructure as the source for potential vulnerability to EMP threat. The wireline communications sector is housed in windowless concrete buildings containing significant protective mechanisms. For these reasons, wireline communications are considered the most secure against EMP, but that does not mean wireline communications are safe. The centers directly affected by the blast will suffer some direct damage due to EMP and degrade communications within the area, but the larger issues are the certain loss of portions of the power grid and the lack of sufficient backup generation within the infrastructure. Most wireline sites carry up to 72 hours of generation capability; therefore, much of our communication grid will fail if the electrical infrastructure is not restored promptly.
In the event of an EMP attack, the U.S. cellular phone network will suffer some direct damage, but may ultimately fail due to excessive call volume overloading the infrastructure. This phenomenon occurred after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It highlighted the success of the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) that gives priority resources to emergency responders and government officials. This arrangement gives priority cellular service to officials and provides the administrative framework to operate the communications infrastructure in crisis. However, nationwide network stress coupled with significant infrastructure damage may result in the failure of this system. The immense proliferation of smartphones in the last few years may cause unprecedented stress for the system, as users try to download data in addition to making calls. There is a workable infrastructure in place in order to provide priority calling in the event of disaster—but the changing nature of wireless communication may cause unprecedented difficulty.
The U.S. satellite infrastructure may be significantly damaged by EMP. Not only may GPS and other satellite-dependent devices be damaged by EMP, but the satellites themselves may be affected. Both line-of-sight exposure and residual radiation will degrade satellite performance after an EMP attack. The x-rays, gamma rays, and UV radiation emitted during a nuclear explosion will propagate in outer space and affect the performance of satellites within line-of-sight exposure, which is a significant amount of Earth’s orbit. Moreover, the Earth’s magnetic field could act as a container to trap energetic electrons and form a radiation belt that would encircle the Earth. Both of these effects will degrade satellite performance. It has been demonstrated that large EMP explosions will cause a significant portion of satellites to fail. Generally, old satellites that have been exposed to previous cosmic radiation, satellites in low orbit, and new satellites that are faster and lighter are most at risk of failure. An EMP explosion will cause significant degradation of the U.S. satellite network, increasing the importance that other methods of communication are maintained.
The recent earthquake in Haiti can serve as a model for EMP catastrophe in the United States if the attack destroys a significant portion of the electrical, transportation, and communications infrastructure. With the destruction of most of the nation’s infrastructures, the U.S. will be plunged into a total catastrophe where the resources of the U.S. government alone will be insufficient to allow the country to recover. When dealing with a disaster of this scope, there must be serious collaboration with foreign entities in order to plan the delivery of emergency supplies and alleviate the crisis. The plight of Haiti demonstrates the need for an international disaster response coordination in which the U.S. may be the recipient, not the donor, of massive foreign aid. This will be impossible without effective communication to provide situational awareness, transmit needs assessments, and organize the delivery of assistance.
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. This earthquake destroyed much of the country, and nearly caused the collapse of leadership within the state. Between 100,000 and 230,000 died as a result of the earthquake. It seems that 50 percent to 70 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince have collapsed, destroying nearly 250,000 homes and 30,000 businesses. More than a quarter of a million Haitians have been injured. More worrisome for recovery efforts, “the country’s new and only undersea fiber link…suffered major damage from the earthquake” and will likely impede the ability to coordinate relief efforts. Haiti’s infrastructure is in complete shambles, yet would be in a far worse state were it not for significant international aid.
As of September 2010, $3.3 billion in aid has been given to Haiti and another $1.1 billion has been pledged. The United States, among other nations, has become heavily involved in Haitian disaster relief, sending troops and two medical ships to support the recovery effort, among other endeavors. The U.S. even took over the Port-au-Prince airport in order to organize aid flights coming into the country and ease a bottleneck that has been slowing the arrival of supplies. Foreign countries are heavily involved in the recovery efforts throughout Haiti and in a sense have taken over the country in order to prevent its collapse.
Even with heavy foreign involvement, the Haitian government is struggling to maintain its authority. Haitian President Rene Preval has to publicly insist that “Haiti will not die” in an attempt to maintain his authority as recovery efforts progress. Protestors angry with the slow pace of recovery have marched on both the mayor’s facilities and the U.S. embassy shouting “Down with Preval,” who has spoken to the public only a few times since the disaster occurred. Preval’s government is in a precarious state, as much of the populace is in the streets and the country is in shambles.
The most critical capacity provided by government in the face of disaster is legitimacy, providing the reassurance that government is functioning. This capability is impossible without the ability to communicate both within the country and with nations providing external support.
The Haitian tragedy serves as a cautionary model for total catastrophe in the U.S. As Americans have never experienced nationwide disaster, they are completely unprepared for a catastrophe on the scale of an EMP attack. Indeed, the challenge for the U.S. is infinitely greater. In addition to taking care of its own citizens, the U.S. has global responsibilities, including military forces stationed worldwide, which will still require command and control from Washington.
Mustering a global response requires above all the capacity to communicate. Redundancy in communications will be vital. Radio communications, for example, are highly insulated from the EMP threat. The lack of a need for a transmissions infrastructure and the global scope of shortwave radio make it extremely likely that radio communications will continue to function. Ham radios and other communication devices themselves may be destroyed, but the infrastructure itself is nearly invulnerable. Using radio or other means-assured emergency broadcasts as well as interactive communications will be essential.
Time to Act
Recent disasters suggest an important to-do list for handling EMP threats:
Prevent the threat. Regardless of the mitigation and response measures, a massive EMP impact could have a devastating impact on the United States. Washington must pursue an aggressive protect-and-defend strategy, including comprehensive missile defense; modernizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and adopting proactive nonproliferation and counterproliferation measures, both unilaterally and in partnership with allies.
Provide resilience. Measures must be adopted to ensure the resilience of the U.S.–Canadian electrical grid and telecommunications systems, including developing limited redundancy and identifying means for the timely replacement of essential damaged parts or their rapid substitution.
Plan for the unthinkable. The U.S. must have robust pre-disaster planning—with practical exercises that include top officials who rehearse a wide variety of contingency scenarios—that integrates federal, state, local, private-sector, non-governmental organizations, and international support.
Protect the capacity
to communicate. The U.S. must have the means to establish assured
emergency broadcast as well as interactive communications both within the U.S.
and across the globe. An EMP strike can easily obliterate America’s electrical,
telecommunications, transportation, financial, food, and water infrastructures,
rendering the United States helpless to coordinate actions and deliver services
essential for daily life. In the words of Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, EMP “is one
of only a few ways that the United States could be defeated by its enemies.” The time to prepare is now (Heritage Foundation, 2010).
Before The Lights Go Out: A Survey Of EMP Preparedness Reveals Significant
Date: August 15, 2011
Source: Heritage Foundation
Abstract: An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) over the United States could end modern life in America overnight. Whether caused by an enemy attack (a nuclear device detonated above the atmosphere) or by a natural phenomenon (a geomagnetic storm), an EMP can cause entire regions of the country to lose electricity—permanently. Despite the EMP Commission’s recommendations in 2004 and 2008, hardly any progress has been made in protecting the country from an EMP attack and its catastrophic results. The U.S. must prepare to deal with an EMP—now.
While the ability of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to inflict catastrophic damage on U.S. infrastructure has been a known fact for decades, insufficient efforts have been taken to mitigate the threat. A survey of congressional, federal, state, local, and international measures to deal with the threat reveals more complacency than action.
In order to prevent the catastrophic destruction that could result from either a nuclear missile detonated at high altitudes or intense solar eruptions that send blasts of radiation towards the Earth, initiatives are needed at all levels—from bilateral partnerships that focus on shared infrastructure to national leadership to state and local action.
In July 1962, a high-altitude nuclear test dubbed Operation Starfish, conducted 400 kilometers above Johnson Island in the Pacific Ocean, first raised widespread concerns over electromagnetic pulses. During the course of the test, the recording instruments continually malfunctioned and affected electrical equipment more than 1,400 kilometers away in Hawaii. The root cause of the problem? An electromagnetic pulse. This discovery led the U.S. military to harden many of the country’s strategic defense systems, such as missile silos, against EMP effects, but little was done to implement measures to protect civilian infrastructure. That practice has remained virtually unchanged despite the ever-increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and ever-increasing U.S. military and civilian dependence on electricity-based infrastructure.
An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. Nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapons (radio-frequency weapons), or geomagnetic storms (often called space weather) can power an EMP, and the resultant changing magnetic field in the Earth’s atmosphere can disrupt electrical systems. An EMP has three main components: (1) An electromagnetic shock disrupts electronics, such as communication systems; (2) an effect similar to lightning rapidly follows and compounds the first component; and (3) the pulse flows through electricity transmission lines, overloading and damaging transmission distribution centers, fuses, and power lines.
The State of Play
The U.S. government has made some efforts to address these threats. Current initiatives span prevention, protection, and recovery:
Congressional Action. Shortly before 9/11, Congress established the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. The EMP Commission’s charter required the commission to assess:
- the nature and magnitude of potential high-altitude EMP threats to the United States from all potentially hostile states and non-state actors that have or could acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, enabling them to perform a high-altitude EMP attack against the U.S. within the next 15 years;
- the vulnerability of the United States military and especially civilian systems to an EMP attack, giving special attention to vulnerability of the civilian infrastructure as a matter of emergency preparedness;
- the capability of the United States to repair and recover from damage inflicted on U.S. military and civilian systems by an EMP attack; and
- the feasibility and cost of hardening select military and civilian systems against EMP attacks.
Members of the EMP Commission testified before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2002, releasing a partially classified five-volume report on the United States’ vulnerability to a potential EMP attack. The EMP Commission concluded that the United States was extremely vulnerable to a catastrophic EMP attack, finding “[o]ur increasing dependence on advanced electronics systems results in the potential for an increased EMP vulnerability of our technologically advanced forces, and if unaddressed makes EMP employment by an adversary an attractive asymmetric option.” The commission proposed a five-year plan aimed at protecting critical infrastructure from potential EMP attack.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2006 reestablished the EMP Commission to continue its efforts “to monitor, investigate, and make recommendations, and report to Congress on the evolving threat to the United States from electromagnetic pulse attack resulting from the detonation of a nuclear weapon or weapons at high altitude.”
The goals of the renewed commission were to assess the threats to U.S. critical infrastructure and provide recommendations to address vulnerabilities. This new commission released its final findings in 2008 through the publication of the Critical National Infrastructure Report, as well as testimony before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. The commission concluded that an EMP attack on the United States would be devastating:
Should significant parts of the electrical power infrastructure be lost for any substantial period of time, the Commission believes that the consequences are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities. In fact, the Commission is deeply concerned that such impacts are likely in the event of an EMP attack unless practical steps are taken to provide protection for critical elements of the electric system and for rapid restoration of electric power, particularly to essential services.
The commission offered recommendations to improve U.S. preparedness for an EMP attack or a geomagnetic storm in 10 critical areas of national infrastructure including the electrical grid, food infrastructure, and U.S. space systems. The commission strongly urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “make clear its authority and responsibility to respond to an EMP attack” by developing contingency plans in cooperation with appropriate federal, state and local agencies, and industry. Furthermore, the commission recommended that DHS develop response protocols for an EMP attack and regularly practice this response through exercises with relevant government agencies and industry groups. The commission urged DHS to work with the Department of Energy and industry groups to identify and address vulnerabilities in the U.S. electrical infrastructure. The commission advised that the cost of critical infrastructure improvement should be split between government and industry.
Congress has not yet passed comprehensive legislation addressing EMP vulnerabilities. Numerous bills have been introduced, but none were passed out of committee.
Following the 2008 EMP Commission report, legislation was introduced to address the threat of an EMP attack on the United States. In April 2009, H.R. 2195, “A Bill to Amend the Federal Power Act to Provide Additional Authorities to Adequately Protect the Critical Electric Infrastructure Against Cyber Attack, and for Other Purposes,” was introduced in the House, sponsored by Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D–MS). The bill cites the 2008 commission report on critical national infrastructures, notes the vulnerabilities of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) components, and calls for the EMP Commission to consult with the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify such systems in the United States and “issue…such rules or orders as are necessary to protect critical electric infrastructure against vulnerabilities or threats.” H.R. 2195 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, but never made it past that committee.
H.R. 4842, the Homeland Security Science and Technology Act of 2010, included provisions for the establishment of a commission on the Protection of Critical Electric and Electronic Infrastructures, which would continue the work of the EMP Commission. Although approved by the House, the Senate did not vote on H.R. 4842.
In June 2010, H.R. 5026, the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act, sponsored by Representative Edward Markey (D–MA), was received in the Senate after passing the House in a voice vote. The GRID Act would amend the Federal Power Act to allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue new industry standards to protect critical infrastructure from cyber or EMP attacks. It defines “defense critical electric infrastructure vulnerability” as “a weakness in defense critical electric infrastructure that, in the event of a malicious act using electronic communication or an electromagnetic pulse, would pose a substantial risk of disruption of those electronic devices or communications networks”; an EMP is identified as a “grid security threat.” The Secretary of Homeland Security is called upon to work with other agencies in order to “develop technical expertise in the protection of systems for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy against geomagnetic storms or malicious acts using electronic communications or electromagnetic pulse.” The President is to compile a list of defense-critical facilities not exceeding 100 in number that are vulnerable to electrical disruption. Finally, the owners or operators of large transformers are required to ensure the availability of replacements to restore the operation of the bulk-power system in the event that a given transformer is destroyed or disabled. The GRID Act was never put to a vote in the Senate.
During the final days of the 111th Congress, Representative Doug Lamborn (R–CO) sponsored H.R. 6471, “A Bill to Require the Director of National Intelligence to Submit a Report on the Foreign Development of Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons.” Each country with an EMP weapons program was to be identified and its program assessed in detail, specifically focusing on whether a country’s incorporation of EMP weapons into its national security and military strategies “assume[s] that an EMP weapons attack can achieve effects similar to a direct nuclear attack, but not be subject to the deterrence calculations normally applied to nuclear weapons.” Instructions for classifying potential hostile EMP delivery platforms and assessing vulnerability of identified countries to an EMP attack are also outlined. The bill was introduced in the House on December 1, 2010, but never made it past the Intelligence Committee to which it had been reported.
On February 11, 2011, Representative Trent Franks (R–AZ) introduced H.R. 668, the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage (SHIELD) Act. The act essentially allows the FERC to enable emergency measures to protect the reliability of bulk-power systems and defense-critical electric infrastructure via directive of the President amid an imminent grid security threat. The act prescribes implementation procedures and cost-recovery measures. It also directs FERC to order the Electric Reliability Organization to submit reliability standards regarding these bulk-power systems from geomagnetic storms or EMPs. Furthermore, it directs the Secretary of the Department of Energy to establish a program to develop expertise on the protection of electric energy systems and to share the findings with owners, operators, and users of the systems. Several provisions of the GRID Act appear word-for-word, including the definition of “defense critical electric infrastructure vulnerability,” the list of no more than 100 defense-critical vulnerable facilities, and the measure requiring the availability of spare large transformers. The SHIELD Act has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as to the Committee on the Budget.
A full committee hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 5, 2011, discussed the issue of the vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber and EMP attacks. Some witnesses testified before this committee against legislation to mandate increased EMP preparedness standards. Yet, these witnesses are in the minority and do not represent the consensus view of various congressional and government commissions, nor the overwhelming bulk of the expert community on the subject.
The purpose of congressional commissions, like the EMP Commission, is to establish official consensus on the severity of threats and appropriate solutions—which the EMP Commission did. The EMP Commission’s report represents the consensus view of the defense and intelligence communities as well as the nuclear weapon labs.
Moreover, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States independently re-examined the EMP threat, and concurred with the assessment and recommendations of the EMP Commission. So, too, did the National Academy of Sciences, the DOE–NERC report, and the FERC interagency report. In all, five commissions and major independent U.S. government studies have independently concurred with the EMP Commission’s threat assessment and recommendations. Not one official commission or U.S. government study dissents from this consensus.
Providing for an
In April 2005, the Defense Science Board Task Force published a report on Nuclear Weapon Effects Test, Evaluation, and Simulation that describes how the armed forces formed requirements based on nuclear threats, such as EMP. It concluded that the U.S. Army has strongly considered nuclear survivability during the development of its new programs. The U.S. Army Nuclear and Chemical Agency (USANCA) is the agency that makes recommendations for the nuclear survivability requirements for the new systems in the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army War College hosted a workshop in September 2010 to explore the threats, vulnerabilities, and preparedness related to an EMP attack.
In contrast, the U.S. Navy has had outdated directives and instructions pertaining to nuclear survivability since the early 1990s. However, the Navy’s critical systems do maintain nuclear survivability and nuclear hardening requirements, which protect against EMP threats.
The U.S. Air Force’s Nuclear Criteria Group Secretariat was inactivated in 1994, and it currently does not have a designated group that is responsible for creating and implementing nuclear survivability requirements. However, the strategic platforms within the U.S. Air Force still assess nuclear survivability; likewise with the U.S. Navy. The Department of Defense recognized the necessity of transitioning from requirements to capabilities-based acquisition in the protection of America against EMP threats in 2003. The implementation of an evolutionary acquisition strategy would increase the nation’s preparedness against EMP attacks. The Department of Defense and the Department of Energy maintain facilities that support EMP simulators that calculate the impact of an EMP wave on an electrical system. Data from EMP simulators and nuclear tests gathered over 50 years led to the conclusion that any nuclear weapon can pose an EMP threat to the United States because the electric grid is fragile. The conclusion can be helpful for considering which efforts should be undertaken against EMP at all levels of government.
The House Committee on Armed Services issued a report on H.R. 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, in which it expressed “concern about the vulnerability of Department of Defense critical infrastructure to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.” Section 225 of the bill would require the Secretary of Defense to contract with an independent entity to “conduct an assessment of Department of Defense plans for defending the territory of the United States against the threat of attack by ballistic missiles, including electromagnetic pulse attacks.” An entire section is devoted to the vulnerability of defense critical infrastructure to EMP, in which the Comptroller General is directed to review assessments of the threat of EMP attack, taking into consideration the findings of the EMP Commission.
The Army’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Justification Book for FY 2012 includes a project justification for a Mobile Tower System (MOTS) for use by Air Traffic Control. The completion of developmental testing, “including high altitude electromagnetic pulse testing,” is listed under FY 2010 Accomplishments for MOTS. A special congressional addendum to the Defense Logistics Agency’s Microelectronics Technology Development and Support Project lists electromagnetic shielding as a “critical enabler” for 3-D electronics arrays, and increased the allocation for that project from $2.394 million in FY 2009 to $4.775 million for FY 2010.
The Air Force’s Physics project in Defense Research Sciences “increased research into the susceptibility to upset of various electronic circuits when exposed to suitable electromagnetic waveforms,” and received an additional $5 million for FY 2011, for a total allocation of $50.47 million. An Air Force Materials Project for Structures, Propulsion, and Subsystems received increased allocation between FYs 2010 and 2011, from $18.810 million to $22.109 million, respectively. This Materials project “Develops novel materials for electromagnetic interactions with matter for electromagnetic pulse (EMP), high power microwave, and lightning strike protection” for aircraft, spacecraft, launch systems, and missiles. Funding was transferred to this program in FY 2011 from Project 2100, an EMP suitcase developed for testing systems vulnerabilities by Applied Physical Electronics (APE); the EMP suitcase’s production was “driven by input from DoD groups,” according to APE’s Web site.
Other Air Force systems whose electronic protection functions are being actively improved are aerospace sensors, including advanced sensor arrays. The Radio-Frequency Warning and Countermeasures Technology Project “conducted research on the synergy between electronic protection and electronic attack technologies to realize more effective jamming” in FY 2010, and seeks to “provide active electronic protection architecture concepts” in the coming years. Electromagnetic interference testing was part of FY 2010’s B-52 Modernization project, and one of the planned upgrades for B-2 squadrons is EMP Hardening Testing. The F-22 Modernization Project, whose budget was nearly doubled for FY 2012, includes improvements to electronics protection, as does the justification for F-16 squadrons. The E-4B Airborne National Ops Center will be subjected to EMP testing “to validate the E-4B fleet compliance with updated EMP protection Military Standards.”
New F-15 radar enhancements will emphasize electronic protection, a new project for FY 2012. The FY 2011 Plans for the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) will “incorporate classified Electronic Protection measures.” The integrated Command and Control Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) capability for the Global Hawk aircraft is provided by the Multi Platform-Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) sensor, whose future studies and development include the implementation of electronic protection. Finally, the space segment of the Nuclear Detonation Detection System (NUDET NDS) incorporates an EMP sensor into GPS systems.
Department of Defense (DOD) standards regarding EMP preparedness have been robustly updated in recent years. A Standard Practice for Shipboard EMP Mitigation document was updated in September 2009 for the first time since 1996. The document gives EMP protection requirements precedence over standard electromagnetic interference protocol. On December 1, 2010, the DOD updated the Interface Standard for Electromagnetic Environmental Effects Requirements for Systems, which “establishes interface requirements and verification criteria for airborne, sea, space, and ground systems, including associated ordnance.” The document states that a system “shall meet its operational performance requirements after being subjected to the EMP environment.” This EMP environment is detailed in the classified document “MIL-STD-2169: High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) Environment.”
In October 2010, the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on the Survivability of DOD Systems and Assets to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Other Nuclear Weapons Effects held a meeting closed to the public. The stated purpose of the meeting was “To obtain, review and evaluate information related to the Task Force’s mission focus to assess implementation of the DoD Instruction covering nuclear survivability including EMP.” The Task Force received, reviewed, and discussed “presentations from the military services and other Defense Department agencies and organizations on the implementation to the meeting’s date of DoD Instruction 3150.09.” This Instruction is the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Survivability Policy, last updated in August 2009. The document directs the Secretaries of the military departments and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “ensure that doctrine and training to support the DoD CBRN Survivability Policy (including electromagnetic pulse (EMP)) are reflected in force-on-force simulations” and, in the case of the latter, in war games. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs is also directed to “establish mandatory key performance parameters (KPP) for nuclear survivability (including EMP hardening)” for CBRN mission-critical systems.
Michael J. Frankel, executive director of the EMP Commission, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in August 2010. In that testimony, Frankel noted that the commission’s final report presented 19 findings and made 17 recommendations to the DOD, all of which were classified, but that “the reaction of the Department may be characterized as positive…much of this positive effort redounds to the great credit of DoD management, the Office of the ATSD (Nuclear Matters), and the proactive leadership of US Strategic Command.”
DOD continues to invest in hardening these critical strategic assets. For example, the FY 2012 budget includes $22.1 million in additional funding to harden Minuteman missiles against EMP attacks. The military’s general purpose forces, however, remain vulnerable to the effects of an EMP attack. Those forces’ increasing reliance on high technology in fact makes an EMP attack an attractive option for potential enemies.
The U.S. military has increasingly incorporated civilian technology not designed to resist EMP attack into its systems. The 2004 EMP Commission concluded that although the U.S. military possesses many EMP-hardened assets, an EMP attack would still severely degrade the ability of fielded forces to operate effectively. The Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Weapon Effects Test, Evaluation and Simulation supported these conclusions in a 2005 report. The task force concluded that “The bottom line is that commanders and planners cannot be assured that today’s weapons platforms, command and control (C2), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and associated support systems will be available should a nuclear detonation occur.”
DOD has also published “Mil-Standard 188-125,” which describes methods for protecting against a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse for ground-based command and control facilities. However, not all military systems are currently hardened against EMP. In addition, some DOD systems rely on commercial facilities, such as communications satellites and ground-based stations, to support military operations.
In April 2005, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Weapon Effects (NWE) Test, Evaluation and Simulation published a report for DOD describing current and emerging threat environments. This included a CRS-15 comprehensive evaluation of future DOD capabilities for successful operation in nuclear environments. The DSB findings were independent, “but are highly consistent with, the findings and recommendations of the Congressionally mandated Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission.”
In protecting against a high-altitude EMP (HEMP) from a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, the most important resources that DOD provides are missile defenses. The importance of these programs, however, has been downgraded in recent years. The Obama Administration made large-scale cuts to the missile defense program in FY 2010, and its proposed budgets for FY 2011 and FY 2012 will not make up the lost ground. Similarly, the Administration has cancelled or sharply curtailed promising missile defense programs and joint projects with U.S. allies, including the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the “third site” missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the President signed, and the Senate consented to ratification of, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which imposes sweeping restrictions on U.S. missile defense options.
Not Protecting the
The Department of Homeland Security has a set of 15 National Planning Scenarios as an element of its risk analysis mission. The scenarios describe possible high-consequence threat scenarios, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, but an EMP attack is not included. The EMP Commission has tried to convince the Department of Homeland Security to add it.
In 2008, under the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008, the Department of Homeland Security was required “to coordinate efforts with the [EMP] Commission for work related to electromagnetic pulse attack on electricity infrastructure, and protect against such an attack.” Therefore, efforts were made to create inter-agency cooperation on such a critical threat to U.S. homeland security. Despite the grave dangers posed by an EMP attack, an EMP threat scenario has yet to be incorporated into the National Planning Scenarios.
In an August 2010 testimony, Michael Frankel, who served as executive director of the EMP Commission from its 2001 inception until its final 2009 classified report before the oversight committees, pointed out that the commission provided 75 unclassified recommendations, most of which were aimed at DHS, “intended to mitigate vulnerability and increase resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructures.” Said Frankel: “Unlike the response of the DoD, there has been no detectable resonance as yet out of the DHS…As a result, the Commission’s recommendations seem to have simply languished.” Indeed, the only recent DHS activity in which EMP was addressed was at a Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council Joint Sector Meeting held June 8, 2010, in which there was a 10-minute “Electromagnetic Pulse Update” from 2:40 p.m. to 2:50 p.m.
DHS inactivity regarding the threat of EMP attack is surprising, given that many provisions within the EMP Commission reports and proposed relevant congressional legislation are aimed at DHS in some capacity. Indeed, Washington State’s Department of Health Office of Radiation Protection offers more information to the public on EMP than does the DHS Web site, which merely contains a link to a 2004 Federal Emergency Management Agency preparedness manual.
No Energy at the
Department of Energy
The Department of Energy (DOE) has tentatively begun to identify and take appropriate corrective action to protect the U.S. bulk-power system from EMP attacks or other electromagnetic disturbance. Like DHS, DOE has not moved past the theoretical stages to protect the bulk-power system of the United States. In July 2009, DOE collaborated with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the DOE-designated industry group responsible for enforcing reliability standards for the U.S. bulk-power system, to host a workshop on high-impact low-frequency events. The workshop included approximately 110 attendees representing NERC, DOE, DHS, DOD, the Department of Health and Human Services, the EMP Commission, and the FERC. The workshop focused on three threats: (1) a coordinated cyber attack on the energy infrastructure, (2) a pandemic, (3) and natural geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulses. The members of the workshop explored the threat of an EMP attack in depth. The workshop members concluded that
An E1 HEMP [the first blast of energy from a high-altitude magnetic pulse] event could simultaneously (within one power cycle) create malfunctions of electronic control equipment over thousands of kilometers. Traditional probabilistic planning and operating criteria do not provide sufficient protection from such a widespread, simultaneous impact. Restoration may also be complicated by the amount of equipment available to replace damaged assets.
The members of the workshop recommended that the efforts to mitigate the risks of an EMP attack should focus on the recommendations of the EMP Commission. Namely, given the infeasibility of hardening the whole system to EMP attack, preparations for an EMP attack should focus on minimizing the net impact of an attack. That is that government and industry should create plans to reduce the time needed to restore power after a crippling attack. The members offered this specific recommendation for future action:
Specifically, NERC should create a task force to continue these efforts and build consensus around appropriate mitigation options for industry. The task force could consider developing a full “defense plan” for these risks—covering all considerations from system design implications to hardening existing assets to system restoration. The task force should also consider the need for mandatory standards on its findings, whether related to equipment specifications or Reliability Standards.
Along with urging the creation of a “defense plan” for the bulk-power system, the members of the workshop repeatedly urged DOE and DHS to work with their Canadian counterparts on the interlinked U.S. and Canadian infrastructure. Although DOE in partnership with NERC has identified the threat posed by EMP attacks, the agency has not taken any further steps. Like DHS, DOE’s planning for the threat of an EMP attack remains modest.
The National Weather Service provides space weather alerts and warnings. Assessments are made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center. NOAA maintains a space weather scale for each type of event. The ratings on the scale range from minor to extreme. Hazards are described in terms of potential effects on humans, space-based assets (such as satellites), and terrestrial infrastructure. Accurately predicting space weather is still an evolving science.
Other federal agencies also provide essential support for predicting space weather. NASA provides science data from its research satellites. The U.S. Air Force provides observational data from the Solar Optical Observing Network and Radio Solar Telescope Network. The U.S. Geological Survey provides ground-based data on the effects of solar electro-magnetic emissions.
Information from the Space Weather Prediction Center is provided to electric power grid operators, space-system managers, telecommunications operators, aviation and navigational systems operators, and surveying and drilling operations. Given sufficient warning, many of these users can implement mitigation measures to limit the effects of adverse space weather on their operations. Improving the means to develop and disseminate reliable long-term weather forecasts and minimize “false alarms” would greatly facilitate the implementation of cost-effective mitigation measures.
State and Local
State and local governments have also made efforts to defend the United States against EMP threats. An EMP does not only pose a threat to computers and electronics, but also to critical infrastructures, such as communications, transportation, banking and finance, and food and water supply, because they depend on electronics or electricity. Therefore, an EMP event could cause great damage within a county or state. A few enlightened state and local governments have formulated plans in the case of an EMP event.
An example is Alaska. The Alaska State Emergency Response Commission added preparation for an EMP attack involving integration, implementation, and survivability measures to the state’s emergency response plan in 2007. Additionally, many county-wide and state-wide municipal organizations in New York have passed resolutions to request immediate action to protect the citizens against threats of EMP. The state has passed a bill to create the New York State EMP Critical Infrastructure Protection Commission. The commission has several duties including: educating itself about EMP and EMP threats to the state’s infrastructures; gathering facts; making recommendations to state authorities informing local agencies and governments about the hazards of natural EMP events and man-made EMP events; analyzing the dangers of EMPs; and developing a plan to protect the state from an EMP event, respond to the aftermath, and recovery after the event.
Within the New York State Assembly, bill A4303-2011 was introduced by State Assembly Member for the 142nd District Jane Corwin and four co-sponsors. This act is currently attempting to establish a commission on EMP infrastructure protection within the State Assembly. The act intends for the commission to study findings and recommendations from national commissions regarding EMP defense with respect to New York’s critical infrastructure systems and develop and recommend preparation and protection plans. As it stands currently, the act has been referred to the Governmental Operations Committee. In addition, both the Erie County Association of Governments and the State of New York Association of Towns have drafted resolutions recommending this commission (Erie County’s resolution also calls for support for EMP-related action from New York’s federal representatives.).
Overall, however, 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.
There has not been much international cooperation related to EMP attack preparedness. NATO did release an EMP response report in 2009, but it contained few recommendations or proposals, largely focusing on providing a description of various EMP applications and attacks, with little to no mention of defense or counter measures. Beyond NATO, it seems there will be little cooperation between the U.S. and other countries, some of which (Iran, Russia, and China) have likely considered the military application of EMP against the United States and its allies.
At the same time, national and international advocacy groups have emerged, focusing on EMP defense. One such group is EMPact America, a non-partisan and non-profit group devoted to implementing the EMP Commission’s recommendations to protect infrastructure and educate the American people on the threat of EMP attacks and the potential solutions. Another group, more international in scope, is the Electric Infrastructure Society (EIS) Council. The council’s proclaimed role is to examine the future destructive potential of geomagnetic storms and EMP attacks from a global perspective. It aims to establish itself as an effective government-NGO partnership by enhancing education and international planning on these issues. Its board of advisers features various experts in the energy field, as well as current and retired U.S. policymakers.
NATO has been updating key EMP-related documents of late. In January 2011, NATO revised its Allied Environmental Conditions and Tests Publication on Electrical and Electromagnetic Environmental Conditions. Contained in this publication is “Leaflet 256—Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse,” which describes EMP origin and effects on military platforms and systems. A 2009 May report of the Applied Vehicle Technology Panel Hybrid Vehicle Rating Criteria Task Group listed nuclear EMP as a threat for which vehicle vulnerability must be tested for survivability.
On November 14, 2010, Avi Schurr, the president of the EIS Council, made a presentation before the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on EMP and related risks to critical infrastructures. In the presentation, Schurr described the threat posed by nuclear EMP strikes above the earth’s atmosphere as “potentially immense, but not yet sufficiently acknowledged.” Schurr echoed the EMP Commission’s 2008 report when he warned that “electricity could be out for months or years because the grid would need to be assembled completely anew since its components would melt.”
Schurr went on to declare that potential damage of a severe EMP strike was too significant to ignore preventive measures, but that thanks to recent U.S. studies the threat is now better understood as preventable—so long as the upgrading and protection of the national electric grids ensues. The summary of the presentation described a recently increased awareness of electric infrastructure security on a political level, and in September 2010 an inaugural summit was held “to set up a new security framework for the U.S. and Europe.”
Where We Are—Where We
Need to Be
America—at all levels of governance—is unprepared for an EMP attack. Despite the clear recommendations of both the 2004 and 2008 EMP Commissions, U.S. government agencies have not taken planning for their response to an EMP attack out of the theoretical stages. This is especially alarming considering the official consensus on the severity of the threat and on appropriate solutions as articulated by the EMP Commission, the other aforementioned commissions, and the overwhelming majority of the expert community. DHS and DOE have both independently identified the United States’ vulnerability to an EMP attack, but have neither created emergency management plans nor taken action to better protect critical U.S. infrastructure from attack. DOD has begun to adopt the recommendations of the 2004 EMP Commission, but U.S. forces still remain vulnerable. State and local governments remain unaware and unprepared for the threat of an EMP attack.
Current priorities for the U.S. are:
Build Comprehensive Missile Defenses. Maintaining the capacity to interdict nuclear-tipped missiles is the most effective measure to guard against a HEMP attack. The U.S. missile defenses are not keeping pace with the proliferation of threats. It is time to reverse course. Establishing a robust ballistic missile defense is the most effective means of addressing the future threats to the U.S. and its allies resulting from the proliferation of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. must pursue missile defense programs that can intercept missiles in the boost and ascent portions of flight. Among these programs are the Airborne Laser, which is a modified air-to-air interceptor missile, future versions of the Navy’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor, and, above all, reviving the development and deployment of space-based interceptors.
Develop a national plan to respond to space weather emergencies. As a 2008 report by the National Academies, “Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” makes clear, “Modern society depends heavily on a variety of technologies that are susceptible to the extremes of space weather—severe disturbances…driven by the magnetic activity of the sun.” The first step in addressing this issue must be educating the public and policy communities at the federal, state, and local levels about the risks and response options. Additionally, any effective plan will require enhanced, reliable long-range space weather forecasts.
Forge a bipartisan consensus in Congress to act on this issue. The response to the EMP Commission’s findings has been uneven within the United States government, with the Department of Defense taking the initiative and the Department of Homeland Security apparently sitting idle. Congressional inaction has contributed to this uneven response.
Establish bilateral partnerships with other nations. If the unthinkable happens, the U.S. and other developed nations must be able to accept foreign aid in the event of catastrophes. The U.S. should consider hosting international disaster exercises to increase the ability of countries friendly with the United States to readily accept aid from one another when disaster strikes. For some critical infrastructure the U.S. should promote establishing an industry-led, multinational rapid-response capability. Such a capability should be able to respond worldwide. Further, this could provide an effective mechanism to share best practices and integrate responses. This capability should be funded and controlled by the private sector to respond to threats to shared international critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications and the Western Hemisphere electrical grid.An EMP disaster is the catastrophe that should never happen. The means to address and mitigate the dangers to critical infrastructure are at hand. The United States needs a greater understanding of the danger—and the determination to act (Heritage Foundation, 2011).
Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse
Source: Future Science
Abstract: The topic of nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is very mysterious to most people, and it is quite commonly misunderstood. It is also the subject of a large amount of misinformation. (It is a serious and persistent problem that many people want to ignore the science and make it into a political issue.) There are many additional EMP pages on this site, including separate pages on EMP personal protection, Soviet nuclear EMP tests in 1962, and on other EMP related topics including a separate page of notes and technical references. There is also a very important page about widely-believed EMP myths. Much of the information here describes the possible effects of EMP on the continental United States, but the information can be used to describe the effects on any industrialized country.
In testimony before
the United States Congress House Armed Services Committee on October 7, 1999,
the eminent physicist Dr. Lowell Wood, in talking about Starfish Prime
and the related EMP-producing nuclear tests in 1962, stated,
"Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books. As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero. The origin and nature of this damage was successfully obscured at the time -- aided by its mysterious character and the essentially incredible truth."
Although nuclear EMP was known since the very first days of nuclear weapons testing (and often caused problems in the local area -- especially with monitoring equipment), the magnitude of the effects of high-altitude nuclear EMP were not known until a 1962 test of a thermonuclear weapon in space called the Starfish Prime test. The Starfish Prime test knocked out some of the electrical and electronic components in Hawaii, which was 897 miles (1445 kilometers) away from the nuclear explosion. The damage was very limited compared to what it would be today because the electrical and electronic components of 1962 were much more resistant to the effects of EMP than the sensitive microelectronics of today. The magnitude of the effect of an EMP attack on the United States, or any similar advanced country, will remain unknown until one actually happens. Unless the device is very small or detonated at an insufficiently high altitude, it is likely that it would knock out the nearly the entire electrical power grid of the United States. It would destroy many other electrical and (especially) electronic devices. Larger microelectronic-based equipment, and devices that are connected to antennas or to the power grid at the time of the pulse, would be especially vulnerable.
The Starfish Prime test (a part of Operation Fishbowl) was detonated at 59 minutes and 51 seconds before midnight, Honolulu time, on the night of July 8, 1962. (Official documents give the date as July 9 because that was the date at the Greenwich meridian, known as Coordinated Universal Time.) It was considered an important scientific event, and was monitored by hundreds of scientific instruments across the Pacific and in space. Although an electromagnetic pulse was expected, an accurate measurement of the size of the pulse could not be made immediately because a respected physicist had made calculations that hugely underestimated the size of the EMP. Consequently, the amplitude of the pulse went completely off the scale at which the scientific instruments near the test site had been set. Although many of the scientific instruments malfunctioned, a large amount of data was obtained and analyzed in the following months.
When the 1.44 megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead detonated at an altitude of 250 miles (400 km), it made no sound. There was a very brief and very bright white flash in the sky that witnesses described as being like a huge flashbulb going off in the sky. The flash could be easily seen even through the overcast sky at Kwajalein Island, about 2000 km. to the west-southwest.
After the white flash, the entire sky glowed green over the mid-Pacific for a second, then a bright red glow formed at "sky zero" where the detonation had occurred. Long-range radio communication was disrupted a period of time ranging from a few minutes to several hours after the detonation (depending upon the frequency and the radio path being used).
In a phenomenon unrelated to the EMP, the radiation cloud from the Starfish Prime test subsequently destroyed at least 5 United States satellites and one Soviet satellite. The most well-known of the satellites was Telstar I, the world's first active communications satellite. Telstar I was launched the day after the Starfish Prime test, and it did make a dramatic demonstration of the value of active communication satellites with live trans-Atlantic television broadcasts before it orbited through radiation produced by Starfish Prime (and other subsequent nuclear tests in space). Telstar I was damaged by the radiation cloud. The damage to Telstar 1 increased each time that it traveled through the belt of radiation, and it failed completely a few months later.
(For more information on this satellite problem, see the first 31 pages of Collateral Damage to Satellites from an EMP Attack, which gives a considerable amount of information about this additional problem of nuclear EMP attacks. You can also obtain the lengthy complete report from the DTIC government site. That 2010 report was originally written in support of the United States EMP Commission.)
Nuclear EMP is actually an electromagnetic multi-pulse. The EMP is usually described in terms of 3 components. The E1 pulse is a very fast pulse that can induce very high voltages in equipment and along electrical wiring and cables. E1 is the component that destroys computers and communications equipment and is too fast for ordinary lightning protectors. The E2 component of the pulse is the easiest to protect against, and has similarities in strength and timing to the electrical pulses produced by lightning. The E3 pulse is very different from the E1 and E2 pulses from an EMP. The E3 component of the pulse is a very slow pulse (so slow that most people would not use the word "pulse" to describe it), lasting tens to hundreds of seconds, that is caused by the nuclear detonation heaving the Earth's magnetic field out of the way, followed by the restoration of the magnetic field to its natural place. The E3 component has similarities to a geomagnetic storm caused by a very severe solar flare.
In writings on the internet, there is nearly always much confusion about the very different aspects of the various components of nuclear EMP. In addition, there is much confusion in distinguishing high-altitude nuclear EMP, non-nuclear EMP weapons and solar geomagnetic storms. There are very large differences among these very different electromagnetic disturbances; although there are many similarities linking solar geomagnetic storms and the E3 component (but not the other components) of high-altitude nuclear EMP. Nearly everything written in popular articles, even in the most respectable publications, jumbles up a nearly incomprehensible mix of information confusing the effects of the E1 and E3 components of electromagnetic pulse. This has been largely responsible for the large number of widely-believed EMP Myths.
It is important to note that nuclear EMP cannot be understood without an understanding of the differences between the E1 and E3 components of nuclear EMP. Many otherwise intelligent technologists have caused an enormous amount of confusion by making statements without any clear understanding of the vastly different components generated by nuclear EMP. For a more detailed discussion of these components, see the E1-E2-E3 Page.
The E1 component of
the pulse is the most commonly-discussed component. The gamma rays from a
nuclear detonation in space can travel great distances. When these gamma
rays hit the upper atmosphere, they knock out electrons in the atoms in the
upper atmosphere, which travel in a generally downward direction at
relativistic speeds. This forms what is essentially an extremely large
coherent vertical burst of electrical current in the upper atmosphere over the
entire affected area. This current interacts with the Earth's magnetic
field to produce a strong electromagnetic pulse, which originates a few miles
overhead, even though the nuclear detonation point may be a thousand miles away
or more. Since the E1 pulse is generated locally, even though the
original gamma ray energy source may be in space at a great distance away, the
pulse can cover extremely large areas, and with an extremely large EMP field
over the entire affected area.
The magnitude of a nuclear EMP over the United States would be much larger than the tests in the Pacific would indicate. For any particular weapon, the magnitude of the all of the components of an EMP are roughly proportional to the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field over the center of the continental United States is about twice the strength as at the location of the Starfish Prime test.
See the separate article on the high-altitude nuclear tests of Operation Fishbowl.
It is important to emphasize that, although EMP attacks affecting all of the continental United States are possible, smaller regional EMP attacks, launched to lower altitudes with a smaller missile or with a high-altitude balloon are probably much more likely. These lower altitude attacks would affect a much smaller area, and would probably be of a much smaller intensity, but could still be very damaging to data centers and other facilities with a high reliance upon microelectronics.
Starfish Prime was a 1.44 megaton thermonuclear weapon, but was actually extremely inefficient at producing EMP. Much smaller nuclear fission weapons, requiring far less expertise, would be much more efficient at producing EMP, especially the very fast E1 component. In general, the simpler the nuclear weapon, the more efficient it is at producing EMP. (See the the notes on EMP page.) Thermonuclear weapons (so-called hydrogen bombs) are usually very inefficient at generating the fast-rise-time E1 pulse. (Weapons with a high energy yield are much better at generating the slower geomagnetic-storm-like E3 pulse that caused much of the damage to Kazakhstan in the Soviet test mentioned below. This E3 pulse can induce large currents even in long underground lines.)
Several countries have produced single-stage nuclear weapons with energy yields of well over 100 kilotons. These would be much more efficient at producing EMP than the Starfish Prime detonation. (The very first nuclear weapon tested by France had a yield of 70 kilotons). In the early 1950s, the United States had a stockpile of 90 bombs of a high-yield fission weapon that would have been a powerful EMP weapon. These were 500-kiloton single-stage fission bombs known as the Mark 18. Very little was known about EMP at the time that the Mark 18 was in production. The only actual test of the Mark 18 bomb was done at the Pacific Ocean test range on November 16, 1952 at an altitude of only 1480 feet (450 meters), so nothing was discovered about its possibilities for high-altitude EMP (although it appears that the actual yield was closer to 540 kilotons, which was higher than its design yield). By now, some countries undoubtedly have very advanced enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons, although these details are highly classified.
The Mark 18 bomb, tested in 1952, was also known as the super oralloy bomb. It was made of a spherical shell of very highly-enriched uranium surrounded by a sophisticated symmetrical implosion system that was 44 centimeters in thickness. Although it is often described as a very advanced device, it was designed by people who did not have computers of a power that is anything even approaching the power of computer that you are using to read this web page. More than a half-century ago, at least 90 of these bombs were built by the United States. In 1952, they were trying to conserve the highly-enriched uranium in the stockpile, so the Mark 18 was surrounded with a natural uranium tamper. Anyone making a similar weapon for EMP use could probably enhance its EMP effects by using a tamper made of enriched uranium and using a relatively thin outer casing made of an aluminum alloy. In addition, there are techniques for increasing the energy of the gamma rays beyond the levels available in first and second generation nuclear weapons. These techniques would increase the electric field of the EMP beyond the old maximum of 50,000 volts per meter, although we don't know by how much.
Today, if just one of these 500 kiloton bombs like the Mark 18 were detonated 300 miles above the central United States, the economy of the country would be essentially destroyed instantaneously. Very little of the country's electrical or electronic infrastructure would still be functional. This is not to say that every device would be destroyed, but the interdependence of different electrical and electronic infrastructures makes it possible to stop nearly all economic activity with only limited damage to critical infrastructures. It would likely be months or years before most of the electrical grid could be repaired because of the destruction of large numbers of transformers in the electric power grid that are no longer made in the United States. Several countries today have the ability to produce a weapon similar to this 1952 bomb, and send it to the necessary altitude. (England tested a single-stage weapon with a yield of 720 kilotons, called Orange Herald, on May 31, 1957.) The number of countries with this ability will undoubtedly be increasing in the coming years.
The instantaneous shutdown of the power grid would occur primarily because of the widespread use of solid-state SCADAs (supervisory control and data acquisition devices) in the power grid. These would be destroyed by the E1 pulse, but could probably be replaced within a few weeks. The greater problem would be in re-starting the power grid. (No procedures have ever been developed for a "black start" of the entire power grid. Starting a large power generating station actually requires electricity.) The greatest problem would be the loss of many critical large power transformers due to geomagnetically induced currents, for which no replacements could be obtained for at least a few years. The loss of many of these power transformers would greatly complicate the re-start of the parts of the grid that could be much more quickly repaired. The loss of a sufficient number of these large power transformers would effectively destroy the power grid as we now know it. We would have to just hope that there were enough small islands of local electric power to enable a basic subsistence level of economy to exist.
The consequences of the potential dangers to the electric power grid have changed dramatically over the past few decades -- as the availability of electricity has changed from being a convenience to something upon which our lives now depend. This transition of electricity from a convenience to a necessity for sustaining human life has happened so gradually that most of us haven't noticed this profound change. The knowledge and the technology of earlier times for surviving for long periods of time without electricity has been mostly lost in modern societies.
By mentioning the 1952 Mark 18 bomb, I do not want to imply that countries developing nuclear weapons would start with such an old technology. New 21st century automobile companies do not start with a Stanley Steamer or the Model T; and new radio companies do not start with Marconi circuits and Fleming valves. Modern techniques and materials, as well as advanced computing power, enable new nuclear weapons projects to leapfrog far past the Manhattan Project. A related fallacy is the belief that, because of the difficulty that the United States and the old Soviet Union had in going from basic fission weapons to thermonuclear weapons, all nations would experience similar difficulties and delays. Producing basic fission weapons requires a significant industrial capacity to produce the fissionable material. Scaling up from there to thermonuclear weapons just requires computing power and knowledge.
Many years after he left the nuclear weapons laboratories, the principal designer of the Mark 18 bomb wrote an article for Scientific American describing, in general terms, how specific effects of nuclear weapons (including EMP) can be greatly enhanced, and how such effects can be concentrated in one direction from the detonation. (See Scientific American, Theodore B. Taylor "Third-Generation Nuclear Weapons", pages 30-39. Vol. 256, No. 4. April, 1987.)
The Soviet Union got its surprise introduction to the severity of high-altitude nuclear EMP effects over a much more heavily populated area than the Pacific Ocean. The most damaging nuclear EMP event in history (so far), much worse than the Starfish Prime test, occurred in October of 1962 over central Asia. Written documents give the time and date as 3:41 GMT/UTC on the morning of October 22, 1962. The warhead was launched from Kapustin Yar on a Soviet R-12 missile. Although the primary purpose of the test was to discover the effects of EMP on certain military systems, the large magnitude of some of the effects on the civilian infrastructure were quite unexpected.
A few hours after the sun rose in Kazakhstan on that cloudy October morning, the Soviet Union detonated a 300 kiloton thermonuclear warhead in space at an altitude of 290 kilometers (about 180 miles) over a point just west of the city of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan. The test was generally known only as Test 184 (although some Soviet documents refer to it as K-3). It knocked out a major 1000-kilometer (600-mile) underground power line running from Astana (then called Aqmola), the capital city of Kazakhstan, to the city of Almaty. Some fires were reported. In the city of Karagandy, the EMP started a fire in the city's electrical power plant, which was connected to the long underground power line.
The EMP also knocked out a major 570 kilometer long overhead telephone line by inducing currents of 1500 to 3400 amperes in the line. (The line was separated into several sub-lines connected by repeater stations.) There were numerous gas-filled overvoltage protectors and fuses along the telephone line. All of the overvoltage protectors fired, and all of the fuses on the line were blown. The EMP damaged radios at 600 kilometers (360 miles) from the test and knocked out a radar 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from the detonation. Some military diesel generators were also damaged. The repeated damage to diesel generators from the E1 component of the pulse after the series high-altitude tests was the most surprising aspect of the damage for the Soviet scientists.
Subsequent analysis has shown that the warhead used in the 1962 Soviet test was particularly ineffective at generating EMP. If the W49 warhead used in the U.S. Starfish Prime test had been used in the Soviet tests, the EMP damage over Kazakhstan would have been far greater.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union detonated EMP-generating nuclear weapons tests in space during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was already on the brink of nuclear war.
The Soviet Union detonated additional 300 kiloton weapons over Kazakhstan on October 28 and November 1, 1962. The United States detonated a relatively small nuclear weapon (probably about 7 kilotons) in space over the Pacific on October 20, 1962, and also detonated 410 kiloton nuclear weapons in space over the Pacific on October 26 and November 1, 1962. (During the period of October 13 to November 1, 1962 there were 16 Soviet and 6 United States above-ground nuclear explosions.) Two people suffered retinal burns when they looked toward the nighttime flash of the October 26 (Bluegill Triple Prime) detonation directly overhead, which occurred at an altitude of 50 kilometers. (Due to a guidance system malfunction, the October 26 detonation occurred almost directly above Johnston Island.)
Johnston Island is now somewhat larger than it was in 1962 (due to a dredging project in 1964), and the airport is now closed. There have been at least three launch pad sites on Johnston Island for high-altitude nuclear tests. The 1958 tests (Hardtack-Teak and Hardtack-Orange) were launched from one end of the island, and the Operation Fishbowl tests, including Starfish Prime, were launched from the other end. After the Bluegill Prime launch resulted in a catastrophic explosion shortly after the successful Starfish Prime test, the destroyed launch pad was re-built, along with a spare launch pad. You can see the current (unoccupied) island in this Wikimapia satellite view of Johnston Island.
Most of the EMP data on the United States Bluegill Triple Prime, Checkmate and Kingfish high altitude tests of 1962, as well as the Hardtack-Teak and Hardtack-Orange tests of 1958 remain classified decades after the tests were completed. The secrecy regarding these tests poses a danger to the United States since it does not allow vulnerable United States citizens to fully educate themselves about the effects of weapons that could have a dramatic effect on their lives in the future.
Test 184 was launched from Russian territory about 30 miles from the Kazakhstan border. If Test 184 were to be duplicated today using the same launch and detonation points, it would probably be considered as a nuclear attack against another country. (At the time, of course, Kazakhstan was a part of the Soviet Union.)
There is a separate page with more details, including references, about the Soviet nuclear EMP tests in 1962.
This site is written by an electronics engineer who has been concerned about the possibility of an EMP attack on the United States for decades. We are entering a period of special vulnerability to EMP in the coming years as industrial civilization becomes almost totally dependent upon microelectronics. (Hopefully, the use of fiber optics will reduce the current vulnerability by the end of the decade. Also, something desparately needs to be done about the electric power grid transformer situation.) Most people who have some knowledge in this subject, and who have given some serious thought to the problem, consider the probability of an EMP attack on the United States during the next ten years at somewhere between 20 and 70 percent. The probability of a solar storm large enough to destroy hundreds of the largest transformers in the United States power grid sometime during this century is widely considered to be more than 50 percent. (My own guess is that the probability of a long-term loss of much of the world's power grid from a solar superstorm is probably much larger than the chance of a nuclear EMP attack on the United States.)
The time that it would take to recover from a nuclear EMP attack has generally been estimated to be anywhere from two months to ten years. There would almost certainly be a time of great economic hardship. Whether this time of economic hardship is of short or long duration will depend upon the reaction of the American people after the event, and whether any preparation has been made in advance of the event. (So far, such advance preparation has been almost totally absent.) A very large factor in the recovery time would also be whether most of the damage was due to the E1 or the E3 components.
In widespread power outages of the past in the United States, people have reacted with behavior ranging from rioting and looting (as many did during the July 13, 1977 New York power outage) to patiently waiting for the crisis to be over (as has occurred with some more recent power outages such as the widespread August 14, 2003 outage in the northeastern U.S.). The Power Grid DVD from the History Channel examines the electric power grid with special emphasis on the August 14, 2003 blackout.
If the recovery period were long, and especially if electronic communication were down for a period of months, civilization in the United States could reach a tipping point where recovery would become difficult or impossible.
The electric power grid in use today has changed very little from the system devised by Nikola Tesla and implemented by Westinghouse, beginning in the 1890s, as described in the Mad Electricity DVD, which describes the power grid from the historical perspective of Tesla's early battle against Thomas Edison for the adaption of alternating current. The adaption of alternating current made modern electrification possible, but also made the power grid very vulnerable to geomagnetically induced currents, which includes the currents induced by the E3 component of an EMP, as well as severe solar storms.
A nuclear EMP attack could come from many sources. A missile launched from the ocean near the coast of the United States, and capable of delivering a nuclear weapon at least a thousand miles inland toward the central United States, would cause problems that would be devastating for the entire country. A thin-cased 100 kiloton weapon optimized for gamma ray production (or even the relatively-primitive super oralloy bomb of more than 56 years ago) detonated 250 to 300 miles above Nebraska, might destroy just about every piece of unprotected electronic equipment in the continental United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico (except for small items not connected to any external wiring). Such a weapon would also very likely knock out 70 to 100 percent of the electrical grid in this very large area. Nearly all unprotected electronic communications systems would be knocked out. In the best of circumstances, as completely unprepared for such an event as we are now, reconstruction would take at least three years if the weapon were large enough to destroy large power grid transformers.
The more that preparations are made for an EMP attack, the less severe the long-term consequences are likely to become. In comparative terms, being ready for an EMP attack would not cost a lot, and the benefits would include a much higher reliability of the entire electrical and electronic infrastructure, even if a nuclear EMP attack never occurred. Adequate preparation and protection could keep recovery time to a month or two, but such preparations have never been made, and few people are interested in making such preparations.
Hardening the electronic and electrical infrastructure of the United States against an EMP attack is the best way to assure that such an attack does not occur. Leaving ourselves as totally vulnerable as we are now makes the United States a very tempting target for this kind of attack.
By not protecting its electrical and electronic infrastructure against nuclear EMP, the United States invites and encourages nuclear proliferation. These unprotected infrastructures allow countries that are currently without a nuclear weapons program to eventually gain the capability to effectively destroy the United States with one, or a few, relatively simple nuclear weapons.
Severe solar storms can cause current overloads on the power grid that are very similar to the slower E3 component of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. There is good reason to believe that the past century of strong human reliance on the electrical systems has also, fortunately for us, been an unusually quiet period for solar activity. We may not always be so lucky. In 1859, a solar flare produced a geomagnetic storm that was many times greater than anything that has occurred since the modern electrical grid has been in place. We know something about the electrical disruption that the 1859 Carrington event caused because of the destruction it caused on telegraph systems in Europe and North America. Many people who have studied the 1859 event believe that if such a geomagnetic storm were to occur today, it would shut down the entire electrical grid of the United States. It is likely that such a geomagnetic storm would destroy most of the largest transformers (345 KV. and higher) in the electrical grid. Very few spares for these very large transformers are kept on hand, and they are no longer produced in the United States. Protection against nuclear EMP is also protection against many kinds of unpredictable natural phenomena that could be catastrophic.
Although it is possible that a nuclear EMP attack will never occur, a solar flare that will completely shut down the electrical grid (for a very long period of time) almost certainly will eventually occur unless adequate protections are put in place. For a comprehensive recent report on the effects of geomagnetic storms and the EMP E3 component, see Severe Space Weather Events -- Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts by the National Research Council of the United States National Academies. A solar storm of the size of the 1859 event, or even a smaller geomagnetic storm that occurred on May 14-15 in 1921, could simultaneously knock out the power grids of the United States, Canada, northern Europe and Australia, with recovery times of 4 to 10 years (since the solar storm would burn up large transformers worldwide, for which very few spares exist.) The United States has no capacity for building replacements for these large transformers.
For a map of the locations of the most highly at-risk power grid transformers in the United States, see this page from the 2008 Report on Severe Space Weather Events.
There is hope that people are beginning to realize the importance of this problem. In 2010, at least one major company that makes small and medium sized power grid transformers announced plans to begin to build the capability at a United States facility to move toward the production of some of the largest transformers. (See this press release from Waukesha Electric which indicates that they have a serious interest in getting into the very large transformer business if the electric utilities show any interest in buying these critical spare parts.) In addition, in early 2011, Mitsubishi Electric announced plans to begin building the largest transformers by early 2013 in a new plant in Memphis, Tennessee.
Emprimus, a company specializing in protecting against electromagnetic disturbances, has developed the SolidGround Neutral DC blocking system for the protection of transformers in the power grid. SolidGround is a registered trademark of that company. The Emprimus SolidGround system is designed to protect large power grid transformers from solar storms and from the E3 component of nuclear EMP.
It is important to understand that severe solar storms produce only the E3 component that burns out power grid transformers and induce DC-like currents in very long electrical conductors. Solar storms do not produce the fast E1 component that can be so damaging to electronics. Some astronomical phenomena can produce a gamma ray burst that could produce an extremely large E1 pulse, but those are extremely rare and only hit the Earth on time scales of every several million to hundreds of millions of years. Solar storms can damage satellites, and therefore satellite communications, but the only direct harm to electronics equipment on the ground comes from the loss of electrical power. (The multi-year loss of electrical power means that a significant fraction of the population will die due to starvation and lack of drinkable water and the loss of modern sewage disposal.)
A page has been developed about the things that individuals can do to help protect themselves against the EMP threat -- and there is much that individuals can do.
See the EMP personal protection page.
A part of the U.S. military system is protected against EMP. Nearly all of the commercial sector is not protected. Most data backups of commercial systems are protected from just about every other threat, but not protected against EMP; and most data backups are located within the area likely to be affected by the EMP attack. Computer systems and the information they contain are especially vulnerable. As Max says in the narration in the first episode of the old Dark Angel television series, " . . . the electromagnetic pulse turned all the one and zeros into plain old zeros . . ." An EMP attack would literally send thousands of small and mid-sized businesses in the United States into bankruptcy in less than a millisecond.
Although computer hard drives would not be erased, the electronics in hard drives that are not specifically protected against EMP would probably be destroyed, making it very expensive to recover the data that was still magnetically stored on the hard drive. Also, some of the data would be corrupted on any computer hard drives that were spinning at the time of the EMP attack.
Nearly all broadcast stations, especially television stations, would go off the air. Due to the high level of computerized automation, the equipment in most radio and television studios would be so completely destroyed that most commercial stations would be damaged beyond repair. Radio studios are actually more vulnerable to permanent damage than many portable radio receivers. Very little preventive maintenance is currently being done on broadcast equipment in the United States, and nearly all broadcast stations within the United States are far more vulnerable to EMP today than they have ever been in the past.
In the current situation, broadcast television transmitters would actually be more easily repairable than studio equipment. With the transition to digital television broadcasting in the United States, the digital encoders would be the extremely weak link in the fragile digital television broadcast chain. It is likely that a few FM stations could get back on the air within a week of the EMP attack if emergency broadcasts were originated from the FM transmitter sites, but they would only be on the air until fuel for their generator ran out, and the electronic starting and control systems of many of the standby generators would be destroyed by the pulse.
A nuclear EMP attack would likely make a permanent change the structure of television broadcasting in the United States since it would not be financially feasible to re-build most local television stations (except possibly in the largest cities). The television broadcast re-build would probably be with a satellite and cable infrastructure, with local news being provided by subsidiaries of national news companies over their national freshly-EMP-hardened post-pulse infrastructure. An all-fiber-optic internet (with fiber optic cable all the way to the end-user) would assume a greatly increased importance. Making predictions about what a post-pulse world would be like is very difficult, though, since a severe EMP would cause a level of destruction to the electrical and electronic infrastructure that would make the United States (or any other similarly advanced country) incapable of supporting anything close to its present population.
Since this web site was started, the awareness of the EMP problem has increased significantly. A new emergency broadcast system in the United States known as IPAWS is currently under development (although some of the early testing of the new system has gone very badly). According to a statement of Damon Penn, a DHS official, made to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 8, 2011, a limited number of critical radio stations are being retrofitted with some EMP protection. The EMP protected stations are a few of the ones that are known as Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations.
"The PEP system is a nationwide network of broadcast stations and other entities that is used to distribute a message from the President or designated national authorities in the event of a national emergency. The IPAWS Program Management Office continues to expand the number of PEP Stations across the U.S. In August 2009, the system originally had 36 PEP stations providing direct coverage to 67 percent of the American people. Currently, there are 49 operational PEP Stations and five PEP Stations under construction, resulting in direct coverage of 75 percent of the American people. By the end of 2012, the number of PEP Stations will increase to 77 and will directly cover over 90 percent of the American people.
Stations use a standard configuration, saving maintenance costs and ensuring an
ease of movement between stations. The stations have double-walled fuel
containers with spill containment and a modern fuel management system and
Electromagnetic Pulse-protected backup power and transmitters. Legacy
stations are being retrofitted to meet current PEP Station resiliency
In the old Dark Angel television series, an EMP attack is supposed to have occurred on June 1, 2009, and the vehicles appear to be mostly pre-1980 and post-2009 models. There is a good reason for this. Many conventional gasoline vehicles produced since around 1980 may not function after an EMP attack due to their dependence upon electronics. This would obviously produce a huge problem for the United States after an EMP attack. Merely moving disabled vehicles off the road would be a major undertaking. Disabled traffic lights would add to the traffic problems.
In one episode of the FutureWeapons Season 1 DVD Set, which was broadcast in 2006, a Ford Taurus driven on to a nuclear EMP simulator in New Mexico and pulsed. You can buy the DVD from the Discovery Channel, but you have to buy the entire 2006 FutureWeapons series (which does include more information on EMP), or you can see what happened to the Ford Taurus in this video excerpt on YouTube.
See the page on EMP and motor vehicles.
Many of the effects of nuclear EMP are very difficult to predict on the 21st century United States. Many vehicles that one would expect to be disabled by an EMP due to their dependence on sensitive electronics might be shielded well enough to continue to operate. Automotive electronic ignition systems in general are much better shielded and protected against EMP than other electronics. (After all, the purpose of an electronic ignition is to make high-voltage sparks.) Circuits in the automobile outside of the electronic ignition are actually the most vulnerable. Actual tests on vehicles in simulators have been very inconsistent. Even if only ten percent of the automobiles on the highways during the day were abruptly disabled, the resultant traffic jams would be nearly incomprehensible. (Having ten percent of the cars suddenly disabled might actually be more chaotic than having nearly all of them suddenly disabled.) Of course, there is no practical way to do a real nuclear EMP test. Even a nuclear test in space over the Pacific would likely do billions of dollars in damage to today's electrical and electronic infrastructure in the Pacific region. Such a test would also cause enormous damage to satellites in low earth orbit.
Tests done on 37 automobiles (that used electronic ignition systems) by the United States EMP Commission showed that all of the tested cars would still run after a simulated EMP, although most sustained some (mostly nuisance) electronic damage. Individuals associated with the EMP Commission have stated that their tests on vehicles were somewhat misleading since the EMP simulator pulses were started at low levels and repeated until the vehicle experienced some sort of electronic upset. After that point was reached, the vehicle was not tested at higher levels since the vehicles were borrowed, and the Commission was liable for any damage to the vehicles. So we don't know at what point the automobiles would have been permanently damaged.
Additional tests were done on 18 trucks, ranging from light pickup trucks to large diesel trucks. Results were generally similar to the tests on automobiles, although one pickup could not be re-started at all after the simulated EMP and had to be towed to a garage for repairs.
Only about one in every ten million civilian automobiles and light trucks in use today have been tested in an EMP simulator. That is a very tiny sample size. Many cars that would run after an actual EMP would probably have to be started in an unconventional manner (such as temporarily jumpering wires under the hood) due to damage of control circuits.
Reports about the effects of the 1962 Starfish Prime test that have been declassified in recent years state that some of the automobiles in Hawaii had their old non-electronic ignition systems damaged by the EMP, so automobile damage may be much higher that we previously thought. Those reports, however, were based upon unconfirmed verbal reports made years after the incident. Automobile ignition problems were much more common in those days, and most of the people whose cars were damaged by the Starfish Prime test probably never related their car ignition problems to the nuclear test. The damage to diesel generators in the 1962 Soviet nuclear EMP tests indicates that some of the electrical damage doesn't show up right away. Although many people would like to know exactly which vehicles would continue to function after an EMP, the number of variables are enormous, and include the orientation of the vehicle with respect to the detonation point at the particular time that the device is detonated.
Even for vehicles that are not disabled by an EMP attack, some very bizarre things might happen. I have had the experience myself of getting locked out of my vehicle at a mountaintop broadcast transmitter site by RF fields. In that case, RF electromagnetic energy from several nearby high-power transmitters caused the doors to lock while the keys were in the ignition and the engine was running. Of course, this occurred during one of the few times that I didn't have an extra set of keys with me. I have also heard of windshield wipers suddenly coming on in recent-model vehicles when driven near high-power radio transmitters.
In addition to the large-area (nearly continent-wide) effect of nuclear EMP attacks, there is an imminent threat from much smaller electromagnetic weapons that could do only localized damage. Many of these are relatively easy to construct and are very likely to be used in coming years in the U.S. by terrorists, as well as by ordinary vandals. An electromagnetic truck bomb in a small truck or van would not necessarily destroy the truck, which might be able to drive away, but could do millions of dollars in damage to the computer systems inside a building. (See my page on non-nuclear means of EMP generation.)
An example of a non-nuclear EMP device is the one being marketed by Eureka Aerospace, which is described, with a video, at the Physorg site. These devices are designed to destroy the vital electronics in automobiles. Although these devices can be beneficial in many cases, in the wrong hands they could cause enormous destruction at the rate of millions of dollars in damage per hour.
A nuclear EMP attack that is sufficiently large would knock out most, if not all, of the electric power grid. The extent of the electrical grid damage would depend upon the size of the bomb. Full repair of the power grid would take anywhere from two months to three years or more. Many components such as large transformers, which are normally resistant to large voltage transients, would be destroyed by the DC-like current induced by the E3 component of the pulse when they are connected to very long copper wires. The design life of the larger transformers in the United States power grid is typically 40 years, but the average age of these transformers is already more than 42 years. If power companies were to keep adequate spare parts on hand, the repair time could be kept closer to the two-month time frame. Adequate parts are not currently being kept on hand, and, in most cases, there are very long lead times for replacement parts for the electrical grid if the parts are not kept on hand by the electrical utility. There is currently no United States manufacturing capability for the large power transformers in its power grid. All of these extremely heavy transformers have to be manufactured and imported from other countries. The current delivery time for these transformers is 3 years from the time that the order is placed, but widespread destruction of these transformers would completely overwhelm the very limited worldwide production capacity.
The problem of spare parts affects more than just the power grid. There has been an overall trend during the past decade toward all commercial enterprises keeping fewer and fewer critical spare parts on hand.
Electrical and communications lines carried on overhead poles would be most susceptible to EMP. Although fiber optic lines will not pick up EMP-induced currents, as the Soviet Union learned in 1962, underground telephone and electrical lines would not be completely immune.
A big problem in the United States would be the electronic communications systems. The threat of an EMP attack is well known to the people who could do something about it. In one major study (in 2004) by the U.S. federal government stated:
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
(Future Science, 2012).