Disaster probability says that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or a solar storm has a small chance of happening. If they happen, a massive number of people will be affected and left without electricity. There have been two recent books that have dealt with an EMP attack, I have read and enjoyed both; they are “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen and “Lights Out” by David Crawford.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
Congress established The United States EMP Commission in 2001 and reauthorized it in 2004. The EMP commission released The Critical National Infrastructures Report in 2008. This 208 page document is filled with the EMP threats to many different pieces of our infrastructure. Wikipedia has a good article on Electromagnetic pulse and has links to even more information.
From The Critical National Infrastructures Report (page 9)
“The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.”
Also from the The Critical National Infrastructures Report (page 9)
“The time required for full recovery of service would depend on both the disruption and damage to the electrical power infrastructure and to other national infrastructures. Larger affected areas and stronger EMP field strengths will prolong the time to recover. Some critical electrical power infrastructure components are no longer manufactured in the United States, and their acquisition ordinarily requires up to a year of lead time in routine circumstances.”
National Geographic covered what an EMP is and what it would look like. Here are two videos from Youtube, the first is a short 3-minute video, and the second is the full-length 45-minute video.
I have read a lot about EMP the last few years and have seen people say everything from it’s not a real threat to it’s more of a threat then conventional nuclear war. For EMP to be a viable threat our enemy would need a nuclear warhead and a missile capable of reaching our ionosphere. North Korea has nuclear capability and has threatened us with using them for participating in war games with South Korea. Do they have a weapon capable of achieving EMP? I don’t know. Pakistan also has nuclear weapons but at this time their government is friendly, though the safety of their nukes is in question because, I believe, they knew that Osama Bin Laden was living in their country and gave him support.
Most of our enemies do not have the technology to arm a missile with a warhead capable of being launched from their homeland and reaching the United States. They could however hide one in a cargo ship and fire it from fifty miles off our shore, straight into our ionosphere. It would only need to travel 200 miles straight up.
Solar Flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)
These events are caused when the sun has a storm and launches huge amounts of radiation toward earth. This article from the New York Daily News called “ Dire warning: U.S. unprepared for massive solar flare storm; could lose power, communications ” explains it well; I will cover the highlights here.
“”It’s very likely in the next 10 years that we will have some impact like that described in the National Academy report,” Dr. Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, told the Daily News. “Although I don’t know to what degree.”
Fisher explained that the sun works on an 11-year cycle and is now emerging from its quiet period. The next phase — the solar maximum — lasts from 2012 to 2015. During this period of time, massive solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can occur and could be strong enough to knock out satellites, disable high-voltage transformers and cripple communications worldwide.”
Here is a Podcast by Off The Grid Radio called “ Is Your Time Machine Ready? – Episode 031” it is an interview with John Kappenman. Mr. Kappenman is an electric engineer who has testified before Congress about America’s vulnerability to solar storms. I found this interview very informative and recommend you listen to it, or a transcribed version can be found here.. I’ll cover some of the main points here.
Mr. Kappenman points out that in our electric grid, the biggest vulnerabilities to a solar storm are the transformers:
“It would be transformers that are exposed to the highest levels of these induced currents from a geomagnetic storm that would be the most at risk of being permanently damaged. In today’s world manufacturing marketplace, we really don’t have the ability to manufacture and replace large numbers of damaged transformers. We’re looking at, in the case of the US alone, something that could take four to 10 years to recover from, based on the amount of transformers that we think could be manufactured and made available to us. And that might be a bit rosy because it assumes that somewhere a manufacturer will be unaffected by that storm and be able to begin manufacturing in a normal fashion. Under this sort of planetary event, I assume that we are probably making a rosy assumption that anybody would be able to resume any kind of normal functioning from a manufacturing standpoint.”
Mr. Kappenman goes on to say that the USA has in the neighborhood of 300 or more transformers and produces roughly 50 a year. “We don’t have the manufacturing capability right now in the US to manufacture at the very highest voltage levels – 765 KV.” Those cost tens of millions of dollars and “A lot of them are made in Brazil, Japan, Korea and so forth. They’re all non-domestic sources”
Now that we know why there is a danger and how difficult a recovery may be, Mr. Kappenman will explain what an event may look like, as it would unfold. (I added the paragraphs from the transcript to make reading easier)
“The next big crisis point would be things that would degrade within a very short period of time after the initial loss of power. One of the things that would occur would be major traffic snarl-ups because of the loss of street lighting, signal lighting, things like that.
You have to worry next about the availability of potable water. Essentially, all of your municipal water treatment and sewage treatment facilities would be lost immediately. The only thing that you would have left is the available water pressure in the municipal system, and that will only last as long as the demand placed on it from users.
That demand could spike as people start to draw tap water for some sort of reserves and so forth. Probably within a matter of a couple of hours, you would have lost all of your municipal water resources as those water towers are drained and the pressure drops out of the system. In high-rise buildings and so forth, big electric pumps are needed to pump that water up to higher elevations in the buildings anyway, so that may be more immediate consequences in those sort of situations. Treatment of sewage will be a major problem going forward from that. There could be consequences there as well.
Loss of transportation systems of all sorts will become a cascading problem. You may only have available to you the amount of fuel that’s in the tank of your car at the time that the blackout occurs. You probably will not be able to count on being re-supplied in fuel in any way, because that also requires electricity to operate pumps at filling stations. They may have some standby off-grid generation of available at those sites, but again, that’s going to be rapidly depleted as they pump out their storage tanks at any particular filling station.
Foods – perishable foods – will probably be lost within 12 hours to 24 hours after the event. The same becomes a critical problem for perishable medications. Again, if you look at the statistics, there’s something like a million Type 1 Diabetes sufferers in the US alone that could be placed in serious health consequences within a matter of just a few days if they are cut off from their insulin supplies.
Telecommunications will probably be gone within a matter of two to three days. Many of the telecommunications centers have some level of backup generation that they design into the facility but the problem becomes that those generators eventually run out of fuel and the ability to re-supply fuel to them is a serious issue. Even if you’re on natural gas supply, in residences and so forth, the problem with natural gas is many of the natural gas appliances that we depend upon – furnaces in particular – also require electric power to be available in order to operate and control those furnaces. Heating could become a major issue, especially if this occurs during a severe cold snap, which could add a complicating factor. Those are the ways that these inter-dependencies we have on electric power begin to stack up and impact virtually every other critical food, water and service supply that we need in the country.”
Mr. Kappenman’d first Off The Grid Radio Interview
Imagine the lights going off suddenly…and having no power for as long as ten years – Episode 010
Because the world is so much more dependent on the grid, an EMP or a very powerful CME would be more damaging now than at any other time in world history. Earth has seen solar flares and CME’s before, and we do often have advanced warning. This would give governments a chance to shut down parts of the grid. One of the things governments can do is harden the electrical grid, which is one of the reasons that Mr. Kappenman testified before congress.
I’m not as concerned about an EMP attack as I am about a solar flare/CME. While an EMP attack could still happen, there are a lot of things that would need to align perfectly first. A small CME or solar flare could still wreak havoc on satellites causing problems with cellular connections and GPS, which mean navigation problems for aircraft and cargo ships. A large CME could shut the grid down essentially.
What can we do?
We can continue to prepare as we have been. Remember the first line of this article, “Disaster probability says that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or a solar storm has a small chance of happening”. These events are not something you should plan exclusively for, but they are something that you will become more prepared for, by becoming prepared for the smaller scale things that have a higher chance of happening, such as job loss, or more economic turmoil.
While a TEOTWAWKI event such as an EMP or CME has a small chance of happening, we still need to be aware. I do believe we will be affected by solar flares in the near future, as the sun goes through its eleven-year angry cycle. To increase your awareness you can subscribe for Solar Flare alerts.
While I don’t want to get in-depth on them Faraday Cage can offer some protection against EMP AND CME, by shielding the electromagnetic radiation.
Lastly, even though the chance of these events occurring is small, they should still be on our radar. I believe the timeline Mr. Kappenman offered is spot on. If there is no power, there is no water being pumped into many areas and food and other shortages will occur within days. Because of events like the looting in Minneapolis after the tornado, if we see an event of this type, you need to have a Bug Out Plan (BOP) and a Bug Out Bag (BOB) for each member of your family ahead of time. Keep in mind that the worst-case scenario in this particular instance means cars might not work due to them having circuit boards. Because of this, think of ways to bug out that allow you to move with all of your bug out gear. Securing gear to a bike and walking along side is one option. Getting permission to use a shopping cart is another. Using a game cart can work as well, if you have access to one.
In the worst-case scenario I think that civil unrest will happen pretty early. Bugging out quickly might be a good idea if you live in an urban or suburban area with a high crime rate.
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