Forecast: Millions dead within a year, Part 4

This is part 4 of a four-part series about EMP’s and the catastrophic results they can cause.

Part 4, Is There Anything We Can Do?

In this section, we can only generalize about the damage that might be expected and how well any defenses may mitigate those damages. What and to what degree various devices are susceptible to the EMP pulses are so dependent on the type of EMP (solar or nuclear), the strength of the detonation (or CME), the height of a nuclear detonation, and the location of the devices relative to the source, that the statement, “your results may vary” is entirely appropriate.

First, Our Electric Infrastructure.

Remember the Congressional EMP Commission we talked about earlier? On July 18, 2013, they warned that, given our current state of unpreparedness, within 12 months of a catastrophic EMP event, some two-thirds to 90 percent of the U.S. total population, more than 200 million Americans, would perish from starvation, disease and societal collapse.

Did you note that date? It wasn’t 1994, or 2003; it was less than two months ago.

The following agencies of the federal government agreed with the Commission’s findings: the National Academy of Sciences, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the Department of Energy, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the National Intelligence Council. Pretty much unanimous, right?

The good news is that the EMP Commission provided a cost-effective plan, endorsed by all subsequent U.S. government studies, which could within a few years, protect U.S. critical infrastructures from the worst effects of an EMP. Protecting the 300 most important high-energy transformers that are indispensable to the national power grid is estimated to cost only $100-200 million – about one dollar for every life that would be saved. This alone is probably not sufficient protection, but it is the absolute minimum necessary to create the possibility of saving millions of American lives.

What Our National “Leadership” is Doing: The Shield Act

To address this threat, Republican Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-8) introduced a bill on June 16, 2013, to protect the grid. Called the Shield Act, or the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act. The bill would push the federal government to install grid-saving devices, surge protectors that could save the transformers and power system from EMPs. H.R. 2417 has 23 co-sponsors and is currently undergoing hearings in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

The Shield Act incorporates most of the EMP-related language of HR 5026 (called the GRID Act) from the 111th Congress, which passed overwhelmingly through the House, but was stalled in the Senate during the Lame Duck session, due mostly to additional language regarding cyber-security threats.

However, the Shield Act omits language regarding cyber-security threats, (which they believe can be better addressed in a separate bill), and then goes beyond HR 5026 by further requiring an automated protection plan and hardware-based solutions, without which the legislation would be toothless to truly address EMP threats. The Shield Act also requires that standards be developed within 6 months, as opposed to 1 year, of enactment, ensuring a faster timeline of protection.

The Shield Act would empower the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require the electric power industry to protect the national grid from EMP. 

The Shield Act would also require the industry to protect the grid by selective “hardening” of vital components by using surge arrestors, blocking devices, faraday cages, and other proven technologies that the Department of Defense has known for fifty years can reliably protect military systems from EMP.

There is no excuse to risk millions of American lives by failing to protect the grid. Robust EMP protection of the national grid can be accomplished for approximately $2 billion dollars – about the amount that the U.S. gives to Pakistan every year in foreign aid. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that protecting the national grid would cost the average rate payer merely 20 cents annually.

Keep in mind that the protection specified in the Shield Act is designed to protect against another Carrington Event (solar EMP, primarily an E3) and not a nuclear generated (primarilyE1) EMP event. I was unable to find any proposed legislation that specifically addresses mitigation of a nuclear event. Thus, while Congress is attempting to protect the electric grid from the E3 damage – from either source, no progress has been made to protect against the damaging E1 radiation from a nuclear detonation.

EMP effects upon IC-based devices

The advent of modern solid-state circuitry (Integrated Circuits, or ICs) as compared to the vacuum-tube technology of the 1960s has dramatically increased the susceptibility of electronic equipment to the E1 pulse. Modern ICs are about a million times more sensitive to fast-hittingE1 pulses than the early 1960s era electronics.

The effects of an E1 EMP on ICs include malfunctions and loss of data, thermal runaway, gate-insulator breakdown, and other technical problems. 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 heat away from the part under stress caused by the instantaneous intense current flows generated by an EMP.

Although the EMP commission carried out tests of the robustness of various devices to E1, the unclassified version of the commission documents don’t contain many meaningful technical details. We simply don’t know the level of EMP stress applied in the tests, or how that stress correlates to large (>100 kiloton) or small (<1 kiloton) nuclear devices.

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. That means that computer networks are susceptible.

Integrated circuit on fingertip It is helpful to remember that an EMP doesn’t have to “fry” an entire electronic system to create a catastrophic result. A single instantaneous overload to a tiny IC internal connection point can cause the entire system to shut down and prevent restart until a replacement IC is installed. A tiny one centimeter chip could stop an automobile, a computer, or cause a process control system to fail.

General-purpose desktop computers and ICS (industrial control systems) were the most susceptible to damage of all the test articles. ICS units are computer controlled systems that monitor and control industrial processes like: manufacturing, production, power generation, fabrication, and refining.

ICs are omnipresent in everyday life today. They’re used in cars (automotive ECU controls), televisions, computers, microwaves, portable devices like laptops, MP3, play stations, cameras, cellular phones, watches, clocks as well as throughout larger applications like ships, airplanes, space craft, etc. – in other words, just about everywhere.

And, everywhere that IC chips are used, there are vulnerabilities. So, don’t count on any of those devices working if we’re hit with a nuclear EMP attack of any meaningful size.

The Telecommunications System

Here is the full Congressional EMP Committee’s Report, in .pdf (it’s 62 pages) in case you’re interested.

The telecommunication system consists of four basic and primary physical systems: wire-line, wireless, satellite, and radio. In general, the national telecommunications infrastructure may be farther advanced then others in its ability to address the particular consequences of EMP. This is due in large measure to the recognized alternative threats to this system, as well as broad recognition of its importance to society.

The three primary and separate systems (excluding radio) that make up the broad telecommunications infrastructure each provide specialized services; they also overlap heavily. Thus the loss or degradation of any one of these somewhat redundant subsystems subjects the remaining functional subsystems to heavier service loads.

Each of these four primary systems is unique in their capability to suffer insult from EMP. The wire-line system is robust, but will be degraded within the area exposed to the EMP electromagnetic fields. The wireless system is technologically fragile in relation to EMP, certainly in comparison to the wire-line one. In general, it may be so seriously degraded in the EMP region as to be unavailable. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communications satellites may also suffer radiation damage as a result of one or more high-altitude nuclear bursts that produce EMP

The radio communication sub-system of the national telecommunications infrastructure is not widespread, but where it is connected to antennas, power lines, telephone lines, or other extended conductors, it is also subject to substantial EMP damage. However, radio communication devices not connected or not connected to such conductors at the time of the EMP attack are likely to be operable in the post-attack interval. Older radios, without transistors, especially vacuum-tube models would be the type most likely to be usable.

Following is some information that you may find interesting:

Collectors of EMP Energy

Long runs of cable, piping, or conduit, Large antennas, antenna feed cables, guy wires, antenna support towers, Overhead power and telephone lines and support towers, Long runs of electrical wiring, conduit, etc., in buildings, Metallic structural components (girders), reinforcing bars, corrugated roof,, Expanded metal lath, metallic fencing, Railroad tracks, Aluminum aircraft bodies, And here are some of the results of the EMP committee’s testing:

Degrees of Susceptibility to Electromagnetic Pulse:

 Most Susceptible

Systems employing ICs, transistors or semiconductor rectifiers, Computers and power supplies, Semiconductor components terminating long cable runs, Alarm systems, Intercom system, Life-support system controls, telephone equipment which is partially transistorized, Transistorized receivers and transmitters, Transistorized 60 to 400 cps converters, Transistorized process control systems, Power system controls and communication links

Less Susceptible

Vacuum-tube equipment not including semiconductor rectifiers, Transmitters, Intercom systems, Receivers, Teletype-telephone, Alarm system power supplies, Equipment employing low-current switches, relays, & meters, Alarms Panel indicators and status, Life-support systems boards, Power system control, Process control panels, Hazardous equipment containing Detonators, Explosive mixtures, Squibs Rocket fuels, Pyrotechnical devices, Long power cable runs employing dielectric insulation, Equipment associated with high-energy storage capacitors

Least Susceptible

High-voltage 60 cps equipment, Transformers, motors, Lamps (filament), Heavy-duty relays, Heaters, circuit breakers, Air-insulated power cable runs

 Some Additional Reading

Following are a few survival articles. Some are from individual blogs (whom I normally don’t trust for accurate data), but these do contain good information and appear to be well researched.

It should also be noted that I provide these links as a service to the reader. I do run a full suite of security products and there were no threats detected in these links, so I believe them to be safe, but I take no responsibility for them – if you don’t feel comfortable using these, you can simply Google for whatever you like:

Seven actions to take immediately following an EMP strike: This one is particularly appropriate. He even mentions that we should immediately spend cash (if you have any) since it won’t be long before it won’t be accepted – a good suggestion:

Modern Survival Blog:

Protecting Yourself from EMP (note that this one is old, but still appears to be accurate). The only problem is that the author speaks to the use of the devices without addressing the probability that electricity to power may not be available – nevertheless, it’s still a good article:

This is a good article on Magnetic Pulse Protection:

And this piece exposes some myths about EMPs:

A Final Word

A lot of folks make fun of “preppers” for being extremists and occupied with the thought that when the EOTWAWKI (End of the World as We Know It) or SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan) happens, they’ll be ready. Well, if an EMP strikes (either solar or nuclear), they will be the folks who survive; troubled perhaps, but they’ll likely survive – many of those ridiculing them won’t.

Will another Carrington Event occur in our lifetimes? We don’t know. Will some dastardly foreign power detonate a nuclear EMP? Again, we can’t rely on a crystal ball, we just don’t know. But one thing is sure – while the chances that one or the other will happen is not 100 percent, it’s not zero percent either, and personally, I don’t want to bet my life on it.

As the Boy Scouts used to say, “Be Prepared.”

And, as Garnet92 says: “If You Ain’t Prepared, Get Prepared.”

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