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"Millions of Americans Could Die": Are We Ready for An EMP Attack?

October 21, 2019 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: EMPEMP AttackMilitaryTechnology

"Millions of Americans Could Die": Are We Ready for An EMP Attack?

Among the most important findings of 2004, 2008, and 2017 reports by the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack is that millions of Americans could die and the loss of our electronic civilization to manmade or natural EMP catastrophe would be a national doomsday.

Among the most important findings of 2004, 2008, and 2017 reports by the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack is that millions of Americans could die and the loss of our electronic civilization to manmade or natural EMP catastrophe would be a national doomsday. Therefore, EMP is one of a very small number of existential threats that demands immediate high-priority attention from the U.S. Government.

President Trump deserves the gratitude of every American for heeding EMP Commission warnings and issuing his “Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” on March 26, 2019.

However, the President’s executive order to protect the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures is in danger of being undermined by a small number of highly influential non-expert career bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.  This cabal of about five members of the permanent federal bureaucracy were obstacles to national EMP preparedness during the Obama Administration— and today are entrusted by DHS and DOE with implementing President Trump’s EMP Executive Order.

Moreover, with the resignation of several key people at the top of the National Security Council staff, it is at best uncertain that the replacements will have the knowledge, experience, and drive to see that the President’s Executive Order is implemented, particularly in the face of resistance from career bureaucrats in league with domestic and foreign electric power monopolies.

Not having deep expertise in EMP themselves, and perhaps being part of “the resistance” to Trump Administration policies, these DHS and DOE actors are promoting EMP “junk science” by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a lobby for the electric power industry.  EPRI alleges that even a worst-case nuclear EMP attack or solar superstorm is not an existential threat to electric power grids and U.S. society, would have merely localized effects, and be quickly recoverable.

If EPRI’s fantasy is accepted that a nuclear EMP attack or solar superstorm would have societal consequences no worse than a hurricane, then DHS, DOE, and the electric power industry can “implement” President Trump’s EMP Executive Order by doing little or nothing.

It appears to matter little to these DHS and DOE bureaucrats that EPRI’s EMP threat assessment has been debunked by the Defense Nuclear Agency, the EMP Commission and the U.S. Air Force Electromagnetic Defense Task Force.

Shocking that DHS and DOE would even trust EPRI, that has no expertise on EMP, serves not science but the financial and political interests of electric utilities, receives 25% of research monies from foreign sources, and includes China and Russia as members.

At this crucial juncture in the implementation of President Trump’s EMP Executive Order, where DHS and DOE are re-assessing the EMP threat, they apparently need to be reminded that the EMP Commission threat assessment is not merely another opinion.  Commissions established by the President or the Congress engage the best experts and are given extraordinary resources and powers to provide the best scientific and strategic threat assessment and recommendations, that are supposed to be definitive for purposes of public policy.

There are good reasons USAF EDTF endorses the EMP Commission: “EDTF…recommends that the Congressional EMP Commission Reports, supported by real-world data, be used by government and industry as the most accurate assessment of the high-altitude EMP threat.  EDTF recommends that the Congressional EMP Commission’s recommendations be implemented.”

The EMP Commission had at its service the Free World’s foremost EMP experts, men who laid the foundations of EMP science, beginning with data from the last U.S. exo-atmospheric nuclear tests in 1962, and wrote the Department of Defense (DOD) EMP Military Standards; proved the vulnerability and guided protection of U.S. critical national infrastructures by the most comprehensive testing of modern electronics; testing performed on DOD and U.S. Government EMP simulators by the best DOD and USG technical personnel; and concluded with a process of evaluation, threat assessment, and policy recommendations performed more or less continuously over a period of 17 years—unlike EPRI.

Not only has the EMP Commission faced a long uphill battle advancing national EMP preparedness against a resistant federal bureaucracy, but against an irresponsible press that often misinforms the public with absurd claims—such as the preposterous falsehood the EMP Commission’s warning about an existential threat is derived from the novel One Second After.

Now, with the fate of President Trump’s EMP Executive Order hanging in the balance, and is at risk of being rendered meaningless, it may be helpful to remember what is at stake by revisiting EMP Commission warnings that America faces an existential threat, and why.

Existential Threat: EMP Commission 2004 and 2008 Reports

EMP manmade or natural is analogous to the Cold War nuclear threat that, although considered highly unlikely by most experts, nonetheless demanded and deserved the highest priority and vast resources to deter and prevent a nuclear World War III, since the survival of Western Civilization was at stake.  Yet a potentially worldwide natural EMP event from a solar superstorm is inevitable, sure to happen someday, the best estimate being a 12% chance every decade of a solar EMP catastrophe—a far more likely threat than was Cold War nuclear Armageddon.

The biggest loss of life from natural or manmade EMP would be from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  EMP damage to the electric grid may not be repairable for months or years, or ever, if there is mass starvation and societal collapse.  Almost irreplaceable equipment, like EHV transformers, require years to manufacture and replace and could require a decade or more to repair if destroyed in large numbers.  And this is just one example of protracted damage to the national grid from EMP that could blackout electronic civilization.

“The recovery of any one of the key national infrastructures is dependent on the recovery of others.  The longer the outage, the more problematical and uncertain the recovery will be,” warns the EMP Commission 2004 Report, “It is possible for the functional outages to become mutually reinforcing until at some point the degradation of infrastructure could have irreversible effects on the country’s ability to support its population.”

The EMP Commission 2008 Report warns:

“Electrical power is necessary to support other critical infrastructures, including supply and distribution of water, food, fuel, communications, transport, financial transactions, emergency services, government services, and all other infrastructures supporting the national economy and welfare.  Should significant parts of the electric power 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…”

The EMP Commission 2008 Report in the chapter “Water Infrastructure” warns:

“Water and its system of supply is a vital infrastructure…(EMP) can damage or disrupt the infrastructure that supplies water to the population, agriculture, and industry of the United States…”

“By disrupting the water infrastructure, an EMP attack could pose a major threat to life, industrial activity, and social order.  Denial of water can cause death in 3 to 4 days, depending on the climate and level of activity.”

“People are likely to resort to drinking from lakes, streams, ponds, and other sources of surface water.  Most surface water, especially in urban areas, is contaminated with wastes and pathogens and could cause serious illness if consumed.  If water treatment and sewage plants cease operating, the concentration of wastes in surface water will certainly increase dramatically and make the risks of consuming surface water more hazardous.”

“Demoralization and deterioration of social order can be expected to deepen if a water shortage is protracted.  Anarchy will certainly loom if government cannot supply the population with enough water to preserve health and life.”

The EMP Commission 2008 Report in the chapter “Food Infrastructure” warns:

"An EMP attack that disrupts the food infrastructure could pose a threat to life, industrial activity, and social order.  Absolute deprivation of food, on average, will greatly diminish a person's capacity for physical work within a few days.  After 4 to 5 days without food, the average person will suffer from impaired judgment and have difficulty performing simple intellectual tasks.  After two weeks without food, the average person will be virtually incapacitated.  Death typically results after 1 or 2 months without food."

“Social order likely would decay if a food shortage were protracted.  A government that cannot supply the population with enough food to preserve health and life could face anarchy.”

“Blackouts of electric grids caused by storms or accidents have destroyed food supplies.  An EMP attack that damages the power grid and denies electricity to warehouses or that directly damages refrigeration and temperature control systems could destroy most of the 30-day regional perishable food supply.  Blackouts also have disrupted transportation systems and impeded the replenishment of local food supplies.”

“Massive traffic jams are most likely in large cities, the very areas where rapid replenishment of the food supply at hundreds of supermarkets will be needed most urgently.  Significantly, recent famines in the developing world have occurred, despite massive relief efforts by the international community, in large part because food relief could not reach victim populations through their underdeveloped transportation infrastructure.  An EMP attack could, in effect, temporarily create in the United States the technological conditions in the food and transportation infrastructures that have resulted in developing world famines.”