"The vulnerability of America's electric grid is a ticking time-bomb. The government knows that if that vulnerability is exploited by enemies or afflicted by space weather, we could experience the end of our nation as we know it. Many of our foes are aware of both the grid's susceptibility to attack and the potentially catastrophic consequences for this country and its people should it happen... Only the public is still largely in the dark about these dangers. If something is not done promptly to rectify the situation, our countrymen and women risk being kept in the dark permanently. We must secure the grid now."
- Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy
EMP / Solar Flare Attack Against the Grid
I have studied the threat of EMP and Solar Flares for the last ten years and I DO believe it is the greatest threat against our way of life as Americans. Especially when you combine it with the threat of a cyber attack or a physical attack on the electric grid like we saw last year in California. I believe that we will lose the electric grid for an extended period of time in our lifetime because there is just too much evidence showing this to be the case. An EMP attack is the absolute worst case scenario because you don’t just lose the electric grid, you lose most electronic devices as well. Even if you could eventually repair the electric grid, what is the point if most of the items you would connect to it are fried beyond repair?
The EMP threat is so serious that Congress put together a commission to study it. They released their findings in 2004 and 2008 in two reports titled Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP. Essentially what they found was that our country is completely vulnerable to this type of attack and the results of an attack would mean most Americans would die within a year. These two reports will teach you nearly everything you need to know about the threat from EMP. The question is, will you read them? At the end of the day, an EMP attack is hands down the worst-case scenario for Americans, not just because it is a very realistic and imminent threat, but because the aftereffects would be so devastating.
Dr. Peter Pry, a member of the Congressional EMP Commission, testified to Congress that “Natural EMP from a geomagnetic super-storm, like the1859 Carrington Event or 1921 Railroad Storm, and nuclear EMP attack from terrorists or rogue states, as practiced by North Korea during the nuclear crisis of 2013, are both existential threats that could kill 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse.” You heard that right--9 out of 10 Americans DEAD.
The reason I lumped the Solar Flare and EMP threats together is that a massive Solar Flare would have a similar impact on America as an EMP. A large Solar Flare would produce an E3 current which would geomagnetically induce currents that would travel down our long transmission lines and destroy any transformers in its path. Although most electronic equipment might survive, a massive Solar Flare could take down our electric grid for a very long time if it were to destroy a good portion of our 2,200 high voltage transformers. Solar Flares of varying size happen on a daily basis on the sun’s surface and very seldom do they impact earth in any meaningful way. However, astrologists have been following the sun’s “explosions” and “night time lights” for centuries, even though there was little effect to mankind before the modern electronic age. Science shows that, on average, we get hit by a massive Solar Flare about every hundred years with the last one over 150 years ago. Mathematically, we’re due.
The last massive Solar Flare to hit the US was in 1859--known as the Carrington Event. It produced Auroral light as far south as the Caribbean, even though those lights are rarely seen south of the northern hemisphere. Newspapers of the day tell of people in New York and Colorado waking up to make breakfast in the middle of the night because it was so bright outside. Telegraph operators were shocked by their machines and there were reports of some telegraph offices catching on fire.
In 2014, two years after the fact, NASA released information that a Carrington-sized Solar Flare barely missed earth in 2012. Daniel Baker of the University of California was one of the researchers that studied it along with NASA researchers. He said, “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.”
It’s not just massive solar flares that are a threat, though. Lloyd’s of London (the world’s oldest insurance market) released a startling report in 2013 on the devastating impact even a smaller, more common solar flare would have on North America. The fact that the prestigious Lloyd’s of London would spend the capital on a report like this should prove to you that this is not an idle threat. Lloyd’s states that even a smaller solar flare focused on the Northeast could have a devastating effect on transformers and affect up to forty million people. Lloyd’s predicts the blackout could last one to two years before the infrastructure could be repaired. They state the financial cost would be as high as 2.6 trillion dollars (compare that to Hurricane Sandy which only caused $65 billion in damage).
Presentation on the threat from EMP and Solar Flares
An EMP would have more devastating effect on the US because it would not only destroy the electric grid but would fry, at minimum, a high percentage of the electronic devices we rely on for day to day life. Even though a massive Solar Flare would only take down the electric grid and some non-surge-protected items plugged into the grid, the effects would be worldwide instead of line of site. This would dramatically decrease the chances of receiving assistance from other countries who are struggling to help themselves. Either event would lead to hundreds of millions of deaths and despair on a scale that has never been seen in the world’s history.
I’ll leave you with a short story about being ready for an EMP and whether or not you should take the threat seriously. Roscoe Bartlett was a twenty year Congressman from Maryland’s 6th Congressional District who sat on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. When he left congress at the age of 86, Mr. Bartlett did not move to the sunny beaches of Florida or California for his retirement. He moved to a piece of property in rural West Virginia and built a completely off-grid cabin for his family. When asked why, he explains that between his Top Secret meetings with Russian Intelligence officers and his confidential back door meetings with experts on the threat from a solar flare or cyber attack, Mr. Bartlett believes the grid will come down in the near future and likely in his lifetime. I personally hope Mr. Bartlett lives a lot longer; he’s currently 90 years old.
Links on the threat to the electric grid from an EMP/Solar Flare
What would you do if nearly every electronic device you can think of stopped functioning at the exact same instant? Can you imagine a world with no phones, no TV, no internet, and no way to access your bank account? Without the electric grid, there would be no lights, no heating or air conditioning in your house, your faucets stop producing water and the public sewer could back up into your home. There would be no gas for your car and no Diesel for your generator. Without modern vehicles or interstate trucking, the supermarkets will quickly run out of food. How will you provide for your family? Most people will have no clue what is happening and will expect the government and military to come to their rescue. What if the majority of the military wasn’t hardened and found themselves in the same boat as its citizens? What if the government had no plan in place to deal with the catastrophe?
So what is an EMP? EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse and the technology has been around for over 60 years now. In a nutshell, an EMP is the result of detonating a nuclear warhead high above the atmosphere. As the gamma radiation from the blast passes through the upper atmosphere, it ionizes the atoms in what is called the “Compton Effect.” Charged electrons then travel at nearly the speed of light across the affected area (line of site from the blast) in what is known as an Electromagnetic Pulse. The rapidly changing current, coupled with the earth’s magnetic field, produces a damaging current and the resulting voltage surge would destroy our electric grid. There are typically three types of current produced by an EMP--E1, E2, and E3. Each current has different attributes and would affect electronics differently. Combined they have the ability to destroy all but the hardiest electronic equipment, but that is also largely dependent on altitude of detonation, gamma ray output, energy yield, and other factors. At the end of the day you can make your eyes bleed reading all the technical aspects of the EMP threat. Let’s suffice it to say that without a doubt, it would destroy the electric grid and some, most, or all (debatable) unprotected small electronics.
In 1962, the US government exploded a nuclear warhead 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean in the "Starfish Prime" experiment to test the EMP theory. They vastly underestimated the results and a lot of the test equipment failed as a result of the EMP. They also didn’t predict the effects it would have on Hawaii which was over 900 miles away. Hawaii lost a third of its streetlights and experienced damages to other electronic equipment on the island as well. The electrical infrastructure of 1962 was very robust (compared to today) and repairs were easily made. Another unexpected by-product of the test was that one-third of the low-orbit satellites circling earth were crippled or disabled due to unexpected radiation belts that were formed around earth.
Around the same time, Russia conducted multiple high altitude nuclear tests called “Project K." These tests were much more damaging to infrastructure as they were done over more populated areas of Russia in an area with a stronger magnetic field than where the American Starfish Prime experiment had been conducted. It wasn’t until after the Cold War ended that we were able to study some of the data from the Russian test results of Project K. One of the biggest damages was the destruction of a large power plant in Karaganda after the transformers caught on fire. In September of 1963, after the Project K and Starfish Prime tests and the realization of the potential damage that could be done, the PTBT (Partial Test Ban Treaty) was signed by the US, Russia, and England to prohibit nuclear testing in the atmosphere or space.
The reason EMP warfare never caught on in the early 60’s is because it wasn’t very effective against the older, hardy electrical infrastructure of the day. In today’s world, where nearly everything we use has tiny internal circuit boards and microprocessors, an EMP pulse would be devastating to our infrastructure and our way of life.
Right now, any nuclear country has the technology to take our country back to the dark ages. Why don’t they? Again, mutually ensured destruction. The problem with that theory is the rise of radicalized terrorists. Do you seriously think ISIS or HAMAS would care if the Middle East economy crashed after taking America out with an EMP? Heck no. Same with Iran. Just last summer, they test fired their new ballistic missile systems off a cargo ship in the Caspian Sea. We even had a secret agent in Iran’s military who has warned us that an EMP attack is exactly what Iran is working on.
What about North Korea? They have nothing to lose as their country already lives in squalor and due to existing sanctions, the US economy collapsing would have little effect on their country. In fact, if you remember, they threatened us in 2003 with a nuclear attack. Because of those threats, DHS did a study to evaluate the risk of EMP from North Korea. That study was leaked to Dr. Vincent Pry and he said that it revealed North Korea already has the technology and the ability to hit us with an EMP in such a way that our missile defenses would be useless.
Below is a short video on the threat of EMP from Iran and North Korea.