Home > A Massive Electromagnetic Pulse Could Collapse The Economy In A Single Moment

A Massive Electromagnetic Pulse Could Collapse The Economy In A Single Moment

January 1st, 2013

Michael Snyder: What would you do if all the lights went out and they never came back on?  That is a question that the new NBC series “Revolution” asks, but most people have no idea that a similar thing could happen in real life at any moment.  A single gigantic electromagnetic pulse over the central United States could potentially fry most of the electronics from coast to coast if it was powerful enough.  This could occur in a couple of different ways.  If a powerful nuclear weapon was exploded at a high enough altitude, it could produce an electromagnetic pulse powerful enough to knock out electronics all over the country.  Alternatively, a massive solar stormcould potentially cause a similar phenomenon to happen just about anywhere on the planet without much warning.  Of course not all EMP events are created equal.  An electromagnetic pulse can range from a minor inconvenience to a civilization-killing event.  It just depends on how powerful it is.  But in the worst case scenario, we could be facing a situation where our electrical grids have been fried, there is no heat for our homes, our computers don’t work, the Internet does not work, our cell phones do not work, there are no more banking records, nobody can use credit cards anymore, hospitals are unable to function, nobody can pump gas, and supermarkets cannot operate because there is no power and no refrigeration.  Basically, we would witness the complete and total collapse of the economy.  According to a government commission that looked into these things, approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population would die from starvation, disease and societal chaos within one year of a massive EMP attack.  It would be a disaster unlike anything we have ever seen before in U.S. history.

Most Americans are totally clueless about what an EMP attack could do to this nation, but the threat is very real.  There was even a congressional commission that studied the potential effects of an EMP attack on the United States for eight years

The US Congress in 2000 established the Congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. In 2004, the committee produced a 70-page executive summary on the EMP threat, and it issued a final report on the matter in 2008. According to the report, “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.”

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Dr. William Graham was the chairman of that commission, and he says that an EMP attack could knock the United States back into the 1800s in just a single moment

An EMP attack “could not only take down power grids, which are fragile anyway in this country, and telecommunications networks, and financial networks, and traffic controls and many other things, but in addition, there is a very close interrelationship among those national infrastructure capabilities,” Graham says.

“So, for example, we need telecommunications to re-establish the power network, and we need the power network to keep telecommunications going for more than a few hours. And we need the financial network to continue to operate to maintain the economy, we need the transportation system, roads, street lights, control systems, to operate just to get people to the failed power, telecommunication and other systems,” he adds.

Life after an EMP attack “would probably be something that you might imagine life to be like around the late 1800s but with several times the population we had in those days, and without the ability of the country to support and sustain all those people,” Graham says. “They wouldn’t have power. Food supplies would be greatly taken out by the lack of transportation, telecommunication, power for refrigeration and so on.”

Unfortunately, very few of us are equipped to survive in such an environment.  We have become incredibly dependent on technology, and most Americans would have no idea how to do something as simple as growing their own food.  Most people would be in a very serious amount of trouble in a very short period of time.

An article by Mac Slavo detailed some of the things that we could expect in the aftermath of a massive electromagnetic pulse…

The first 24 – 48 hours after such an occurrence will lead to confusion among the general population as traditional news acquisition sources like television, radio and cell phone networks will be non-functional.

Within a matter of days, once people realize the power might not be coming back on and grocery store shelves start emptying, the entire system will begin to delve into chaos.

Within 30 days a mass die off will have begun as food supplies dwindle, looters and gangs turn to violent extremes, medicine can’t be restocked and water pump stations fail.

Are you prepared for such an event?

If not, why not?

And actually, high altitude nuclear explosions and solar storms are not the only things that could produce sizable EMP bursts.

For example, the U.S. military has developed “a directed electromagnetic pulse gun” that can take out all electronics within a limited area.  This kind of weapon can be fired from a plane, a cruise missile or even a drone.  The following is from a recent WND article

A pre-programmed cruise missile not too different from a drone has been proven to be capable of blasting out an EMP-type microwave that was able to destroy personal computers and electrical systems inside a building over which it was flying.

The U.S. Air Force and its contractor Boeing have created the High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP, which was just tested over a Utah desert.

Other nations such as Russia and China are busy developing similar weapons.  The ability to instantly take out the electronics of the enemy would be a very powerful advantage.

Even North Korea has been working on this kind of technology.  According to Newsmax, it is believed that they may have tested a “Super-EMP” weapon back in 2009

North Korea’s last round of tests, conducted in May 2009, appear to have included a “super-EMP” weapon, capable of emitting enough gamma rays to disable the electric power grid across most of the lower 48 states

As this technology becomes more widespread, it will soon be accessible to just about everyone.  You don’t actually need a nuclear weapon to set off a massive electromagnetic pulse.  A non-nuclear pulse generator can do the same thing.  If you set one off next to a power station you could potentially take out the electrical grid for an entire region.

Terrorist groups and lone wolf crazies could even use portable radio frequency weapons to do a tremendous amount of electromagnetic damage over a more limited area.  The following is from a recent articleby F. Michael Maloof

Such an individual with a penchant for electronics can pull together components from a Radio Shack or electronic store – even order the components off of selected Internet websites – and fashion a radio frequency, or RF, weapon.

As microprocessors become smaller but more sophisticated, they are even more susceptible to an RF pulse. The high power microwave from an RF weapon produces a short, very high power pulse, said to be billions of watts in a nanosecond, or billionths of a second.

This so-called burst of electromagnetic waves in the gigahertz microwave frequency band can melt electrical circuitry and damage integrated circuits, causing them to fail.

Constructing a radio frequency weapon is not that difficult.  In fact, you can find instructions for how to build them on the Internet.

People need to realize that we live in a world where technology is absolutely exploding and we are dealing with threats that previous generations never even dreamed of.  As the world becomes increasingly unstable, it is inevitable that these kinds of weapons will be used.

It is only a matter of time.

What will life look like after an EMP weapon is used?

That is something to think about.

And we also need to keep watching the sun.  It could produce a massive electromagnetic pulse at literally any moment.  As I have written aboutpreviously, scientists tell us that it is only a matter of time before we are hit with a technology-crippling solar super storm.

Most people don’t even realize that the massive solar storm of 1859 fried telegraph machines all over Europe and North America.  If such a storm hit us today, the damage would potentially be in the trillions of dollars.  The following is from a recent New York Times article

A powerful solar (or “geomagnetic”) storm has the potential to simultaneously damage multiple transformers in the electricity grid and perhaps even bring down large sections of it, affecting upwards of a hundred million people in the United States for many months, if not years.

These huge transformers are expensive and difficult to replace, and not many are stockpiled in the United States for an emergency. In the worst case, the impact would be devastating: An outage could cost a few trillion dollars, with full recovery taking years. Not only would parts of the grid be compromised, but telephone networks, undersea cables, satellites and railroads also would be affected.

2008 National Academy of Sciences studywarned that “because of the interconnectedness of critical infrastructures in modern society,” the “collateral effects of a longer-term outage” would likely include “disruption of the transportation, communication, banking and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration.”

By the way, 2013 is the peak of the current solar cycle.  So we are moving into a time period when conditions will be very favorable for solar storms.

Let us hope that we are never hit with a massive electromagnetic pulse that is strong enough to take out all of our electronics.

But if it did happen, and all the lights went out for good, what would you do?

Please feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

Written By Michael Snyder

Michael has an undergraduate degree in Commerce from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Florida law school.   He also has an LLM from the University of Florida law school. Michael has worked for some of the largest law firms in Washington D.C., but now is mostly focused on trying to make a difference in the world.

Economy, Technology, World News

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  1. Ken Chrosniak
    January 2nd, 2013 at 12:52 | #1

    Even though there exists grace and beauty all around us, we are incessantly bombarded with 24/7/365 news, — mostly negative. While I hesitate to add more angst to your life in these unprecedented and anxious times, near the end of this somewhat caustic and cautionary ‘conversation’ I’ll give you a glimmer of hope on what positive action you can take. My perspective is from a private citizen and former soldier, formed from the ‘soft’ foundation of a history/english major and not a scientist (actually it’s an advantage). This is a very complicated problem set with many moving parts that affect you directly, up to our very survival as a sovereign nation. To try and get your arms around the problem, it’s important to get a good picture of the condition of your country.

    There now exists a clear and present danger to you, your family and your community; the loss of sustained electric power. This has recently been confirmed and announced by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. As of now, absolutely no government entity (except for the Department of Defense (DoD)) has initiated plans for survival from a catastrophic breakdown of our electric grid over multiple regions of America. While the U.S. government (specifically Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) has the ability to provide you with critical information on the condition of your country for your survival and well-being; to date, they have not chosen to do so.

    All of us are totally dependent on electricity; we literally cannot survive without it. Our extremely tenuous electric grid, comprised of hundreds of vulnerable power extra high voltage (EHV) transformers and over 200,000 miles of aged transmission lines, is the ‘circulatory system’ that runs our country and touches every aspect of your life such as water pressure for daily use, sanitation and fighting fires; your cell phone; the Internet (that makes it possible for the doctor to order Insulin for your child); the supply chain to deliver that Insulin to you; pumping systems to cool the nuclear power plant core rods and spent fuel pools; Wall Street and ATM’s; medical services; all forms of transportation; oil refinery production; refrigeration; military installations and defense industrial bases; your social security/pension check, and virtually all types of emergency communications used by Fire, Police, and EMS to name just a few.

    Mr. Joseph McClelland, Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expressed further concern that private power utilities are not truly prepared to handle a catastrophic EMP event, and stated that the effects of such an event would be profound on the entire national grid system. Most crucial are the 350 plus large EHV transformers that are vulnerable to all threats; and there are little to no replacements on-hand; and, worst of all, they are not made in the US! Each requires significant design configuration, which takes nearly two years to make, and significant transportation support to put in place. Worst case (remember to always plan for worst case), we will not be able to order nor have the capability to deliver them for multiple years.

    It’s difficult to effect change in a person or group through fear alone; and my intent is not to. But weren’t we vividly reminded most recently of our archaic and delicate electric grid as a result of hurricane Sandy in NY and NJ, and before that the Derecho storm that hit the Baltimore-DC-Philadelphia corridor? Fortunately we had fire and EMS service for these desperate times within the regional area to help. Driving to New York City on Friday afternoon just two days before Sandy hit, I passed a convoy of utility trucks (cherry pickers) headed east. They were being repositioned as a result of pre-existing plans for assistance. However, in the event of a simultaneous ‘multi-regional catastrophic’ event, that support can’t will not be available from neighboring regions as they will experience similar problems plus road/traffic congestion, and limited to no communication capability (especially the tenuous 911 system). The real downer here is that most likely there won’t be a power source to work with if they do arrive.

    Also, remember this past spring when the Earth experienced an X5 level solar flare (coronal mass ejection)? While it did some harm (mostly to GPS and communications), many factors precluded it from hitting us ‘head on’; but mainly pure luck. While solar events occur often, with the most sensational one’s occurring in 1859, 1923, 1989 and 2001, a massive solar event occurring now would totally destroy modern electronics and leave us “in the dark” for months, if not years. NASA Goddard Space Center and many national solar experts have predicted increased solar activity between now and 2014, with a significant peak activity during 2013.

    Have you also been told that there are manmade threats existing to the electric power grid, in addition to solar flares and devastating Sandy-type storms? No, probably not. One is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated from a high-altitude nuclear burst which will destroy outdated and vulnerable high voltage transformers (of which power utilities have critically low spares) and the tenuous transmission system. Let me add to these threats the insidious risk of a coordinated cyber and physical attack on our power generation plants and critical infrastructures. That’s right, most likely all these threats are unknown to you as your local, state and federal leaders have not prepared you for the effects of these catastrophic high-impact/low-frequency events. Taken individually, each threat could result in long-term failure of the electric grid. To give you some perspective, a 2001 congressionally mandated EMP commission of eminent scientists (after an eight year study) concluded in 2008 that over 2/3rds of our population would perish within one year of a nation-wide “grid-down” event.

    A recently declassified 2007 National Academies report on power grid vulnerabilities stated that cyberattacks, unlike natural disasters, probably could not cause lengthy blackouts. That was not true then, and it’s certainly not true now. DHS is fully aware that a cyber attack on the power system could affect large regions of the country for weeks or even months. The result would be significant societal unrest (you can use your imagination here) and helplessness. Has DHS alerted you to that fact?

    Your First Responder community is not aware of this also, and assistance will not be guaranteed or will be severely compromised as your National Fire Service and fire academies have not addressed this problem-set, and have not developed or exercised plans to protect you. Nor has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They have not developed plans or exercise scenarios, or provided guidance to firefighters concerning any long-term power outages plans for emergency service or police. While it’s well-known that DHS, FEMA and state emergency management offices have excellent “All Hazard” (so called) plans ‘on the shelf’, and conduct exercises for local and regional disasters, there are no existing plans or exercises for a prolonged blackout lasting months or years (involving multiple regions in the continental United States), which will surely result in a tremendous loss of life over time. The closest plan might be the worst case scenario outlined in the recently published National Preparedness Report (March 30, 2012, page 5), where FEMA encourages each local community (of 5-7 million or so) to be ready to handle as many as 260,000 medical casualties beyond the means of ‘government’ help. DHS should develop plans to facilitate command and control (situational awareness), and encourage localized awareness and empowerment. Areas of concern to you first responders out there are how much of a surge capability do you have in your organization? Will you continue to report for duty while your family survival concerns are heightened?

    For fire protection alone, agencies of the DHS should ensure that fire apparatus manufacturers produce hardened fire engines, ladder trucks, heavy rescue vehicles and ambulances that can withstand an EMP (hopefully, including a robust E1 HEMP). DHS must produce plans for recovery and maintaining situational awareness and encourage local, state and regional preparation of plans to assist recovery efforts, and regularly exercise those plans. DHS should also ensure development of training material/courses for First Responders (fire, police and EMS) on operational procedures during and after the loss of power, develop an EMP attack consequence assessment tool to perform planning analysis and training (in order to set aside and protect critical equipment), ensure essential 911 communications are hardened and redundant (the 911 system was compromised during the recent Derecho event on the east coast), and enhance mutual aid relationships for time of need.

    None of the above is being accomplished right now, as many fire and police chiefs have no idea what to do relative to the catastrophic (if not tragic) effects of having little to no electricity for very prolonged periods of time, over multiple regions of the country simultaneously. Go and ask your local fire chief to explain the effects of an electromagnetic pulse on his/her department or the loss of electricity (no water pressure) for a long time, and see what she or he has to say. You can then waste more time by asking your police chief the same thing.

    Thinking of the military “cavalry coming over the hill” after the blackout? Forget it. Again, plan for the worst case! You won’t be able to count on the military for help because just as you, they too are heavily dependent for support from their surrounding community electric grid which powers all military posts including their crucial defense industrial base. Nor do they train or conduct exercises in an EMP environment or the loss of electric power for sustained periods. Again, they are wired to the same grid you are. Think on one more negative; what will be on the mind of military personnel (here and overseas) after a prolonged period of time of no power? Could it be their families? What will be their ‘level of readiness’ with little to no contact and certain doubt? While the DoD is working this issue aggressively, time is of the essence.

    Another area devoid of planning in a grid down event is the effect on nuclear power plant back-up power (batteries and generators) for coolant controls to keep the core and spent fuel pools (which may store numerous discarded rods from the core) cool and temporarily safe. Interesting note: the August 2003 blackout that affected over 90 million people and portions of northeastern U.S. and Canada also shut down over 500 power generating plants, with 22 of them nuclear power plants! To keep the core rods and spent fuel pool cool, batteries last about 12-48 hours at best. Generators, if they start to begin with (remember Fukushima?) will eventually run out of fuel (~30 days) with resupply highly questionable (don’t forget refineries and the transportation system will be affected also). Once generators run out of fuel, venting of Cesiun-134 from the spent fuel pools will occur first, and in little time a compromised core. Let this fact sink in: a nuclear power plant can only be restarted by a full-up external power source; it cannot ‘Black Start’ itself.

    Need some good news that is an excellent example of a viable Public-Private (industry) partnership to save lives? Recently a plan was proposed to ‘hard wire’ (EMP proof) a military installation located in VERY close proximity to a hydroelectric generating plant. This hydro plant has very attractive attributes: it’s a renewable source of energy that cannot be shut down by lack of a source (H20); it has maintained the Analog system (as opposed to the vulnerable ‘cyber hack-able’ Digital system); and has the distinction of being the only power generating plant remaining operational during the 2003 Northeast blackout. And best of all, it can re-start itself (if needed), and can facilitate a black start a downed nuclear power plant! No negatives were noted during the initial study. So what has been done with this basic proposal? Absolutely nothing. But if/when completed, it could be a great cookie-cutter model for other hydroelectric plants in our nation, and could provide the military and surrounding community an extended runway, the capability to receive/store repositioned aircraft, a civilian and military command center, a viable support system for military and civilian emergency services, and a capability to receive, stage and prepare for onward movement of life-sustaining goods, and more (bound only by one’s imagination). And the cost? Let’s say considerably less than the recent ‘Cash-4 Clunkers’ debacle. This project was stalled during the election cycle, buy maybe we can get it going now. Oh yes, one reminder; it can facilitate a re-start of a downed nuclear power plant!

    Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently warned of an impending Cyber Pearl Harbor attack that could result in an electric breakdown with cascading failure of critical infrastructure (power generating plants) across the nation. But here’s more good news. DoD is leaning forward in the foxhole for your survival as plans are developing for “islands of power”, micro-grids if you will, to provide sustained power to a number of military installations (and possibly defense industrial base facilities) consisting of solar, wind, and other varied sources of power to provide at least 20% of essential need. Also, a new bipartisan House Resolution 762 encourages local communities to begin the process of doing the same thing in every local community, namely making 20% of what is needed locally such as power and food, so they can withstand a grid collapse. Support this effort by contacting your federal legislative leaders to support H.R. 762.

    It is a basic tenet of sound military planning that a commander’s staff must plan for the worst case situation, and the same should be true for disaster planning. This is where your government is failing you. In addition to H.R. 762, right now Congress is literally sitting on additional legislation that will help protect the grid, and save many lives. The SHIELD Act (H.R. 668) has been held in a congressional committee almost 2 years and will expire on December 31st, 2012. Even though they are quite concerned about the fiscal cliff, please contact your congressional and senate representatives to bring it to a vote. Additionally (just for the fun of it), contact your local, county, and state representatives and ask them what they are doing to make your community more resilient in the case of an EMP or electric grid blackout. Trust me; they won’t be able to answer you.

    It is unfathomable that you have not been told of these threats by your leaders; especially the one agency entrusted to keep you informed and secure. That’s right, the DHS. The threat from either a natural or man-made EMP is very real, and inevitable, as stated by two Congressional EMP Commission reports, as well as studies performed by the National Academy of Science on grid vulnerabilities, the Northern Electric Reliability Corporation, the NASA Goddard Space Center, the recently declassified (finally by DHS) National Research Council study entitled “Terrorism and the Electric Power Deliver System”, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and many more.

    Unfortunately (here I am again with the bad news), the time needed to “fix” the grid even if the SHIELD Act bill passes soon will be years, so it is prudent now for you to prepare for a prolonged blackout by storing essential supplies for your own and your family’s survival. Do not continue to think in the false terms of the 72 hour mantra as DHS states! Try to prepare and stock provisions within your financial means to do so, for as long a term as you are financially able to — preferably a year or more.

    The bottom-line is that your leaders at all levels, and the electric industry, have been negligent in not making recovery a priority, or even developing scenarios and exercises to deal with a complex catastrophic event involving a long duration power blackout over several regions of our country at the same time. For our own survival, and for the survival of our children and our nation, we and our government-must act now. By reading this, you have taken a step forward that many others may be willing to take also. If you remember nothing else from this message, remember that in the end you are inevitably on your own.

    I encourage you to contact your federal legislator to support House Resolution 762 and the Shield Act HR 668, but the odds are sure that these bills will expire on December 31st and will need to be re-introduced (under new HR #’s) in the new congress. Even more essential, go to the EMPact America website at: empactamerica.org. Consider joining (no cost) this dedicated non-profit, non-partisan group (which will not take any contributions), which exists only to prepare individuals and communities to survive and work together. Yes, there are fellow citizens out to help you; and no, it’s not the DHS. Lend your expertise to help others; — prepare your family and community. Most importantly, talk to your leaders and demand that they do their job. Remember the power of one; you!

    Ken Chrosniak a retired Army officer living in Carlisle, PA. He is a member of EMPact America, a firefighter with Carlisle Fire Rescue, and also the FBI sponsored InfraGard. Ken is an instructor at the Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership Development.
    *The opinions noted within this article are those of the author, and cannot be attributed to any government or non-government entity to which the author has been associated.

  2. Lux
    January 1st, 2013 at 22:11 | #2

    Thanks for making the EMP threat an issue again. It needs to be common knowledge. People need to know how bad it could be.


    I was recently reading about the Starfish Prime testing back in the 1960’s (1962?). The device used was a 1.4 megaton device if I am not mistaken. It caused damage to electrical systems in Hawaii which was about 1000 miles away. Come to find out, Uranium type fission only devices are way more efficient at producing EMP pulses than the larger fusion devices. One 10 kiloton pure Fission devices can produce an EMP that is 40 percent of the 1.44 megaton Starfish Prime device. It would appear that two or three 10 kiloton devices would be equivalent to one B-83 (1.2 megaton device which is a part of the U.S. active arsenal) . Here is the source:


    This should be interesting reading in regard to the size, type and number of devices needed to produce an effective EMP attack (in particular, the section on weapon yield).
    So the point is 1960’s high technology is not need for an EMP attack. 1940’s high technology will work just fine.


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