EMP Effects

manhattan interior 300x200A high altitude nuclear explosion over the United States or a solar storm of sufficient strength have the potential to take down the U.S. power grid, cause extreme damage to any device which is electronically powered, and create a crisis for which we are unprepared. The effects of a long term electrical blackout over a wide swath of area would impact telecommunications, banking and finance, fuel and energy infrastructures, transportation, food infrastructure, water supply, government functions, and emergency services. This is an existential threat with an expert in 2004 estimating that over 90 percent of Americans would die within 12 to 18 months of an EMP attack.

How can this be? The pervasive uses of electronics in all areas of our lives are the greatest vulnerability to attack by EMP or extreme solar flare.  Electronics compute, control, implement, manage and store almost every aspect of the systems which make our current lives possible. It is estimated that 70% of the total electrical power distribution system could be within a region affected by an EMP

The three components of an EMP are discussed in  EMPS Explained. The E1 component or pulse would be brief and intense.  It would travel at just under the speed of light and be capable of destroying sensitive electronics such as computers and telecommunications due to its ability to exceed voltage limitations. It is the "electromagnetic shock" that can disrupt anything which is electronic-based.  Damage will occur simultaneously over a very large area.  The E2 component lasts a bit longer, from a microsecond to a second, and would have effects similar to lightning.  The E2 component will follow a very small fraction of a second after the E1 component and due to the E1 component effects may impair or destroy any protective features which are in place.   The E3 component (which would exist with both the nuclear EMP as well as a solar storm of sufficient strength) is much slower and of longer duration.  It can result in severe damage to electricity transmission lines and transformers as well as power plants.

When a severe storm such as a hurricane or tornado impacts an area of the U.S. we are fortunate to have massive resources to respond to provide aid to the area and to restore basic services, particularly electrical power.  It is always comforting to see the legions of bucket trucks from the various power companies on the interstate as they move into an impacted area.  In the event of an EMP, it would be over such a broad area that they would not be able to respond.  And, anything electronic which powers the vehicles may be damaged so as to make them unusable.  Also, food for the crews, gas for their vehicles, communications, clear roads, and authorities to coordinate - all would be potentially unable to respond.

The time to recover from such an event would depend on the degree of damage caused by the event and the geographic area which was covered.  Unfortunately, as recently reported, some critical power transmission components are not longer manufactured in the United States and their lead time to replace may be as much as a year. This could leave significant parts of the country without basic power for months or even over a year. Even with backup systems in place, there is a time when they are exhausted.

Electrical power is necessary to support our daily lives including heat, lighting, food, fuel, communications, transportation, finance, government services, and emergency services.  Should we lose a significant part of our electrical power infrastructure for any length of time the results will be catastrophic.