In a matter of seconds, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack or a geomagnetic storm would set America back to the 14th century, Gale Nordling, president of a company that protects against such a catastrophe, tells Newsmax.
An EMP attack occurs when a nuclear bomb explodes in the atmosphere. The electromagnetic pulse generated by the blast fries all electronics in line of sight. EMP was first detected after the detonation of the Starfish Prime nuclear test on July 9, 1962. While the explosion occurred near Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean and was not designed to be an EMP blast, it blew out street lamps, television sets, and telephone communications in Hawaii nearly 1,000 miles away.
A single nuclear bomb exploded over the Midwest would generate an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy the chips that are at the heart of every electronic device. While military and intelligence networks may be shielded against EMP, the rest of the country’s technological infrastructure is not.
Geomagnetic storms emanating from the sun could cause a similar catastrophe. Such a storm occurred in 1859, but because a system for distributing electric power had not yet been invented, it did not do any appreciable damage. On March 13, 1989, a minor geomagnetic storm left six million people without power in eastern Canada and the U.S. for 12 hours.
“If a nuclear device designed to emit EMP were exploded 250 to 300 miles up over the middle of the country, it would disable the electronics in the entire United States,” says Nordling, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Emprimus. “That would disable the entire electric grid. It would disable communications, it would disable fuel manufacturing and production, it would disable hospitals and medicines, it would disable 911 call centers.”
Everything else would be shut down, Nordling says.
“Water treatment facilities, food storage facilities, everything would be gone,” Nordling says. “Financial records would be wiped out. Your investments would be gone. Your medical records and prescriptions would be zapped.”
Forget about your computer and the Internet, heating and air conditioning, supermarkets, telephones, and radio and television. Banks and ATMs would shut down, credit cards would become useless, and hospital operating rooms would close.
While vehicles made before 1970 might still work, they would be useless. That’s because gasoline could not be obtained, and newer cars and trucks, disabled by the pulse, would block the roads and highways. In most cases, the damage to chips would be permanent. Because tow trucks would not operate, cars would never be cleared from roads.
The vast majority of Americans would die from starvation or disease or would freeze to death, according to William Graham, who was chairman of the bipartisan congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. Yet at a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on July 21, Graham testified that the government has done virtually nothing to address the effects of such an attack on the civil sector.
“People say it would bring us back to the 1800s, but it’s worse than that because in the 1800s there was a much larger sector that did farming and produced food, and there weren’t so many people living in inner core cities,” Nordling says. “All that has changed.”
Nordling cites a prediction by William R. Forstchen, author of “One Second After,” that an EMP strike would take the U.S. back to the 14th century. That is because when Thomas A. Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, the country had established police and fire departments, hospitals, and food and water distribution systems. Since an EMP strike would render those entities inoperative, the country would be in chaos, and disease, starvation, and lawlessness would prevail. The book is a fictional account of a town struggling to survive after an EMP weapon is used against the United States.
“Unfortunately the social order would break down so quickly, because you put people in an impossible position,” Nordling says. “Do they try to feed their family and do so even with violence and everything else? Or what do they do? Or does the family starve?”
Some people who are concerned about EMP stock supplies of food and water to last for months or even years.
Nordling, a lawyer and electrical engineer, became interested in EMP two years ago after learning that while military facilities are protected against EMP, the civil sector is not.
“It seemed like this was a very, very serious threat to everything in America, because everything is run by computers and computerized control systems, and there is absolutely no protection being designed into any of these systems,” Nordling says.
With 25 employees and associates, Emprimus claims to be the only company that designs and tests shielding against EMP for the private sector. That includes protection against devices that use high-power microwaves (HPM) to target particular facilities.
While a few financial institutions are engaging Emprimus to shield their backup data centers, the vast majority of banks and stock brokerage firms have no such protection of either backup centers or computers used by employees. Because of competitive pressures, Nordling says companies don’t want to invest extra sums in EMP protection and are as unprepared as the U.S. was before the 9/11 terrorist attack.
While the effects of EMP are catastrophic, Nordling says protection against it is relatively simple and reasonable in cost. As one example, data centers can be protected by encasing them in light weight copper mesh that is grounded. The outlay could be as low as one percent to 10 percent of the cost of a facility, especially if shielding is included when a structure is built.
Asked why companies like Merrill Lynch or Citibank don’t cite EMP protection as a selling point, Nordling says, “Perhaps for some businesses that would be a good idea. But I think at this point, companies are so concerned about this for security and other reasons they don’t even want to talk about what they’ve done with their data centers or where they are.”
Russia or China have the capability to explode an EMP device over the U.S., and countries like Iran or North Korea are believed to be working on acquiring one. Those countries also could launch a more limited EMP or HPM attack against selected targets like power plants, oil refineries, or Wall Street. Terrorists could appropriate such weapons from rogue states.
In the event of an EMP attack, the electrical power grid would be destroyed because its computers would be inoperative and transformers critical to it would take years to replace. Only a few countries build the transformers, and they take more than a year to make.
Aside from an EMP attack, “If a large geomagnetic storm occurred, you could have from 30 to 70 percent of these transformers being fried,” Nordling says. “So in essence, our power grid could be out for years just because of a natural event, versus a nuclear EMP event.”
In contrast to the U.S., “Over 300 companies in Europe have in fact protected themselves against EMP. They’re way ahead,” Nordling says. “Ten to 12 countries have now done work on different parts of their infrastructure to protect it.”
Unlike protection against a nuclear blast, shielding to protect against EMP is a relative bargain. For example, the 300 transformers that are critical to the power grid could be protected for $200 million to $400 million.
As noted in the Newsmax story EMP Attack Could Wipe Out U.S., neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to spend that small sum. In fact, the U.S. government is doing “nothing” to protect the power grid or the rest of the infrastructure from an EMP strike, confirms Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, a former staff member of the EMP commission who heads EMPACT America, which seeks to call attention to the largely unrecognized threat. But given the reasonable cost, Nordling says, companies could be held liable for not protecting against EMP and solar storms.
“As the word spreads about the danger of an EMP attack and how devastating it would be, I think that puts utilities and banks and other organizations that have customers at risk of lawsuits,” Nordling says.
On the other hand, Nordling says, “If we have an EMP attack, we would not have functioning courts where lawsuits could be filed.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.