World Affairs Brief, October 7, 2011

Commentary and Insights on a Troubled World.

Source: Joel Skousen’s World Affairs Brief

Ken Timmerman wonders why, with all the current knowledge about the potential of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) taking down the grid, the government isn’t actively pursuing a protection scheme. The military is preparing, and Russia is hardening, so why nothing for the public? The equipment is available right off the shelf. Why no action?

[Timmerman Article] “For most of this week, the Department of Energy and the states of Maryland and Florida will be holding emergency response exercises to determine their readiness in the event of a major failure of the national electric power grid. The scenarios to be tested vary from a low-level event that would take out a handful of the transformers that control the grid that conceivably could be repaired within a matter of days, to a ‘worst case’ scenario to simulate a total take-down of the grid, an event many experts believe could take four to six years to recover from.”

Actually this is not completely true. None of the utilities or state governments are even considering a scenario where the grid could be down for longer than a few weeks. Indeed no scenario short of nuclear war would stop the utilities from fixing broken equipment in a relatively short period of time.

“William Forschen, in his novel ‘The Minute After,’ helps us to imagine what America would be like after a major EMP event. Survivalists have even invented a new acronym to describe it: TEOTWAWKI – The End of the World As We Know It. No cell phones, no personal or business computers. No gas stations, no natural gas or water service. Cold storage, down; food processing plants, off-line. No trucking, no railroads, no airplanes, no ATMs, no inter-bank transfers. Americans would revert to eating whatever food they could hunt, fish or forage within walking distance of their homes. City-dwellers would flee en masse, or face starvation.”

A lot of hype has been pointed toward solar flares as capable of causing this, but this is not really that serious a threat. A solar flare’s potential damage is in large part thwarted by the magnetic lines of forces around the earth which directs most of the charge particles toward the north. The northern lights phenomenon is caused by these same particles and is only seen at the poles for this reason. Hence, the only areas at high risk are northern cities, mostly in Canada and Alaska and this would not threaten the entire grid.

Even a nuclear EMP strike is not an end of the world incident as projected by many. Timmerman cites a story that is typically exaggerated. “The US military discovered the EMP effect in 1962 during the Starfish Prime nuclear explosion in the atmosphere over the Pacific. Within instants, the lights went out 900 miles away in Hawaii, without any visible signs of an attack… it had the effect of frying everything made of silicon hundreds – and possibly thousands – of miles away from the place of the blast.”

This is not true. In reality it affected a few dozen transformers and some street lights. The grid didn’t go down. The latest data shows that the scenario of one “Super EMP Weapon” isn’t capable of taking down the entire US grid. It would take at least six such weapons evenly spaced over the US to do a complete job. Both US and its enemies know this and are planning for multiple simultaneous strikes. Forget Iran. Only Russia and China have this potential.

Major transmission lines running across the country serve as giant antennas and will pick up this high energy pulse. It will fry all the grid connections, and the US will go dark. But not all electronic equipment will be damaged. Even the predicted damage to all computers in cars will not necessarily happen to everyone. The newest models indicate that only cars in a 100-200 miles circle directly under the blasts are at risk, but even then only a minority of vehicles will actually be fatally damaged. Many cars will simply quit, but can be restarted when the key is turned off and back on.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be prepared. In fact, the social unrest will be just as bad as projected if the power is gone for even a month nationwide. Not everything electronic will be rendered permanently useless afterward. Some will, some won’t. Rural places not underneath EMP weapon blasts will survive much better than major metro areas, not only because of less EMP but because of less social unrest in the aftermath.

But Timmerman’s worry about the Utility’s lack of preparedness is valid: “We are woefully unprepared, even though solutions are cheap and near at hand. This is why Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and several colleagues have proposed legislation known as the SHIELD Act (H.R. 668) that would promulgate standards necessary to protect the grid and require the utilities to install hardware solutions to protect the main components of the grid.” It would take less than $600 million to secure the entire grid.

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Copyright Joel Skousen.


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