Recently I have been hearing more and more in the news how the senate and house have been having hearings on EMP threats to this nation. As I began to hear more of this, I inevitable came to the question of “Why now?” I mean, this has always been a threat as far as I am concerned. Of course now its even more pressing an issue as we are so “interconnected” today with the internet and communications infrastructure in general… But, just what was it that was making them get all hot for this now I wondered. Had they heard something from some intelligence body and were all freaked out?
I had thought on this a while and really had kinda just forgotten about it until this last Friday when I was headed home from work and listening to NPR’s Science Friday show. As if on qeue, I turned on the radio and there was Congressman Roscoe Bartlett railing on the dangers that we face should a terrorist or a nation state decide to use an EMP/HEMP device on the US’ infrastructure.
I sat in the car at the end of my trip still listening to the end of his interview, when it was over I knew I had to really take a deeper look into why these people had suddenly had a fire lit under their collective do nothing asses. Come to find out that perhaps that fire was lit 9.12.01 and has been steadily becoming a blaze as the eggheads began to show the congress-critters just how fucked we would be if someone used an HEMP on us.. Only now, something had changed in their collectively lazy minds.. We had been attacked on our own soil and SHIT WE’RE FREAKED OUT!
So, today I sat down and Googled the dhs.gov, .gov, .mil, and other domain spaces with key words of EMP/HEMP/HERF etc. What I found is a plethora of documents that began to spring up around 2003/2004 concerning the threatcon of a terrorist or nation state EMP attack… Funny thing too.. Gee, 2003, that was the year of the great blackout of the northeast.
Ya know.. the one that “trees” allegedly caused? Yeah…
The primary document that I came up with that was the most recent is: The Report of the Commission to Assess theThreat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack which, in 208 pages covers all of the problems this nation (and I assume other places) has regarding our infrastructure where an attack of this type is concerned. Suffice to say, that this document has some rather dire things to say. Including the following passage on the magnatude of weapon that could cause a major failure of our infrastructure;
The magnitude of an EMP event varies with the type, design and yield of the weapon,
as well as its placement. The Commission has concluded that even a relatively modest-to small yield weapon of particular characteristics, using design and fabrication informationalready disseminated through licit and illicit means, can produce a potentially devastating E1 field strength over very large geographical regions. This followed by E2 impacts, and in some cases serious E3 impacts operating on electrical components left relatively unprotected by E1, can be extremely damaging. (E3 requires a greater yield to produce major effects.) Indeed, the Commission determined that such weapon devices not only
could be readily built and delivered, but also the specifics of these devices have been
illicitly trafficked for the past quarter-century. The field strengths of such weapons may
be much higher than those used by the Commission for testing threshold failure levels of
electrical system components and subsystems.
Laymans terms, even a small device placed in the right place or even an HEMP (High Altitude) of moderate size, would likely bring this nations infrastructure to a grinding halt and it would stay down for some time. You see, our infrastructure is very much dependent on itself to feed itself. If the power goes out, then there is no power after the reserves run out to keep the other systems running. In fact, even the power generation, and its getting to you requires the very power that is generated to get it TO you and regulate it so that things don’t implode in on themselves! In essence, the grid goes down, then everything goes too soon afterward. No cell phones, no emergency services because you cant call them because the phones and cell phones don’t work.. because there’s no power… You see where I am going. The system, and by system, I mean the utilities infrastructure, is not only antiquated in many ways and stretched, but also, that which is not antiquated, is EXCEEDINGLY susceptible to this and other E1-E3 attacks. How do we know? Because the commission actually set up tests as best they could, and they could crash systems with low end EMP devices, thats how.
Yet, the commission also admits the following thing in this passage;
Additionally, analyses available from foreign sources suggest that amplitudes and frequency
content of EMP fields from bomb blasts calculated by U.S. analysts may be too
low. While this matter is a highly technical issue that awaits further investigation by U.S.
scientific experts, it raises the specter of increased uncertainty about the adequacy ofcurrent U.S. EMP mitigation approaches.
Even our testing and our data is suspect and we may even be in a worse state of affairs than we think from bad data!
So lets break it down shall we? What’s vulnerable and just how much?
The Power Grid:
Fear not only the terrorist though my friends.. Did you know that nature too has actually D0S’d our power grid in the past? Yep, its true.. From lightning to the more fearsome EMP bursts from the sun. We live in a world where our very society hinges on the power being available to keep our lights on, our food cold, and our MTV on the tube and it could all be taken out by an EMP burst from the sun. Now that’s one hell of an EMP.
A key issue for the Commission in assessing the impact of such a disruption to the
Nation’s electrical system was not only the unprecedented widespread nature of the outage
(e.g., the cascading effects from even one or two relatively small weapons exploded
in optimum location in space at present would almost certainly shut down an entire interconnected
electrical power system, perhaps affecting as much as 70 percent or possibly
more of the United States, all in an instant) but more significantly widespread damage
may well adversely impact the time to recover and thus have a potentially catastrophic
High-value assets (assets that are critical to the production and delivery of large volumes
of electrical power and those critical for service to key loads) in the system are vulnerable
to EMP through the loss of protection equipment due to E1 and even if E3 levels
were not large enough to cause damage. The largest and most critical of these are
transformers. Transformers are the critical link (1) between generation and transmission,
(2) within the transmission network, (3) between the transmission and distribution
systems, and (4) from the distribution to the load.
Wait though, it gets better… Did I mention that much of the equipment, like transformers, actually is not something we can get “COTS” ? Did you know that it would take a year or more in some instances to get a new one? Now imagine that more than one.. More than three… Have been taken out permanently by an E1-E3 event?
The transformers that handle electrical power within the transmission system and its
interfaces with the generation and distribution systems are large, expensive, and to a considerable
extent, custom built. The transmission system is far less standardized than the
power plants are, which themselves are somewhat unique from one to another. All production
for these large transformers used in the United States is currently offshore.
Delivery time for these items under benign circumstances is typically one to two years.
There are about 2,000 such transformers rated at or above 345 kV in the United States
with about 1 percent per year being replaced due to failure or by the addition of new
ones. Worldwide production capacity is less than 100 units per year and serves a world
market, one that is growing at a rapid rate in such countries as China and India. Delivery
of a new large transformer ordered today is nearly 3 years, including both manufacturing
and transportation. An event damaging several of these transformers at once means it
may extend the delivery times to well beyond current time frames as production is taxed.
The resulting impact on timing for restoration can be devastating. Lack of high voltage
equipment manufacturing capacity represents a glaring weakness in our survival and
recovery to the extent these transformers are vulnerable
There you have it. The grid, the very SAME grid that the government now wants to make more “computerized” is insanely vulnerable to this type of attack. Come to find out too, that its actually pretty much vulnerable to many other types of attacks or accidents too. It’s just that an EMP would be large scale and or, would have a feedback loop associated with it that would systemically kill great swaths of the grid. Much like what we saw in 2003, August when the *cough* trees, caused the northeast to go down.
Oh, and by the way, think on this too. A cyber attack on these same systems, if carried out properly, could have the same effect. If you kill or futz with the SCADA you can kill the system and have that same feedback loop occur. So, if you are thinking well, whew! I really don’t foresee a nuke detonation at altitude you might want to consider our current security posture too and feel your sphincter tighten a bit. All it would take is a concerted effort and something along the lines of a BOTnet and BOOM, we could have deep power outages that could take protracted times to repair.
So where does that leave us? If the power is out, then nothing can really run unless you have backup power. However, backup power requires that you get more fuel, unless you have a Mr. Fusion handy, then you could just dump your compost into it. Nope, you will need a truck to bring you oil or diesel.. Of course you will need to call them.. But your cell phone is fried, and so are the towers, and the towers that may have escaped the full blast? They are overloaded just like the day of 9/11. You are not getting through.
So lets break it down by service.
- Cell phones and towers are highly susceptible
- Landlines are not so much, but the switching stations that are more modern and thus will be inoperable
- Just one word SCADA Its been tested and is highly vulnerable to EMP even to the point of having problems with radar causing systems to fail
- Gas and oil production would be at a standstill or worse, the plants could actually catch fire from pressure etc
- Switching systems on rail have gone to the computer and as we have seen recently, can get hosed up and cause large scale accidents
- The systems are basically SCADA/DC systems that are vulnerable to this type of attack
- Most of these systems reside in small metal boxes near the rail.. Open to attack
- GPS and other NAV systems on ships/trucks etc today are all micro circuit based and have proven to be vulnerable to attack by E1-E3 events
- Most cars and trucks now have microchip systems within them that regulate the operation of the car. No chip, no run.. so the car becomes a large paperweight
- Motorcycles not so much, unless you have a goldwing or something along those lines
- Air travel will be down. Not only the planes systems will be fried but also the towers will be without power and their computer aided radar will be offline
- The financial system is a bit more resiliant to the power loss potential of an attack. However, their computer systems are still not shielded for an EMP event and thus, even redundant systems would be fried.. and without power after the generators ran out of diesel
What does this tell you all? It tells you that even though we have known about this type of attack since, oh, 1962, we have done nothing to really shield any of our systems that we have put in place. No Faraday cages, no shielding on the circuits, nada. It would have been too costly and no one could concieve of such an attack on us!
I vote more on the saving money thing and being generally lazy, but, I am jaded.
So where do we go from here?
The commission has made recommendations and even put in the monetary figures that would be necessary to take care of the issues. Will they happen? Will they happen especially since we are going to have a “smart grid” now that is going to likely be just as, if not MORE vulnerable to attacks both EMP and cyber?
My answer.. nope.
Why? Because inevitably people will say that the congress-critters are over reacting and that this attack is not likely to happen. If the Qaeda boys get their hands on a nuke, they aren’t going to get this kind of nuke! No! They are going to get a suitcase nuke and blow the fuck out of some poor city like Boston!
Whats that? The Russian navy just had TWO subs that avoided our SOSUS nets off the East Coast last week? Meh, Pooty Poot said not to worry! They were just here to listen to our “rock and roll” before heading down to Cuba for a good time! It’s not like they could carry a small yield ICBM style nuke that would make a damn fine HEMP! C’mon!! Don’t be crazy!
Never mind the idea that the Chinese have their hands on technology for E1-E3 devices that need not be high altitude. Did you know for instance that those BIG ASS transformers that take a YEAR to get are pretty much made only by them? Yeah, uh, the Chinese make our transformers that are the linchpin to our grid.. Ya know, the ones that are really really vulnerable?
Lets postulate here a bit too.. We’ve been worried about the Chinese market in fake chip sets getting into our military hardware.. Gee, how about them being in our big ass transformers? Hell of an exploit were they to hide chips or features in those transformers..
Click.. ZZZZZ POP! There goes the grid, and there goes our dominance in the world. Sure, you can say the Chinese would be only shooting themselves in the head being our biggest lender and trading partner… But, if you were them and you really didn’t care because you would WIN the war simply, wouldn’t you do the same thing?
So back to where do we go from here… For me I think its going to be looking into a faraday cage for the basement.. More power generation tools like solar etc for the house, and stocking up on non perishables. That’s about all one can do really. You see, your government is too big and too ossified to really effectively remedy the situation. While they argue with each other over who’s sleeping with who’s wife and what it means to be a “Real American” the enemies are collecting the armaments necessary to take us down.. At least for a while.
All YOU can do is prepare and take care of yourself and yours.
Lets hope this doesn’t happen.. But if it does.. Be ready.
For more reading go HERE
Listen to Roscoe Bartlett HERE: