A report from the federal Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack has painted a bleak picture for America under such attack: Electricity grids down, uncontrolled fires from exploding gas transport systems, no communication to summon firefighters and if they could come, no water to battle fires. All in city after city after city.
The 200-page report says Americans should look to past incidents, then multiply those impacts by the number of cities that could be hit by such an attack. For example:
San Diego County Water Authority and San Diego County Gas and Electric companies experienced severe electromagnetic interference. … Both companies found themselves unable to actuate critical valve openings and closings. This inability necessitated sending technicians to remote locations to manually open and close water and gas valves, averting, in the words of a subsequent letter of complaint by the San Diego County Water Authority to the Federal Communications Commission, a potential ‘catastrophic failure’ of the aqueduct system.
The report explained the potential impact could have included an “aqueduct rupture” with disruption of service, severe flooding and related damage to private and public property. The source of the 1999 problem? Errant radar on a ship 25 miles off the coast of San Diego, the report said.
The report, published on the commission website, cited other scenarios that should be expected to develop subsequent to an EMP attack on the U.S.
On Aug. 19, 2000, an explosion occurred on one of three adjacent large natural gas pipelines near Carlsbad, N.M., … Twelve people, including five children, died. The explosion left an 86-foot-long crater. … The explosion happened because of failures in maintenance and loss of situational awareness, conditions that would be replicated by data acquisition disruptions caused by an EMP event.
The report also cited a 1994 refinery disaster in the United Kingdom in which lightning strikes resulted in a half-second power loss.
“Consequently, numerous pumps and overhead fin-fan coolers tripped repeatedly, resulting in the main crude column pressure safety valves lifting and major upsets in the process units in other refinery units … There was an explosion in the FCC unit and a number of isolated fires. … As a result of this incident, an estimated 10 percent of the total refining capacity in the United Kingdom was lost until this complex was returned to service.”
WND has reported several times on the threat of EMP attacks, including just two weeks ago when William R. Graham, chairman of the commission, told the House Armed Services Committee an EMP attack is “one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”
Not taking the steps necessary to reduce the threat in the next three to five years “can both invite and reward attack,” Graham told the committee.
The scariest and most threatening kind of EMP attack is initiated by the detonation of a nuclear weapon at high altitude in the range of 25 to 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. The immediate effects of EMP are disruption of, and damage to, electronic systems and electrical infrastructure. Such a detonation over the middle of the continental U.S. “has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures that support the fabric of U.S. society and the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power,” said Graham.
“Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability,” said Graham. “A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. For example, an adversary would not have to have long-range ballistic missiles to conduct an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack could be launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast using a short- or medium-range missile to loft a nuclear warhead to high altitude. Terrorists sponsored by a rogue state could attempt to execute such an attack without revealing the identity of the perpetrators. Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States. While the commission does not know the intention of Iran in conducting these activities, we are disturbed by the capability that emerges when we connect the dots.”
The committee’s report analyzes the impact of an attack on electrical supplies, telecommunications, banking and finance, petroleum and natural gas, transportation, food, water, emergency services, space systems and government.
The news was dire throughout. The electrical grid, for example, is needed to distribute water, food, fuel, communications, transport, financial transactions, emergency services and government services.
“Should significant parts of the electrical power infrastructure be lost for any substantial period of time, the commission believes that the consequences are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities,” the report said.
“In fact, the commission is deeply concerned that such impacts are likely in the event of an EMP attack unless practical steps are taken to provide protection for critical elements of the electric system and for rapid restoration of electric power, particular to essential services,” the report said.
Current disaster preparedness and recovery plans “may be of little or no value” under an EMP attack because of the length of time it would take to obtain and install replacement parts or repair other damage.
The cascade of trouble would be significant. No electricity would mean out-of-control water, natural gas or fuel flows through distribution systems. Some explosions likely would happen, fires could ignite. But no emergency services could be contacted for help, and if they already were on scene, it’s unlikely water would be ready. Even worse, when such fires burn themselves out, and repairs are begun, supplies could neither be ordered nor delivered because of communications and fuel disruptions, and the critical workers needed for repairs might not be able to get to the location.
At some point, repair and recovery simply become impossible, the report said.
“There is a point in time at which the shortage or exhaustion of critical items like emergency power supply, batteries, standby fuel supplies, replacement parts, and manpower resources which can be coordinated and dispatched, together with the degradation of all other infrastructures and their systemic impact, all lead toward a collapse of restoration capability.
“Society will transition into a situation where restoration needs increase with time as resources degrade and disappear,” the report warned.
It is the first report from the commission since 2004 and identifies vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructures, “which are essential to both our civilian and military capabilities.”
Graham also had warned Congress such an attack could come without the backing of an international power, such as China or Russia.
William R. Graham
Theoretically, an EMP attack is devastating because of the unprecedented cascading failures of major infrastructures that could result. Because of America’s heavy reliance on electricity and electronics, the impact would be far worse than on a country less advanced technologically
Graham took the EMP debate out of the realm of science fiction by reminding the committee that as recently as May 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Russian leaders threatened a U.S. congressional delegation with the specter of an attack that would paralyze the U.S.
He also quoted James J. Shinn, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security, who several weeks ago told the same House committee that China’s arms buildup includes exotic experiments with electromagnetic weapons that can devastate electronics with bursts of energy similar to those produced by a nuclear blast.
“The consequence of EMP is that you destroy the communications network,” Shinn said. “And we are, as you know, and as the Chinese know, heavily dependent on sophisticated communications, satellite communications, in the conduct of our forces. And so, whether it’s from an EMP or it’s some kind of a coordinated [anti-satellite] effort, we could be in a very bad place if the Chinese enhanced their capability in this area.”
Graham says terrorists who get their hands on one or a few unsophisticated nuclear weapons might well calculate they could get the most bang for their buck from attempting an EMP attack.
Ultimate recovery from an EMP attack could end up taking years, during which time America very well may have to exist without many high-tech services, from cell phones inoperable due to damaged towers unrepaired because of parts shortages to a disruption in the food supply path because of fuel shortages.
“A serious national commitment to address the threat of an EMP attack can lead to a national posture that would significantly reduce the payoff for such an attack and allow the United States to recover from EMP, and from other threats, man-made and natural, to the critical infrastructures,” Graham told the committee.