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Experts on a panel assembled by Florida-based The United West have warned that the aftermath of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack would be devastating on the United States, with up to 90 percent of the population dead or dying.
According to Fritz Ermarth, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, “A significant EMP event would bring about the prompt and early delayed death of millions of people.”
In what has been called an “Electronic Armageddon,” an EMP strike delivered from a single bomb would result in the United States losing two-thirds to 90 percent of its population within six months of the event.
Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, Ph.D., R-Md., has been deeply concerned about the effects of an EMP of the nation’s critical infrastructure. In a report written by the Congressional EMP Commission which Mr. Bartlett established, a one megaton nuclear device detonated about 500 kilometers in the atmosphere would lay down an EMP blanket over the entire contiguous United States. Cities in the periphery of the blast radius, San Diego and Maine, would experience approximately 10-kilovolts per meter of electrical field strength.
That amount of energy would be enough to cause substantial damage to unprotected electronics in both civilian and military equipment.
(Strategic military assets are well protected from EMP, but as one moves down to the tactical and support assets, EMP protection is much less.)
One major form of damage would be to the electrical power grid. An EMP would strike the electrical transformers that are part of the electrical distribution system, rendering them inoperable. There are more than 2,000 large transformers throughout the United States, a sizable proportion of which would fall victim to the blast.
The national power grid is a very complex and interwoven system and a failure in any part of the grid would have a cascading effect on the rest of the structure.
The Northeast Blackout of August 2003 was a sign of the grid’s vulnerability. High summer temperatures stretched high-voltage lines until they sagged onto overgrown tree branches, and the result zap caused a two-day blackout. The tree limbs, in effect, shut down over 100 power plants, deprived more than 55 million people of power and cost the national economy $6 billion, according to the 2004 U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force.
Fortunately, the 48-hour blackout did not cause many deaths. There were some heat-related deaths and a few people died in carbon monoxide poisonings as a result of running generators in their homes or from fires started from candles.
But the effects did not end there. Television and radio stations went off the air, traffic lights and train switching stations went off-line, causing a transportation gridlock that turned highways into parking lots. Water treatment plants went offline as their water tanks emptied and their water lines lost pressure, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without potable water.
An EMP-generated power outage would be much worse. Much, much worse.
The EMP Commission gave a startling scenario. In addition to loss of transportation and water supplies, communication would be largely impossible. Our communication system has grown exponentially with the advent of the integrated circuit.
But the integrated circuit of today is nearly 10,000 times more complex than it was 25 years ago and the vulnerability of communication equipment has increased correspondingly.
According to testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee by Dr. Lowell Wood of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “there is reason to believe that the semiconductor-based portions of our communication system, which is to say essentially all of it, would be extremely EMP vulnerable. Measurements done on individual systems certainly support that projection.”
Telephones would not work. Most emergency home radios would no longer function, since they are also vulnerable to an EMP.
Aircraft, particularly civilian aircraft would also be vulnerable to an EMP. While analysts and military experts do not believe they would fall out of the sky, “the avionics [would] be considerably disrupted, severely disrupted; and that would obviously influence the ability to land and – depending on what they had for navigation capability and so on, it would be very, very disruptive,” according to Air Force General Robert T. Marsh, former chairman of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection.
“Many that were aloft in a daytime attack could probably be landed with a great deal of determination and good fortune on the part of the crews.”
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, a former member of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States and president of EMPACT America, Inc., noted that only three days of food are available in stores and 60 days in warehouses.
After an initial run on stores for anything one could buy, the effective food supply would be exhausted. What food was left, in warehouses and on the farms, would be left to rot. What wasn’t ruined by a lack of refrigeration would be left to spoil since there would also be a lack of transportation as those delivery vehicles that may still work would simply run out of gas (which is pumped by electricity).
Even purchasing food would assume stores would find some way to operate without electricity.
After an initial binge to eat the thawing food, people will start to get hungry.
The inability to sanitize and distribute water would quickly threaten public health. Any fire started either by negligence or malicious intent would rage unchecked since there would be no firefighting equipment that would run for very long.
This type of scenario is not fanciful, it is fact. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina offered this scenario in microcosm. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster suffered by the United States, as well as one of the five deadliest.
Almost 2,000 people died in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods. The total property damage was estimated at $81 billion. Hurricane Katrina has been used as a model by the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies on what to do … and what not to do, in a crisis.
The aftermath of an EMP attack would be worse. In the case of past natural disasters, there were agencies and infrastructures outside of the disaster area that were unaffected and could render assistance. Even with outside assistance, it was days before such basics as water was delivered to the affected areas.
In nightmare EMP scenario, the entire nation would be a disaster area. Systems could be down for weeks, months, or even years.
Ermarth is quick to point out that an EMP would not throw America back to the 17th century; it would throw the nation back to the Stone Age. There would be a 21st century population living in a primitive environment without Stone Age skills.
In the 19th century, 75 percent of the nation’s population farmed. They were one generation removed from being pioneers. Now the nation is fed by only 2 percent of population. Most of the 98 percent do not have the survival skills to live past a few months.
Survivalists would last for a while, but then would have to contend with people streaming out of cities looking for food.
Dr. William Forstchen is a professor of history at Montreat College and the author of a best-selling book on the possible aftermath of an EMP event. The book, titled “One Second After” explains what might happen in a typical American town in the wake of an attack. Forstchen has said he got his inspiration for his book from Newt Gingrich. (Gingrich, Forstchen noted, was the only presidential candidate talking about the dangers from an EMP.)
Speaking on the August 3 webcast hosted by United West, Forstchen said that “you cannot recover from an EMP.”
In that same webcast, Pry noted, an EMP event is the most serious threat facing the United States, but almost no one knows about it.
The United States has already had two warnings in the last two month: the power outages in Washington, D.C. and India.
The experts believe the only real defense is to harden what systems now exist.