I’ve gotten several e-mails recently from readers asking my thoughts about the probability and consequences of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack.

In order to understand how this phenomenon can affect your preparedness efforts, you must first understand what it is, what causes it and its effects.

What is an EMP?

Simply put, an EMP is a very high pulse of electromagnetic radiation. EMPs are often referred to as high-altitude or low-altitude, depending on how far from the Earth’s surface they originate. The massive disruption in the electrical and magnetic fields caused by an EMP can produce overwhelming and damaging surges in electrical voltage and current in electronics both connected and disconnected from our electrical grid.

What causes an EMP?

There are two main sources of a large-scale EMP: nuclear bombs and large geomagnetic solar storms. Both emit the surge of electromagnetic radiation we refer to as an EMP. We have limited experience with both, even with intentional research. The data we do have is very scary.

What are the effects of an EMP?

The United States is unquestionably dependent on electricity. We have eagerly welcomed all of the conveniences that electronics provide. All of our infrastructure systems and even the sub-systems that run those systems depend on a reliable electric power grid and all of the little circuits and components that magically weave it all together.

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Our entire society depends on it – everything! Water, food, fuel, communication, transportation, Internet, medical service, emergency service, public safety, financial transactions, information networks and government services all depend on electricity, and none of them can operate effectively without it, especially long term. It is electricity that allows our 300+ million citizens to survive.

Game changer

An EMP threatens life as we know it. It is one of the few complete and total game-changing events – the ultimate terrorist attack.

The surge of voltage and current caused by an EMP can destroy virtually any kind of “unshielded” electronic equipment, including but not limited to electrical power grid, telecommunication systems, computers, circuits, ignition coils, electronic components and even pacemakers. Large EMP events can effect areas hundreds and even thousands of miles in diameter. Even a smaller regional burst can have devastating national consequences, as the ripples of outages slowly break down our tightly interwoven infrastructure systems.

Recent disasters are only a taste of what to expect if an EMP strikes our country. Hurricane Katrina? She’ll look like a walk in the park. The 1977 New York blackouts and resulting uncontrollable looting and riots which TIME magazine dubbed “The Night of Terror”? We’ll beg for times that peaceful.

As far as potential disasters go, a large scale EMP is as bad as it gets. Most disasters last at most a few days. Clean up and recovery may last several months, but history reports that the disaster itself is typically over within 72 hours. An EMP is different. The pulse itself is just the beginning. Best estimates from professionals and experts who have reported to Congress after years of studying our nation’s vulnerabilities to EMP say that the affected areas can be expected to be without power-dependent services (virtually everything) for many months and potentially years.

In fact, a committee of expert scientists was commissioned by congress right after the 9/11 terror attacks to investigate the threat of EMP in America. In this report to the Committee on Armed Services for the House of Representatives in July 2004, it was suggested that a large-scale EMP could feasibly shrink the current population to one third of its size and that the fatalities would be much more numerous than from a ground-level attack with a nuclear bomb. Participants in that hearing likened an EMP to a time machine that would thrust America back a full century in technology.

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This excerpt from that report says it best: “The population that this continent carried late in the 19th century, sir, was almost a factor of 10 smaller than it is at the present time. We went from where we had 70 percent of the population on the farms feeding 30 percent of the people in the villages and cities to where 3 percent of the population on the farms at the present time feeds the other 97 percent of the country.

“So just looking at it from an agricultural and food supply standpoint,” the testimony continued, “if we were no longer able to fuel our agricultural machine in this country, the food production of the country would simply stop, because we do not have the horses and mules that used to tow the agricultural gear around in the 1880s and 1890s.”

The devastation that would accompany this massive shrink in population through starvation, dehydration, violence and lack of medical services is unspeakable and impossible to put into words. Nothing you’ve ever read in a book or seen in the movies can even compare.

Probability of occurrence

Geomagnetic Solar Storm EMPs have already occurred. One of the most notable was in 1989 that knocked down the Hydro-Quebec Power Grid and left 6 million people without power for almost two weeks. Mother Nature is a brutal adversary, and her weapons are vast. I wish, though, that she was our only concern.

Several countries have the nukes and delivery systems to make an EMP attempt over U.S. soil. In fact, any old SCUD missile (which can be purchased on the black weapons market) can deliver a high altitude nuclear bomb over America from a nondescript ocean tanker. This makes the launch location difficult to track and locate. An EMP is the ultimate terrorist attack, and the devastating effect of one on electronic infrastructure is common knowledge.

None of this is a secret, and none of this is new technology. Russia’s been conducting EMP tests for over 30 years. China is no stranger to EMPs either.

We live in a crazy world with a lot of crazy people, many of whom hate or have a score to settle with America. To me it feels like we are waiting to see which crazy person is willing to push the big red button first. Some, I’m sure, are just waiting to get a big red button to push. Rogue states like North Korea and Iran are obvious threats. Heck, North Korea continues to test missiles. Maybe they’re testing EMP delivery systems? The threat of an EMP attack or geomagnetic solar storm is growing every day. In my personal opinion, EMP is the single greatest threat to our national security. There is no country more dependent on electricity than America.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.

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