The Very Real Threat of EMPs

October 27, 2010 -

Only in video games and sci-fi movies would we expect our worlds (communications, electronics - basically all the modern trappings of our society) to come to a crashing halt due to either a natural or weapons-based Electromagnetic pulse caused by a major solar storm or an A-bomb. Sure, it all sounds like the backdrop from a Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game (or one of those crazy History Channel specials on 2012), but some politicians are taking the threat seriously. USA Today has a fascinating article on the subject. We cover the parts we like.

An Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a massive burst of atmospheric electricity. Whether powered by geomagnetic storms, nuclear blasts, or a new generation of weapons supposedly developed by military types around the world, the result equals burned out power lines and electrical equipment - a society without power.

Politicians believe the threat is very real; former House speaker Newt Gingrich told a Heritage Foundation audience last year that we are not ready for such an occurrence:

"We are not today hardened against this," he said. "It is an enormous catastrophic threat."

Meanwhile, a bill called the "Grid Act" (PDF) passed in the House of Representatives awaits approval in the Senate. The bill "amend(s) the Federal Power Act to protect the bulk-power system and electric infrastructure critical to the defense of the United States from cybersecurity and other threats and vulnerabilities."

"The electric grid's vulnerability to cyber and to other attacks is one of the single greatest threats to our national security," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in June when he introduced the bill to the House of Representatives.

So what are the solutions? Here is an important excerpt on that:

Although the physics underlying the geomagnetic and nuclear pulses are fundamentally the same, they have different solutions. A geomagnetic storm essentially produces a long-building surge dangerous to power lines and large transformers. A nuclear blast produces three waves of pulses.

Limiting the risk from the geomagnetic-storm-type threat involves stockpiling large transformers and installing dampers, essentially lightning rods, to dump surges into the ground from the grid. Even if such steps cost billions, the numbers come out looking reasonable compared with the $119 billion that a 2005 Electric Power Research Institute report estimated was the total nationwide cost of normal blackouts every year.

Remember when we only had to worry about nuclear war and pandemics? Yeah, those were good times. Want to learn about some games and movies that use EMP as a core element? Check out this Wikipedia entry.

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Comments

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

Scientific fallacies aside, the best way to protect our technology from EMP is to de-centralize our power production. Setting up small, numerous local power sources rather than big central plants would help mitigate the risk of EMP devastation.

-Greevar

-Greevar

"Paste superficially profound, but utterly meaningless quotation here."

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

Realisticly, no EMP, even from the Sun, would knock out power to the entire contenient, which is what would need to happen to shut off power to the entire United States since Canada shares the same power with us. 

What always bothered me about that particular scene in MW2 is that the power outage cascades from southern New York down to Jacksonville, FL.  Other than completely ignoring the Northeast power grid that we all learned about when New York went dark several years ago, the cascade effect would not grow that large.  Our very infastructure is set up to shut down if any surge is detected coming down the line to prevent any damage to the power plant/station. 

Not to mention that most of the newest trunk lines are shieled to protect from anything but a direct blast, so phone service would be available in a lot of places near the blast.

Oh yeah, and a shockwave from a nuke would not spread over 1000 miles to destory the ISS.  Sorry, either it is low enough in the atmosphere to cause the EMP effect and spread over quite a ways, or it was high enough for the explosion not to react to anything.  I guess the Infinity Ward people just watched Independence Day and assumed that is how a nuke worked in outer space.

http://www.deathvanquished.blogspot.com

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

Or, you could just hide a tesla coil in the computer lab closet like some joker did for a senior prank.

 

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

"EMP Electromagnetic pulse" -- wow.  I frequently hear single-word tautologies like "ATM machine" and "PIN number", and occasionally even a two-word one like "for your FYI", but I do believe this is the first time I've ever seen a triple-redundancy.

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

While it could have used a couple of commas, the intent was to define the acronym. I think that was clear for most intelligent people.

E. Zachary Knight
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
http://www.theeca.com/chapters_oklahoma

Re: The Very Real Threat of EMPs

And why is that significant?  Do Tautologies cause EMPs?

 
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MaskedPixelanteProbably dihydrogen monoxide, the most dangerous substance in the universe.09/21/2014 - 10:14am
james_fudgewell I hope he called the police so they can let us all know.09/21/2014 - 9:07am
quiknkoldIt's pretty gnarly. Depending on what it is, it could be worse than white powder or a fake bomb.09/21/2014 - 9:06am
james_fudgeI just looked it up on UPS.com09/21/2014 - 8:56am
james_fudgeand expensive for an American to ship to London.09/21/2014 - 8:55am
E. Zachary KnightThat is pretty scary. Would have been worse if it were a fake bomb or white powder.09/21/2014 - 8:49am
quiknkoldThere's some more tweets regarding it with more pictures09/21/2014 - 8:09am
quiknkoldMilo Yiannopoulos was mailed a syringe filled with clear liquid. He claims it's anti gamergate harassment. Mentioned on his twitter twitter.com/Nero/status/51366668391625523209/21/2014 - 8:07am
Andrew EisenNow, having said that, what sites are you reading that are claiming that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem" or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"? Or was that hyperbole too?09/21/2014 - 1:03am
Andrew EisenFirst of all, ONE person in the Shout box suggested an obligation to call harassers out on their harassing but only after YOU brought it up. Plus, Techno said "when you see it happening." If you don't see it, you're not under any obligation.09/21/2014 - 1:02am
Sleaker@Craig R. - at this point I don't even know what the hashtags are suppsed to be in support of. what does GamerGate actually signify.09/21/2014 - 12:21am
Sleaker@AE - Hyperbole for the first 2, but it seems like some of the comments in the shout are attempting to place blame on fellow gamers because they aren't actively telling people to stop harassing even though they don't necessarily know anyone that has.09/21/2014 - 12:16am
Andrew EisenSleaker - Who the heck are you reading that is claiming "all gamers are bad," we "need to pass laws or judgement on all gamers," that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem," or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"?09/20/2014 - 9:44pm
erthwjimhe swatted more than just krebs, I think he swatted 30 people http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/05/teen-arrested-for-30-swattings-bomb-threats/09/20/2014 - 9:31pm
Craig R.Btw, the guy who swatted security expert Brian Krebs? He got picked up recently. It can be done.09/20/2014 - 8:55pm
Craig R.Such things are not done in a vacuum... hence why the 4chan and other logs show what fools you've all been, tricked into doing the trolls' work09/20/2014 - 8:49pm
Sleaker@Technogeek - How do you call someone out that anonymously calls in a SWAT team, or sends threats to people?09/20/2014 - 7:04pm
Technogeek"It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so." I'd say you're certainly obligated to call them out when you see it happening.09/20/2014 - 5:17pm
SleakerNow if you disagree with anything in my last 2 posts then we obviously have a difference in world view, and wont come to any sort of agreement. I'm fine with that, maybe some people aren't?09/20/2014 - 5:09pm
SleakerIt also doesn't mean that just because a news outlet says that Gamers are the problem and you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem. It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so.09/20/2014 - 4:59pm
 

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