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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TechnogeekI'll be honest. I mostly just wanted an excuse to use that line.07/02/2015 - 1:13pm
Andrew EisenIt's long scrolled out of the Shout box so here's the article in question if anyone wants to read it: http://www.wired.com/2015/06/rape-scenes/07/02/2015 - 1:05pm
Andrew EisenOh come now, I don't believe Goth said the Wired author shouldn't be allowed to say what he claims she said.07/02/2015 - 1:04pm
TechnogeekWhich really makes it seem like Goth_Skunk's complaints are nothing more than...(•_•) (-•_•)>⌐■-■ (⌐■_■)...crocodile tears.07/02/2015 - 12:22pm
TechnogeekYou know, despite often as I've seen Gators conflate criticism and censorship, it's still kind of ridiculous to see "YOU SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED TO SAY THAT" as a response to "you probably shouldn't say that unless you can do it well".07/02/2015 - 12:22pm
Andrew EisenI get the feeling Nintendo suspected the same thing would happen with the Wii U.07/02/2015 - 12:16pm
Andrew EisenMecha - Yeah, pretty much the only way you're getting away with a console that's a full technological generation behind is if it become's a full-blown pop-culture phenomenon like the Wii.07/02/2015 - 12:16pm
Infophile(cont'd) That's basically what the article is saying about rape. If you don't know enough about it to handle it well, it's a bad idea to do it, as you'll probably do it poorly.07/02/2015 - 12:06pm
Infophile@Goth, EZK: For example, I could very well try to write a book about the difficulties of living with Fibromyalgia. No one would stop me. However, since I don't know a thing about living with fibromyalgia, writing a book about it would be a very bad idea.07/02/2015 - 12:05pm
MechaCrashI just hope they realize that part of the problem with the Wii U was its relative lack of power. You can still make good games with what the Wii U has, but third parties won't want to deal with it when they can target the more popular PS4/XB1.07/02/2015 - 10:59am
Andrew EisenReplace "NX" with "QOL" and I'd buy it as potentially true.07/02/2015 - 10:51am
Andrew EisenNintendo to start manufacturing NX in October to target a July 2016 launch with 20 million consoles shipped the first year. Sure... http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20150702PD204.html07/02/2015 - 10:47am
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E. Zachary KnightThe Daily WTF has a nice run down of some of the impact to software that the US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage has. http://thedailywtf.com/articles/i-m-not-married-to-the-idea07/02/2015 - 7:45am
MechaCrashGee, how did people ever get the idea Gaters are morons who argue in bad faith? It's such a mystery.07/02/2015 - 7:03am
E. Zachary KnightGoth, again, no one is saying that we shouldn't be writig uncomfortable subject matter. What people are saying is that chances are you are going to write it poorly so it would be better to not have done it at all.07/02/2015 - 7:00am
Goth_Skunkdiscussed or portrayed in an expressive medium. Such an opinion only serves to stifle discussion. And as I said before, the only thing not worth talking about is what shouldn't be talked about.07/02/2015 - 6:50am
Goth_Skunk@Info: The same reason why I would entertain the notion that the Wired article writer could be right: Curiosity. Except in this case, I'm not curious at all. I'm not interested in hearing anyone's opinion on why uncomfortable subject matter shouldn't be07/02/2015 - 6:49am
IvresseI think the problem with the Batmobile is that they made it a core aspect of the game that you have to do continuously. If it was basically a couple of side games that were needed for secret stuff or a couple of times in the main game, it would be fine.07/02/2015 - 5:38am
Infophile@Goth: If you're not willing to entertain the idea you might be wrong, fine. That's your right. But why should anyone else entertain the idea that you might be right? If they go by the same logic, they already know you're wrong, so why listen to you?07/02/2015 - 3:53am
 

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