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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Thomas RiordanNo, certainly not. Anything to prevent that kinda crap.09/01/2014 - 8:18am
SleakerAlthough.. I don't think it hurts anyone if kids think the report is true :P09/01/2014 - 3:26am
Sleakerand just for future reference. National Reports is a fake news site, they decided to remove their disclaimers a while back apparently...09/01/2014 - 3:25am
Thomas RiordanDon't feel bad. I posted the same thing last night and deleted it once I realized it wasn't real.08/31/2014 - 11:13pm
E. Zachary KnightAh. The report actually read serious to me. Oh well. At least it didn't happen.08/31/2014 - 7:46pm
ConsterAlthough apparently someone who was in a swatting ring in Texas took a plea for up to 5 years in July.08/31/2014 - 7:14pm
ConsterProbably because it's a satire site.08/31/2014 - 7:13pm
E. Zachary KnightI agree that the kid should be punished, but the charge and sentence seem a bit overboard to me. http://nationalreport.net/15-year-old-swatted-domestic-terrorism/08/31/2014 - 6:56pm
Andrew EisenI get a "page doesn't exist."08/31/2014 - 11:50am
MaskedPixelantehttps://twitter.com/Nevelets/status/506076879309508608 What we're currently supposed to be offended by, or whatever.08/31/2014 - 10:10am
MechaTama31AE: Probably snarky commentary on this: http://www.gamepolitics.com/2014/08/29/principle-player-leland-yee-arms-trading-case-dies08/30/2014 - 8:43pm
Andrew EisenConster - Don't know. Got a link to whatever you're referring to?08/30/2014 - 7:04pm
ConsterWait, what's this about Leland Yee eliminating witnesses?08/30/2014 - 5:50pm
IanCBroke my EA boycott to pick up Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. Loving it. Still hate EA though. But i like Popcap. Gah.08/30/2014 - 6:01am
MaskedPixelantehttp://m.tickld.com/x/something-you-never-realized-about-guardians-of-the-galaxy Right in the feels.08/29/2014 - 6:56pm
AvalongodAgain I think we're conflating the issue of whether Sarkeesian's claims are beyond critique (no they're not) and whether its ever appropriate to use sexist language, let alone physical threats on a woman to intimidate her (no it isn't)08/29/2014 - 5:04pm
prh99Trolling her or trying to assail her integrity just draws more attention (Streisand effect?). Which is really not what the trolls want, so the only way to win (if there is a win to be had) is not to play/troll.08/29/2014 - 5:02pm
prh99Who cares, just don't watch the damn videos if you don't like her. Personally, I don't care as far as she is concerned as long there are interesting games to be played.08/29/2014 - 4:34pm
Andrew EisenZip - And yet, you can't cite a single, solitary example. (And no one said you hated anyone. Along those lines, no one claimed Sarkeesian was perfect either.)08/29/2014 - 3:51pm
Andrew EisenSaint's Row: Gat Out of Hell was just announced for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One making it the 150th game For Everything But Wii U! Congratulations Deep Silver!08/29/2014 - 3:49pm
 

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