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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NeenekoThey have and exercise control over which games are allowed on their privately controlled 'open forum'. Their endorsement is fairly minimal since it is only 'we do not reject this', but it is still an endorsement of sorts.12/17/2014 - 3:58pm
NeenekoHistorically there have been issues with libraries allowing some groups but not others. Perhaps 'endorsement' is too strong a word, but their editorial control IS a preapproval process, even if the standards are pretty minimal.12/17/2014 - 3:56pm
E. Zachary KnightLet's put this a different way. My local library allows any group to reserve and use multipurpose rooms. That does not mean that the Library endorses all events that take place in those rooms.12/17/2014 - 12:54pm
E. Zachary KnightValve's editorial control comes from removing problem games and accepting games to Steam. They make no claim over any games otherwise.12/17/2014 - 12:52pm
E. Zachary KnightNeeneko, It is not at all a form of endorsement. Grenlight is an open forum for game developers to pitch their game to Valve/Steam and Steam users. Does Valve have some editorial control? Yes, but not to the point that they preapprove games.12/17/2014 - 12:51pm
Neeneko@EZK - I disagree. Greenlight is built off Valve's brand. While not an explicit endorsement, it is a form of it, otherwise Greenlight would have no value over other platforms.12/17/2014 - 12:05pm
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.latino-review.com/news/exclusive-viola-davis-bags-amanda-waller-role-in-suicide-squad Latino Review says Viola Davis will be Amanda Waller. History of Latino Review says "wait for a REAL news site to confirm".12/17/2014 - 10:48am
PHX Corphttp://www.polygon.com/2014/12/17/7407869/assassins-creed-unity-glitch-broken-problems-xbox-one-patch -Facepalm- Screwup means Assassin's Creed Unity's patch is the 40GB full game on Xbox One12/17/2014 - 10:17am
PHX Corphttp://www.theverge.com/2014/12/16/7401769/the-mpaa-wants-to-strike-at-dns-records-piracy-sopa-leaked-documents Sony leaks reveal Hollywood is trying to break DNS, the backbone of the internet12/17/2014 - 10:05am
E. Zachary KnightA Game being on Greenlight is not an endorsement of said game by Valve, Steam or anyone related to Valve or Steam. Greenlight is a combined sales pitch to Steam and its users.12/17/2014 - 9:51am
E. Zachary KnightThe Life cycle of a Greenlight game: A game gets made->Developer puts it on Greenlight->Gamers vote for it->Valve decides it is worthy of a Steam release->Game is sold on Steam. While the game is merely on greenlight, it is not available for sale on Steam12/17/2014 - 9:50am
InfophileGreenlight games may in the future be sold through Steam. A game there may be "greenlit" and then sold on Steam proper, or it may not, and never actually be sold on steam. That quote refers to them selecting some games from Greenlight which they will sell12/17/2014 - 9:39am
MechaTama31"Today we’ve Greenlit another batch of 50 titles to advance through Steam Greenlight, and be offered worldwide distribution via Steam." Am I missing something here? Because it sounds like Greenlight games are sold through Steam.12/17/2014 - 9:00am
MechaTama31From the Greenlight page: "Browse through the entries here and rate up the games you want to see made available via Steam"12/17/2014 - 8:59am
MechaTama31Greenlight games aren't sold through Steam? Then what exactly *is* Greenlight?12/17/2014 - 8:58am
prh99I just wish if they are going to curate (as selective and rare as that is) for content, they'd do little for quality (like does this game actually function at all). Personally, I avoid GreenLight and Early Access like the plague because of lax standards.12/17/2014 - 1:34am
prh99EZK: My point wasn't that they are responsible for people's purchase decisions, but that their policies and criteria for approval needs some work. As far as refunds go, you know it's bad when EA has a better policy. EA, former worst company in America.12/17/2014 - 1:21am
 

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