• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Morning Bell: The Devastating Threat to Our Security

    It sounds like something out of a movie. A nuclear weapon detonates at high altitude, generating a burst of electromagnetic energy that devastates the United States–destroying electronics, collapsing communications, halting transportation, and shutting down all electrical power. Unfortunately, the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike is all too real, and it’s time America’s leaders wake up to the reality.

    But a nuclear weapon isn’t the only way an EMP can be generated. Even unusually powerful solar activity could produce catastrophic destruction in the United States. No matter how it’s generated, the chaotic effects are the same. First, the electromagnetic shock can disrupt electrical devices. The second effect is similar to lightning—a power surge that would burn circuits and immobilize electronic components and systems. The third is a pulse effect that flows through electricity trans­mission lines, damaging distribution centers and fusing power lines. Any of these can cause irreversible damage to an electronic system. And the United States would effectively be sent back to the 19th century, to a world without cars, cell phones, computers, or any other electronics.

    If history is any guide, an EMP would be catastrophic. In 1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington observed an unusually large solar flare. Later, the flare reached earth. Telegraph operators were knocked unconscious. Their machines caught on fire as the EMP effect from the flare surged through the lines. When this event occurred, only a small portion of the world was electrified. A solar flare of this magnitude today might have a much more devastating impact.

    “An event that could incapacitate the network for a long time,” stated one participant in a U.S. National Academies of Science study, “could be one of the largest natural disasters that we could face.” In the film 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age, Dr. William Graham, chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission, explains what that disaster would look like:

    Medical services wouldn’t be available because they need electric power. Telephones wouldn’t work. The traffic lights would stop working. Big traffic jams. Transportation would be shut down. Electronic fund transfers wouldn’t work so you wouldn’t get your paycheck. You wouldn’t be able to use your credit card. Food stocks would run out very quickly. Everything we know about life today that makes it convenient and efficient would be shut down.

    On August 15, 2003, 55 million people received a brief object lesson in what life would be like after an EMP event when a major blackout occurred throughout the northeastern United States and Canada. For the most part, services were restored within a day. That would not be the case after an EMP event. Heritage’s James Carafano explains in a new paper the potential impact on the United States–and the world:

    The result of a massive EMP event could be devastating. Communications would collapse, transportation would halt, and electrical power would simply be nonexistent. Not even a global humanitarian effort would be enough to keep hundreds of millions of Americans from death by starvation, exposure, or lack of medicine.

    Nor would the catastrophe stop at U.S. borders. Most of Canada would be devastated, too, as its infrastructure is integrated with the U.S. power grid. Without the American economic engine, the world economy would quickly collapse. Much of the world’s intellectual brain power (half of it is in the United States) would be lost as well. Earth would most likely recede into the “new” Dark Ages.

    Yet despite the threat—and the fact that six national commissions and major independent U.S. government studies have independently concurred with the significance of the danger—Congress has merely deliberated it but has not taken substantive action. Meanwhile, the Administration and federal agencies remain mostly ambivalent.

    Carafano recommends actions the U.S. government can take to guard against an EMP attack: funding comprehensive missile defense to intercept and destroy a missile bound for the United States; developing a National Recovery Plan and a plan to respond to severe space weather emergencies; and more research on the EMP threat to ensure that the United States fully understands the scope of the danger and can prepare cost-effective countermeasures.

    That’s why it is time to make August 15 National EMP Awareness Day to wake up America’s leaders to the looming threat. An EMP strike should be recognized as a clear and present danger—one that could be devastating if it finds the nation ill-prepared.

    On August 15, 2011, Heritage is hosting a panel event on the EMP threat from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here for more information or to watch the event online.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    47 Responses to Morning Bell: The Devastating Threat to Our Security

    1. Kupe says:

      Cost please. Would counter-EMP technologies pay for themselves? How about "comprehensive missile defense" capability? Has anyone completed credible analysis regarding the likelihood of a localized or national EMP event? How well would "comprehensive missile defense" perform against a shipborne or submarine launched missile just off our shores? How about a land-based EMP device? How does the likelihood of a missile-based EMP compare to a major weather or geologic event?

      When addressed in a vacuum, EMP events sound very scary. When viewed holistically with all the other threats to society/government/economy/safety, EMP events rate right up there with hurricanes in Kansas or major extinction-sized asteroid strikes on earth. Would it be a nice thing to be protected against any and all threats to humankind? Of course. Would it be prudent to expend limited resources on any and every bad thing we can imagine? Probably not.

      • Gene W. says:

        If our One World Governance [OWG] leaders wanted our economy/Country to survive an EMP, they would have started teaching this subject in the 1980’s and mandated EMP shielding for our critical electronics. That technology is the same as the electronics at a cell phone towers and elsewhere that can stand lightening strikes. The implemented cost impact for similar shielded electronics in transportation vehicles, backup power generators, and critical systems would be minimal … but nobody is told so the demands for those electronics do not exist.

        If our leaders were serious, why are they still installing copper cables for communications … They should be Fiber optic and terminated in a EMP proof assemble. The Signals inside fiber-optics are not affected by EMP.

    2. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      The new problem with our security is that we're perceived, by friend and foe alike, as being weak.

    3. JWCOPE says:

      What would be "substantive action"? Who would pay for the cost of such "action"?

    4. Charles says:

      I think we're missing something — shielding. It is relatively easy to shield electronic systems from EMP damage, it just takes up some space and costs something. We can start a national program RIGHT NOW to install EMP shielding of critical systems. We don't have to do any research to do this; all the necessary research was done during the Cold War due to the possibility of nuclear combat. We just need some development work to figure out the best ways to implement EMP hardening for the facilities and systems that need it the most, like hospitals, electric power grids, gas stations and emergency vehicles, and the like. Also automotive companies could offer EMP hardening as options for new cars, for consumers who would like some extra protection.

    5. sdfultz says:

      What about the boogy man from outer space?

    6. Powdermonkey says:

      Migod! I am so overloaded with reading/hearing about the stock market, idiocy in Washington, riots in England, the murder of the Seals, ad infinitum, that this news is just pushing me over the top. I hate to say it, Heritage, but unless there is a specific answer to a problem that may never occur, how about some good news for a change? This article presents news I just don't need or want to know at this time. I hope that none of your readers are suicidal. Stuff like this may just push them over the top.

      • Bobbie says:

        with all due respect, if you can't handle the accounts of reality outside your personal control, another site might be a better idea or therapy?

      • Redmeat says:

        This is a certaintly buddy. This isn't something that might occur. It will occur. Google Carrington event and study up a little. It is estimated that the cost could be as little as 60 cents a month on your electric bill to shield and put in shunt resisters in line with the major high voltage transformers. This is needed now. If the electric grid is shut down for a month (which is a gross underestimation) then we would be without food or any industrial production. It would be a great blow to our already limping economy. Think about it. Turn off all electricity. What would be the result?

    7. ThomNJ says:

      The Congress and the so-called president, cannot act with urgency and appropriateness on an ACTUAL EMERGENCY, let alone a potential emergency. I have ZERO faith that they will address this at all – they are also too interested in cutting defense.

    8. Frank says:

      "it is time to make August 15 National EMP Awareness Day to wake up America?s leaders to the looming threat. An EMP strike should be recognized as a clear and present danger?one that could be devastating if it finds the nation ill-prepared."

      I first became aware of this threat about 2 years ago and with all the talk about Iran's missile development & nuclear buildup, it's obvious that their wacko leaders might be crazy enough to launch such an attack on us (or Israel). We sorely need defensive measures and we really need to consider a pre-emptive strike or whatever else is necessary to prevent an attack by a nuclear Iran run by crackpot, militant, self-destructive, self-dulusional Islamists.

    9. cagintx says:

      Why, given that we have a government who is not smart enough to focus on the single issue that could solve the deficit crisis – jobs, would you want them to spend their questionable brain cells thinking about this?

    10. Bill in Houston says:

      EMP threat sounds like another way to spend money to me. If they can fix this "devastating" threat without spending any more money then go for it, otherwise wait until the budget is balanced and the 14 trillion debt is paid off. Seems as Heritage doesn't get it either. STOP THE SPENDING!!!

    11. Mary......WI says:

      To fully understand the consequences of an EMP attack I read the book "One Second After" by Wm. Forstchen. Since then I have been dehydrating and canning food and feel fortunate that we live near a spring fed lake for water. I have a wood burning stove and can also hunt in the woods for wild game. But the frightening part is the likely hood "others" roaming the countryside looking for food and water and whatever.

      I am all for increasing our missile defense. Iran and No. Korea cannot be trusted.

      Thank you for a hidden but very important topic.

    12. Don says:

      Cost to produce?
      Cost to deploy?
      Cost to taxpayers?
      Cost to landowners?
      Total costs?

    13. Bill in Houston says:

      Sounds like another excuse to spend money and expand government. I'm sure Obama would approve of it. He could create some more agencies and appoint some more czars and ask for the debt ceiling to be raised again. I thought Heritage Society was against all that. This is a new revelation. I thought I knew what I was supporting.

    14. carol,az says:

      This was a fascinating article. Thank you.

    15. Ben C. says:

      Something about "mutually assured destruction" comes to mind. This is what kept us out of a hot war with the Soviet Union. "Speak softly and carry a big stick" also comes to mind. This is really the only deterrent to a military assault. If you think China is our friend you should think again. Slowly but surely the Chinese are returning home from our universities with our military technology. This is real and documented. Keeping our heads in the sand and denying the threat is the worst thing we can do.

    16. Drew says:

      I have it on very reliable authority that M1911A1's, and M1a's, will work reliably after an EMP event.

    17. Wm. Brownfield says:

      I might welcome the EMP. It would get my wife off of the phone.

    18. billinhouston says:

      Mike Brownfield sounds like a member of the Obama administration looking for bigger government and more spending. Who was it that said" Never waste a crisis" ? Sounds like Mike is trying to create one.

    19. toledofan says:

      Usually, a disaster has to happen before anyone really pays attention or does anything and this is one of those things that will have to happen before it's addressed. When Reagan proposed the missle defense system, I though at the time, what a great idea and, I'm sure, if we would have progressed further we would have developed some other methods to defend against space debris and other calamities, but, without the foresight and willingness to spend the money, we have to sit and wait until the disaster strikes.

    20. Bobbie says:

      Set-up? All timed and scheduled… It would be a good idea for the president and anyone in authority, to stop the promotion of and eliminate the electric automobile and free cell phones (given to government's poor that can afford to travel!) Wonder why this isn't addressed to the general public? Should be common knowledge since nature can also cause it to happen. Why the president insists on pushing electric cars? even after vulnerable people were falsely led to believe electricity was part of the man-made global warming process, yet not enough consider the point blank hypocrisy!

      • Clearhead says:

        "Pushing" electric cars? Yeah, Bobbie, that's the only way obama will be able to move his $40,000 'smart car' after an EMP.

    21. C. Popham Smith says:

      And what about Elenin?
      Not many people are talking about this mysterious comet, whose elyptical orbit brings it
      a bit closer to earth every so often since first discovered Dec. 10th, 2010.
      A hoax? A psyops? The real deal? You be the judge.
      "the brown dwarf crosses the Venus orbit on 8/18/11, 67 million miles from the Sun".
      In view of the recent starburst on 8/8/11 at 3:28 a.m., which did not affect our planet
      (this time), it is indeed interesting to wonder about all the varied possibilities of events
      both man-made and natural occurring (or not) in outer space.
      EMP's, Venus, the Sun, Elenin…….what could possibly go wrong?

    22. Whicket Williams says:

      The United States Has ALREADY fallen behind the rest of the world in Implementing Anything New, due to the sheer size of government. If we do not reduce the size of the government and number of agencies, they will be frozen, unable to do anything at all. Congress spends all its time making it bigger, day after day, week after week. year after year. We have passed over the tipping point- And the american people Lack the will to force them to reduce ANYTHING- much less make the cuts necessary to get the government cut down to a size where they can move efficiently. Just look at what happens every time we have a disaster Go ask those people living in tent cities waiting for help in disasters that occured months ago.

    23. Whicket Williams says:

      The solar flares may cause this at any time, now. We have just moved into a cycle of heavy solar storms, expected to disrupt everything in earth beginning about NOW>

    24. chatmandu002 says:

      Can't afford it now. Put it on the back burner.

    25. Lynn says:

      I just can't believe that I'm reading a promotion of more government buracracy. Security you say, how have we done on our borders? Sure we may be "hit" with an EMP, but we may also get hit with computers running the earth and it's population/societies, how we gonna deal with that? oh, but perhaps that is already happening! much evidence lies in Washington DC with 545members, the smartest in the nation no being able to figure out that if we spent less, we would have more. woe is me…

    26. Dr.Refet Ramiz says:

      Possible EMP effects are not a new subject for persons who are involved with Electromagnetics. I agree that enough information should be given to the people about the possible effects, but while doing this it is better to grouping the duties of each side for such a case. There are lots of reasons for that. To explain it with more simple way, I will give you one example. I remembered that one Assistant of a Government leader of country X, came near to me in a meeting in country A in nearly 6 years ago, and said that "I am going to make an presentation and there will be questions by the people in the congress here in a short time later, and my subject is ….. " and added " how should I present it, in optimist way, in pesimist way or ….". Since there were participants from different disciplines, and considering the other matters (I mentioned about it in a book Countries Union), I suggested him to separate the subjects which are related with opitimistic evaluations, and pesimistic evaluations, and so. and He did something similiar in that way. (part-1 of 2)

    27. Dr.Refet Ramiz says:

      (Continuing) Briefly saying, instead of asking for some budget for such let say project and for one country based situation, they should categorise the problems first through the am priorities forexample, then by consulting and/or by getting the experts support from different countries, the USA government should arrange some budget for this purpose. To not to spend too much money and to not to give an opportunity for unwanted activities to be performed onto "The Continuable System-worldwide" by some bad and/or wrong persons,groups (due to this system of course), and by considering some other issues, necessary pre-cautions, pre-searches, etc. should be done. Neither USA nor any other country governments should not have a luxury to spend first, to discover the result at the end for all kinds of problems. such spendings are bad/wrong use not for USA country only but also bad/wrong use for other world countries, if it is not evaluated by "experienced persons". Briefly saying subject is important, but if you dont have a continuable system organised, more or less you can have a problem with possible EMP effects. (Facebook: Refet Ramiz) (part 2 of 2)

    28. sol56 says:

      I have heard about EMP for a long time, but there still seems to be a big shroud of secrecy around it. I suspect the government knows a lot what this big lightning flash will do to people and equipment. In the early 70s when I was working for an electronic company one of our employees was sent to a test site where our equipment was exposed to large electric fields. He was the only one who had the clearance to know what exactly was going on, but I suspect it was EMP testing. However, I can say that we afterwards were never asked to redesign our equipment. Shielding of electronic, especially professional communications equipment, has always been routinely done, and it is very effective.

    29. The Farmer says:

      This sounds a bit like what we read about in The Revelations chapter 18, if however you don't believe The Book and don't care to read it, not to worry, your knight in shineing armoure will likely show up soon, some of those who hate our guts look for him to come up out of the earth any day now. It may not be light where he will lead the world to, but neither will it be cold!

    30. Slow POKEY says:

      E M P delivery methods and E M P shielding techniques may be a little beyond my comprehension level, but solar flares are a little easier to understand and detect. If detected could we just turn every thing off, or am I thinking a little to simplistically. I enjoy the comments, some are very good, others aren't.

    31. chris daniel says:

      I can't even believe this is a topic on Heritage. I have lost all respect for this organization. You guys have gotten more and more nuts over the last year. Our economy is about to shatter and you are writing about electromagnetic pulses that can destroy our country. This is completely insane!

    32. 1derlys says:

      As if there isn't enough to worry about. If we were to sit down and think about all the could be… or the what ifs…, we wouldn't have to worry about all the real, today, happening now, events. This seems to me just one more thing to take our minds off the catastrophic events that this world already has a hard time figuring out how to save, solve, or avoid. Poverty, abuse, starvation, obesity, literacy, genocide, just to name a few of the problems that should take priority over a "what if the Apocalypse were to happen tomorrow" scenario. Get right with your inner-self, God, Spiritual Guidance Councilor, Buddha, or whatever makes you great and put your energy into the well-being of your families, friends, and neighbors! Come on… enough with the doom and gloom already! Terrible subject this time.

    33. Gary says:

      An EMP strike would be a good way to slow us up a bit. We'd recover either quickly or very slowly, either way
      we'd recover. By the way, you wouldn't happen to work for a generator company would you?

    34. Louis says:

      An EMP attack only requires low tech first generation technology. Many third world potential enemies have this wherewithal. The chance of recovery from such an attack is very low: No infrastructure, electrical grid, transportation, food, water. Those in the know predict as high as 90% death rate after the first year. Worth taking the chance?

    35. @logicaltv says:

      "One Second After" – Read it, prepare for it.

    36. Dr. H.D. Sinopoli says:

      The most dangerous threat to our security is Obama, House of Representatives & Senate of the U.S.

    37. Amerlove says:

      Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Barney (OPRB) are bigger threats and they're well on their way to destroy America while an ignorant, self indulged citizenry just sits and watches. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if EMP doesn't get you, OPRB must.

    38. Nick says:

      I think we are seeing the earth going through labor pains, the intensity of earth quakes,hurricanes,tornadoes,and all the other things nature has throws at us, plus the frequency in which we see these things occurring. I believe if you don't know the Lord Jesus Christ, now is the time to get Him in your heart. Just look around, everything God says in His Word is happening right before our very eyes. We should not get so caught up with the things of this temperary life, but set our minds on the things of God & eternity, (THAT'S A LONG TIME) compared to 80-100 years here.

    39. AmandaK says:

      I'm very surprised at a lot of things that I'm reading; saying that this isn't a very important issue, or that there's more important things to worry about other than an EMP hit. These, in my opinion, are the people who really want to turn their backs on this issue and act like it's never going to happen or never going to affect them. No, we might not know exactly when this is going to happen, but it IS going to at some point. We need to be prepared and get ready for this. A way that I've been getting more information on EMP is by listening to a radio blog every Wednesday. They have a new guest on their show every week, some a returning guests, but it's always a great way to learn more about this stuff. This week, there's a guy named Dr. Andrei Shoumikhin who's going to be on the show for the second time. Last time he had a lot of great stuff to say, so this time it should be really good to hear more stuff he has to say. Here's the link if you want to listen in: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/empact-radio/2011/08

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.