Prepare for the Worst

October 21, 2019
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Among the most important findings of 2004, 2008, and 2017 reports by the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack is that millions of Americans could die and the loss of our electronic civilization to manmade or natural EMP catastrophe would be a national doomsday.  Therefore, EMP is one of a very small number of existential threats that demands immediate high-priority attention from the U.S. Government.[i]

President Trump deserves the gratitude of every American for heeding EMP Commission warnings and issuing his “Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” on March 26, 2019.[ii]

However, the President’s executive order to protect the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures is in danger of being undermined by a small number of highly influential non-expert career bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.  This cabal of about five members of the permanent federal bureaucracy were obstacles to national EMP preparedness during the Obama Administration— and today are entrusted by DHS and DOE with implementing President Trump’s EMP Executive Order.

Moreover, with the resignation of several key people at the top of the National Security Council staff, it is at best uncertain that the replacements will have the knowledge, experience, and drive to see that the President’s Executive Order is implemented, particularly in the face of resistance from career bureaucrats in league with domestic and foreign electric power monopolies.

Not having deep expertise in EMP themselves, and perhaps being part of “the resistance” to Trump Administration policies, these DHS and DOE actors are promoting EMP “junk science” by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a lobby for the electric power industry.  EPRI alleges that even a worst-case nuclear EMP attack or solar superstorm is not an existential threat to electric power grids and U.S. society, would have merely localized effects, and be quickly recoverable.[iii]

If EPRI’s fantasy is accepted that a nuclear EMP attack or solar superstorm would have societal consequences no worse than a hurricane, then DHS, DOE, and the electric power industry can “implement” President Trump’s EMP Executive Order by doing little or nothing.

It appears to matter little to these DHS and DOE bureaucrats that EPRI’s EMP threat assessment has been debunked by the Defense Nuclear Agency, the EMP Commission and the U.S. Air Force Electromagnetic Defense Task Force.[iv]

Shocking that DHS and DOE would even trust EPRI, that has no expertise on EMP, serves not science but the financial and political interests of electric utilities, receives 25% of research monies from foreign sources, and includes China and Russia as members.[v]

At this crucial juncture in the implementation of President Trump’s EMP Executive Order, where DHS and DOE are re-assessing the EMP threat, they apparently need to be reminded that the EMP Commission threat assessment is not merely another opinion.  Commissions established by the President or the Congress engage the best experts and are given extraordinary resources and powers to provide the best scientific and strategic threat assessment and recommendations, that are supposed to be definitive for purposes of public policy.

There are good reasons USAF EDTF endorses the EMP Commission: “EDTF…recommends that the Congressional EMP Commission Reports, supported by real-world data, be used by government and industry as the most accurate assessment of the high-altitude EMP threat.  EDTF recommends that the Congressional EMP Commission’s recommendations be implemented.”[vi]

The EMP Commission had at its service the Free World’s foremost EMP experts, men who laid the foundations of EMP science, beginning with data from the last U.S. exo-atmospheric nuclear tests in 1962, and wrote the Department of Defense (DOD) EMP Military Standards; proved the vulnerability and guided protection of U.S. critical national infrastructures by the most comprehensive testing of modern electronics; testing performed on DOD and U.S. Government EMP simulators by the best DOD and USG technical personnel; and concluded with a process of evaluation, threat assessment, and policy recommendations performed more or less continuously over a period of 17 years—unlike EPRI.

Not only has the EMP Commission faced a long uphill battle advancing national EMP preparedness against a resistant federal bureaucracy, but against an irresponsible press that often misinforms the public with absurd claims—such as the preposterous falsehood the EMP Commission’s warning about an existential threat is derived from the novel One Second After.[vii]

Now, with the fate of President Trump’s EMP Executive Order hanging in the balance, and is at risk of being rendered meaningless, it may be helpful to remember what is at stake by revisiting EMP Commission warnings that America faces an existential threat, and why.

Existential Threat: EMP Commission 2004 and 2008 Reports

EMP manmade or natural is analogous to the Cold War nuclear threat that, although considered highly unlikely by most experts, nonetheless demanded and deserved the highest priority and vast resources to deter and prevent a nuclear World War III, since the survival of Western Civilization was at stake.  Yet a potentially worldwide natural EMP event from a solar superstorm is inevitable, sure to happen someday, the best estimate being a 12% chance every decade of a solar EMP catastrophe—a far more likely threat than was Cold War nuclear Armageddon.[viii]

The biggest loss of life from natural or manmade EMP would be from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  EMP damage to the electric grid may not be repairable for months or years, or ever, if there is mass starvation and societal collapse.  Almost irreplaceable equipment, like EHV transformers, require years to manufacture and replace and could require a decade or more to repair if destroyed in large numbers.  And this is just one example of protracted damage to the national grid from EMP that could blackout electronic civilization.

“The recovery of any one of the key national infrastructures is dependent on the recovery of others.  The longer the outage, the more problematical and uncertain the recovery will be,” warns the EMP Commission 2004 Report, “It is possible for the functional outages to become mutually reinforcing until at some point the degradation of infrastructure could have irreversible effects on the country’s ability to support its population.”[ix]

The EMP Commission 2008 Report warns:

“Electrical power is necessary to support other critical infrastructures, including supply and distribution of water, food, fuel, communications, transport, financial transactions, emergency services, government services, and all other infrastructures supporting the national economy and welfare.  Should significant parts of the electric power be lost for any substantial period of time, the Commission believes that the consequences are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities.  In fact, the Commission is deeply concerned that such impacts are likely in the event of an EMP attack…”[x]

The EMP Commission 2008 Report in the chapter “Water Infrastructure” warns:

“Water and its system of supply is a vital infrastructure…(EMP) can damage or disrupt the infrastructure that supplies water to the population, agriculture, and industry of the United States…”[xi] 

“By disrupting the water infrastructure, an EMP attack could pose a major threat to life, industrial activity, and social order.  Denial of water can cause death in 3 to 4 days, depending on the climate and level of activity.”[xii]

“People are likely to resort to drinking from lakes, streams, ponds, and other sources of surface water.  Most surface water, especially in urban areas, is contaminated with wastes and pathogens and could cause serious illness if consumed.  If water treatment and sewage plants cease operating, the concentration of wastes in surface water will certainly increase dramatically and make the risks of consuming surface water more hazardous.”[xiii]

“Demoralization and deterioration of social order can be expected to deepen if a water shortage is protracted.  Anarchy will certainly loom if government cannot supply the population with enough water to preserve health and life.”[xiv]

The EMP Commission 2008 Report in the chapter “Food Infrastructure” warns:

"An EMP attack that disrupts the food infrastructure could pose a threat to life, industrial activity, and social order.  Absolute deprivation of food, on average, will greatly diminish a person's capacity for physical work within a few days.  After 4 to 5 days without food, the average person will suffer from impaired judgment and have difficulty performing simple intellectual tasks.  After two weeks without food, the average person will be virtually incapacitated.  Death typically results after 1 or 2 months without food."[xv]

“Social order likely would decay if a food shortage were protracted.  A government that cannot supply the population with enough food to preserve health and life could face anarchy.”[xvi]

“Blackouts of electric grids caused by storms or accidents have destroyed food supplies.  An EMP attack that damages the power grid and denies electricity to warehouses or that directly damages refrigeration and temperature control systems could destroy most of the 30-day regional perishable food supply.  Blackouts also have disrupted transportation systems and impeded the replenishment of local food supplies.”[xvii]

“Massive traffic jams are most likely in large cities, the very areas where rapid replenishment of the food supply at hundreds of supermarkets will be needed most urgently.  Significantly, recent famines in the developing world have occurred, despite massive relief efforts by the international community, in large part because food relief could not reach victim populations through their underdeveloped transportation infrastructure.  An EMP attack could, in effect, temporarily create in the United States the technological conditions in the food and transportation infrastructures that have resulted in developing world famines.”[xviii]

Existential Threat: EMP Commission Congressional Testimony

EMP Commissioners in congressional testimony—that constitutes part of the official record and findings of the EMP Commission—warned that, in a worst case scenario, most Americans could die in an EMP catastrophe, estimating possible fatalities ranging up to two-thirds of the population or more, perhaps as high as 90% perishing from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  On September 4th, 1882, when the first electric grid lit New York City, the population of the United States was 50 million, 85% smaller than the 330 million Americans sustained by our electronic civilization today.  In 1882 most Americans were farmers, and civilization was sustained by coal-fired and horse-drawn technologies and critical infrastructures that no longer exist.  Even in 1922, before the advent of national electrification in the 1930s, the technology and critical infrastructures of the time sustained a population of 110 million, two-thirds fewer people than today.

On July 22, 2004, at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, the EMP Commission Chairman, Dr. William R. Graham, and EMP Commissioner, Dr. Lowell Wood, explained why two-thirds or more of the American people could die from an EMP catastrophe:

BARTLETT: …your characterization of this is a large continental time machine that would move us back a century in technology, and my question then was, “But Dr. Wood, the technology of a century ago could not support our present population and distribution,” and your unemotional response, “Yes, I know. The population will shrink until it could be supported by the technology.” When I look at the technology of a century ago and where we are today, Dr. Wood, I would imagine that that shrink might be a good two-thirds of our present population?”

WOOD: The population that this continent carried late in the 19th century, sir, was almost a factor of 10 smaller than it is at the present time. We went from where we had 70 percent of the population on the farms feeding 30 percent of the people in the villages and cities to where 3 percent of the population on the farms at the present time feeds the other 97 percent of the country. So just looking at it from an agricultural and food supply standpoint, if we were no longer able to fuel our agricultural machine in this country, the food production of the country would simply stop because we do not have the horses and mules that used to tow the agricultural gear around in the 1880s and 1890s.  So the situation would be extremely adverse if both electricity and the fuel that electricity moves around the country, the diesel fuel, and so forth, if that went away and stayed away for a substantial interval of time, we would miss the harvest, and we would starve the following winter.

BARTLETT: Isn’t it possible that the ultimate effects on our society from a robust EMP laydown, although initially maybe few or no people would be killed, might be greater than the effects of ground-burst nuclear weapons in a nuclear exchange? I see Dr. Graham nodding his head in assent.

GRAHAM: Yes. In a way, we thought that was the threshold for our consideration because a determined adversary probably could manage to place a nuclear weapon on the surface, either by ballistic missile or other means, but, in fact, we concluded that, as you say, while producing no immediate fatalities, a high-altitude nuclear burst could over a period of time measured in weeks to months—and possibly, in some cases, even shorter—cause more fatalities than a nuclear burst directed at a population area. Of even greater concern is the fact that recovery from the high-altitude event could be more difficult.  In a nuclear burst in a city, however devastating it would be—and it would certainly be devastating—we have the rest of the country that we can bring in from the periphery of the attacked area to try to help in the recovery and help the survivors as much as possible.  But with a high-altitude nuclear burst, the area affected would be sufficiently large that it would not be possible to bring in enough support from the periphery in a rapid fashion to recover the area in a quick and responsive manner.  So, if you will, the peripheral effect is much more difficult to take advantage of with a high-altitude nuclear burst, and, therefore, the overall effect could be much more devastating.[xix]  

On March 8, 2005, at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, EMP Commissioner Wood, substituting for EMP Commission Chairman Graham, warned that an EMP event could "literally destroy the American nation and might cause the deaths of 90 percent of its people and would set us back a century or more in time as far as our ability to function as a society….So when we stop to think about being attacked by North Korea, we shouldn't think about Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  We should think about flavors of destruction that have never been seen before on this planet."[xx]  Moreover:

WOOD: …If the lights stay off for more than a year in this country, the Commission's estimate was the loss of life would run into the tens of millions, perhaps a great deal more. You miss the harvest. You have no refrigeration, no transportation, no anything except what we had in the country in the 1880s.  Most Americans will die in that interval."[xxi]

At the July 10, 2008 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on the EMP Commission 2004 and 2008 reports, the EMP Commission Chairman, Dr. William Graham, warned up to 90% of the American people could perish from an EMP catastrophe:

BARTLETT: I read a prepublication copy of a book called One Second After…The story runs for a year…At the end of the year, 90 percent of our population is dead…I understand that this is a realistic assessment of what a really robust EMP laydown could do to our country?

GRAHAM: We think that is in the correct range. We don’t have experience with losing the infrastructure in a country with 300 million people, most of whom don’t live in a way that provides for their own food and other needs. We can go back to an era when people did live like that.  That would be—10 percent would be 30 million people, and that is probably the range where we could survive as a basically rural economy.[xxii]

Existential Threat: EMP Commission 2017 Reports

The EMP Commission 2017 Executive Report and Chairman’s Report reaffirms the existential threat from natural and manmade EMP:

“The critical national infrastructure in the United States faces a present and continuing existential threat from combined-arms warfare, including cyber and manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, as well as from natural EMP from a solar superstorm…Within the last decade, newly armed adversaries, including North Korea, have been developing the capability and threatening to carry out an EMP attack against the United States.  Such an attack would give countries that have only a small number of nuclear weapons the ability to cause widespread, long-lasting damage to critical national infrastructures, to the United States itself as a viable country, and to the survival of a majority of its population.”[xxiii]

“A long-term outage owing to EMP could disable most critical supply chains, leaving the U.S. population living in conditions similar to centuries past, prior to the advent of electric power.  In the 1800s, the U.S. population was less than 60 million, and those people had many skills and assets necessary for survival without today’s infrastructure.  An extended blackout today could result in the death of a large fraction of the American people through the effects of societal collapse, disease, and starvation.”[xxiv]

“Solar superstorms, like the 1859 Carrington Event, generate natural EMP that could blackout electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures over remarkably wide areas, putting at risk the lives of many millions.”[xxv]

Better Safe Than Sorry

The most important message of 2004, 2008, and 2017 EMP Commission reports is that: “The current vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected; however, correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”[xxvi]

We are very close to having five career DHS and DOE bureaucrats decide for 330 million Americans that the U.S. should not be protected against the real EMP threat.  Frighteningly reminiscent of the bureaucratic politics that left New Orleans unprepared for a Category 5 Hurricane Katrina, because such was considered highly unlikely or impossible.

Those too naive to understand the real EMP threat should at least be guided by the time-proven adages: "Better safe than sorry" and "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."  


Dr. William R. Graham served as Chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission, President Reagan’s Science Advisor, ran NASA, and on the defense science team that discovered the EMP phenomenon and developed protective measures.  Ambassador R. James Woolsey was Director of Central Intelligence.  Dr. Peter Vincent Pry served as chief of staff of the EMP Commission and on the staffs of the Strategic Posture Commission, House Armed Services Committee, and CIA.


Notes:

[i] All of the EMP Commission unclassified reports are at www.firstempcommission.org

[ii] President Donald J. Trump Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses (The White House: March 26, 2019).

[iii] EPRI, High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse and the Bulk Power System” (April 30, 2019).

[iv] USAF EDTF, Electromagnetic Pulse Threats to America’s Electric Grid: Counterpoints to Electric Power Research Institute (OTH: August 27, 2019) https://othjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/EMP-Threats-to-Americas-Electric-Grid.pdf.  EMP Commission, Recommended E3 HEMP Heave Electric Field Waveform for the Critical Infrastructures (Washington, DC: July 2017).  EMP Commission, Examination of NERC GMD Standards and Validation of Ground Models and Geo-Electric Fields (Washington, DC: July 2017).

[v] EPRI, "EPRI's R&D Program—Frequently Asked Questions" mydocs.epri.com/docs/CorporateDocuments/Newsroom/FAQs-EPRIprogram.pdf.  Michael Mabee, "FOIA with DHS Reveals Congressional Frustration on EMP/GMD" Homeland Security (July 9, 2019).  According to EPRI, "international funding of EPRI nuclear research [increased] to 45 percent from 20 percent five years ago" and includes working with China in EPRI news release "EPRI's Chief Nuclear Officer…Receives Energy Leadership Award" (May 21, 2010) https://www.globalnewswire.com/news-release/2015/05/21/738226/10135597/en/EPRI        

[vi] Ibid, p. 4.

[vii] For example, Kyle Mizukami "No, North Korea Can't Kill 90 Percent of Americans" Popular Mechanics (March 31, 2017).  Popular Mechanics refused to retract Mizukami's false claim, which went viral, even after One Second After author William Forstchen appealed to the editor, noting his novel was published in 2009 after the 2004 and 2008 EMP Commission reports already declared EMP an existential threat.

[viii] Dr. Tony Phillips, “Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012” (NASA: July 23, 2014)  https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/23Jul_superstorm/

[ix] EMP Commission, Executive Report (Washington, DC: 2004) pp. 1-2.

[x] EMP Commission, Critical National Infrastructures (Washington, DC: 2008) Preface p. vii.

[xi] Ibid, p. 139.

[xii] Ibid, p. 143.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid, p. 144.

[xv] Ibid, p. 134.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid, pp. 134-135.

[xviii] Ibid, p. 137.

[xix] The Report Of The Commission To Assess The Threat To The U.S. From Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, Hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (July 22, 2004).

[xx] Terrorism And The EMP Threat To Homeland Security, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security; U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (March 8, 2005) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005. 

[xxi] Ibid, p. 18.

[xxii] Threat Posed By Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, Hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (July 10, 2008) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2009, pp. 8-9.

[xxiii] EMP Commission, Assessing the Threat of EMP Attack: Executive Report (Washington, DC: July 2017) p. 1.

[xxiv] Ibid, p. 4.

[xxv] EMP Commission, Chairman’s Report (July 2017) pp. 6-7.

[xxvi] Executive Report, op. cit., pp. 2-3.



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