President Trump and Congress plan a defense against EMP attacks
Defenses being prepared for man-made e-bombs and solar storms.
There has been a fascinating policy development that has flown under the radar, as the current news cycle has been flooded with tax news and United Nations drama.
The U.S. Congress has reactivated a committee that was set to disband, which was initially created to devise countermeasures against a possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack by North Korea.
An electromagnetic pulse attack, or EMP, from a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere could leave only about 30 million Americans alive and a “basically rural economy” where survivors would be forced to produce their own food and other goods, William Graham, chairman of the aptly named Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, told a House committee in 2008.
The Defense Department was set to let Graham’s long-standing commission expire in September, but Congress has just granted it a second life.
A new EMP commission with 12-lifetime appointees will be created by the House and Senate under the National Defense Authorization Act, a massive annual policy bill the lawmakers sent to President Trump’s desk last week. The president is expected to sign the NDAA.
Additionally, President Trump’s new national security strategy includes a focus on adding protections for the U.S electric and communications grid against an such an attack.
Laying out the issue, Trump’s paper said, “Critical infrastructure keeps our food fresh, our houses warm, our trade flowing, and our citizens productive and safe. The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber, physical, and electromagnetic attacks means that adversaries could disrupt military command and control, banking and financial operations, the electrical grid, and means of communication.”
His solution: “We will use the latest commercial capabilities, shared services, and best practices to modernize our Federal information technology. We will improve our ability to provide uninterrupted and secure communications and services under all conditions.”
Two of the chief advocates, William R. Graham and Peter Vincent Pry, are executives of the nation’s first Congressional EMP Commission. They indicate that protecting the protections proposed would not be expensive and could done fast and with commercial products.
How do “e-bombs” work? Devices, called jammers, send out can low level electromagnetic pulses would temporarily disable electronics systems. Weapons that can send out more intense pulses could corrupt computer data and even more powerful bursts would completely fry electric and electronic equipment. Such pulses could be released by nuclear bombs, which would add to the chaos and destruction.
However, Mother Nature also has the potential to send out its own version of an e-bomb in the form of “coronal mass ejections” from the sun. The biggest solar storm was recorded in 1859 and has been dubbed the “Carrington Event“, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.
The Carrington Event caused a geomagnetic disturbance so vast it caused sparks to leap from telegraph equipment that was operating at the time.
If a storm that severe occurred today, it could cause up to $2 trillion in initial damages by crippling communications on Earth and fueling chaos among residents and even governments in a scenario that would require four to 10 years for recovery, according to a report earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences. For comparison, hurricane Katrina inflicted somewhere between $80 billion and $125 billion in damage.
The good news is that astronomers know what they’re dealing with a little more nowadays and have the ability to forecast solar storms, with the help of sun-watching spacecraft. The storms originate – still largely unpredictably – from dark sunspots. Once the spots erupt, an initial wave of radiation strikes Earth in just minutes. The worst eruptions unleash another cloud of charged particles that billow outward and take anywhere from 18 to 36 hours to reach us; those can be spotted and evaluated on the way, allowing for relatively accurate predictions of arrival time and potency.
Advance warning allows key power-grid switching stations to be turned off for protection. Satellites that might otherwise be knocked out by an electrical short are put into sleep mode.
Advanced warning and pre-planning are important to protect against any disaster, natural or man-made. It is good to see the Trump Administration taking a look at EMP protection options.
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Why do we need a committee? We already know how to guard against an EMP attack. You have to shield and harden all electronic equipment. That is why ATT built hardened underground shelters for communications equipment back in the 1960s. Today there are modern shielding techniques which can do a better job then yards of earth and concrete. The problem is that home and personal devices are not easily shielded. Every piece of operating electronic equipment will be knocked out. If you are within range of an emp, your cell phone is gone, your computer is toast, your car is now a playhouse, no television or radio for you. Certain critical infrastructures can be shielded and hardened, but almost all consumer electronics are going to be useless. And, therein lies the problem.
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