Risk

9/10/2009
02:21 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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New Warnings On EMP Threat

More than 800 people registered for a conference being held in Niagara Falls, NY to discuss the possible nightmare outcome of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the continental U.S. A fix is startlingly cheap, but remains ignored.

More than 800 people registered for a conference being held in Niagara Falls, NY to discuss the possible nightmare outcome of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the continental U.S. A fix is startlingly cheap, but remains ignored.If you're not familiar with what an EMP bomb is, we covered it previously here and here. Essentially, it's a weapon that flushes electromagnetic waves, strong enough to fry electrical components, down from the atmosphere. The potential damage ranges from killing the electrical grid to destroying the functionality of nearly every powered device in its wake: from TVs to medical devices. Consider it instant 1800.

If you think you'll hop in your car and drive to a safer area where electricity flows: forget that idea. Modern ignition systems would be fried as well. No cars, trucks, or planes. Store shelves would be vacant in days. Clean water may not flow. Medicine would run out.

Some experts contend that single EMP bomb could destroy the power grid for much of the United States, and would take more than a year to bring back up.

We've known about this threat for years. The United States and other nations have reportedly used tactical EMP devices in combat. Trouble is: nothing has been done to protect the continental U.S. power grid from such an attack.

Previous studies have shown that a crude missile, launched off the East Coast for instance, could be all that is needed to pull off an attack.

The Buffalo News covered the EMP conference today in this story.

House Homeland Security Committee adviser Christopher A. Beck told the crowd that an EMP attack would transfer the U.S. from the 21st century to the 19th. The EMP conference drew academics, researchers, government officials, and business people from all over.

So what's the fix? Can we protect every electrical device? Every integrated circuit? Of course not. But we can protect power grid's backbone.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, former staff member of the congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, told Newsmax yesterday that several hundred of the big electrical transformers required to keep the electrical grid up and humming could be hardened (just as military and intelligence systems are), at a cost of $200 to $400 million.

Pry estimates that an investment of $20 billion could harden the entire power grid from an EMP attack.

If Pry's figures are accurate, and it would only cost $400 million to harden our power grid (essentially the nerve and respiratory system of modern society) than it's nothing less than negligence that the money isn't being spent -- at the very least to deter such an attack.

The additional $20 billion to harden the rest of the grid could be done over time. What's important is to have the capability to recover electrical power within weeks and months, rather than years -- in the wake of an EMP attack.

Weeks without power, people could survive. Months without power, too many would certainly die. But following a year without the ability to easily transport food and treat water -- what would be left when the lights came back on?

For my mobile technology and security observations, consider following me on Twitter.

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