Dan Vergano – …. There is talk of catastrophe ahead, depending on whom you believe, because of the threat of an electromagnetic pulse triggered by either a supersized solar storm or terrorist A-bomb, both capable of disabling the electric grid that powers modern life.
Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are oversized outbursts of atmospheric electricity. Whether powered by geomagnetic storms or by nuclear blasts, their resultant intense magnetic fields can induce ground currents strong enough to burn out power lines and electrical equipment across state lines.
The threat has even become political fodder, drawing warnings from former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a likely presidential contender.
“We are not today hardened against this,” he told a Heritage Foundation audience last year. “It is an enormous catastrophic threat.”
Meanwhile, in Congress, a “Grid Act” bill aimed at the threat awaits Senate action, having passed in the House of Representatives.
Fear is evident. With the sun’s 11-year solar cycle ramping up for its stormy maximum in 2012, and nuclear concerns swirling about Iran and North Korea, a drumbeat of reports and blue-ribbon panels center on electromagnetic pulse scenarios.
“We’re taking this seriously,” says Ed Legge of the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, which represents utilities. He points to a North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) report in June, conducted with the Energy Department, that found pulse threats to the grid “may be much greater than anticipated.”
There are “some important reasons for concern,” says physicist Yousaf Butt of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “But there is also a lot of fluff.”
At risk are the more than 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that cross North America, supplying 1,800 utilities the power for TVs, lights, refrigerators and air conditioners in homes, and for the businesses, hospitals and police stations that take care of us all.
“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 as he introduced the bill to the House of Representatives.
When the big one hits, that’s when you have to watch out for the invaders. Have a safe place where you can see the invaders (aliens, bunian, another country, who cares?) coming for miles, two weeks of water on hand, food that won’t spoil, lots of ice in the freezer, cash, decoys, a radio, personal protection, and a plan to contact your friends and relatives. Drills are fun. Try living with zero gas and electricity for a three days. It can be an eye-opener. When the lights go out, your EMP attack response plan springs into action.