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Ron Patton | April 3, 2019
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I find it interesting and synchronous that a few days ago I received an e-mail from a listener who was concerned that I would overlook the executive order that was signed by President Trump regarding Electro Magnetic Pulses (EMPs).

Last week, the president issued an important executive order, directing a whole-of-government approach to protect critical infrastructure against the effects of an electromagnetic pulse weapon.

The potential threat posed by EMP attacks has been the subject of intense debate for decades. Congress established the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 in October 2000. The Commission issued two reports, in 2004 and 2008, which have largely gathered dust and were not addressed.

Congress reestablished the commission in 2015; it issued one additional report in 2017. The commission’s 2004 report concluded that EMPs represent “one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result in the defeat of our military forces.”

The National Security Strategy made passing reference to EMP threats. The president’s order last week expands on that by establishing a policy that, in addition to providing early warning and diplomatic efforts to prevent an EMP attack, is intended to “protect against, respond to, and recover from the effects of an EMP through public and private engagement, planning, and investment.”

The expediency of the executive order after all these years of stalling should send a signal that the government is preparing for an EMP event. This signals that the potential threat of an Electro Magnetic Pulse or the effects of a Coronal Mass Ejection are certainly on the minds of both the President and National security and that we are certainly at a point where the grid is vulnerable to a massive failure.

The American people are used to having many things. Many of them, even though they are impoverished still have more than their foreign counterparts.

One thing they have access to is an incredible machine. The machine has been around for hundreds of years and we don’t even see the machine but we use it all the time. This machine provides us comfort, warmth, entertainment, and information. This machine cooks our food, it makes it possible for us to get money and it can cool us off from a heat wave.

Flip the switch and the machine makes things come to life. Turn a spigot and clean water fills your tub, sink or glass and you are able to drink cool water.

Pick up a telephone and you hear the voice of someone just down the street or someone that is on the other coast. You push a button and a screen lights up. The screen gives you information for your day, or it can entertain you with movies and television shows. It can also provide hours of amusement with games and other activities.

The machine that we have had for hundreds of years that seems to never go away is the power grid.

Without that power grid, without that vital machine that we plug into, our world would not only plunge into despair, but many people would die and many others would have to adapt and in the chaos would find themselves doing things like looting or even killing to find a power source so that their lives could feel a sense of normalcy.

It must be said that we live in times that have pushed that word “normalcy” to its limits, and even though major utilities in the United States remain relatively stable we have to now realize that we live in an unstable world, where countries that look financially and politically stable can suddenly descend into chaos.

One of the best examples that we can use to demonstrate this is the power grid failure in Venezuela.

While granted, an EMP was not the cause of their utility failure, we can observe that there doesn’t have to be an “attack,” cyber or physical, nor a solar event, but simply aging equipment, and the location of the most vulnerable portions of the grid that would cause a “cascading failure” which would leave tens of millions in the dark for an unspecified amount of time.

Cascading failures are an emergent phenomenon of a network, rather than the independent and coincidental failures of its individual components. To put it simply it is similar to if one Christmas Light goes out they all go out on a much grander scale.

For the majority of the time, the Continental United States has nonchalantly taken for granted that the grid won’t fail us. There are little inconveniences like power outages from a transformer that may have short-circuited because of an unforeseen circumstance and we always hope that a lineman or electrician will be there to restore our sense of entitlement so that we can get on with our day.

Take away that comfortable necessity and the United States turns into a landmass that becomes quite literally an obstacle of big trees, huge rivers that need to be crossed, rugged mountains, deserts and plains that become disconnected with terrified people that realize that they are alone and desperate when the night falls.

We all know our ancestors dealt with all that in the past, but they had to struggle before they found that time where conveniences could be had. With all of the power and the geniuses who were able to connect us all, we won over the perils of the primitive life.

In the case of Venezuela’s second largest city of Maracaibo, 1,653 million people are still seeing rolling blackouts after the first cascading failure earlier this month. Water lines, the Internet, wireless service, and telephone service no longer work there.

Some areas of Venezuela, where the power has been out, have been completely rendered hostile and toxic.

It is a place where those with guns are in control, people are starving, there is a lack of water, and every day they have to deal with looters and gangs.

The grocery stores there are also empty. Imagine this in a city of over 1.6 million people, the situation is being described as “madness.”

Now imagine if the same thing happened in a densely populated city like Los Angeles or New York City. New York City has more than 8.5 million people, with Los Angeles coming in second with approximately 4 million people, and “madness” would not begin to describe what would happen in the event of a cascading grid failure.

Soon after a Cascading Grid Failure situation ensues, supply trucks will likely stop running, leaving store shelves empty and unable to supply the food and other goods that we would so urgently need in this type of situation. This again is a good reason to have supplies on hand including potable water and non-perishable food items on hand.

With stores and restaurants unable to source supplies, most will be forced to close their doors within days. Some people will very quickly realize this, and looting and rioting can be expected to happen within hours.

It is also important to have a plan with regard to how your family will gather in a cascading failure. These things happen at the most inconvenient times. You have to consider that if a cascading failure happens chances are parents will be at work and children will be at school.

Many businesses that rely on power will be forced to close their doors.

Since school administrators are unlikely to allow children to leave unaccompanied, parents would need to make their way there through the chaos to collect their kids and take them home.

Or they can make arrangements for another family member to find the kids and meet in a safe location.

Keep in mind that you should try to maintain a full tank of gas or have reserves to provide fuel for transportation – you should also set aside money somewhere in the house in case of an emergency. Money may still be exchanged, but ATM’s would not work in a grid down scenario.

Cellular phones and the internet will likely go out of service quickly after the grid goes down.

With no email communication available, old-fashioned letters may once more become a preferred method of communication. Unfortunately, however, post offices are likely to stop operating soon after the grid goes down, leaving people with absolutely no way to contact each other – especially those who live far apart.

You can also forget heating and or air conditioning.

Water may also be scarce as pumps that run on electricity may not be able to pump water to areas.

For example, Caracas, Venezuela, a city of at least 3.5 million people hasn’t received a single drop of water since March 7th, the day of the first hundred hour-long blackout. The reason is that Caracas is spread over a valley at 2000 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains; given that topography, the water that comes from the Camatagua Dam and the Tuy River in the lowlands south of the capital must be pumped uphill, and that requires electricity.

Those who can afford it, pay up to $200 for a 5,000-liter water truck to fill their built-in tanks. Others resort to extreme measures, like picking severely polluted water from sewage drains.

But beyond the serious health problems this could cause, those sewers could soon run dry too. Without water pumping, sewers will dry up, and all the waste will pile up inside, creating yet another public health catastrophe.

People there are cooking with polluted water and this could lead to a possible cholera outbreak.

Of course, there are many people in the United States that believe that something like this will never happen here and yet the President’s executive order received bipartisan support.

The Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Threats mandates that the White House take charge of national EMP preparedness. This order circumnavigates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

Putting the White House in charge of EMP preparedness is a bold, but vital, component of the president’s executive order. Traditionally, cabinet departments – including DOE and DHS – have a long history of playing down the seriousness of the EMP threat.

The new executive order states that the president’s National Security Advisor, coordinating with the National Security Council and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “shall coordinate the development and implementation of executive branch actions to assess, prioritize, and manage the risks of EMPs.”

President Trump’s executive order also directs DHS to work with DOE and other agencies, along with the private sector, to “develop a plan to mitigate the effects of EMPs on the vulnerable priority-critical infrastructures.”

An EMP itself is not harmful to people, but its aftermath would cause devastating, long-lasting effects that could ultimately kill 90 percent of the U.S. population. Most deaths would be due to the shutting down of our entire essential infrastructure, including financial, medical, communication, transportation, food, water and sewer systems.

Emergency services, hospitals and law enforcement officials would become overwhelmed, and mob rule would ensue. The breakdown of society as we know it today would cause wide-scale death and destruction of biblical proportions.

Now mind you, we have looked at Venezuela and have seen the worst case scenario and yet there are critics that want to turn this into a political football.

The debate is becoming as volatile as the controversial back and forth that happens when people discuss climate change.

On one side are scientists who tell us its real and an existential threat; while on the other side are politicians who claim the threat is overhyped. In both cases, the discussion ought not to be about whether the threat is exaggerated or underestimated, but rather to what degree, if any, the nation is willing to commit resources to mitigate the risks.

Without going down the global warming rabbit hole, adjusting to the threat of EMP attack is far less expensive—both in dollars and behavioral adjustments—than the proposed climate change policy remedies. Plus, the actions taken to harden critical infrastructure against EMP attack would have a deterrent effect of their own. If the U.S. were to protect our resources in a manner that would make them sufficiently resistant to EMP attack and resilient enough to recover quickly from any damage, that greatly diminishes the incentive for a rogue nation like North Korea to launch such an attack.

For years now, we have been warned that rogue states could turn our country into a living hell by exploding a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere over America. The electromagnetic pulse from such a blast would fry our electrical circuits and transistors and put much of our grid out of operation. A Caracas-style blackout would descend on our nation and last, potentially, for weeks or even months.

While an EMP attack is an ever-present fear from a rogue nation, we cannot rule out the possibility that the sun can also take out infrastructure with a CME.

Occasionally, the sun unleashes pent-up energy in the form of a solar flare or a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which is a blast of plasma. Earth’s magnetic field protects us against the sun’s burst of energy and solar storms, but sometimes the sun overpowers the planet’s defenses. When the coronal mass ejection arrives a day or so later, it interacts with and dramatically changes Earth’s magnetic field” causing a black-out of the grid.”

In 1859 there was a blast that is now known as the Carrington Event, but electricity was not in widespread use, so the effects were not broadly felt.

If the Sun decides to open fire on us, we will not only lose the power grid – but satellites could be damaged as well.

Electromagnetic incidents occur within seconds or even milliseconds over large areas of the country, the relative unpredictability of which could undermine disaster response. In areas where the power infrastructure is especially interconnected, failures could cascade.

Solar weather can affect us biologically. In fact, carefully monitored statistics show whenever there are active solar flares, auto accidents, hospital admissions for psychotic breaks with reality and heart disease rise dramatically. This is hardly surprising since we are delicately wired as electronic tuners.

Past storms, like the one in March 1989 where six million people in Quebec lost power for 9 hours, have been analyzed and amazingly both Earth and space activity demonstrate what could be seen as apocalyptic events.

Ground currents induced during the geomagnetic storm actually melted the copper windings of transformers in the power distribution system. It also caused greater instances of disease including a spike in plague cases.

The book, “Severe Space Weather Events–Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report” is a fictitious account that is available for free online and gives us an up close and personal look into a “fictitious “massive coronal ejection.

The Coronal Ejection Electromagnetic Pulse or EMP from the sun is detailed in the book with a fictitious scenario that happens at midnight on September 22nd, 2012. In the fictitious account, “The skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colorful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power. The earth begins to rock and a devastating earthquake is felt over a large area.

A year later, millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China, and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometers away on the surface of the sun.”

The novelty of the apocalyptic worst-case scenario is hard to fathom and we marvel at what would happen but being in a situation like this should urge you to be ready for anything.

The government is preparing with the signing of the executive order. They know that our grid is vulnerable not only to attack but to a cascading failure which would leave us in the dark, as many in Venezuela are now.

There is a reason why the idea of protection was shelved and is now coming back to life.

Ensuring that we protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from both natural and nuclear-weapons-generated EMP is a vital part of the nation’s overall security strategy. Regardless of the size of the risk, it is a topic worthy of serious attention.

Written by Ron Patton

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