"EMP 101" A Basic Primer & Suggestions for Preparedness
WHAT IS AN EMP?
View the detonation of a nuclear bomb, two hundred miles straight up as the same thing, but infinitely more powerful since it is so close by.
As the bomb explodes it emits a powerful wave of gamma rays. As this energy release hits the upper atmosphere it creates a electrical disturbance know as the Compton Effect. The intensity is magnified. View it as a small pebble rolling down a slope, hitting a larger one, setting that in motion, until finally you have an avalanche.
At the speed of light this disturbance races to the earth surface. It is not something you can see or hear, in the same way you don't feel the electrical disturbance in the atmosphere during20a large solar storm.
Some police departments are even now experimenting with using a specially designed bumper on their car for high speed chases. If they can brush up against the car they are pursuing the officer just hits a button, and through his bumper a high energy surge will be released, flooding into the car being pursued and shorting out its computer system. Result...whether you are being chased by the police with this new device, or an EMP burst has been fired off...your car will essentially be a useless hunk of metal that will slowly roll to a stop. In that instant, most of America will be on foot again.
Somewhere between 250,000 to 500,000 people will die in the first few minutes...more than all our battle casualties across four years of World War II
And finally, the impact is so overwhelming - that it triggers a psychological sense of helplessness, and therefore why bother, since if it happens we are finished. It is the same response that happened between the 1950s - 60s. When first confronted with the threat of a nuclear attack, tens of billions was spent to prepare, in fact our Interstate Highway system was initiated in the mid 1950s as a national defense effort to provide avenues of escape from cities in the event of nuclear war, a means to bring in emergency supplies and to move our military. Plans were issued to citizens on how to build bomb shelters and all children were drilled in what is seen now as the absurd "duck and cover."
Something happened though by the mid - 1960s. The threat was no longer fifty to a hundred small atomic bombs dropped from bombers, it was now a rain of thousands of hydrogen bombs, delivered within minutes by ballistic missiles. In this atmosphere of overkill, attempting to prepare seemed ridiculous, futile. The standard phrase became "the living will envy the dead," so why bother? Civil defense finally became an object of derision, the realm of a few survivalist nut cases.
That threat is still there, and to this day our nuclear forces stand ready to respond, which has indeed been the only defense left..."if you nuke us, we'll nuke you," a policy known as "mutual assured destruction," a zero win game.
EMP is different, it is not a rain of thousands of bombs, needing a vast and powerful military to deliver it, which means Russia and China are the only real threats in that realm...but unless seized by madness, their leaders know such an attack, within minutes would be met with thousands of bombs annihilating their country as well. It is a balance of terror that has now endured for nearly sixty years.
An EMP attack is different since it only requires but one nuclear weapon, detonated 300 miles above the middle of the United States. One bomb. The launch could even be done from a container ship somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico and in that instant, the war is already over and won.
Twelve hours later the food in your freezer starts to thaw, if it is winter and you don't have a wood stove the frost will start to penetrate in to your house, if summer and you live in Florida your house will be an oven. And that will just be the start.
If you are familiar with what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, multiply that ten thousand times over to every hospital and nursing home in America. Nearly everyone dependent on life support equipment in ICUs will be dead within hours. Nearly everyone in nursing homes dependent on oxygen generators, respirators, etc., will be dead or dying while depending on the time of year temperatures within plummet or soar.
As to medical supplies, not just in hospitals but across the nation to every local pharmacy, they are all dependent on something called Fed Ex. As we have perfected a remarkable system of instant delivery, guided by computers, local inventories have dropped to be more cost efficient and even for reasons of security with controlled substances, which to ordinary citizens means pain killers. Supplies will run out in a matter of days. Those of us dependent on medications to control asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other aliments which a hundred years ago would have killed us shortly after the onset...will now face death within days or weeks, unless the national power grid comes back on line quickly and order is restored.
It is not that simple. The infrastructure America has developed since the beginnings of the Industrial Age, is now so vast, intricate and fragile, that it is like a delicate spider web, which if touched by a flame can instantly vanish.
A few examples to illustrate what might seem an extreme statement
The incredibly complex system that creates electricity, starting from a hydro - electric dam, a glowing nuclear reactor, or coal fired plant, leaps through hundreds of circuit breakers, perhaps thousands of miles of wiring, across high tension lines to sub stations, and finally to the outlet your computer is plug into. This single line will now have hundreds of breaks in it, each one having to be replaced.
Any of us who have lived through a major disaster such as a hurricane, ice storm, or tornado, and then gone several days without power know the sequence, h ow much longer the wait seems to be, and then finally the welcome sight of a power company repair truck turning on to your block...and that truck might be from a power company five hundred miles away. All our disasters have ultimately been local in nature, Andrew in Florida, Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi or one this author went through with Ivan in North Carolina. The disaster is local, even if fifty thousand square miles are affected, help streaming in from neighboring states, caravans of power trucks, each carrying not just experienced crews, but ladened down with all the replacement parts necessary to put electricity and phone service back into your house. When Ivan hit my town, dumping 30 inches of rain, wiping out the power grid and water supply, in less than twelve hours thousands of gallons of bottled water had arrived from Charlotte, power companies from Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia were arriving, the special parts needed to replace my town's shattered water main from the reservoir were air lifted in by a national guard unit.
Consider though if the entire nation is "down." Quite simply there are not enough replacement parts in the entire nation to even remotely begin the retro - fitting and replacement of all components. Every community will be on its own, struggling to rebuild...on their own.
A member of your family has type one diabetes and if you do have that in your family you know that failure to properly monitor and treat can result in death within a matter of weeks at most. Start with the testing kit. If it is one of the new electronic digital models, changes are a small hand held unit, not plugged into the grid will in fact survive. If it is an older kit that still uses testing stripes and you are running short of those stripes of paper, you already have a problem.
Where does insulin come from? In an earlier age it was literally made from the ground up pancreas of sheep and horses. Today it is manufactured via genetically altered bacteria and cells. There are several such factories across the nation which do this, producing millions of vials a day.
We are not even going to get into the complexity of where do the vials, the rubber seals and such come from. But with the shut down of power the factory goes dark and the complex environmental controls to insure the proper safety of the bacteria "batches" is now off line. Within days it will cease to function for that reason alone.
But it will most likely already be off line. What of the workers? Will t he next shift show up when cars no longer run? Unlikely. And those on the job? No matter how dedicated most must leave within a day to see to their own families and chances are not return.
Of the hundreds of thousands of vials waiting in refrigerated containers for shipping, what happens to the coolant? And where are the trucks to move it? If the insulin is, in fact, already in the "pipeline" so to speak, if aboard a Fed Ex plane we already know that tragic fate. If on a highway it will be stalled...and so on to your local pharmacy where the few vials in the current inventory will be snatched up by panicked customers within hours and then hoarded away, regardless of the need of others. And even then, how will you keep the insulin temperature stabilized and when that fails, how swiftly does the potency drop?
But one other factor, the syringes to inject the medicine. Any of us over 45 or so can recall the dull terrible needles in our doctor's offices. (As a child I recall my grandmother boiling my diabetic grandfather's needles.) After use they were stuck back into an autoclave (powered by electricity) and carefully sterilized...and then came the disposable syringe. Where does that needle come from. Again a long back track to an oil field, to a cracking plant, to a factory that, in sterile conditions turns the plastic into the barrel of syringe, to a mine where ore is turned into steel which is milled at remarkable tolerances into a needle point...and again shipped and shipped again and finally to your house.
The tragic thing is how we can discuss such numbers now in a society where the entire nation went into stunned mourning after nearly 4,000 died on 9/11.
The death of an individual is a tragedy. The death of a million a statistic.
The next few million are obvious as well. Those with severe aliments requiring careful daily medication or treatment, such as those awaiting transplants, people undergoing dialysis, those with severe heart ailments both known and not yet realized. We are use to emergency response within minutes when we snap open a cell phone and call 911. The stress, fear, even the unaccustomed physical exertion of someone having to walk ten miles to get home will trigger heart attacks, strokes, etc. We are a "hot house bred" generation, in fact several generations now. Our water supply is carefully controlled and delivered instantly and on demand, hundreds of gallons of it a day. Our food, wrapped in sanitary packages has expiration dates stamped on it. Where will you get drinkable water in a city after but several days? Frankly when was the last time any of us had to live without a flush toilet and anti - bacterial hand wash by the sink? Food that starts to thaw, which we were always cautioned to throw out, food in a refrigerator that is now at room temperature... do you throw it out or risk eating it? If your house is fully electric how do you cook it properly?
These few questions alone lead to a clear path straight to an entire nation heading into gastro - intestinal aliments within a week to ten days at most. Any of us who have traveled overseas, especially to third world countries have weathered them an d survived...thanks in part to modern medications once back safe home in the USA. But we are now the third world country. Very young children and the elderly can die in less than a day from severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Without plenty of clean water and modern waste removal, the problem gets far worst, especially in temporary refugee centers.
Compound this with the fact that by the end of the week millions of Americans will be on the road...walking. The tragic lawlessness we often see in the wake of a large disaster will most certainly explode given that police are near powerless to react in an organized manner and national guard units will not even be mobilized since how do they mobilize if no vehicles run and all communications is still down.
Millions, many of them the most vulnerable will make the choice of abandoning the cities rather than try and fight to find a gallon jug of water or a few cans of soup. Beyond this fear, summer or winter many urban dwellings will be unlivable. The multi million dollar condo on the 40th floor is now a nightmare 400 foot hike straight up, lugging whatever water or food you might get. They will be unheated, or roasting ovens, designed of course with perfection climate control...that no longer works. Many will be driven, as well by the false hope that relatives out in the suburbs or better yet "out in the country" will of course have plenty of food and be willing to share.
Our interstate highways will become nightmare paths of exile as our largely urban population tries to fan out to find food that once was shipped in.
Millions could and will die on that road. Where do they get safe water? The nearby stream or river is now a dump for raw sewage since purification plants are off line. Once stricken on the road by the results after drinking this water, where does one get help, basic medication, more water to keep you hydrated.
Now is the time that more serious diseases will appear. Pneumonia, especia lly in the winter due to exposure. More exotic and dangerous types of food poisoning such as salmonella due to a complete collapse of sanitation. Various forms of hepatitis, even diseases not heard of in a generation or more...measles, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis.
In addition, the number of injuries will have soared. Few of us today are truly use to the back breaking kind of manual labor of the 19th century. Even most laborers today use modern equipment to do 99% of the actual work. Unfamiliar with axes, shovels and saws, people will break bones, cut themselves, or just suddenly die from strain. And waiting now are the infectious diseases where an ordinary cut, once treated with a few stitches instead becomes an avenue for gangrene, a rusty nail is again a threat of tetanus.
And finally, violence against ourselves. At what point do we begin to kill each other for food, water, shelter? At what point does a small town mobilize, barricade itself in and make clear that any who enter will be shot because there is not enough food to share, and any new stranger might be a carrier of yet another disease.
I therefore wrote the novel from the perspective of a single dad with two daughters, living in small town in North Carolina. .and what he will do, and finally must do to try and keep his daughters alive. And yes, it is very autobiographical. I am a single parent of a teenage girl, and I live and teach in a small North Carolina mountain town that is the actual setting for my story.
That might sound strange, but vets are most likely the only ones in your community that have a full array of surgical equipment, anesthesia and pain killers. Armed with this equipment, medications seized from pharmacies, dentist offices and doctor's offices, and then set up at a local school, staffed by local doctors and nurses, would mean that each community has made a major step towards tending its injured, ill and elderly.
Other training would be oriented towards how to organize a community, locating vehicles that still run, and retro fitting those vehicles, that had minimal electronics in them, so that law enforcement, medical, and fire control have transportation.
But a week's worth of emergency food stockpile and water, just recycling used milk and soda bottles, filling them with sterile water and storing them away could buy a precious week's worth of time, nation wide. A few simple medical supplies such a sterile bandages and just a basic family first aid manual. Simple things even our grandparents, still living on farms knew, about how to insure water is safe, where to put a privy pit, and properly store any food that might last long term. If a family member has a serious il lness or condition keep a full level of medicine on hand and not wait until the bottle is empty before refilling. This alone could be a life saver for millions, buying extra weeks or a month or two.
Above all else educate to a post EMP survival. To turn to community organization, to help and rely on neighbors and not some distant agency, to have a plan in place to help local nursing homes with the elderly, to have an entire community, be it a neighborhood in a city, or a small town in the Midwest, ready to take care of itself and insure public safety and law while the nation gradually stitches itself back together.
Of late, our nation's railroads have launched an advertising campaign which is actually true, that in terms of tons per mile, our railroads are still the most effective means of moving goods. For an investment not much more than the cost of a couple of B - 2 bombers, or a squadron of F - 22s, several hundred diesel electric locomotives could be pulled off line, their components harden to withstand an EMP strike, then parked inside silos and bunkers at military bases across the country. Within hours after an EMP strike these powerful machines could already be at work. It will be laborious at first, for every other train in the country will have stalled on the lines. They have to be shunted off the main lines, switches reset by hand...but once cleared, a single train could move ten thousand tons of food to a stricken city and on the return run, evacuate thousands to where the food is out in the countryside, or back to military bases. Within weeks a nationwide transportation grid could be up and running again...yet another factor that will reduce fatalities even more.
Across six thousand years of recorded history mankind has known war. Across six thousand years humanity has tended to focus its best minds on the technology of war, to speak bluntly how to better kill our neighbors. Never has a weapon been invented that it has not ultimately been used. And ironically so many "new" weapons, when first revealed are declared to be so horrible as to render war unthinkable. And all have ultimately been used.
Given the fanaticisms of some of our enemies today, some of whom believe that the creation of the Apocalypse will be their own fulfillment of a religious destiny, it would be madness not to think that such an attack within the next two decades is not just possible but in fact likely.
William R. Forstchen
William R. Forstchen (born 1950) is an American author who began publishing in 1983 with the novel Ice Prophet. He is a Professor of History and Faculty Fellow at Montreat College, in Montreat, North Carolina. He received his doctorate from Purdue University with specializations in Military History, the American Civil War and the History of Technology.
Forstchen is the author of more than forty books, including the award winning We Look Like Men of War, a young adult novel about an African - American regiment that fought at the Battle of the Crater, which is based upon his doctoral dissertation, The 28th USCTs: Indiana's African - Americans go to War, 1863 - 1865 and the "Lost Regiment" series which has been optioned by both Tom Cruise and M. Night Shyamalan.
Forstchen's writing efforts have, in recent years, shifted towards historical fiction and non fiction. In 2002 he started the "Gettysburg" trilogy with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; the trilogy consists of Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War, Grant Comes East, and Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant - The Final Victory. More recently, they have have published two works on the events leading up to Pearl Harbor and immediately after that attack Pearl Harbor, and Days of Infamy.
In March 2009, Forstchen's latest work, One Second After, (Forge/St. Martin's books) was released. Based upon several years of intensive research and interviews, it examines what might happen in a "typical" American town in the wake of an attack on the United States with "electro - magnetic pulse" (EMP) weapons. Similar in plotting to books such as On the Beach and Alas Babylon, One Second After, is set in a small college town in western North Carolina and is a cautionary tale of the collapse of social order in the wake of an EMP strike. The book has been optioned by Warner Bros. and currently is in development as a feature film. The book was cited on the floor of Congress and before the House Armed Services Committee by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R. - MD), chair of the House Committee tasked to evaluate EMP weapons, as a realistic portrayal of the potential damage rendered by an EMP attack on the continental United States.
Forstchen resides near Asheville, North Carolina with his daughter Meghan. His other interests include archaeology, and he has participated in several expeditions to Mongolia and Russia. He is a pilot and co owns an original 1943 Aeronca L - 3B recon plane used in World War II.