What will you be doing “The Day After” the EMP?

First in a series of articles on the impact of nuclear attack on a Louisiana Air Force Base.

I think I first wrote about the danger of electromagnetic pulse or EMP 32 years ago in a series of articles in the Shreveport Journal during the hot part of the Cold War.

Just across the Red River from Shreveport is Barksdale Air Force Base, home for a wing of the Strategic Air Command and its nuclear-armed fleet of B-52s, which would literally be Ground Zero in the event of nuclear exchange. I and other reporters researched and reported on what the effects of a nuclear attack would be.

Years later I ran into a university professor who recalled the series. She told me she looked at the map (above) showing the concentric circles of damage level, found where her home and office were located, and read not another word. That was all she needed to know, because she would not be one of those unfortunate souls able to say, “What was that?”

One of the almost insignificant side effects mentioned in the stories was EMP — a single pulse of energy similar to lightning but with a rise in voltage a hundred times faster and delivering thousands of volts. Equipment designed to protect lightning surges is too slow to protect from EMP. I have written about it more recently.

A nuclear weapon burst high in the atmosphere could blanket the country in EMP. It could be from a terrorist-launched nuclear missile from just offshore that explodes over the center of the country, killing no one but causing devastation. Or a solar flare could strike half the globe.

Electronic circuits would be fried.

In this past 32 years, politicians and industrial leaders have been tripping all over themselves to anxiously do absolutely nothing about this threat.

The alarm has been sounded again by several organizations, most notably The Heritage Foundation:

On August 15, 2003, a major blackout occurred throughout the northeastern U.S. and Canada, offering more than 55 million people a glimpse of what life could be like after a large-scale EMP. In that case, most services were restored within a day, but that would not be the case after an EMP. Damage to lives and property would be immense, and the ensuing devastation would continue for years, if not decades. Unfortunately, many in the media have dismissed the idea.

The good news is that the U.S. can do a lot to protect itself from the effects of a deliberate EMP attack by an enemy or an EMP caused by space weather, such as a large solar flare. But local, state, and federal governments have a lot of work to do. The Heritage Foundation has urged Congress to establish August 15 as National EMP Awareness Day, to educate the public and lawmakers on the threat and the need for action.

Watch a video detailing the damages here.

World Net Daily recently reported that within 12 to 18 months after an EMP attack, experts predict, 90 percent of Americans would be dead. That is no typo, 90 percent.

That figure comes from a 2004 study that found computers would cease functioning, and every system that relies on those components – food and fuel deliveries, communications, production, manufacturing, travel and everything associated – would halt. It would takes years if not decades to repair, if at all.

Michaela Bendikova and Jessica Zuckerman, writing for Heritage offer this more detailed account:

A successful EMP attack—a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by a rapid acceleration of charged particles — would fundamentally change the world:

  • Airplanes would fall from the sky;
  • Most cars would be inoperable;
  • Electrical devices would fail;
  • Water, sewer, and electrical networks would fail simultaneously; and
  • Systems of banking, energy, transportation, food production and delivery, water, emergency services, and even cyberspace would collapse.

It would take years—possibly decades—to restore the U.S. electricity supply. Recovery abilities would be critically limited, and the country would be challenged to support current population levels. Millions would likely die.

Interest in the threat from EMP evaporated after the fall of the Soviet Union. Heritage reports the Department of Homeland Security has no recovery plan in the event of an EMP attack.

Though there are things that could be done, none is being contemplated. Electronics could be hardened rather cheaply. Missile defense could be beefed up to defend against Scuds fired from the Gulf or either ocean. We could even plan to eliminate our dependence on the power grid by developing home-based power generation.

In 1983, ABC broadcast a made-for TV movie called “The Day After,” depicting a full-scale nuclear exchange and how the survivors would live.

Before the broadcast, I wrote a rather grisly fictional account for the newspaper to describe what it might be like for survivors around Shreveport. It included this in the opening graphs:

He just lay there staring  out of vacant eyes at the flicking light of the smoking kerosene lantern hanging from the twisted wire coat hanger — may have been flash blind.

He wore a T-shirt which asked: “Where the hell is Shreveport?” To Mike it sounded like a question providing its own answer. …

When the missiles hit, she and her husband didn’t know what do. They jumped in the car, late-model care no doubt, with electronic ignition and automatic transmission. But it wouldn’t start. Not even the radio would work.

Electromagnetic pulse. It was a term he had never heard until a week ago. Now it was as much a part of his vocabulary as fallout and flash-blind and gamma rays.

Intense radio waves from a half-dozen or so air bursts had shot through the air like an electronic firestorm, burning out transistors and shorting our capacitors. The pulse traveled down telephone lines frying the electronics. It traveled down electric lines knocking out the huge grids, reaching into homes to zap television sets and stereos and all manner of appliances.

I was in that 2003 blackout. Luckily it lasted only a couple of days.

7 comments on “What will you be doing “The Day After” the EMP?

  1. Steve says:

    Like I posted https://4thst8.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/no-one-is-defending-nation-against-emp/#comment-814 The USA will be the first to use this technology. Indeed we have been doing so for quite a while and it was likely used in gulf war 2. Currently our military is shielded against this type of attack so at the least our country would survive under martial law. But I think many of our commercial server farms like Switch Communications (right here in Clark County) are also building with this type of threat in mind.

    Here is some more info.


  2. Athos says:

    Steve, your research takes us all down some mighty strange roads!

  3. Steve says:

    Different is good.

  4. […] this some startling new revelation? Hardly, I first wrote about it in February 1980 and it was old hat […]

  5. […] been writing about the potential for the latter event since 1980. A year ago I discussed a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3410, that would begin the […]

  6. […] are a number of things that could actually cause such a scenario — terrorism, solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by the detonation of a relatively small nuclear bomb in the […]

  7. […] ago while I was writing about the threat of a nuclear attack on the nearby Strategic Command Air Force base, my managing editor informed me who would be the […]

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