A surge on EMP attacks!

September 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Venus Bathing in the Electromagnetic Pulse

Image by Shooting Chris via Flickr

Apparently, there is a surge in the media on potential EMP attacks:

“An EMP Attack could be more damaging than an Nuke Bomb”, “Severe Danger to U.S. of EMP Attack”, “EMP Attack: Only 30 Million Americans Survive, and “EMP Attack Would Decimate America”, “EMP could leave ‘9 out of 10 Americans dead'”. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Is it a distraction? Or is the threat real? Or is it spin doctors?

What is an EMP attack?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation coming from an explosion and/or a fluctuating magnetic field.

An EMP can be generated from natural sources like lightning or solar storms interacting with the earth’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field.

It can also be created using a nuclear weapon or non-nuclear devices. Of all man-made EMP’s, the ones that can really do some serious damage as mentioned in the media surge ~ And I mean DAMAGE ~ is a High-altitude Electro Magnetic Pulse (HEMP).

Effects of a HEMP

During the first United States nuclear test on 16 July 1945 states, “All signal lines were completely shielded, in many cases doubly shielded. In spite of this many records were lost because of spurious pickup at the time of the explosion that paralyzed the recording equipment.

The Starfish Prime test of 1962 showed that the magnitude and effects of a high altitude nuclear explosion were much larger than previously believed. More tests to study the physical mechanisms producing the electromagnetic pulses followed. In the same year, Russia too did nuclear tests in space over Kazakhstan 1962. Smaller, but over areas with a stronger earth magnetic field and higher population density.

The complex multi-pulse is usually described in terms of three components. The E1 pulse is the very fast component destroying computers and communications equipment. It is too fast for for ordinary lightning protectors. The E2 pulse is like lightning. Ordinary lightning protectors will do, and it won’t do much damage. The E3 pulse is slow and restores the Earth’s magnetic field to its natural state. It is quite similar to a geomagnetic storm caused by a very strong solar flare. It can induce geomagnetic currents in equipment such as power line transformers.

In summary, EMP introduces two collectively unique features to the overall picture of system susceptibility to nuclear effects. These features, taken together, distinguish EMP from all other forms, both natural and man-made, of electrical stress and response. First, stresses induced by EMP can significantly exceed those ordinarily encountered in system circuits and components and can thereby increase the probability of upset and burnout occurring in electrical and electronic systems. Second, EMP can cause this increase to occur nearly simultaneously over a large area, about one million square kilometers for a high-altitude burst. ~ Office of Radiation Protection on factsheet Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)

More notes from my searches

Beyond a certain altitude a nuclear weapon will not produce an electromagnetic pulse. And for equipment to be affected, the weapon needs to be above the visual horizon. Large weapons could effect satellite operations and communications. The local strength of the Earth’s magnetic field matters. The stronger the field, the stronger the impact. It doesn’t take building big megaton bombs to produce an electromagnetic pulse of significant size. Small pure fission weapons with thin cases causes an electromagnetic pulse more efficiently … I can’t find much more than that. Apparently details are still classified, beyond the links given below.

STRATFOR writes …

The limited body of knowledge that was gained from these tests remains a highly classified matter in both the United States and Russia. Consequently, it is difficult to speak intelligently about EMP or publicly debate the precise nature of its effects in the open-source arena.

The importance of the EMP threat should not be understated. There is no doubt that the impact of a HEMP attack would be significant. But any actor plotting such an attack would be dealing with immense uncertainties — not only about the ideal altitude at which to detonate the device based on its design and yield in order to maximize its effect but also about the nature of those effects and just how devastating they could be. ~  Gauging the Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack | STRATFOR

My 2 cents

For business or public actors further verification does not seem to make sense. We, the public, simply need more information for intelligent “open source” brainstorming. And aside from man-made EMP’s possibly attacking us, we seem to have solar storm phenomena coming up soon, and scientific and military data might be useful for surviving that in a variety of contexts.

Military and research institutions, those are the actors that do have more information than “open source” (publicly available information). Scientists would do well if they released what more information is available from the tests, and military sources would do well to provide information on related scenario’s and possible preparation and mitigation strategies and tactics. I think a non-condescending and respectful attitude towards the public may be well worth considering.

Until that happens, people will likely be speculating instead of verifying and validating … and there will be lots of room for fear mongers that wish to gain influence over the easily frightened. A mere political game. Indeed not “intelligent speak”.

Your task, ye Weavers of Tales, is to create a fable of fairytale suitable for instilling the appropriate level of fear in children so they grow up appreciating all the lords do to protect them. ~ Bruce Schneier’s Annual Movie Plot Threat Contest

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