Should America Be Worried About an EMP Attack?

nuclear bomb noticeWhen the power went out Thursday in my home base of San Diego, I freaked out a little bit. I couldn’t get online at all to figure out what the heck was going on. For some reason, I couldn’t even dial out on my cell phone for a while. Finally got hold of some information from friends in Texas and Virginia, who very happily informed me that San Diego had made the Drudge Report headline. Cool. San Diego is totally famous now. 

Anyway.

Even more than the lights being out into the wee hours, I hated being cut off from readily available information. I know people didn’t always have the luxury of being able to find out pretty much anything at anytime of day, but I sort of felt like the dude in Flowers for Algernon when the mouse loses his intelligence and dies. Charlie had seen the light, and he wasn’t going back.

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Ok, maybe I’m being a little bit dramatic, but really, what would happen if an EMP or something hit the United States, wiping out all of our electronics? The city of San Diego estimates a loss of $100 million or more for a blackout that didn’t even start until 4pm, and was pretty much over by the time people woke up Friday morning.

Businesses had to shut down, unable to run credit cards for purchases. Restaurants couldn’t cook, run their dish sanitizers, or even flip on a bathroom light for their patrons. Office workers couldn’t do anything without their computers. Heck, the cleaning crews couldn’t even vacuum without electricity. 

Modern society is built on energy and our ability to easily and quickly communicate. Almost everything we do is somehow related to electricity; the alarm that wakes us up, the coffeepot that brews our coffee (and the fridge that stores our milk), the gas pumps that fuel our cars, the equipment we use in our jobs, the TV shows we watch at night ... the list is practically endless.

 If all of that got wiped out in one fell swoop, it would be scary, to say the least. Being the practical, information-loving gal that I am, I started doing some research on EMPs, since my knowledge of them is pretty much limited to what Hollywood tells me.

By the way, I did all of my research on this while wearing a tinfoil hat, from my mother’s basement. 

(Kidding. Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) would occur when a nuclear bomb was launched miles over our heads and exploded, and it would wipe out all of our electronics. Our lives revolve around electricity … if we lose that suddenly and unexpectedly, we wouldn’t even be able to purify and sanitize our water. There would be food shortages as perishables rotted from lack of refrigeration. Even if it were only temporary, a few days or weeks, the damage from the panic has the potential to make Katrina look like a day at the park.

Ok, now that we know what it is, is it possible? Yes. The size and scope are debatable, but an EMP attack on the United States is completely possible. The scariest part is that the two countries (Iran or North Korea) most likely to detonate one on us can’t necessarily be retaliated against. Their citizens live mostly in poverty already; a sudden lack of electricity for them isn’t going to be the life-style shatterer it would be even for the poorest people in America.

What does this mean? Should we all gather a year’s supply of food and water and live in abject fear that the ‘big one’ is coming? No! I was seriously only kidding about that tinfoil hat. I’m not an alarmist, and there’s certainly no reason to live life in paranoia. 

There’s also no reason to walk around in ignorance either. There are very bad people in the world, and they want to destroy the United States. This Sunday, we will remember a day, ten years ago, that they tried. In 2005, Senator Jon Kyl pointed out that:

The Sept. 11 commission report stated that our biggest failure was one of 'imagination.' No one imagined that terrorists would do what they did on Sept. 11. Today few Americans can conceive of the possibility that terrorists could bring our society to its knees by destroying everything we rely on that runs on electricity. But this time we've been warned, and we'd better be prepared to respond.

So spend a few minutes reading about missile defense, or asking someone about it. Because if they bad guys are going to launch one of those suckers at us, I sure as hell want to be able to knock it out of the sky.

 

Image via Marchin Wichary/Flickr

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