EMP – the Worst Case Scenario

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When we talk disasters, they really fall into two basic categories: short-term and long-term. The long-term ones are really TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) type events. If any of them hit, we’re going to be struggling to find a “new normal,” even more so than we have had to due to COVID.

Of all the TEOTWAWKI events which are possible, the potential for an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) to take out the power grid is both the most fear-inspiring and probably the most likely. We have several enemies around the world, who either have this capability now or are working hard at obtaining it. The idea that they would just sit on that, without using it, is a bit hard to believe.

For those who are unfamiliar with an EMP, the most common way of producing one is as a by-product of a nuclear detonation. When the first atomic bomb was detonated, they noticed and recorded the EMP that was released. At that time there wasn’t all that much interest in it, because our electronics back in 1945 were of the vacuum tube variety; an EMP wouldn’t harm them.

But things have changed considerably since then. Solid-state electronics are easily damaged by static electricity, let alone the massive pulses of electrical power that constitute an EMP. If the scientists of the Manhattan Project had been measuring the effects of their experiment with modern electronic sensors, the sensors would probably all have been fried by the E1 and E2 pulses.

But that’s not the big issue. Put simply, the E3 pulse from an EMP would wipe out our electric power grid, mostly by destroying the transformers at the 55,000 electric substations scattered across the country. Without those substations, the electric grid would be down for an indeterminate time.

This is the real issue, not the destruction of our electronics. Whether or not your cell phone or television works is not going to really change your chances of survival all that much. But when the grid goes down, then everything that’s powered by electricity in this country ceases to work. Most especially, that means our infrastructure and our communications.

Without the internet, for example, the entire supply system comes to a screeching halt. Factories can’t order the parts and materials they need, in order to produce their products. But that won’t matter much anyway, as their machines won’t run either. Even if they could produce products, they wouldn’t know where to ship them, because the computer-generated orders wouldn’t be coming in. Besides, without electricity to pump gas and diesel, trucks wouldn’t be able to pick those products up and deliver them across the country.

That’s bad enough when it’s iPads and Nikes that we’re talking about; but when it’s food and medicine, we’ve got a serious problem. Just getting food to the local supermarket is a major undertaking, with much of the food being produced across the country or even on the other side of the world.

According to the report of the EMP Commission, 60 to 90 percent of the US population would die within the first year after an EMP. Most of those people would die of starvation, but some 66% of all adults in the United States take medicines for some sort of chronic condition. While some of those people could survive without their meds, many could not.

This is the ultimate survival scenario. It would require extreme self-sufficiency, with the ability to grow enough food to survive. There’s no way of stockpiling enough food to last. Oh, maybe to last the first year, but this problem won’t go away for at least a decade. What then?