“The North American economy and the functioning of the society as a whole are critically dependent on the availability of electricity, as needed, where and when needed. The electric power system in the US and interconnected areas of Canada and Mexico is outstanding in terms of its ability to meet load demands with high quality and reliable electricity at reasonable cost. However, over the last decade or two, there has been relatively little large-capacity electric transmission constructed and the generation additions that have been made, while barely adequate, have been increasingly located considerable distances from load for environmental, political, and economic reasons. As a result, the existing National electrical system not infrequently operates at or very near local limits on its physical capacity to move power from generation to load. Therefore, the slightest insult or upset to the system can cause functional collapse affecting significant numbers of people, businesses, and manufacturing. It is not surprising that a single EMP attack may well encompass and degrade at least 70% of the Nation’s electrical service, all in one instant. ” (2004 EMP Commission Report)
An EMP attack on the electrical grid is different from a normal power failure in the following ways:
1. The EMP impact is instantaneous and occurs simultaneously over a very large geographic area. There are no warning signs such as flicking lights, and consequently no time for a response to prevent damage.
2. EMPs release pulses so all the damage is not done at first. Lines and components are damaged and when the second pulse arrives it can then disable a component which was previously damaged but not destroyed, this time destroying it.
3. The power grid requires other services to remain properly functioning. For example they require a continuous supply of fuel. They require communications networks and transportation. When these systems are destroyed also it makes restoration of the grid impossible.
According to the EMP commission report restoration of the power grid could takes weeks or months. The grid is divided into islands so as one is taken down the next can be protected. After an EMP attack some of these islands may have been protected and have power. In this case restoration can be accomplished using the working grids and would take only weeks. If however, the neighboring grids had also been destroyed the restoration could take months.
Because there are so many different components with numerous manufacturers, and various levels of protection built into some of the components it is too expensive and virtually impossible to create a protection that will work for all.
Telecommunications systems would be disrupted and/or disabled. During and in the weeks following the attack on the World Trade Centers on 9/11 communications were disrupted. Remember they shut down the stock exchange because of this. Just think about the effects of an EMP which wiped out miles and miles of electric grid and not just a few blocks.
“The telecommunication system consists of four basic and primary physical systems: wireline, wireless, satellite, and radio. In general, the national telecommunications infrastructure may be farther advanced then others in its ability to address the particular consequences of EMP. This is due in large measure to the recognized alternative threats to this system, as well as broad recognition of its importance to society. The three primary and separate systems (excluding radio) that make up the broad telecommunications infrastructure each provide specialized services; they also overlap heavily. Thus the loss or degradation of any one of these somewhat redundant subsystems subjects the remaining functional subsystems to heavier service loads.
Each of these four primary systems is unique in their capability to suffer insult from EMP. The wireline system is robust but will be degraded within the area exposed to the EMP electromagnetic fields. The wireless system is technologically fragile in relation to EMP, certainly in comparison to the wireline one. In general, it may be so seriously degraded in the EMP region as to be unavailable. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communications satellites may also suffer radiation damage as a result of one or more high-altitude nuclear bursts that produce EMP.
The radio communication sub-system of the national telecommunications infrastructure is not widespread, but where it is connected to antennas, power lines, telephone lines, or other extended conductors, it is also subject to substantial EMP damage. However, radio communication devices not so connected or not connected to such conductors at the time of the EMP attack are likely to be operable in the post-attack interval.” (2004 EMP Commission Report)
Destruction of this system would mean we may not be able to get information from media sources. We may not be able to contact family or friends to check on them or to get help. The police and fire departments, as well as hospital and private ambulances, may not be capable of contact. And, these agencies may have no way to communicate with each other to maintain civil controls. The government may have no way to communicate with other government agencies. Power companies and other infrastructure agencies such as water and sanitation may not be able to call for the help they need to reestablish services.
We could be returned to life as the pioneers knew it in 1850.