Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In a Flash

My cousin, Nora Maccoby, has written a provocative and disturbing piece on the possibility of a massive electromagnetic pulse and how we're blindly unprepared for the possibility -- even though it's happened as recently as 150 years ago. That one was a "coronal mass ejection" from our sun, i.e. a particularly huge solar flare documented by Richard Carrington, and while solar storms happen all the time, a "solar superstorm," or, worse, terrorist deployment of an "EMP" are threats to our entire way of life, even our survival:
One potentially catastrophic disruption man is not prepared for is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), or a burst of electromagnetic radiation – either from a military nuclear detonation or from a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun. A CME is an ejection of material from the solar corona – or “crown” of atmosphere surrounding the sun. In military terminology, an EMP bomb, detonated hundreds of kilometers above the earth's surface, is known as a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) device. Effects of a HEMP device depend on the altitude of the detonation, energy yield, interactions with the earth's magnetic field, and shielding of targets.

Either event would create a sudden, massive fluctuation in the Earth’s electromagnetic field. The resulting electric and magnetic fields would then couple with electrical grid systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges.

Our entire nation is dependent on computers for power - this includes the smaller microchips and circuits that also power our vehicles. In the event of an EMP nothing using these computer systems will function. This means no electricity to provide power for the pumps that pump gas into our cars or trucks and no electricity to pay for gas, food, or services. We would not even be able to withdrawal cash from an ATM, transport food, or provide minimal medical care.

As recently as 1989 we were hit with a geomagnetic storm caused by a CME, so it's not impossible to imagine more coming. Maybe it's an explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs. As far as preparing, Maccoby says the government is doing nothing and the only answer is to get survivalist:

Ideally, all modern electronics would be EMP hardened. Since this is cost prohibitive, Congressional measures to fund the 'lowest hanging fruit' - such as protecting the power transformers of our nation’s grid - must be implemented. Smaller components and communications equipment necessary to maintain continuity of operations also need to be protected from an EMP event. Without large-scale intervention to protect the electrical power grids, our modern civilization remains defenseless. Clean water, fresh food, liquid fuels for transportation - all would no longer be available or accessible without electricity.

Living with the reality that with the flick of a solar event, life as we know it can change in a matter of days or weeks has led my husband and me to prepare on a few fronts. We have bought property in the mountains, we are working out bartering arrangements with neighbors, and we are planting fruit trees and growing our own food. While nowhere near prepared, we are farther along than if we didn't do anything.

In the vast numbers of the sun's mass and the universe's chronology, as solar flare every 150 years seems like no big thing. And in the age of the (would-be) Times Square Bomber, it's not so hard to imagine an EMP terrorist attack.

Thanks, cuz. Something else to keep me up at night.

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