The recent, erroneous incoming missile alert in Hawaii that was transmitted via cell phones woke up the nation to the real threats we face from an increasingly hostile set of bad actors, i.e. North Korea, Iran, international terrorist groups, Russia (still) and probably China. That incident, from the NYT:
An early-morning emergency alert (like the above) mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday, setting off widespread panic in a state that was already on edge because of escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea.
The alert, sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, was revoked 38 minutes after it was issued.
That alert was an error but what do we really have to fear from tech-savvy North Korea? Many intell agencies and reliable news reporting sources like Bloomberg point to an EMP (Electromagentic Pulse) attack. As EMP is still rather new to the nation’s collective awareness, we’ve compiled the below facts to familiarize our readers with information on this type of weaponized event. (For the purposes of this article, EMP will refer to a Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse.)
What is an EMP?
A Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation created by nuclear explosions from a nuclear device fired into the atmosphere over a target country.
What happens in the event of an EMP attack?
If an EMP was fired over the US, it would devastate the electrical grid of the nation, along with all its infrastructure and would lead to widespread casualties. There would be an indefinite blackout in the ensuing chaos caused by a mass failure of the power grid. In the case of any nuclear attacks, radiation is the main thing to be worried about but in the case of an EMP, the radiation is mostly absorbed by the air in the atmosphere above where it is detonated. Using the EMP as a weapon may be desirable for a hostile actor as it requires less accuracy, and an EMP blast could affect a 700-mile radius (1126 km).
How can we avoid an EMP attack and how can the damage be contained in its aftermath?
John Norden, director of operations at ISO New England Inc., which manages a grid serving six states, said the industry is unprepared for a full-scale electromagnetic attack. The power industry doesn’t really have any standards or tools to handle “black sky events’’ such as an extreme cyber or EMP attack, or even conventional war, Norden said at a recent [industry] conference.
How real is the threat of an EMP attack?
Peter W. Singer, a strategist for the New America Foundation and expert on 21st century warfare, took issue with claims of imminent EMP attacks, particularly by North Korea.
“EMP is where the science fiction of fears does not cross with reality,” he told Newsweek (Oct. 2017).
He said that EMP was discovered as a by-product of nuclear tests at the outset of the Cold War, but it remains largely untested.
“North Korea [and other nuclear powers] have not tested it, to know what would be the design, height, range, etc. to have the effect they want,” he said.
“So, the scenario assumes North Korea would finally decide to attack the U.S., to risk a war in which its leadership would die, but do so in an utterly untested, unpredictable manner, as opposed to using a nuke in a way that they know works and would definitely have a catastrophic effect on the U.S. That is a pretty big assumption, the kind made in cruddy novels, but less likely in reality.
“If you are worried about North Korea, worry about the actual and far more likely use of their nuclear weapons, missiles or conventional cannons, rather than the stuff of weak science fiction.”
The EMP Commission though remains convinced that the threat from a North Korean EMP attack is real—with a primitive, low-yield nuclear weapon likely to cause enormous destruction to U.S. electronic infrastructure if detonated at height.
Editor’s Note: Given the vastly opposing views from the scientific, intell and military communities regarding the viability of an EMP attack on the U.S, we will be routinely scanning for updates on this topic and posting as warranted.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.