Doomsday Scenario: The EMP

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 4

The US Navy recently spent 7.5 million dollars on developing an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) generator. The by-product of a nuclear blast, an EMP fries anything electronic within its reach. In a worse-case scenario, a massive nuclear bomb could be detonated over the Atlantic seaboard, knocking out electricity in cities like New York, Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia. This could be used as a pre-emptive strike for an invasion, to blind radar to incoming missiles or for some other nefarious purpose. Knocking out electronics for a few weeks might just be enough to send our culture into complete chaos. In effect, we’re hard at work building such a weapon to test its effects on potential military and civilian targets so as to better prepare in case of attack.

Our culture has become incredibly dependent on electronic gadgets and information networks. Land-lines have been replaced by cellphones, the postal system by email and social network websites. Is there any doubt that even just ten years down the line our dependence will grow even more? Our reliance on electronics certainly isn’t going to diminish, it’s going to increase exponentially. With that in mind, how much damage could an EMP do in the near future?

An example of the hysteria that might ensue after such an attack could be New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit, it was shocking to see how quickly everyone went into survival mode. After just a few days with no contact from the outside world, New Orleans residents found themselves practically on the set of the movie Waterworld. Roving gangs were patrolling the few roads available to the remaining residents, searching for plunder and supplies. It didn’t matter if you had food and water stored away in case of emergencies, all that mattered was whether or not you were armed. All that chaos from just a week without contact. (Granted, if FEMA had arrived as quickly as they had for the San Francisco quake of 1989 (one day) it may have been a different story.)

Then again, when the power shut down on the East Coast in 2003, the only result was a marathon to eat all the ice cream in the city before it melted. The key difference was in the presence of authority figures. The New Orleans PD was unable to remain at full force after the hurricane struck and the flooding began, but the NYPD had no problem keeping the citizens of New York from looting. Contact with police made all the difference in the two case studies.

So if you dream of a future where robots take care of the garbage or nanobots create your food for you, it’s important to keep in mind the EMP. If such chaos occurred only years ago, imagine the damage that could be perpetrated when our reliance upon gadgets becomes that much more dear.

Image: waldopepper (Flickr,CC-Attribution)

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. If we are hit with EMP, I’d be more concerned with thermonuclear blasts that will probably follow and evaporate me than with availability of my favorite social websites.

    Posted by: johnfrink   August 19, 2008
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  2. But you see, the Navy is developing an EMP generator that creates an EMP without the nuclear blast. Meaning you could set one off (Ocean’s Eleven style) and not start a thermonuclear war.

    Posted by: John Heylin   August 20, 2008
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  3. Good incentive to develop quantum computers.

    Posted by: Jeff Hilford   August 21, 2008
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  4. I’ve still got some old math and science books and a solar calculator. Hopefully this will help to restart civilization.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   August 22, 2008
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