The new factor that makes one or a few nuclear warhead-carrying missiles launched into orbit much more dangerous than during the Cold War is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the critical infrastructures that are the foundation of modern societies, especially the national electric grid. Electronics are increasingly vulnerable to EMP — more than a million times more vulnerable (and, yes, also much more capable) than they were at the dawn of the age of modern electronics a half-century ago. Moore’s Law has not been kind to our electronic vulnerabilities.
Consequently, even one nuclear warhead detonated at orbital altitude over the United States would black out the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for months or years by means of the electromagnetic pulse it would create. The Congressional EMP Commission assessed that a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill nine of 10 Americans through starvation and societal collapse. Islamic State-like gangs would rule the streets.
Just such a scenario is described in Iranian military documents.
A new law signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 25, 2014 will require the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) to prepare the citizens of Arizona for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP):
The division shall develop preparedness recommendations for the public regarding the type and quantity of supplies, including food, water and medical supplies, that each person in this state should possess in preparation for an electromagnetic pulse that might occur over the United States. The division shall post the preparedness recommendations on its website and shall update the preparedness recommendations at least every five years.
The law will add section 26-305.03 to the Arizona Revised Statutes with the above mandate. I would also note that the same exact preparedness principles apply to any of the myriad threats to the electric grid: whether caused by EMP, cyber-attack, solar flare or any other cause. So, in adding this simple mandate for ADEM, Arizona has taken an important step in preparing its citizens.
Our aging power grid is America’s Achilles’ heel. Most communities and emergency managers continue to believe that outside help would always be available. (Click here to read more about that.) Hopefully, Arizona’s new law will raise awareness that in a national catastrophe, communities could be on their own for a long period of time. In other words, survival will be a local issue.