Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

Blog Post #1002

January 3, 2018

The 2008 EMP Report

[I must apologize to you, my readers, for the late-night post. I just returned from a winter vacation and my schedule is a little off. I will endeavor to be more consistent in posting between 6-8:00 PM Eastern every Wednesday as regularly as I can.]

Since my initial post about in September about the 2008 EMP Commission Report, I came across my copy of the report. Since this is a public report, I’m making it available for you to download along with this post. Fair warning, the findings in this report are a bit frightening both because they are real, and because they are legitimate. Below is an excerpt:



“The physical and social fabric of the United States is sustained by a system of systems; a complex and dynamic network of interlocking and interdependent infrastructures (“critical national infrastructures”) whose harmonious functioning enables the myriad actions, transactions, and information flow that undergird the orderly conduct of civil society in this country. The vulnerability of these infrastructures to threats — deliberate, accidental, and acts of nature — is the focus of greatly heightened concern in the current era, a process accelerated by the events of 9/11 and recent hurricanes, including Katrina

and Rita.


“This report presents the results of the Commission’s assessment of the effects of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on our critical national infrastructures and provides recommendations for their mitigation. The assessment is informed by analytic and test activities executed under commission sponsorship, which are discussed in this volume. An earlier executive report, Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) — Volume 1: Executive Report (2004), provided an overview of the subject.


“The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems.  When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation. This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.


“Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system,

its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP’s particular damage mechanisms, creates the possibility of long-term, catastrophic consequences. The implicit invitation to take advantage of this vulnerability, when coupled with increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, is a serious concern. A single EMP attack may seriously degrade or shut down a large part of the electric power grid in the geographic area of EMP exposure effectively instantaneously. There is also a possibility of functional collapse of grids beyond the exposed area, as electrical effects propagate from

one region to another.


“’The time required for full recovery of service would depend on both the disruption and damage to the electrical power infrastructure and to other national infrastructures. Larger affected areas and stronger EMP field strengths will prolong the time to recover. Some critical electrical power infrastructure components are no longer manufactured in the United States, and their acquisition ordinarily requires up to a year of lead time in routine circumstances. Damage to or loss of these components could leave significant parts of the electrical infrastructure out of service for periods measured in months to a year or more. There is a point in time at which the shortage or exhaustion of sustaining backup systems, including emergency power supplies, batteries, standby fuel supplies, communications, and manpower resources that can be mobilized, coordinated, and dispatched, together lead to a continuing degradation of critical infrastructures for a prolonged period of time.


“Electrical power is necessary to support other critical infrastructures, including supply and distribution of water, food, fuel, communications, transport, financial transactions, emergency services, government services, and all other infrastructures supporting the national economy and welfare. Should significant parts of the electrical power infrastructure be lost for any substantial period of time, the Commission believes that the consequences are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities. In fact, the Commission is deeply concerned that such impacts are likely in the event of an EMP attack unless practical steps are taken to provide protection for critical elements of the electric system and for rapid restoration of electric power, particularly to essential services. The recovery plans for the individual infrastructures currently in place essentially assume, at worst, limited upsets to the other infrastructures that are important to their operation. Such plans may be of little or no value in the wake of an EMP attack because of its long-duration effects on all infrastructures that rely on electricity or electronics.


“The ability to recover from this situation is an area of great concern. The use of automated control systems has allowed many companies and agencies to operate effectively with small work forces. Thus, while manual control of some systems may be possible, the number of people knowledgeable enough to support manual operations is limited. Repair of physical damage is also constrained by a small work force. Many maintenance crews are sized to perform routine and preventive maintenance of high-reliability equipment. When repair or replacement is required that exceeds routine levels, arrangements are typically in place to augment crews from outside the affected area. However, due to the simultaneous, far-reaching effects from EMP, the anticipated augmenters likely will be occupied in their own areas. Thus, repairs normally requiring weeks of effort may require a much longer time than planned.


“The consequences of an EMP event should be prepared for and protected against to the extent it is reasonably possible. Cold War-style deterrence through mutual assured destruction is not likely to be an effective threat against potential protagonists that are either failing states or trans-national groups. Therefore, making preparations to manage the effects of an EMP attack, including understanding what has happened, maintaining situational awareness, having plans in place to recover, challenging and exercising those plans, and reducing vulnerabilities, is critical to reducing the consequences, and thus

probability, of attack. The appropriate national-level approach should balance prevention, protection, and recovery.


“The Commission requested and received information from a number of Federal agencies and National Laboratories. We received information from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, the National Communications System (since absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security), the Federal Reserve Board, and the Department of Homeland Security. Early in this review it became apparent that only limited EMP

vulnerability testing had been accomplished for modern electronic systems and components. To partially remedy this deficit, the Commission sponsored illustrative testing of current systems and infrastructure components. The Commission’s view is that the Federal Government does not today have sufficiently robust capabilities for reliably assessing and managing EMP threats.


“The United States faces a long-term challenge to maintain technical competence forunderstanding and managing the effects of nuclear weapons, including EMP. The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration have developed and implemented an extensive Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Stewardship Program over the last decade. However, no comparable effort was initiated to understand the effects that nuclear weapons produce on modern systems. The Commission reviewed current national capabilities to understand and to manage the effects of EMP and concluded that the

Country is rapidy losing the technical competence in this area that it needs in the Government, National Laboratories, and Industrial Community.


“An EMP attack on the national civilian infrastructures is a serious problem, but one that can be managed by coordinated and focused efforts between industry and government. It is the view of the Commission that managing the adverse impacts of EMP is feasible in terms of time and resources. A serious national commitment to address the threat of an EMP attack can develop a national posture that would significantly reduce the payoff for such an attack and allow the United States to recover in a timely manner if such an attack were to occur.”


Below is a link to the full 2008 report. These are your tax-dollars at work, so read-on and be informed!

Link to EMP Report:A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB


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