Why Should I Worry About a Jihadist Attack on the Power Grid?

Whether it was jihad, North Korea, or a bad solar storm, you should worry because it is estimated that up to 90% of Americans would die were such an attack to happen.

That estimate comes from a Blue Ribbon commission in Congress convened to study the threat from electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), which are associated both with the high altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon and also solar activity.

Jihad is only one of the possible sources, but it would only take one bomb to kill millions of Americans in this way.

Is There a Real Potential for a Jihadist Attack on the Power Grid?

If the attack came from nuclear weapons, virtually any nuclear warhead can be used. It does not require a sophisticated targeting capability or a high yield bomb.

Weapons such as those already possessed by Pakistan would work, as would the kind that Iran was secretly pursuing according to the recent IAEA report on their program.

US intelligence cannot be sure those are the only programs out there: it did not know of Pakistan’s until the bomb was tested, nor did it know of Gadhaffi’s in Libya until he came clean about it.

Such weapons would not have to be smuggled into the United States, but could be launched from a freighter offshore. Iran is known to have practiced launching missiles from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. As mentioned, however, solar storms cause these kinds of bursts periodically.

The danger needs to be dealt with even if one discounts the threat of nuclear weapons entirely. The sun is going to hit us for certain, even if no one else ever tries.

How Long Would an EMP Blackout Last?

Potentially for years.

It could require the complete rebuilding of the electrical infrastructure to restore power. There is no model in which it would happen quickly.

The estimate that 90% of Americans would die is based on only a single year of power outage.

How Soon Would I Die?

Depending on where you live and what preparations you have made, as soon as a few days after the attack.

This is because the water infrastructure in our country absolutely requires the use of electric pumps that would be destroyed.

Access to water would become critical in days, especially in urban areas. Cities near large rivers would still have pollution issues, and our sewage infrastructure would fail as well.

Food would run out in the cities a few days later than that, as the trucks that cities depend on to provide constant shipments of food stopped moving.

Could the Government Save Us Once It Happens?

Not after the attack.

The US military has a hardened electrical structure, but nowhere near the supplies it would need to feed the whole American people – let alone to repair the damage.

The government needs to act now, so that our electrical grid is hardened before such an attack. The electrical utility industry cannot do it alone, as its profit margins are nowhere near the levels it would need to invest in the technology to safeguard the grid.

However, the program is not expensive by Federal government standards. A series of recommendations is available on pages 53-4 of Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, But Refuses to Fix.

What About Cyber Threats?

Cyber warfare is also a major threat to the power grid, although collapsing the grid completely or in a way that is difficult to repair for months or years is less likely for now.

A recent NSA interview recommended taking power control systems offline in order to increase security.  In addition to nations like Iran and China, a number of American enemies have devoted large resources to cyber warfare capabilities.

This threat is increasing, and does need to be addressed.


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