The coronavirus pandemic has not caused any serious supply problems in most countries so far but we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of women brawling in supermarkets as panic buying of toilet paper takes over.
The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will get much worse before it gets better.
Australian authorities are advising people to stock up on two weeks supply of food and water. But what happens if food supply facilities are severely impacted or supermarkets are forced to close?
In the last few days there has panic buying of food staples including pasta, rice, flour and canned food leaving supermarket shelves stripped.
Author and researcher Tomas Pueyo has produced a very detailed analysis, complete with numerous charts, of the pandemic. Some predictions based on his research:
- The coronavirus is coming to you.
- It’s coming at an exponential speed: gradually, and then suddenly.
- It’s a matter of days. Maybe a week or two.
- When it does, your healthcare system will be overwhelmed.
- Your fellow citizens will be treated in the hallways.
- Exhausted healthcare workers will break down. Some will die.
- They will have to decide which patient gets the oxygen and which one dies.
If people brawl over toilet paper, what will they do in such a scenario?
I shudder to think what will happen if an apocalyptic disaster such as an EMP attack confronted the world.
As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, and governments are distracted, enemies of the West may be emboldened to carry out an EMP attack.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) - a truly apocalyptic threat
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic (gamma) radiation, caused by a nuclear device that can destroy, damage or cause the malfunction of electronic systems by overloading their circuits. An EMP is harmless to people biologically, passing through their bodies without injury, like a radio wave.
But by damaging the electronic systems that make modern society possible, an EMP can cause mass destruction of property and life.
A single nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude over any country, or say, central Europe, will generate an electromagnetic pulse that can cause catastrophic damage across a radius of 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres to the critical infrastructure – electric power, telecommunications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water – that sustains modern civilisation and the lives of millions of citizens.
Because an EMP attack would detonate a nuclear warhead at high altitude, no other nuclear effects – such as blast, thermal radiation or radioactive fallout – would be experienced by people on the ground.
However, because modern civilization and life now depend upon electricity and electronics, an EMP attack is a high-tech means of killing millions of people the old-fashioned way – through starvation, disease and societal collapse.
Official sources estimate that if a high altitude EMP was exploded over the United States, up to 200 million people would perish within 12 months.[i] An EMP attack would send America back to the pre-industrial age – no electricity, no running water, no transport, no banking and finance, no credit cards, and after a few days – no food.[ii]
[ii] EMP Commission, Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, Volume 1: Executive Report (Washington, DC: 2004), pp. 1-3.
Dr William R. Graham, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, July 10, 2008.
How serious is the threat of an EMP attack?
No lesser a figure than the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has warned of the extreme consequences of an EMP attack. In a speech delivered at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2016, Gingrich declared that:
…. electromagnetic pulse is the largest, single threat to our civilization. It’s absurd how little we spend on coping with it, because if you harden enough, it’s not a threat; but if you don’t harden enough, and we get hit with an electromagnetic pulse, your civilization collapses.
How would you know if an EMP attack had occurred?
You could be driving your car and it suddenly stops and refuses to re-start. You get out your mobile phone to call for help but notice there is no signal. You begin walking home and notice other vehicles stalled along the road. You finally reachhome to find it blacked out – no lights, no TV and the refrigerator not working.
You then discover there is no running water and, after the first flush, the toilet does not refill. Even though you have solar panels on the roof, you discover that when the grid goes down the solar system automatically switches off. You switch on a battery-powered radio to hear a government message exhorting you to stay calm and that the power will be restored as soon as possible.
The truth is, power may not be restored for months or even years.
Among the vulnerabilities of the electricity grid are devices known as extra high voltage (EHV) transformers that send electricity over long distances. These devices can be as large as a house and weigh hundreds of tonnes. Many EHV transformers would probably burn out in an EMP attack. Even a few failures would cause catastrophic cascading effects on the electricity system.
They are only manufactured in a few places in the world and must be custom-built. Worldwide production capacity is less than 100 units per year and serves a world market, one that is growing at a rapid rate in countries such as China and India. Delivery time of a new transformer ordered today is nearly three years, including both manufacturing and transportation. An event damaging several of these transformers at once means it may well extend delivery times well beyond current rates.
Another key vulnerability is the widespread use of robots of the modern age known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. SCADAs are essentially small computers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, ubiquitous in the critical infrastructure that performs jobs previously completed by hundreds of thousands of human technicians during the 1960s and earlier.
They find extensive use in critical infrastructure applications such as electrical transmissions and distribution, water management, and oil and gas pipelines. Because they are sensitive electronic devices, SCADAs are especially vulnerable to an EMP.
Who would launch an EMP attack?
North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State each have an implacable hatred of the United States. Either one, or perhaps more than one, in combination, would have the motivation and capability to launch an EMP attack.
The attack could be launched via a North Korean long-range missile. However, the Americans could trace the source of such an attack and carry out retaliation.
A more likely scenario is for an attack using a short-range missile launched from a freighter off the coast of California or New York. Or off the coast of Europe or Australia.
Any missile, including short-range missiles, that can deliver a nuclear warhead to an altitude of 40 kilometres or more, can make a catastrophic EMP attack on a target country, by launching from a ship or freighter. Iran has practised ship-launched EMP attacks using Scud missiles – missiles that are possessed by scores of nations and even terrorist groups.
An EMP attack launched off a ship with a Scud, and a warhead detonated at high altitude would leave no bomb debris for forensic analysis, enabling rogue states or terrorists to destroy critical infrastructure and kill millions of people anonymously.
The apocalyptic image of an entire country gone dark, a country suddenly transported from an era of iPads to an era of horse and buggy travel, is not science fiction but a very real possibility.
Cheap and simple alternatives to an EMP attack
Another likely scenario is for jihadists or rogue states to carry out co-ordinated attacks on one of the greatest vulnerabilities of advanced Western nations, the extra high voltage (EHV) transformers which are so vital to electricity transmission.
A co-ordinated attack by terrorists using shoulder-mounted missile-launchers, such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), would disable multiple EHV transformers, thus causing cascading catastrophic failure of entire electricity distribution systems. The resulting chaos would be much the same as for an EMP attack.
Cyber security experts are warning that it is only a matter of time before terrorist groups gain the necessary skills to bring down major electricity distribution systems. Russia and China already possess this technology.
The threat of societal breakdown
If governments lose the ability to maintain order, civil society would quickly break down.
Sadly, in modern times, it doesn’t take much to trigger societal breakdown.
A small taste of societal collapse occurred when lightning caused a power blackout in New York on July 13, 1977.
TIME Magazine described New York’s blackout in 1977 as a “Night of Terror”. Widespread chaos reigned in the city until power was restored – entire blocks were looted and set ablaze, people flipped over cars and vans on the streets; the city was in pandemonium. That night, 3,776 arrests were made, and certainly not all looters, thieves and arsonists were apprehended or arrested.[i]
On streets like Brooklyn’s Broadway the rumble of iron store gates being forced up and the shattering of glass preceded scenes of couches, televisions and heaps of clothing being paraded through the streets by looters, at once defiant, furtive and gleeful. Thirty-five blocks of Broadway were destroyed and 134 stores were looted with 45 of them set ablaze.
Power was restored the next day.
Imagine if the power was out for one month, or one year.
All of the above is extracted from Chapter 2 of my recent book, Western Civilization Under Siege, available from Amazon.