Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

After reading the book One Second After we had an interesting discussion over on JoeUser about the subject.

One user said that humans had adapted and were far too enlightened today to revert to violence and mayhem in the absence of our modern conveniences.

So let’s walk through the EMP scenario:

Day 1: July Year 200x

5 container ships in the gulf of Mexico fire medium range SCUD missiles high into the atmosphere until it reaches far above Kansas and other states.  On board are 45KT nuclear warhead.  It explodes creating EMP that takes out all of the integrated circuits in the United States.

That means anything electronic that hasn’t been hardened is going to be ruined.  That means your computers, TVs, cars, home electronics, breaker box, phones, radios, cell phones. It also means the power companies, their generators, the backup generators at hospitals, nursing homes, etc.

All of the farms and their harvesting equipment is dead. The trucks that move food to the cities are ruined. The trains that move freight around the country are inoperable.

Every airplane flying crashes. All planes on the down are ruined.

The only thing working are US conventional forces that happened to be hardened against EMP (which means quite a few of them).  Some cars stored in underground parking garages would probably work depending on the proximity. 

There’s no fall out. Nobody dies from the attack directly.

Day 2:

With power out people’s fridges are DOA.  With no working cars, people don’t go to work. In the country and in the suburbs, people take the food out of their refrigerators and freezers before it “goes bad” and have BBQs. It’s a fun time.

People who were driving somewhere are mostly able to make it to town. A few people die of heat stroke on their journeys. In the deep south, particularly Florida, there are a number of deaths due to the heat since air conditioning is out.

In the cities, looting begins quite quickly. The police can’t do much since they’re on foot or on horse.

We know this sort of thing because we have seen what happens during extended power outages. Of course, in those cases cars, cell phones, and other crucial devices still worked but there was still massive looting in the large cities.

Day 3:

Local agencies really don’t know what’s going on since there is no communication. No cell phones. No radio. No land lines. The grid is gone.  There are spare parts but no where near enough to fix it all and because of the nature of the electrical grid, all the holes have to be plugged for the juice to flow again.  And even if they had enough parts, how do they transport them? No trucks. No cars. 

International relief from Japan, China, Canada (though most of Canada is taken out too), Mexico, Europe begins but it’ll be slow going. Food shipments can reach the coast in a couple of days but getting it inland will be a major problem as the vehicles will have to be transported in along with parts to try to get the railroads working again (along with teams to get dead trains off the rails).

In the subs, the party is over. It ain’t funny now.  People are finishing off what was in their refrigerator. Most people still have some food in the cupboard.

Stores start rationing their supplies. People are still using money (at least, those who keep cash). A bottle of water is $20.  How much cash do you keep in your house?

In the cities, riots have broken out with widespread destruction. Being July, it’s hot and dry. Fires from the riots start to spread.

End of Week 1:

By now, most people in the subs have run out of food they would normally remotely consider eating. Looting at the local Walmart and grocery stores begins as people simply take what they need.

Remember, people aren’t hearing anything from the authorities. There are no working TVs. No working radios. The handful of police are walking in the subs. 

If you live in the suburbs, take a close look around. How would the police reasonably patrol your city without cars?

Meanwhile, people in nursing homes have started dying enmasse. Without refrigeration drugs quickly go bad. Anyone requiring help breathing or anything else has already died.

People with type 1 diabetes are starting to see the writing on the wall.

Meanwhile, the first container ships of relief have reached San Francisco, Seattle, LA, San Diego, Houston, Miami, Boston, NY, Washington, Raleigh. Lots of food, medicine, some parts, lots of vehicles.

Unfortunately most of those cities are in utter pandemonium. In the south, tens of thousands have already died from heat.  In 2003, when there was a heat wave in France, 14800 people died. They didn’t lose power, they just didn’t have air conditioning.  In Florida, the death toll is skyrocketing quickly. Same in most of the other southern states.

End of Week 2:

People are starting to die of dysentery from eating bad food, drinking bad water. Many have left the suburbs to head to rural areas where they think there is food (they’re wrong, harvest won’t happen for months, industrialized food processing involves a lot of transportation between the farms and the slaughter houses).

The typical American family, now out of food and with no access to clean water is starting to get pretty desperate.

What? Only 2 weeks? How much food do you have in your house right now? Go check. I’ll wait….

Okay back? So how much is in your pantry? How long would it last you? If you knew at the start, you might have rationed it better. But you didn’t. 

Millions of Americans are wishing they had put those steaks and hamburgers and hotdogs in their basements in the cooler temperatures. Others are wishing they had salted them heavily and cooked them well done to store for the long haul.

In the cities on the coast, power is restored via backup generators relatively close to shore. However, within 10 miles from the harbor, death is everywhere.  Don’t agree?

Ever been to San Francisco? LA? New York City? 14 days have passed. Where would you have gone? The smart ones, who are able to, would have found their way to the harbors and waited for air lifts of food and such. But most would probably not think about that.

Meanwhile, armed thugs are starting to systematically go through every building and house looking and taking what they need.

End of Week 3

Starvation is starting to become a real problem. If your local law enforcement had a clue, they had already gotten themselves and helpful citizens around to the stores to gather up supplies to start rationing it.

At this point, martial law has been declared by any competent city government.  Some cities decide that, for the public good of course, that all community food will be collected and distributed equally to everyone. In other places, large armed mobs are violently taking what is needed to survive.

Are you a survivalist? Got all your supplies right? Got MREs in the basement. You have an AK47 that you managed to get quietly at a gun show. Your kids know how to use the two shot guns. You’ve been prepared for this day right?  Great. You’re about to die.

You see, you might be able to keep a few people away. But word got around that you have supplies because you’re that guy who everyone knew was expecting to “bug out” one day when the government and black helicopters came.  You might be able to take out a few people but 200+ Nope. You’re going to take a lot of them out but they’re going to come in, kill you, your family, and your supplies.

What? Don’t agree? People won’t do that? Again: Other than on the coast (in some major cities near harbors anyway) you’ve heard and seen nothing from the government other than the occasional Black Hawk flying around. No TV. No phones. No radios. 

A few people have managed to dig up old HAM radios and they are getting distant broadcasts of reassurance but it’s clear that nothing’s coming any time soon if you live significantly inland, especially if you don’t live in a densely populated area.

It’s triage at this point and the rural and suburbs areas are simply too spread out. Unfortunately, in the cities, fires have consumed much of them. Anyone strong enough to get out of there has which further distributes the population.

A few older cars start showing up again on the roads as collectables and just old junkers are fixed up and are able to drive because they didn’t have electronics in them.

End of the first month:

A network of outposts are re-established in most large and medium sized cities. Medium sized cities are faring a bit better. Kalamazoo Michigan, Santa Cruz California, and other cities of this kind are doing okay now as convoys are starting to show up.

Really large cities away from the coast are dead at this point.  Sorry Omaha, there’s nobody home anymore.

The Second Month:

Now is when the death toll really starts to go up.  First, you have about 5% of the population that was on medication to control their mental states. This is now gone.  They will mostly die off this month or take out a few others in the process.

Nearly everyone with Type 1 diabetes has died.

Virtually who requires assisted care at this point has died.

Millions of children under 2 have died. Why? Do you have any children? If you’re not nursing them, how are you feeding them at this point?

There are not many domesticated dogs left that haven’t been freed by owners.

The number of deer left that are near people has diminished to the point of being difficult to find. Same with geese, ground hogs, rabbits, etc.

Most cities of any decent size now have an outpost re-established with convoys of food now arriving. However, it’s starting to become a real problem because, well it turns out that the US and Canada supply a significant chunk of the world’s food. 47% of the world’s Soy beans are produced in the United States. 86% of the world’s corn. The bulk of the world’s wheat. 

It’s during this second month that the food shipments to the United States are going to start to dry up as hunger starts to become a significant problem in China, Japan, and other countries that have to import food. The US and Canada make up 20% of the world’s food exports and if you count only basic foods the percentage nearly doubles. 

The world has its first universal consensus: Oh shit.

It’s at about this time that those who were celebrating in the streets about the downfall of the great satan are starting to get the first thought that yes, they’re going to die too. North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, and many other countries are about to see starvation on a level that has never been seen before.

By contrast, Europe is doing okay. Not great. But okay. Their economies are in ruins but they’re not going to die enmasse. 

In Japan, where starvation is a serious concern, they and Korea have enough money to pay top dollar for the dwindling import food supply. Russia, unfortunately, is about to have a very rough year.

Needless to say, the food aid shipments to the United States are starting to dwindle. Western Europe, particularly Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands are still sending food shipments.

If you’re on the East coast in a secure area, you’re in good shape.  If you’re on the west coast, most of you are going to die.

Third Month:

The population of the United States is starting to take on the same appearance it did in 1909.

Here is what it looked like in the year 2000.

8% of the poulation was over 70.  Nearly all of them have died.

3% of the population is under 4.  Nearly all of them have died.

Urban populations of the United States have had staggering death tolls, particularly those not near the coasts.

Anyone requiring medication that needed to be refrigerated in order to live (anti-rejection drugs, insulin, various heart medications, for instance) has died. Easily 10% of the population on top of the above.

Around 20% of the population has starved.

Another 10% in the south who are living in places that were uninhabitable without modern technology have died.  Think LA is nice? Imagine it without water.  Any water.

In fact, if you live in California, take a look around. Where does your water come from?  Most of the population of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Utah have died.

Power is starting to get restored due to generators and the government now had a decent supply of cars. Fixing the grid has become a priority.

While heat has killed millions in the south, we’re now getting near November. It’s starting to get cold.

The fourth month

I tell people who come and interview that Michigan’s southern part is about the same latitude as Northern California.  Winters in the upper part of the United States and lower Canada aren’t that bad – if you have heat.

But we don’t have heat.  Natural gas has to be pumped and pumped through a huge network across the country.  When power goes out, even for a few days, a lot of infrastructure falls apart.  New York’s subways, for example are gone.  Much of Chicago has flooded too.  Those who have enough propane will be okay, for awhile (at least until armed thugs come and take it).

By this point, restoring natural gas is not going to be a simple matter of restoring power.  Ever wondered how natural gas gets to your house?  It’s all repairable but it will take time and unfortunately, a lot of that expertise in people has died or is otherwise unavailable. That means bringing people in which will take more time.

If you live in northern states at this point, and you haven’t starved to death, you’re probably going to start dying of exposure.

But that’s a gift compared to what people still struggling to make it in warmer areas as we get reintroduced to cholera, TB, and diarrhea become major problems.

In fact, in 1900 the #1 cause of death in the United States was pneumonia. The #3 was diarrhea. That’s right. The runs killed more Americans than Heart disease, cancer, strokes, etc.  And this November, it returns from retirement as people, without proper sanitation, start to die off from all kinds of things that were previously unheard of.

In fact, as November closes, the United States has reverted to a third world country. No, that’s not fair. Third world countries usually have electricity and their inhabitants usually know how to start a fire.  Do you know how to start a fire without matches and such? Remember watching Survivor and laughing at them? They were in pretty good conditions to get a fire going.  You, by contrast, are wet, cold, weakened, and not sure if it’s even a good idea to start a fire because, well, what are you going to do with it? There’s little food.

On the west coast, food shipments have dropped to a trickle.  LA, Seattle, San Fran, it’s not a fun time there now.

One Year later

The grid is re-established in the midwest, the east coast, and much of the south.  It’s partially re-established on the west coast thanks to help from South Korea, China, and Japan. Thanks guys. We appreciate it even if most of us are dead.

So what’s the death toll?  Conservatively, you’re looking at 40% of the population of the US and Canada has died. That’s probably a best case scenario if food and equipment shipments from the rest of the world come in quickly.

A smart (well not really smart because the states that sponsor terrorists have died off due to the unintended consequences) terrorist would have also zinged Japan, South Korea, the Chinese east coast, and western Europe. If that happened, you would be looking far higher deaths everywhere as there would be no relief coming in.

The population of the United States today is over 300 million people.  In 1900 it was 76 million. The biggest reason for the increase isn’t due to birth rate but rather the massive decline of the death rate.  And remember, they had infrastructure back in 1900.  We’d be worse off than they were because they knew how to live back then. 

How many people know how to can food? How many modern Americans know how much wood to cut to burn? How many Americans live in places where they need an elevator, as a practical matter, to get to where they live?

Heck, how many Americans are simply living today because they have access to all kinds of medical technology?  How many Americans are living in places that can only be inhabited thanks to modern technology? Most of the south west was a barren desert until electrical pumps became possible. Much of the south wasn’t, as a practical matter, livable until air condition.

Also, consider our immune systems of today versus what it was 100 years ago. Our sterilized world has made us very vulnerable to the bacteria and viruses that lurk just outside our electrified civilization. And they would be back to visit within weeks.


Is what I describe realistic? Nobody really knows. There are studies out there.  The book One Second After is a bit more dire than I think it would be.  And it may turn out that our infrastructure is tougher than it seems or that the types of nuclear warheads that an Iran or North Korea could produce aren’t powerful enough to cause the necessary EMP. 

But what is so frightening is how vulnerable we are.  It wouldn’t take much of a shove to bring down the electrical grid.  You could still end up with a situation where 10% of the American population (30 million) die simply by screwing up the electrical grid for a couple months.

Do I think this will happen? Probably not. I have a lot of faith in humanity.  But when one considers the things that we worry about – global warming comes to mind, it amazes me how unconcerned people are at how easily disrupted our modern lives could be given how dependent we are on our technology today.

Comments (Page 4)
11 PagesFirst 2 3 4 5 6  Last
on Jun 27, 2009

All this talk about water has made me wonder: would metal pipes create a charge? They are essentially hollow wides filled with a weak conductor, and while a lot of them are underground, they are buried pretty shallowly and I don't think soil usually blocks magnetic fields THAT well. I doubt that the voltage produced would be enough to seriously hurt you, but it might give you a nasty shock...

on Jun 27, 2009

I doubt you could feed one major US city with an airlift.  You guys have no idea of the scale of what you're talking about.  Also, the planes supplying Berlin took off from inside Germany.  Not across the Atlantic.  Finally, why not just use the air transport to transport the people to where the food is?  That's a lot less weight and only takes one trip.

Most countries that would be likely to launch such an attack (North Korea, Iran, etc) don't have the missile technology to get a nuclear warhead to that height.

I did think they threw the name "Scud" in there just to get a rise out of people; they're so crude I'd never trust them to get my nuke in place.  OK, now to the original point.

One user said that humans had adapted and were far too enlightened today to revert to violence and mayhem in the absence of our modern conveniences.

I didn't say that exactly -- I said human nature was not as feral as most people think, even in desperation. You spend most of your article explaining how terrible things would be, but that doesn't explain how people would actually react.  Because of the sheer novelty of a disaster situation like that, people are usually surprisingly passive, at least in the initial moments:

"Large groups of people facing death act in surprising ways. Most of us become incredibly docile. We are kinder to one another than normal. We panic only under certain rare conditions. Usually, we form groups and move slowly, as if sleepwalking in a nightmare.

Zedeno still did not immediately flee on 9/11, even after her colleague screamed at her. First she reached for her purse, and then she started walking in circles. "I was looking for something to take with me. I remember I took my book. Then I kept looking around for other stuff to take. It was like I was in a trance," she says, smiling at her behavior...

There's an anecdote in the article about people burning to death in a plane who never tried to leave their seats -- just sat there, hands folded.  I think a large proportion of the people who die in your scenario would just quietly expire without any The Stand-like organized cannibalism.

Anyway.  I hope the people like Mansh00ter, scoutdog, and Cykur who disagree with you on the facts of EMP are correct and it wouldn't be that bad, because I think it will happen at some point.  Of course I believed in Y2K too.

I just wish that when people talked about the government being the "insurer of last resort," they were talking about them protecting us from things like this that no one can avoid individually.  But retirees, sick people, and banks get votes, and so the government insures them instead.  How many transformers could we stockpile with the ten million 900 dollar checks we send out to Social Security recipients in just one month?

on Jun 27, 2009

Actually Luckmann three days without liquids is pretty close to the human limit.  Plenty of people would die, whatever the climate.

EDIT- Talt's forgetting water/milk/juice in stores/warehouses though.
Yes, but that's complete liquid deprivation. From where I'm sitting, that's just not going to happen. Even if you have no direct liquids and end up eating dog food, you'd still get a fair amount of water.

A rainy day could end up sustaining you for another 3-5 days.

on Jun 27, 2009

I'ts doomsday scenarios like these that make me happy to live in Northern Michigan, right on Lake Huron...

on Jun 27, 2009

Yeah, here in Michigan, we dont have to worry about water. It might need rudimentary purification, but I have several lakes and streams with in walking distance of my house, and I live in the same city where Stardock is. Plus I am one of those wackos who stores a couple hundred gallons in the basement.

on Jun 28, 2009

IMHO the wikipedia's article is very simplified, to the point where it may be very inaccurate.

  • While it is true that a high altitude bomb may be able to hit a larger area due to a larger horizon, it's also true that the inverse square law would apply to anything sending radiation in a roughly spherical shape. This means that while it may hit a larger area, it would do so with exponentially decreased effectiveness.
  • As a former Ham radio operator - I've had to study the ionosphere and other parts of the atmosphere a bit (Ham radio operators love to bounce radio waves off the ionosphere). I can tell you that the atmosphere isn't that smple - there are many layers to it, and the height of these explosions happen above the ionosphere, which has a big impact on various types of radiation passing through it. A blanket statement about the atmophere without an in-depth study of how the atmosphere works and how the layers react to all of this is a bit reckless IMHO.
  • Most of the claims of actual damage ("three hundred street lights failed", etc) are, unfortunately, unsourced.
  • I'm with the people who are saying that assuming 100%, complete damage may be exaggerated, as well as the effects of such damage. I'm not saying that it wouldn't be a horrible event - just that it may be exagerated. Some stuff would work, others wouldn't.

Things that may affect what works and what doesn't:

  • IMHO vehicles, especially those with metal shells, are actually more likely than anything else to survive the charge. The metal shell protects it and may act as a Faraday cage. Carbon fiber shelled vehicles are less likely to survive.
  • This is likely to send large surges through the grid. Stuff connected to the power grid is less likely to survive, especially stuff without surge protection.
  • Houses may absorb most of the excess eletrons through either the lightning protection system (which is designed specifically to deal with electron surges), or through the electrical system.
  • It's really hard to say how handheld devices out in the open will handle it. On one hand, a lot of electrons are coming down, but on the other hand, the atmosphere has a habit of diffusing them. I have no idea how well handheld electronics will react to what is essentially an electromagnetic burst followed by a huge static electricity buildup (if I'm reading the description right).
  • The initial burst of the blast will have some interesting effects - I don't know how it will interact with various things, like the walls of a house. I don't know what kind of stuff is is transparent or opaque to an EMP pulse.

Personally, I'm thinking only a small city sized area will really get the full brunt of a single EMP. I seriously doubt most other people will get more than a light show out of it. You need a lot of energy to cover an area the size of the United States and still retain effectiveness. The idea that a small nuke can do that? I'm not sure I'm buying it. You're spreading it out over a tremendous area, how could it remain effective over such an area?

I doubt that the voltage produced would be enough to seriously hurt you, but it might give you a nasty shock...

Pipes stuck in the ground are usually, well, grounded . Any charge would likely dissapate immediately. Pipes overground (ie the faucet), though, may have a charge during the initial pulse.

But hard to say - afer all, this is all speculation. Hopefully we'll never have to see any of this first hand.

. . . and now that I've managed to depress myself, I think I'll go looking for something more positive to think about.

on Jun 28, 2009

Personally, I'm thinking only a small city sized area will really get the full brunt of a single EMP. I seriously doubt most other people will get more than a light show out of it. You need a lot of energy to cover an area the size of the United States and still retain effectiveness. The idea that a small nuke can do that? I'm not sure I'm buying it. You're spreading it out over a tremendous area, how could it remain effective over such an area?

In the process of detonating, even a 15kt bomb exceeds the output of the world's electrical grid for a few milliseconds - and that power is being dumped into the atmosphere all at once. It is the hard pulsing effect that breaks stuff, the same power delivered over a few minutes would not cause nearly the damage.

A good analogy is windows - a shock wave of 1 PSI will break glass, the same pressure differential spaced over 30 seconds will generally not.

Do the math, a single kiloton bomb generates 4.184 × 10e12 J  or 1.162 x 10e6 kw-h of energy. The total electric power generation for the US in March 09 was 310,024 megawatt hours, which equates to 116 kw-h per second. A single kiloton blast dumps ~2.8 hours worth of power onto the country in a few milliseconds. True, not all of this power is generated in EMP-producing prompt gamma rays, and not all of that impacts directly onto the power grid, but the raw power is there.

on Jun 28, 2009

There are so many flaws with this scenario I don't know where to begin... I guess I'll start with the unlikely scenario that anyone would be able to launch a nuclear warhead high enough into the atmosphere to cause anything more than a localized EMP. It's not very easy to get ahold of a missile (and a launcher capable of launching it) capable of sending a nuke hundreds of kilometers high. And even then, you proposed that they be launched from cargo ships, which would also require them to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers transversely. Even if they got the technology, managing to actually launch them from some of the most controlled waters in the world without anybody noticing would be an incredible feat in its own right.

Then there's the fact that effective EMP range isn't very well known - very few nukes have been detonated at the relevant altitudes near enough to major electronics to have good data on the matter, and where there's no data scientists' opinions are guesses. And regarding the Starfish Prime test which knocked out a couple percent of Hawaii's street lights from 800 miles away: let's assume that a single 45 kT warhead will produce just as powerful an EMP as the 1.4 MT thermonuclear Starfish Prime (thermonuclear detonations do create smaller EMPs because they pre-ionize the atmosphere, and EMP increases less than the square of yield). Considering that EMP strength is fairly uniform over the effected area, it isn't unreasonable to expect the most affected areas to receive no more than 2 times the EMP strength as Hawaii did 800 miles away (well within the theoretically affected area). Considering the damage to Hawaii, I don't think the entire US would fall to its knees. Another thing to consider is that EMPs produced by small nuclear detonations (below a few hundred kT) fall of faster than those produced by larger yields.

Based on all of this I'd expect a lot of modern sensitive, exposed electronic equipment to fail, along with parts of the power grid (looong stretches of wire) and a bunch electronics plugged into it. Electronics that are turned off are less likely to be affected, too, and anything off and not plugged in that doesn't have long antennae or long stretches of wire are very unlikely to be affected. Anything underground would be safe (ground is the ultimate ground, after all), as would most things surrounded by lots of metal (like cars and electronics in buildings with lots of metal). Most cars would still function.

Basically, I don't think our infrastructure would be nearly as crippled as your scenario describes. Cars and planes would be largely unaffected (those running or flying at the time probably would be, though), significant portions of the power grid would probably remain online as would most generators. Most electronics plugged into good surge protectors or UPSs should also survive.

Basically, I'm not worried about this happening at all. The logistics, technology, resources and luck required to pull something like this off are unimaginable, and it'd take a really stupid terrorist to do it. They'd achieve much more damage much more easily by simply detonating their nukes in major population centers and/or other high value targets. Instead of doing a little bit of damage everywhere, they'd annihilate a huge percentage of the population and utterly destroy the economy (and thus the economies of the world).

on Jun 28, 2009

Here is another interesting little debate about the effects of an EMP, but this one tries to stay objective. The problem with the public perception of the EMP effect is that somehow a myth formed that an EMP is an absolute bane of all thing electric or electronic. This wasn't helped by Hollywood blockbusters such as Matrix, where an EMP is used to "fry" the machines and visible lightning-grade sparks are seen flying all over the place, or even more "down to earth" movies such as "Medusa's Child".

This is because most people do not understand precisely how an EMP works. The main damaging component of an EMP is not some mystical invisible air electric current causing everything to overload and throw sparks, but induced electric current based on the same principle we use to generate our electricity in power plants.

When you pass an electric conductor across a stationary magentic field, you will induce a small electric current in the said conductor. The same applies when you do it the other way around. Our alternating current generators are nothing more than coils of wire spinning very fast through a stationary magnetic field.

Now, when you get a high altitude nuclear detonation, the ultimate effect concerning this debate is the generation of strong electromagnetic fields at ground level. These fields are in motion and as such can and would induce large ammounts of electric current in the large, stationary lengths of conductors, such as power cables. Antennae and other large conductors would also be susceptible to this effect.

However, microchips are simply too small to auto-generate the ammount of electric current sufficient to fry the tranzistors inside. What they are vulnerable to is the overload spike coming from the power outlet! That's where most of the damage to computer systems would come from... your wiring, not your electronics.

So, your battery-powered radio would still work just fine, unless you happened to connect it to a large antenna. Your car would also work, even if it had an onboard computer. Any laptops would perhaps fare even better than desktops, which are always plugged in, and depending on the strength of the power spike, might or might not suffer power spike damage (if turned off, the main power switch actually has to suffer an arcing short for the rest of the circuitry to get fried, and you need a pretty large spike for that).

So relax. There is no doomdsay EMP coming to wipe out the civilization.

Do worry about global warming, about a possible 50 meter rise in sea levels, about massive migrations and possible wars this could spark across the globe, about the fact that very few people actually know that the warming effect might cause a new ice age... and other such trivia. That's real, and its coming. And unless societies come together and prepare for it, because its too late to stop it now, the global society is in for a world of hurt.

on Jun 28, 2009

Do the math, a single kiloton bomb generates 4.184 × 10e12 J  or 1.162 x 10e6 kw-h of energy.

Over a continent approximately 2500 miles wide and 1000 miles tall, for a total of 2.5x106 square miles - or less than 1 kw/h per square mile.

on Jun 28, 2009

I think that the true nastiness would be economic, and occur much later after the initial panic died down:

  • Enormous amounts of data are stored in virtual form by corporations, charities, and government organizations. Although they probably use surge protection, a fair portion of that data would probably be gone when you went to look for it.
  • Automated or semi-automated factories (which are hooked into the power grid and computer-controlled) would be out of comission for a LOOONG time until people got around to fixing them (and that's AFTER fixing the power grid and everything alse essential). Essentially, most heavy-duty industry in the region effected would be down for weeks or even months.
  • Loads of personal electronics, cars, and appliances would be toast (that cars would still technically be WORKING, but would you drive a car with no onboard comuter?).
  • Athough your finances, stocks, etc. would technically still be there, you would have no idea where they are, as that data is stored in silico by the banks.
  • Your medical data would most likely be gone, as more and more of that is computerized.
  • The Internet would be down and probably stay down for a while on accout of cooked server farms.

Even if the attack came after this recession cleared up, we would still have to import MASSIVE amounts of technology from the rest of the world, at a point where we already have a colossal trade deficit.

on Jun 28, 2009


Do the math, a single kiloton bomb generates 4.184 × 10e12 J  or 1.162 x 10e6 kw-h of energy.

Over a continent approximately 2500 miles wide and 1000 miles tall, for a total of 2.5x106 square miles - or less than 1 kw/h per square mile.

Our power grid is spread over the same area, and it doesn't take all that much power to cause problems when it comes in a microsecond burst. Yes, this scenario is highly overexagerated, but some significant damage would result from such an attack.

What the scenario doesn't address is the loss to orbital assets. Weather satellites are high enough to be largely immune, but as the Starfish test proved you can drop communication satellites pretty easily like this.

that cars would still technically be WORKING, but would you drive a car with no onboard comuter?

Not only would I drive a car like that, I HAVE driven a car like that. Complete computer failure on a 91 Buick; the engine runs a little rough and you lack various amenities like a spedometer, but it got me 300 miles home.

on Jun 28, 2009

I forgot about the satellites. Just another thing that would have to be replaced at great cost...

on Jun 28, 2009

Thanks Cykur for posting those links about EMP blasts. I had one of those links in my post on the first page, but I didn't get back to my comp in time to post that.

As a former Ham radio operator - I've had to study the ionosphere and other parts of the atmosphere a bit (Ham radio operators love to bounce radio waves off the ionosphere). I can tell you that the atmosphere isn't that smple - there are many layers to it, and the height of these explosions happen above the ionosphere, which has a big impact on various types of radiation passing through it. A blanket statement about the atmophere without an in-depth study of how the atmosphere works and how the layers react to all of this is a bit reckless IMHO.

But the EMP from a nuke detonated that high isn't caused by the atmosphere, its the Earth's magnetic field, which extends much, much farther out than the atmosphere

on Jun 28, 2009

No one have said the worst thing that would happen. Elemental, StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3 which only exists in digital form would VANISH!


I believe that multicultural cities would be the first places to descend into chaos followed by bigger cities without a large law enforcement presence. Smaller cities of one type of people where everybody knows everybody would mostly help eachother and be the best of.

11 PagesFirst 2 3 4 5 6  Last