In 1859, a powerful geomagnetic solar storm blasted the Earth with charged particles, causing spectacular patterns in the sky and auroras visible as far south as the Caribbean. Telegraphs, the closest thing to modern technology at the time, shorted out, causing fires. The occurrence was known as the Carrington Event.
The Earth is just about due for a repetition. And rather than only some telegraphs going down, the consequences could be more catastrophic than any terrorist attack.
According to newly released scientific estimates, there is a roughly one-in-eight chance a massive solar storm will hit Earth by the end of the decade.
Analysts have been quietly studying the possible impact of this increasingly likely event for years. In 2013, the legendary insurance market Lloyd’s of London estimated a Carrington-level storm, which occurs roughly every 150 years, would leave 20 to 40 million Americans without power from 16 days to two years.
The total economic cost for such a scenario is estimated at $600 billion to $2.6 trillion, Lloyd’s claimed.
As the report observed, modern society is “increasingly dependent on electricity,” and even smaller solar storms, which occur more regularly, can create a huge amount of economic damage. The report urges protective measures be taken to secure transformers from these storms.
“The electric grid can be hardened against the flow of geomagnetically induced currents in regions with the highest risk of outage,” it notes. “While these measures represent additional costs to grid companies, the cost of prevention is much smaller than the price of damage a single storm can create.”
The consequences of such a storm would be similar to a massive EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, triggered by detonating a nuclear weapon at high altitude.
Former Defense Department security policy analyst Michael Maloof, author of “A Nation Forsaken,” confirms the risk of a “naturally” occurring EMP event is real, serious and immediate.
“The federal government needs to look upon an electromagnetic event, whether by natural or man-made events, as a top national security priority, something former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich had proposed in the 2012 Republican primary,” Maloof said.
“The threat since then has only increased, since more countries are acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to launch them into space to create a high-altitude nuclear explosion that would create a catastrophic EMP over a wide geographical area.”
Maloof said the threat of a naturally occurring EMP event needs to be taken seriously, because the current national security apparatus increasingly relies on technology that is itself dependent on a secure electrical grid.
“The federal government needs to take preventative action, rather than wait for such a catastrophic event,” he said. “By then, it would be far too late. And the problem is intensified since developed countries, especially the United States, make more and more demands of increasingly sophisticated technology on our already very vulnerable national grid system.”
What’s worse, though a natural EMP event is all but inevitable, the relatively modest technological requirements needed make it possible for rogue states to target America at will.
“North Korea has demonstrated the ability to orbit a satellite which could be a nuclear device,” cautioned Maloof. “It can be orbited and detonated on command anywhere over the U.S. It has two satellites orbiting now, and they traverse the U.S. some three times a day. Experts still do not know what they contain, but they are large enough to house a nuclear bomb that can be exploded at a high altitude.”
Maloof urged President-elect Trump and the Republican Congress to move immediately on stalled legislation that would safeguard critical American infrastructure.
“Congress immediately can pass the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage, or SHIELD, Act which has been languishing in Congress,” he said. “It will give the federal government authority to get local utilities to harden their systems, as well as automated control systems, and direct the Department of Homeland Security to make an EMP event part of its National Planning Scenario that then translates immediately to state and local first responders to make similar preparations. Currently, that is not the case.”
If Congress fails to act, Maloof argued President-elect Trump should take the initiative.
“This can be done by executive order,” he said. “To underscore the priority of an EMP, a President Donald Trump can emphasize its national security importance by placing in the National Security Council an EMP expert who can coordinate preparations at the federal, state and local levels. This move, too, can be done by executive order.
“At the same time, we need to reinvigorate the Strategic Defense Initiative that can knock out an attack in outer space. Right now, our anti-missile defense systems are not capable of knocking out a satellite orbiting more than 150 miles above earth. The SDI program needs to be resumed as a national priority as well.”
The most high-profile figure in President-elect Trump’s inner circle cognizant of the possibility of an EMP attack or solar storm is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Maloof believes Trump is aware of the dire threat to the nation because of Gingrich’s ties to Trump.
adviser, Mr. Gingrich has conveyed to Mr. Trump his concerns about the impact of an EMP on our vital critical infrastructures.”
An EMP caused by a natural event “can happen almost any time,” warned Maloof.
As the world is overdue for such an occurrence, the national security expert argued the federal government needs to consider the almost apocalyptic consequences an EMP would create, even one caused by simple solar flares.
“Damage from even a solar event would be catastrophic to our nation’s highly technical infrastructures that encompass all aspects that make us a modern society,” Maloof said. “From the national grid to automated control systems, we take for granted the technology that goes into what makes those critical infrastructures, which include telecommunications, banking and finance, petroleum and natural gas, transportation, food and water delivery, emergency services and space systems.”
The resulting social chaos, including possible violence and civil disorder, could lead to economic costs even greater than those estimated by Lloyd’s.
With a massive disruption of the electrical grid all but inevitable either by natural or man-made causes, Maloof urged individual Americans not to rely on the federal government to protect them. He also emphasized how utterly dependent the modern world is on a system that is so vulnerable.
“If the electrical grid is knocked out, it affects everything that depends upon that electrical grid, which is almost everything we depend on for our most basic needs,” he warned. “It would be a nightmare you’ll never wake up from.”