Skip to main content

See also:

Georgia 'One Second After' an EMP disaster: Only 12 states getting prepared

American historian William R. Forstchen may have moved from Maine in order to become a professor of history at Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., but he is still proud of his former state. And that's because it is only one of 12 in the country willing to take action to stop the threat of EMPs to the nation's electrical grid, according to Fox News on April 7, 2014.

Electro magnetic pulse threats are very real from solar flares as well as nuclear weapon use.
Steele Hill/NASA

But the professor and author's resident state of North Carolina is numbered in that tiny group of proactive states trying to address the potential for a massive power outage, and NC also boasts the distinction of being the setting used for Forstchen's fictional New York Times bestselling book One Second After. A tale about the chaos and anarchy that results when America is thrown back into the pre-industrial era overnight after getting hit by an EMP weapon.

Unfortunately, Georgia is not numbered among the 12 states working to protect their electric grids from solar storms or nuclear attacks based on this April 7 Watchdog dot org report. And that's despite the fact that Newt Gingrich went "On The Record with Greta" at Fox News back in 2009 to tell Americans in Georgia and elsewhere that,

Three of the newest kinds of nuclear weapons used 'at the right altitude' could eliminate all electricity production in the United States, sending us back into a pre-industrial United States overnight...in seconds," Gingrich said.

Newt's warning was delivered during another period in which concerns about North Korea's potential for nuclear threat reigned supreme. And now five years later, in 2014, the concern of nuclear threat is once again raising the question: Which states are doing what they need to do in order to protect the electrical grid of power the nation enjoys?

Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington are the 12 states currently involved in enacting some type of EMP resolution or law. They are also the states most active in trying to determine how best to prevent such a crisis from a solar storm or a nuclear threat.

In March 2014 the National Governor's Association released a report titled "The Governor's Guide to Modernizing the Electric Power Grid," citing as much as 70 percent of the current transformers and transmission lines in our existing systems are at least 25 years old, and 60 percent of circuit breakers currently used in that system is 30 years old. But maybe most concerning, just from an operational standpoint, is that much of our electrical power grid system's infrastructure was built in the 1950s, before microprocessors. So our current "utilities have had to adapt electromechanical systems to work with digital operations outside of their intended design" the paper states.

Add to that challenge the fact that recent storms, floods and other natural disasters are highlighting the shortcomings of our current power grid in areas all over the United States, and one can see the need to address this important resource vulnerability.

Power outages affecting 50,000 customers and more are on the rise, with storms being attributed the most as the cause of power outages. Between 2000 and 2004 there were 149 such instances, but in the four years that followed from 2005 through 2009 the number increased to 349 outages due to storms. And the rate stayed in the mid-300 range in the four years that followed from 2010-2013.

A massive solar storm could wreak much more havoc. And in March 2011 the National Geographic asked "What if the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?" In answer to that question, they spoke with a space physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, who said that when it happened in 1859 the geomagnetic disturbances were so strong they caused sparks to leap from the U.S. telegraph operator machines back in that time period, with some bad enough to set fires.

We live in a more technological advanced age now, however. And Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, told the National Geographic that the big solar storm of 1859 resulted in flares being so powerful that people in the Northeastern US could read newspaper print just from the light of the Aurora. But if it were to happen now it would interfere with radio communications and then it would produce powerful electromagnetic fluctuations, which could impact global positioning systems, which didn't exist back in the mid-1800s.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are used in cell phones, airplanes and automobiles. So those wouldn't work properly if the electromagnetic field fluctuations impacted them. You couldn't gas up your car with your debit or credit card either, as debit and charge card transactions rely on satellite communications.

And the electromagnetic burst could blow out transformers, bringing down the power grid. And if the electric power grid hit was on the East Coast, then it could impact the power grids in other surrounding states much faster, much like the domino affect, since they are all tied into one another more closely than elsewhere in the country.

Maine State Rep. Andrea Boland sounded the battle cry about protecting the electric grid early this year, according to the Washington Examiner.

Let's start insisting that we protect the grid,' she said, 'It's pretty much common sense. It's a terrible urgency."

And if a nuclear bomb is detonated above America's atmosphere, then she will go down in any history books that follow as one of only a few national leaders who are sounding this battle cry to get ready for such a fallout problem.

William Murtagh of the National Weather Service's Space Prediction Center also told the Examiner that the nation has been lucky so far when it comes to "coronal mass ejections" by the sun, which could have proved very serious last year to the East Coast if the massive one emitted at that time had been directed at Earth. It would have knocked out the power grid along the coast as well as impacted GPS capabilities.

We just kind of got lucky," he said, as "These things are happening quite regularly on the sun."

As most people know, luck doesn't last forever. And while one college history professor has taken liberties with painting a fictional account of what could happen to a Southern town if an EMP disaster did occur, due to war with a foreign country, his account in One Second After really reads like nonfiction to those who understand the implications of such a crisis. And those academic leaders are saying it is time all the states did something about protecting their electrical power grids from solar storms and nuclear threats.