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The Sage Policy Group of Baltimore and Instant Access Networks examined what would be the economic cost to the U.S. in the event of a deliberate electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP),  an attack that could result from a nuclear explosion from a device launched off-shore with virtually no warning.

EMP is up to $3 trillion, nearly equivalent to the federal government’s entire 2013 budget, and that’s just for an attack that would impact the eastern seaboard.

The study was meant to give a conservative determination of the economic impact from the effects of an electromagnetic attack on the Washington, D.C., region, stretching from Baltimore, Md., to Richmond, Va. The effort was to “put a financial face to the problem and suggest quick steps that can be taken to mitigate” the economic impact of an EMP attack, according to the study.

The study looked at the economic effects of such an attack from a nuclear device detonated between 30 and 80 miles above the ground, affecting an area at least 500 miles in radius.

“A larger nuclear device detonated at 300-400 miles above ground would impact the entire continent and may also produce a substantial slower pulse (known as E3) that can cause additional damage,” the study said. “In these instances of high-altitude EMP, no one would feel the heat or blast but merely experience the effects of the disruption or damage to the electronic and power infrastructure.”

An electromagnetic pulse is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. These particles can be so powerful and supercharged that they can knock out or completely fry any unprotected electronics or electrical systems, depending on intensity.
Electromagnetic energy comes in many forms, including gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves and infrared radiation, among others.

Destroying and damaging regional electrical power systems, communications, system control and data acquisition, or SCADA, devices and other critical infrastructure would have an impact on larger power systems that similarly would be disrupted or damaged, causing management and safety measures to be defeated which can result in larger system failures and damage.

The study also looked at the time that would be required to repair the damage and fully restore economic activity because the economy is so interconnected and so dependent on electricity to power that interconnectedness, very little of the electrical, communications or electronic infrastructure would escape unaffected.

However, only equipment that is shielded from both radiated and conducted pulses that meet military specifications such as the series 188-125 could be counted upon to survive without disruption or damage, it said.
Under this high, or worst-case scenario, the study said that the damage from an EMP attack would be widespread and the duration of disrepair would last for years. It went on to say that the quantity of equipment needed to replace that which was destroyed and damaged would quickly exhaust readily available supplies and could exceed existing manufacturing capacity.

With that, the available skilled labor to replace and restore key infrastructure probably wouldn’t exist for some time. And the time to undertake the replacement and repair would occur slowly and only gather speed as the basic infrastructure gradually was brought back on line.

The study pointed out that the Washington to Richmond regional economy is “large and complex. It constitutes approximately 4 percent of the nation’s output and is characterized by a substantial presence of information technology/security, biotechnology/medical research, finance and insurance, government/government contracting, health care and professional/business services.”

In reviewing the prominent sectors in this regional economy, the report said it also demonstrates the region’s vulnerability to economic damage from an EMP. 

“The three-city metro area between Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md., could save $25 billion to $125 billion in losses if they were to take steps to protect their most critical communications and power infrastructure. The East Coast as a whole would save 10 times as much,” Charles L. Manto, CEO of Instant Access Networks said.

In not undertaking preventative measures, however, the study said that the impact to financial output over a 33-month period ranged from $34 billion in the low case to $771 billion on the high case, although a more conservative range would be between $100 billion and $300 billion, Manto said.

“Extrapolating to the East Coast area as a whole,” Manto said, “would mean a 10 times larger loss of $1 trillion to $3 trillion.”

The study pointed out that when Hurricane Katrina struck, the population in the affected area and much of the economic activity was dispersed to other regions of the country.

“(A) high-altitude EMP at a 30-80 mile altitude would result in a regional impact, but one around 300 miles above ground would impact the entire continental U.S. and most of the industrial sections of Canada and Mexico.

“In the event of a continental-wide EMP, escaping the economic damage of the Baltimore-Washington-Richmond region by moving to Philadelphia, Atlanta or Chicago simply may not be possible,” the study said. “In that event, there could be an entire collapse of the economy as we know it for a period of years.”
So if the Baltimore/Annapolis area had protected roughly 10 percent of its strategic infrastructure, such as power through the use of EMP-protected micro-grids and related systems and emergency communications through the use of shielded systems and related SCADA devices, the study said it could ensure its water supply, the functioning of its emergency communication centers and hospitals.

SCADAs referred to in the report stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems, commonly referred to as automated control systems.

The report pointed out that if a large number of electric transformers and much of the telecommunications system are damaged, “maintaining situational awareness” may help facilitate the initial deployment of available transformers to the most strategic locations.

“However, the backlog back at the factory producing transformers might not be meaningfully improved if that backlog takes years to fulfill,” the report said. “Additional factory capacity would similarly take time to become available. Accordingly, the estimated long-term recovery time is left largely unchanged.”

All of which is to say that in recovery times if only some of the strategic equipment, particularly transformers, is shielded, the high-impact case suggests it could take almost three years to recover. Partially shielded telecommunications could similarly take more than two years to be fully functioning again.

In making its assessment that a high impact EMP event – whether natural or man-made – just to the Washington regional area could be some $771 billion and take up to almost three years to recover, the study said that amount would not include the replacement cost of damaged infrastructure and equipment or secondary effects due to the loss of infrastructure.

In that case, the amount for recovery over at least a three-year period could exceed $1 trillion.

“Policymakers could proactively limit damage and expedite recovery times through shielding activities that protect key communications and energy-related infrastructures, water supply, and key emergency response functions,” the study concluded.

Cross-posted from: WND

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