A terrorist attack that blacks out our telephone lines, computers, ATM's, electrical appliances and various electronics all in a single stroke is considerably more dangerous than bombings and even chemical and biological warfare. Although this sounds like a scenario from a sci-fi flick, it is true to occur in today's times where the electrical dependency on technology is holding relevancy. If, for example, an enemy is able to explode a nuclear warhead missile at an altitude of as low as 90,000 feet, it would be sufficiently strong enough to disable an electrical power grid over an area as large as the nation's capital.
Exploding a missile even higher will increase the range of damage. The villain in this scenario capable of making this happen is known as the electromagnetic pulse, known widely as EMP. The electromagnetic radiation from a nuclear explosion has an intensely fluctuating magnetic field capable of transferring damages to unshielded electronics and electrical system triggering damages by sudden and insanely high voltage and current spikes.
Nuclear EMP components falls into three main categories called E1, E2 and E3. E1 phase of an EMP can damage unplugged electrical and electronic components, as it has a very high frequency which damages any metallic material acting as an antenna. This high frequency attack ranging in nanoseconds is too fast for conventional surge protectors to be effective. The E2 EMP phase, which consists of energy burst in the time range of tens to hundred microseconds, is the easiest to get protection from. Surge protectors in equipment can handle this disruption easily.
The third and final stage of an EMP pulse, the E3 stage is the most dangerous of the three. This stage lasts for tens to hundreds of seconds, travels along large conductors like the power lines and can burn out anything connected to the power grid including electrical appliances, computers, communication networks, televisions, radios, machinery etc. Since the extent of this damage is so high, it can take a considerable amount of time and money for replacing the damaged components normally about 18 months or even more.
After Effects of an EMP Attack
Food and safe drinkable water would disappear almost instantly, manufacturing will come to a halt, and transportation would stop. Radios, televisions, telephones will not work. Communications will be crippled. Any information available on the internet will disappear as computers stop functioning. Newspapers, magazines, and all forms of print media will cease to publish owing to it crippled machinery. Hospitals, stores, hotels, airports, financial transactions, would be padlocked. Fuel supplies will start to dwindle and the whole affected area would be transported into medieval times where barter system was prevalent, gold, fresh water, medicines, food, fabric, shoes, blankets, clothing, oil, lamps, candles will come back into high demand.
Money in today's world is so much dependent on technology which would disappear as financial institutions collapse. A chaotic situation would ensue pushing the cities 200 years back in time before electricity was discovered. In case of such an attack, a vast number of the country's population would either freeze or die of heat with the major problem being that of survival.
Protection Against an EMP Attack
Sadly, there is no protection as such against such an attack which can single-handedly wipe a country. High-end detection systems are being developed, which are still in the primary stages, to combat such weapons before they explode. The costs of such weaponry are very high and the present estimate by the United States of America is 20 billion dollars.
Lastly, a question to think on. Could you imagine that your power goes off, never to come back on again?