Saturday, November 29, 2008

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat: No Bailouts For This Crisis

"You never hear the one that gets you," snipers say. A bullet traveling faster than sound will impact and wreak its damage before the brain can process what is happening. That little piece of military lore ran through my mind upon reading the Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. An April, 2008 update of a 2004 report, this report outlines the near-instantaneous effects that an electromagnetic bomb would likely have on the nation's power, telecommunications, banking/finance, fuel, and other systems.

Tightly coupled systems are particularly vulnerable to breakdown, catastrophic failure, and disruption. This is one lesson from the recent subprime-induced meltdown of our financial system. A lengthy breakdown of a country's electrical systems, shutting down everything from the power grid to computers to electronics systems in automobiles, trains, and planes, would have significantly greater impacts than the financial crises we currently bemoan.

The attacks in Mumbai are a stark reminder that rogue groups possess the will to disrupt modern society. The threat assessments from the recent reports cited above suggest that it is only a matter of time before they also possess the means. Research is under way to protect vulnerable systems and the cost of hardening new components and systems is not prohibitive. The cost of retrofitting and hardening existing systems is significant, and that leaves much of our infrastructure vulnerable--and almost all of us unprepared.


CharlesTrader said...

One of the flaws of our political system is that politicians typically will only spend money on things that win votes. Up to now, spending money on a possible EMP attack isn't a vote getter. I suspect that the vast majority of our citizens do not know what an EMP attack is, how it works, what the implications are, and probably have never heard of an EMP.

However, an EMP attack is probably our biggest Achilles' Heel as our population grows in number, and depending more and more on electronic devices. One of the first things to be done is to educate the public on what is an EMP attack, its implications to their quality of life, and what can be done to protect ourselves from an EMP attack.

I have considered some actions to be part of the crazy survivorlist groups, but I have been considering storing MRE's, learning to build fires without matches or lighters, and so on to survive without modern conviences for the "just in case" scenario.

You never know.


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Charles,

Agreed; when you've traded markets long enough, you learn to respect fat tails of risk--


Firebird said...

In my view, the main problem with a EMP attack is the asymmetry against the most likely perpetrators.

Just imagine a small "home-made" EMP device at 9:35 New York time near Wall Street... and the futures running in Chicago... what do you do, bomb Teheran's stock market? Like that's going to hurt them?

On military asymmetry:

Thank you for the links - off-topic, maybe, but certainly interesting!

Best trading,


IDkit aka Ana said...


It is shocking to the world that a '9/11 of India' could erupt, which has also killed foreigners including a Singapore young woman.

EMP implications apply equally to all nations after what has happened to Mumbai.

No nation can be complacent about national security issues.

Mark Allen said...

But I guess cowardly people will be afraid of almost anything.

I'm more afraid of Uncle Scam than Chinese EMP's, and you should be too Homey.

Jorge said...

Your patience is remarkable :)

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Jorge,

Thanks; much easier to have patience when you accept that everything has information content, intended or otherwise.