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Calm down

An EMP wouldn't cause catastrophic failure to the electrical grid, Al Fonzi



In your May 20 commentary, "Testing Biden," you mention a few things that I feel need clarification. Yes, better "security" of our computer systems indeed is a good idea. However, the belief of a "catastrophic failure" is a bit of overkill. The recent gas pipeline shutdown was a result of a ransomware attack, and the target wasn't as much a cyber attack demonstration by any of the countries you mentioned, rather, it was an ordinary, time and time again, blackmail attempt. The blackmail part, with the ensuing payment, was to "protect corporate interests" in terms of damaging information. Had it been what I would call an attack, there would doubtful have been any ransom.

The pipeline system was actually rebooted rather quickly, and the biggest headache was the public stupidity in the aftermath, the same thing that happened when COVID-19 hit us. The main difference this time was that toilet paper wasn't flowing out of a pipe.

In an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, at typical detonation altitudes, the biggest issue is induction of extremely long-wave electromagnetic (radio) waves, and that the grid system acts like a giant antenna. A major voltage surge then occurs, and while spread over a large area, it's really not any more destructive than a direct lightning strike, which of course doesn't bring the whole system crashing down, as the grid does have various protection devices. As do a lot of us with computers, modern electronics, and so forth. We refer to them as surge protectors.

In the case of sensitive electronics, according to physics, unless you are right at ground (or air) zero, there isn't much to worry about. This is evident as the survival of devices improves rapidly with distance, typically only 10 miles away or so. Interestingly, way back in the late '50s, this was intentionally tested to see what effect a high altitude nuclear detonation would have on the Van Allen belts that encircle our planet. The energy from the detonation (code named Starfish Prime) essentially irritated the closest Van Allen belt. Some systems were knocked offline, notably Hawaii, however, this was also a long time ago, and we certainly didn't have the surge protection devices we currently utilize.

The biggest damage from Starfish Prime was that a communication satellite (TelStar 1) passed through the inner Van Allen belt, and that is what damaged the (new) electronics within.

Not all transformers would be destroyed, even with massive surge overloads. Again, the farther away you are, the EMP energy is likewise reduced and absorbed.

Calm down, Al Fonzi.

Bree Turner writes about electronic surges from Morro Bay. Respond with a letter to the editor sent to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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