SCADA After An EMP Attack?

Experts EMP Commission estimate that up to 90% of the population of the United States would likely be dead in the aftermath of an EMP attack.  Not due to the EMP itself, but due to societal collapse after an EMP induced infrastructure collapse.  That means approximately 280 million people would likely be dead due to things like starvation, pre-existing medical issues, unsanitary conditions and societal collapse in the months following an EMP attack.

Below is an excerpt from EMP Commission Report:

“A key issue for the Commission in assessing the impact of such a disruption to the Nation’s electrical system was not only the unprecedented widespread nature of the outage (e.g., the cascading effects from even one or two relatively small weapons exploded in optimum location in space at present would almost certainly shut down an entire interconnected electrical power system, perhaps affecting as much as 70 percent or possibly more of the United States, all in an instant) but more significantly widespread damage may well adversely impact the time to recover and thus have a potentially catastrophic impact.”

When talking about the threat to our power grid from EMP’s, many people love to focus on certain types of power transformers that would take a year or two to replace.  The transformers are not made in the United States and would have to be shipped here from overseas.  Yes, the destruction of those transformers is definitely a primary threat posed by an EMP attack on our power grid.  However, those transformers are not the only primary infrastructure component threatened from an EMP.  Do you know about SCADA?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are the computer control nodules (the ‘brains’) that pretty much control the nation’s infrastructure.  Power grid automation is not the only thing they control.  They can control automation on municipal gas flow, municipal water flow, wastewater flow, gas and oil pipeline flow etc.  They number in the hundreds of thousands and control just about everything that is automated in our infrastructure.  A well placed nuclear EMP exploded high in the atmosphere has the potential to disable thousands of SCADA’s at the same time on a national scale.

According to EMP Commission Report, EVERY SCADA system tested FAILED EMP TESTING in some form or another.  The exact wording from the report is listed below.

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Below is an excerpt from EMP Commission Report:

“The bottom line observation at the end of the testing was that every system tested failed when exposed to the simulated EMP environment.”

Just to give you an idea of the potential results from a single SCADA failure, below are 4 past disasters cited in the 2008 EMP Commission report.  These disasters occurred after SCADA systems malfunctioned in some fashion or another.

Below are summarized excerpts from EMP Commission Report:

1. “Bellingham Pipeline Incident.  On June 10, 1999, one of the Olympic pipelines transporting gasoline ruptured in the Whatcom Falls Park area of Bellingham, Washington.  About 250,000 gallons of gasoline from the pipeline entered the Hannah and Whatcom Creeks, where the fuel ignited[…]  Causes included improperly set relief valves, delayed maintenance inspections, and SCADA system discrepancies[…]  The electronic disturbance of an EMP event could be expected to precipitate SCADA failures and the ensuing loss of valve controls.”

2. “Carlsbad Pipeline Incident.  On August 19, 2000, an explosion occurred on one of three adjacent large natural gas pipelines near Carlsbad, New Mexico, operated by the El Paso Natural Gas Company[…]  The explosion happened because of failures in maintenance and loss of situational awareness, conditions that would be replicated by data acquisition disruptions caused by an EMP event.”

3. “Pembroke Refinery Incident.  On July 24, 1994, a severe thunderstorm passed over the Pembroke refinery in the United Kingdom.  Lightning strikes resulted in a 0.4 second power loss and subsequent power dips throughout the refinery[…]  There was an explosion in the FCC unit and a number of isolated fires continued to burn at locations within the FCC, butamer, and alkylation units.  The explosion was[…]  because of a valve malfunction, had its outlet closed[…]  The disturbances caused by the lightning strikes — power loss and degradation — would also result from an EMP event.”

4. “Netherlands EMI Incident.  A mishap occurred at a natural gas pipeline SCADA system[…]  A SCADA disturbance caused a catastrophic failure of an approximately 36-inch diameter pipeline, which resulted in a large gas explosion.  This failure was caused by EMI traced to a radar coupling into the wires of the SCADA System[…]  a condition that could be replicated by an EMP event.”

What if you multiplied the above incidents by hundreds or thousands after an EMP attack?  Can you imagine if thousands of SCADA systems malfunctioned at the same time?  That is what would likely happen after a large scale EMP attack in my opinion.

There would be explosions and fires set off nationwide with little to no capability to respond to them.  That’s not even counting the fires that would likely be set by electrical surges in transmission lines (or any other long electrical line that acts as an conduit/antenna).

Hundreds or thousands of SCADA systems failing at once after an EMP would be like Hurricane Katrina, but on a national scale.  I cite Hurricane Katrina because Katrina is the largest scale example in the modern era U.S. of a SHTF grid down event.  I believe we can get a glimpse of societal behavior by looking at what happened after the lights went out in New Orleans after Katrina.  There were reports of mass lawlessness in the streets of New Orleans.  What kind of disorder would law enforcement and military face while trying to maintain order on a national scale in every major city after an EMP attack?

Just like after Katrina, I believe law enforcement would abandon their posts to take care of their own families.  I also believe the military would do the same in the midst of a Katrina type disaster on a national scale.  With no protection from the military or law enforcement, utility workers would follow.  The citizens affected by Hurricane Katrina had the luxury of eventual outside help.  Who would come to help us?


SCADA systems are just another weak link in a chain full of weak links in my opinion.  In addition to SCADA systems and transformers, you have to think about the millions of other electrical/electronic components that would be rendered useless.  How do we come back from this as a nation?  I’m not convinced we could.  The longer period of time the nation goes without power, the less likely the lights will ever come back on in my view.  After an EMP attack, I don’t believe it would be possible to mount any type of large scale reconstruction effort.

Here is my reasoning:

1. Manpower:  Who is going to fix the grid while a state of lawlessness exists on a national scale?
2. Components:  How many millions of damaged grid electrical components would need to be replaced?
3. Components:  How many millions of household/business electrical components would need to be replaced?
4. Components/Parts:  Where are they going to get the components/parts?
5. Communications:  How are they going to communicate?
6. Mobility:  How are they going to get manpower and equipment around?
7. Protection:  Law enforcement and military will likely abandon their posts to take care of their families.
8. The 90%:  How many people with the capability to fix the grid (or those in the military/police who would protect the grid workers while they worked) are going to be part of that estimated “90%” population loss from societal collapse, disease, medical issues, starvation etc. after an EMP attack?
9. Scavengers:  What about scavengers?  People would begin scavenging for whatever they could find useful after a grid down event.  Why would they leave grid components untouched after a grid down event?
10. Unknowns:  All of the unknown variables that would take place after such an event.

I agree 100% with EMP Commission’s expert analysis.  A large scale EMP attack would be a “cascading” disaster of unimaginable proportions.



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