Exclusive: Don’t Let a Catastrophic Disaster Leave You Stranded Miles from Nowhere

by JENA BAKER MCNEILL April 6, 2010
It’s a sinking feeling. You’re miles from a gas station. The car’s fuel level has been on E for far too long. You’re not sure you’ll make it to the pump in time. Inevitably, its 120 degrees outside or pouring rain and the idea of pushing your car the rest of the way or leaving your fate to the nearest passerby leaves you in a panic.
 
Yes, it’s a massive inconvenience to run out of gas. In a natural disaster, though, gas shortages aren’t uncommon. They don’t necessarily halt the U.S. supply chain, at least not permanently – but a catastrophic disaster can snarl transportation nationwide. In fact, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, gas prices went up 40 percent – a real hit to drivers. The problem is that gas stations don’t have much fuel on hand. That’s partly for fire safety reasons and partly because of environmental regulations. Still, when demand skyrockets right before something like a hurricane, stations run out quickly and have to wait for a fresh supply.
 
But what if it was impossible to get additional supplies? In an EMP attack, where, for example, an enemy might choose to take down the electric grid by exploding a nuclear weapon high in the Earth’s atmosphere, the transportation system (and supply chain for that matter) would go haywire –making such a problem a reality. No amount of AAA auto protection would help – as EMP literally destroys the electric grid and the electronics functioning off of it.
 
Station pumps need electricity to operate and so do the refineries and other facilities that bring the fresh supplies. Try driving through a city like New York with no stoplights, or no lights at all for that matter.  
 
Even those more “environmentally-conscious” folks who pat themselves on the backs for their “greener” purchases would be stuck. Forget the hybrids (which rely on gasoline), forget the electric cars (duh), and forget the hydrogen vehicles, which also rely on electricity.
 
Transportation would be nearly impossible. No Amtrak, buses or subway. The impact of this would be large. For example, emergency responders need transportation to get the sick to the hospital (assuming one was functioning and that you could actually get in contact with 9-1-1 personnel). Ever take a 700 mile trek to a hospital? Probably not -- but that’s how long it could take to find one actually operating. The likelihood of making it on whatever was left in the gas tank would be slim.
 
Getting supplies like food and water to people would be difficult, throwing the United States back to the Middle Ages (but without a general public skilled at riding horses, shooting bows and arrows, etc.)
 
While Congress and DHS ignore the threat, the EMP Commission has warned of these effects – and just how much the fuel supply and transportation would be compromised by an EMP. They emphasize, rightly, that hardening the right things can “reduce to low levels the probability of widespread damage to major power system components that require a long time to replace.”
 
The public needs to let Congress and DHS know that the threat of EMP cannot go ignored, or many Americans could be left stranded.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Jena Baker McNeill is a homeland security policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).
 

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