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The Military Technology

Expert Warns: Civilian World Not Ready For Massive EMP-Caused Blackout 271

Posted by samzenpus
from the turn-off-the-lights dept.
schwit1 (797399) writes "An electromagnetic pulse is a burst of electromagnetic energy strong enough to disable, and even destroy, nearby electronic devices. In the first few minutes of an EMP, nearly half a million people would die. That's the worst-case scenario that author William R. Forstchen estimated would be the result of an EMP on the electric grid. 'If you do a smart plan — the Congressional EMP Commission estimated that you could protect the whole country for about $2 billion,' Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, told Watchdog.org. 'That's what we give away in foreign aid to Pakistan every year.' He said the more officials plan, the lower the estimated cost gets. 'The problem is not the technology,' Pry said. 'We know how to protect against it. It's not the money, it doesn't cost that much. The problem is the politics. It always seems to be the politics that gets in the way.'"
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Expert Warns: Civilian World Not Ready For Massive EMP-Caused Blackout

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:17AM (#46805169)

    Reading summary: this seems pretty stupid and a little fear-mongery for slashdot.

    Click link: Fox news, figures. Usual shit reporting and lack of detail. Obamacare not mentioned anywhere in article.

    Click link in article to watchdog.org: not much more detail, more zomg fear crap, still no mention of obamacare.

    Read comments on watchdog.org: ok, I’m out

    Not saying there isn’t something to talk about here, but linking to fox news for this kind of topic is like linking to a local news report on heartbleed. We aren’t the audience for this level of reporting.

    • by Collective 0-0009 (1294662) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:46AM (#46805487)
      Mod this AC up. WTF /.?????? Some article about devastating effects of EMP and an easy preventative measure (that I wanted to read about). But the links are to foxnews.com and watchdog.org!!!! There is no content!

      Would people stop using /. and start using soylentnews.org, please!?!? I can't take this anymore!
      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:18AM (#46805843)

        Mod this AC up. WTF /.?????? Some article about devastating effects of EMP and an easy preventative measure (that I wanted to read about). But the links are to foxnews.com and watchdog.org!!!! There is no content!

        Would people stop using /. and start using soylentnews.org, please!?!? I can't take this anymore!

        The watchdog.org site has links to the actual paper referenced (the link in the text called estimated).

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You are crazy man! Not only you RTFA but you even click links! Guys, bring in the pitchforks!

      • by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Monday April 21, 2014 @12:40PM (#46806689) Homepage

        We're not ready for a massive EMP... or a 500 mile high Tsunami... or Giant radioactive lizards that breath fire. I love the quote though, "In the first few minutes of an EMP, nearly half a million people would die." Well, if we're talking about an EMP that could take out the entire US including airspace, that might be true of planes falling from the sky and trains running off the rails. But that scenario isn't even remotely plausible outside total nuclear annihilation. Further, Hurrican Katrina showed that even an EMP hitting a major city is really nothing more than a power outage. Flooding happens to be the most dangerous natural disaster in reach of major cities (short of Hawaii blowing up or California splitting in half). Unless the results of an EMP are dams breaking in some Superman: The Movie kind of way, we wouldn't even see a Katrina level disaster.

        Frankly, I could care less about an EMP. Any number of computer viruses could disable more machines than an EMP. And a radioactive dirty bomb is a real threat to life for decades. Any terrorist that could cause an explosion capable of triggering a sufficiently large EMP would find that the bomb itself would be more useful against a soft civilian target. An EMP is just flat out impractical for a terrorist, who prefers simple and direct and terrifying.

        On the other hand, if we're worried about a bad actor like North Korea, I believe such an EMP that could hit multiple US cities at once would trigger a nuclear response from the US. What are we going to do, waste resources wrapping electronics in shielding for... an unwarranted fear? And $2 Billion sounds desperately low. It's like the TSA, only even more incredibly useless.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cold fjord (826450)

          We're not ready for a massive EMP... or a 500 mile high Tsunami... or Giant radioactive lizards that breath fire.

          Unlike the other two, an EMP event that could damage or destroy most electronic equipment within 1,000 mils of it can be created by most any nuclear power on the planet. A growing number of those nuclear powers are either unstable, hostile, or both, towards the US and the West. Iran is probably next on the list to have that capability.

          that scenario isn't even remotely plausible outside total nuclear annihilation.

          You've just stated you completely fail to understand the nature of EMP. The most dangerous EMP event is a large nuclear warhead exploded high above the ground, too high to

          • by Qwertie (797303)

            You've just stated you completely fail to understand the nature of EMP. The most dangerous EMP event is a large nuclear warhead exploded high above the ground, too high to do any meaningful damage on the ground. The damage is caused by the electromagnetic radiation released from the blast as EMP. It only takes one explosion. That isn't a nuclear Armageddon. It is returning a major post-industrial computer based society to a horse and wagon based economy in seconds, without having the horses and wagons to do

      • Would people stop using /. and start using soylentnews.org, please!?!? I can't take this anymore!

        Then why are you here commenting instead of there basking in the delights of "soylentnews.org"?? Trolling for members?

    • by choongiri (840652)

      We're inception-style 3-links deep here, but this article, linked from Watchdog, is actually somewhat more interesting -- http://www.onesecondafter.com/... [onesecondafter.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cold fjord (826450)

      Reading summary: this seems pretty stupid and a little fear-mongery for slashdot.

      Click link: Fox news, figures. Usual shit reporting and lack of detail. Obamacare not mentioned anywhere in article.

      Click link in article to watchdog.org: not much more detail, more zomg fear crap, still no mention of obamacare.

      Read comments on watchdog.org: ok, I’m out

      Not saying there isn’t something to talk about here, but linking to fox news for this kind of topic is like linking to a local news report on heartbleed. We aren’t the audience for this level of reporting.

      So you repeatedly looked for "Obamacare" information in a story about the dangers to infrastructure posed by EMP? (And that is modded "informative"?!?!) Yes, I'll agree with your assessment that you "...aren’t the audience for this level of reporting." You don't seem to be up to that level. On top of that your post isn't really anything other than an anti-Fox News troll.

      There is plenty of fodder in those stories for good discussion by anyone that is interested. You apparently aren't.

      Experts: Civi [watchdog.org]

      • by Dishevel (1105119)
        Try not to bring facts to the conversation. This is about how truly evil Fox news is. He laid out the facts on how and why they are so evil so you just need to shut up and get your news from real orgs like Al Jezeera America.
        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Or the real source, the AP and API news feeds. Look hard enough and you can find pirated feeds online that are not delayed.

          http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/f... [ap.org] for the legitimate but heavily time delayed feed. The paying customers get the news earlier so they can publish it before it goes on the public feed.

      • by Anrego (830717) * on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:59AM (#46806313)

        I would presume parent is making jest of the excessively biased Fox News and the somewhat biased Watchdog News. Usually they try to at least work in a halfhearted jab against Obama. I too was waiting for the "and here is why Obama is to blame" punchline as soon as I saw the source of the article.

        Anyway, I agree with other posters. This article is aimed at stirring up fear within their demographic, not technical discussion. If you drill down far enough there is a much better article that probably should have been directly linked.

    • Because, you know: If somebody could produce a massive EMP blackout in the US, he could just as well nuke Los Angeles. So it's best to spend trillions of dollars on nuclear shelters now. And constructing a doomsday world destruction device might also be a good idea, because this would act as a deterrent against the terrorists ...

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:19AM (#46805191)

    That's what we give away in foreign aid to Pakistan every year.

    ...Is he implying America is giving that aid from the kindness of their heart?

  • See subject.

    • FUD? I didn't even know we had a Congressional EMP Commission. I feel much better now. I think we should all vote to re-elect all our congressmen so they can continue their great work. What do the rest of you dumbasses think? Wait for the next election, to get the punchline.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        They are correct, we do need to take step to prevent impact from a massive EMP from a solar burst. IT need to be part of a larger revamping of the system. DEsigned by engineers, and not by congress.

        Interesting red. if you like dry technical topics:
        http://www.empcommission.org/d... [empcommission.org]

    • by fermion (181285)
      Wost case scenario: when a black out occurs in NYC, 8 million people will die within the first day.

      It is worst case, not probable, not something that is going to happen, not something that probably will happen, so such numbers are FUD and really are not part of the debate.

      It is true that 30 years ago electronics were not so embedded in our lives. In particular the new generation does not seem to be able to solve problems for themselves. I see them on the phone having their parents solve even the most ba

    • by Cragen (697038)
      Agreed. Has it 10 years already? This article (and attendant requests for funding) seems to come out around every 10 years. This is, at least, the third time I have seen the EMP "bogey-man" series of articles. And I have worked with the US Army, who do take EMP (and HEMP) threats very seriously. And are already funded accordingly.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O... [wikipedia.org]

    The degeneration of society seems to be pretty plausible. Kind of ties in with the "post-apocalyptic skills" thread of a few weeks ago.

    • by CQDX (2720013)
      Yea but if it got rid of social media and insipid reality shows, it might be awash.
    • The degeneration of society seems to be pretty plausible. Kind of ties in with the "post-apocalyptic skills" thread of a few weeks ago.

      I hope people take the time to read EMP commission report. While there is no question it would suck and hard to predict aggregate effect on society there are some interesting and counter-intuitive tidbits. Some of my favorites:

      Systems designed to protect against EMF also protect against EMP. When tested new cars were no worse off than old cars due to EMF tolerance requirements. I believe none of the cars tested actually broke down although some had to be turned off and started right back up.

      Simple chang

  • by deadweight (681827) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:28AM (#46805285)
    I just happen to sell asteroid repellent and giant lizard repellent. If you order before midnight, you can get some ginsu knives too.
    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      I just happen to sell asteroid repellent and giant lizard repellent. If you order before midnight, you can get some ginsu knives too.

      Exactly. The purpose of national defense is not to defend against the entire menagerie of the imagination. It is to defend against the most probable threats in the most cost efficient way possible.

      Side note: Sometimes, whether we protect against everything we can imagine or not, we will get hit with an unexpected event and people will die. That is just the way it is. Quit tryi

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Well, since the sun ejecting mass that would cause country wide EMP impact, and it WILL happen sooner or later, I think this qualifies.

        Rebuilding are grid is a great benefit for many reasons. Better distributed power, less reliance on outside energy, improved SCADA defenses,

        Re engineering the electrical grid minimizes the impact from a whole host of externals and internal issues.
        The benefit is both wide and deep.

      • by fnj (64210)

        Sorry, what you plan for as most probable is not enough. That gives you, to pick one example, a Maginot line. They will just go around it or fly over it.

        More apropos recent history, having a military system which is devastatingly effective against mass tank attacks and tanks dug in defensively, but is absolutely helpless against IEDs and snipers, is not effective. But neither is the opposite. You either make your military system flexible and effective against as wide a variety of strategies and tactics as p

  • Nuclear detonation? We'd have worse things to worry about then (like ionizing radiation killing us all). Solar flare activity? How the hell would you even protect the entire planet from something that powerful in the first place? Don't we have more immediate things to worry about than something as unlikely as this?
    • by Swampash (1131503)

      Well, as the article said, God might do something.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      ... If you were close enough for ionizing radiation to kill you ... the heat would have vaporized you well before you had enough time to figure out that the radiation might be a problem.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "Nuclear detonation? We'd have worse things to worry about then (like ionizing radiation killing us all)."
      no everyone. Air burst can be high altitude. so to minimize fallout, allow for landing, temporarily cripple and not destroy cities you want to occupy.
      While tat would be local, the way the current grid is set up, a local even could take out have the nations power.

      "How the hell would you even protect the entire planet from something that powerful in the first place?"
      A) It wold depend on the size the is a

  • by swb (14022) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:41AM (#46805437)

    I know it would vary based on the yield of the nuke and the relative shielding of the device, but let's say...

    1) "Rogue" small-yield nuke detonated at ground-level (eg, snuck onto a shipping container or other similar delivery).

    2) Standard-size ICBM delivered to target intended for ground destruction.

    3) Standard sized ICBM delivered for maximum EMP yield.

    Can you use a single nuke to EMP the entire continental US?

    What kind of shielding is necessary to block EMPs? Is my TV in the top floor of my house junk but maybe my PC in the basement likely unaffected? Is there a shared risk from the electric grid?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:48AM (#46805517)
      A solar generated EMP is not a threat to your house wiring. It is only a threat to wiring that is many miles long - i.e. the commercial power grid. It will induce large currents in the grid, that will travel to your house as (I assume) your house is connected to the grid. As disconnecting your house from the grid is (I assume) not a valid solution, the answer must be protecting the grid.
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Somehow I have the feeling that if a nuke detonates, that is powerful enough to produce an EMP that causes a blackout in the entire USA, the EMP will be low on the list of things to worry about. That is, assuming you survive the initial blast long enough to even realise there is a nation-wide blackout.

      • by Entropius (188861)

        I was under the impression that it was something of an either-or: if you're trying to EMP people with a nuke, the thing to do is to set it off in the ionosphere so you create large currents.

        • by lagomorpha2 (1376475) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:11AM (#46805779)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

          "It produced a yield equivalent to 1.4 megatons of TNT."

          "The Starfish Prime electromagnetic pulse also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a telephone company microwave link. The EMP damage to the microwave link shut down telephone calls from Kauai to the other Hawaiian islands"

      • by Rick Zeman (15628)

        Somehow I have the feeling that if a nuke detonates, that is powerful enough to produce an EMP that causes a blackout in the entire USA, the EMP will be low on the list of things to worry about. That is, assuming you survive the initial blast long enough to even realise there is a nation-wide blackout.

        A ground-based/low altitude nuke will kill you, but not cause an EMP pulse. A very high altitude nuke will cause an EMP, and not give any radiation to the ground. While they're both fruit, it's apples and oranges.

      • Actually the EMP can travel thousands of miles in the upper atmosphere and do damage. Read up on Starfish Prime and some other of the tests. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N... [wikipedia.org]

    • In Forstchen's book (and according to what I've read) it would take a minimum of well placed 3 nukes in the upper atmosphere to cover the continental US- basically line of sight. I believe it doesn't take a particularly big nuke.

      A Faraday cage may protect your devices, but only if the cage is complete- any wires in or out could defeat the purpose and propagate the high field strength (at least high enough to do damage) inside the cage. Since the risetime of the signal is very, very fast, even a tiny crack

    • Can you use a single nuke to EMP the entire continental US?

      No, not really. If you had an EMP that could cook via electromagnetic radiation the electrical grid of the US, you'd have worst problems than EMP caused black outs to deal with.

      The whole idea of an effective EMP is to fry as much cooper/aluminum wire as one could. Think of really effective EMPs being more like lighting and less like nuclear detonations, since using a nuclear detonation is like trying to cut off the kitchen lights using a bulldozer and thirty tons of sand. If we're strictly talking EMP, l

    • by geekoid (135745)

      half of it. But you could do the same thing with a few conventional explosive and a little research do do how the grid is currently laid out.

    • If we have this problem, I think we'll be worried about more than our electronics not working...
  • Yeah... considering *everything* has a processor in it and it not protected against EMP... Yeah. It would be a shit show.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:46AM (#46805483)

    This will be the epitaph of our civilization.

  • by feedayeen (1322473) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:49AM (#46805527)

    The people who die in the first few minutes are going to be those who's lives are dependent on technology. That's list contains almost exclusively those in planes and those dependent on medical devices. How's a power grid update going to protect those people? Hospitals already have backup generators and you can't do anything about fried equipment.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Why do you think people on planes will have an issue? Planes are 'hardened' against non hostile EM event. such as lightening. They also have several redundant systems. The amount of redundancy depends on the criticality of the system
      The impact of an EMP would be minimal. At least on Boeing systems. I assume* Air Bus also used RTCA/DO-160D or it's equivalent.

      Since there are several ignorant memes in the public conscious put there by ignorant fear monger survivalist, panic may be a real issue.
      Fact is, most pl

    • That's list contains almost exclusively those in planes and those dependent on medical devices.

      Is there experimental evidence or other reasons for thinking planes would fall out of the sky or is this just an assumption? Our current fleets of flying aluminum cans routinely get hit by lightning and come out more or less unscathed. A direct localized strike has got to be competitive with high altitude nukes perhaps increased length of exposure from a gnarly CME could have a different/worse effect.

  • How Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by medv4380 (1604309) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:49AM (#46805529)
    TFA is kinda small on any details, but what do you expect from Fox News. How exactly does 2 Billion "protect" everyone from an EMP weapon? Have we found something as good a what we currently use, but won't break? Old Vacuum tubes are a nice protection against a system that could go down, but you never want it to go down. You can't really use the good vacuum tubes ether so you're stuck in 1940's tech for a lot of stuff. How exactly does this 2 Billion stop the pace makers from breaking, the planes from falling, and every hospital patient from dying in those few initial hours. That money might help for long term protection by setting up a process to recover from such an event, but I don't really see anything that says it will protect us from the massive initial death toll.
    • by Firethorn (177587)

      How exactly does 2 Billion "protect" everyone from an EMP weapon? Have we found something as good a what we currently use, but won't break? Old Vacuum tubes are a nice protection against a system that could go down, but you never want it to go down.

      You install shielding and protection components. A component you can't design to be resistant to an EMP, like maybe a CPU, you shield - stick it in a grounded metal box. You switch to fiber-optic for signal lines, and you put surge suppression/breakers on any metallic lines entering the shelter.

      On things like generators, you can provide limited protection simply by over-specifying specific components. Wires/insulation rated to higher voltage, in addition to some breaker components to ensure that longer w

  • Isn't that much when you consider all of the nation's electric utilities. It'll be interesting to see how Congress spins this: As a requirement to be imposed upon each utility as a part of their normal maintenance and reliability obligations. Or as Impending Doom, requiring the immediate transfer of federal funds into the coffers of the nations' utilities. Including the investor-owned outfits.

    I'm placing my bet on the "Doom" option.

    • I don't believe the 2Billion dollar amount for a second. 2 Billion seems like a very VERY large number. Now lets do some simple math. Divide that by 50 and that is 40million available for each state. You might be able to protect Wyoming for 40 Million, but I doubt you could protect Alaska (construction costs are too high) and I doubt you could even begin to protect a city like San Jose, New York, Dallas, or Chicago for 40 Million (not even to mention the rest of those states).
      The other interesting thin
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:59AM (#46805613) Journal

    ...whether Cold War-flavored (so very 1980s) or terrorist-flavored (so very 9/11), wouldn't these relatively straightforward precautions LIKEWISE buffer us against the effects of the sorts of solar activity that randomly seems to popup every 100 years or so?

    It seems that as our society becomes more and more DEPENDENT on the interwebs, we'd want to invest a little to protect that.
    (Then again, one might assume that because our entire economy runs on the roadways, we'd want to invest in them too...)

    Yet the Republicans are too wedded to utter prohibition on taxation, and the Democrats are too busy taking the tax revenues we do get and pouring great gobs of cash onto various interest groups for either of them give a shit about the ACTUAL public weal.

  • Does anyone know what the so-called "politics" are that get in the way of just going and doing it, or is this doublespeak for the idea that it's going to be hard and not particularly rewarding work that nobody ultimately really wants to do?
    • by mbone (558574)

      "Politics" in this case means that they haven't convinced the government that this money needs to be spent on them. Given that in these cases the government tends to have a bias towards spending money, I would regard that as telling.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        Even ignoring the threat of so-called deaths, the damage caused by a massive EMP blackout will easily measure in the hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars for North America alone. The blackout on the east coast in 2003 alone created about $10b damage to the economy... scale that up to the entire continent.
      • by fnj (64210)

        No, "politics" means the criminal assholes in Congress and the White House have no problem wasting trillions of dollars on pet feel-good projects and perpetual programs of relentless ever-increasing scope, but pontificate and argue themselves blue in the face over a billion here and there for undertakings which are unquestionably vital to safeguard the life and welfare of EVERYBODY.

  • This "civilian world" is sitting fat, dumb and happy watching reality TV shows about the people who are more ready than they are. Those "crazy preppers" who are trying to prepare for such things are probably going to see the zombie masses looking not for a pound of flesh, but for the food and supplies that they made fun of preppers for stockpiling.
  • by mbone (558574)

    If people start exploding megaton class warheads 200 km above our soil, I would say that we have other things to worry about.

    Or, to put it another way, that $ 2 billion is being spent, and it's being spent several times over, just not here.

    • by fnj (64210)

      Perhaps you could enlighten us on what those other things are, since the effects of nuclear explosions in space are essentially entirely limited to EMP.

      • by Anrego (830717) *

        From the weapon itself, not much. From what it means that someone is able to and is firing it, I think we could derive plenty.

  • I guess my grandma reads /. now. Since that seems to be the demographic you're targeting.

    There was once a time that I got about 65% of my news from /.. I enjoyed the topics and the discussions were often as informative as the stories, sometimes more. This is just not the case anymore. /. has degraded to just an old grocery store check out line rag. Very little actual content. Scare tactic headlines. You know the drill.
  • by edibobb (113989) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:17AM (#46805835) Homepage
    Fox News hysteria, now available on slashdot!
    Starfish prime [wikipedia.org] is interesting, though.
  • by PseudoCoder (1642383) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:29AM (#46805989)
    If NBCCBSABCCNN are busy abusing their "Breaking News" banners and fauning over Michelle Obama's dress, then the alternatives are where you're going to hear about this stuff. In fact, The Blaze and Drudge have been linking to this stuff for a long time because for the people who actually care about this stuff this isn't news.
  • Here is the link [onesecondafter.com] to the actual article without going through Fox and Watchdog.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:46AM (#46806159)
    The 1859 solar flare [wikipedia.org] resulted in anaurora visible at the equator. It damaged telegraph lines and lighning rods. If it happened today it would be expected to fry most power line transformers and cell phone towers. there are only 5% enough spare transformers at most. Plus industrial production could have come to a halt.

    This extra radiation appears to have created extra C14 from atmospheric nitrogen) at that time. Scientist have exampled tree rings, ice cores, and lake sediments for other such super storms. There is a hint of one in 774 AD [wordpress.com]. The historical records and istopes have not been studied enough to determine the recurrance of large storms.
  • The Book (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tteddo (543485) on Monday April 21, 2014 @12:05PM (#46806371) Homepage
    So I read the book that guy wrote and while it was entertaining and probably accurate, it still came off as advocating giving billions to defense contractors for some unspecified fix. The forward by Newt Gingrich kinda tipped me off.
  • To prevent an EMP from causing the collapse of US civilization, you, at the least, need to protect:

    - The power grid
    - Every municipal water and sewage system
    - The entire petroleum refining and distribution apparatus to a point where you can refine and distribute diesel fuel. (Can't run farm equipment or food transport without it)
    - Food distribution and processing
    - The public safety system (cars, computers, etc.)
    - A decent portion of the telecommunications grid
    - Acute medical care
    - Military weapons, logistic

  • OK, we finally installed the last of the EMP blocking grounded wire mesh. Lets call our boss and let him know... Hmm, no signal... Awww shit.

    Hello EMP proof, good bye wireless.

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