Toronto Sun Bomb ShelterOriginally published on the Toronto Sun by Kris Sims on November 19, 2011

There’s nothing new about fearing Doomsday. The Norsemen warned of Ragnarok, the Mayan calendar ends Dec. 2012 and the Bible foretells Judgement Day. What’s new is how the world will end, as fears tend to change as our world does.

The latest: a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

“It all changed in July of 2008 when Iran sent a missile up off of a boat, testing for an electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S.,” said Walton McCarthy, owner of Radius Engineering International, the world’s largest builder of underground shelters. “It makes me think of Krakatoa, the volcano that killed so many people. There’s only a handful that survived it, because they did something that nobody else did: they recognized the threat and they walked out of town.”

An electromagnetic pulse is a burst of electromagnetic radiation from a nuclear weapon. If the weapon is detonated high in the atmosphere, above a target area, it can produce a radioactive pulse across a huge area. The effect could knock out electricity and fry sensitive computer processors, even a total blackout that could last months.

Some Americans fear Iran could get a lone nuclear missile onto a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, and detonate it over the central U.S.

“All of the people from the cities, they have no choice when there’s no power, the only thing they can do is to walk out of the city and forage, go to every single house, break in, and look for food and water.” said McCarthy. “I don’t care how many rifles and bullets you have, you can not defend a house.”

This scenario is captured in the best-selling novel One Second After, written by military historian William R. Forstchen with a forward by Republican leadership candidate Newt Gingrich. In it, American technology is knocked back to the early 1800s – vehicles stop moving, medications spoil in useless refrigerators and phone lines drop dead. Most of the population starves to death.

In real-world Washington, a specialist panel reports to Congress about the potential threat.

“What is different now is that some potential sources of EMP threats are difficult to deter. They can be terrorist groups that have no state identity, have only one or a few weapons, and are motivated to attack the U.S. without regard for their own safety,” according to a report in 2004 by a group called the ‘Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack’.

It’s chaired by Dr. William Graham, who advised former president Ronald Reagan.

“Rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, may also be developing the capability to pose an EMP threat to the United States, and may also be unpredictable and difficult to deter,” the report reads.

As for McCarthy, he doesn’t so much fear the end as he is preparing for it – and helping others do the same.

His company’s complexes look like domed houses, deep underground with hidden hatches. They come complete with plumbing, electricity, air purification and shielding against EMP hits. They are installed in every U.S. capital from Hawaii to Maine, and in some Canadian cities. McCarthy said orders have doubled every year for five years. About 15% of his customers are corporations now fearful of an economic collapse, and they are planning to protect their executives and their data, he said.

“The future belongs to those who plan.”