Coordinated Physical Assault

Like cyber or IEMI attack scenarios, coordinated physical attacks on critical infrastructure sector nodes could create long-duration power outages of exceptionally wide geographic scope, especially if combined with EMP, cyber, or IEMI in a combined arms campaign.

Military strategists have long understood that a simultaneous attack using multiple means can greatly amplify damage to targets.  In a classic demonstration of the value of combined arms strategies, Napoleon’s Grande Armee employed infantry, artillery, and cavalry in integrated operations to help him achieve decisive victories.  Modern militaries frequently combine air, infantry, and armor forces to create such synergies.

A former CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), expressed this apprehension in testimony to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

“I am most concerned about coordinated physical and cyber-attacks intended to disable elements of the power grid or deny electricity to specific targets, such as government or business centers, military installations, or other infrastructures.”

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke along similar lines:

“The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country.  Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical military systems and communication networks. The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a “cyber Pearl Harbor:” an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability1.”

Risk to the fragile global financial system

The continuity of our global financial is a particularly important, aggregating example of modern civilization’s vulnerability to a potentially more severe pandemic.  

An article in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic’s article entitled The Looming Bank Collapse provides a visualization of this risk. The article highlights concerns of major economists in the early months of the pandemic that the economic stresses of the pandemic might have led to collapse of the global financial system.  

Our civilization does not currently have a “fallback plan” for such a collapse.  Without the banking, credit, insurance, reinsurance, monetary and other financial system instruments that are essential to economic and societal continuity, our civilization’s economies could not function.


The risks associated with a more extreme pandemic are unthinkably catastrophic. In a scenario in which, for example, a pandemic’s impact caused collapse of the financial frameworks enabling production and distributions of the goods and services we require to survive, societal and national continuity would be at risk, worldwide.

What can be done?

The world’s leading financial institutions work diligently to develop resilient mechanisms to ensure that shocks to the system can be survived.  These mechanisms must now be expanded to address far more extreme risks than those currently addressed – including, for example, implementing a capability to enable prearranged financial guarantees for critical services and corporations, coupled with a recognized, temporary transaction logging system designed to operate even in long duration, subcontinent-scale power outages.

For more information, see the Global Resilience Commission resources, elsewhere in this site, or write to info@eiscouncil.org.

Panetta, Leon.“Defending the Nation from Cyber Attack.” Speech to Business Executives for National Security, New York, 11 October 2012. U.S. Department of Defense p. 2.

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IEMI – Intentional Electromagnetic Interference

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EMP – High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse

A nuclear detonation in the upper atmosphere creates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a powerful, damaging electromagnetic field covering a subcontinent-scale region...

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