EMP: Technology’s Worst Nightmare

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a super-energetic radio wave that can destroy, damage,or cause the malfunction of electronic systems by overloading their circuits. Harmless to people but catastrophic to our critical infrastructure critical infrastructures–electric power, telecommunications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water–that sustain modern civilization and thelivesof310millionAmericans.

Given the current state of U.S. unpreparedness for an EMP event, it is estimated that within 12 months of an EMP event, two-thirds to 90 percent of the U.S. population would likely perish from starvation, disease, and societal breakdown.

When, not If

Nature generates EMPs that cause similar catastrophic consequences as nuclear EMPs by means of a solar flare from the Sun that causes on Earth a great geomagnetic storm. These natural events occur on average every 150 years, the last recorded storm was 155 years ago.

UntitledA single nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude will generate an electromagnetic pulse that can cause catastrophic damage across the entire contiguous United States.

Non-nuclear weapons, often referred to as radiofrequency weapons, canalsogenerateanEMP,muchmorelimited in range than a nuclear weapon, that can damage electronics, and could cause the collapse of critical infrastructures locally, perhaps with cascading effects over an areaas large as a major city.

The national security threat

The nuclear EMP threat is not merely theoretical–it is real, a clear and present danger. Nuclear EMP attack is the perfect asymmetric weapon for state actors who wish to level the battlefield by neutralizing the great technological advantage enjoyed by U.S. military forces. EMP is also the only means whereby rogue states or terrorists could use a single nuclear weapon to destroy the United States and prevail with a single blow.

Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have already incorporated EMP attack into their military doctrines, and openly describe making EMP attacks against the United States.

Untitled2Rouge states and terrorists could use any missile, including short-range missiles that can deliver a nuclear warhead, to exact a catastrophic EMP attack on the United States. Indeed, Iran has practiced ship-launched EMP attacks using Scud missiles – which are in the possession of scores of nations and even terrorist groups.

Protecting the homeland means more than our borders

The Congressional EMP Commission, since disbanded, spent eight years developing a plan to protect all infrastructures from EMP – a plan that would also mitigate threats from cyber-attack, sabotage, and natural disasters – that could be implemented in 3-5 years at a cost of $10-20 billion.

The Congressional EMP Commission estimated in 2008 it would cost $2 billion to harden the grid’s critical nodes (i.e., roughly 2,000 large and medium-sized transformers and their associated SCADA systems, etc.) Modest when compared with the unimaginably high costs associated with trying to remediate after an EMP event. Yet, it has been an excuse for inaction.

Looking for a SHIELD

Three bills have been introduced to protect the grid. In 2011, Congressman Trent Franks, backed by a broad bipartisan coalition, introduced HR 668, the SHIELD Act. The SHIELD Act was virtually identical to the earlier GRID Act, except it focused on EMP threats, in an effort to avoid the jurisdictional controversy that dead ended the GRID Act. In October, Rep. Franks introduced a new, bipartisan backed bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) to prevent widespread power failures. Like its predecessors, CIPA has found itself trapped in Congress.