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The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act | Commentary

On Thursday, May 8 at 2 p.m., in Cannon 311, my expert colleagues and I testified in an open hearing on the threat of electromagnetic pulse to critical infrastructures. The hearing will prepare members of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies to consider a vitally important bill, arguably the most important bill before this Congress — the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act H.R.3410 — that would prepare the nation for a natural or nuclear EMP catastrophe.

CIPA is sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, Chairman of the Congressional EMP Caucus, and the leading expert on EMP in Congress.

The EMP threat used to be largely classified.  The Congressional EMP Commission correctly judged that secrecy about EMP was a greater threat to the nation than transparency, and so published unclassified reports in 2004 and 2008 to inform citizens and the utilities that they need to be protected.

While the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community have known about the EMP threat for over 50 years, the magnitude of the EMP threat has come to the attention of most policymakers and the public relatively recently, only since the contents of the last EMP Commission report have gradually found their way into the press.

Natural EMP from a geomagnetic superstorm, like the 1859 Carrington Event or 1921 Railroad Storm, and nuclear EMP attack from terrorists or rogue states, as practiced by North Korea during the nuclear crisis of 2013, are both existential threats that could kill 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease and societal collapse.

A natural EMP catastrophe or nuclear EMP event could blackout the national electric grid for months or years and collapse all the other critical infrastructures — communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water — necessary to sustain modern society and the lives of 310 million Americans.

Passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act to create a new National Planning Scenario focused on EMP is urgently necessary.  As the National Planning Scenarios are the basis for all federal, state and local emergency planning, training and resource allocation, an EMP National Planning Scenario would immediately and significantly improve national preparedness for an EMP catastrophe.

Thousands of emergency planners and first-responders at the federal, state, and local level want to protect our nation and their states and communities from the EMP threat.  But they are seriously hindered and even prohibited from doing so because the EMP threat is not among the 15 canonical National Planning Scenarios used by the Department of Homeland Security.

Passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act would immediately mobilize thousands of emergency planners and first responders at all levels of government, and educate millions of others, about EMP and how to prepare for it.

Passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act would immediately help states that are frustrated with lack of action on EMP in Washington, and are trying to launch initiatives protecting their electrical grids from EMP, as is being attempted now in Maine, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida.

Passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act would educate all States about the EMP threat and help them protect their critical infrastructures.

For example, projects in New York and Massachusetts to harden their state grids against severe weather caused by climate change should include protection against an EMP event, which is the worst threat to the grid.  If the grid is protected against EMP, it will mitigate all lesser threats, including cyberattack, sabotage, and severe weather.

Given the amounts of money being spent in New York and Massachusetts on grid hardening against severe weather, significant EMP protection can probably be accomplished now within their current budgets. But the cost of EMP protection will increase significantly if they delay and attempt remediation later.

EMP is a clear and present danger.  A Carrington-class coronal mass ejection narrowly missed Earth in July 2012.  Last April, during the nuclear crisis with North Korea over Kim Jong Un’s threatened nuclear strikes against the United States, Pyongyang apparently practiced an EMP attack with its KSM-3 satellite, which passed over the U.S. heartland and over the Washington, D.C.-New York City corridor.  Iran, estimated to be within two months of nuclear weapons by the administration, has a demonstrated capability to launch an EMP attack from a vessel at sea.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy commenced patrols off the East Coast of the United States in February.