What would the life in the United States look like if the continent were hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)? The new TV show Revolution from producer J.J. Abrams, launching on NBC in the fall, is seeking to answer the question.
The show portrays life in the United States 15 years after an EMP disables all electronics. Life as we know it changes forever; militias and warlords rule the society, which has to provide for itself without the help of all the electronic devices we know today. Such a scenario is not as unlikely as it might appear. The congressionally mandated EMP Commission Report stated that an EMP “has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.”
An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. It is created during solar storms or by nuclear and radio-frequency weapons detonations. A nuclear weapon detonated at a high altitude would send the United States back to the 18th century. An EMP’s effects would include the destruction of electrical circuits, rendering cell phones, computers, vehicles, airplanes, power grids, and all other electrical equipment useless. In the case of an EMP—from “space weather” or a high-altitude nuclear detonation—transportation systems would be halted, communications would be rendered useless, and grocery stores would be unable to preserve or restore food supplies.
The United States must take steps to protect its infrastructure. The public and private sectors should harden vital infrastructure to make it more resilient and resistant to solar storms or an EMP’s effects. In addition to hardening its electrical grid, the U.S. should also develop a national plan to respond to EMP emergencies. This would involve educating federal, state, and local officials along with the public about the risks and response options.
Moreover, short-range and long-range ballistic missiles are the best means of delivery for a high-altitude nuclear weapon detonation. That is why the United States must continue to build up its missile defenses. The system would ideally be composed of Aegis ballistic missile capable ships; Aegis Ashore, the land-based ballistic missile component; and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capabilities. These would offer a degree of protection against such an attack.