“Electromagnetic Pulse and American Security,” a recent article by Eric Hannis, executive director at Etherton and Associates, is a welcome contribution to the discussion about U.S. vulnerability to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks. Hannis points out that, despite the severe consequences of a single attack, “few people even know that this threat exists.”
An EMP attack is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles. These particles, if strong enough, cause a destruction of electrical circuits. This affects cell phones, computers, vehicles, airplanes, and even the power grid. In the case of a successful EMP attack, transportation systems would be halted, communications devices would be rendered useless, and grocery stores would be unable to preserve or restore food supplies. “The result would be starvation, disease, and lawlessness on a scale not experienced in modern times,” Hannis says.
An EMP occurs as one of the effects of a nuclear detonation. The higher the altitude of the detonation, the larger the impacted area. Hannis warns that both Iran and North Korea are developing EMP capabilities and working to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities to EMP.
An EMP also occurs during solar storms (also known as “space weather”). Particularly strong storms occur in 11-year cycles (and the next expected peak is in 2013). The possibility of a solar storm that could knock down power grids across the country is far greater than previously thought.
Hannis identifies several steps the U.S. can take to prepare and mitigate the consequences of an EMP:
- “Hardening critical infrastructure systems” would ensure that vital systems are functional after an EMP.
- The Department of Homeland Security should develop “civilian protocols” that enable proficient communication during an EMP incident.
- The U.S. should fortify defense and space systems, specifically critical weapons systems.
- The U.S. should develop a national plan to respond to space weather emergencies.
- In addition, missile defense is essential to protecting the U.S. for an EMP caused by a high-altitude nuclear weapon detonation.