Any American who has a cell phone—or who just wants to be able to flip on a light in the morning—should be concerned about our nation’s preparedness in the face of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. In fact, while it may sound like a term from a high school physics textbook, an EMP in action could result in the death of thousands of people.
An EMP, which is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles, can be produced by intense solar storms or by a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere. When such a solar storm occurred in 1859, operators of the telegraph—the first widespread electrical device—were “shocked unconscious, and machines caught on fire.” Imagine the repercussions of such an event today, when virtually everything we own relies directly or indirectly on the power grid.
This past week, Jeanine Pirro of Fox News broadcasted a segment on the gravity of this issue and the lack of action taken by Congress to better prepare and defend our nation against such an attack.
In fact, the current Administration has harmed our nation’s ability to counter such an attack by reducing our nation’s missile defense, one of our only defenses against an EMP attack. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011 and in the START Treaty with Russia, the Obama Administration substantially cut missile defense programs and limited the defense system’s capabilities.
While some may view an EMP attack as something out of a sci-fi novel and those who caution against it as reactionary nuts, keep in mind that such an event has already happened. Our nation’s enemies, such as North Korea, have the capability to launch such an attack on the United States. Additionally, even if one believes that our enemies lack the resolve to carry out such an assault, a solar flare, like the one that occurred in 1859, occurs approximately every 150 years.
EMPs require the immediate attention of Congress and the Obama Administration. Our nation must not remain defenseless in the face of this inevitable—and potentially devastating—event.
The clock is ticking.
Rebecca Robison is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.