On June 18, the Congressional EMP Caucus held a public event to launch the SHIELD Act, which would protect the national electric grid from a natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
EMP is like super-lightning that can damage and destroy electronic systems everywhere across vast regions, potentially across the entire continental United States. An EMP catastrophe would blackout the national electric grid for months or years, stopping the operation of all the critical infrastructures–communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water–that sustain modern society and the lives of the American people.
EMP is the ultimate cyber threat, a high-tech means of killing millions the old fashioned way–through starvation, disease, and societal collapse.
An EMP can be generated by a terrorist or rogue state nuclear missile, or even by lofting a warhead with a balloon, perhaps launched off a freighter near our shores to preserve anonymity, and burst at high-altitude. A single crude nuclear weapon could generate an EMP that would collapse electric grids and critical infrastructures everywhere in the United States.
A ship-launched EMP attack by terrorists or rogue states could conceal the identity of the attacker, so we might never know who hit us.
Iran, the world’s chief sponsor of international terrorism, openly writes about eliminating the United States with an EMP attack, has conducted live missile launches simulating EMP attacks, and has practiced missile launching from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. In December 2012, North Korea used an intercontinental missile to orbit a satellite that appeared to be a practice run for a surprise nuclear EMP attack that bypasses U.S. early warning radars and missile defenses.
An EMP can also be generated by the Sun, causing geomagnetic storms on Earth. In 1989, a geomagnetic storm blacked out eastern Canada, inflicting billions of dollars in losses. In 1859, the Carrington Event, a rare geomagnetic super-storm, caused worldwide damage and fires in telegraph stations and other primitive electronics–none of which were then necessary for societal survival.
Another Carrington Event that would collapse life-sustaining electric grids and critical infrastructures everywhere on Earth is someday inevitable.
The above findings represent the mainstream scientific consensus of every Congressional and U.S. Government study to examine the EMP threat, including the Congressional EMP Commission, the National Academy of Sciences, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the Department of Energy, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the National Intelligence Council.
The EMP Commission warned that, given our current state of unpreparedness, within 12 months of a catastrophic EMP event, some two-thirds to 90 percent of the U.S. total population, more than 200 million Americans, would perish from starvation, disease and societal collapse.
The good news is that the EMP Commission provided a cost-effective plan, endorsed by all subsequent U.S. government studies, that could within a few years protect U.S. critical infrastructures from the worst effects of EMP. Indeed, protecting the 300 most important high-energy transformers that are indispensable to the national power grid is estimated to cost $100-200 million–about one dollar for every life that would be saved. This alone is probably not sufficient protection, but it is the absolute minimum necessary to create the possibility of saving millions of American lives.
The SHIELD Act, introduced by Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY), would implement the most important recommendation of the EMP Commission. SHIELD would empower the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require the electric power industry to protect the national grid from EMP.
SHIELD would also require the industry to protect the grid by selective “hardening” of vital components by using surge arrestors, blocking devices, faraday cages, and other proven technologies that the Department of Defense has known for fifty years can reliably protect military systems from EMP.
There is no excuse to risk millions of American lives by failing to protect the grid. Robust EMP protection of the national grid can be accomplished for $2 billion–which is what the U.S. gives to Pakistan every year in foreign aid. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that protecting the national grid would cost the average rate payer merely 20 cents annually.
Everything in modern society, including life itself, depends upon electricity. Enactment of SHIELD and protection of the national electric grid will secure our nation against an otherwise inevitable EMP catastrophe.
R. James Woolsey, a former CIA Director, is Chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and of the Advisory Board of the Opportunities Development Group. Dr. Peter Vincent Pry served in the EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, the CIA, and is author of the books Electric Armageddon and Apocalypse Unknownavailable from CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com