Issue Profile: The Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack

May 17, 2012

An issue rarely discussed until the presidential primary was the threat of an electromagnetic pulse attack, or EMP. While few Americans concern themselves with such an issue, the threat does remain. If America was subjected to an EMP attack on our electric infrastructure, we could face the complete loss of our power grid, which would not only create hardship for every citizen but put our nation at serious risk for a follow-up attack.

The Heritage Foundation described what an EMP attack would entail:

"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."

In order to address this problem, some in Congress are not only working to call attention to this very real threat, but also introducing legislation to force a serious conversation on what would help protect the U.S. from such an attack. Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) launched the Congressional EMP Caucus last February in order to bring together a group of Representatives concerned with this issue to look for solutions. Representative Franks released a statement describing the danger:

"The threat of an electromagnetic pulse weapon represents the single greatest asymmetric capability that could fall into the hands of America's enemies. Should a nuclear weapon from a rogue state such as Iran be detonated in Earth's atmosphere at a sufficient height above the continental United States, the blast of electromagnetic energy could immediately cripple America's electric power grid. Currently, the vast majority of the United States' infrastructure is unsecured and exposed.
"According to some experts, just one properly placed EMP blast could disable so large a swath of American technology that between 70-90% of the United States' population could become unsustainable.
"The danger posed by electromagnetic pulse weapons, as well as naturally occurring electromagnetic pulses, has received increased attention over recent years from organizations including NASA, the National Association of Scientists, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Congressional EMP Caucus is a bipartisan effort to bring much-needed Congressional attention to what has amounted, to this point, to a considerable blind spot in our national security..."

One of the few constitutional requirements of our federal government is to provide for the common defense. Rep. Franks' efforts to call attention to the problem and begin the process of finding a solution should be commended. If we acknowledge that this is a credible threat, we can begin looking for ways to protect ourselves from such an attack.