One potentially significant homeland security threat now receiving an increased amount of attention is the possibility of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack. In its report, the U.S. Congress’ “Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack” said:
“The high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result in defeat of our military forces. The damage level could be sufficient to be catastrophic to the Nation, and our current vulnerability invites attack.
Briefly, a single nuclear weapon exploded at high altitude above the United States will interact with the Earth’s atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetic field to produce an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) radiating down to the Earth and additionally create electrical currents in the Earth. EMP effects are both direct and indirect. The former are due to electromagnetic “shocking” of electronics and stressing of electrical systems, and the latter arise from the damage that “shocked”-upset, damaged, and destroyed-electronics controls then inflict on the systems in which they are embedded. The indirect effects can be even more severe than the direct effects.”
At a U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing earlier this Summer, “Securing The Modern Electric Grid From Physical And Cyber Attacks,” Chair Yvette Clarke (D-NY) noted in her opening statement: “Though we may no longer fear a nuclear attack from Soviet Russia, rogue adversaries (including North Korea and Iran) possess and test high altitude missiles that could potentially cause a catastrophic pulse across the grid.”
The EMP threat has also received more attention as a result of a best-selling novel about an electrical shutdown by William Forstchen, One Second After. Forstchen has a web site with information on EMP preparedness here.
There is some debate over the seriousness of the threat and how significant the nation’s response should be to it. Michael Crowley wrote a skeptical article on the subject for The New Republic earlier this summer:
“‘EMP is real,’” agrees Joe Cirincione, a nuclear weapons expert who now runs a pro-disarmament think tank, the Ploughshares Fund. But, as Cirincione notes, few analysts take the threat very seriously. The odds that Iran or North Korea would prefer a technologically untested Rube Goldberg scheme to merely nuking us seem slim. And any terrorist group able to execute such a plan was probably capable enough to get us one way or another anyhow.”
Beginning on Tuesday, there is a conference examining the EMP issue, “Protecting America from Permanent Continental Shutdown from Electromagnetic Pulse, in Niagara Falls, New York sponsored by EmpactAmerica.