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By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, In Homeland Security
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of the biggest threats to our national security, with worst-case scenarios showing a doomsday scene right out of an apocalyptic movie. However, President Donald Trump’s important March 26 executive order is a huge step toward making America prepared for an EMP.
EMPs are not a new concern. The Congressional EMP Commission has warned for nearly 20 years that an EMP is capable of destroying civilization and killing millions of people, but the Commission’s findings have largely gone unnoticed. President Trump’s executive order should make the nation take notice.
President Trump’s EMP Executive Order
The Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Threats mandates that the White House take charge of national EMP preparedness. This order circumnavigates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Energy (DOE).
Putting the White House in charge of EMP preparedness is a bold, but vital, component of the president’s executive order. Traditionally, cabinet departments – including DOE and DHS – have a long history of playing down the seriousness of the EMP threat.
The new executive order states that the president’s National Security Advisor, coordinating with the National Security Council and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “shall coordinate the development and implementation of executive branch actions to assess, prioritize, and manage the risks of EMPs.”
President Trump’s executive order also directs DHS to liaise with DOE and other agencies, along with the private sector, to “develop a plan to mitigate the effects of EMPs on the vulnerable priority-critical infrastructures.”
Rare Bipartisan Progress on EMP Preparedness
Getting an EMP preparedness executive order is one of those extraordinarily rare bipartisan successes on Capitol Hill. Republican and Democratic factions in Congress have emphasized for years how important EMP preparedness is, but past administrations were mostly indifferent.
Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and former Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) have all led calls for EMP preparedness legislation. U.S. Representatives Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Doug Lamborn (D-Colo.) also played a big part, as did many other current and former lawmakers at the state and federal level.
“It is way past time to stop admiring this problem,” Sen. Johnson told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Operations Committee on Feb. 26, “and actually begin to do something concrete to protect our vulnerable electrical grid, control systems, and the ever- increasing array of electronic devices our society has become dependent upon.”
So, why all of the concern and the need for national preparedness? An EMP is an intense surge of energy that interrupts, damages, or destroys all electronic devices on and above our planet. There are natural and manmade EMPs, but each type poses a huge threat to America’s national security and way of life. There is a real possibility of deaths on a scale rarely observed in human history.
The bottom line is this: The United States is prepared to deal with hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters; it is prepared to deal with foreign invasions, terror attacks and cyber-attacks. However, it is not ready to handle an EMP event.
The natural type of EMP, solar superstorms, happen quite regularly. In fact, there is a 10 percent chance of one occurring during any given decade.
During a solar superstorm, the sun emits a solar coronal mass ejection (CME), which causes a geomagnetic storm when it hits the Earth’s magnetosphere. These storms are usually weak and harmless, but stronger ones are a major concern.
Strongest EMP On Record
The strongest geomagnetic storm ever recorded occurred in 1859. Known as the Carrington Event (after one of the astronomers who first observed it), it took out primitive telegraph systems all over Europe and North America. Of course, there was zero reliance on electricity for anything in the mid-1800s.
If the same magnitude geomagnetic storm happened today, however, all electrically operated items would instantly stop working, and global positioning satellites and cell phone towers would fail. The internet would be down indefinitely, and the national electrical power grid would be gone for months. There is also a risk that without power to regulate essential functions, the nation’s nuclear power stations might suffer meltdowns.
No one can predict when the next strong geomagnetic storm will occur, but manmade EMPs are definitely avoidable and involve the possibility of a terror attack hundreds of miles above the United States. As recently as September, North Korea threatened such an attack.
North Korea Producing Super-EMP Weapon
“An EMP attack might be made by a North Korean satellite, right now. A Super-EMP weapon could be relatively small and lightweight, and could fit inside North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-3 (KMS-3) and Kwangmyongsong-4 (KMS-4) satellites,” Congressional EMP Commission Chairman, Dr. William Graham, warned last year. “These two satellites presently orbit over the United States . . . The south polar trajectory of KMS-3 and KMS-4 evades U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radars and National Missile Defenses, resembling a Russian secret weapon developed during the Cold War, called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) that would have used a nuclear-armed satellite to make a surprise EMP attack on the United States.”
Another terror EMP attack scenario involves the detonation of a nuclear warhead above the U.S. at a very high altitude. A terror EMP attack of this kind is extremely unlikely. The United States ready for any nuclear threat and would retaliate in kind, destroying any entity who even tried.
An EMP and the Breakdown of Society
An EMP itself is not harmful to people, but its aftermath would cause devastating, long-lasting effects that could ultimately kill 90 percent of the U.S. population. Most deaths would be due to the shutting down of our entire essential infrastructure, including financial, medical, communication, transportation, food, water and sewer systems.
At first, the population would react as they do during any blackout. Soon, though, when it became apparent that the electricity would be out for ‘months,’ all hell would break loose. Oil refineries would shut down, gas stations would be gone, ATMs and bank cards would no longer work, phone communications would be out, the internet would be dead, water reservoirs would be contaminated, and the food and drugs supply chain would stop.
Emergency services, hospitals and law enforcement officials would become overwhelmed, and mob rule would ensue. The breakdown of society as we know it today would cause wide-scale death and destruction of biblical proportions.
Imagine a riot in a downtown city neighborhood, and then imagine that same riot taking over your entire city and state. It would look like ‘The Walking Dead’ without the zombies.
All of that is something that the United States should urgently take steps to avoid. President Trump’s executive EMP order is a good first action in preparing for one of today’s biggest threats to civilization.