Our reliance on computer technology in the 21st century has streamlined many critical facets of life today. For instance, the nation’s electrical grid and water supplies all rely heavily on interconnected computer systems.
However, with this reliance on shared systems comes a grave threat. This was brought to light by the blackout that cut power to about 50 million people in the US and Canada ten years ago, since this huge blackout was triggered by the failure of just three transmission lines in Ohio.
Homeland security officials are highly concerned about the potential for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the US. The detonation of a single nuclear warhead at high-altitude over the US would generate such an EMP that could potentially leave the US without critical infrastructure for months, or even years. The Congressional EMP Commission warns that a nationwide blackout lasting a year could potentially kill 90% of Americans through chaos and starvation.
North Korea have nuclear arms with the potential to cause an EMP attack. According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, the translation of a secret military handbook from Iran indicates that the country has considered launching such an attack against the US. This could come from a missile launched off the East Coast or by a satellite.
American defense officials have been aware of this threat since 1962 when a US nuclear weapon detonated above an atoll in the Pacific produced an EMP powerful enough to affect Hawaii’s electric grid. This EMP blew out streetlights and caused radio blackouts and telephone outages.
One of the experts in this area is Dr. William Graham who was interviewed in Forbes in 2014 and described how he sees an EMP against our civilian infrastructure as potentially the greatest existential threat to the US.
Fortunately, homeland security officials take this threat very seriously and have been hardening the military’s capabilities to protect against an EMP attack. What is at issue is the country’s civilian infrastructure. Congress has been trying to take action, and two Congressional Committees have warned about this threat. In fact, Representative Trent Franks sponsored legislation in 2011 to address the situation. Regrettably, it did not pass.
As media outlets bring public attention to bear on the seriousness of this issue, one can only hope that policymakers will soon make strengthening the country’s grid a top priority.