The threat of an Electro-Magnetic
Pulse (EMP) attack against the United States is credible. Such a strike could
have a devastating impact on the nation by disabling electrical systems,
grinding the economy to a halt, and possibly resulting in the deaths of
millions. Yet other than establishing a commission to study the problem and
holding a handful of hearings, Congress has done virtually nothing to address
the issue. Such inaction could change virtually overnight, however, if Congress
held even one EMP Recognition Day.
The Darkest Hour
An EMP attack is produced by
detonating a nuclear weapon launched by a ballistic missile. Such a
detonation—occurring high above the earth—produces a massive pulse of ionized particles
that could damage many electrical and information systems. An attack would
disrupt telecommunications, banking and finance, fuel and energy, food and
water supplies, emergency and government services, and more, threatening
millions of lives.
If, just for one day, Congress
simulated even a fraction of the impact such an attack would have, the scope of
the danger would be clear. Here is a short list of what could happen on EMP
Recognition Day on the Hill. Congress could:
- Close all cafeterias. After an attack transportation
networks would grind to a halt and no food would be delivered.
- Walk to work. Traffic lights would no longer function,
so all roads would be gridlocked. The computer systems operating mass
transit would be inoperative.
- Turn off members' Blackberries. Satellites in low-earth
and many of the communication support systems will be disabled. Devices
such as Blackberries and GPS would not work.
- Shut off the lights. Critical computers that direct the
national electrical grid would be inoperative.
Congress should take just these four
steps for one day—and then all the members would understand the magnitude of
the dangers posed by an EMP attack.
A Day to Remember
In a speech on March 23, 1983,
Ronald Reagan detailed his plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
SDI was aimed at ensuring America's safety against a nuclear missile attack by
implementing land and space-based defense systems. Reagan's vision was never
completely realized, but the missile threats against the United States have
never dissipated, and the need for such a system grows more pressing. A little
over 20 years later, a congressionally chartered commission led by Dr. William
Graham released a report that detailed an unappreciated dimension of the
missile problem: an EMP attack. Thus, March 23 would be an excellent candidate
for Congress's EMP Recognition Day.
A Call to Action
EMP Recognition Day would be about
more than putting Congress in the dark. It could promote several tasks the
Congress could take now, including:
- Fund comprehensive missile defense. Building a
comprehensive missile defense system will allow our nation to intercept
and destroy a missile bound for the United States regardless of the launch
point or whether the attack is aimed at destroying a city or engaging in
an EMP attack on the nation.
- Demand the Administration develop a National Recovery
Plan. In order to minimize lives lost and property destroyed, the
United States needs a plan that will address its ability to recover
quickly after an attack. The EMP Commission emphasized that our nation
must first improve the infrastructure on which all other sectors are
dependent, specifically citing electric power and telecommunications. This
risk-based approach recognizes that certain infrastructure is key to
post-EMP attack recovery. EMP should also be added to the list of 15
- Require more research on the EMP threat. More research
is needed in order to ensure that the United States fully understands the
scope of the danger and cost-effective countermeasures.
Need for Congressional Action
Before Congress ends its session
this year, its members should agree to make March 23 EMP Recognition Day. Even
if Congress does not stop feeding its staff, turn off the lights, or hitchhike
to work, simply recognizing the EMP threat would go a long way toward better
preparing America for this grave threat.