Chelsea Schilling is a commentary editor and staff writer for WND and a proud U.S. Army veteran. She has also worked as a news producer at USA Radio Network and as a news reporter for the Sacramento Union.More ↓Less ↑
Electricity grids down, uncontrolled fires from exploding gas transport systems, no communication to call for help, no water to battle fires: It’s all part of a catastrophic scenario some scientists predict could happen under an electromagnetic pulse attack – and the Department of Homeland Security’s 83-page emergency plan includes no mention of EMP or how it might respond to such an attack.
When WND contacted the Department of Homeland Security, a representative explained why a course of action was not included in the National Emergency Communications Plan – a strategy that relies heavily on the ability of authorities at all levels of government to communicate using radios, computers and other electronic devices that could be disabled by an EMP attack.
“When we look at the strategic threat picture, when we look at patterns of criminal activity that all levels of government show, when we look at what is ultimately going to involve limited resources, we have to get to a point where we prioritize,” DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said. “We prioritize based upon threat vulnerability and consequence. As we speak today, there’s nothing in the threat picture that would suggest an imminent EMP attack.”
However, Congress has expressed concern regarding the threat of EMP. A top scientist warned the House Armed Services Committee in July that America remains vulnerable to a “catastrophe” from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack that could be launched with plausible deniability by hostile rogue nations or terrorists.
William R. Graham, chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack and the former national science adviser to President Reagan, testified before the committee and issued an alarming report on “one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”
He identified vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructures, “which are essential to both our civilian and military capabilities.”
Not taking the steps necessary to reduce the threat in the next three to five years “can both invite and reward attack,” Graham told the committee.
Knocke said EMPs are considered in a broad federal playbook released in January for how the federal government will manage incidents of all types called the National Response Framework, or NRF.
The 90-page document includes the following:
It provides an overview of the roles, responsibilities and jurisdictions of key partners at the local, state and federal levels who implement the framework.
It emphasizes planning structures for effective response.
It offers tips for individuals and households, such as reducing hazards in and around their homes, preparing emergency supply kits, creating household emergency plans and reducing demands on land-line and cellular communications.
The NRF provides general guidelines for dealing with emergency events. However, the plan includes no mention of how the nation would respond to an EMP attack or widespread electrical and electronics failures that could effectively cut communication lines between each level of emergency responders by disabling computers, satellites, radios, radar receivers and even traffic lights and electronic ignition systems in cars.
EMP is a pulse of energy that can be produced from non-nuclear sources, such as electromagnetic bombs, or E-bombs. Some experts claim an electromagnetic pulse shock wave can be produced by a device small enough to fit in a briefcase. But the most threatening and terrifying type of EMP attack could come following a blast from a nuclear weapon 25 to 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. Like a swift stroke of lightening, EMP could immediately disrupt and damage all electronic systems and America’s electrical infrastructure. A detonation over the middle of the continental U.S. “has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures that support the fabric of U.S. society and the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power,” said Graham.
“Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability,” said Graham. “A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. For example, an adversary would not have to have long-range ballistic missiles to conduct an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack could be launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast using a short- or medium-range missile to loft a nuclear warhead to high altitude. Terrorists sponsored by a rogue state could attempt to execute such an attack without revealing the identity of the perpetrators. Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States. While the commission does not know the intention of Iran in conducting these activities, we are disturbed by the capability that emerges when we connect the dots.”
An EMP assault could prove devastating because of the unprecedented cascading failures of major infrastructures that could result. Because of America’s heavy reliance on electricity and electronics, the impact would be far worse than on a country less advanced technologically. Graham and the commission see the potential for failure in the financial system, the system of distribution for food and water, medical care and trade and production.
“The recovery of any one of the key national infrastructures is dependent upon the recovery of others,” he said. “The longer the outage, the more problematic and uncertain the recovery will be. It is possible for the functional outages to become mutually reinforcing until at some point the degradation of infrastructure could have irreversible effects on the country’s ability to support its population.”
In an earlier report, the commission even went so far as to suggest, in its opening sentence, that an EMP attack “might result in the defeat of our military forces.”
Knocke said DHS is highly concerned about the threat of nuclear attack and other disasters.
“At present, our highest priorities are things like preventing nuke attacks, as well as working with state and locals to build up their capability to prevent and respond to things like IED events or catastrophic natural disasters,” he said. “As it relates to what our greatest preoccupation is, we’re doing everything we can to try to prevent a nuclear or radiological attack on our soil that would have the most severe impact in terms of loss of life or economic consequence.”
When WND asked Knocke if DHS has a specific strategy to deal with an EMP attack, he said, “Not as we speak today. No.”
Asked if the department has considered creating a plan to address EMP threat following Congress’ concern about such an attack, he replied:
“The risk picture is ever changing. There’s nothing in the strategic threat picture today that tells us there’s an imminent EMP threat. That could change down the road as whatever circumstances in the world evolve. So, I am not telling you that it might never be among the highest priorities. We’ve actually looked at this issue, and we’ve looked at the entire spectrum of issues that we have to contend with when it comes to homeland security. But we have to prioritize. We’re not in the business of being all things to all people at all times.”