Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): The Clock Is Ticking-We Asked a Military Expert How Scared We Should Be of an EMP Attack
Oct 20, 2016
Electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs, usually show up in pop culture as a temporary way to disable electronics. In Ocean’s Eleven, one knocks out a casino’s power supply during a heist. In the Matrix movies, an EMP is a CGI energy blast that Morpheus uses to stop the Sentinels from attacking Zion.
In real life, however, EMPs are a potential threat to national security.
First imagined as a troubling after effect in the wake a nuclear attack, EMPs have recently reemerged as non-nuclear e-bombs that silently attack precious electricity. A burst of energy that fries electronic circuits within a blast radius, an EMP could theoretically knock out a power grid if it were large enough. That in turn could send a major city back to the Stone Age, or knock out a strategically significant military installation in an instant.
But is such a large EMP a plausible fear? Peter Pry, director of a bipartisan congressional commission called the EMP Task force, seems to think so. He went on Fox News this week to say that “nine out of ten Americans could die from starvation, disease, and societal collapse, if the blackout lasted a year.” Pry isn’t the only one worried: In a letter to investors last year, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer warned that EMPs are now the “most significant threat” to American security.
EMP scaremongering has been a longtime staple for the tinfoil hat crowd, with popular conspiracy blog ZeroHedge claiming that an electromagnetic pulse attack would be “one of the fastest ways to cripple America and end the dominance of the United States in world affairs.”
But now, the US military is reportedly carting equipment into bunkers to shield it from EMPs. In April, some of the critical communications equipment at North American Aerospace Defense Command was moved into a bunker inside Cheyenne Mountain, a Cold War relic in Colorado that you might remember from the Matthew Broderick movie War Games.This was after the government had already disclosed a plan about a year ago to build a similar $44 million facility in Alaska for housing interceptor missiles.
So how scared should we be? I wasn’t sure, so I contacted a military analyst at the global intelligence firm Stratfor, the exquisitely named Sim Tack, to find out if we all need to buy EMP-proof iPhone cases, or whether EMPs are something we can put off studying until Skynet comes online.