An electromagnetic pulse attack can take down the nation’s electric power grid, plunge the country into darkness and claim 9 out of 10 American lives within a year.
That’s not a prediction coming from doomsdayers or a sci-fi film. It’s from Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, who served on several congressional commissions and on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, and was a CIA intelligence officer from 1985-1995.
An EMP, in short, is a burst of energy that can fry electronics, including computers. If the burst is powerful enough, like a small nuclear weapon exploded above the U.S., it could potentially shut down the nation’s power grid for months, even years.
Within a year after such an attack, 9 out of 10 Americans would die from disease, starvation and civil unrest, Pry said. There would be no food, no clean water, no transportation to bring food in, no cell phones, no computers, no medicine.
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The United States is not prepared for an EMP threat, either from the sun or from its enemies like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, Pry said Wednesday during a news conference at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Pry was joined by Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative and chief negotiator of nuclear and space arms control treaties, who agreed.
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“Our governmental systems are broken in dealing with these issues, I believe so dysfunctional that people locally have got to learn to deal with the issues,” Cooper said.
The task force representatives are visiting UL assessing the university’s assets and private sector assets for solutions to the threat, said Robert Shreve, of the Louisiana Technology Council. It could mean additional money for UL and Louisiana, he said.
Since 2008, some have tried to get the U.S. House and Senate to pass legislation to seriously address the threat by protecting the nation’s electric grid, to no avail, Pry said. The House in 2009 unanimously passed a bill, but one senator put the bill on hold, he said.
The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act is being debated now to establish a new planning center that would serve as a vehicle for federal, state and local cooperation, Pry said.
Meanwhile, some states like Maine are beefing up their own electric grids. Louisiana is working toward establishing a state EMP grid cyber task force committee of public and private sector representatives, Shreve said. The Louisiana Technology Council is involved and Ramesh Kolluru, vice president for research at UL, is on the committee, he said.
Louisiana residents may think they’re safe from EMP attacks. They’re not, Cooper said. A North Korean satellite that can carry nuclear weapons capable of causing EMPs approaches from the south and flies over the southern U.S. today, he said.
“Louisiana is a frontline state in the cyber war because satellites fly over you,” Pry said.
National missile defenses protect against attacks from the north but not from the south, he said.
In 2013, two missiles on launchers were discovered beneath a shipment of sugar on a North Korean freighter passing through the Panama Canal, Pry said. The freighter had traveled through the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport/Bossier in northwest Louisiana may be important in an attack because it’s one of only three bomber bases still active in the country, Cooper said. That also makes it “a prime target,” he said.
Asked if he thinks an EMP attack will happen within the next year, Pry said he would not be surprised. With North Korea’s cyber attack on the film industry and China’s suspected cyber attack on 22 million federal employees within the past year, it appears the nations are getting bolder.
“It’s a very ominous sign that the big one it’s right around the corner,” Pry said.
“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”