Electromagnetic Pulse

Threats to the Electric Grid and the Sense of Congress

Bipartisan agreement about threats to the electric grid

Threats to the Electric Grid

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY)

There has been little bipartisan agreement in Congress about anything in the last decade. Healthcare, taxes, the budget – you name it, they disagree on it. There is one glaring exception: The threats to the electric grid from a variety of man-made and natural threats. They all seem to agree on that, but for some reason have come up with little legislation to actually protect it.

To be fair, Congress did finally pass the language of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) in section 1913 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA). But this legislation, while important, does not actually harden the electric grid. It orders more studies (and we already have two decades of studies), and perhaps most importantly, it requires the Department of Homeland Security to “include in national planning frameworks the threat of an EMP or GMD event.” While this is a critical step, it could take years for this to filter down have an impact on preparedness of communities for a catastrophic event.

Threats to the Electric Grid

Rep. Trent Franks

Also, hopefully, if the NDAA for 2018 (H.R. 2810: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018) is signed by the President, section 1691 would reestablish the “Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States From Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks and Similar Events.” The previous EMP commission was allowed to expire this year and reestablishing it is another positive step – but again, a step that could take years to actually address threats to the electric grid in a concrete way.

The problem is, we need action now. If there was a nationwide power outage due to a cyber-attack, GMD, EMP or any other cause, we are not ready and we have no plan. We won’t be ready a month from now or two years from now.

Even if comprehensive legislation to protect and harden the grid was passed today, it could take years for adequate protection to actually happen. The rule making process is complex and time consuming. The thousands of companies that comprise “the grid” aren’t going to be able to immediately press a button and give us a hardened grid – meaningful action to address threats to the electric grid will take time – perhaps years. And, there is no such comprehensive legislation currently pending anyway.

So notwithstanding the above positive developments, what we have today is a country that is still vulnerable to existential threats that would kill millions of Americans.

The sense of Congress: failed bipartisan efforts to address threats to the electric grid

I’d like to highlight a few of the current bipartisan efforts – both House and Senate – which have keyed into this issue and, to their credit, tried to protect us. (For a comprehensive study of documents, click here.)


• Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been vocal about threats to the electric grid [http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/top-senator-electric-grid-at-risk-of-attack-would-disrupt-our-way-of-life/article/2635772].

House of Representatives

These are just a few recent examples – I can show you (click here) two decades of other examples. It is clear that there is bipartisan agreement and concern about the threats to the electric grid.

So what’s the problem in getting grid protecting legislation passed? Good question and I wish I had an easy answer. For some reason, a top-down solution from Congress has been elusive.

Perhaps we need a bottom-up solution

Let me go back to a bipartisan effort in 2012. This was, in my opinion, the most important piece of failed legislation – and it was only a resolution – not even a proposed law. Maybe best way of addressing threats to the electric grid isn’t a top-down approach. If for whatever reason, Congress can’t do that (and for two decades they have tried), perhaps there is another way: from the bottom-up.

If individuals and communities were more resilient, the threats to the electric grid can be mitigated. In other words, the reason that millions of people will die if the grid goes down for a long period of time is because we are not ready. We are not resilient. We are 100% dependent on the electric grid for everything that makes life possible – food, water, fuel, transportation, medical systems, etc.

What if we made communities in America more resilient? What if communities across America were thinking about and planning for survival in a worst case scenario? Believe it or not, there is a lot that a community can do to prepare and mitigate – even if we can’t depend on the federal or state government to save us.

Threats to the Electric GridA bipartisan group in the 112th Congress thought of this. On August 2, 2012 Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) along with Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Rep. Hank Johnson Jr. (D-GA) introduced H. Res. 762: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding community-based civil defense and power generation.

This resolution, if passed, would have told communities across America that they need to be prepared to be on their own for a long period of time without outside help in the event of a “nationwide collapse of critical infrastructure that could last months or longer.” It further:

(1) encourages every community to develop its own “civil defense program” working with citizens, leaders, and institutions ranging from local fire halls, schools, and faith-based organizations, to create sustainable local infrastructure and planning capacity so that it might mitigate high-impact scenarios and be better prepared to survive and recover from these worst-case disaster scenarios and be better able to affordably and sustainably meet the needs of the community in times of peace and tranquility;

(2) encourages every citizen to develop an individual emergency plan to prepare for the absence of government assistance for extended periods;

(3) encourages each local community to foster the capability of providing at least 20 percent of its own critical needs such as local power generation, food, and water, while protecting local infrastructure whenever possible from the threats that threaten centralized infrastructure, and do so with the urgency and importance inherent in an all-of-nation civil defense program developed by citizens and their local communities; and

(4) encourages State governments and Federal agencies to support the ability of local communities to become stronger, self-reliant, and better able to assist neighboring communities in times of great need.

The reason that this is such an important resolution is that we can’t wait years for a top-down solution that may or may not ever come. (After two decades of Congressional failure to protect the electric grid many of us have our doubts.) Unfortunately, H. Res. 762 was never acted upon and is now buried in the annals of failed legislation. Few people even know that it exists.

We can start protecting our communities now. A Congressional resolution like H. Res. 762 would wake many communities up to the facts. Presently, most, if not all, communities, towns and cities across America believe that if something bad happens, somebody (e.g., the federal or state government) will come and rescue them. The fact is, in a national scale disaster, communities will be on their own. The cavalry will not be coming.

Emergency preparedness begins with individuals and families – then communities, towns and cities. We can no longer sit idly by while Congress sits idly by.

Congress: if you want to protect America against threats to the electric grid, let’s start from the bottom-up. Reintroduce, and pass, a Congressional resolution “expressing the sense of [Congress] regarding community-based civil defense and power generation.”

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EMP Commission Reports, Testimony and Articles

The EMP Commission’s Untimely Demise

The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack (the “EMP Commission”) was established on October 30, 2000 by Public Law 106–398, Title  XIV. It was allowed to “sunset” on September 30, 2017. As of this writing, the EMP Commission’s website is down and their reports are no longer available through this longstanding source. I am putting together this post to make the EMP Commission’s reports, testimony and articles easily available in one place. My website is not going anywhere anytime soon.


William Graham EMP Commission

Dr. William R. Graham

EMP Commission Reports and Testimony

For a more complete list and links for government documents on threats to the electric grid, click here.

United States Unprepared for an Electromagnetic Pulse EMP Commission

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Recent EMP Commission Articles

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Dr. Peter Vincent Pry: Why Isn’t the Government Listening to Him?


United States Unprepared for an Electromagnetic Pulse

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Why we should listen to Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry has impressive credentials. He served for 10 years with the as an Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency responsible for analyzing Soviet and Russian nuclear strategy. He served on the staff of the on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and on the staff several congressional commissions, including the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. He has testified numerous times before Congress and is one of the nation’s foremost experts in the threats to the electric grid posed by electromagnetic pulse weapons.

In an op-ed to the Washington Times, Dr.  Pry  again warns us how the electric grid has been compromised by the expiration of the EMP Commission. Yet, not only did the U.S. government let the EMP commission expire, there has still bee no meaningful legislation in the past two decades to protect the electric grid from a myriad of threats. Even if you don’t believe that China, Russia, North Korea or Iran (all of whom consider EMP in their war doctrine) pose a threat to the U.S., there are numerous threats to the U.S. electric grid:

  • Weather
  • Geomagnetic disturbance (solar flare)
  • Cyber attack
  • Terrorism
  • Earthquake
  • Pandemic
  • EMP weapon
  • Human / computer error
  • A tree branch (Great Northeast Blackout of 2003)

Some scenarios, such as a solar flare, have a 100% likelihood of happening in the future. And in some scenarios, we could have a nationwide outage for an extended period of time.

It is an indisputable fact that the United States cannot support even a fraction of her human population without the electric grid. Without it, everything that makes life possible stops. Food stops, water stops, fuel and transportation stops and medical services stop. Also consider that without electricity for an extended period of time,  law and order evaporates. We saw this in the New York City blackout of 1977 as well as Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina. And these were short-term regional events. The fact remains that the government does not have a plan for a large-scale, long-term power outage.

So, since a threat to the electric grid is an existential threat to the United States, why isn’t the government (and the rest of us for that matter) listening to Dr. Peter Vincent Pry?

Read Dr. Peter Vincent Pry’s October 12, 2017 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.

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