The Power Industry and E.M.P.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, EMPACT America

The utility industry has been blamed for not acting on the homeland security threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The fact is, however, that the industry is waiting for guidance from Washington before acting.

Two proposed amendments to the Federal Power Act—H.R. 2195 and S.946—would provide authority to protect the nation’s electrical infrastructure against natural disasters, terrorism, cyber attack and other threats. Unfortunately, both pieces of legislation have stalled in Congress.

Our nation’s electric grid is shockingly vulnerable to attack. Since 2001, two Congressional Commissions, as well as the National Academy of Sciences, conducted independent studies and concluded that an EMP event could threaten the very existence of the United States. The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack (2008) and the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (2009) both found that terrorists or rogue states could launch an EMP attack against America or even Mother Nature could pose an EMP threat with a geomagnetic storm.

Action is immediately required. Government leaders must do three things. They include:

1. Re-establish the EMP Commission: The EMP Commission, comprising our nation’s foremost experts on EMP, developed a plan for Congress to protect our critical infrastructures from a nuclear or natural EMP event. The EMP Commission’s plan was purposefully designed not only to protect our nation from EMP but also to safeguard the critical infrastructures from the full spectrum of threats. Unfortunately, the EMP Commission was terminated in 2008.
2. Pass H.R. 2195 and S.946: As stated, the bills would amend the Federal Power Act to provide additional authorities to adequately protect the nation’s critical electric infrastructure against cyber attack and other threats, including EMP.
3. Allocate funding to get the job started: The EMP Commission found that the nation’s critical infrastructures and the American people can be protected relatively quickly (within a few years), at modest cost, using existing technology, good planning and common sense solutions. For example, the heart of the electric grid—comprising several hundred high-power transformers that are key to the protection and recovery of all the critical infrastructures vital to national survival—can be protected for an estimated $100 million to $400 million, depending on the approach used. More comprehensive and robust protection of the critical infrastructures, which would greatly mitigate the effects of EMP and speed recovery, can be accomplished with greater investment.


The utility industry cannot act alone to effect EMP preparedness. The Federal government’s immediate involvement is necessary for two reasons. First, the information the industry needs to devise EMP solutions comes from highly classified sources; only the government can determine the nature and level of intelligence the industry requires to formulate remedial measures. Second, only the federal government can establish programs that are funded at the national level but which ensure a level playing field for all utilities at the local level. One of the principal policy recommendations of the EMP Commission is that Washington impose upon industry no unfunded mandates—protecting the American people from EMP is a national security responsibility, and therefore the responsibility of the Federal government. Washington must provide industry with the financial resources necessary to protect the electric grid and other critical infrastructures.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is president of EMPACT America, a not-for-profit group dedicated to educating the American public on EMP and solutions. For more information, visit:


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