For more than 15 years, security and intelligence officials — including former CIA Director James Woolsey — have been raising the alarm bells about the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid to an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. Only now as tensions with North Korea quickly escalate — with the rogue nation refusing to back down from its nuclear testing and threats of such an onslaught — is the matter really generating attention.
But according to U.S. defense and security officials, while there are players purporting to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure given millions of American lives on the line, the reality is that no one really knows what will happen and what can be done.
“We recognize that an EMP event would have extremely dire consequences for the entire country, but where the challenge comes is in attempting to quantify those impacts,” one high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity, told Fox News. “This is not something we have had a lot of real world experience with.”
Earlier this month, state news agencies in the Kim Jong Un-dictated country explicitly cautioned that it could hit the U.S. with an EMP offensive. A hydrogen bomb detonated at a high altitude would create an EMP that potentially could abolish prominent parts of the electrical grid. The higher the bomb’s detonation, the wider the scope of destruction. And given that high-altitude nuclear tests were prohibited as per a 1963 treaty, from the U.S. side, there is little scientific data to understand the devastation of a detonation on modern infrastructure.
But the potential fallout from such an event is monstrous. In 2001, Congress enacted the since-disbanded Commission to Assess the Threat to the U.S. with regards to an EMP event, with commissioners testifying that up to 90 percent of Americans could die within a year of such an attack. All the functions communities rely upon — hospitals, water, waste, transport, telecommunications, air control, medical care — could potentially be decimated for not days or weeks, but months or years.
“Our ability to know what would happen in the aftermath is highly uncertain. That being said, we are doing several things to deepen our understanding. There is a lot of information sharing,” noted the official. “We are looking at mitigation strategies and developing planning tools. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is involved too as there have been exercises and workshops related to catastrophic planning and EMP events. But DHS does not have authority to compel power operators to do anything, we do not have regulatory authority over grid operators.”
The U.S. electrical grid, which is deemed one of the most vital pieces of infrastructure in the country and serves more than 300 million, does not have one singular oversight body responsible for its safeguarding — hence authorities have cautioned that the magnitude of threat has fallen between the cracks.
“The military doesn’t think it is their job to make the grid resilient, even though 99 percent of their missions in continental United States rely on the civilian grid. The utilities don’t think it is their job because it is a national security problem. Besides, they don’t want to come up with the money, face more regulatory burdens or fool with making over parts of the grid with uncertain technical consequences,” lamented Frank Gaffney, Center for Security Policy President and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Reagan, who has long warned of EMP’s efficiency to bring down America. “And because of the sweetheart regulatory arrangement they have at the federal level, they have been able to avoid it.”
Rather, the private nonprofit North American Energy Reliability Company (NERC) makes “best practices” recommendations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). NERC, as the Electric Reliability Organization, said that they do develop mandatory and enforceable standards to help protect the bulk power system, including numerous security standards and take a risk-based “defense-in-depth” approach to protecting critical grid assets from all threats.
Source: Fox News