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Lights Out?

Living in Alabama, we are accustomed to the severe weather that can impact our state and are not surprised by the accompanying loss of electrical power. But imagine for a moment that a temporary power outage continued for weeks, months, or even a year or longer, and that outage affected not only the state of Alabama, but also the vast majority of America.

End-of-the-world Hollywood thrillers have always captured the imaginations of movie fans, but the dangers surrounding an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack have also been discussed in the Pentagon and halls of Congress for some time, and many are now advocating a more urgent approach to what they describe as a serious matter of national security.

Nuclear bombs have long been feared as our enemies’ means of mass murder, the destruction of our major cities, and the lasting effect of the radioactive fallout. The EMP Commission was first established in 2001, re-authorized in 2006, and has released two separate recommendations to Congress (2004 and 2008) regarding necessary steps to reduce our vulnerability to a similar type of attack. According to the reports, while the detonation of a high-altitude nuclear device above the United States would not immediately render visible damage to our metropolitan areas, it is equally devastating to our country and its citizens given the impact it would have on our national power grid.

But the threat of an EMP catastrophe does not rest solely in the hands of our enemies; geomagnetic storms, or solar activity, can also trigger such an event. In the very simplest of explanations, the sudden burst and resultant wave of energy traveling hundreds of miles, released by either a nuclear device or geomagnetic storm, has the potential of essentially frying any and all unprotected electronic devices, including our critical infrastructure components on which we so heavily depend.

I paid scant attention to this serious issue until I read One Second After, a work of fiction written in 2008 by author William Forstchen. It may be a fictitious account of the aftermath of an EMP attack, but it led me to explore and research the very real threat of an EMP event, as well as question just why we are still so vulnerable after two commission reports given to those we elect to protect our nation and its citizens.

Our military has recognized the threat of EMP and, according to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the Department of Defense has responded by hardening and shielding military defense systems, but our civilian infrastructure remains extremely vulnerable. Although numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress to address the infrastructure vulnerability, only a few have made it out of the House of Representatives, merely to languish in the Senate. The most recent, HR2417, the SHIELD Act, was introduced by Rep. Franks last year and is now pending in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

According to an abstract by The Heritage Foundation*, numerous experts, scientists, and government commissions concur that we have a problem. The EMP Commission has released two reports and provided testimony outlining the serious problems and recommendations. Yet we are still waiting on legislation to get out of committee to address the serious vulnerabilities. Why?

Could it be the intense lobbying interests of the energy companies? At the recent panel discussion conducted during the Uninvited II conference in Washington, D.C., Jeanine Pirro was critical of both political parties in their reluctance to advance legislation. The lack of action isn’t due to the absence of necessary technology. No, as indicated by Pirro, it may have more to do with the pressure exerted by campaign contributions from the energy companies who would be responsible for the costs of protecting the grid.

One would hope that the likely loss of American lives as the result of the long-term collapse of critical infrastructure, not to mention the incredible recovery costs associated with rebuilding our power grid as a result of a catastrophic EMP event would outweigh the expense required to protect our infrastructure. But while Congress spends our tax dollars with reckless abandon – you simply must download Sen. Tom Coburn’s Wastebook 2013 - our D.C. culture continues “kicking the can” down the proverbial road, yet again delaying tough decisions on the serious issues which threaten our existence as a sovereign nation.

* James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., Baker Spring, and Richard Weitz, Ph.D. “Before the Lights Go Out: A Survey of EMP Preparedness Reveals Significant Shortfalls.” The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #2596.

Marcia Chambliss is the Alabama State Coordinator of Smart Girl Politics, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the education and training of activists and candidates, and Smart Girl Politics Action,, a 501(c)(4) which focuses on conservative issues. She can be reached at Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics Action.


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