Disaster Zone

What Role Do You Have in an Electromagnetic Pulse?

by Eric Holdeman / February 11, 2015

The other day I had a phone conversation with a concerned citizen about the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) hazard that threatens our 21st-century world. It is a bit unusual, but the EMP threat comes as both a natural hazard and as a potential human-caused event.

This National Geographic video, Electronic Armageddon, provides an explanation of the science and where the two threats come from — the sun and any nation with nuclear weapons and a delivery system.

One can easily predict that like a hurricane or earthquake, there will be a solar storm that significantly impacts the world and our nation at some point in the future.

The citizen, David, who called me was asking, "What are you doing about the EMP hazard?" A good question indeed. What am I doing about the hazard? First of all, I feel pretty informed about the causes, the potential for damages and the duration of those damages, which can be years, if not decades, depending on the significance of the event.

I've blogged on this previously, but David motivated me to address the topic again, since EMP is one of those high-impact, low-frequency events that will change everything about our modern lives. This morning I asked three guys, everyday citizen Joe types, what they knew about the hazard — nothing!

While we as emergency managers do not have the technical knowledge or direct responsibility to fix the problem (prevention methods), one significant mission we do have is to educate elected officials and our partners about the risks involved from an EMP. I, for one, have not been doing enough on that task and will endeavor to do more.

I advised David to contact his local elected official and bring the topic to his attention, and ask that official to investigate how the local public electric utility is addressing the issue. Making people aware is the first and foremost thing we can do. We should never be caught saying, "I didn't know."