We Asked a Military Expert How Scared We Should Be of an EMP Attack

Electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs, usually show up in pop culture as a temporary way to disable electronics. In Ocean’s Eleven, one knocks out a casino’s power supply EMP Attackduring a heist. In the Matrix movies, an EMP is a CGI energy blast that Morpheus uses to stop the Sentinels from attacking Zion.

In real life, however, EMPs are a potential threat to national security.

First imagined as a troubling after effect in the wake a nuclear attack, EMPs have recently reemerged as non-nuclear e-bombs that silently attack precious electricity. A burst of energy that fries electronic circuits within a blast radius, an EMP could theoretically knock out a power grid if it were large enough. That in turn could send a major city back to the Stone Age, or knock out a strategically significant military installation in an instant.

But is such a large EMP a plausible fear? Peter Pry, director of a bipartisan congressional commission called the EMP Task force, seems to think so. He went on Fox News this week to say that “nine out of ten Americans could die from starvation, disease, and societal collapse, if the blackout lasted a year.” Pry isn’t the only one worried: In a letter to investors last year, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer warned that EMPs are now the “most significant threat” to American security.

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Image by Joel Kramer, via Flickr