United States’ military strategists have talked about the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike since the Cold War in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. An EMP bomb is a type of nuclear bomb that can be exploded over an area in the upper atmosphere to take out any unprotected electronics and critically damage the electrical grid.
Enrico Fermi discovered the capability of an EMP as he worked on the initial research for atomic bombs at the end of World War II. EMP was discussed as an alternative to a traditional nuclear strike where the bomb actually hits the ground and explodes. An EMP bomb detonated 100–250 miles above the Earth creates a multilayer electronic pulse that can destroy electronics and anything on the electrical grid that is not protected within a large radius.
The EMP’s explosion is made up of three levels: E1, E2 and E3 (See charts 1 and 2). The higher the EMP bomb explodes in the atmosphere, the greater its effect and the broader its coverage.
The opportunity for electrical contractors
Michael Maloof, former Department of Defense security policy analyst and national security writer, recently said, “If the U.S. would give EMP the highest priority, and if it had cooperation from private industries, it would cost $20 billion to guard the country against an EMP attack.”
This could be a huge opportunity for anyone working in the electrical installation and maintenance field. Think of the business opportunities and upgrade projects out there in every region to fortify and harden data centers, call centers, hospitals, and every other building dependent on electronics to support businesses and government agencies. Hardening critical power infrastructure could be a whole new avenue of lucrative business for many electrical contractors throughout the United States.
An electronic wall
This would be a huge undertaking that would also employ many who are seeking more work in the field. If this type of infrastructure project is not undertaken, it leaves the United States and its economy in a vulnerable position. It has been estimated an EMP strike could leave the United States paralyzed and with a pricetag of over $2 trillion dollars to fix the damages.
We cannot afford that. Nor, can we afford the length of time out-of-commission when we are competing in a dynamic, global economy.
Hopefully, this becomes a new critical infrastructure initiative in the near future. It impacts many areas including Homeland Security, national defense, job creation, and needed improvements for sustainability in the critical infrastructure that supports all of the electronics we use in our everyday lives.
When it comes to 21st century infrastructure, smart grids supporting a regional economy need to be able to withstand an EMP strike.
Editor's Note: Carlini will speak at the International Drone Expo in Los Angeles in December.