Homeland Security discusses threat of EMP

The Committee of Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the dangers of the electromagnetic pulse threat.

Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), a U.S. representative and the chairman of the subcommittee, spoke about the recent severe storms to go through Washington in his opening statement. He compared the damage of the storms to the damage that could occur from an EMP, which can result from a high-altitude nuclear or non-nuclear explosion.

Lungren said that an EMP terrorist attack could result in a loss of power to homes, communication services and military defenses and could be devastating to the economy.

Joseph McClelland, the director of the Office of Electric Reliability, said that if a terrorist or natural EMP-related event were to occur, the appropriate agencies do not yet have the authority necessary to counteract the problem.

"Any new legislation should address several key concerns, including allowing the federal government to take action before a cyber or physical national security incident has occurred, ensuring appropriate confidentiality of sensitive information submitted, developed or issued under new authority, and allowing cost recovery for costs entities incur to mitigate vulnerabilities and threats," McClelland said. "These types of threats pose an increasing risk to the power grid that serves our nation, which undergirds our government and economy and helps ensure the health and welfare of our citizens."

Brandon Wales, a representative of the National Protection and Programs Directorate, discussed how the DHS has used simulations to create a plan to deal with a possible EMP event.

"DHS has pursued a deeper understanding of the EMP threat as well as its potential impacts, effective mitigation strategies, and a greater level of public awareness and readiness in cooperation with other federal agencies and private equipment and system owners and operators through various communications channels," Wales said. "However, more work is needed to understand the risk posed by EMP and solar weather to all sectors, through direct and cascading impacts."