Experts from the congressional EMP Commission have long called for such action, warning that an EMP could break America’s electrical grid and result in the eventual deaths of 90 percent of the U.S. population. Such an EMP could occur either from a natural solar storm, or, if an adversary detonated a nuclear bomb high above the United States.
Trump’s executive order takes a number of aggressive steps to safeguard the United States. In contrast to previous highly limited actions taken by the Department of Homeland Security, such as their paper last October with vague calls for further research, Trump’s executive order calls for specific action to be taken on set deadlines.
Peter Pry, who has worked with the EMP Commission and has been a driving force to get America protected from an EMP, commented, “It is a good, strong executive order. A good first step toward achieving national EMP preparedness.”
A key part of the executive order is the section on implementation, titled, “Strengthening critical infrastructure to withstand the effects of EMPs.” It instructs that concrete action be taken to harden America’s critical infrastructure.
It explains that the secretary of Homeland Security, along with the secretaries of Defense and Energy, “shall develop a plan to mitigate the effects of EMPs on the vulnerable priority critical infrastructure[.]” It then says the secretary of Homeland Security will implement that plan, insofar as possible, and where problems arise, the secretary will report to Trump’s national security adviser.
Currently, Kirstjen Nielsen is the secretary of Homeland Security, and she will report to John Bolton to implement this executive order.
Previously, the government has hardened military equipment against an EMP. Trump’s order is a call to protect all U.S. citizens, by hardening civilian infrastructure. It defines critical infrastructure to include items that, if incapacitated, would have a “debilitating impact” on “national public health or safety.”
Potential items that may be flagged for hardening, which the EMP Commission has warned about, may include, among other items, extra high voltage transformers, and nuclear power plants.
Extra high voltage transformers may be a priority because America’s electric grid requires them, they are vulnerable to EMP, and they are extraordinarily difficult to replace. America has limited ability to manufacture these, as much of that capability has moved abroad. They are difficult to make and cannot be mass produced. They are so massive that even transporting them to their destination is a challenge.
Nuclear power plants present the risk that they could potentially stop operating properly following an EMP, and spew radiation everywhere, in a situation where Americans would be least equipped to deal with it.
The executive order carries numerous deadlines on timescales of 90, 180, and 360 days. For instance, Nielsen has just 90 days to list the priority critical infrastructure, then she has a year to identify which of the priority critical infrastructure items are vulnerable to EMP.
The basic process laid out, of which some steps occur concurrently, includes: identifying critical infrastructure vulnerable to EMP, clarifying the government’s understanding of EMP, evaluating methods to mitigate damage to critical infrastructure from EMP, then doing the actual hardening of that infrastructure.
There are a number of periodic reports to evaluate progress on EMP preparedness which will be submitted to Trump and Bolton. For instance, within one year of the order, and on a recurring two-year basis thereafter, the president will get a report generated by the secretaries of Homeland Security, Defense, and Energy, analyzing different options available to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure to EMP.
Other parts of the order focus on encouraging and coordinating the flow of information between different parts of the government and toward the private sector who will implement infrastructure hardening alongside the government.
It also tells the Department of Defense to focus on ways to deter an EMP attack from happening and to include the possibility of an EMP attack in defense planning scenarios.
Trump’s executive order takes place amid rising global tensions. Recently, Russia reportedly deployed troops to Venezuela, and it was just a month ago that the Kim–Trump summit ended poorly. North Korean state media has explicitly threatened that it has the ability to carry out an EMP attack.
The executive order also pays attention to developing an emergency response to an EMP in case one does occur, updating operational plans, and communicating that information.
Pry cautioned that, even though this is a good executive order, there is still work to be done.
“No executive order, no matter how well crafted, can succeed, unless the White House is willing to bulldoze through inevitable opposition from lobbyists, Obama-holdovers, and the Deep State. The EMP executive order is not the end of the long struggle to achieve EMP national preparedness, but perhaps the beginning of the end,” he said.