The SyFy channel’s newest original movie, Sharknado, took social media by storm earlier this month and continues to gain traction (a sequel is in the works). The tagline of the movie reads simply, “Enough Said!” because there is not much else to say about a hurricane causing tornadoes full of bloodthirsty sharks to rain down on land, ending life as we know it.
Fortunately, the threat of a “sharknado” hitting the United States is completely fictional and ridiculous. Yet, there is an apocalyptic threat for which the United States is utterly unprepared—an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would indeed end life as we know it.
An EMP attack against the United States would mean a complete shutdown of the electric grid, disabling virtually all communications, transportation, and service systems. An EMP attack is made possible by the detonation of a nuclear device high in the atmosphere, causing an intense burst of electromagnetic energy enabled by the rapid acceleration of charged particles.
In other words, the burst would neutralize nearly everything electrical, effectively sending the country back to the 19th century. Even more cause for concern is that, as technological dependence grows exponentially, so does the vulnerability of the United States to an EMP attack.
In June, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich addressed members of the EMP Caucus in an effort to bring much-needed attention to the threat. Gingrich explained that “you can recover from 9/11, you can recover from Pearl Harbor…[but] this is really different [because] this creates such a collapse of our fundamental productive capacity that you could literally see a civilization crash and tear itself apart.”
There are several skeptics who brush off the EMP threat as nothing more than a theory endorsed by those who possess an “unusual phobia for outlandish doomsday scenarios.” Yet, the EMP threat is far from outlandish, and something the United States government cannot afford to ignore. And, it’s rather outlandish to believe that rogue nations and terrorist groups who are dedicated to destroying the United States would not take advantage of this vulnerability if given the opportunity.
Iran in particular poses a concern. The Pentagon recently predicted that Iran will have a ballistic missile capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States by 2015, and since the beginning of this year, Iran has installed 700 high-tech centrifuges for uranium enrichment to advance the development of a nuclear capability. As a result, Iran is on its way to developing the ability to execute an EMP attack. Iran could then use or share this technology at its whim.
Considering the reality of the threat of an EMP attack, accusations of “unusual phobias” and “outlandish doomsday scenarios” should be reserved for the producers of Sharknado. Congress needs to do much more to explore options for addressing the vulnerability of the United States to an EMP attack and take preventive measures, such as beginning to harden vital parts of the electric grid. To see a realistic horror scenario based on true events, check out the EMP excerpt from Heritage’s original film 33 Minutes.
Joshua Holdenried is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.