Last week’s “Friday the 13th solar flares” were one example of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event. Whether the event is natural or man-made, such an event could wreak havoc on our modern society, which is increasingly dependent on technology.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were 17 solar flares last week that caused these EMP events throughout the United States. Three of these flares were considered to be strong.

National Geographicreports that the sun is at the crowning of its 11-year activity cycle, a peak time of potential disruption. NOAA confirms that this type of solar activity could continue to occur throughout June and July.

Heritage Foundation policy analyst Michaela Dodge emphasized the urgency of developing a way to prepare for an EMP event and recover from one.

“As the solar system enters a period of increased solar activity, it is really a question of when, not if, the next geomagnetic storm will occur,” she said.

Last week’s EMP events were relatively minor, with scattered reports of communication issues with GPS and radio devices. They only hinted at the potential effects of major solar activity.

Dodge, co-author of a new publication on the EMP threat, Think Ahead, stated that future events could “change the fabric of our society as we know it.” She noted that if a major EMP event occurs, systems that are critical to society would be crippled by an attack on the U.S. power grid, potentially leading to societal shutdown.

Americans would lose access to electricity, transportation, and communication—including cell phones and Internet access. This could eventually lead to food shortages, lack of proper medical care, and decreased standards of living.

There is little defense against a natural EMP, such as a solar flare. While the earth has natural protection from the sun’s geomagnetic field, this protection has its limits. If a solar flare hit the currently unprotected national power grid, the results would be as devastating as a nuclear explosion.

Learn the real-world effects of an EMP event and how to respond in the new Heritage e-book Think Ahead: Preparing for the Threat to Our Wired World.

Madeleine DeGeorges is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, pleaseclick here.