An electromagnetic pulse attack would, in theory, be intended to knock out power, electronics, computers, cell phones, and essentially the infrastructure of modern daily life. An EMP can be produced with nuclear weapons, and currently we aren't very shielded against them.
This week, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Federal government to actions to "foster sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the Nation's resilience to the effects of EMPs."
The order states that the government "shall engage in risk-informed planning, prioritize research and development (R&D) to address the needs of critical infrastructure stakeholders, and, for adversarial threats, consult Intelligence Community assessments."
It directs that the private sector be involved in modernization, including the privately owned electrical grids overseen by utilities, that the government create protocols for providing warning of natural or man-made surges, and come up with department by department assessments.
It further orders that in one year, the assessments of threat and vulnerability be prepared. In short, it directs both research and assessment of the potential hazards.
As with any action taken by President Trump, the Washington Post immediately had an opinion article masquerading as a science report that sniffed at the President's rube-level concern over the silly notion that the United States protect its infrastructure and assets.
"Should you worry?" the headline asks. "Nah," answers the subheading.
The article, labeled as an "analysis" piece, begins with pointing out that the EMP is part of the plot in a James Bond movie. "President Trump believes the danger of an EMP is not just a Hollywood plot device," it reads. It goes on to discuss the complications and deterrents against a military use of an EMP against the United States, including that it would involve a potential nuclear retaliation from the United States.
The article addresses the idea of a terrorist EMP attack by saying that most governments have "reasons not to give nuclear weapons to terrorists," and that, if a terrorist had a nuclear weapon, would they really use it though?
Oddly, it goes on to say that there is the real threat of electromagnetic disruption from nature. They do not point out that the executive order expressly lists the danger of "naturally occurring" pulses among the rationale for hardening and modernizing the infrastructure. It conceded that working to "better understand" the hazards involved, which again is expressly the purpose of the order, is probably worth pursuing.
"Will Trump's executive order help accomplish this?" they ask. "Perhaps," they answer themselves.
"But the burden of proof remains on the administration to demonstrate whether taxpayer dollars invested in resilience are worth taking away from other national policy priorities," they conclude. It doesn't list what the other "policy priorities" are but, judging by the tone and content of the article, one can safely assume those other objectives are something straight off the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wishlist.