Critical Update: Who’s Afraid of EMPs?

Titima Ongkantong/

Electromagnetic pulses are frequently boogeymen in pop culture but the federal government takes real steps to prepare for them. 

An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, capable of knocking out all electronics in its area could come in the wake of an atomic blast or, if TV and movies are to be believed, from a small non-nuclear device.

But in a nuclear explosion, the durability of electronic components is a relatively small worry. And while fictional thieves deploy EMPs to knock out bank security, we don’t see these devices on the news or in police reports.

But the military continues to harden its buildings and weapons against such an attack, the Energy Department recently declassified important technical details needed by researchers, the Homeland Security Department released a strategy document last year, and the last administration issued an executive order on the need to defend critical infrastructure from an EMP attack.

So, are EMP attacks a real threat?

“The great misconception is the idea that EMP is part of a Hiroshima and Nagasaki type nuclear attack and that, therefore, why should we worry about the EMP?” an expert says on the podcast. “Shouldn't we be more worried about the blast and the radioactive fallout? Right?”

This episode of Critical Update looks into the true threat of EMP—nuclear and non-nuclear—and what the U.S. should be doing about it.

You can listen below in your browser or download this episode from the Apple Store, Google Play or your favorite podcast platform.