The notion of a weapon exploding and crippling everything electronic for miles around doesn't just live in old black and white military film for Faisel Kaleem.
For the Florida International University engineering professor, the threat is real.
“Somebody comes over to your country and destroys your infrastructure without even bombing,” he said.
Kaleem is referring to an event called an “electromagnetic pulse attack,” which he and others warn could wreak havoc on entire regions for long periods of time. It’s called EMP for short, and it’s a release of energy, an explosion in the sky, that’s so strong everything electronic in its path would burn up.
The giant globes in downtown Miami that help run the Internet for South America would be out of commission. So would phones, computers, and all of the electric components in your car.
Information stored electronically, like bank and retirement accounts, would vanish.
EMP may not be widely known by the masses.
But Hollywood is familiar with it. One was featured in “The Matrix,” and in “Ocean’s Eleven” an EMP paralyzed Sin City, knocking out power to the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Chris Petrovich, an urban survivalist who is prepared for anything, compares the aftermath of an EMP attack to that of South Florida’s infamous hurricane.
“Ask the people who were in Homestead after Hurricane Andrew when everything was off, except that this time there wouldn’t be any generators, there wouldn’t be any radios,” Petrovich said.
The Northeast blackout of 2003 brought entire cities to a standstill, leaving some 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada without power.
And in 1962 the U.S. government’s “Star Prime” experiment detonated a powerful bomb 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean. Electronics in Hawaii, 800 miles away, went haywire.
A government report on EMP covers everything from telecommunications and finance failures to the effects on the nation’s food and water supply.
The report spells out a worst-case scenario with results likely to be catastrophic, and it also says that many people might ultimately die in such a disaster for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life.
Petrovich, the survivalist, envisions chaos.
“By the time the sun started to go down and people had no information, had no idea what was going on, people would start to get pretty scared,” he said.
If an EMP were to happen, Kaleem said, the damage would be widespread.
“Now we are talking about destruction of infrastructure, our financial institutions, our food supply chain, communication systems, in other words we are talking about the destruction of (the) modern U.S.,” he said.
An item called the Shield Act has been introduced in Washington. The legislation would better protect the national electric grid as well as other critical infrastructure, but it never made it out of committee.