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Protecting our electric grid

Our advanced electric infrastructure — which includes our electric grid, satellites, transportation, water, information technology and communications systems — is at risk.

The increasingly likely threat of a major electromagnetic pulse, whether man-made or natural, striking our largely unprotected electrical infrastructure could well cause long-term, widespread damage —perhaps even its destruction. This could undermine American way of life as we know it.

Our electric infrastructure touches every facet of our lives — from cooking our food to making a phone call to securing our nuclear facilities. This nation cannot function without it. As we have seen all too recently in Japan — where the electrical failure in the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system led to this highly dangerous situation — a compromise to electric infrastructure can create grave problems.

The security threat posed by electromagnetic pulses, whether intentional, malicious attacks or naturally-occurring phenomena, has been well studied and documented. Two congressional commissions, the National Academy of Sciences, and several administrative departments, along with hours of congressional testimony, have now investigated the problem and issued reports.

We now know that continent-sized regions of both the U.S. and our allies could be severely damaged or thoroughly burned out by natural or malicious electromagnetic threats.

Seven U.S. government departments and agencies have now concluded that if our national electric grid is not upgraded to ensure its continuity in the event of a massive solar event — which happen about every hundred years,– or of an attack, we could face a blackout lasting four to 10 years, costing countless lives and potentially bringing cataclysmic damage to U.S. society as we know it. It could emerge as the most severe crisis in modern history.

If we do not act to protect our grid, our nation could be at the mercy of any enemy that can build, or acquire and launch, a nuclear warhead that could generate a devastating electromagnetic pulse across our nation. Or we can wait for that inevitable solar flare, which could inflict an even more devastating and widespread catastrophe on the human family.

Fortunately, there is a time when every great problem is large enough to be seen, yet still small enough to be solved. This one is no exception. We can fix it.

However, we must act now and decisively. We cannot wait for the clock to run out on such grave threats when they are now predicted by all relevant U.S. agencies.

As part of our commitment to this critical concern, on Monday and Tuesday we served as co-chairmen of the second annual world summit on infrastructure security. Rt. Hon. James Arbuthnot joined us as a co-chairman from Britain. Representatives from more than 20 nations came to the conference.

As a nation, we have always risen to the most daunting challenges, found a path to recovery and moved forward. But if large areas of our nation are deprived of electricity, water and other critical infrastructure for months or years, the destruction could be vast and recovery in question.

But with scientists and engineers now advising that the cost and complexity to bring this problem under control is modest, our course is clear: We cannot, and must not leave our nation vulnerable. We must secure our electric infrastructure now.

Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) is the ranking member of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. Both are members of the Electromagnetic Pulse Caucus and co-chairmen of the Electric Infrastructure Security Summit,