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Next terror target: Our power grids?

FILE - A transmission substation on the electrical grid. (Wikipedia / MGN)

The word "terrorism" evokes thoughts of 9/11, ISIS, mass shootings and bombings. But terrorism experts say there is yet another potential threat to our homeland.

Cellphones, computers, transportation and water systems -- all essential to our daily lives -- are also all connected to the nearly 500,000 miles of transmission lines traversing the U.S. If a foreign enemy were to set off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) inside the U.S. power grid, the results would be cataclysmic.

"People are so electronically wired to everything, from their cellphones to every other electronic device, that it would be devastating to everyone," said terrorism expert Dr. Tyrone Powers.

The U.S. power grid consists of three major sections -- the eastern, western and Texas interconnections. The Department of Energy said roughly 125 million U.S. households rely on the network daily.

If a bomb or a hacker were to infect these grids with an EMP, the pulse would release a seismic burst of energy, frying all circuits within a massive radius of ground zero.

Without clean water, experts said millions of Americans could die of dysentery and even cholera within weeks. Without transportation and refrigeration, food and medical supplies would dwindle. Experts said many Americans could actually starve to death while others would die from lack of critical medical supplies.

"The realization of the threat is increasing, and I do believe this country is going to have to focus on it and spend some money on it," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Homeland Security said response plans such as stockpiling emergency generators are already in place. This would be futile, according to Powers, because knocking out the grid could likely be the first of a two-pronged attack.

"In other words, I shut out the power grid, I shut out the lights in the city. Then I have a secondary attack like a bombing, so I create chaos on top of chaos," he explained.

Terror groups like ISIS don't have the technical know-how to create EMPs, but Powers said nations like Iran likely do.

"We've said to them over and over again," he stated, "should you mount that kind of attack on the U.S., we will consider that an act of war."

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