National security experts aiming to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse are assessing Lafayette and Bossier City as potential venues for spurring innovations to just that.

An electromagnetic pulse — known by its abbreviation, EMP — is a burst of electromagnetic energy, either from the sun or a man-made weapon, with disastrous potential to knock out electronic systems nationwide.

“We’re not ready for it,” Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, said at a Wednesday news conference on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.

Members from the group — a nonprofit composed of former members of the federal intelligence community — spoke to the media to discuss the risks associated with an EMP and their efforts to induce public-private partnerships that would strengthen the nation’s infrastructure and lessen its vulnerabilities to potential cyber warfare.

“There are extraordinary challenges that we as a nation face because of the EMP hazards and cyberattacks. It is my belief that (UL-Lafayette) is in a unique position to help address some solutions,” said Ramesh Kollaru, the university’s vice president of research, on Wednesday.

UL-Lafayette’s commitment to computer science programming, along with its collaboration with private technology companies that recently located in Lafayette, make it an attractive venue to foster research and development that could help protect critical infrastructures nationwide, said Robert Shreve, a Louisiana businessman who serves as director of business development on the task force’s advisory board.

“It would be a very good score for Louisiana. It would be a very good score, so to speak, for ULL,” said Shreve, who’s chairman and CEO of Gulf South Business Systems and Consultants Inc. and president of the Louisiana Technology Council.

Shreve, Pry and Henry Cooper — who served as chief negotiator with the USSR under President Ronald Reagan and as Strategic Defense Initiative director under President George H.W. Bush — will travel from Lafayette to Bossier City on Thursday to discuss potential partnerships with the Cyber Innovation Center there and with Louisiana Tech University.

“I’m hoping the profit motive might help accelerate this,” Pry said.

The EMP has been on the fringe of the nation’s defense strategy, with no proper protections in place against what Pry said is “the ultimate cyberthreat” that could cause societal collapse by effectively halting the gears upon which the entire nation operates: its interconnected power grid.

“You could destroy an entire civilization in a matter of hours,” Pry said.

Federal responses to that threat have surfaced in recent months.

The Pentagon in April announced NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will be moving back into its Cold War-era Cheyenne Mountain bunker in Colorado, where the military command that looks out for enemy missiles and aircraft would be protected against EMP events.

And pending in the U.S. Senate is H.R. 3410, or the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which already has passed through the U.S. House of Representatives and would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to call for defense strategies against natural or man-made EMP events.

“I think this is urgent,” Pry said.

Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.