A National Priority in 2017: Safeguard the U.S. Electric Grid Against Electromagnetic Pulse & Coronal Mass Ejections
By Michael Woodson, Esq, Sr. Fellow
As the Trump Administration ushers in uncertain change, one of those changes must become certain if the Administration is serious about national security: a resilient U.S. electrical grid. Our continued failure to allocate the manageable expense of shoring up our grid against phasic-probability, high-impact destructive events is an unabating gamble with the survival of 350 million people and the progress of our predecessors.
Some have defended the slow pace of proofing the U.S. electric grid, citing the low-probability of high-impact risks posed by Electromagnetic Pulse and/or solar Coronal Mass Ejection events. However, our nation’s resilience, defense, and security should not be left to luck.
No one would step into an escape room with a 10% chance of death during the game, yet Lloyd’s of London assessed that there is a 12% chance per decade that North America will be impacted by a significant CME event. Furthermore, the insurance syndicate notes CME impact is “almost inevitable.”
Ironically, the EMP Commission to Congress’ charge to evaluate the risks to the U.S. followed what was considered a low-probability, high-impact event in 2001: coordinated, hijacked airliner attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and elsewhere. Additionally, in 2012, Earth had a brush with a potentially devastating “double-CME — two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes” the coronal ejecta missed the planet by one week.
Today’s electrical grid risk horizon involves three chief risks to a U.S. infrastructure our civilization depends on: the Sun (CME); rogue actors detonating a nuclear device above the continental U.S. (EMP); and /or cyber/physical sabotage. Remember, in some cases, as seen in the Government Accountability Office graphic, an impact from just one device can affect the entire continental U.S.
The most astonishing information conveyed in the GAO graphic is no longer the reach of EMP fields (from a high-altitude nuclear burst), but the date of the graphic illustrating the vulnerability: July 16, 1997 – 20 years ago. Not crying wolf or confabulating a falling sky, the EMP Commission again reported more specific recommendations that the grid be revamped to withstand natural or man-made EMP events in 2008. Today, the commission continues to warn, having been reinstated in 2016.
What has and has not been done? The March 2016 report entitled GAO-16-243 Electromagnetic Threats used euphemistic, passive language to say that the responsible government and industry actors had not actually hardened the civilian grid against EMP attacks or CME’s, but had only partially fulfilled some of the study, assessment and response-planning tasks recommended by the EMP Commission almost nine years ago.
Page one of GAO-16-243 Electromagnetic Threats states: “DHS has the lead role in coordinating the overall federal effort to promote the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and the Department of Energy—as the sector- specific agency for the energy sector, which includes critical electrical infrastructure—shares responsibility with DHS.”
As of March 2016, there had been no clear assignment of roles, responsibilities, and tasking in getting the grid fortified against EMP and solar events, versus studying, preparing and quibbling over probabilities. If we continue to neglect that which ensures the heartbeat of our modern infrastructure and society – the power grid – will we be able to justify, if impacted, that our government ignored its own commissioners? They have warned us continually, and continue to warn to this day.
Considering that more cost-effective grid protection technologies have arisen in the past six months, such as demonstrated by University of Nebraska engineers Christopher Tuan and Lim Nguyen, the time for action is now.
Write your Congressman or Congresswoman today and demand specific target dates, proper accountability, and funding to make the national electric grid safe and resilient from EMP, CME, and sabotage.