F. Michael Maloof, staff writer for WND and G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the secretary of defense.More ↓Less ↑
WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security still hasn’t adopted a National Planning Scenario in the event of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, event – even though the department is well aware of the potentially debilitating consequences of such an event on the nation’s electrical grid system and the critical infrastructures that depend on that grid system to function.
Brandon Wales, director of the DHS Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center, also was unable to give a cost breakdown for Congress to know how much money needs to be provided by the federal government to protect the grid in view of the tremendous costs private utilities would incur.
Wales, along with other federal agency witnesses, provided his testimony on Sept. 12 before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies on the consequences of either a natural or man-made EMP event on the national grid.
A natural event could be triggered by a solar flare; a man-made event by a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere.
DHS has outlined 15 such National Planning Scenarios as an element of its risk analysis mission, according to James Carafano of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
He said that such scenarios describe possible high-consequence threats, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, but an EMP attack is not included, despite a call for such a scenario in a report from the congressionally mandated 2008 EMP Commission.
“In 2008, under the National Defense Authorization Act for (fiscal year) 2008,” Carafano said, “the Department of Homeland Security was required ‘to coordinate efforts with the (EMP) Commission for work related to electromagnetic pulse attack on electricity infrastructure, and protect against such an attack.’
“Therefore, efforts were made to create interagency cooperation on such a critical threat to U.S. homeland security,” Carafano said. “Despite the grave dangers posed by an EMP attack, an EMP threat scenario has yet to be incorporated into the National Planning Scenarios.”
Michael Frankel, who was executive director of the EMP Commission, pointed out in congressional testimony in August 2010 that the commission had provided 75 unclassified recommendations, most of which were aimed at DHS and intended to “mitigate vulnerability and increase resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructures.”
“Unlike the response of the (Department of Defense), there has been no detectable resonance as yet out of the DHS,” Frankel had testified. “As a result, the commission’s recommendations seem to have simply languished.”
Existence of the National Planning Scenario provides the DHS with priorities on how to proceed in the event of a national emergency.
As sources point out, however, an EMP event is not one of them, despite the high prospect for what is termed a solar storm maximum which scientists and experts say is expected between now and 2013 that could have catastrophic effects on the vulnerable national grid system, depending on its intensity.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed to WND that such a solar storm maximum could occur sometime between now and 2014, with the most likely peak of its 11-year cycle occurring in 2013.
The sun produces solar explosions, or coronal mass ejections also called CMEs, that propel bursts of particles and electromagnetic fluctuations into the Earth’s atmosphere.
These electromagnetic fluctuations in turn could induce electric fluctuations at ground level that then blow out electrical transformers in power grids. The CME’s particles also collide with crucial electronics onboard a satellite and disrupt those systems, which could greatly impair Ground Positioning Systems and worldwide telecommunications.
A solar storm maximum today could result in large-scale blackouts affecting more than 130 million people and would expose more than 350 transformers to high risk or permanent damage.
Without taking adequate protective measures between now and the time of the expected “severe geomagnetic storm scenario,” experts agree the cost from space weather-induced outages that in turn could cause “non-space-weather-related events” could run from $1 trillion to $2 trillion during the first year alone, with a recovery time taking anywhere from four to 10 years.
Such a natural solar storm, and especially an EMP from a man-made high-altitude nuclear explosion, has the potential of thrusting the United States back to the 19th century, cutting off access to the basic necessities of life such as water and food delivery for millions of people, resulting in massive starvation.
Not only will such a development impact critical civilian infrastructure, but could have an adverse effect on U.S. military systems because of their heavy reliance on commercial satellites for worldwide communications.
Testimony from the Department of Defense at the Sept. 12 House congressional hearing confirmed that the military has a 99 percent dependency on the civilian electrical grid system.
“The biggest failure is in the White House, with the president,” one congressional source told WND.
“Even though Obama personally is concerned about the natural EMP threat from a great geomagnetic storm, he has failed to show personal leadership,” the congressional source said.
“He deserves kudos for PPD-8 and the 2011 Strategic National Risk Assessment that for the first time includes a geostorm scenario. But he is letting the bureaucrats spin their wheels forever on ‘paper progress’ that leaves the grid unprotected.”
The congressional source questioned why Obama has not ordered DHS to adopt a National Planning Scenario focused on EMP.
“All federal, state and local emergency planning, training, and resource allocation is based on the National Planning Scenarios,” the congressional source pointed out.
“Absent an NPS for EMP, the threat is on nobody’s radar screen, except at DOD and in Congress. Obama should press NERC to start hardening the grid, or at least to launch experimental pilot programs for grid hardening in some states,” he said.
The NERC refers to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation which is an organization of U.S. electrical grid operators of the private utilities. They determine and implement standards for keeping the grid in functioning order.
While the federal government through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is charged with developing reliability standards, only private industry can implement those standards.
In his Sept. 12 Capitol Hill testimony, FERC Director Joseph McClelland expressed concern that private utilities are not prepared to handle a catastrophic EMP event, saying that the effects would be widespread on the national grid system.
McClelland pointed out that the FERC’s jurisdiction is limited to the “bulk power system” under the Federal Power Act and excludes local distribution facilities.
The FPA also excludes all of Alaska and Hawaii, as well as any federal facilities located in these states. Their authority also excludes all local distribution facilities, including those connected to the defense infrastructure.
This has the effect, McClelland testified, of “precluding commission action to mitigate cyber or other national security threats to reliability that involve such facilities and major population areas,” which would be every major city in the United States.
McClelland added that the challenge will be in getting local electrical distribution facilities to take the threat of an EMP seriously and put up the capital investment.
The congressional source pointed out that promising legislation called the SHIELD Act is languishing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
H.R. 668, known as the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act, or SHIELD, was introduced last year by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.
The SHIELD Act would amend the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, with or without notice, hearing, or report, to order emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the president issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.
Among other things, it also directs the FERC to order the Electric Reliability Organization, or ERO, to submit reliability standards to:
Protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event or electromagnetic pulse event (EMP); and
Require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event of destruction or disability as a result of attack or a geomagnetic storm or EMP.
“Obama should call Upton and ask him to pass SHIELD,” the congressional source said. “Obama should tell (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid to introduce a Democrat version of SHIELD in the Senate. Contrast this with Obama’s aggressive leadership to stop ‘global warning’ through promotion of green energy and draconian regulations.
“Obama spends his political capital on the fictional threat from global warming,” the congressional source added, “leaving the nation vulnerable to EMP just as we are entering the solar maximum.”
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who was staff director of the 2008 EMP Commission, also acknowledged that the SHIELD Act is stalled but praised the work of a number of members of Congress for their continued work on the threat of an EMP event on the national grid system.
“The biggest kudos to the Congress (in the House who are) the real leaders on this issue,” Pry said in an email to WND. “Hats off to the Congressional EMP Caucus led by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), Rep. Trent Franks (R), and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D). They have launched numerous initiatives to protect the nation from EMP, and understand the grave and immediate nature of the threat.”
A new network television drama also recently presented the cataclysmic consequences of an EMP attack, in “Revolution,” which portrays life in the former United States 15 years after an electromagnetic pulse disables all electronics.
In the story, society has collapsed and the country devolved into a collection of mutually hostile self-styled militias, private armies and warring tribes. Former members of the Marine Corps become warlords. Google executives become rifle-toting soldiers. Insurance salesmen transform into militia members.
It shows that basic necessities that Americans take for granted, such as widely available food and clean water, become inaccessible as millions die from starvation, disease or widespread violence.
A coming book, “A Nation Forsaken,” suggests that the show actually may downplay the real threat.