WASHINGTON – Buried in a 303-page report is an assessment by the Department of Homeland Security that a massive electromagnetic pulse event caused by a solar flare could leave more than 130 million Americans without power for years.
In spite of the admission of the cataclysmic consequences of an EMP event, DHS still has not added the threat to its 15 National Planning Scenarios.
The assessment of potential damage to the power grid is in a March 2012 report released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a DHS agency, this month titled “Federal Interagency Response Plan – Space Weather 2012.”
In the report, DHS outlined what it called “considerations for federal interagency response planning.”
The FEMA report referenced a 2010 analysis of the impact of space weather on the U.S. electric grid.
It referred to an extensive study by John Kapperman and William Radasky of the National Oceanic and Aeronautical Administration, or NOAA, that examined the resiliency of the U.S. electric grid, based on a study that went back to 2008.
The study concluded large-scale blackouts caused by an EMP event would affect more than 130 million people in the U.S. “for years.”
Such an event either would damage or destroy some 300 large extra-high-voltage transformers, resulting in a “prolonged recovery period with long-term shortages of electric power to the affected areas.”
The Kapperman and Radasky study focused on states east of the Mississippi River and parts of the Pacific Northwest.
The assessment dovetails with similar studies by NASA and the National Science Foundation that concluded up to 90 percent of the American people would die from either starvation or disease resulting from a direct hit of the most intense X-class solar flare.
Because DHS has not issued a National Planning Scenario for an EMP, local communities won’t have plans in place for first responders and law enforcement.
The concern about an EMP event is particularly relevant now, since the Sun is going through an 11-year cycle that is reaching its peak, a solar storm maximum, in which it spews flares from its surface in all directions, with some potentially hitting Earth.
Some flares can be at least 14 times the size of the Earth.
Among the most intense flares to directly hit Earth were the Carrington Event in 1859 and another in 1921.
The FEMA study said an EMP event on the scale of the two flares would result in a catastrophic loss of life.
The studies mirror the assessment of a 2008 congressional EMP commission report that detailed the potential impact of an EMP event on the nation’s life-sustaining critical infrastructures.
Even DHS appeared to be conflicted in its assessment of the impact of an EMP event.
“Based on an analysis of many space weather studies, there does not appear to be specific agreement among space weather and electric industry experts regarding space weather impacts on the U.S. electric grid,” DHS said.
It conceded, however, there is “general agreement among the experts that extreme geomagnetic storms could have significantly damaging impacts on the U.S. electric grid.”
The House of Representatives passed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, or CIPA, Dec. 1, amending the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to include EMP in its national planning scenarios. The vote was unanimous.
However, the Senate failed to act, forcing Congress upon its return in January to take up the legislation all over again.
President Obama could sign an executive order mandating DHS add EMP to its emergency planning, but he has not done so, even though he reportedly is aware of the consequences.
Peter Pry, who was staff director of the congressional EMP commission that released the 2008 study, said time is running out.
A solar blast similar to the 1859 Carrington Event or the 1921 solar storm could collapse the electrical grid and life-sustaining critical infrastructures worldwide, “putting the lives of billions at risk.”
Pry said that in 2012, the Earth narrowly missed a solar storm the size of the Carrington Event.