As Americans, we have an acute, but largely unnoted, vulnerability: The electricity we rely upon for virtually every aspect of our lives – and generally take for granted – could be disrupted for long periods over large parts of the country. The disaster could be the result of either enemy action, or an expected naturally occurring event known as an intense geomagnetic disturbance, or solar storm.
If urgent steps are not taken to make the bulk power distribution system for our electricity – better known as “the grid” – more resilient, we could face the loss of possibly many tens, if not hundreds, of millions of lives. If that seems unbelievable, just think about how long you and those you love would last if there were no access to clean water, food, medicine, finances, communications, transportation or any of the other goods and services supplied by our critical infrastructures. If there is no electricity, none of them will work.
The grid’s vulnerability has been highlighted in the past two years by physical and cyber attacks on transformer substations, power lines, control systems, etc. in California, Arizona, Connecticut and the Midwest here at home and in Michoacan State in Mexico, Yemen and Turkey abroad. Some experts believe that the reported presence of the Islamic State near our southern border may constitute a particular threat to our electrical infrastructure.
Interestingly, the Pentagon has recently taken steps to relocate a critical command center into an underground bunker in Colorado to protect it against another form of attack: electromagnetic pulse (EMP). And the White House has just announced a new initiative to contend with the effects of devastating solar storms.
In light of this potentially catastrophic danger, we must come together as a nation to secure our grid. It would be preferable for this to be done at the federal level, with the executive and legislative branches joining forces to identify and enhance the resiliency of critical nodes and other key assets. Fortunately, we know how to do it – thanks to the enormous investment the U.S. military has made over the past five decades to “harden” its most important weapon systems and communications gear. It’s just that we haven’t applied those insights and techniques to protecting the civilian grid, upon which, ironically, not only the American people rely, but so do 99 percent of our armed forces’ bases in the continental United States.
Failing that, there is an opportunity – and yawning need – for states to step up and take the lead. Maine, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Texas are among the states where efforts have been undertaken in state legislatures to begin to protect their respective grids. In light of the real and present danger represented by the loss of electricity and the slow pace of most legislative initiatives, governors should undertake their own initiatives via executive orders to secure their states’ grids. The place to start would be to establish a triage approach to hardening critical assets, with the completion of the protection of the most essential of them against all hazards within six months.
Such a step is essential for the safety, prosperity and well-being of the people of our country. Should we fail to take it, we are affording enemies of this country, who have made no secret of their desire to destroy her, an easy “kill-shot” for doing so. Even if none of them chooses to launch an EMP attack – despite the evidence that they are knowledgeable about the vulnerability of our grid and preparing to take advantage of it – we still must protect our most critical of critical infrastructures against the effects of a massive solar storm. After all, the earth is subjected to one or more of them roughly every 150 years. And the last one occurred in 1859, 156 years ago!
Protecting our grid is the ultimate transpartisan issue. If we allow disaster to strike, it will afflict virtually all of us, irrespective of party affiliation or political stripe. Therefore, we all have an interest in securing the grid and in doing it now. Let’s get on with it, together.