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Fade to Black: Assessing the Ongoing EMP Threat

Immediately Available EMP-Prepareness Resources:

With alarming frequency, major retailers have experienced breaches to customers’ credit and debit card payment information in recent years. Here are some of the largest retail breaches to date:

Tabletop Exercise Kit

The first Tabletop Exercise Kit enabling anyone to learn about and begin planning for EMP events or HEMP attacks is currently available. The Tabletop Exercise Kit explores a dynamic variety of threat scenarios, including extreme space weather, cyber attacks and physical attacks on the grid, HEMP attacks, and other possibilities.

Included in the kit are videos of vetted experts providing a specific, fact-based background presentation that aims to provide the most current and relevant factual material to federal, state and municipal government officials, security professionals in both the public and private sectors, the States’ National Guard forces, and interested private citizens. Read-ahead materials are also provided.

The Tabletop Exercise Kit is available free to any InfraGard chapter or member, to all 338 higher-education Homeland Security programs and the 1,400 educators in the University and Agency Partnership Initiative (UAPI) through the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

For more information or to download the Tabletop Exercise Kit, email [email protected].

National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan

Just released in October 2015, the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan is described by InfraGard EMP SIG Chairman Chuck Manto as a White House directive to numerous federal agencies to develop a concrete contingency plan in the event of a collapse of the nation’s infrastructure that could last a year or more, weather from space weather or a more pointed attack.

A pdf of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan is easily accessed at the www.whitehouse.gov website by doing a browser search, or by direct link at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/final_nationalspaceweatheractionplan_20151028.pdfNational Defense University (NDU)

Chuck Podium

In addition to the release of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, about a year ago, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals to assist in the development of an appropriate course of action for emergency protection of at least some of the grid in the short term, to ensure the protection of U.S. sovereignty. “They basically declared that the Defense Department can no longer count on electric power grids to operate to the liability requirements military bases [demand],” Manto offers. “They are concerned that because of EMP, whether it’s [through a nuclear- burst, or somebody driving by it with a high-powered microwave, that the essential elements for a power grid may become unavailable for weeks, months or permanently. And if there was a permanent loss of a power grid for the military bases, they cannot fully function well. We could lose our sovereignty because of that. So the sovereignty of the country is at stake, your Social Security check is at stake. All of this would go away if we lose sovereignty. This request called for the development of EMP-protected microgrids for critical applications both on and off the base. Because a military base requires things off the base to sustain themselves. Water. Sewer. Medical services. Emergency communications. Emergency management services. There are three to five institutions that need to have sustainability as well. So that’s what they’ve called for. That’s another wake-up call, because if you have a year-long power outage over the vast majority of the country and you do not have the ability to store your own power locally, you’re basically out of business.”

The initiatives introduced over this last year represent a turning point in the fight against the EMP threat — they signify that the powers that be are waking up to the reality they’re facing, and finally are moving in the direction of doing something about it. But it’s a turning point, it’s still only a starting point. “Because it’s a whole-of-community call to action, it’s not enough for anybody to wait for somebody else to do something,” Manto declares. “Everybody — every institution — must take matters into their own hands, and begin immediate planning to make your family, your neighborhood, your institution more robust.

“To give you an example,” he continues, “hospitals have a business plan — a disaster business continuity plan that says if the power goes out and you can’t get your generators to work, or you can’t get refueling for those generators, you evacuate the hospital and let people go to the next one. The problem is, if the next 50 hospitals are in the same position, you’ve just given a death sentence to a lot of people who need that care. Yet today, that is the plan that’s in effect.”

Manto puts the onus of responsibility for preparing in case of an EMP attack not just on government, not just on those in the private sector, but on everybody in the community. “It’s the job of local community leaders to embrace their hospitals and to find the money to build and deploy near-site or onsite power generation for those hospitals so that if the grid goes away for a year, those hospitals stay alive. Nobody’s taking the responsibility to do that. So all of us who are leaders in our respective communities are at fault when those hospitals fail, because we’ve not done that. So this is not just government’s responsibility — it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Everyone must likewise evolve and execute his or her own contingency plans in the event of an EMP-initiated blackout. The good news there is that simple preparations are relatively easy to manage and will go a long way toward being ready for a nationwide catastrophic emergency. “Make 20-30 percent of whatever you need,” Manto suggests. “Almost every average person can have 50 pounds of rice and beans somewhere in their apartment, in their home. There are different things you can do and make yourself more resilient, to make it easier for you to help your family, friends and your neighbors. Everybody can do something. That’s what’s nice. You don’t have to wait for somebody else.”

Preparing for the Long Term

In 1859, a massive geomagnetic solar storm emitted a solar coronal mass ejection that collided with the Earth’s magnetosphere, resulting in a geomagnetic storm that wreaked havoc with the world’s telegraph systems — then, the only mass-communications network in our employ. The Carrington Event, as it came to be known, having been observed by English astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson, is considered a benchmark in the effects of solar weather on our planet.

The devastation from an EMP incident the size of the Carrington Event today would be incalculable. And according to Manto and the data the EMP SIG has acquired over time, events of that magnitude are hardly isolated or rare. “You have to realize, when these things happen of this size, they happen pretty often, but they don’t come right at Earth,” he says. “They go out every which way. We had a super storm near miss two years ago, July 2012. We would have had a continental-wide blackout if [a direct impact had] happened. … Imagine what would happen in this country if you had no power grid for 18 months, from Washington to New York. What would that do to the economy? That’s where the bulk of the people live. And that’s just Mother Nature. That’s not any bad guy.”

The potential for disaster in a massive EMP event is high, but according to Manto, reducing that potential is reasonably easy. “We did an economic impact assessment — my company sponsored it — and we showed that even protecting 10 percent of the most critical infrastructure in the mid EMP event — not the highest case or the lowest, but the mid EMP event — saved 85 percent of the economic loss, because you weren’t totally dumb, deaf and blind. You have command and control. … When you’re flat on your back, it takes a while to figure out what happened, what’s working, what’s not working, where do you go from here? That’s your most vulnerable time. And if you can already have 10 percent of your stuff that you need up and running already, it’s like buying three to five months of being flat on your back. And then you can [recover] all that much quicker.”

The ideal — total protection for the grid — would carry a gargantuan price tag to implement even over an extended period of time. But Manto suggests that the cost for keeping the U.S. from essentially returning to the Stone Age needn’t be so dramatic. “It doesn’t have to be that expensive,” he says, at the same time pulling no punches at risking the consequences of failure to take even the minimum steps toward protecting the energy infrastructure. “You don’t have to protect everything. You just need to protect the 10 percent most important stuff. But if everybody’s got their heads in the sand and pretending this isn’t a problem, and you don’t take steps to protect the 10 percent, then you have nothing. And then you are flat on your back.endicon