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2019: THE EMP SAGA: WHERE WE STAND

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Alberto Ramirez Orquin's picture
Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and co-founder of Resilient Grids, LLC. University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez & Resilient Grids, LLC.

Dr. Alberto Ramirez Orquin is an energy expert with industrial experience encompassing a vast international utility engineering practice, including extensively the US and Canada; he held the...

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  • Jan 23, 2019 5:15 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

The threat to our critical infrastructures posed by an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) shock has come to the forefront of interest as a major existential problem facing our Country at the present time.

As stated in a NERC Executive Brief ‘Electromagnetic Pulse & Geomagnetic Storm Events: “EMP and Geomagnetic-Storm events have the potential to physically damage electrical and electronic equipment throughout North America’s critical infrastructure, notably including Extra-High Voltage transformers and industrial control systems like Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems”. Moreover, citing remarks from thousands of attendees to the 2017 GridEx IV Conference indicate that: ‘An EMP attack from a rogue nation becomes one of the few ways that such a country could inflict devastating damage to the US’; Industry experts concede there's no clear plan to deal with it’ or as stated by Valley Forge’s Vice President of Operations: ‘I don't think we have an illusion we will prevent it’, ‘That's really the government's job’; ‘EMP technology itself has been advancing with devices becoming smaller, more effective ….’

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But most importantly, we should heed the warnings from recent reports of the EMP Commission of Congress. A primal recommendation from this Institution reads:  ‘We recommend that the President issue an Executive Order, provided to the previous White House’, titled “Protecting the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP); all U.S. Government Departments, Agencies, Offices, Councils, Boards, Commissions and other U.S. Government entities…shall take full and complete account of the EMP threat in forming policies and plans to protect United States critical infrastructures…” Protecting the electric grids and other critical infrastructures from the worst threat—nuclear EMP attack—can, if carried out in a system-wide, integrated approach, help mitigate all lesser threats, including natural EMP, man-made non-nuclear EMP, cyberattack, physical sabotage, and severe terrestrial weather ….”.

Having recognized that state of affairs it is implausible that our security stewards, after a decade of an unwarranted dawdling on such a serious issue, remain on strategies basically contingent upon a series of uncoordinated institutional efforts. Indeed, it seems as though every sector involved is today somewhat trying to observe the overdue jumpstart on EMP Security by going through different motions on the basis of their limited scope and capability. In addition, the notion of secret classification has been brought about as a main reason for that compartmentation, even though this argument has been considered clearly unsubstantiated. What is evident is that the institutional effort has not rendered any tangible results, as indicated above. The fact of the matter is that our most critical infrastructures are fully exposed and most likely remain so for quite some time. Notwithstanding, a major challenge stems from the very nature of these infrastructures, chiefly owned by private corporations, and thus, not invested in the cost/benefits of an EMP endeavor they do not even fully understand. On the other hand, it must be pointed out the Defense industry has been proactive on the hardening of key military equipment; yet what does not seem to be understood is that our Military Forces depend vitally on the integrity of our civil electricity networks as much as the rest of the American people does.

In sum, real National security will only come from Government resolve by urgently taking a strong and intelligent executive leadership to assure this disarray and existential exposure are not allowed to persist. Undeniably, the current EMP infrastructural weakness is nothing less than an invitation to our enemies to take advantage of; invitation that, if insisted upon, will be inexcusable to decline.

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