States Push for EMP Preparedness

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States Push for EMP Preparedness
Hawaii was the first state to experience an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event. In 1962, a nuclear test blast 250 miles above the state caused radios to blackout, telephones to stop working, and strings to fail.

Of concern to many of today’s defense experts is the possibility that an EMP event over a heavily populated, digitally dependent region could disrupt computers and damage electronics and insulators, and cause significant damage to critical electrical infrastructure.

EMP is not, however, mentioned as one of the threats covered by the proposed infrastructure bill now under negotiation nor in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) request for information (RFI) on Ensuring the Continued Security of the United States Critical Electric Infrastructure. But that didn’t stop the Utah EMP Task Force from using that forum this month to ask the DOE to take measures to “secure electrical power infrastructure to withstand powerful solar storms or a man-made nuclear or conventional EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack as soon as possible.” The task force backed its plea with an analysis of threats in five areas:

  • Solar flares/coronal mass ejections (CME)s: Expected during the active phase of the 11-year solar cycle which begins around 2023.
  • Nuclear EMP weapons: Specially modified nuclear weapons designed to optimize the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) effect. These are effective over a very wide, line-of-sight area. In addition to the US, Russia, China, and North Korea have these calibrated nuclear weapons in their arsenal.
  • General, nuclear weapons: All nuclear weapons produce a very powerful EMP field (effect) over a large area when detonated above the earth’s atmosphere. The higher the detonation, the larger the area affected.
  • Conventional EMP weapons: These can be drone-delivered pulses or ground detonated devices affecting a small area (a few city blocks) or larger aircraft delivered EMP bombs designed to EMP strike a city or similar sized area.
  • Other threats to the grid: Cyber threats such as hacking; physical threats, such as small arms/artillery; weather threats, such as earthquakes; and other potential sabotage.

Utah joins Arizona, California, Florida, Maine, and Texas as states that have introduced or passed legislation to protect electric grids from EMP. Much of the attention at the state level has been focused on protecting the power grid, however, but because the U.S. critical infrastructure is so heavily digitized, all of the 16 critical infrastructure components that the Biden administration has identified as part of the U.S. critical infrastructure are increasingly dependent on digital technology and thus increase risk for the economy in general. (See Side Bar)

16 critical infrastructure industries that would be adversely impacted by man-made and naturally occurring EMP events.

  • Energy
  • Dams
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials & Waste
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Chemical
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Water & Wastewater
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Communications
  • Information Technology
  • Financial Services
  • Government Facilities 
  • Commercial Facilities
  • Healthcare & Public health Transportation Systems
  • Emergency Services

 

Measuring the technical impact
The impact of EMP threats is commonly classified into E1, E2, and E3 pulse types.

  • An E1 pulse, also known as fast pulse, primarily affects electronic-based control systems, sensors, computers, and similar devices, but may also adversely affect long-line electrical systems. It is a shockwave, that transmits thousands of volts of energy in nanoseconds and has a high-frequency (short) wavelength that can couple directly into small objects. E1 is unique to nuclear weapons and is too fast and too energetic to be arrested by protective devices used for lightning.
  • An E2 pulse is like lightning in energy content and of medium (milliseconds) frequency and wavelength. It can impair or destroy control features that are not protected from lightning. Protective devices used for lightning are, however, effective against E2.
  • An E3 pulse is a subsequent, slower-rising, longer-duration pulse that creates disruptive currents in transmission lines. E3 is caused by the fireball of a nuclear explosion, which expands and then collapses causing the Earth’s magnetic field to oscillate, generating electric currents in the very large objects that can couple into the low frequency, long (seconds) wavelength part of the EMP. Although an E3 pulse appears to deliver less energy than E1, just volts per meter, it is multiplied manifold by power and telecommunications lines that are typically many kilometers long. Protective devices used for lightning are not effective against E3, which can build up energy sufficient to overwhelm lightning arrestors and bypass them through electrical arcing.

 

Protective measures
A chart from the National Coordinating Center for Communications (NCC) titled “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Protection and Resilience Guidelines for Critical Infrastructure and Equipment” provides a comprehensive look at the current state of EMP preparedness, covering everything from protecting transmission lines to storing food and drink reserves. Following are among the recommendations most relevant to industrial control systems:

  • Use either EMP-protected backup power or a generation source that is not connected to the grid.
  • Wrap spare electronics within Faraday bags or containers, material that prevents transmission of microwaves, like that used to prevent radiation escaping from a microwave oven.
  • Use equipment that has been designed for EMP protection according to International Electrotechnical Commission and Military Standard Specifications.
  • Use fiber optic cables instead of metal.

 

Built-in EMP protection for control systems
Like cyber security protection, EMP 

protection is most effective and economical when it is already built into the control system. All Bedrock Automation controls and power supplies, for example, have been certified for compliance according to Military Standard 461 (MIL-STD-461E) and International Electrical Commission 61000 (IEC 61000) for electromagnetic pulse (EMP) resistance, so there is no additional cost or secondary containment required. This protection is a result of numerous detailed design elements, including a patented pin less I/O backplane and I/O modules, sealed all-metal construction, fiber optic communications, extreme galvanic isolation of modules and channels, and many other patented and novel approaches to system design.

We are also quite confident that those same characteristics help its control platform and power modules to be resistant to blasts resulting from lightning strikes. Although there are no test equipment or labs to simulate sustained extreme electrical storms for stress testing, we subjected our platform to eight sustained lightning-strength arc blasts from a large Tesla coil and the control system continued to function. Watch the test.

For more details on Bedrock EMP protection see:

 

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