WASHINGTON – Congress today was told that the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t identified an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, event as a serious national security threat to the nation’s grid system even though testimony revealed it could making living in the United States “unsustainable” for 70 to 90 percent of the population.
And the few billion dollars it would cost to harden systems against such an occurrence is hardly the tens of billions or hundreds of billions it could cost to repair the damage.
Brandon Wales, director of the DHS Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center, was unable to give a cost breakdown so that Congress would know how much money needs to be provided by the federal government in view of the tremendous costs of such hardening defenses that the private utilities would incur.Continued below.
He, along with other witnesses from the federal government, testified on the consequences of either a natural or man-made EMP event on the national grid before the House Homeland Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, also testified that the military is highly vulnerable to an EMP event, since it relies some 99 percent on the national grid to accomplish its functions.
Franks is sponsor of H.R. 668, known as the Shield Act, which provides authority to protect transformers.
“The potential threat is damage to the transformers” either from a solar storm or the effects of an electromagnetic pulse from a high-altitude nuclear explosion.
The legislation has passed the House of Representatives, but no action is planned at this writing in the U.S. Senate.
At the time the legislation was introduced in February 2011, Franks said that it was vital to secure the high-voltage electrical infrastructure from lethal damage.
“The threat of an electromagnetic pulse weapon represents the single greatest asymmetric capability that could fall into the hands of American enemies,” Franks warned at the time.
“Should a nuclear weapon from a rogue state such as Iran be detonated in Earth’s atmosphere at a sufficient height above the continental United States, the blast of electromagnetic energy could immediately cripple America’s electric power grid.
“Currently, the vast majority of the United States’ infrastructure is unsecured and exposed,” he said.
Franks said that an EMP blast could disable “so large a swath of American technology that between 70 percent to 90 percent of the United States’ population could become unsustainable.”
Franks also referred to the prospect that some of the most intense solar storms are expected to hit Earth by next year, according to scientists of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Academy of Sciences.
Natural EMP events happen during solar storms, which are predicted to reach their 11-year cyclical peak during 2013.
He said that the United States may have no more than 30 minutes to know the accuracy of where an intense solar storm could strike or what the severity of that storm will be, even though satellites do give some 24 hours of warning that such a storm is heading toward Earth. And then, only one in three times such a storm may be severe.
The problem for industry, Franks acknowledged, is not knowing whether to go to the expense of shutting down the national grid system – an action that would have to be taken since the system hasn’t been hardened sufficiently to handle either an intense solar storm and certainly not the pulse effect of a much worse high altitude nuclear explosion.
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