EMP Risk Management Executive Order

The President has issued an executive order for the executive branches assess, prioritize, and manage the risks of EMPs.

Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) have the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems.  Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity, and could adversely affect global commerce and stability.

The Secretary of Energy will conduct early-stage R&D, develop pilot programs, and partner with other agencies and the private sector, as appropriate, to characterize sources of and their couplings to the electric power grid and its subcomponents, understand associated potential failure modes for the energy sector, and coordinate preparedness and mitigation measures with energy sector partners.

The Federal Government will provide incentives to private-sector partners to encourage innovation that strengthens critical infrastructure against EMPs. There will be pilot anti-EMP programs.

38 thoughts on “EMP Risk Management Executive Order”

  1. No. Just no. Read your comments below and they lack a fundamental knowledge of the grid. You seem to think it is highly centralized, it’s not. In the west especially. 9 subs, get real. The article is a relic. The grid in the east in somewhat venerable, but go west of the Mississippi and it’s not something that even 100 RPGs could knock out for more than a few days. You can put up a sub-station in a week or less if you have the permits.

  2. I thought electromagnetic pulse didn’t hurt fiber optics cables because they use photons
    instead of electrons. is that right?

  3. Now where is the Carrington Event 2 Hollywood blockbuster? (Though the fact that the first movie has a 2 in the title might be confusing things.)

    Though I realize we’ll need an opening scene where the hero, a gorgeous 28 year old Professor, is teaching her class of nominal university students (who have the education of 10-year-olds) and she has to explain and demonstrate that a moving magnetic field will generate a current in a wire.
    By coincidence this leads her to mention that a large solar flare can generate strong enough fields to generate currents on Earth, and that in 1859….

    Switch to a scene in an Astronomical observatory, or maybe a Space Station, where someone is observing the sun and she suddenly exclaims in horror at the results she can see on a fancy graphics display, perhaps a two sided transparent one so the camera can see her face through the display.

    The rest writes itself.

  4. You are seriously overestimating the explosive power of an RPG if you think one can take out an entire sub-station. A few meter blast versus a 200m by 200m complex that is spread out. You would get a few transformers, but nothing that could not be repaired in a few days. This article is also 5 years old. Do you understand how many sub-stations and new transmission lines have been added since then. In California there have been dozens of new substations to support solar and wind projects in the south east California region alone. I surveyed for 2 new ones near Blythe 2 years ago and they are built now.

  5. I agree — the 1965 Northeast blackout, and similar ones since then, are not a good model. Those blackouts did not involve destruction of critical equipment. An EMP or Carrington-type event would destroy a large part of the power distribution equipment, which is a completely different kind of event. It would be a disaster of a size hard to imagine. I believe all the comments I have read here are treating it far too lightly.

  6. Goat,

    As interesting as the Northeast blackout story is, it reads to me as a system that worked, not a system that failed.

    Sure all the various linked power systems shut down, but they did so as designed to protect themselves from overloading, and then over the next several hours they were all brought on line again, none the worse for wear.

    The result was what? People missed a night’s TV and apparently spent the night making babies. Maybe Japan should arrange a few such blackouts?

    If you want a scary story of a brittle system failing in such a way that leads to disaster, that isn’t it.

  7. A whole home varistor should be connected to the 120 vac busses, and the neutral/ground buss as close to the meter as possible. The meter box would be better, but then you have to deal with the utility. There should be no breakers in the circuit, except the main breaker, and not it if possible.
    Conventional breakers are much too slow to deal with lightning, and presumably EMP. I had most of my home network damaged despite the breaker tripping. I’ve got one protecting my home that was designed for industrial use. Luckily, electrons don’t know the difference.
    The varistor looks like a low resistance short to the high voltage. Hopefully, most of the current passes through the varistor. It needs to be in a metal box, the breaker box is fine, since if the strike has enough joules the varistor may become plasma, well part of it anyway.

  8. Even tho’ DICANOMI warrants the survivability of The Grid as being quite good — especially to take-down of a few substations — I tend to think it is more vulnerable than he assesses. 

    Specifically, through a rather interesting lifetime of careers dealing with quite-complex technological systems (be they programming, database, networking, sat-com, security, police dispach) my experience has been this: no matter well prepared the engineering and logistics is, over time complex systems become “brittle”. Gradually the margins are tightened, spare (cold) parts are “borrowed” and not replaced. Locks rust and aren’t tested to make sure they open. Valves seize, open breakers lose their ability to hold closed, flood-control sloughs clog with trash, storm drains find ways to constrict, unused (reserve) water mains crack, and it often goes unnoticed.  

    Evidence of this is easily found: https:\en.wikipedia.orgwikiNortheast_blackout_of_1965 (repl with slash)

    Anyway… difference of opinion.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  9. My area of rural Michigan was the official relocation area for Detroit. I think the general consensus was that they’d suffer a LOT of attrition on the way here, and even more when they arrived. We couldn’t even feed ourselves if we had a half million people trampling the fields.

  10. Back in Michigan my pond was full of too small perch. Not big enough to be worth filleting, but our Jack Russel loved them. They were crunchy!

  11. I can verify from personal experience that the nuclear infrastructure the US would use to respond to such an attack has been hardened against EMPs. In other words, no one is going to do this without knowing they are done, and probably everything they ever cared about as well.
    The more likely threat is a huge geomagnetic storm from the Sun. The Carrington Event, in 1859, was a huge solar coronal mass ejection unleashed at Earth.
    Telegraphs in Europe and North America crashed, sparks started fires and shocked human operators. It also knocked down the power grid in Quebec. Some devices that were “unplugged” actually continued to operate.
    All we know is that today this would be a very bad thing. Something of that scale (and smaller ones are still quite damaging) might occur every 500 years, but that number is a complete guess and it has been 160 years already.
    It’s not just losing the smart phones. Bank accounts could disappear; the stock exchanges would be offline. The ensuing economic chaos could kill millions, or perhaps even hundreds of millions just by itself.
    Estimates vary from 2 to 20 trillion USD in the first year, with ten years or more to recover. Just for starters, write off every satellite.
    There would likely only be a few hours of warning before technological annihilation descends. It’s crazy we don’t have a national response plan for even those few hours of warning we might get, let alone stockpiling critical spares underground and a recovery plan.

  12. If you think 9 would do it you do not know the grid very well. You have no idea how redundancy works. Maybe with 9 you take out a good portion of the East Coast for a day, but that is it. In the West you would get a few hours to a day. They can reroute around a sub-station if there s a major failure. There are allot of sub-stations.

    Have you ever worked on a transmission project? do you have any clue? Go learn a little electronic circuit theory and then some GIS, take a look at the actual transmission data (public domain) and then talk. I do this type pf stuff for a living, looking at project briefs. If you don’t know GIS or work in this field or a related one, might as well admit you have no clue.

  13. “RPG fire at a nuke plant”. I did not say at a nuke plant. One of the government reports made the statement, I believe. Not this year’s. A previous one.

    Most nuclear plants are not only well protected by design, but are defended by security.

    Maybe I did not get the story exactly right, not sure. I did read RPGs, but perhaps that was someone’s embellishment: http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/government-agency-if-9-substations-are-destroyed-the-power-grid-could-be-down-for-18-months

    This also was 5 years ago, and Obama did spend on grid. So maybe it is not quite that vulnerable now.

  14. I am not a distopian by any stretch. But if the power went out in the cities and the water stopped flowing those city and suburb people would make a mad dash to all the rural stuff (after they ransacked the local supermarket and Costco). And you would never satisfy them with the fish in your river…or not for long. There simply will not be enough food even if they took all the farms. They don’t know how to run them.

    We just need this not to happen. The grid needs to be robust. A significant fraction of homes need to have solar power….at least 1/4 and have backup electronics for it secure from EMP.

    We need all the gas stations to have solar awnings that can power the pumps and such.

    Key Internet infrastructure needs to be protected.

    Ideally, we need a good automated system that can detect when a massive solar storm will reach the Earth and disconnect all the vital transformers and such to protect them. And disconnect all the home solar attached to the grid. And you want to be able to do it quickly, so you don’t go days without electricity unnecessarily.

    This is one of many reasons I think it is important to build some underground cities. There are lots of possible radiation events or other heavy duty natural disasters. Supernova, pulsar, massive solar storm that happens to throw stuff at us, collisions between white dwarfs…

  15. So back to partying like it’s 1899?

    Seriously though, this is largely because the utilities were too cheap to put in the necessary resistors in the transformer yards to hold off a Carrington event CME, and not enough use of standardized large transformers that can roll out assembly-line fashion (utilities capturing makers such that they highly customize megatransformers, rather than standardize, even if it requires two at a site)

  16. We need to build a mega system of earthspanning tunnels to transport nuclear weapons, high speed trains, power, water, in a distributed manner underground. Modular underground cities and such. All relies on cheap digging tho. Like 10x cheaper. Tunnel boring machines the size of aircraft carriers. National security and economy all in one neat package.

  17. I do spoil Charlie the hound/retriever mix with high quality protein. He gets kibble with about a cup of meat in it. If chicken is on sale, he gets chicken. Often liver. Fish when I catch it. Leftovers. Easy to see why they domesticated themselves around us.

    That reminds me. We should eat Charman before we get too deep into the apocalypse… before he starts getting skinny.

    I could put tilapia in the swimming pool too.

    Geese. Canada geese. Hundreds of them…resident…. they no longer commute. Everybody in town could have goose for at least a month.

    How’d they do it in <<name your warzone here>>?

  18. The problem is literally EVERYTHING works off the same computers that use those.

    We now depend upon computers keeping track of everything. Also the transport industry today barely works. Everything is just in time logistics. if you have the system disrupted for a week literally tens of millions will die easy.

    And guess what the cities do when they can’t find food and water? The Locust come.

    So you COULD feed yourself….not anymore.

    As a CNC machine tool field engineer in the southeastern US, I used to see a lot of lightning damage. Spindle drives seemed to be particularly vulnerable. I used to advise customers to turn off their CNC machines during thunderstorms, since voltage transients could shut down a machine’s controls, causing expensive damage, even if the machines electrical components came through alright.
    Varistors were connected between the three phases of incoming power, and ground on some new machinery, and I offered to do the same for existing machinery. I replaced fried varistors every spring. I never saw a machine damaged by overvoltage that was protected in this way. There is no telling how many hundreds of thousands of dollars of repairs that were avoided, and it was a quick task.
    The varistors used failed as a closed circuit. This was both good, and bad. The machine would not operate until the used varistor was removed, since machine’s main breaker would immediately trip, on the other hand, you knew when your protection was gone.
    Link to article on varistors below.


  20. It might be wise to install a varistor across the terminals of every solar panel, as a precaution. They are available for a variety of voltages, and should be sized to voltages 50 to 100% above the peak voltages a circuit is likely to see. This would also help protect from lightning strikes, that are not direct hits. A direct lightning strike to an electrical component can destroy pretty much anything, even heavy gage wiring.

  21. If you move all your “thermal” loads off the grid, supplying your own electricity isn’t a huge deal. Cooking, space heating, and water heating make up the majority of a home’s energy demand in all but the warmest environments.
    Chillers that use electricity for running pumps, and fans only, based on the absorption of water vapor by zeolites, or silica gel that use hot water as their energy source are available now. They are expensive because so few are produced. With mass production, considering the cost of refrigerants, EPA approved technicians, and energy savings, they could prove to be cheaper than vapor compression. These chillers can air condition, and dehumidify, but not refrigerate food, or operate a freezer, however keeping the home cool reduces the energy used by these appliances. The source of hot water for these chillers can be a boiler used for space heating in the winter. Imagine air conditioning your home with cordwood, gotta love it.
    With electricity providing only lighting, power for electronic devices, fans, pumps, and food refrigeration averaged power demand might amount to a several hundred watts per home, certainly not more than a kiloWatt.

  22. On the food-power-survival front, our solar-panel-roof system is soon to arrive (tho’ maybe not great under EMP); I’ve got my eyes on a nice 5 kW, quiet, self-engaging battery + propane diesel generator setup (diesel runs bâhlls-out charging battery, then shuts down. Battery provides the interim, until generator again needed. Power is continuous and unbroken. Battery has enough capacity to store a day’s worth of solar.)

    Going gridless won’t be difficult in a few months. I’m actually kind of excited. Scoped the solar to be large enough to maybe-competently keep a small e-car topped up too. No long trips. But hey… that’s what they’re for. San Jose to Berkeley and back, with a half dozen well-orchestrated errands along way, just fine. 

    And food? I can (glass jars, pressure, Mason). And can, and can, and can. And I have 2 hi-efficiency deep freezers. And a dehydrator (its awesome). Can’t make jerky fast enough. Everyone gobbles it down. Especially the deer, elk, moose and steer-beef varieties. Yah, its electrically powered, but pretty low all-in-all. I have rodent-proof cereal storage bins (galvanized tight-lidded new ‘trash’ bins), with oatmeal, barley, flour, corn meal, rice, powdered milk, powdered taters, sugar; I buy molasses by the gallon, and we’ve tossed and are re-buying a set of bee boxes.  

    We’ll be OK, perhaps for 6 months. The trick — as you point out — is not showing it. And defending the castle. ⋅357 & ⋅223 mag covers.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  23. I laughed… “Dog likes them”.  We named our rescue dog “Dog”.  What’s the name of your dog? … Dog. Get all sorts of funny looks and lame comments, but people seem also to like it. Has a great also-ran excuse too, “See, everyone already knows his name!”

  24. I guess that makes a case for decentralizing the power grid… like put a hydrogen fuel cell in every house… that would make it 100% impossible to knock out power grid… you just walk out to your fuel cell car in the garage and plug it into your house power grid.

  25. I have about 10 big cans. And I have maybe 15 pounds of pasta. I have a 275 gallon tote that I got for about $100. I haven’t gotten it where I want, cleaned out, and filled with water yet…but soon. Not really enough, but it is something. There should be a delay between the power going out and the water stopping because the water is typically in a water tower on a hill for pressure. I figure I could fill it then, if I don’t already have it filled. Not the best plan, I suppose. I need to just get my act together and get it set up. So many things to do around here. Weeds have grown crazy this year. Some are growing an inch a day. One of my trees fell over and I have to deal with that too.

  26. Don’t even need an EMP to completely cripple the U.S. 9 RPGs aimed at the most critical transformers and the US electrical grid goes down for a couple months at least. And with it, all the water pumping to your faucet, all the sewage processing, possibly tainting the water you can find. Forget cell phones and landline. The pump-jacks pumping oil mostly use electricity…so without the grid, oil production will go way down. We do have an emergency supply. But it could be exhausted before power is back up. And all those gas pumps at the filling stations use electricity.

    First thing I would do is put solar on the awnings of all those stations. Solar looses only about 5% from a massive EMP. The electronics for it would need to be buried. You probably could only get gas during the day. Battery backup would just be an excessive expense. Probably get solar for the pump-jacks so at least they can pump in the day.

    Next I would get people to put plastic cisterns in their back yards. They are not expensive: $2,000-$2,500 for a 5,000 gallon cistern plus transport and getting it berried. You can live without food for a while, so long as you have water and minerals. You want magnesium, calcium, potassium, iodized salt, and zinc enough for a year. It keeps a long time as long as the bottles are not opened. And of course it is good to have a lot of canned and dried stuff. I have 4, 5 gallon food-safe buckets. Rice, pintos, masa, and popcorn (very cheap but good nutrition). 150 cans.

  27. Food? Unlikely. That would be 1892 again…but with far more people to feed and no relevant skills. And good luck in the lawless free-for-all that is not conducive to production.

    “A plausible long term nationwide blackout of the electric power grid and grid-dependent critical infrastructures—e.g., communications, public health, transportation, food-and-water supply—could disable most of our critical supply chains, leaving the U.S. in its condition prior to the advent of electric power in the 19th Century, when the national population was less than 60million, but today without many of the past skills and assets necessary for our population to survive in those conditions.
    The result could be the death of a large fraction of the American
    people through the effects of starvation, disease, and societal collapse.”


    Hope you have a lot of supplies in your bunker…and are learning Chinese. Even if the Chinese did not do it, they are opportunistic enough to take over…and call it a relief mission or something magnanimous while they make a bee line to our ore/oil and clear-cut our forests. Mexico has also been inching to take back land. Sure we bought it…but we were holding a gun to their heads while they agreed to sell.

    40% of the population lost very fast. No electricity means no water. No fuel means no transport. No transport means no food/medicine. And possibly up to 90% lost.

  28. I’d guess EMP damage would be alot like lightning damage. Large varistors on electrical services can give a lot of protection. Buying bulk varistors, and putting them in electrical boxes will too.
    If there’s some sort of warning, as there would be for a Carrington event sized CME, simply opening the main breaker on the electrical service should protect you. Isolating components from the grid would do the same for most utility electrical equipment, except perhaps the lines themselves. The huge step up transformers at power plants are the achilles heel of the grid. They can’t be replaced in any reasonable amount of time since they are not built until ordered.
    Long distance transmission lines are Wye connected, with the center of the wye grounded. This is why they are vulnerable to geomagnetic storms when the change in magnetic flux through the cable-earth loop induces huge currents in the lines. Presumably, if the lines are disconnected from the ground, they would survive.

  29. From what I heard, it would make it like 1892 again, only with a 2019 US population and, out of that 330 million, only whatever percent of the population being Amish who knows anything about pre-Industrial Age farming.

  30. That is hands down the best response from anyone to anything I’ve seen all day. xD

    So, what your’re saying… is that I’m going to have to go back to using a Walkman cassette player, over-ear headphones, Trapper-Keeper notebook folders, slap-on bracelets, paying too much for Magic cards, and Ghost in the Shell won’t be out yet?? … Skip the EMP, just nuke me. I’ll take the Hammer pants and $0.60 McDonald’s food though.

    It’s very serious, though. I know detonation of a nuclear weapon at a certain altitude creates an EMP. I’ve been whining for years that the whole world needs an infrastructure update to defend against them. I’m not sure how handy someone would have to be to create an EMP device on the ground though. Anyone?


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