It’s REAL: Concern growing over potential EMP attack against our electric grid, as evidenced by the attention it’s receiving from government and industry

( The potential for an electromagnetic pulse event that would knock our country back into the 18th century must be very, very real because experts in government and private industry continue to discuss it and, presumably, plan for it.

As recently as this week, in fact, testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs by a representative from the power industry said that companies are studying ways to protect the power grid against a high-altitude nuclear blast and other directed energy attacks that would severely disrupt or destroy the grid.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, industry rep Scott Aaronson, managing director for cyber and infrastructure security at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), told the Senate panel that a consortium of U.S. power companies is working the Energy Department to examine ways to protect the grids from an EMP event caused by a nuclear blast, or from solar flares, each of which would result in massive damage to transformers and other electric components, resulting in power loss for tens of millions of Americans.

“There are a lot of threats to the grid … from squirrels to nation states,” Aaronson said in testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “And frankly, there have been more blackouts as a result of squirrels [gnawing wire insulation] than there are from nation states.”

Still, that doesn’t mean that EMP threats aren’t real and aren’t growing.

The hearing was convened to examine threats to critical infrastructure – from cyber attacks and criminal activities, to terrorist sabotage and nation-state nuclear attacks. Aaronson, whose institute represents every investor-owned electric company, said in his testimony that EMP is a real concern and could definitely come from a nuclear attack or directed energy weapon.

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The WFB reported further:

The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, a group of chief executives from 21 electric companies and nine major industry associations, is working with the Energy Department to examine the threat. Aaronson, the council’s secretary, stated that the threat study is based on research done by the Pentagon and national laboratories.

“This project is designed to enhance our understanding of system impact should such an attack occur and to explore the effectiveness of mitigation strategies, including hardening and recovery,” Aaronson said in prepared testimony. “The project will allow grid-specific research to inform the application of technologies that will increase grid resilience and accelerate recovery.”


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The research comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office study released in March that urged greater effort to deal with the eventuality of an EMP attack against the power grid. That report said the Energy Department and the Department of Homeland Security should work more closely with electric companies to shore up the grid with better protection.

The GAO report concluded that “DHS and DOE, in conjunction with industry, have not established a coordinated approach to identifying and implementing key risk management activities to address EMP risks.”

EMP is the electric wave produced by nuclear blasts that is capable of knocking out electronics up to 1,000 miles away. The disruption could cause catastrophic damage and loss of life if power is not restored or backed up, the WFB noted.

Earlier estimates have said that an EMP attack that knocked out a sizeable portion of the U.S. power grid would result in tens of millions of deaths – from loss of power, but also from the social chaos that would result in the aftermath of that loss of power.

The best method of mitigating such an attack is prevention, Aaronson said, noting that duty falls to American law enforcement, the military and U.S. intelligence agencies. Also, he noted, the list of countries capable of launching such a strike are small and well-known. They include Russia and China, for sure, but also Iran and North Korea, the latter of which are developing such capabilities.

Aaronson said the main threat to the electric grid is the disruption of the power transmission system involving some 35,000 substations that he described as a “soft target.”

“The threats continue to evolve,” he said.

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