Update: Nationwide EMP Preparedness.
Let’s re-visit the current state of preparedness against an Electromagnetic Pulse, (EMP) Event that could threaten the nation’s electric grid.
The latest key reference I have for supporting the documentation of this report dates back to May of this year (2015) when 3 leading experts in EMP survival and strong advocates for securing/protecting the U.S. electric grid appeared before a Sub-Committee on National Security under the auspices of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
It should be noted that among these top experts testifying before the Government subcommittee was Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, whom many nationally-recognized authorities regard as our nation’s foremost authority on this very important subject of hardening our critical electrical infrastructures for surviving an EMP attack.
All three of these gentlemen submitted copies of written reports that summarized and supported their verbal testimony. Dr. Pry submitted a 30 page report downloadable as a PDF which succinctly offers his critical assessment of the state of EMP preparedness within the Federal and State governments and the U.S. electric utility industry.
For those interested, a most compelling video of the hearing proceedings is available for viewing here:
NO Single Agency in Charge
A recurring theme shared by all 3 witnesses giving their testimony at the Hearing on May 13 reinforced the fact that no Federal government regulatory agency can lawfully require the private electric utility companies to upgrade and protect their equipment to meet modern, technological, specifications for EMP survival. Note: the protective electronic equipment exists in off-the-shelf inventories of industry suppliers/vendors—and if not in stock, could certainly be ordered from manufacturing firms.
What does this imply? It means that within today’s legal framework there exists no central (Federal level) authority to issue mandatory requirements for the utility companies to meet and/or comply with standards that could safeguard or prevent an electric grid meltdown in an EMP event.
The agency tasked with regulating the power companies; the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has testified before Congress that it lacks the specific legislative authority that would empower it to issue mandates requiring the industry to achieve grid EMP survival capabilities and compliance standards.
In effect: The electric power industry is the only civilian critical infrastructure that is allowed to regulate itself.
Unlike the FAA, DOT, FDA or any other U.S. government regulatory agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not have legal authority to compel the industry it is supposed to regulate to act in the public interest”. (1.)
The U.S. Congress has failed to give FERC the adequate enforcement powers to compel, incentivize, mandate, levy, tax or prosecute, punish/fine electric companies for continuing to allow their portion of the grid to be completely exposed and vulnerable to an EMP catastrophe.
As a reminder, Our Congress and Representatives/Senators, as members of National Security committees formed by Congressional approval have known about the EMP survival equation at least since 2001 when a Congressional EMP Committee was organized and tasked to research our critical infrastructure vulnerability to an EMP assault on the nation’s grid.
For illustrative purposes Dr. Pry compares the regulatory power that other government agencies wield over their respective industries:
- FAA has regulatory power to compel the airlines industry to ground aircraft considered unsafe (amongst other expansive measures) on behalf of the flying public.
- DOT has regulatory power to compel the automobile industry to install safety glass on cars, seatbelts, and airbags in order to protect the lives of the driving public.
- FDA has power to regulate the quality of food and drugs, and can ban under criminal penalty the sale of products deemed by the FDA to be unsafe to the public.
So what’s keeping Congress from giving FERC the regulatory power it needs to act in the best interests of the American people’s safety?
Washington too corrupt to be trusted?
Dr. Pry has been trying to get the Federal government to get their act together on this issue ever since he served as a staff member to the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack (2001-2008).
He’s watched the politics at play and how the Washington culture operates. His report’s summary analysis indicates that the electric power industry regulatory agency as it currently exists today – namely:
And the U.S. Congress has done absolutely nothing to change this dynamic for 14 years.
So now what is the doctor’s best advice to increase our nation’s readiness/resilience for surviving an EMP terrorist assault?
“States Should Protect their own Electric Grids”
To be fair, it should be stated that some individual Senators and Congressmen and women have tried for years to remedy the dilemma posed by special interest lobbying efforts that protect corporate profits at the public’s expense.
Bipartisan bills have been introduced; the SHIELD Act and the GRID Act, to empower U.S. FERC to protect the grid from an EMP catastrophe. Lobbying by North American Electric Reliability Corporation, (NERC) the electric utility industry’s former trade association, which now continues to act as an industry lobbyist organization has stalled both bills for years. NERC is not a U.S. government agency and in practice and by charter is answerable only to its corporate “stakeholders”— “including NERC’s highly salaried executives and staff”.
The 3 experts testifying before the congressional subcommittee have witnessed firsthand the dysfunctional, political process for years and the arguably too-cozy and incestuous relationship between FERC and NERC. Non-regulated by measures that have real teeth to enforce compliance, the utilities along with their highly paid attorneys have obstructed regulatory measures that would and should require this recalcitrant industry to upgrade and harden the most critical infrastructure on which our nation’s industry, commerce and people’s lives depend.
The troubling NERC-FERC arrangement is a crony-capitalist formula that continues to thwart effective U.S. Government regulation of the electric power industry. Fortunately, Governors, State Legislatures and their Public Utility Commissions have legal power to compel utilities to protect the grid from natural and nuclear EMP and other cyber-terrorist threats.
There is growing evidence that at least among a few States such as New York, Massachusetts (mainly as a response in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy—and not predicated on EMP survival per-se) and Arizona legislation is at work requiring their regional utilities to come to grips with the necessary prerequisites for improving EMP grid survivability. Some specific utility companies are taking steps to EMP-harden their electrical equipment voluntarily.
While it is laudable that some progress is being made…
The bottom line is that the people and the States cannot trust NERC and U.S. FERC to protect the national electric grid from natural EMP. They probably cannot trust NERC and the U.S. FERC to protect the grid from anything.
States should protect their own electric grids, and their people who depend upon the grid for survival, from the worst threat–nuclear EMP attack–so they will be ready for everything”. (2.)
Blog Author Commentary: WAKE-UP CALL!
After months of studying this issue for the ProtectGrid web site, (and having read both books published by Dr. Pry warning about the EMP threat), I feel obligated to offer my opinion on the advisability/non-advisability of acting on the recommendations reached by this expert’s testimony presented at this Congressional hearing.
Keep in mind the relative low probability of an EMP strike ever occurring. Yet the potential for a colossal disaster remains. An EMP surprise attack that cripples the Eastern U.S. grid would put the lives of millions of our citizens at risk. Vetted military and scientific authorities have known this for decades.
We haven’t even examined the other dangers imposed by electronic warfare technologies and cyber terrorism that could threaten the nation’s critical infrastructures.
Dr. Pry and his colleagues have attempted to inform and influence U.S. legislators to enact the SHIELD and GRID Acts. Frustrated by Federal bureaucracy ineptitude, Dr. Pry now sees the State legislatures, Governors and public utilities as the citizen’s best hope for EMP-protecting the grid.
That sounds good on paper. Unfortunately, the same sort of politics that has grid-locked Washington could stymy the States as well.
Surviving an EMP may come down to local community preparedness and ultimately what we individually do for ourselves and our families. Expecting our Representatives to enact measures to SHIELD the GRID has been a non-starter so far.
Become pro-active. What are YOU doing to reduce your home’s total dependency on grid-tied energy?
(1.), (2): All quoted text appearing in this article is from Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, Statement for the Record, Joint Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, Subcommittee on The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Rayburn HOB Room 2247
May 13, 2015