Friday, July 31, 2015

S 1846 Introduced – EMP Protection

Last week Sen. Johnson (R,WI) introduced S 1846, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) of 2015. In my initial post about the introduction of this bill I commented that it might be a companion bill to HR 1073; that is not the case even though they share a common title. This bill requires more extensive activities from DHS than just consider electromagnetic pulse events (natural and man-made) in federal planning scenarios.

The bill starts off by adding a definition of ‘EM Threat’ to 6 USC 101 which encompasses electromagnetic pulses caused both by manmade actions and natural events. It then adds a new paragraph to 6 USC 121(d) requiring DHS to develop a “strategy to protect and prepare the critical infrastructure of the American homeland against EM threats, including from acts of terrorism” {new §121(d)(26)(A)(i)}.

It then goes on to add two new sections to the Homeland Security Act of 2002:

SEC. 318. EM threat research and development.
SEC. 526. National planning frameworks and education.


The new §318 would require DHS S&T to conduct research and development to mitigate the consequences of EM threats. That research would include {new §318(b)}:

An objective scientific analysis of the risks to critical infrastructures from a range of EM threats;
Determination of the critical national security assets and vital civic utilities and infrastructures that are at risk from EM threats;
An evaluation of emergency planning and response technologies that would address the findings and recommendations of experts, including those of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack;
An analysis of technology options that are available to improve the resiliency of critical infra- structure to EM threats;
The restoration and recovery capabilities of critical infrastructure under differing levels of damage and disruption from various EM threats;
An analysis of the feasibility of a real-time alert system to inform electric grid operators and other stakeholders within milliseconds of a high-altitude nuclear explosion.


The planning requirements under the new §526 are very similar to those found in HR 1073. It would require the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate to:

Include EM threats in national planning frameworks; and
Conduct outreach to educate owners and operators of critical infrastructure, emergency planners, and emergency response providers at all levels of government regarding EM threats.

Restricting DHS Activity

The final two sections of the bill limit the ability of DHS to effectively complete any of the above actions. Section 4 specifically denies DHS any regulatory authority to advance EMP protections. Section 5 specifically requires DHS to execute the actions discussed above with funds currently appropriated to the Department.

Moving Forward

Johnson is the Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee so he certainly has the political pull to move this bill forward. In fact, the bill was marked up in a Committee business meeting this week. Unfortunately, because the way the Senate does their business the substitute language adopted by the Committee is not posted to the Committee web site like we see in the House. This means that we will have to wait for the Committee Report on the bill to see what changes were made.

It will be interesting to see if Johnson is interested enough in this bill to put his political will forth to move the bill to the floor of the Senate. If it gets there, this bill will likely be passed by a bipartisan majority since it deals with a potentially catastrophic event, but does not require new regulations, nor will it cost any new money.


EMP threats are the classic black swan event; absolutely catastrophic consequences but very low probability of occurrence. A cataclysmic geomagnetic storm has about the same probability of happening as a major comet/asteroid strike on the Earth. The difference between the two type of events is significant; we will see a comet/asteroid strike coming and may be able to take actions to prevent the strike. Any warning for a geomagnetic storm will be quite short.

The problem of a man-made EMP event of national significance has been widely overblown. Yes a properly designed nuclear weapon detonation very high over the heartland would very likely result in a catastrophic national-level EMP event. Fortunately, the old Cold War, strategy for preventing such an event is still in place; mutually assured destruction. Long before the weapon reached it detonation point, the massive counterstrike of our nuclear triad would be in route to the country that launched that missile. There are much more deniable methods for our nuclear missile capable adversaries to take out our electric grid infrastructure.

The other main problem with the current efforts to protect the Homeland against a catastrophic EMP event is that they are quite frankly a waste of time. Even if we were able to protect the electric grid from such an event (a very expensive and technologically iffy proposition at best) it would still not stop the virtual destruction of our country. That is because an EMP event of the requisite magnitude would also destroy almost every civilian (and many military) microprocessors in the country. No modern vehicles would be running, no communications would be functioning, no distribution systems would be operating, almost all modern electronic gadgets, widgets and dodads would be dead because their microelectronic circuits would be fried beyond redemption. It would be the ‘end of civilization as we know it’. And the scope of that electronic cataclysm gets worse every day as the internet of things expands.

I am much more concerned about the tactical level EMP event like that seen in the Oceans 11 (2001 remake) movie. A portable electromagnetic device is used to create a localized EMP event. The resulting local chaos would then be used to cover a more common type of terror attack that would be made more effective by a very reduced response due to the lack of communication and physical response capability. But even this type of event is currently at almost the science fiction level possibility, these types of devices would be large, cumbersome and require a large energy source.

Having said all of that, I understand the congressional fascination with EMP events. They are conceivably a societal level cataclysm and no one wants history to record that they did not attempt to do something to prevent them. Unfortunately, because no funding is made available for the work required, this bill will only take resources away from other problems that have a much higher probability of occurrence and it will do nothing to mitigate the underlying EMP problem.

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