Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Homeland Security Committee Reports HR 1073

Before leaving Washington for the summer recess, the House Homeland Security Committee filed their report on HR 1073, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA). There are no changes to the bill beyond what I already reported, but there is some discussion about the one controversy surrounding the bill.

EMP vs Geomagnetic Storm

Section 2(a) of the revised bill amends 6 USC 101 by adding the definition of ‘EMP’. That definition includes both intentional man made electromagnetic pulse events and geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar storms.

On page 7 of the Committee Report there is a discussion about the difference between the two types of events. It clearly states that:

“The committee is aware of the concerns of industry in the possible confusion between pulses caused by intentional means, such as a high altitude nuclear weapon detonation, and those caused by natural phenomena such as solar storms. The magnitude and the temporal duration of the energy released are very different.”

Ranking Member Thompson (D,MS), in his ‘additional view’ response to the report on page 19, further explains the distinction between the two types of events this way:

“An EMP event is manmade and expected to impact all microprocessors. A GMD is naturally-occurring and expected to impact primarily bulk power and communication systems.”

This, of course means that the mitigation measures undertaken to lessen the effects of the two types of events will be different. They will both need to provide similar protections of the electric grid, but an EMP event would also have to protect a much wider variety (and much larger number) of electronic devices throughout the country to be effective.

Moving Forward

Because the bill allows no regulatory action or the spending of any new money this bill passed in Committee by a voice vote, even considering Thompson’s concerns. I would expect this bill to see the same bipartisan support on the floor of the House where it will almost certainly be considered under the ‘suspension of the rules’ process with limited debate and no amendments. There is a very good chance that this bill will reach the floor before the end of the fiscal year even with everything else that will be going on the House.


While the Committee noted that the intent of their EMP definition was to “keep these electromagnetic pulse initiating events distinct and separate, as well as the resulting impact on critical infrastructure such as the electric power grid” (pg 7) it would seem to me that defining the two terms separately and requiring planning and research activities to address both types of events would have made that distinction clearer.

This is not just a semantic distinction. It may be possible to protect the electric grid from a geomagnetic storm (GMS) event, or at least provide adequate spare parts to get substantial parts of the grid back into operation in a reasonable time after such an event. All it would take is large sums of money. The problem with a large scale EMP event is that while many of those same grid protection measures may be useable to mitigate an EMP event’s effect on the grid, the larger problem of the destruction of nearly all electronic devices within line of site of the nuclear device initiating the EMP event cannot practically be mitigated.

Smaller scale, non-nuclear EMP attacks (like that shown in the movie Oceans Eleven), are of course a different matter. Their small scale and relatively limited impact would still be much more difficult to mitigate than a similar scale GMS event, again because of the simultaneous destruction of microprocessor based devices. But, depending on the size of the device used, it may be possible to throw enough money at the problem after the attack to allow for a reasonable recovery.

This bill will move to the Senate in its current form. There is a remote chance that it will be revised by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee before it comes to a floor vote, but I suspect that it will move straight to consideration on the floor of the Senate by unanimous consent.

This means that we will have to rely on DHS to make a reasonable distinction between these two types of events. Hopefully they would use their limited resources (again no new resources are being authorized in this bill) to concentrate on the GMS threat and pretty much ignore the EMP event. Spending any time or money on the EMP threat will achieve nothing but detracting from other work on more likely threats.

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