Federal Agencies Have Taken Actions to Address Electromagnetic Risks, but Opportunities Exist to Further Assess Risks and Strengthen Collaboration
Given the interdependency among infrastructure sectors, an EMP or major GMD event that disrupts the electric grid could also result in potential cascading impacts on fuel distribution, transportation systems, food and water supplies, and communications and equipment for emergency services, as well as other communication systems that utilize the civilian electrical infrastructure.
In addition to manmade EMPs, naturally occurring solar weather events of sufficient intensity can also cause electromagnetic impacts similar to the E3 pulse that can adversely affect components of the commercial electric grid, as well as other infrastructure such as satellites and undersea cables. The resulting impact of solar weather is commonly referred to as a geomagnetic disturbance (GMD). Page 8 GAO-16-243 Electromagnetic Threats 13 In 1989, a GMD caused wide-scale impacts on the Hydro-Quebec power system in Canada which caused this regional electric grid to collapse within 92 seconds and left 6 million customers without power for up to 9 hours.
Although DHS components have independently conducted some efforts to assess electromagnetic risks, DHS has not fully leveraged opportunities to collect key risk inputs—namely threat, vulnerability, and consequence information—to inform comprehensive risk assessments of electromagnetic events. Within DHS, there is recognition that space weather and power grid failure are significant risk events, which DHS officials have determined pose great risk to the security of the nation.
Electromagnetic risks caused by a man-made electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or a naturally occurring solar weather event could have a significant impact on the nation’s electric grid as well as other infrastructure sectors that depend on electricity, such as communications. The impact of these events could lead to power outages over broad geographic areas for extended durations.
According to experts, a nuclear EMP is the burst of electromagnetic radiation resulting from the detonation of a nuclear device, which can disrupt or destroy electronic equipment. Nonnuclear EMP weapons can also be designed to intentionally disrupt electronics, but these generally have short range and are not a threat to multiple assets. In addition to manmade EMPs, naturally occurring solar weather events of sufficient intensity can also cause electromagnetic impacts that can adversely affect components of the commercial electric grid, as well as other infrastructure such as satellites and undersea cables.