Tag Archives: electrical grid

Puerto Rico’s Electrical Problems a Sign of Things to Come

The media glosses over the root cause that inhibit attempts to rebuild Puerto Rico after the ravages of the latest hurricane. It’s important to understand that cause, because the same mistakes could someday affect the entire United States.

While some circulate an incorrect narrative that the Trump Administration was less enthusiastic about addressing Puerto Rico than either Florida or Houston, the truth is rather different.

Washington has provided a substantial amount of assistance. According to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, “Puerto Rico officials continue to work closely with the Defense Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and with state partners through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact…We have over 12,000 — almost 13,000 — DoD personnel in Puerto Rico, over 4,000 Puerto Rico National Guard and EMACs together. There’s an expectation of 3,000 more to come to Puerto Rico in the next couple of weeks as well. The U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USS Comfort, has also been sent to the Island. The Department of Health and Human Services is using the Emergency Prescription Assistance program to provide care for upwards of 500,000 residents.”

Some have described the Pentagon’s efforts as “Militarizing” the reconstruction effort, a move necessary because in a number of the Island’s 78 municipalities, local officials have failed to provide an efficient effort.

Clearly, however, Puerto Rico’s recovery is not moving as rapidly as that of Florida or Houston. The reasons have to do with both geography and politics.

The most obvious fact is that Puerto Rico is, of course, an island, so transportation from the mainland must face an additional hurdle. The ability of nongovernmental assistance, the extraordinary efforts of private citizens who came from states adjacent to Texas and Florida,  to rush to the aid of those in need is very sharply reduced. The complications do not end there.  As noted in the official Puerto Rico website,  unlike the flatlands of Houston and Florida,  “The island of Puerto Rico has surprising geographical diversity with some 60% of the island’s terrain being very hilly… The top four highest mountains in Puerto Rico are Cerro Punta, Rosa, Guilarte and the Tres Picachos. They range from 3093 to 4389 ft. The mountainous interior is formed by the Cordillera Central Range and this is formed by a central mountain chain ranging from Mayaguez to Aibonito.”

But politics, and bad planning, have a lot to do with the ongoing plight, as well.

President Obama’s stimulus cost $792 billion dollars. Supposedly, $41.4 billion went to energy programs, including $4.4 billion to modernize the electrical grid.  Puerto Rico received about $6.5 billion of that.  The question is: Why were critical energy needs, both in Puerto Rico and nationwide, left totally unaddressed?  Throughout the United States, the crucial issue of protecting the electrical grid from an EMP attack was ignored.  In Puerto Rico, protecting the island’s fragile and outdated electrical infrastructure from the effects of a hurricane was not addressed. Despite all that, President Obama claimed he couldn’t find “shovel ready jobs” to invest his stimulus dollars in.  Those funds, instead, went to sources that provided less benefit to the economy than they did to the political fortunes of the Obama Administration.

Recently, The Hill  noted that “Puerto Rico was a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance long before the added misery wrought by Hurricane Maria, which exposed to the world what was there to be seen all along: an island ill-prepared for a sunny day, much less a stormy one. For at least a decade, the media has been sounding the alarm about the crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement of Puerto Rico. But it all fell on deaf ears. Let’s flashback to August 2014, when Reuters reporter Luciana Lopez showed that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority was teetering on insolvency. The power company relied too heavily on expensive oil and was plagued by aging infrastructure dating back to the 1960s, a bloated workforce, and a billing system that was arbitrary and difficult to justify.”

For far too long, critical electrical infrastructure problems have been ignored. This challenge includes both the facilities themselves, and the security surrounding them.

Rebecca Smith, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reported:

“The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes. Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored.”

Add to that analysis the near-imminent threat of an EMP attack by North Korea or other potential opponent, which could, quite literally, destroy all electrical generating capacity in the nation for well over a year, resulting in devastating casualties.

Beyond security, America’s electrical infrastructure is simply outdated. The American Society of Civil Engineers  reveals that “Much of the U.S. energy system predates the turn of the 21st century. Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states’ power grids are at full capacity. Energy infrastructure is undergoing increased investment to ensure long-term capacity and sustainability; in 2015, 40% of additional power generation came from natural gas and renewable systems. Without greater attention to aging equipment, capacity bottlenecks, and increased demand, as well as increasing storm and climate impacts, Americans will likely experience longer and more frequent power interruptions.”

Puerto Rico’s dilemma may be a harbinger of things to come.

The Imminent EMP Threat

Even as North Korea and Iran move closer to the ability to launch an ICBM against the American homeland, there is a tendency to underestimate the catastrophic effects even a single nuclear warhead could produce.

The commonly-known scenario is one in which a limited nuclear strike devastates a single target or set of targets but leaves the majority of the U.S. population untouched. However, just one atomic bomb, exploded at the right altitude, can produce an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would destroy all electrical and computer systems throughout the nation.

The effects would be calamitous.  Without power, and without the means to move people and goods (an EMP would also render all trains, planes, and automobiles useless, since all those modes of transportation rely on both electronics and computer systems) or the means to pump water, the vast majority of Americans, estimates indicate approximately 90%, would die of starvation and thirst within a relatively short period of time. Those dependent on the miracles of modern medicine, including pacemakers and other devices, would face an even quicker death.  It would take decades to replace the destroyed power structure.

The federal EMP Commission warns that “The high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result in defeat of our military forces… What is different now is that some potential sources of EMP threats are difficult to deter—they can be terrorist groups that have no state identity, have only one or a few weapons, and are motivated to attack the US without regard for their own safety. Rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, may also be developing the capability to pose an EMP threat to the United States, and may also be unpredictable and difficult to deter…Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic EMP effects over wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century.”

Incredibly, despite the fact that it would take less than $10 billion to protect the power grid, (the technology is readily available and comparatively simple) the Obama Administration has chosen not to move ahead with the project. That figure would have been just a small fraction of the President $800 billion stimulus package, much of which was essentially wasted because he alleged that he couldn’t find “shovel ready jobs.”

A study by the Gatestone Institute found that “…an EMP attack from a single 10-kiloton nuclear weapon — of the type now in North Korea’s arsenal — could cause cascading failures…An EMP, detonated at an altitude above 30-70 kilometers, could be delivered by a short-range missile fired off a freighter, hundreds of kilometers off U.S. shores.”

While protecting the U.S. from this sort of attack is not on the President’s agenda, America’s adversaries have given this type of assault serious thought. Gatestone reports: “In 1999…at a high level meeting in Vienna of a Congressional delegation with senior members of the Russian government, Vladimir Lukin, the chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, angry with American policy in the Balkans, issued the following threat: ‘If we really wanted to hurt you with no fear of retaliation, we would launch a Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), [and] we would detonate a nuclear weapon high above your country and shut down your power grid.”

The Wall Street Journal  has reported that “During the Cold War, Russia designed an orbiting nuclear warhead resembling a satellite and peaceful space-launch vehicle called a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System. It would use a trajectory that does not approach the U.S. from the north, where our sensors and few modest ballistic-missile defenses are located, but rather from the south. The nuclear weapon would be detonated in orbit, perhaps during its first orbit, destroying much of the U.S. electric grid with a single explosion high above North America. In 2004, the EMP Commission met with senior Russian military personnel who warned that Russian scientists had been recruited by North Korea to help develop its nuclear arsenal as well as EMP-attack capabilities. In December 2012, the North Koreans successfully orbited a satellite, the KSM-3, compatible with the size and weight of a small nuclear warhead. The trajectory of the KSM-3 had the characteristics for delivery of a surprise nuclear EMP attack against the U.S……In 2009 the congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States …concurred with the findings of the EMP Commission and urged immediate action to protect the electric grid. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Intelligence Council reached similar conclusions.”

While defense policy is always fraught with contentious politics, the need to protect the nation from EMP could arise from a natural occurrence—and one that may occur soon. National Geographic  notes that during 1859, the Sun was in a “solar maximum” phase similar to one it is presently entering. “That storm has been dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth…In addition, the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment—some bad enough to set fires, said Ed Cliver, a space physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world’s high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt.’What’s at stake,’ the Space Weather Prediction Center’s Bogdan said, ‘are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives.”

Astronomers believe that a similar solar megaflare is already overdue.

THE GROWING EMP THREAT

Congress is beginning to pay significant attention to the potential–some would say likely–threat of an electromagnetic pulse devastating the economy, health, and safety of the United States.

 WHAT IS EMP?

 The Congressional Research Service describes Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) as “an instantaneous, intense energy field that can overload or disrupt at a distance numerous electrical systems and high technology microcircuits, which are especially sensitive to power surges. A large scale EMP effect can be produced by a single nuclear explosion detonated high in the atmosphere. This method is referred to as High-Altitude EMP (HEMP). A similar, smaller-scale EMP effect can be created using non-nuclear devices with powerful batteries or reactive chemicals. This method is called High Power Microwave (HPM). Several nations, including reported sponsors of terrorism, may currently have a capability to use EMP as a weapon for cyber warfare or cyber terrorism to disrupt communications and other parts of the U.S. critical infrastructure. Also, some equipment and weapons used by the U.S. military may be vulnerable to the effects of EMP. The threat of an EMP attack against the United States is hard to assess, but some observers indicate that it is growing along with worldwide access to newer technologies and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

 The impact of EMPs was noticed during the 1960’s, when both the Soviet Union and the United States conducted above ground nuclear tests.

  An EMP can also come from unusual solar activity, as recently reported in aNational Geographic report. A very modest version of EMP-type issues occurred last February, when a solar flare interfered with GPS signals and radio communications.

  In the past, however, more significant solar activity has occurred which would, if it happened today, significantly damage or destroy much of our modern infrastructure. According to the National Geographic Report,

  “The biggest solar storm on record happened in 1859. That storm has been dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth… the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment.

 “In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world’s high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt…What’s at stake are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives.”

 WND analysis provides a further example: “Even as far back as 1921, solar flares interfered with man’s technology.At 7:04 a.m. on May 15, 1921, the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th Street shut down due to a ‘solar event.’ At the same time in Sweden, a telephone station was ‘burned out,’ and the solar storm interfered with telephone, telegraph and cable traffic over most of Europe.”

  The nuclear weapon scenario is becoming increasingly likely, particularly since the cuts to the anti-ballistic missile program instituted by the Obama Administration. The devastation doesn’t have to come from a full-scale nuclear attack.  A single well placed weapon, delivered by a smaller national source such as Iran or North Korea, or even a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda, could produce a devastating result.

 THE EFFECTS OF EMP

 Consider the effects of both the electrical grid and portable electronics being shattered until wholly new equipment could be manufactured and emplaced:

  •   Reservoirs would be incapable of pumping water.
  • Planes, trains, trucks and autos, all of which now depend upon electronics, would be incapable moving.
  • Deliveries of food and medicine would cease.
  • Emergency vehicles, police cars, and even military equipment would be rendered harmless.
  • Hospitals would be incapable of servicing patients beyond a few primitive functions.
  • Heating and cooling systems would be inoperable.
  • Communications by radio, television, and telephone would be eliminated.

According to a Washington Free Beacon study quoting Dr. Peter Pry of the Congressional EMP Commission and Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, “an EMP event could wipe out 90 percent of America’s population.”

 In response to the threat, Rep. Trent Franks,(R-AZ), who has introduced H.R. 3410, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act:

  “The threat of an electromagnetic pulse weapon represents the single greatest asymmetric capability that could fall into the hands of America’s enemies. Should a nuclear weapon from a rogue state such as Iran be detonated in Earth’s atmosphere at a sufficient height above the continental United States, the blast of electromagnetic energy could immediately cripple America’s electric power grid. Currently, the vast majority of the United States’ infrastructure is unsecured and exposed.

 “According to some experts, just one properly placed EMP blast could disable so large a swath of American technology that between 70-90% of the United States’ population could become unsustainable.

 “The danger posed by electromagnetic pulse weapons, as well as naturally occurring electromagnetic pulses, has received increased attention over recent years from organizations including NASA, the National Association of Scientists, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

 On May 8, The House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Infrastructure Protection  held a hearing to discuss the potential crisis.  Rep. Franks testified that “catastrophic civilian casualties” could be caused by an EMP.

  At a NASA forum held in 2010, Dr. William Fortschen stressed that an “EMP event could result in a civilian casualty rate of upwards of 90% within year due to the breakdown of water, sanitation, medical and food distribution systems, along with the breakdown of social order, law enforcement, and command and control.”

 The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack notes:

 “Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the

United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication.

 “EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of

catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.

“The common element that can produce such an impact from EMP is primarily

electronics, so pervasive in all aspects of our society and military, coupled through critical infrastructures. Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow. The impact of EMP is asymmetric in relation to potential protagonists who are not as dependent on modern electronics. The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”

 

 Following an EMP attack, water from reservoir’s could not be transported to population centers

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

 The Center for Security Policy has extensively reviewed numerous governmental studies discussing EMP.  In its recent publication entitled “Guilty knowledge: what the U.S. government knows about the vulnerability of the electrical grid, but refuses to fix” it quotes the Final Report of the Congressional Committee on the strategic posture of the United States:

 “The United States should take steps to reduce the vulnerability of the nation and its military to attacks with weapons designed to produce electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects…From a technical perspective, it is possible that such attacks could have catastrophic consequences…Prior commissions have investigated U.S. vulnerabilities and found little activity under way to address them.  Some limited defensive measures have been ordered by the Department of Defense to give some protection to important operational communications.  But EMP vulnerabilities have not yet been addressed effectively by the Department of Homeland Security.  Doing so could take several years.  The EMP Commission has recommended numerous measures that would mitigate the damage that might be wrought by an EMP attack.”

State governments could play a role in EMP hardening within their borders, but most have not.  According to a Heritage Foundation  report,

 “…state and local governments remain poorly prepared for an EMP attack. A 2007 survey of state adjutant generals, the officials responsible for overseeing National Guard units, found that few states were prepared for an EMP attack. The survey, conducted by the Institute of the North in conjunction with the Claremont Institute, found that although 96 percent of adjutant generals surveyed indicated that they were concerned with the threat posed by an EMP attack, few had analyzed the actual impact details of an EMP attack. Furthermore, few of the adjutant generals surveyed indicated that they had made preparations, such as training, EMP hardening of systems, and the creation of formal emergency response plans for an EMP attack. Overall, most states have not taken action to address vulnerabilities to EMP attacks.”

 The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack has made the following recommendations:

   “It will not be possible to reduce the incentives for an EMP attack to an acceptable level of risk through defensive protection measures alone.  It is possible to achieve an acceptable level of risk and reduced invitation to an EMP attack with a strategy of:

 Pursuing intelligence, interdiction, and deterrence to discourage EMP attack against the US and its interests;

 Protecting critical components of the infrastructure, with particular emphasis on those that, if damaged, would require long periods of time to repair or replace;

 Maintaining the capability to monitor and evaluate the condition of critical infrastructures;

 Recognizing an EMP attack and understanding how it effects differ from other forms of infrastructure disruption and damage;

 Planning and carrying out a systematic recovery of critical infrastructures training, evaluating ‘red teaming,’ and periodically reporting to Congress;

 Defining the federal governments responsibility and authority to act, and conducting research to better understand infrastructure system effects and developing cost-effective solutions to manage these effects.

 “The cost for such improved security … is modest by any standard-and extremely so in relation to both the war on terror and the value of the national infrastructures involved. Costs at later times may be adjusted to deal with the then-apparent threat and future levels of effort required.”

 CONCLUSION

 According to various estimates, the price tag cost to protect the nation’s entire electrical grid would be $1 billion to $2 billion; some estimates indicate that protecting  all of the nation’s essential resources could cost $100 billion.  When one considers that President Obama’s Stimulus package cost over $700 billion, that is an affordable figure to counter so vast a threat.