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A Presidential Executive Order Directs Action on EMP Attacks

As we move forward in the 21st century, it's increasingly important that the United States protects itself from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber-based attacks. These threats are real, and there is a possibility we could fall victim to an EMP attack in the future.

On March 26, 2019, President Trump signed an Executive Order in an effort to protect the United States from EMP attacks and raise the level of overall resiliency within our intelligent infrastructure to a higher level.

From Section 1 of the Executive Order: “Purpose. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) has the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems. Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity, and could adversely affect global commerce and stability. The Federal Government must foster sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the Nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs.”

An EMP can take out all vehicles, electronics, computers, networks and machinery that do not have shielded electronics. In an instant, our society could lose its modern technology and conveniences and set our communications, data storage, transportation, defense and more back 250 years.

EMP attacks were a big concern in the Cold War, and many facilities, including data centers, were reinforced with protective shielding to withstand a strike like that. After the Cold War, many military strategists wrote off that this type of attack would ever occur. Now, with this Executive Order, it's apparent they are rethinking their approach to protecting our infrastructure.

In the event of an EMP-caused failure or disruption of an unshielded system, there should be an automated switchover to a redundant system or subsystem to ensure business continuity. Day-to-day operations should not stop as we depend on too many mission-critical applications throughout many different industries today.

Building a higher level of resiliency

The United States needs to better prepare to address these types of attacks. If our infrastructure is not fully insulated from an EMP attack, it is at risk.

From the Executive Order, Section 3: “It is the policy of the United States to prepare for the effects of EMPs through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement. The Federal Government must provide warning of an impending EMP; protect against, respond to, and recover from the effects of an EMP through public and private engagement, planning, and investment; and prevent adversarial events through deterrence, defense, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. To achieve these goals, the Federal Government shall engage in risk-informed planning, prioritize research and development (R&D) to address the needs of critical infrastructure stakeholders, and, for adversarial threats, consult Intelligence Community assessments.”

Our whole platform for commerce should be well-insulated from these types of attacks and forced disruptions. We cannot afford our economy to be stagnated or completely wiped out.

Setting the standards in motion

The Executive Order details the need to put this whole issue into a framework where both public- (federal, state and local) and private-sector officials need to work with one another in developing, maintaining and applying the framework of getting this initiative done to protect our infrastructure.

Within the Executive Order, Section 6: Implementation: “Within 1 year of the date of this order, and as appropriate thereafter, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the heads of other agencies and the private sector, as appropriate, shall review existing standards for EMPs and develop or update, as necessary, quantitative benchmarks that sufficiently describe the physical characteristics of EMPs, including waveform and intensity, in a form that is useful to and can be shared with owners and operators of critical infrastructure.”

Formalizing this critical need as an ongoing initiative is a good first step in an area that we have been very lax in understanding the true threat to our economy, as well as our way of life.

Electrical contractors can help in this initiative. Be on the lookout for greater opportunities to help protect the integrity of the United States' infrastructure and systems.

About the Author

James Carlini

Contributing Editor

James Carlini, MBA, is a strategist for mission-critical networks, technology and intelligent infrastructure. He has been the president of Carlini & Associates since 1986. He is author of "LOCATION LOCATION CONNECTIVITY," a visionary book on the...

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