Research

SERC Project Focuses on EMP Impact

In the summer of 2019, ten projects were initiated through funding from the State Energy Research Center (SERC) at the EERC. One project that was recently completed focused on the effect of natural and man-made electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) on North Dakota infrastructure.

“This project was very exciting as it gave us the opportunity to move beyond hype and Hollywood representations of EMPs and begin to truly understand the issue and the scope of its effect.”

John Kay, Principal Investigator

His project focused on identifying the potential effects of an EMP on North Dakota’s electrical grid. The EERC compiled a declassified list of available technologies and services, in relation to protection from EMPs. 

EMPs represent a significant threat to the national security of the United States. EMPs are caused by both man-made and natural phenomenon: high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (HEMPs) and geomagnetic disturbances (GMDs), respectively. Both types can cause massive harm to the electrical grid, critical communications infrastructure, and any electronic devices within the EMP’s affected zone. The electrical grid is especially susceptible because the long transmission wires of the grid act as antenna for the EMP, collecting and concentrating its energy. 

The federal government has issued directives to combat susceptibility to EMPs, beginning in 2013 with President Obama and continuing through 2019 with President Trump. The Obama order was largely to promote awareness and discussion about susceptibilities, and the Trump order establishes the roles and responsibilities of the federal government, as well as specific actions. Despite the recent efforts of the federal government to coordinate EMP protection efforts, little coordination or communication is occurring between federal and regional groups or at the regional level between critical infrastructure owners and operators, regulatory agencies, and state and local governments. Some organizations are working to understand EMPs and mitigation efforts, but utilities and other regional organizations are slower to act. The EERC project recommends that better communication be established between entities at the regional level, as well as between the regional and federal levels. 

“There is an overabundance of misinformation available to the general public that really confuses the problem and the solution,” said Kay. “The results of the work performed showed us that communication across all facets of the state, region, and country is strongly needed to reduce effects of an electromagnetic pulse on infrastructure and to keep people safe. We cannot prevent a pulse, but proper planning can reduce the effect on our lives afterward.” Follow-up work from this effort is now supporting regional conversations on EMP protection and recovery.

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