Coyle Studios, 2015

EMP Executive Order & Self-Funding Resilient Microgrids

The U.S. government published two landmark emergency management policies in March 2019. The first was the update of the 2015/2016 Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan released from the Office of the President. DomPrep published an article on 15 June 2016 describing how the strategy and action plan affected disaster and emergency operations planning. Then, on 26 March 2019, the Federal Register published the Executive Order of the President 13865 (EO 13865), entitled “Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses,” which outlines the threats to the national (and global), economic, as well as health and safety security.

Section 1 of EO 13865 describes the critical nature of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), its potential destructive properties, and the federal government’s duty to act:

[An 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.

A New U.S. Policy

The new policy of the U.S. government is to “coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private sector engagement” to “protect against” the “effects of EMPs” that include space weather effects. For example, Section 2b of EO 13865 states, “A geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) is a type of natural EMP driven by a temporary disturbance of Earth’s magnetic field resulting from interactions with solar eruptions.” The practical effect for the emergency planning community is that the community must consider mitigation and response for the all-of-infrastructure impacts of EMP and GMD, including months-long power outages and worst-case scenarios that cannot be overlooked:

Sec. 3. Policy. (a) 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 … protect against, respond to, and recover from the effects of an EMP through public and private engagement, planning, and investment….

(b) … The Federal Government shall also provide incentives, as appropriate, to private-sector partners to encourage innovation that strengthens critical infrastructure against the effects of EMPs….

(h) The heads of all SSAs, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall … enhance preparedness for the effects of EMPs, to identify and share vulnerabilities, and to work collaboratively to reduce vulnerabilities.

(i) The heads of all agencies that support National Essential Functions shall ensure that their all-hazards preparedness planning sufficiently addresses EMPs, including through mitigation, response, and recovery.

Community Response

These reports remind emergency planners of their need to revisit emergency plans to see how they would function despite outages that could last months if not years. The first question is whether the emergency management community can embrace that challenge and consider solutions or overreact in denial that is typical of what some are calling “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”

The next question is, “What will business and state and local government do on their own over the next nine months as the first eight of sixteen (EO 13865) requirements are fulfilled by the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Defense (DoD), and Energy (DOE)?”

In the last several years, a series of other studies have shown that it is possible to mitigate these risks with microgrids, many of which could be funded out of energy and operational savings that they create. As a local system of distributed energy resources and electrical loads that can operate as a single entity either in parallel to the commercial grid or independently, the nature of microgrids makes it possible to enhance resilience through redundancy as well as flexibility through adaptability and modularity both initially and over time. Although no microgrids to date are known to be protected from EMP, discussions have been taking place over the last couple of years about creating EMP-resilient microgrids as SBIR Phase III commercialization implementation of solutions for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) call for EMP-protected microgrid systems. Some of these projects are hoped to launch in 2019.

Microgrids need to be protected from electromagnetic and cyber threats or they do not do much good and may do more harm to the extent that they are interconnected (see Dr. George Baker’s report “Watershed Moment”). These new policies are especially timely in light of these studies, especially one from Noblis, “Power Begins at Home,” that highlights both increased risks and opportunities for military bases.

Military Bases at Greater Risk

Military bases are at special risk not only because they make attractive targets for adversaries, they also are usually in more vulnerable remote areas. The Noblis report shows how day-to-day vulnerability of electric power for military bases in the United States is higher than normal for a variety of reasons, with typical outages lasting days or weeks. The Air Force disclosed planning for a combination of a hurricane such as Sandy and a cyberattack, which the Air Force anticipates would produce a three-month regional power outage with disruption of fuel supplies. Electromagnetic threats are expected to provide longer disruptions on their own and even greater disruptions when coupled with cyber or physical attacks. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) published concerns in 2015/2016 that threats could result in power losses that could be “permanent or last weeks or months.”

The defense critical infrastructure (DCI) is the composite of DoD and non-DoD assets essential to project, support, and sustain military forces and operations worldwide. The DCI includes, but is not limited to, elements such as military bases, ballistic missile defense installations, radar sites, etc. An electromagnetic (EM) attack (nuclear electromagnetic pulse [EMP] or non-nuclear EMP [e.g., high-power microwave, HPM]) has the potential to degrade or shut down portions of the electric power grid important to the DoD. While a power grid may employ intentional islanding techniques to protect sections of the grid and prevent a cascading collapse of the power grid, the broad reach of potential EM attacks with the potential of simultaneous levels of disruption might prevent traditional islanding protection methods from being sufficient for continued operations of the DCI. Restoring the commercial grid from the still functioning regions may not be possible or could take weeks or months. Significant elements of the DCI require uninterrupted power for prolonged periods to perform time-critical missions (e.g., sites hardened to MIL-STD-188-125-1).

On the positive side, the Noblis report mentions that the critical loads amount is about 40% of their total loads:

Military bases are subject to more and longer duration power outages than typical utility customers because many bases are located in outlying areas.… Military bases rely almost entirely on the commercial grid for their electric power…. A typical large military base has a peak electricity demand of about 50 megawatts (MW), of which about 20 MW (40%) represents “critical loads.” Critical loads are those functions that must have emergency backup power under OSD’s power requirements.… Outages that last just a few hours are not the major concern…. The real concern is power outages that last days or even weeks. (P. vii)

The report also claims that microgrids serving those critical loads provide greater security and can often be fully funded by energy and operational savings (and occasionally revenue) if accounting systems would properly account for all related costs and revenues. These reports also propose alternative approaches to funding, comparing ownership to purchasing energy and security as a service.

This approach to measuring the value of energy security reflects an economic framework – with its emphasis on cost avoidance – makes intuitive sense: Based on the analysis we presented in Section IV, Figure 21 shows the 20-year cost to protect a kW of load using backup generators is modest, between $80 and $85 per kW (per year) for a standalone generator.

Granted, standalone generators are not the optimal approach to ensuring energy security for the reasons we spelled out in Section III. Thus, one might argue that DoD is justified in paying a premium to get a higher quality approach to energy security, in the form of a robust microgrid. However, the analysis we presented in Section IV demonstrates that in most parts of the country, microgrids provide more energy security for less money than the Services are currently paying for standalone generators. (P. 36)

Average military base critical load size of about 40% compared to their peak loads is very similar to hospitals, which provide backup power to their critical loads subdivided into “emergency, critical and life safety loads” that typically range in size from 30-50% of their normal loads. These ranges were seen in various engineering reviews of hospitals of different sizes and types across the country held by IAN LLC including work done under contract to the National Institute for Hometown Security funded through DHS.

This is helpful because it shows that on-site microgrid solutions may only need to cover half their loads. Additional funds can also be acquired such as those by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act for community infrastructure. For example, reported in Beyond the Fence Line, “The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act created the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program88 which enables DoD to contribute up to 70 percent of project costs for investments in community infrastructure supportive of a military installation.” These microgrid islands in turn can be connected to each other. When crossing over property lines, these connections need to be facilitated by regulated power utilities that will not only ensure that those connections are made safely, but can also provide the means for the microgrids to make money by selling their excess power to other users. Utilities would naturally earn money from those transactions and see those microgrids play a role in reducing peak-load demands and help in black-start operations when centralized grids inevitably fail.

Given that the private sector is already working quietly with military bases including the National Guard to establish EMP- and cyber-resilient microgrids, it will be interesting to see what may emerge in the next months in time to meet the requirements of EO 13865 and the new space weather strategy.

Charles (Chuck) Manto

Charles (Chuck) Manto is chief executive officer of Instant Access Networks LLC (IAN), a consulting and research and development firm that produces independently tested solutions for EMP-protected microgrids and equipment shelters for telecommunications networks and data centers. His company holds the data rights package for its SBIR program for EMP-protected microgrid systems. He received seven patents in telecommunications, computer mass storage, EMP protection and a smart microgrid controller, the core of IAN's “Resilient Adaptive Modular-Microgrid System” (RAMS(TM)). He is a senior member of the IEEE and is chairman-emeritus of InfraGard National’s National Disaster Resilience Council. He can be reached at



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