DHS Prep for EMP Includes Upcoming FEMA Exercise, Possible Program Office


Staff member
A new status report on the Department of Homeland Security’s preparations to confront the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack and respond to a potentially catastrophic event says DHS is “working to evaluate the need for a program management office to provide steady consistent leadership in both the public and private sector engagements” on risk reduction.

The United States could face massive blackouts and disabled technology from rare solar super-storms like the 1859 Carrington Event, a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude, sabotage of the electric grid with the use of small weapons or explosives against extra-high-voltage transformers, or a complex attack that includes a combination of cyber attack, sabotage and nuclear attack.

A nationwide blackout could last a year or longer, gravely impacting the food and water supply, healthcare and sanitation, public safety, communications and transportation, bringing society to a standstill and sparking starvation and spread of disease.

In October 2018, DHS released the Strategy for Protecting and Preparing the Homeland against Threats from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Geomagnetic Disturbance (GMD), which said that EMP-related intelligence gathering, sharing, and analysis at the time remained “largely stove-piped within the federal government and across DHS, which leads to disparate understanding of potential electromagnetic threats and hazards,” creating “uncertainties about how DHS should address critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.”

In March 2019, the White House unveiled an executive order, Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses, stating that the federal government will “engage in risk-informed planning” and “prioritize research and development” into EMP protection, response and recovery and will “promote collaboration and facilitate information sharing, including the sharing of threat and vulnerability assessments, among executive departments and agencies” and stakeholders.

Part of Homeland Security’s broad focus under the executive order is to ensure timely EMP info gets to state and local governments, with a duty to “coordinate response to and recovery from the effects of EMPs on critical infrastructure,” exercise EMP scenarios, “maintain survivable means to provide necessary emergency information to the public during and after EMPs,” and develop quadrennial risk assessments.

DHS was also directed to “identify and list the national critical functions and associated priority critical infrastructure systems, networks, and assets, including space-based assets that, if disrupted, could reasonably result in catastrophic national or regional effects on public health or safety, economic security, or national security,” a list that DHS will keep updated. DHS was told that it “shall review test data — identifying any gaps in such data — regarding the effects of EMPs on critical infrastructure systems, networks, and assets”; within six months after that, DHS in coordination with other agencies was expected “to develop an integrated cross-sector plan to address the identified gaps.”

The August status report released Thursday said that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), in coordination with the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has taken key actions to address known EMP-related vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure.

“As the nation’s risk advisor, one of CISA’s priorities is understanding and mitigating threats associated with EMPs,” said CISA Director Chris Krebs. “Over the past year, we have worked with interagency and industry partners to identify the footprint and effects of EMP threats across our National Critical Functions, and are developing sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the nation’s resilience to EMPs.”

The document said that DHS’ initial efforts have focused on risk management in the communications and energy sectors.