Military

REDCOM at the Ready: Hardening communications to withstand an EMP attack

May 17, 2019 | Posted by: Gene Kohlmeier

On March 26, 2019, the President signed an Executive Order directing the Federal government to prepare the United States for an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack by hardening critical infrastructure as much as possible. After almost 20 years of studies, the Federal government is starting to pay attention and REDCOM is taking action.

What is an EMP attack?

While EMP in its various forms has been recognized for many years, protection has been relegated to very few critical communications systems for the Federal government, particularly the military. Protection has been largely ignored by public utilities and commercial communications companies’ due to its high cost to implement within a competitive market.

Further, although a naturally-produced high-level EMP has always been a possibility, the very low chance of this actually knocking out critical industry or military communications means that protection efforts have never justified the expense. Most of the protection actions are relegated to more common low-level events.

Unfortunately, the nuclear blast form of EMP has now taken a front seat as there are now several nations that have the capability to create the nuclear blast EMP, including two rogue nations that are sworn enemies of the United States.

Both of those countries (and several others) are engaging in Internet hacking, refining their methods and committing espionage to get information on our military posture and control systems. What happens if these nations decide they could minimize a counterattack by hacking our systems to make it survivable (in their minds), and trigger a strike at the U.S.?

So, what are the effects of an EMP attack?

Many papers paint a bleak picture of the effects of a nuclear EMP event, but in reality, only one thing needs to be targeted for a complete collapse of the United States: electric power.

Simply put, electric power is life; without it means devastation of the population of the country. One paper forecast 90% of the population would perish within one year after a nationwide EMP event. How? Well, there’s a trickle-down effect. An EMP attack would result in a complete loss of power across the entire country. Read below to see a more in-depth explanation of what would happen in this event.

Communications is a Priority

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is prioritizing critical communications and power needs to provide a starting point for managed hardening and/or restoral of infrastructure. These efforts will likely create mandatory actions for all levels of government, and all related technical fields (power, communications, water, sewage, etc.) to circumvent any competitive issues between suppliers. However, one thing is certain: EMP protection will be costly and slow to implement.

Communications restoral will be near the very top of the list in the event of an EMP attack. It is of critical importance to report damage, locate and coordinate parts, mobilize resources, enable fire, EMS, and police responses, and, in general, bootstrap recovery efforts.

Two methods in creating a resilient communications system

Method One: Hardening for in-service equipment. This is the most difficult thing to do, as a shield must be built around the hardware, along with everything (wires, coax, fiber, power, etc.) that penetrates that shield, MUST be treated to the level of protection required.

Method Two: Secure a spare of every piece of electronic equipment that is involved in a communications network inside a storage box made of appropriate shielded metal techniques and of a design – which has been tested – to required standards. This is likely the first scenario to get some kind of survivability, and a restoral program in place.

This equipment list would include not only the centralized switching/routing centers, but also every electronic repeater and generator in communications paths that run between the switching/data centers and endpoints. The stored protected equipment would require periodic testing and updating of equipment types and software updates as networks evolve over time. This type of protection would likely be used to support a “thin route” minimal network strategy until Method 1 protection can be implemented.

What REDCOM can do to help

REDCOM, which has been creating unique communication solutions for over 40 years for public service, government, and military systems, is not delaying action while waiting for DHS solutions to be devised. We are actively pursuing solutions that have the ability to be a more immediate help with this critical endeavor. Current solutions have passed rigorous testing on all criteria for use in critical infrastructure applications. We are also actively working with a partner to develop in-use solutions, beginning with our own product lines, which are already deployed around the world.

If you are interested in learning more about what we are working on, subscribe to the REDCOM newsletter in the footer of this page or reach out to sales@redcom.com for details.

Scenarios after the event of an EMP attack:

Communications are down everywhere.

  • No broadcast radio or TV, no cable, no cellphones, very limited telephone service
  • Contact with EMS, fire departments, and police are cut off
  • State and local governments cannot run their operations
  • Satellites around the EMP event will cease to function

No power across the U.S.

  • Power stations knocked out
  • Grid transformers destroyed. They are about $1m each, are custom built, and take 18-months to make
  • All factories cease to operate.
  • Standby generators at critical facilities are destroyed. Even if not destroyed, they must be fed fuel and oil
  • Homeowners cannot run heating appliances to withstand winter temperatures
  • Gas, natural gas, and diesel supplies can’t be pumped through pipelines without electricity
  • Plants cannot pump water or purify it
  • Sewage treatment plants and pumping stations stop working

Travel is drastically impeded.

  • Aircraft who survive the EMP can’t fly due to fuel shortages
  • Fuel stations across the country lose power, therefore lose the ability to pump gas
  • Diesel trucks that haul food, supplies, and everyday items would cease to run
  • Modern cars are affected by the strong EMP pulse

Quickly lose access to everyday necessities like food and medical care.

  • Food does not get to stores
  • The US typically has only three-days to a week’s worth of food stock – stores depend on “just in time” deliveries
  • Hospitals lose power and ability to keep patients alive
  • Medications stop being produced

Access to money obstructed.

  • Bank networks are down, and ATMs stop working
  • Cash is the only way to pay, and most don’t carry a years’ worth of cash