SB1398 Poised to Create EMP Threat Preparedness Task Force, Protect TX Electric Grid
Texas Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) is passionate about the need for Texas to protect its electrical grid. In fact he said, “This is probably the single most important bill we have to pass this session.” The reasons: the very real existential threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack via high-altitude nuclear detonation, solar geomagnetic storms, and cyber-attacks. In the 1960s as a young Air Force Captain, Hall was the team leader of a highly classified special project to ‘harden’ the MINUTEMAN strategic missile to protect it from the EMP threat.
A series of high-altitude nuclear detonation tests – the operation was called Fish Bed – lead to the discovery that the effects of nuclear warhead detonations two hundred and fifty miles above the earth’s surface creates an EMP blast which disrupts electrical power sources. The early experiments were conducted by the United States over the Pacific Ocean. Hall recalls, “We discovered we knocked out power in Hawaii … and the Russians did tests over land which also knocked out power on the ground.” In addition, to nuclear detonations, sunspots or solar storms also work in conjunction with the Earth’s magnetic field which can create a damaging EMP event.
What we realized was that an enemy could cripple our MINUTEMAN strategic missile systems and electric grids without killing anyone. Hall and his team helped develop an engineering design to harden the military’s MINUTEMAN missile systems. It was such a highly classified operation at the time, that when he left the military he never spoke about it… until he read some articles a few years ago in which some of his former colleagues were warning about the EMP threat. He knew they were credible sources, which prompted Hall to do more research. All of this happened to coincide with Hall’s election last year to the Texas State Senate.
The purpose of Senate Bill 1398 is to establish procedures to develop a disaster plan, evaluate the security of the Lone Star State’s critical infrastructure, and assess protection and recovery requirements. Texas is unique, in that it is the only state to have its own electrical grid.
Hall explained that the military has been “hardening” their electrical equipment and defense systems for years. We are behind. Currently, most of the critical parts to repair the grid are made in in China and other countries. According to Hall, the lead time to get a high voltage transformer can be three years. This is why it is so critical we begin the hardening process immediately. If SB1398 is passed and signed by Governor Greg Abbott, the process would begin immediately and could take up to three years to achieve the most basic level of protection.
With growing terrorist threats, the Iranians and North Koreans both having tested their EMP missile capabilities, and an announcement from Iran of their intention to impose such an assault, many believe there is no time to waste in protecting the grid. The moment of an EMP blast, everything electrical is fried. Kaput. Motor vehicles, tractors, lawnmowers with electrical ignitions will burn up. Emergency backup generators with electrical switches… dead. Cell phones, well water pumps… dead. Refrigerators that store food, insulin, etc…. dead. Electric-powered dialysis machines… completely dysfunctional. Getting the picture? It is estimated that up to 70 percent of the population would be dead within 12 months of a major EMP attack. So what’s the hang up?
Why is SB1398 pending in the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee? Hall believes it is due to the powerful Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT) lobby. He said in a recent press release, “Across our nation the electric industry lobby, like AECT, have been implying that protecting our nation’s grid is ‘unnecessary,’” which Hall declared an absurdity. Additionally, SB1398 removes the excuse many in the utilities industry decry as reason enough to reject government regulation and oversight. Though the bill allows the governor to instruct an agency to take actions necessary to implement the comprehensive plan, it reads, “The governor shall develop a cost recovery mechanism for utilities that incur costs for measures taken to protect the critical infrastructure of this state against, and prepare the infrastructure for, electromagnetic, geomagnetic, terrorist, and cyber-attack threats.”
In other words, utilities companies will be able to recover any costs associated with hardening the grid. Hall insists his bill is not about government control, but about protecting the American public.
Utility companies also claim to be putting their own safeguards into effect, however, Hall said that what they are doing is “ineffectual.” He claims it’s very difficult to get answers and accused, “When I talk to people in power companies, they talk in circles.” Moving in circles and getting nowhere is no longer an option for SB1398 author Bob Hall, co-author Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and others who believe it’s time to move forward.
Chairman of the non-profit group, Foundation for Resilient Societies, Thomas S. Popik has commended Texas for “considering legislative initiatives to improve the reliability, safety, and resiliency of the Texas electric grid” in a letter addressed to the Members of the Texas State Legislature dated April 20, 2015.
Resilient Societies does not endorse specific legislation, however they “routinely participate in reliability standard-setting proceedings at the federal level to: mitigation of solar storms; protection against man-made electromagnetic pulse (EMP) hazards; protection of communication networks and industrial control systems against cyber security threats; and physical security protection of critical infrastructure.”
In fact, Resilient Societies recommended in a letter to Lisa Murkowski, Chairman and Maria Cantwell, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also dated April 20, 2015, “that Congress establish a new independent commission modeled after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with the sole mission of ensuring electric grid reliability.” The reason for this is that the foundation discovered conflicts of interest in appointments of members of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), as “Seventy percent of NERC members are electric utilities. Members regularly vote to place representatives from large investor-owned utilities in key committee positions.” NERC is accused of practices that lead “…to delay proposing reliability standards, or to propose weak reliability standards that will protect its utility members, but not protect the public interest.”
The Foundation for Resilient Societies sited requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to protect utility communication networks against “cybersecurity incidents.” The foundation revealed, “…utilities have opted to improve their bottom lines by using the internet instead of more expensive dedicated telecommunication lines.”
Because of the inadequacies discovered and exposed by Popik’s foundation, legislative changes have been recommended at the federal level, although Hall said, “the federal government continues to fail to address this national security concern.”
For Texas, Senator Hall proposed SB1398 to enact a plan to harden the grid and create a task force to assist the Texas Division of Emergency Management in developing a comprehensive recovery plan in case of attack.
At this moment, what is needed to move the bill from its gridlock (pardon the pun), is for the committee Chairman to add SB 1398 to the next committee hearing’s agenda. If the bill gets enough positive votes it will move to the full Senate for debate.
Members of the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee are as follows:
Sen. Troy Fraser
Sen. Craig Estes
Sen. Brian Birdwell
Sen. Bob Hall
Sen. Kelly Hancock,
Sen. Juan Hinojosa
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.,
Sen. Robert Nichols
Sen. Kel Seliger
Sen. Carlos Uresti
Sen. Judith Zaffirini