EMP and the Electric Grid

Aug. 24, 2009

Several years ago, I was tasked to do a study for Dahlgren (Navy) on the effects of EMP on SCADA systems. I didn't realize the impact of those results as my focus was primarily cyber. However, an interesting adjunct was one of my first projects when I managed the EPRI Nuclear Plant Instrumentation and Diagnostics Program was to evaluate the impact of EMI and RFI on nuclear plant equipment. This was because walkie-talkies used during plant outages were spuriously initiating or shutting down critical plant equipment. By performing the EMP study, I was able to get Dahlgren to give a presentation at the 2nd KEMA Conference on the impact of pulse radar testing on SCADA and pipelines.  The presentation identified several actual SCADA impacts due to pulsed radar testing. Another interesting anecdote was when I showed a colleague the slides, it finally "explained" a previously unexplained SCADA failure. The explanation was their microwave was pointed toward the Navy yard.

Our industry is sensitized to EMI and RFI, not to EMP. I think most people in our industry would view EMP as a "sky is falling" event. In order to try to get the message out, I have scheduled an open session on control system threats at the October 19th Applied Control Solutions Control Systems Cyber Security Conference. Mike Assante has agreed to lead the discussions.   Joe Weiss