3 Resilience |
48. The Government's approach to mitigating the
effect of an EMP attack and the EMP-like effects of space weather
Prior warning is given, either through forecasting
or the collection of intelligence, enabling appropriate action
to take place, for example switching off vulnerable satellite
Infrastructure is hardened where appropriate, this
is especially critical with military infrastructure;
We prepare for these events although the Government's
approach to civil resilience management is to plan for the consequences
of potential civil emergencies no matter what the cause. Contingencies
are in place to react to large scale loss of electronic infrastructure
with the restoration of the National Grid being a priority.
49. The key to successful mitigation of EMP events,
whether natural or made-made, is successful forecasting both of
the likelihood of such events and of their probable effects. The
Government explained that "The UK has significant research
resource available. The civil sector focuses on the effects of
space weather whereas the military sector covers both space weather
and its possible EMP effects".
Forecasting space weather
50. Given that space weather cannot be prevented,
efforts are being made to improve forecasting in order that pre-emptive
action may be taken. As Research Councils UK told us "Warning
and prediction of space weather events is one of the most important
ways of mitigating effects. Essential systems can then be put
into safe mode, but this may not always ensure survival".
51. Space weather forecasting is in its infancy.
Research Councils UK told us that "the UK has a long and
successful heritage in relevant solar observations [...]. However,
forecasting space weather is very difficult and it is still at
an early stage often considered comparable to weather forecasting
in the 1960s".
National Grid told us that CMEs can take 18 hours to three days
to reach Earth. Forecasting models are used to decide on their
trajectory and timing. NASA issue forecasts of arrival time giving
a six hour window. However, these forecasts are frequently inaccurate,
with the arrival time being many hours early or over a day late.
Nonetheless, witnesses told us of encouraging progress in the
last few years, at least in terms of awareness.
We received evidence of a number of organisations active in the
field of space weather and of their co-operation. Dr Kerridge
of the British Geological Survey said:
There has been a great acceleration over the past
year in the way we have addressed this problem. The event about
a year ago, which Mr Schnurr led, led a few of us to sit down
and say, "How can we better organise ourselves to address
this problem?" As a result of that, in October 2010 we began
something that we have termed the Space Environment Impacts Expert
Group. At the same time, there had been developing through the
Met Office, the Ordnance Survey and the Environment Agency a Natural
Hazards Partnership. Those two things have developed quite quickly
to look particularly at space weather and other hazards. Each
of those has the support of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat
in the Cabinet Office. So the latest development is to advise
on the national risk assessment for the space weather and other
hazards and to provide advice to the Government Office for Science.
52. Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser,
told us of another initiative:
I might add that there is a rather awkward acronym
SEIEG, which stands for the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group,
led by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, with the British Geological
Survey, British Antarctic Survey, QinetiQ, SolarMetrics and the
Met Office as members. That group is working closely within the
Cabinet Office's orbit. In my role as Chief Scientific Adviser,
I have met the group and provided a critical-friend challenge
to some of these things. It is fair to say that there is a fair
bit of work in progress.
53. Significant in this context is the joint
announcement by President Obama and the Prime Minister following
the presidential visit. Professor Kerridge said:
Following President Obama's visit, there was a joint
statement from the Prime Minister and the President
indicating that we were going to enhance the collaboration on
space weather in all aspects: monitoring, prediction, assessment
of mitigating measures and so on. That is active at present. In
particular, one of the things that has been taken forward is an
agreement between the Met Office and NOAA, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, to co-operate on providing 24/7
cover for prediction and warning of space events. That is active.
The aim is to enhance that; that is very much the view of the
Prime Minister and the President that it should be done. That
is active engagement, primarily at official level at the moment,
but also for our organisations.
54. There have been two Infrastructure Security
Summits, the first in Westminster in September 2010 and the second
with wider participation from industry (as well as by the Chair
of this Committee) in Washington in April 2011. Both led to further
research work by industry providers on the likely effect of severe
space weather. The next one is due to be held in the UK in the
spring of 2012. All such evidence of international co-operation
is encouraging in view of the transnational nature of the space
55. We are pleased to note the
recent intensification of efforts to forecast space weather. Its
effects will not respect national boundaries, and it is important
that the UK continues to contribute effectively to international
efforts to improve forecasting.
56. The Government must ensure
that sufficient funding and resources are available and that the
UK has sufficient access to up-to-date monitoring information.
Monitoring space weather is a vital tool, both in terms of providing
warning periods for potentially large space weather events, and
in terms of understanding the risks more fully.
Protecting civil infrastructure
57. The management of disruption to electricity
or telecommunications in the event of severe space weather is
for the suppliers themselves, with some Government assistance.
As the Government evidence said:
Successful management of a major electricity supply
emergency requires effective communication and cooperation between
industry and government. The wider consequences of an incident
could be mitigated by the choices that industry is able to make,
and some of the practical aspects of managing an incident could
be assisted by the activities of government. The National Emergency
Plan for Downstream Gas and Electricity (NEP-DG&E) sets
out a framework for industry and government to work together to
manage a major supply emergency.
58. Charles Hendry told us that a letter had
been sent by National Grid and the Department of Energy and Climate
Change in October 2011 to all energy providers seeking industry
support further to develop collective understanding of the impact
of a severe space weather event on the GB electricity system.
The purpose of the letter that one of our directors
in the Department wrote to the energy companies and others at
the beginning of Octoberit was a joint letter with National
Gridwas to increase greatly their active engagement in
this work, to make sure they understand the urgency we attach
to it and to say that we need their active engagement in ensuring
that the strategy being prepared for early next year reflects
We congratulate DECC and the National Grid on this
initiative to involve the energy companies.
59. Chris Train of National Grid explained how
mitigating measures could be taken:
In terms of naturally occurring space weather, we
have a set of operational mitigations in place, which start with
the better forecasting of space weather and increased understanding
about the likelihood and any timing of impacts. We have a number
of operational measures that we can put in place, such as de-loading
vulnerable transformers, spreading generation around the network
and manning particular sites.
Should a storm exceed National Grid's worst planned-for
In conjunction with Government, National Grid would
consider a controlled shut-down of the network. National Grid
has a well developed Black Start Policy.. Training
exercises are regularly held on Black Start, and generating units
are at all times scheduled for Black Start capability.
60. The Grid has also recently increased the
number of spare transformers it holds.
Even so, National Grid estimated that in the case of an event
of the size of a Carrington-sized event there was a 91% chance
that an area of the United Kingdom would be without power for
two months or more while a damaged transformer was restored or
61. The protective measures described apply to
space weather events. National Grid said:
Research to investigate options to harden the UK
system, rather than relying on operational procedures as is appropriate
for solar events, would be needed to mitigate this threat. But
given the size of the undertaking, and the subsequent cost of
procurement and installation, this is beyond the resources of
any one commercial organization, or group of organizations, and
would need to be pursued at national level.
Strengthening the systems
62. Current planning is based to a large extent
on pre-emptive action, such as shutting down equipment as a precaution,
and on restoring service after damage has, despite these precautions,
been done, though new systems are being built to a higher standard.
National Grid described the development of technologies whereby
new equipment can be made more resilient to space weather events.
Charles Hendry, Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate
Change, for instance told us that "since 1999, all the transformers
purchased by the National Grid have been ones that can stand the
high electricity currents that might be caused by such activities".
(It should be noted that since 1999 the worst-case scenario has
been revised upward.)
63. We were also given examples of how equipment
might be hardened retrospectively. While such retrospective hardening
of the system might appear to be an attractive proposition, witnesses
agreed that there was a risk that hardening one component of the
infrastructure might simply move the problem on to another section
of the system, and what was appropriate in the US might not be
so in the UK. Chris Train said:
Hardening in itself is actually quite a challenge.
There is talk of putting capacitance in the earth in order to
block the GICs, but this is unproven. There are some difficulties
peculiar to the design of the transformers in the UK compared
with the US, which actually means that this would need a very
close look at before such measures were considered. On the capability
actually to roll that out, it would take an incredibly long period
of time to do that. Once you harden an asset, all you are doing
is moving the problem to the next asset.
He argued that the exercise was unproven in terms
of effectiveness and "would need proper research to determine
whether it would be effective. Intruding in the asset causes other
problems as well, so you might be mitigating the potential for
a very rare event and triggering a more frequent event".
Avi Schnurr agreed that further testing was needed.
64. It is clear from the evidence
we received that there are both risks and benefits associated
with hardening equipment. Nor is the cost clear. We recommend
that the Government and National Grid work together to assess
the cost and effectiveness of available technologies and if necessary
coordinate further research into this area to establish whether
retrospective hardening of equipment is appropriate, given the
assessed level of risk to infrastructure from space weather and
EMP disturbance. We would expect any such retrospective hardening
to be carried out during routine maintenance of equipment in order
to minimise the cost.
65. The potential effects of
a Carrington size space weather event or a high-altitude nuclear
EMP weapon would have specific and potentially devastating impacts
upon the electrical grid and other aspects of electronic infrastructure,
which play an absolutely critical role in UK society. It is therefore
vital that the UK electrical grid is as resilient as possible
to potential threats such as these. The various Government departments
involved must work with National Grid to ensure that its backup
procedures and equipment are sufficient to meet the reasonable
worst-case scenario for a severe space weather event. Consideration
should further be given to the practicability and cost of
establishing resilience against the event of a wide-spread
loss of transformers, such as could be created by a HEMP weapon.
This might be also an area in which other relevant Committees
of this House might like to look at in greater detail in the course
of their work.
66. Although our Report concentrates
on the military aspects of these threats, we hope that the evidence
we have taken will also inform and influence discussions between
governments and throughout industry. Such discussions are needed
urgently, to consider the development of agreed standards for
protection and resilience across all infrastructure and supply
industries, and to explore the possible need for legislation to
ensure that these standards are adopted.
67. It is obvious that the continued availability
of telecommunications systems would be important in the event
of a severe space weather event or HEMP attack causing widespread
national disruption. Such evidence as we received on the effect
of these on telecommunications was relatively encouraging.
68. The Government told us that while "telecommunications
and electrical power distribution infrastructures are mutually
dependent", public, fixed line, systems at least were relatively
robust, having arrangements "that enable them to continue
to function for up to five days in the event of the loss of grid-distributed
with the electricity grid, "telecommunications infrastructures
are owned and operated by private sector organisations who are
best placed to respond to and recover from a major telecommunications
incident". It is also the case that the fixed-line
structure uses optical fibre for most lines, and this is highly
resistant to space weather. Nonetheless:
Government has worked closely with the owners and
operators [...] through the Electronic Communications Resilience
and Response Group to facilitate restoration of services in the
event of a major incident affecting networks. The procedures that
are in place are subjected to an extensive annual test conducted
over several days.
Core telecommunications networks are highly resilient
when viewed against the planning assumptions from the National
69. In an EMP emergency, the Government would
be heavily dependent on telecommunications during mitigation and
restoration measures. We were assured that, if telephone lines
were down, an alternative means of communication was available
to Government through hardened, military, satellites.
Advice to the public
70. A severe space weather event, let alone an
HEMP, would severely disrupt the life of the UK, as suggested
by Peter Taylor of Ethos Consultancy.
We asked the Government witnesses whether there was anything businesses
or families could do to protect themselves. John Tesh told us:
The answer is that there is, but it does not yet
reflect our current understanding of the possible impacts of solar
weather on businesses on the ground, as it were. We have something
called the national risk register, which we published for the
first time in 2008, with an updated version in 2010. We intend
to update it further in the next three months, by the end of January
next year; at that time, we expect it will reflect new risks that
have emerged, on which we did not have material to include in
the last one. That will include the effects of solar weather.
The purpose of the risk register is to provide an
indication to people of the kinds of things that can disrupt their
lives. In the first instance, it has been designed to be readable
by people who are running small and medium-sized businesses as
much as by people who run the big corporate enterprises and the
national infrastructure. It is also designed to provide part of
the background to the Government's initiatives on community resilience,
so it should include common-sense advice on the kinds of things
that you need to keep in your cupboard in order to deal with the
impact of the sorts of things that happen all the time and which
you cannot do very much to prevent.
41 Ev 20 Back
Ev 1 Back
Ev 31 Back
Ev 29 Back
Ev 26 Back
Ev 21 and 32 Back
Q 19 Back
Q 79 Back
"Prime Minister and President Obama strengthen collaboration",
www.number10.gov.uk/news, 25 May 2011 Back
Q 79 Back
Ev 24 Back
Q 94 Back
Q 37 Back
Ev 27. A 'black start' is restoring power following a shutdown
of part or all of the National Grid. One key element in this is
the ability to restart some (but not all) power stations to operation
without drawing power from the grid. The other power stations
can then be restored using power from the grid. There are a number
of other technical elements that are needed to ensure that power
stations and grid come back on smoothly. Back
Ev 26 Back
Q 94 Back
Ev 25 Back
Q 37 Back
Q 39 Back
Q 43 Back
Ev 24 Back
Ev 63 Back
Q 91 Back