It’s the subject of sci-fi movies – a rogue nation detonates a nuclear weapon high above the Earth’s surface and effectively shuts down electrical grids and supply systems, crippling the nation’s critical infrastructure and plunging millions into the dark ages.
According to Jerrell Henley, electrical engineer with the Engineering and Support Center, the threat from such a High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse, generated by nuclear detonation or solar flare, is real. And it’s important that our engineers understand it and learn how to mitigate its effects on the nation’s electrical infrastructure.
Henley says that path forward includes the Engineering and Support Center developing a course to educate its engineers on their responsibilities for HEMP projects, including the protection, testing, and project acquisition and execution activities throughout the project life cycle.
Registration has already begun for the initial four-day Proponent-Sponsored Engineer Corps Training course slated for April 6-9 at the USACE Learning Center in Huntsville.
“This PROSPECT course (ULC-015) will familiarize students with the basic requirements of HEMP testing and HEMP protection techniques, including live demonstrations of testing and test equipment,” Henley said. “They will also gain a better understanding of the national threat posed by a HEMP event, including the postulated sequence of events which could occur.”
The effects of these electromagnetic pulses were fully identified in 1962 following a high-altitude nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean. There, though the explosion occurred some 800 miles away, radio stations and electronic equipment were disrupted throughout parts of Hawaii.
Since then, it has garnered increased attention as more nations gain nuclear capability.
Recognizing HEMP’s potential impact to the nation, the president issued an executive order March 26 putting the government and private sectors on a path to fostering sustainable, efficient and cost-effective approaches to improving the country’s resilience to the effects of electromagnetic pulses.
“Human-made or naturally occurring electromagnetic pulses can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the nation’s security and economic prosperity, and could adversely affect global commerce and stability,” the order states. “The federal government must foster sustainable, efficient and cost-effective approaches to improving the nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs.”
Citing the October 2018 Department of Homeland Security’s Strategy for Protecting and Preparing the Homeland Against Threats of Electromagnetic Pulse and Geomagnetic Disturbances, Henley said that the effects of a high altitude magnetic pulse caused by nuclear detonation above the Earth’s surface or a naturally occurring solar flare can literally black out and permanently damage electronic equipment, shut down the nation’s electric grid, communications equipment, water and wastewater systems and transportation modes.
“This means no heating or cooling, no light, no water, and in a matter of days, no access to food or medications, for millions of people,” he said. “It would take years before we’re able to restore electricity to the country.”
Though the threat against the United States is hard to assess, Henley explained that it is important that Huntsville Center engineers understand their role in hardening the nation’s critical infrastructure.
As a precursor to the training, the center held a dry run Nov. 5-8 for a select group to critique and refine the curriculum prior to its initial launch of the course in April.
Representatives of the Reliance Construction Management Company, a leader within the electromagnetic pulse industry, were invited to provide Huntsville Center engineers an in-depth demonstration and open dialogue discussion of the importance of quality control, acceptance and verification testing for HEMP projects. Additionally, the participants broadened their knowledge on weld inspections, shielded enclosure leak detection systems, low level testing, shield effectiveness, pulsed current injection testing and continuous wave immersion equipment.
Individuals may register now by going to the ULC homepage at https://ulc.usace.army.mil/ and click on the link to the 2020 Class Schedule.