WASHINGTON — President Obama signed an executive order related to space weather Thursday, and in the process acknowledged that solar storms could take out the power grid, water supplies and other critical infrastructure – not only in the United States but throughout the world.
“Extreme space weather events — those that could significantly degrade critical infrastructure — could disable large portions of the electrical power grid, resulting in cascading failures that would affect key services such as water supply, healthcare, and transportation,” the order states. “Space weather has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents.”
The executive order, titled “Coordinating Efforts to Prepare the Nation for Space Weather Events,” laid out a plan to prepare the country for a major solar storm. Four years ago, Earth was nearly hit by a storm that could have taken out the power grid, NASA scientists have said. In 1859, a solar storm slammed into Earth and rendered telegraph machines – the most advanced technology of the day – unusable. Northern lights were seen in the Caribbean. It was dubbed the Carrington Event.
“Successfully preparing for space weather events is an all-of-nation endeavor that requires partnerships across governments, emergency managers, academia, the media, the insurance industry, non-profits, and the private sector,” the executive order read.
The order puts the authority of the president and the White House behind the 2015 National Space Weather Action Plan. It also directs the executive branch to come up with a national strategy for dealing with an electromagnetic storm that disrupts or disables the electrical grid.
Image source: NASA
Still, the plan has its critics. Peter Pry, who served on the Congressional EMP Commission and the EMP Task Force, was asked by Off The Grid News Thursday for his comments about the plan. He pointed OTGN to a column he and CIA director R. James Woolsey co-wrote last year criticizing the National Space Weather Action Plan.
“It is a plan to develop a plan to protect the nation from space weather. The ‘action’ in the ‘Action Plan’ is to do numerous studies before taking any real action that would protect the national power grid,” they wrote in December 2015. “Federal scientific and research bureaucracies, such as NASA and NOAA, make their living by doing studies.”
The power grid, they asserted, needs to be protected – something the plan does not do.
Among other things, Thursday’s executive order by Obama:
- Orders all federal agencies to implement the recommendations in the National Space Weather Action Plan.
- Directs federal agencies to work with state, local, tribal and foreign governments, private business and other entities to develop a coordinated response to space weather.
- Orders the National Science and Technology Council to establish a Space Weather Operations, Research and Mitigation Subcommittee to coordinate and oversee research into the phenomenon.
- Orders the Department of Defense to monitor space weather and consider it a threat to future military operations.
- Orders the Interior Department to step up research into space weather and technology designed to counter its threat.
- Orders the Commerce Department to issue regular space weather forecasts and warnings of events.
- Orders the Commerce Department to make real time data about space weather available to everybody.
- Orders the Energy Department to come up with plans to protect the electrical grid from space weather and restore it if disrupted by electromagnetic storms.
- Orders the Department of Homeland Security to issue regular alerts and warnings about space weather.
- Orders the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate responses to space weather and recovery from it.
- Orders NASA to create a national research program designed to improve space weather forecasting by studying the sun and the Solar System.
- Orders NASA to conduct space weather research missions.
- Orders NASA to develop better technology for space weather research.
“It is the policy of the United States to prepare for space weather events to minimize the extent of economic loss and human hardship,” the order said.
Whether the executive order actually does anything to protect the power grid remains to be seen.
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