Electromagnetic Hazards: The potential effects on the electric grid

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Welcome to EM Student. Today we’ve got Melissa Hancock. Hi, Melissa, how are you?

Melissa Hancock  0:07 

Very well, thank you.

Irene Conforti  0:09 

It’s great to have you on the program. So let’s get right into it. Do you mind telling me a little bit about yourself and a little bit about community resiliency?

Melissa Hancock  0:19 

Certainly, I am a volunteer who does publicity for members and organization of the resiliency community.

Irene Conforti 

What is the resiliency community?

We work to promote a resilient electric grid. That means protecting it from electromagnetic pulse (EMP), geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) caused by coronal mass ejections, or solar flares as they’re called cyber attacks and physical attacks. And I just like to say that as a nation, we are woefully uninformed, and ill informed about resiliency. In order to garner good ratings, the news media reports what we want to know not what we need to know. As a result, important news gets omitted. Sometimes it may be reported, but only makes it to one or two news sources. So it gets drowned out by big stories of the day that typically center around sex, scandal, and death. The news has devolved into kind of information, entertainment.

Irene Conforti  1:25 

Right. They usually say if it bleeds, it leads, so to speak. And I want to be able to sort of know a little bit more since you’re coming from the perspective of the communication community. And you’ve got sort of the news background. I’m I guess I’m wondering, you know, what’s news? How is what is going to be reported how does that affect me? And how did you get involved in this work?

Melissa Hancock  1:57 

First of all, I think it’s important to start to ask what is news? I’ve done a lot study of historical newspapers. And back when the Constitution was written, this is the kind of news we read today was not at all what was reported on, what was going on in Congress, they reported on what was going on in State legislatures. So what is news? And the questions that are being asked today are questions that are different than questions that were asked when, at the dawn of the nation when the founding fathers expected that the news would be responsibly reporting on what was going on and government. Now, I think it’s important to ask, what is news is what is being reported going to affect me, the well being of my family, the community, state and nation, or if news is being reported, just political or celebrity gossip? Is it just there to grab my attention, you know, like clickbait, and in effect, entertain me. I became involved in this work from my experiences many years ago, in what was then RCA and the Communications and Information Systems Division, they manufacture the Ground Wave Emergency nNetwork called WEN, which was a redundant network of radio towers, they used low frequency radio, to allow the military to communicate in the event of a nuclear attack.

Irene Conforti  3:38 

So let me ask you a little bit more about that, since it sounds like you have sort of experience in emergency communications, you know, as it pertains to civil defense. And then you also have sort of a great background, you know, in both, you know, reporting, but also the resilient electric grid. And I guess I’m, I’m wondering a little bit about how you got in to that kind of work and what you did there.

Melissa Hancock  4:07 

Okay, well, actually, I was hired to handle the a project they were doing called Space Station. But there were many things that were done there, they did a lot of work for the National Security Agency, a secure telephones and things like that. And they also did shipboard communications for the Aegis system, which is aboard the early bird class of destroyers, which is very important in the defense against EMP, I do not have a security clearance, I was unaware of how the military was thinking of deploying nuclear weapons. I knew but one thing in the event of a nuclear attack, all communications would cease. And in that, and those days, it was before cell phone. So it was radio, TV, telephones. And when I like most Americans, when I thought about a nuclear attack, I thought of photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this sort of lingered in my mind, I visualized the giant mushroom cloud over New York, Washington or Los Angeles, some major American city, at any rate, with total devastation within a large radius, the radiation would prevent returning to that city for decades.

Irene Conforti  5:27 

Right. And, you know, like you were saying, you know, all communications would cease in the event of a nuclear disaster. But it’s, you know, it’s also true in in other disasters. You know, for example, if there’s an earthquake, and cell towers are being shook, and there’s there’s often communication failure, even in the camp fire in California, there were reports that first responders were having difficulty, you know, getting on to the networks. And there there is today, a service called first met through a public private partnership through 18 T, that does offer sort of that that emergency communication network that you’re sort of talking about. And, you know, I do understand that there is still sort of a nuclear threat. And I guess I’m wondering, how, how do you see the nuclear threat evolving from, you know, your work before? And I’m sort of how you think that that’s evolved? And what information you want to give people?

Melissa Hancock  6:54 

I’m hoping that we never have a third world war, but it’s always a possibility out there, one never knows. Right, but we need to be prepared, and we need to be proactive. So I kind of like to explain that, in the event of a world war. That are, we’re no longer isolated, you know, our shores, you know, we’re vulnerable. So military commanders using a nuclear device would use a high altitude explosion of a nuclear device. And that’s, it’s, it’s so effective at taking down communications, that it makes it highly desirable, as it’s a weapon of choice for both a rogue group or a nation state. Because in addition to taking down all communications, it takes down are highly technological infrastructure. Right, we are the leader, we have perhaps the best technological infrastructure in the world. And that, in a sense, makes us the most vulnerable to be MP of any nation. I’d like to tell you a story. It was 1962. And there was a test of a high altitude nuclear explosion that was very well publicized in Honolulu, Hawaii. In fact, one hotel even ran an advertisement offering cocktails to observe Thor’s rainbow display. Because scientists expected in Aurora Borealis over the South Pacific, which is virtually unheard of the name of the test was starfish prime. The test produced a spectacular display of light and color, and something unexpected. The communications were taken down as far as the Hawaiian Islands some 900 miles away from the watching site, which was Johnston Island. Certain measurements were beyond the ability of the instruments used to monitor the event. And it just so happens that to Soviet vessels, with scientists came to observe the test. So they went back to the Soviet Union. And they repeated this test, this time with improved instruments. They discovered a phenomenon a high altitude electrical, magnetic electromagnetic pulse can disable electronic equipment, and take down all communications doesn’t damage buildings, it doesn’t damage other equipment or other assets. There’s no lingering high level radiation to prevent access to a bomb that area for years. And by them the military in the United States and concluded the same thing. And so what happened, EMP was classified, and this new use of the weapon, definitely detonating it in the upper atmosphere was never again shared with the public. So what we got here is this lingering image of the mushroom cloud. And so if any buddy should mention it, something like an EMP that is the whole approach to the EMP story was that it was a tin foil hat conspiracy theory. And it was ridiculed. Hmm. Right. Well, beginning in 2008, impressionable EMP commission declassified some of the information about EMP. This news also did not reach general public awareness.

Irene Conforti  10:44 

Right. Right. And I think that that sounds really interesting. It sounds really relevant to some of the claims of a electric magnetic pulses that have been experienced by some of our diplomats recently. You know, so I think that’s, that’s an interesting thing. And I wonder how an EMP attack would affect our electric grid, if it were to be implemented?

Melissa Hancock  11:18 

How an attack would affect our grid, they expect it would be a cascading outage. So a new transformers would blow. And then the way the system is set up, there would be overload on the rest of the system. And what happens is that when the rest of the system is overloaded, one by one, the system’s shut off. And that’s happened a couple of times. And, fortunately, when it’s happened, naturally, with tree branches falling and that sort of thing, t’s been coverable. But with damaged transformers, it’s another matter all together. There are places in the United States that do manufacture transformers, but the major places they’re manufactured are South Korea and Germany. And these things are tailor made, to the location where they are installed. And there is a very special hand process of winding wires. That has to be done. It’s very specialized, and highly trained people have to do this. And it takes about a year or two a year and a half, to get them and then transporting them, they have to go on special rail cars, they’re very heavy. And it’s a very difficult process to re-install transformers that have been damaged by an EMP. So if that cascading outage happens, and the whole grid goes down, it’s difficult to black start what’s called black start the entire grid. And it’s also difficult to replace the transformers that have been blown.

Irene Conforti  13:12 

Right. And we and we usually, in emergency management, you know, talk about our energy sector as being sort of the first lifeline because you know, so much of what we do, relies on our availability to use electricity. I guess one thing that I’m wondering is, what’s one way for us to mitigate and prepare for, you know, anything that would deter an EMP attack and to sort of strengthen our electric grid.

Melissa Hancock  13:49 

It’s a process of getting the government and the utility industry to come to some sort of a conclusion of how it’s going to get paid for for one way or another somehow, and it can happen, there is equipment that can harden the grid against EMP, and it, it would be a deterrent, it would make our enemies in the United States deathbed enemies, less likely to use that as a technique. So it’s just getting government and industry to work together. And that’s difficult the industry has bought there in a difficult position. Utilities find themselves as corporations in the private sector serving two masters, their shareholders and their ratepayers. their shareholders want the largest possible dividends, that means profit, which means living expenses, rate pairs. And that means you and me, anybody who uses electricity, that’s everyone and expect that when you split a switch, the electricity will be there. And it really is a miracle. Every day, you just have faith that when you turn on that switch, the electricity is there. So we expect reliability. And now we need to be worried about safety and security. And that means resiliency. So utilities have argued that EMP is a low probability high impact event and not worth the expense of investment. And government is tried to act but inevitably things get stalled in Congress. So we’ve had this whole do nothing situation for a long, long time.

Irene Conforti  15:45 

Right, I know that with that vulnerability, and without having sort of that public private partnership, that does seem pretty difficult. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us on EM student, historically that you’d like to share with us regarding the threats?

Melissa Hancock  16:09 

Okay, well, um, you know, I think that we kind of think of ourselves as being very protected. And immune, if you will, I guess that’s not exactly the right word. But just say, for more during World War Two, everything happened in Europe and in the South Pacific in it, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, it really didn’t affect us. And then we’ve done a number of proxy wars in Afghanistan and, and Vietnam and various places. And so during World War Two, we were hit by two large oceans. And I have to say that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an anomaly. It was a logistical feat for the Japanese, as was our retaliatory bombing of Japan, led by Jimmy do little, I mean, literally, the pilots were told when you run out of gas land best you can. I mean, it was, in some sense, they signed up for a destination, they didn’t know they were going to come back alive. They did, but it was difficult. So with the lightning speed of computers, and rocket technology, and a host of other technological feats, if the world went to war, chances are parts of it would take place on American soil. And that’s really difficult for us to

Irene Conforti  17:38 

think about and to

Melissa Hancock  17:39 


Irene Conforti  17:40 

We’ve never had that happen. You know, and I guess I want to sort of tie it back to Homeland Security and to FEMA, and sort of what what else would you like to tell the EM Student listeners about sort of that US experience?

Melissa Hancock  18:03 

Yes, after 911, there was another fact that did not reach general public awareness, and that was the function of civil defense was transferred from the Department of Defense to the Department of Homeland Security, typically, under FEMA. Now, Craig Fugate, the former head of FEMA testified that FEMA cannot handle a nationwide event, communities must organize to handle a long term loss of power. So we’re going to Google Analytics following the publication of William Forstchen’s book: One Second After which is on EMP and the effects that could have the prepping movement began and those with an awareness started to stockpile food, water and medicine, wonderful websites began to how to prepare as such as Daisy Luther’s The Organic Pepper. But the first advice of preference has been to maintain silence about it. But I think, you know, as humans, we have survived through group efforts. That’s where community organization comes in, and where the EM students and em community can be so helpful. Michael Mabee has written an excellent book with guidelines on how a community can become prepared for a long term power outage. It’s entitled, The Civil Defense book, emergency preparedness for the rural or suburban community. And I was looking on Amazon where you can find us and he’s written a second one I wasn’t even aware of called prepping for a suburban or rural community, building a civil defense plant for a long term catastrophe. So we need to start looking at everything a whole new way. Ask What can your local hospitals backup system do for emergency power? How long? Is it one week, two weeks? Can it be longer? You know, what is the hospital going to do? If it is powers out for a year or longer? standards might have to be rewritten to require hospitals to have a longer backup, for example. What about gas stations? And I’ll tell you another story. My husband and I riding the auto train to Florida. And as happens on the auto train sit across from a over dinner. And the other couple came, and it was just after Superstorm Sandy that affected Long Island in northern New Jersey. And they said, oh, we’re so glad to be warm. And I said, Well, don’t you have a generator, and they said, well, but it takes gasoline and the gasoline station, no electricity, so they could pump gas. So I think it’s really imperative that local regulations are needed to require gas stations to have backup fuel for their pumps to keep gas flowing. And, you know,

Irene Conforti  21:19 

It’s definitely difficult to imagine, you know, not having the heat, you know, even from your generator, and, you know, imagining that a hospital won’t have backup power for longer than a couple of weeks. It also is difficult for for those without water in certain instances as well. I know that, you know, during flooding, you imagine, well, your house is surrounded by water, but much of it is not, almost none of it is drinkable water or is fresh water. So that that can also be something to think about as people are preparing to also, you know, think about their their water supply.

Melissa Hancock  22:10 

Exactly. So for those who have wells there in luck, there’s literally a device that can be inserted in a wellhead that allows you to pump water by hand. And so this is something that EM people have to look at, everybody’s going to need water and a lot of it that you have to know, at least in the city of Philadelphia, where I live, Fairmount Park used to have these places we go and collect water, we have to identify what those are and make sure they’re operational and they haven’t been shut off or whatever. If pumps are us, well, then they need backup fuel and something to operate them because people are going to need water. And water storage is absolutely critical. Now they sell big containers, and you can get water preservative that stores water for about five years. And they also sell camp water. And I gave some of that to my brother who lives in Brooklyn, because it could be stored and stored outside under a tarp or stored in the storage area outside and literally you can freeze it. In other words, if you stare stored in a storage area, the place freezes and then on thoughts. And sometimes like with water, it would stand in the can. But this water can be frozen in a you know outdoor store at a storage area that’s unheated, and it still doesn’t explode or distort, or you form the can. There’s all sorts of trouble finding discreet sources of fuel that can be stored inside the do not emit carbon monoxide. This is a huge challenge. For example, gasoline is flammable and does not last, my husband was just absolutely, he was not happy when I came home with a can filled with gasoline from the gas station, it’s going to catch on fire. So I do have the means to purchase a chest where you can store the gasoline. So I went to the place of purchasing that online. However, it didn’t tell you that it needed a special hose going to the outside, and a special pump that went with it. That was a disaster. So you don’t you you can’t store gasoline for long periods of time to run a gasoline generator. So a propane generator is much better. But with propane, if you’re going to store a lot of it, look around at convenience stores, they have wire cages. So if you’re storing multiple canisters, and if you’re going where you’re without it, you’ve got a generator, you’re going to need multiple canisters, or you need to hide a big propane tank under the ground would can be easily pilfered and a grid down situation. So one of my favorite choices is the nature of alcohol, especially for cooking. That’s one of the things that doesn’t admit carbon monoxide. And that has to be definitely something you get, you get a lot of batteries, and you get a carbon monoxide detector for inside. I found that any number of outdoor cooking stoves on them, they all emit carbon monoxide, well, what are you going to do in the winter when it’s freezing cold. So finding a place hard enough to boil water and cook food is a challenge. And the nature of alcohol is the best I’ve been able to find so far.

Irene Conforti  26:09 

Well, we really appreciate all of your tips. And I know, you know, not only would you know these types of tips really useful for when, or if there is ever an issue with our electric grid. But hopefully, you know, we don’t ever have to get to that situation. And we are sort of preparing for having a stronger and more resilient electric grid to avoid any of those electromagnetic effects that we were talking about earlier. And it’s good to be prepared. And it’s always good to sort of be your own advocate, to to plan for the worst. and hope for the best. But it is it sounds like you’ve got a lot of really great tips. And I know that right now, even even though this is a much different challenge those who are sort of under the Brexit, in the UK, people are really looking at, hey, how is our economics going to be affected by this? And should we also prepare to have some extra generators and water and medicine, and food in the event of Brexit, so sort of some of these tips can also translate into other situations and disasters, so to speak, that might not necessarily, you know, affect electricity, but that, you know, could could be other issues. Align where, you know, that that could be that could be an issue and and it’s always smart to have you know, if you’re if you’re going to be going hiking to have something that can filter water in and you know, those are those are great tips. So thank you very much. And we really appreciate Melissa having you on EM student one last question for you is, you know what? I know you mentioned a couple of books. Is there another book that you’re reading right now?

Melissa Hancock  28:15 

The Grid: Frame Wires Between Americans, and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke. and its most excellent. She has done a lot of research. And she speaks as of the grid as the largest machine. Can you think of that? It’s all interconnected.

Irene Conforti  28:40 

I’ll have to check out that book. I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Melissa Hancock  28:44 

You’re welcome.

Irene Conforti  28:45 

Yeah, so we will put a link to the books that Melissa has mentioned, and you’d love to have you back on the program. And we really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to sort of share your story, share some of the tips about the electric grid. Thank you so much, Melissa.

Melissa Hancock  29:04 

You are welcome.


LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-hancock-8409a723/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ResilientGrid

Website: https://www.resilientsocieties.org

Email: mhancock742@comcast.net

On Situation Radio – https://sitchradio.com/our-shows/em-student/


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