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- Intrinsically-secure PLC and RTU control
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Managing EMP Protection
June 23, 2022 | Robert Bergman
With at least four nation states developing the capability to launch catastrophic EMP attacks (see EMP Wars), it is well worth exploring prevention and mitigation strategies. Although high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon could have devastating consequences in both near and long-term, there are more localized and manageable scenarios.
In a 2019 report titled Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Protection and Resilience Guidelines for Critical Infrastructure and Equipment, the U.S. National Coordinating Center for Communications (NCCC) supports the Secretary of Homeland Security in its mission to guide EMP prevention and mitigation. It describes a defense-in-depth approach that increasingly hardens equipment, critical systems and infrastructures for EMP immunity and resiliency. The document defines four levels of preparation based on how much downtime an organization can tolerate and how much budget they can apply to the task of hardening their systems.
At the first two levels of defense are systems that can tolerate hours or even days of downtime before being totally unable to fulfil their mission. They include practices like unplugging unused devices; putting ferrite clip-on beads on connected equipment cables; implementing surge protection on power cords, antenna lines, and data cables; and even wrapping electronics in aluminum foil, creating a makeshift Faraday cage.
While most level 1 and 2 interventions are low-cost and can provide some degree of protection, they are not suitable for operations that can tolerate little or no downtime. Levels 3 and 4, include all the recommendations of the first two levels, but add additional layers of protection.
At levels 3 and 4, commercial and military standards come into play. These include The International Electrotechnical Commission IEC 61000-4-5, which covers surge immunity and Military Standard 461 (MIL-STD-461), which covers control of electromagnetic interference with subsystems and electromechanical equipment.
Level 3 guidelines are for organizations, facilities, and systems that can tolerate no more than a few minutes of mission outage before they are unable to fulfill their mission to protect life, health, or security. They include augmenting critical systems with electromagnetically shielded racks and rooms that are certified to reduce EMP field strength by at least 97 percent. These could include adding protective metallic shielding to the operating environment, and solutions can range from a single equipment rack to an entire control room, to an entire building or facility.
Level 4 guidelines cover operations that cannot tolerate more than a few seconds of outage. These include time-urgent command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence missions such as nuclear command and control communications and Presidential conferencing systems. They also include non-military related systems and missions such as nuclear power plant controls, medical life support systems, and time-critical air traffic control functions. Where Level 3 compliant shielding would reduce emp strength by 97 percent, Level 4 shielding would reduce it by a factor of at least 99.99 percent.
Implementing level 3 and level 4 protection can be costly, however, significant savings and protection are enabled by ensuring that the most critical control systems are already EMP protected. Bedrock Automation, for example, offers control systems and power systems that are certified to the MIL-SPEC-461G standard. In a recent video, we show the Bedrock OSA control system and power system achieving MIL-SPEC-461G compliant protection. The sealed, all metal-housing and electronics integration function much like a Faraday cage, but because the casing is an integral part of the control system and the power system, the protection for this component comes at no additional incremental cost or complexity to the user.