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“Painfully Unprepared For Space Weather”?

June 19th, 2010 · 5 Comments

I don’t know if I should thank my friend Rich Cooper for informing us of yet another threat to be concerned about — space weather. But alas, more information the better is a watchword of this blog. In a post, “Painfully Unprepared For Space Weather” on the Security Debrief blog, Rich writes about attending the Space Weather Enterprise Forum in Washington last week.

If you can’t see a threat, or describe it in terms that the average person can understand or appreciate, is it really a threat? That was the challenge put before 200+ scientists, physicists, meteorologists and other very technical specialists at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum on June 8 at the National Press Club. This highly unique assembly gathered to discuss the emerging concerns regarding increasingly dramatic changes in our universe’s space weather.

Space weather you ask? First off, this is not about meteor showers, alien invasions or Texas-sized asteroids colliding with the Earth. Rather, it is about how our sun and planet interact with one another and impact upon our atmosphere and life here on Earth.

Skeptical? Rich notes that Space Weather is on the radar of the nation’s top preparedness official, FEMA head Craig Fugate, who believes there is a need to educate the country on the threat:

He explained that as the person who leads America’s largest emergency management network, the country is looking to him and FEMA colleagues to take action on a range of threats, such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. When he mentioned the threat of geo-magnetic storm or other space weather disturbance, he explained that nearly no one – from the general public to other emergency managers to the people he interacts with at the White House – has a clue on what he is talking about. He called upon the Space Weather Forum attendees to get him better data, better forecasts, and increased warnings so that he, along with others in the room, could better educate policy makers and the general public. Without it, he could not adequately prepare the public.

Fugate also drove home the point through anecdotal examples that when a geomagnetic or solar storm event occurs, it will not just impact one small geographic area like a flood, fire, or tornado. Impacts with such a storm would be hemispheric in size and would have tremendous disruptions to infrastructures (e.g. communications, power/energy, etc.).

In chronicling the history of these events and their previous occurrences, Fugate stated bluntly that we as a nation are not ready to deal with these storms. He further explained that while the country had endured previous large geomagnetic storms, our country and world today are so absolutely dependent upon a range of vulnerable technologies (e.g., satellite transmissions, GPS, cell phones, etc.) to run everything that when “the big one” hits us, we are going to be in really bad shape. In that situation, the idea of who is in charge of what becomes very important and no one had a good idea of those responsibilities at the present time.

Fugate shared that he was starting to exercise his senior leadership team and other FEMA personnel to begin thinking through these scenarios. He also explained that he had exercises on the horizon to expose more federal, state, local, and tribal personnel to these prospective situations as well. While he spoke in generalities about his concerns, Fugate specifically mentioned the survivability of GPS and existing communications architectures.

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Tags: Hurricane Preparedness · Preparedness Ideas

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Griffiths // Jun 20, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Just happened to see this. Link at the top mentions a Space Weather forum in Washington last week.

  • 2 Harry // Jun 21, 2010 at 1:49 am

    So when the storm hits, what technologies, particularly communications technologies, would be able to still get through? I’m thinking it might only be HAM radios clicking Morse Code. I never do manage to find the time to learn that stuff. Always been on my “it would be cool to…” list.

  • 3 [Avian Flu Diary] A Carrington Event | Influenza Virus Mashup // Jun 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    [...] Saturday, John Solomon at the In Case of Emergency Blog, wrote about the threat posed by severe space weather and the attentions being given it by FEMA and the Federal [...]

  • 4 Bluebee // Aug 14, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I am not sure if HAM radio morse code will work – may be for short distance it does.
    But, these technologies will work:
    Wind power, generating compressed air for your air tools and your air cars – yes, there are cars powered by air out there! And don’t forget Stirling motors, powered directly by the sun.
    Google for “There is a secret, I heard about long ago” and you will find my answers.

  • 5 Ivory Rieger // Aug 17, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    I’m not sure if you have any more lurking about the geo-magnetic storm stuff here but the whole grid – as in all of North America – could likely go down if hit with a big enough solar storm. ANd not just for a temporary bit but up to years. Here’s one link but there are a bunch of others I can provide…

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