President Barack Obama today issued an Executive Order that defines what the nation’s response should be to a catastrophic space weather event that takes out large portions of the electrical power grid, resulting in cascading failures that would affect key services such as water supply, healthcare, and transportation.
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“Space weather events, in the form of solar flares, solar energetic particles, and geomagnetic disturbances, occur regularly, some with measurable effects on critical infrastructure systems and technologies, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite operations and communication, aviation, and the electrical power grid,” the White House wrote in the order. “Space weather has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents. 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.”
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The Executive Order ideally will coordinate the responses across government agencies such as NASA, the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy and others to help minimize economic loss and save lives by enhancing national security, identifying successful mitigation technologies, and ordering the creation of nationwide response and recovery plans and procedures, the White House stated.
Further, the Executive Order will enhance the scientific and technical capabilities of the United States, including improved prediction of space-weather events and their effects on infrastructure systems and services. By this action, the Federal Government will lead by example and help motivate State and local governments, and other nations, to create communities that are more resilient to the hazards of space weather.
The Executive Order reinforces the formal National Space Weather Strategy and accompanying Action Plan which were announced last year. It also bolsters other work such as the replacement of aging satellites that monitor and help forecast space weather, proposing space-weather standards for both the national and international air space, development of regulations to ensure the continued operation of the electric grid during an extreme space weather event, proposing a new option for replacing crucial Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers damaged by space weather, and developing domestic production sources for EHV transformers, the White House wrote.
As an example of updating the nation’s aging satellite-based weather warning system, in July NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft became operational. becoming America’s primary warning system for big solar magnetic storms headed towards Earth.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who will operate DSCOVR, data from the spacecraft’s three solar wind instruments, coupled with a new forecast model that is set to come online later this year, will let NOAA forecasters predict geomagnetic storm magnitude on a regional basis. Geomagnetic storms occur when plasma and magnetic fields streaming from the sun impact Earth’s magnetic field. Large magnetic eruptions from the sun have the potential to bring major disruptions to power grids, aviation, telecommunications, and GPS systems, NOAA said.
In addition to the Executive Order, federal a number of non-federal groups announced actions to further enhance national space-weather readiness. These actions include:
- The U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will make publicly available space environment data to validate and improve space-weather forecasting.
- The Administration, in keeping with national priorities of opening up government information and using innovation and technology to support disaster response and recovery, is launching a Space Weather Data Initiative.
- The Department of State is committing to hosting a series of international workshops and meetings, based in DC, to increase international collaboration around space-weather preparedness.
- The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is ensuring that space-weather is incorporated into guidance documents for transportation-security and emergency-management officials.
- The National Emergency Management Association is increasing its space-weather training and education efforts.
- Airlines for America is committing to educate the commercial aviation community on space weather and its effects.
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