The U.S. government already has plans in place in case natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, earthquakes and wild forest fires strike. It appears that the Obama administration is also making the necessary preparations to face space weather events that can potentially cause catastrophic damages to a technology-driven civilization.
Space weather events such as solar flares, solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar energetic particles are natural occurrences that can pose threats. Although a massive solar storm can strike only about once every 500 years, its consequences could be devastating. For one, it may permanently damage power grids across the world.
"Frankly, this could be one of the most severe natural disasters that the country, and major portions of the world, could face," said space weather consultant John Kappenman of such an event.
The White House, aware of the threats posed by these events, released a contingency plan in case a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from solar flares wipes out power grids. Such an event would make cellphones, credit cards, the internet and electric lights useless.
The government has already taken steps to mitigate the unwanted effects of space weather events. Efforts included the replacement of old satellite assets that are crucial to forecasting and monitoring space weather, proposals for space-weather standards, development of regulations that would ensure continued operation of electric grids in case an extreme space weather event occurs, and proposal for a new option to replace important Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers destroyed by space weather event.
To improve preparedness, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the National Space Weather Action Plan (PDF) and the National Space Weather Strategy (PDF), which involve other agencies to take part in making preparations for a worst-case scenario such as the 1859 Carrington event, a powerful geomagnetic solar storm that caused telegraph lines to explode at the time.
The plans seek to improve forecasting abilities for space weather events, launch a Space Weather Data Initiative, and boost space-weather training and education efforts, among others.
"Our Nation's security, economic vitality, and daily functioning depend on the reliable operations of satellites and aircraft, communications networks, navigation systems, and the electric power grid," the OSTP said in a statement. "Efforts will facilitate the integration of space-weather considerations into planning and decision-making at all levels, ensuring that the United States is appropriately prepared for and resilient to future space-weather events."