By Roni Davis:
There is no sugar-coating it—we are at the sun’s mercy.
Our modern, internet-dependent society hasn’t endured extreme space weather yet, and many scientists in the aerospace industry are concerned about what might happen when we do.
Far from the dud Y2K conspiracy that dominated popular culture in the lead-up to the new millennium, we know what havoc geomagnetic storms will cause for our electrical grids. The question of our society facing a catastrophic geomagnetic isn’t a “what if” but rather a “when.”
What steps can your business take to make sure it can withstand a geomagnetic storm? This is the question we will explore in this article.
But first, let’s define some terms.
What is Space Weather?
The US government defines space weather as the variable conditions of the solar system that strongly influence Earth. Space weather, as it affects the earth, is singlehandedly caused by our star—the sun.
There are two solar events that can have a devastating impact on our society’s electrical system. These are coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares.
Coronal Mass Ejections
When magnetic conditions in the sun are just right, our star ejects a large amount of plasma. These plasma ejections can be quite large—and they grow larger as they move away from the sun. The most significant CMEs can get as big as 25% of the distance between the earth and the sun.
CMEs have their own magnetic fields that interact with Earth’s magnetic field as the two meet. This space weather event moves fast, but not nearly as fast as the speed of light. CMEs can reach earth in a few days.
Solar flares are massive bursts of radiation that occur when magnetic conditions on the sun are just right. Solar flares are mostly made of light (photons), distinguishing them from CMEs, which are made of plasma—or super-heated matter. Because solar flares are made of light, they can reach the earth in 8 minutes.
What Are the Effects of CMEs and Solar Flares?
Both CMEs and solar flares cause solar storms on earth. A “solar storm” describes the atmospheric effects of space weather on the earth. Depending on the strength of the solar storm, communication and web-based technologies are at risk of being damaged.
Communications satellites, which are responsible for our global communications network, are at the greatest risk. Mild storms can cause mass power outages, cutting people and businesses off from critical infrastructure. Electronic devices could be destroyed with a powerful enough solar storm, causing a shock to modern society unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.
What Can Businesses Do to Prepare for Solar Storms?
The implication of severe space weather for businesses seems sobering, but there are ways to help mitigate the risks of a solar storm. It’s true that we cannot change what the sun does, but we can prepare for the inevitable.
Prediction and Preparation are Crucial
Scientists are growing more adept at predicting solar weather events. Space weather forecasts are crucial for keeping our power grid and communication systems up and running. The sun gives off warnings that indicate when it is more likely to produce solar flares and CMEs.
In the case of a CME, businesses will have a few days to prepare. They can put measures in place to ensure that when the CME contacts the earth, their electronics are not operating. Shutting down operations may seem costly, but the alternative is a complete loss of infrastructure.
There is less time to react in the case of a massive solar flare—8 minutes or so. The best defense against a solar flare (and a CME, for that matter) is to make sure your business’s electrical system is up to date.
With high-quality, modern transformers, businesses can help resist the power surge from minor to moderate solar flares. In the case of a catastrophic solar flare, coordinate with your local, state, and federal governments on how best to mitigate the effects.
Have Your Data Backed Up
It seems convenient not to have a paper trail anymore. However, entirely relying on digital storage leaves your business vulnerable to the adverse effects of geomagnetic storms. Consider making and keeping hard copies of essential data as retro as it sounds.
The ease of technology can leave us completely vulnerable when that technology fails.
Formulate a Plan
Your business probably has a plan in place for dealing with cyberattacks, fires, robberies, and active shooters. Why wouldn’t you also put a plan in place for dealing with the certainty of geomagnetic storms?
To familiarize yourself with how the government is preparing for geomagnetic storms, check out this Homeland Security Guidance.
About the Author: Roni Davis is a techie, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area. She writes for Mosser Appeals, a family law appeals attorney in Philadelphia.