For telecom companies, the prospect of a geomagnetic storm is comparable to how a homeowner might face the threat of floods and earthquakes. These hazards do not occur regularly, although small- to medium-sized events can affect a limited area every few years. For the long term, infrastructure needs to be protected against the low-probability-yet-intense 100-year event, which can mean widespread catastrophe.

What damage to network equipment is possible from HEMP events?

High-altitude electromagetic pulse (HEMP) events can be generated by a surge in solar radiation or delivered intentionally through weapon systems. In this situation, the Earth’s magnetic field amplifies and induces electric current through all wires, cables, and circuitry across a wide area.

A low-intensity surge can cause short circuits in electronics and momentary disruption in signal or power transmission lines. But a more powerful magnetic storm—a 100-year event—would be similar to sending extremely high-voltage surges through conductive materials. This would permanently disable sensitive electronics not designed for heavy electrical loads.

This extra energy can even exceed the capacity of large-scale industrial equipment, grid components, cell phone towers, and communication lines, rendering them inoperable for months. If critical nodes of communication are affected, the entire network may be prone for failure, where sending and receiving signals is impossible.

What precautions do telecom companies need to take?

Given that communication networks are essential for emergencies, protection against EMP and HEMP eventualities is a serious security and public safety concern. Therefore, telecom providers are mandated to ensure the resilience and continuity of their services.

Stewards of communication systems implement specialized protection measures, which shielding important equipment and network nodes, implementing surge protection devices, and implementing backup power supplies.

Shielding is often achieved through a medium-voltage HEMP filter. This device protects electrical infrastructure from the most damaging effects of electromagnetic pulses.

The HEMP filter works by filtering out the high-frequency components of the electromagnetic pulse, which are the most damaging to electrical equipment. The device, a configuration of capacitors, inductors, and resistors designed to maximize protection, can be fit into communication line connection points and other important network installations.

When a HEMP event occurs, the filter shunts high-frequency energy away from the protected equipment and into a grounding system or a surge suppressor. This routes the surge away from critical components and allows it to dissipate harmlessly.

What parts of a network need shielding?

Medium-voltage HEMP filters are typically designed to protect electrical infrastructure that operates between 1 kV and 69 kV voltages, and are often installed in power transformers, switchgear, and distribution lines. They are often used in critical infrastructure such as power plants, hospitals, and military installations, where failure of electrical systems could have serious consequences.

The same shielding is employed on critical infrastructure in telecom. Some areas where medium-voltage HEMP filters can provide resilience include:

Data centers: Home to large amounts of electronic equipment, data centers today also stores data essential to the operation of business and government agencies. A failure in these systems could result in significant monetary loss, compromise sensitive data, or cause downtime in operations.

Cell towers: In remote areas where other communication methods may not be available, cell towers are a critical lifeline in emergency scenarios. A failure in these towers could impact the delivery of emergency response. Cell towers affected by high-current spikes may take a long time to bring back on-line.

Power substations: While telecom companies do not typically own their own power substations, they rely heavily on the reliable operation of these facilities to ensure that their networks remain operational and provide essential communication services to customers. Often, they can confer with local utilities to make sure these stations contain proper shielding.

Protecting an overall network of course requires a strategic plan identifying vulnerabilities, choosing the best method of protection, and optimizaing for cost.

Find out more about TSS medium-voltage HEMP filters.

If you are responsible for a telecom entity, discuss your specific needs with a knowledgeable TSS representative.