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Like this article? We recommend Critical Systems Depend on Solid State Controls (SCADA Systems)

Critical Systems Depend on Solid State Controls (SCADA Systems)

At the same time, use of automated control systems has allowed many companies and agencies to operate effectively with small workforces. And while manual control of many systems is probably possible, the number of people knowledgeable enough to support manual operations becomes more limited every day.

Stated another way, any repair of physical damage due to EMP or other cause is in most companies constrained by an increasingly small workforce. Today, maintenance crews are sized to perform routine and preventive maintenance of what is generally high-reliability, solid state equipment. When repair or replacement is required that exceeds routine levels, due to a regional disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake, arrangements are usually in place to augment crews from outside the affected area. The simultaneous and far-reaching effects from an EMP change all of this and exponentially magnify the problem. Because responders will most likely will be occupied in their own areas first, combined with being greatly hampered by the loss of critical services such as communications and electrical power, repairs normally requiring weeks of effort may take much longer, perhaps even years.

In April 2008, the report entitled Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack was published. In particular, the commission thought it important to single out growth and resultant dependence in the area of automated monitoring and control systems. These robots of the modern age are otherwise known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. SCADAs have emerged as critical and growing elements of a quietly unfolding industrial revolution spurred by the computer age. The proliferation of innumerable SCADA systems—along with their electronic cousins including digital control systems (DCS) and programmable logic controllers (PLC)—affects every aspect of critical infrastructure in the nation. While conferring financial efficiency in addition to flexible operational control, the growing dependence of our infrastructures on control systems like these represents increased vulnerability. EMP affecting such systems introduces vastly expanded, and even exponential, consequences to infrastructure.

SCADAs are electronic control systems that are used for data acquisition and control over large and geographically distributed infrastructure systems. They find extensive use, for example, in electrical transmission and distribution, water management, and oil and gas pipelines. Physically, a SCADA system resembles a personal computer (PC). It might contain familiar-appearing circuit boards, chips of various sorts, and cable connectors to the external world much the same as any other PC.

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