DC on T2

Capitol Corner — March 2019

Published monthly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective content, Capitol Corner focuses on one notable news item pertaining to the T2 community. The focus stems from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided. For more information and Corner-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

This month, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released their updated National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. This version of the Strategy revises the version released in 2015; new versions are published on a set schedule as technology and society advances. Our deep dive into this document will consider how the OSTP intends to protect the U.S. and the international front from devastating space weather events.

According to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), solar and other space weather storms in fall 2003 had far-reaching and global impacts from downed power grids to disrupted GPS activity and air traffic problems. (This year’s report also references a Canadian power blackout in March 1989 triggered by similar conditions.) AGU cited a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) filed after the unusual solar activity that encouraged better readiness and training, real-time data acquisition, and next-generation weather modeling in order to predict and prevent future issues. Since 2003, AGU has collected and published data from space weather activity on its Space Weather online portal, which has been used by the United Nations.

The 2015 iteration of the Strategy concerned with six strategic goals tying into 2003’s response to extraterrestrial weather. In summary, these goals sought to help the public and private sectors work together to understand the magnitude and frequency of these weather events and respond accordingly, while also implementing emergency and routine preparedness efforts between each significant occurrence. In addition, the NOAA’s emphasis on accurate modeling and forecasting continued here, as well as a focus on international cooperation to ensure maximum global safety and awareness. The Action Plan was separately released to elaborate on how each strategic goal would be accomplished scientifically and infrastructurally. In the lead-up to this year’s version, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a request for information pertaining to how they could improve the Strategy and Action Plan, including its prioritization of forecasting and predicting future space weather. Comments were closed last May.

The latest Strategy and Action Plan reorganizes the strategic goals into objectives that revise and reinforce OSTP’s mission of protecting against space weather, and also ensure that forecasting models and readiness efforts are well-tested, evaluated, and understood. A summary of the objectives is below.

  1. Enhance the Protection of National Security, Homeland Security, and Commercial Assets and Operations against the Effects of Space Weather—In order to ensure systems are not made vulnerable during times of extreme space weather or in its aftermath, the Strategy suggests refining the NSTC benchmarks for determining levels of space weather intensity. Current benchmarks are measured to capture how affected systems and populations would be should a weather event reach its highest severity level. After these benchmarks are refined—the criteria for how to do this haven’t yet been published—the effects of space weather events on infrastructure, networks, and mission-critical maintenance will be analyzed and adjusted accordingly. Also, next-generation solutions and pilot programs to protect against these situations will need be implemented during the next three years across all science and defense agencies.
  2. Develop and Disseminate Accurate and Timely Space Weather Characterization and Forecasts—To better predict space weather, baselines for observational capabilities and platforms on land and in air, space, and sea need to be better established. Cost-saving initiatives and reliability standards need to be maintained to ensure their adoption across the government, as well as in the international community. Improving measurement and modeling technology must complete its lab-to-market transition to be properly used while ensuring both the public and private sectors understand their readouts.
  3. Establish Plans and Procedures for Responding to and Recovering from Space Weather Events—Developing comprehensive, defined federal plans for addressing the effects of, disseminating information about, and enhancing operations after space weather events is crucial to ensuring national and international safety in these times. The plans will be tested and evaluated to ensure the appropriateness, effectiveness, and widespread communication of benchmarks, as well as the time-sensitive response to these weather patterns.

The National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan can be read in full here. AGU’s Space Weather journal is available here.

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