What is the deal with those FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters?

Back last February, it was reported that FEMA/Department of Homeland Security was mysteriously constructing prepackaged AM transmitter buildings at various PEP (Primary Entry Point) transmitter sites across the country as something call “Primary Entry Point Expansion.”  These buildings contain a 5 KW Nautel AM transmitter, EAS gear, satellite equipment (the exact equipment list is undisclosed) and a backup generator all in a shielded (Faraday Cage), prefabricated building placed inside of a fenced in compound at the station’s transmitter site.  The buildings are being put in place, but not connected to anything in the outside world.  They are planning to have about 80 (the number keeps increasing) of these structures in place when the project is completed by mid 2013.

FEMA/DHS IPAWS expansion project
FEMA/DHS IPAWS PEP expansion project

Why, inquiring minds want to know, would they do that?

The new buildings and equipment are, of course, not provided to the government for free.  I would estimate each unit costs at least $200,000 based on the following:

  • A new solid state 5 KW AM transmitter costs $50-55K
  • A new 35 KW generator costs $23K
  • A new, shielded communications structure costs $70-85K
  • Misc racks, equipment, wiring, shipping, installation costs, fuel tanks, fencing, etc $40K
Those prices are roughly what a private company might pay, the government procurement costs would be higher.  Multiply by 80 and it equals at least $16M, perhaps double that when project administration is considered. In the distant past, through something called the Broadcast Station Protection Program (BSPP), FEMA did provide generators, fuel tanks, transfer switches and occasionally a bomb shelter to key EBS stations throughout the country.  In the recent past, FEMA and the government in general has been reluctant to fund even mandated changes in the EAS system, first in 1997 when EAS was first implemented and again in 2011 when the CAP modifications were mandated.  Why are they now spending at least $16M to provide EMP hardened facilities for AM radio stations?

The rational for this current wave of government generosity, as reported in several industry periodicals, is simply a matter of supplying in depth backup facilities in accordance with Executive Order 13407. The design of the structure and manner of installation seems to indicate the main concern of FEMA is some type of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP).  If an EMP were to happen and it took out the station’s main transmitters, these could be connected to the existing antenna system and switched on.  They would provide emergency programming and interface directly with FEMA’s IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System).  No mention at all of the station licensee’s ability to use these facilities, only FEMA.  It would seem that the licensee would be excluded from using their own frequency if these “backup” transmitters were put into use.

The interesting thing about this is that there is a coincidence with the upswing of solar cycle 24.  Back in 2008, likely when this project was likely first dreamed up, the predictions were for a great number of sun spots in this cycle.  That has not happened and in fact, this cycle in now predicted to be the weakest solar cycle since 1823.  Even weak sun spots cycles can create problems, but does that warrant supplying 80 backup transmitters, generators, fuel tanks and buildings to various AM broadcasting stations throughout the country?  Further, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) are fairly slow moving events, the sun is well monitored; alerts would be issued and precautions taken.

The story doesn’t add up, but it is difficult to say exactly why.

One other thing to consider: HEMP (High altitude Electromagnetic Pulse from a nuclear air burst).  AM transmitters are more robust when it comes to HEMP than FM transmitters are.  This is because of their modulation type and frequency of operation.  A 5 KW AM transmitter can withstand RF voltages six or eight times it’s name plate carrier rating.  Tube type transmitters are even more robust than solid state.  The FM broadcast band falls right in the middle of the HEMP fast pulse frequency (72-225 MHz), which will likely resonate in the tuning circuits of the transmitter exposed to it and destroy all of the active devices.  Not so with AM transmitters.

A HEMP event would cause catastrophic damage to the electrical grid across wide areas of the continent (see also;  Starfish Prime). The voltages instantaneously induced on computer circuit boards and power supplies would be so high, they would likely burst into flames if they were close enough to the detonation.  The same for almost all other electronic devices with circuit boards.  It would set the country back one hundred or more years, technologically, causing massive disruptions in the food supply chain.  Such an act would surely be met with massive nuclear retaliation by the US.  The military has not only hardened all of it’s communications and command facilities, they have undergone rigorous EMP testing, finding and fixing design flaws.  Thus, the US military’s capacity to wage war would continue undiminished after a HEMP event, a fact that all other members of the nuclear club are surely aware of.

Who, in their right mind would launch such an attack?  Nobody.

In the light of current government trends where the FBI engages in a one year sting operation on a Amish farmer selling raw milk, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is running guns to Mexican drug cartels, The US Department of Education employing its own SWAT team to serve warrants for delinquent student loans (they say no but offer no other explanation), Gibson Guitars being repeatedly raided for improperly labeled wood products,  and so forth, makes me wonder what the government is doing.

Ponder this:

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

Or are they.  We need to start asking more questions.