JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
The San Antonio and Joint Base San Antonio electromagnetic defense partnership has made great strides since its inception just over a year ago, and they continue building resiliency against harmful electromagnetic pulses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense collaborative, comprised of local and national subject matter experts from government, military, industry, research, and academia, was organized in conjunction with the JBSA-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative, or JBSA-EDI, in response to Presidential Executive Order 13865, “Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses.” An additional executive order was issued May 1, 2020, reiterating the importance of protecting the country’s bulk-power system.
“The JBSA-EDI is leading the collaborative, community-based effort to harden San Antonio against electromagnetic pulses or other events that could cause a long-term regional power outage, and COVID-19 only increased the need to ensure we have resilient services and infrastructure,” said Lt. Col. Eddie “Thumper” Stamper, mission coordinator for JBSA-EDI.
That is why their team quickly transitioned to a virtual environment once stay-at-home precautions were enacted.
“We started teleworking as JBSA shifted to Health Protection Condition Charlie," Stamper said. "We knew our internal dynamics would change but were concerned about how it would impact our engagement with community partners. Fortunately, by the middle of our first week teleworking, our level of external engagement had actually increased."
Jody Little, Information Exploitation, Defense and Intelligence Solutions manager at Southwest Research Institute and the lead for two of SA-EMD's four working groups, agrees the groups’ progress has continued, even accelerated, during the pandemic.
"Despite the dangers and life-style changes that the COVID-19 crisis has brought about on our nation, we are continuing to preserver and drive the San Antonio Electromagnetic Defense efforts forward at accelerating paces,” he said. “The ability to work at home and use telecommuting tools has only been a minor imposition to our efforts in creating a resilient and sustainable electromagnetic defense for JBSA and the nation.
"In fact, because the working groups were able to quickly adapt to virtual collaboration, they have been able to further increase productivity on both the group’s Domestic Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations and 5G initiatives," Little said. “In this sense, the COVID-19 crisis has given us even more perspective on what needs to be accomplished to protect JBSA, the City of San Antonio, and the nation from electromagnetic pulses."
Stamper was also impressed by the progress the team has made under the circumstances.
“I am amazed at how rapidly our communications and information technology professionals adapted network support to enable literally thousands of users to telework effectively,” he said. “We’ve adapted well as a team to operating virtually.”
With digital tools enabling collaboration, the JBSA-EDI and San Antonio Electromagnetic Defense continue to thrive as virtual meetings with partners from all over Texas and the nation become the new norm.
“The JBSA-EDI team hasn’t missed a beat despite all the challenges COVID-19 has brought,” said Fred Bonewell, chief security, safety and gas solutions officer for CPS Energy. “They quickly and effectively shifted all their meetings to an online format, which helped ensure that these important resiliency projects were continued without interruption. The mission remains the same despite these new obstacles, and the JBSA-EDI team has faced them extremely well.”
The support shown by JBSA’s community partners has been steady.
"Community support has been unwavering for San Antonio Electromagnetic Defense initiatives,” said Col. Michael "Apollo" Lovell, JBSA-EDI executive director, noting that during the group’s April 29, 2020, Fifth Generation Cellular and Policy, Doctrine and Education workgroup meetings, there were 41 and 33 participants, respectively. This was an increase compared to previous, in-person working group meetings.
Other steering groups connect each week through a teleconference that keeps them moving forward as well, Lovell said.
“The collaboration and learning haven’t stopped just because meetings have moved online,” Bonewell said. “We are still learning from all of our partners through this crisis, and we continue to share our knowledge with them as well so we can keep San Antonio safe, secure and resilient.”
The pandemic has also expanded the collaborative participant’s knowledge of emergency operations as they watch and study their EMD partners’ responses to COVID-19.
“Although some of our EMD partners are focused entirely on the real-world response to COVID-19, the lessons learned can be applied to electromagnetic defense,” said Tech. Sgt. Blanche “Touché” Dudoit, emergency operations coordinator for JBSA-EDI. “Not only does this pandemic serve as a reminder that low probability-high consequence events can and do happen, but it also highlights the growing need for resilient supply chains which enable rapid recovery.”
And recovery is key in the current crisis, just as it would be in the event of an electromagnetic pulse event, so it is as important as ever that the SA-EMD and JBSA-EDI continue working toward their goals.
“With the SA-EMD, we have two goals; ensure JBSA can continue its mission in a post-EMP environment and pass our lessons learned to the rest of the nation. We were at a pivotal point in that mission when COVID-19 force protection measures went in effect," Stamper said, noting that several SA-EMD initiatives continue to be considered for EMP pilot tests by multiple federal agencies.
"At this point, we have transformed and can continue teleworking for an extended period,” Stamper said confidently, adding that the group is preparing for their next quarterly meeting with local, state and federal government, military, academic, research and development, and commercial partners on June 3.
“Thanks to great support from JBSA Public Affairs, this will be the first time we’ve conducted this meeting virtually, similar to the virtual town halls Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman has used so effectively,” he said.
In fact, Lenderman is scheduled to host the meeting through live video and interactive online tools, enabling participation by nearly 300 SA-EMD partners.
“With time-sensitive, face-to-face meetings with top leaders shifting to virtual formats, everything continues to move forward,” Stamper said. “We have been identified as pilot tests for several EMP and resiliency initiatives, and while the details are still being worked out, this has led to even more opportunities.”