WASHINGTON — A video that falsely claims that a Department of Defense communications drill will cause the national power grid to go out for several days in early November is causing panic on social media.
The video warns that the DoD will be using an electromagnetic pulse to shut down the power grid November 4-6 – and that everyone needs to prepare now.
While a training exercise is happening during that time period, the outcome has been exaggerated by false reports being shared on social media.
The official DoD announcement about the planned exercise states:
“This exercise will begin with a national massive coronal mass ejection event which will impact the national power grid as well as all forms of traditional communication, including landline telephone, cellphone, satellite, and Internet connectivity.” — Army MARS Program Manager Paul English
During the exercise, the national power grid will not be impacted. Most social media reports referencing the announcement do not mention the exercise is a simulation and will have no “real life” impact.
“The average citizen will not even know this exercise is taking place. Our focus is to interoperate with the amateur radio community,” English told Snopes.
Routine communication interoperability training happens four times each year and involves various divisions of the Department of Defense, along with amateur radio operators and MARS organizations. During the first week of November, these entities will come together to train under a simulated “very bad day” scenario.
A “very bad day” is any event in which the national power grid fails along with other forms of communication including landline phones, cell phones, satellites and internet connectivity.
They will also be practicing a solar storm scenario, but that too will be a simulation.
“The purpose of the training is to prepare for an event we hope will never happen, but should be ready for if it ever does,” said the Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS). “These exercises are all about coordinating existing capabilities like amateur radio, and citizen volunteers like MARS members, to be a productive part of the solution in the event something like a severe solar storm ever happens.”
The date of the training exercise coincides with rumored “Day of Rage” protests for “Antifa” groups on November 4, according to Snopes.
The Army Military Auxiliary Radio System posted about the exercise on Oct. 25. In response to the rumors on social media, the page added a comment to the post to provide some clarity and to dispel rumors:
“Thanks everyone for speaking out on this. We are glad you are using our social media to express some questions and concerns about COMEX 17-4 and I hope I can clear up some of the misconceptions and rumors.
In this exercise Amateur Radio operators are conducting a routine training that we do four times a year. The purpose of the training is to prepared for an event we hope will never happen, but should be ready for if it ever does. These exercises are all about coordinating existing capabilities like amateur radio, and citizen volunteers like MARS members, to be a productive part of the solution in the event something like a severe solar storm ever happens.
To answer some of the questions:
a. Yes we will try to talk to Amateur Radio operators in all 3000+ counties in the United States. We hope all Amateur Radio operators will help us with that by tuning into 60 meter channel on on Saturday night (date/time noted in ARRL bulletin above)
b. No we will not **actually** be turning off the electrical power grid. While I strive for realism when planning exercises, turning off the electricity all across the US is way above my pay-grade, so we just have to simulate that.
c. No, we did not plan this to coincide with any particular protest. The date for COMEX 17-4 was set more than a year in advance. Keeping track of the various protest groups calendar of events is more than a little out of our lane.
d. Yes, will will actually practice a solar storm scenario, go off the air, protect our radio equipment. After the notional storm, we will practice using emergency power (at least for a little while just to say we can, but not long enough to waste gasoline since the electrical service will actually still work), and of course establish radio contact with Amateur Radio Operators throughout the United States.
e. No, there will not really be a solar storm. We are just simulating that too.
f. If you are a US citizen, YOU can help by becoming an Amateur Radio Operator. Check out www.arrl.org for information about becoming a ham. If you are already an Amateur Radio operator, learn as much as you can about using High Frequency radio. Build an effective station. Use the 60 meter band. Become proficient with your computer, learn to restore your software and operating system, learn how to set up and maintain basic networks. If you have done that, and want to do more, join MARS. Go to the link and fill out the on line form. http://www.usarmymars.org/home/applications-and-forms You will have to train, A LOT, use new digital modes and procedures. You will solve problems, and make a lot of new friends in your team. Most of all, you will be part of the solution to big problems like how to recover from a severe solar storm.”