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How Could the 2012 Solar Maximum Affect Global Supply Chains?

Approximately every 9-14 years the sun’s magnetic fields reach a peak in solar activity known as the ‘Solar Maximum’. This is when sunspots become visible to the naked eye, and extreme ‘weather’ events can be observed in space.

In 2006 NASA researchers predicted that the next peak in the cycle would be the most intense since the well-known solar maximum of 1958 (when the Northern Lights could be seen as far south as Mexico). This next cycle is now due and is expected to peak 2011-2012.

While we’re somewhat used to events such as floods, earthquakes, this cyclic behavior of the sun is to many a less well understood and acknowledged threat to global supply chains.

During the solar activity of 1958 the US experienced radio blackouts that effectively cut it off from the rest of the world, furthermore electrical voltages in telegraphic circuits and equipment was recorded as exceeding 320 volts in Newfoundland.

On this basis, 50 years on and with ever more reliance upon technological advance, the potential global impact of the solar activity that is predicted for the 2012 peak is quite incomprehensible.

During the Solar Max, violent atomic explosions (solar flares) will blast out from the sun at extreme velocities. The emissions from the flares (the charged particles that form an ash cloud) produce massive bursts of radio noise that can disrupt global positioning systems (GPS) satellite navigation. This includes aircraft navigation systems which can be particularly affected. With the looming Solar Maximum having the potential to completely nullify GPS signal pick-up, the commercial aviation industry is understandably concerned. GPS and power outages can force air traffic controllers to increase the distance margins between aircraft, time between take-offs and landings, which in turn cause hugely expensive flight delays.

The effect on GPS disruption is not limited to aviation however as it is also used for emergency rescues, to synchronise our power grids, and for our mobile phone networks. Electrical disturbance and damage to power grids caused by such solar activity can also result in closures of businesses, schools, hospitals, government buildings, as well as disrupting countless domestic properties.

It may come as a surprise that so much disruption can be caused by solar max activity and the ash cloud by-products…

The Good News

The good news is that much of the threat of such intense solar activity can be effectively and confidently Risk Managed. For any Risk/DR Specialist worth their weight, the Solar Max presents the ultimate challenge in risk management, in fact an expert in risk management will thrive on advising and guiding business infrastructure managers on the best ’solar flare-proof’ strategy to adopt, this can include the implementation of steps such as:

  • A back-up generator supply – to ensure critical systems can be powered
  • Financial exposure/loss minimisation strategies – data system and software back-up plans to maintain uninterrupted customer-related operations (customer-facing operations, customer-service provision, etc.)
  • Uninterrupted communication systems – for communication between management and staff, staff and customers…

These (and other safe guards) can essentially mean the difference between an organisation continuing their business operations as normal, and going out of business altogether.

Therefore for any organisation or business, having a tailored contingent business-interruption plan set out prior to the Solar Max event is prudent. A thorough understanding of how protected your global supply chains are to these potentially disasterous scenarios is absolutely paramount.

With the next Solar Maximum drawing closer day by day, it is absolutely essential for infrastructure managers to ACT NOW!

For more information on how InterSys® can provide effective risk management strategies get in touch with us today


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