Electrical Utility Builds Ultra-Secure Tier III Data Center

Innovative Design and Construction Protects against HEMP and IEMI attacks

According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), there are 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the United States. Sector assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the U.S. that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.

One of the sectors is the U.S. energy infrastructure that fuels the economy of the 21st century. Without a stable energy supply, health and welfare are threatened, and the U.S. economy cannot function. More than 80 percent of the country’s energy infrastructure is owned by the private sector, supplying fuels to the transportation industry, electricity to households and businesses, and other sources of energy that are integral to growth and production across the nation.

Defending the energy sector against traditional and non-traditional security risks is imperative.

A U.S. high-voltage electric grid company recognized the criticality of their data center for continuous grid operations and needed to build a highly secure and redundant lights-out data center that could withstand the most malicious of external threats.  The company has a strong environmental stewardship commitment, and energy-efficiency and lower power consumption were also necessary.

A lights-out data center is physically or geographically isolated from headquarters or other facilities, limiting environment fluctuations and human access. Building a separate data center also allowed the electric company to build a data center that could withstand an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack.   In 2019, the White House issued an Executive Order “Coordinating National Resilience to EMP” as concerns heightened over U.S. infrastructure security.

Leading Edge Design Group (LEDG) was selected to plan, design, and oversee the construction and commissioning of the electric company’s new data center.

Protection and Security

In a review of the security threats against the electric company’s critical infrastructure, they were most concerned with High-Altitude EMP (HEMP), Intentional Electromagnetic Interference (IEMI), and ballistic (missile) threats. HEMP attacks create large-scale destruction by the nuclear detonation high in the atmosphere, mainly focused on electronic systems and electrical infrastructure. An IEMI is an intentional localized threat using sources such as backpacks and vehicles to disable electronic systems. Though sources of the threats continue to shift, the end destructive goal does not change.

Protected Space: A 6-Sided Envelope

LEDG designed the new data center using ‘protected space’ to define the area within the facility that would withstand an attack and developed a 6-sided envelope where the shielding created against EMP is bonded/welded together across the walls, floors, and roof. LEDG While traditional approaches to EMP protection involves the creation of a Faraday Cage, LEDG’s design used an innovative 6-sided conductive concrete to cover critical infrastructure continuously.

When considering an EMP attack, any system with electronics or a system connected to electrical power is vulnerable, which makes critical systems like chillers, electrical distribution, and standby generators likely to fail as well.  As a result, these systems need to be considered part of the protected space.

For the electric utility’s data center, these components were deemed critical for protection.

  • Information technology (IT) systems
  • Electrical systems such as the UPS, generator/ATS and electrical distribution
  • Mechanical systems
  • Controls
  • Monitoring and the operations center
  • Security and surveillance

Building Penetration Design

The unique 6-sided conductive concrete design amplified the importance of advanced design and engineering for all points of entry and penetrations into and out of the facility. In conventional construction, building penetrations for chilled water piping, electrical distribution, or telecommunications infrastructure are typically made during the installation process based on site conditions.  Because the new data center design included conductive/shielded concrete walls, roof, and slab that were welded together to create a 6-sided envelope, any penetrations made through this envelope had to be predetermined during the design process and seam-welded into the EMP concrete during construction.  LEDG utilized advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies to architect each penetration such that each point of entry was predetermined in location, size, and quantity before construction.

The HVAC design included a properly engineered Waveguide Below Cutoff (WBC) design that filters electromagnetic energy but allows air to pass.  LEDG worked to develop a custom air-cooled chiller package that enabled functionality of the chiller and free cooling modules without compromising the facility’s EMP protection.

Due to site constraints, the generator building was a separate protected space, and EMP protection between the data center and generator was crucial. Duct bank connections between the generator building and the data center had to be modeled before construction, and all copper wiring between the buildings was installed in steel, circumferentially welded conduits.

Today, the electric grid company has a world-class data center built to withstand EMP attacks and other security risks and are well-prepared to combat what the future holds.

End Result

After construction and commissioning, the data center went through an extensive testing process to validate the facility’s security against EMP threats.  This full Electromagnetic Interference testing, which included walls, penetration plates, HVAC waveguides, floors, roof, and doors, demonstrated that the facility was able to withstand HEMP and IEMI attacks.  The highly secure, energy-efficient facility stands as the first data center in the country designed with the conductive concrete methodology that is tested to withstand HEMP and IEMI events.