What is an EMP and how does it work? An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation resulting from large explosions , especially nuclear explosions, or from a magnetic field fluctuation. EMPs can produce damaging current and voltage surges within electrical systems.
There are currently two main potential causes for a large EMP in our modern society;
1. HEMP – High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse created by a nuclear device detonated several hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface
2. CME – Coronal Mass Ejection from a solar flare creating rapidly changing electric and magnetic fields in Earth’s magnetic field.
The first true tests of HEMP devices occurred in 1962, an event called Starfish Prime, when a 1.44 megaton nuclear device was detonated 250 miles above the surface of the Earth over the Pacific Ocean. This extremely small device (in today’s terms) knocked out streetlights and other electrical equipment in Hawaii, 898 miles away.
In that same year the Soviet Union detonated a much smaller device (only 300 kilotons) in space over Kazakhstan. The resulting EMP was reported to be many times greater than that of the US tests over the Pacific Ocean due to the land mass below and the stronger magnetic fields in that specific area.
According to scientists within the US government a large nuclear device detonated roughly 300 miles above Kansas could result in an EMP spanning the entire mass of the continental United States.
Coronal Mass Ejection
The first thing you need to know about a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is that not all Solar Flares result in a CME, and not all CME’s are the result of a Solar Flare. The most likely cause of a CME is a solar flare however, and on average, the larger the flare the larger the potential CME. CME’s occur quite often and even when they strike the Earth they cause little to no damage.
That being said, a CME of large enough scale striking the Earth’s atmosphere could create the disruptions in the electric and magnetic fields of Earth similar to those created by a HEMP and potentially cause the Earth’s magnetic field to shift its alignment unpredictably.
In 1859 an enormous CME caused what we now refer to as a Solar Superstorm. This event caused the northern lights to be seen as far south as Cuba and made compasses and telegraphs fail across the globe.
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What are the odds?
The odds of an HEMP attack upon the United States are unknown, even though we can answer the question, what is an EMP and how does it work? Up until the recent past, very few nations had the capability of an attack, but as each year passes and the knowledge needed to complete such a mission becomes more available, the odds increase. Currently, China, Russia, North Korea, and likely, Iran, have sophisticated weapons that have been designed specifically to create an EMP.
One likely scenario involving an EMP attack would be carried out by a terrorist element, such as ISIS or a similar, radical group.
The odds of a massive CME striking the Earth are much more difficult to calculate. The easy odds are that the chances of it happening are 100%. It has happened before, it will happen again. The hard odds are whether or not it happens at a time when the human civilization cannot withstand it…like now.
How do we protect our electronics from the effects of EMP?
The easiest way to protect your devices from the effects of EMP is to construct a Faraday Cage. In simplistic terms you can build a Faraday Cage by constructing a metal container that can be closed relatively tightly. Inside this container you would install some form of insulating material such as Styrofoam. As long as the container closes relatively tightly and the insulating material covers all metal surfaces, any items inside the container are reasonably well protected from the effects of am EMP. When the EMP strikes the cage it will simply conduct itself around the metal exterior, not passing through the insulation to the devices inside. If the container is open, the EMP will certainly have a good chance of striking the items inside.
Faraday Cages can be scaled up large enough to protect items as large as vehicles as long as proper insulation is used. A large metal shipping container insulated with several inches of Styrofoam insulation could easily protect hundreds or even thousands of small devices or many devices ranging in size.
What would happen if…..
The effects of a massive CME striking the Earth vary among sources. As a prepper it is my inclination to prepare myself and my family for a worst case scenario. In a worst case scenario the handheld electronics you have protected in your Faraday Cages will most likely be the least of your worries.
The moment a large EMP wipes out earthly electronics there will be massive death. Everyone utilizing any method of flight may suddenly find themselves falling to the earth. Although no hard numbers are available for how many people are in the air at any given moment, it is probably close to 1 million.
At the same moment it is quite possible that all vehicles travelling will suddenly lose power. Many will not be able to brake or steer properly, creating massive casualties globally. Millions of people worldwide that depend on machines to perform life support functions will begin to perish within moments of the EMP.
Immediately after the EMP the world’s supply chains are finished. Famine stricken areas around the world will have received their last shipment, drought stricken areas their last water. In the United States grocery stores will most likely have stocked their shelves for the last time and larger non-farming based communities will begin a rapid decline. In a matter of days the socio-economic societies of Earth will crumble and fail.
Most estimates state that the loss of power would last weeks or months until power is restored. I don’t believe these estimates to be accurate and feel that with all of the other concerns that will be present, re-establishing power across the country will be low of the list.
What should I do?
Begin your preparations now by becoming self-sufficient. Develop your own power sources via solar and wind power devices. Ensure you have all of the necessary knowledge and materials to repair these devices after an EMP and obviously ensure the spare parts are protected against EMP. Learn to live off of food that you have grown and processed animals you have hunted or bred for livestock. In other words you need to begin preparing now to do it on your own.
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Want to learn more about EMP via an entertaining novel?
- 77 Days in September by Ray Gorham
- Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather
- Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change by S.M. Stirling
- Grid Down Reality Bites by Bruce Hemming
- Going Home by A. American
- Into the Darkness by Doug Kelly
- Land by Theresa Shaver — Watch my video review.
- The Last Layover by Steven Bird
- Last Light by Terri Blackstock — Christian fiction
- Lights Out by David Crawford — One of the first books to focus on EMP and still a very good read.
- Outage by Ellisa Barr — We reviewed this book here.
- The Perseid Collapse by Steven Konkoly
- Post Grid: An Arizona EMP Adventure by Tony & Nancy Martineau
- The Wandering Highway by Ike W. Warren
Learn more about EMP preparedness
- Another Look at Faraday Cages
- EMP Survival & The First 15 Things You Must Do Immediately After an EMP
- How to Make a Faraday Cage
- Post-EMP Survival: What if you can’t get home?
- What’s in Your Faraday Cage? A Common Sense Guide to Preparing For an EMP
- Why and How to Protect Your Gear From EMP
- Would a Long-Term Blackout Mean Nuclear Meltdown
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