An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, occurs as a result of a nuclear explosion. It is an eruption of electromagnetic radiation. Should this type of attack occur, it could cause rapid variances in magnetic and electric fields that could result in damaging voltage and current surges. Electronic and electrical systems could sustain massive damage.
With the potential for a nation to lose its power grid, not only would residents and businesses lose power for an unforeseen amount of time, but so would hospitals and law enforcement agencies, leaving all citizens vulnerable.
There are several factors involved in the specific characteristics of an attack. The altitude of the detonation is the most important of these factors. Lower altitudes can do more damage to what is on the ground with multiple types of bombs. For example, when you look at the bombs used for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the altitudes were 600 meters and 500 meters, respectively, causing maximum damage to the infrastructure in the areas.
What makes an EMP attack very threatening is that it does not need to be close to the ground to be catastrophic. According to the US military, a nuclear bomb can be detonated up to hundreds of kilometers above the surface of the earth. They refer to this specific type of attack as a HEMP or high-altitude electromagnetic pulse. In addition to the altitude of detonation, other factors play a role in the damage that occurs, such as the gamma ray output, the electromagnetic shielding of targets, energy yield, and the Earth’s magnetic field interaction.
Nuclear attacks are a constant threat in today’s world. The United States has the Congressional EMP Commission, which works to assess threats to determine which could be imminent on US soil. According to this commission, it would not take a lot of sophistication to carry out an EMP attack on US soil.
This catastrophic threat is often referred to as America’s Achilles’ Heel. Politicians in Washington are largely bipartisan when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect the nation against this level of attack. In fact, two acts have been passed in the last decade to help protect against an EMP attack, including the 2017 Critical Infrastructure Protection Act and the 2010 GRID Act.
While an EMP attack sounds very sci-fi and almost dystopian, leaders throughout the country, and the world, are well aware of how big of a threat it is. Because of this, constant measures are being taken to minimize damage should one occur. As a citizen, having knowledge of the potential impact and what could be done is critical.
Electromagnetic Pulses In History
EMP attacks are not just theoretical, throughout history, electromagnetic pulses have disrupted human life. Such a pulse was first recorded in 1859 and it was the result of a solar storm. This EMP was referred to as the Carrington Event.
In recorded history, this was the biggest storm surge. On the sun, you could observe flares and sunspots. A massive geomagnetic storm followed this solar storm.
Throughout North America and Europe, telegraph systems were throwing sparks. It caused those working these systems to experience electric shocks and it set light to paper.
While electricity was not as intertwined in the lives of people at this time, the electrical components that people did use were negatively affected. Just the telegraph systems alone caused massive issues with communication.
In 1989, a similar event happened, but it was far milder. While milder, it still caused massive issues from Quebec in Canada to Texas in the United States. When this event occurred, many people believed that a nuclear attack was coming. As a result of this event, weather satellites were impacted, and radio signals were jammed.
The US military first saw an EMP attack as a potential weapon in 1962. This was the result of the Starfish Prime test. As part of this test, 250 miles into space, a warhead of 1.44 megaton was detonated. The pulse that occurred, damaged telephones and knocked out streetlights in Hawaii despite it being detonated at such a large distance away.
During this same year, Soviet scientists also performed their own tests. The results were more devastating than those in the US. The test was performed in Kazakhstan. As a result, in the city of Karaganda, power plant fires occurred.
In the US in 2001, there was the threat of an EMP attack that caused the nation to set up a commission that would deal with the threat. It worked out the logistics of how an attack could work coming from multiple different countries, including North Korea, China, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia, India, and Iran. This commission also determined that these countries, and others, believe that the US is capable of an EMP attack that could occur under what they consider a broad range of circumstances.
The United States Could Be An Easy Target For An Emp Attack
In 2019, US President Donald Trump started to prepare for a potential EMP attack by issuing an executive order. This order directed multiple federal agencies to coordinate in the planning, guarding, and assessment of EMP attacks that could impact US soil. It included working to create plans to protect both natural resources and humans.
The US government and many survival experts believe that this country needs to be prepared and create a survival strategy not just for the country as a whole, but also on the level of individual citizens. Survival expert EJ Snyder had this to say:
An EMP is a serious Survival Event that many people are even aware of let alone prepared for and the few that are may not be ready. When an EMP hits, whether it’s from a Solar Flare from the sun or by a foreign entity that is an enemy of the USA, or a Nuclear event, it will be a bad day and everyone will find themselves in the dark and without the many comforts, luxuries, and everyday ways of living. Wow! And think about all the kids who won’t be able to get online and start gaming. Maybe an EMP isn’t so bad, lol, oops, sorry I am drifting off-topic. So, let’s get serious about an EMP, its impact, and what to do about it. The main EMP event that I see us dealing with more often in my opinion will be the natural one like a solar flare. The man-made ones are just as bad, but we will definitely have bigger problems to deal with in those cases, as it means someone is coming or at least trying to cause us mass harm.
When an EMP hits, it fries everything electronic, from your vehicle, your home, the traffic lights, the cell phone constantly in your hand, and basically the entire electric grid. Life stops in an instant for the modern world. All goes dark and the initial effect will be scary, disastrous, and deadly. Think about it, the lights go out, cars will crash at intersections, people stuck in elevators, subway trains just stop. What will you do?
I am a huge advocate for planning and preparing for any emergency or survival situation that could pop up. Planning for an EMP can be tricky and sometimes costly but there are a few cost-effective ways as well. In any case, you need to make a plan so that when it hits, you just don’t freeze up, you are ready and can just execute your plan.
My TOP 3 TIPS to survive an EMP are these:
1. Planning and protecting yourself and items from a solar flare.
2. Communications, power tools, appliances, and transportation will go down so what do you do?
3. When you are away from your home and these are lost, what’s your plan to get back to your safe zone and loved ones, as well as theirs.
First, you want to plan and protect key items from an EMP. A Faraday Cage, EMP Shield, and EMP bunkers are one way though very costly. You can actually place your car in the cage. Some smaller boxes or large trunks or chests are also made for smaller items. They also make EMP Bags you can carry things like cell phones, flashlights, and other electronics to protect them and actually can keep you from being tracked. You can construct a Homemade Faraday cage, box, or bag and there are many videos and info online on how to do this. Even something as simple as aluminum foil actually works, where studies show mylar blankets fail. That’s the short of it for planning as it is a huge topic in itself.
Next, what to do about communicating, getting around, and other critical electric items. The first comms, Ham radio will still work just fine after an EMP. The same goes for CB radio and other kinds of walkie-talkies. But it’s not quite as plain an answer like yes or no, because there are a number of other factors to consider. For example, ham radio still runs on batteries, and your batteries aren’t going to last forever, do plan accordingly. I have some friends who have kept older model vehicles in garages with spare parts as many aren’t as sophisticated as today’s models with onboard computers, GPS, and other features. Some folks detach the electric cables connected to the battery and Starters and distributors (even carry backups with them in case this fry). Other items like power tools, mean keep some manual tools around. If you have no navigation skills with a regular compass, I guess you better protect your GPS, lol, I’m an Old School Army Ranger, so I’m good! Flashlights use batteries so again stock up on batteries, but there are also solar options out there. Plan for another lighting in the home. These are just a few critical items to plan for but there are many others and what’s important or needed for someone, like critical medical devices, aren’t important for someone else.
Lastly, what should one do if they are away from their home? For me, I always have My “Go Bag” with me, easy to just throw in my truck and I’m ready to operate. Out of habit, anything with a battery has the batteries in backward, if possible, so they don’t accidentally drain out, and all I do is put them in straight and off I go. So, for an EMP, as I plan for every scenario, I have a Faraday Bag for all electronics. A CB in the truck and long-range portable CB, backup walkie-talkie, and extra cell phone. Pull out my firearms, non-electric compass, and map, and off I head to my Safe Zone. My point is that when an EMP hits have a plan, have the gear protected that you’ll need, and then execute your plan. Once you get to your safe zone, then you can assess what’s going on best you can.
There are a lot of info AMD studies on EMPs out there on the web and in print. I’ve seen a lot of different theories, answers, and solutions to EMPs out there that range from everything fries to only direct area things do to varying effects on everything. For example, where some cars will glide to a stop and all the drivers need to do is restart their cars, to where others will need a jump start or mechanic intervention to help. My theory is that when an EMP hits like any survival situation it’s going to be bad, stressful, and tough, so why not try to make a better go of it and that first starts with planning, then protecting, and last executing. Do not be a helpless victim, be the positive factor in your life in this situation when you are facing an EMP.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry produced a report for the US commission that was working on gathering information about EMP attacks. This report has since been cleared for release to the public. He says that this type of attack is operationally and technically the least risky, easiest, and most effective use of a weapon that is nuclear-based. He states that this remains true whether the nation that gets attacked is a non-state actor or a nuclear-armed state.
According to Dr. Pry, the US is such an easy target due to our reliance on electricity. Nearly everything relies on computers, including our military. As a technologically advanced society, anything that disrupts our use of technology is a major threat and it makes us vulnerable.
Dr. Pry stated the following in an interview he gave in January of 2019:
While it is hard to predict which electronic systems would be affected by an EMP attack, it is with certainty that there would be major damage and disruption to unprotected electronics as a result of cascading failures. An EMP attack is largely comparable to an artillery barrage or carpet bombing that causes random and major damage that is hard to predict but has macro-effects that are catastrophic.
Pry predicts that an atmospheric explosion above Omaha, Nebraska could lead to a complete blackout in the US, Mexico, and Canada. He states that it would take years to repair the broad damage that would occur should this happen.
If an EMP attack occurs, your community could be impacted in the following ways:
- Nothing works because everything in the country is in a blackout
- Widespread fires could occur, as well as a variety of industrial accidents
- Throughout forests and cities, firestorms could rage
- Chemical spills occur and the air becomes polluted with toxic clouds
- The over 100 nuclear power reactors in the US will start to experience emergency power failures within seven days, resulting in the half of the US that is the most populated experiencing radioactive plumes that are spreading
- The national supply of food would start to spoil in as little as three days, and the drinking water becomes too unsafe to drink
- It is estimated that the US only has about 30 days of food to feed its millions of citizens, but this likely would not last this long anyway due to massive power failures
The Science Behind Electromagnetic Pulses
Any type of nuclear weapon has the potential to cause electromagnetic pulses. This even includes the first-generation A-bombs that are far more primitive in their design. This is because they can produce fireballs and gamma rays that generate medium (E2 EMP), low (E3 EMP), and high-frequency (E1 EMP) electromagnetic pulses.
This type of attack essentially puts out a three-fold punch to electronic devices of all sizes, from the nation’s electrical grid to personal computers.
The following could occur:
- An EMP attack from a nuclear weapon would mean that the weapon is detonated at a very high altitude. As a result, no blast, fallout, effects or thermal other than EMP would be happening on the ground.
- For a target the same size as North America, it may only take a single nuclear weapon to produce a catastrophic EMP attack.
- With an E2 EMP attack, the attack would be rapid, lasting milliseconds. However, they would be as powerful as lightning. While this means that lightning protection would likely be beneficial, the majority of homes and businesses throughout North America do not have any lightning protection.
- With an E1 EMP attack, the attack would be even faster, lasting mere nanoseconds. The power behind such an attack would be far more than that of lightning. As a result, lightning protection would have little benefit. This could result in all electronics sustaining damage, including massive electrical grids.
- With an E3 EMP attack, the speed would last seconds. The net energy that it would generate would be less than that of lightning. However, the power is still more than that of the electromagnetic fields that could develop as a result of a solar superstorm. This means that electrical transformers have the potential to melt, resulting in catastrophic damage.
- EMP is often referred to as similar to lightning. However, the primary difference is that the effects of an EMP attack would be far broader, affecting much larger areas than a lightning strike is capable of.
- When an EMP occurs, it happens in three waves. This allows for mutually reinforcing and dynamic damaging effects. The E1 EMP would destroy systems and then it also opens the door for deeper and wider damage as a result of lower-level frequencies of electromagnetic pulses.
If a nuclear weapon is detonated at 30-kilometers of altitude or above, a potentially catastrophic EMP could result. At 30 kilometers of altitude, a detonation will result in a 600-kilometer EMP field radius on the ground. The EMP field would increase to a radius of 2,200 kilometers if detonated at an altitude of 400 kilometers.
The Scientific Explanation
Also sometimes referred to as a transient electromagnetic disturbance, or EMP occurs as a short burst of electromagnetic energy. The origin of this burst can be either man-made or natural, and can happen as electric, a conducted electric current, radiated, or a magnetic field, depending on its source.
The interference generated by an EMP is typically damaging or disruptive to electronic equipment of all sizes, depending on the frequency and the altitude of detonation.
Due to the short duration of the burst, it is spread over a multitude of frequency ranges.
There are three primary ways that pulses are characterized:
- Energy type, including electric, conducted, radiated, or magnetic
- Pulse waveform, including duration, shape, and amplitude
- The range of frequencies or spectrum present
When you consider Maxwell’s equations, any form of electromagnetic energy will always occur along with the other three types, however, one type will typically dominate in a typical pulse.
An electromagnetic energy pulse includes an array of frequencies, from zero Hz to an upper limit that will vary depending on the source of the pulse. When defined as an EMP, this will usually exclude ionizing and optimal ranges.
However, there are some EMP events that may result in sparks, lightning, or another type of optimal trail. However, these are not part of the actual EMP but are considered to be side effects that result from the current’s flow through the air.
Natural EMP Event Types
There are four types of natural EMP:
- LEMP, or lightning electromagnetic pulses. A massive current flow is usually the discharge. This is at least mega-amps. A decreasing energy train of pulses follows this.
- A meteoric EMP is an electromagnetic energy discharge that occurs as a result of a spacecraft or meteoroid impact. It can also happen when the Earth’s atmosphere has a meteoroid explosive breakup passing through.
- When two charged objects come into contact with one another or at least close proximity, an electrostatic discharge can occur.
- Sometimes called a solar EMP, coronal mass ejection can also cause a natural EMP event. This includes a magnetic field coupled with a burst of plasma, released into a solar wind and ejected from a solar corona.
Man-Made EMP Event Types
There are five of this type of EMP:
- Electrical circuit switching action. This may occur as a pulse train, which is repetitive or be isolated.
- A train of pulses can be produced by gasoline engine ignition systems when the spark plugs are fired or otherwise energized.
- Power line surges can damage insufficiently protected electronic equipment as a result of several kilovolts.
- A train of pulses can result from electric motors when contacts are broken and made as a result of armature rotations from internal electrical contacts.
- Digital electronic circuitry undergoing continual switching actions.
Military EMP Event Types
There are two types to know about:
- NEMP or nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack occurs following a nuclear explosion. It is a type of high-altitude nuclear EMP variant. Due to particle interactions, it causes a secondary pulse within the magnetic field and atmosphere of Earth.
- Weapons that utilize a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse.
The Shaping of An EMP
An explosion causing nuclear radiation initially shapes an EMP, more specifically gamma radiation. In the explosion’s environment, there is the production of high-energy electrons when gamma rays collide with molecules in the air. This is referred to as the Compton effect.
In the atmosphere, negative and positive charges undergo separation when negatively charged electrons, which are lighter, get swept away and only the ionized air molecules that are positively charged remain. A large electric field is produced by this charge separation.
Electric field asymmetries occur as a result of several factors, such as how close the explosion happens to Earth, and air density variations based on altitude. As a result of these asymmetries, the EMP is produced by time-varying electrical currents. The altitude of the explosion plays a strong role in the EMP’s characteristics.
What Type Of EMP Threat Should We Worry About The Most?
The two primary types of EMP attacks to be concerned about include a nuclear EMP attack and solar EMPs.
With a nuclear attack, this is far less of a threat based on the military power necessary to carry it out. Most other nations do not have the power needed to carry out a nuclear EMP attack on the United States. It is believed that such an attack would be discovered by the US before it could be carried out, allowing the nation’s military to stop it.
A nuclear-tipped missile of the right range and size is nearly impossible for terrorists to get their hands on. Because of this, an EMP attack from this angle is not something the US really needs to worry about.
Another thing to consider with this type of attack is the devastation level as a result of size and elevation. An intercontinental ballistic missile would be needed for such an attack on the US. These are uncommon and would be needed to achieve the right height to cause mass devastation.
For the nations and non-state groups who can find smaller missiles that they can equip with nukes, they would not be able to launch them far enough to reach US soil. To hit the US at the right spot, they would need to launch it directly off of the coast or on US soil. Trying to get this type of weapon into the US would be incredibly difficult. It is also hard to find the components in the US, so it is unlikely someone would be able to build it here.
A solar EMP event is more likely than a nuclear one. Should this occur, the solar energy particles would hit the planet with a level of force that would result in a vast energetic electron cloud and an ionized atmosphere. The electrons would essentially bounce around fusing conductive wires and destroying electronics.
On July 23, 2012, there was a huge solar storm that just missed Earth. Scientists say that had the Earth been hit by this storm, it would have caused mass destruction.
The 2012 Solar Storm produced a huge coronal mass ejection and solar flare. In the corona component of the sun is stored energy. And, when the energy is released, a solar flare is initiated. This causes the plasma component of the sun to heat up even more, to tens of millions of degrees, throwing out and accelerating a variety of radiation. When a solar storm is big enough, a coronal mass ejection can result from the energy. This is a plasma cloud that is comprised of protons and electrons that weighs at least a billion tons.
Had this, or a different large solar flare, hit the Earth, the solar energetic particles would hit with such force that the atmosphere would be ionized, resulting in the massive energetic electron cloud that would bounce around and fuse conductive wires and destroy electronics. It is theorized that some satellites orbiting the Earth would also be knocked out.
Physicist Pete Riley states that in the next 10 years, there is a 12% chance that the Earth will be hit by a solar storm the same size as the one that struck during the Carrington event. Riley spent time looking at trends and other information associated with 50 years of space weather events to determine this figure.
According to Riley, there was only one difference between the Carrington event in 1859 and the storm in July of 2012. This difference is that the 2012 storm missed hitting the Earth. Had it hit; it is estimated that the damage it could have caused would cost over $2 trillion to repair. The damage to multi-ton transformers would have likely required years to repair.
The Real-World Effects Of An EMP Attack
Should this type of attack occur, numerous systems that are relied on daily could be taken down?
- Targeting systems on bombs, missiles, and on the ground
- Navigation systems
- Vehicle control systems
- Communication systems
- Short-range and long-range sensor systems
Human health would be affected in several ways from an EMP attack. Some scientific research shows potential effects on the left side of the brain’s cognitive strength. Due to interference with neurons, it could result in the logical circuitry short circuiting. However, for this to occur, the pulse would have to be incredibly significant.
The pulse that occurs would have to exceed 100 kV/m. This could cause you to experience disorientation and dizziness. It is also possible that burns to the skin could result.
While still theoretical, the following is also possible if the attack is severe enough:
- Cellular mutations
- Brain damage
- Internal burns
- Damage to the nervous system
- Temporary memory and thinking problems
An EMP produces ionizing radiation. According to Columbia University clinical neuroscience assistant professor Amir Raz, this has been shown to cause healthy tissues to experience mutations.
With certain frequencies, high levels of this type of radiation could cause nervous system structure and function damage. All it takes is 3,000 megahertz or below with a microwave frequency to get through the skin into the body. When this happens, death and burns are possible since the body starts basically cooking itself.
One study was published in 2009 that looked at rats and the relationship between microvascular permeability and the effects of EMP. This study determined that 200 to 400 pulses of EMP exposure caused the brain’s microvascular vessels to leak. In humans, this same type of leakage could result in memory and thinking issues.
The blood-brain barrier may also be affected by EMPs. This barrier is responsible for the protection of tissues in your nervous system. A study in 2010 showed that the blood-brain barrier could be negatively affected by a temperature increase of just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to the studies addressed above, within about 12 hours of this type of attack occurring, you could begin to experience negative health effects.
The one thing that helps to offset the possible physical effects is the magnetic field that helps to protect the Earth. It’s basically a type of protective canopy. It works to deflect cosmic rays and solar wind, helping to keep damage to a minimum.
Now, if a person relies on technology for their health, such as a pacemaker or a ventilator, the effects on their health could be far more profound. This is because an EMP attack could negatively affect these, causing them to fail or malfunction.
When it comes to pacemakers shorting out due to an EMP attack, there are some people who say that this might not be possible. The biggest issue would be for those that are connected to computer systems for regulation. Should the connected computer system fail, the person could experience abnormal heart rhythms that could possibly result in death. You also have to consider what happens if the pacemaker fails due to another reason and hospitals are not able to help pacemaker patients due to massive electrical grid failures.
Other Possible Health Effects
Should an EMP attack occur as a result of a nuclear detonation, there is the potential for radiation poisoning, especially in unprotected water and food supplies. When it comes to radiation, the bone marrow and gastrointestinal system are particularly sensitive.
Radiation is able to build up in the body for as long as you are exposed to it. There are three primary syndromes associated with acute radiation sickness, including:
- Gastrointestinal syndrome: A dose of radiation higher than 10 Gy can result in this radiation syndrome. When it does occur, it is very unlikely that the person will survive. It generally takes about two weeks to prove fatal as a result of things like dehydration, infection and electrolyte imbalance.
- Bone marrow syndrome: It takes 0.7 to 10 Gy for this syndrome to occur. The higher the dose of radiation, the lower the likelihood of someone surviving. People usually die from this syndrome as a result of hemorrhage or infection due to bone marrow destruction.
- Central nervous system/cardiovascular syndrome: This requires a very high dose of radiation of greater than 50 Gy. Within three days, death typically occurs. It happens as a result of circulatory system collapse, as well as increased cranial pressure due to vasculitis, edema and meningitis.
Vomiting and nausea are among the initial symptoms of radiation sickness. After the initial onset of symptoms, it is possible to have a period where no symptoms are apparent. Then, more serious symptoms may start to occur and could include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Internal bleeding causing blood in stools or vomit
- Low blood pressure
- Disorientation and dizziness
- Loss of hair
The Power Grid
Exactly how the power grid will be affected remains unknown. However, the experts do have a variety of theories as to what could happen. Many agree that negative effects on SCADA systems is something to be concerned about.
Also referred to as supervisory control and data acquisition, a SCADA system works to analyze and gather data in real time. These systems are used for a wide array of applications, such as waste and water control, gas and oil refining, telecommunications, energy and transportation.
Should this type of system fail, the component that is affected ultimately determines the effects. With an EMP attack, it is expected that multiple parts would fail. The following describes the SCADA system components and the effects of them failing:
- SCADA server: The entire plant or action that the server is serving would lose all monitoring
- Partial SCADA network failure: Whatever the switch works for would be lost
- Complete SCADA network failure: The process or plant could shut down completely
- Minor PLC Hardware failure: Loss of monitoring and control over certain equipment
- Major PLC hardware failure: Losing control of equipment
- DeviceNet failure: Not being able to monitor and control UV equipment
- ControlNet failure: Not being able to control the process area that is affected
- Power failure: Not being able to monitor and control the process area that is affected
- Instrument failure: Loss of control over the processes that are affected and possible loss of compliance data
- Physical security breach: Plant operation disruptions
If a solar superstorm is the source of the EMPs, there is the risk of the overheating of EHV transformers. They could also burn out as a result of this type of event. Should this occur, any transformer affected could experience a loss of power for itself and any electrical components that it is serving.
Three men developed a report for the US government regarding this. They include James Gilbert, Edward Savage and William Radasky. They had the following to say about electrical grid issues related to EMPs:
Given how vulnerable electronic equipment can be and the coupled signal levels that can occur as a result of E1 HEMP, it can be theorized that communication system “brains” at power facilities throughout the country would be vulnerable to an E1 HEMP attack. This is true for control centers, power substations and power generation facilities. However, the specific layout of the facility would play a major role in the overall impact.
Modern electrical systems can get damaged by E1 pulses, but they are also vulnerable to E3 pulses and the pulses that are considered the solar equivalent. This is especially true when looking at a SCADA-controlled grid. With this type of system, the likelihood of failure is higher when the transformer gets nearer to functioning at its performance limit.
The biggest concern is catastrophic failure. Should this happen, it is not something that can be fixed quickly. It has the potential to take months or more, depending on the size of the affected area.
A lot of the information and data associated with the potential impact on electronic devices is classified. Because of this, it is impossible to know exactly what to expect. However, experts do have theories and thoughts regarding what the average citizen could experience.
One point of information that experts deem important is that an E1 pulse caused every computer system that was affected by it to fail in some way. This shows that the average computer system in a company or a home would likely experience some level of damage from an E1 pulse.
Gilbert, Savage and Radasky stated the following:
It is not likely that all of the electronics throughout the US would just stop working after an EMP attack. However, there is likely to be a major impact for modern unhardened devices that have cables that are long and attached. Electronic wristwatches and other very small systems likely would not experience many issues.
Whether a device is on or off will also likely play a role in the level of impact. An E1 pulse is likely to be more damaging for items that are running on battery power or plugged into a wall outlet.
Whether or not a vehicle will fail in the aftermath of an EMP attack is something that is highly debated by the experts. The EMP commission did some investigating to determine how E1 pulses might affect a wide range of vehicles. This included 18 trucks and 37 cars, all of which were running when they got hit with a high-frequency microwave burst.
It was determined that one truck experienced issues that required it to be towed away because it could not be driven. Three of the cars died. However, they were able to be restarted and then driven.
It is possible that this type of attack could cause a vehicle to just stop right where it is. However, the vehicle’s proximity to the site of the blast and how new the vehicle is will surely play a role. When you look at newer vehicles, they often have different electronic components and microprocessors. Because of this, they are at a higher risk for failure compared to classic vehicles.
Since a lot of information regarding the impact of an EMP attack on vehicles remains classified, it is unknown to which extent they would ultimately be affected should the event occur.
Various elements of critical infrastructure throughout the US could be impacted. This is especially true for those that rely on computers for functioning, such as water treatment, financial services, private and public transportation, manufacturing, fuel and food distribution and telecommunications and internet.
It is possible that a lot of the above infrastructure will not be able to operate should the computers that people rely on no longer function. In the worst-case scenario, these elements of national infrastructure would just stop working.
Many facilities that power these elements of infrastructure do have backup generators. However, the majority of them only keep enough fuel available to get them through about one week. Once the fuel runs out, they are no longer able to keep the generators going, resulting in a loss of function.
Using the Carrington Event as a guide, a scenario document released by FEMA says that all communications throughout the country would stop working by the eighth day following the attack. They say that this would happen as a result of cascade effects.
Survival Expert Dan Sullivan, or Survival Sullivan, stated the following regarding what people need to worry about should an EMP attack occur:
First off, it’s important to note an EMP won’t kill you directly, unless you’re wearing a pacemaker, riding an airplane when it happens, or in a
car crash when the EMP hits. So, my two biggest things revolve around prepping to deal with its aftermath.
The first thing they should know about surviving an EMP is to actually live without electricity, because if the power grid collapses, we’ll go
back to the Middle Ages and have no choice. Rely on mechanical devices whenever possible to teach yourself how to operate them.
The second thing is to have a Faraday cage. You can make your own out of cardboard and aluminum foil. Fill the
enclosure with electronic devices (phones, chargers, CB radio, tablets), so, they’re protected from the pulse.
What To Expect If An EMP Event Occurs
Should the US experience an EMP attack, the following could be expected:
- A shutdown of the national power grid
- Damage to electronic devices
- Emergency broadcasts via radio
- Issues with pacemakers
- No lights due to the grid shutting down
- Motors no longer functioning
- The shutting down of home medical equipment
- Vehicles no longer working
- Public transportation shutting down
- Huge traffic jams
- Landlines and cellphones no longer working
- Airplane crashes
- Businesses, schools and similar places closing down
- Medical facilities eventually shutting down after they run out of backup power
- Shortage of medical supplies and medications
- An increase in crime
- Rescue centers and shelters getting overwhelmed
- Failure of emergency generators
- Difficulty finding the parts needed to replace damaged electrical equipment
The Bottom Line
Should a successful EMP attack occur on US soil, there is the potential for the nation’s electrical grid to shutdown completely, resulting in a blackout. This means that everything that relies on the nation’s power grid could come to a halt, such as transportation, sanitation, communications and the water and food supplies.
It is estimated that such a blackout could go on for a minimum of one year, but could last a lot longer, depending on the extent of the damage. This could result in a multitude of critical issues, such as disease and starvation which has the potential to collapse American society.
The worst-case scenario involves issues with the nation’s nuclear reactors. Should this occur, up to 60 meltdowns are possible. In this situation, Americans could be exposed to radioactive contamination which has the potential to be deadly, or at least have lifelong health consequences.
Due to the potential for catastrophic consequences, there are tests being done to make plans for this type of attack. However, some believe that the US government is not doing enough to mitigate this type of threat. Because of this, it is often recommended that individuals educate themselves and come up with plans for their families.
The Basics of the United States Electrical Grid
The electrical grid in the United States is comprised of the following, based on statistics from 2016:
- 7,300 power plants
- Millions of miles of distribution transformers and low-voltage power lines
- 160,000 miles of power lines that are high voltage
- 145 million customers
The electrical grid in the US is comprised of decentralized units and centralized power plants. The power is sent throughout the country via a network of transformers, transmission lines and substations that ensure that it is delivered to homes and businesses. Electricity is created as it is used since it cannot be stored in big amounts.
Various technologies and resources are used to generate electricity in the US. The majority is generated using different conventional sources, such as oil, nuclear power, natural gas and coal. Renewable resources are also used to generate electricity, such as solar and wind.
There is an interconnection of local grids for larger electricity networks. These are generally linked for reliability and commercial purposes.
There are three primary interconnections that cover the lower 48 states. These have limited power exchanges between them and function mostly independently from one another. These interconnections include the Eastern Interconnect, Western Interconnect and the Texas Interconnect.
How To Respond To An EMP Attack
There are several things to take into consideration should an EMP attack happen. For starters, survival expert Mykel Hawke, or Captain Hawke, states the following:
1) Anything lifesaving or life threatening should be first priorities. For example, if you have anyone on medical equipment or if you’re in an extreme environment, such as desert summer or arctic cold and lack of power or electric equipment might be destroyed.
2) Then the second order priorities such as communications or transportation. These types of things can be vital to survival as well since you may need to call for help or warn others of danger or get someone to medical care or get someone to rescue them.
Collect Appliances That Do Not Require Electricity
When the grid fails and there is no power, you still need to be able to prepare meals. Without appliances this can be very difficult. However, there are multiple appliance alternatives that will keep your kitchen functioning:
- A solar oven will function as long as there is sun, so you can continue to cook as usual
- A meat and grain grinder will let you take whole grains to make flour or grind up animal meat so that it is easier to prepare
- A water pump that you power with your hands allows you to retrieve water from a cistern or a well
- A manual can opener makes it possible to open canned goods, which are a good choice because they tend to not expire for a long time
You should also consider lighting that operates on something other than batteries and electricity. For example, solar-powered lanterns and flashlights. You can charge them up during the day and then have them available throughout the night.
Depending on the season and how early it gets dark, you may need to count on lights that last over 12 hours at a time. Always make sure to have backups too.
While solar lights are among the easiest to keep and maintain, you can also look into oil lamps. There are four primary types of oil that will work for these types of lamps:
- Kerosene substitute
- Citronella oil
- Non-dyed kerosene
- Standard clear lamp oil
It is important that you can store the oils safely and that you replace them as they get old. This will ensure optimal safety. Also, keep an eye on the wicks for these lamps. You will need to replace them in the event that the wick becomes contaminated or else there could be a safety hazard when you are trying to burn the lamp for light.
Learn How to Barter
It is unlikely that credit and debit cards will work. You will probably not be able to get money from your bank or an ATM. Because of this, to secure the items that you need, you will have to learn how to barter.
As you are preparing your survival kit, it is a good idea to get extras of items that will have a high value in the event of an EMP attack. For example, something as simple as a few extra can openers could give you a lot of bargaining room since this is something people will need.
You should also think about hygiene products and items that are common vices, such as coffee and alcohol. These are things that people often do not think about when they are working to build a kit for survival. Most people are just thinking about the essentials.
The first couple weeks will be all about learning to adapt to your new normal, but once this passes and things are moving along, you will want to keep yourself entertained. Think of items that are easy to store and require no electricity, such as board games, playing cards, books and art supplies.
With these items, you can keep them in a basement or other storage area for years without having to worry about them degrading. This ensures that they are ready to go when you need to use them.
If you have kids, think about some things that they enjoy that are not electronic and do not require any batteries. Once a year, reconsider their interests and add a few items that they will like. This will ensure that you have a variety of entertainment items to keep your entire family happy.
You never know when you are going to need to fix something. Since your power tools may not function, you want to stock a variety of hand tools in a toolbox. Keeping the tools all together will make it much easier to retrieve the one that you need.
Things like hammers, wrenches, sockets and screwdrivers are all important and may come in handy. You should also think about saws, block sanders, planes and similar items that a lot of people do not consider. These can be used for repairs or even things like building furniture.
This is a type of conductive structure that was first invented by Michael Faraday in the 19th century. It offers a protective shield against electrical pulses.
One of the easiest ways to use this type of contraption is to grab an old microwave. A metal trash can with a tight seal can also work. The following steps are general and easy to follow to help you to build your own Faraday cage:
- Consider what you want to put into the cage to get the right size. Items like medical equipment, walkie-talkies, spare parts for small electronics and shortwave radios are common items that can be beneficial when you are in survival mode. Get all of these items together and take measurements to determine the proper size.
- Pick the device, such as an old trash can or microwave, and ensure that it closes securely. The grounding will not be effective if there are any gaps.
- Grab a roll of aluminum foil and wrap the entire container in it. The lid and the container must be fully covered for optimal protection.
- Use a strong tape to secure the seams of your foil. It is best to use a copper or an aluminum tape for the highest level of seal and protection.
- Grab some cardboard to line the inside of the container. Your electronic items should not be able to touch any metal tape or the foil that you used.
- Place your items inside and make sure that they fit. You also want to ensure that there is a tight seal after you close the lid to the cage.
Once you have your cage, you can put your electronics inside to reduce the risk of them being negatively affected by the pulses that are put off during an EMP attack.
Things like telephones and cellphones may no longer work, so you will have to find other ways to communicate with the outside world. Two popular choices are walkie-talkies and shortwave radios. You can find these in many varieties and even some that have an alternative power source so that you are not constantly changing the batteries.
Ideally, you want a walkie-talkie for each person in your family. At least two radios are a good idea so that you can always have a backup if one of your radios fails. With a radio, you can access things like emergency broadcasts if they are possible.
Universal Power Source
Solar panels are a relatively simple way to generate some electricity if you need it. You might also consider a generator that runs on gas, a turbine generator or even a micro hydroelectric system. All of these could supply you with power when the grid is down completely.
Just keep in mind that these are also targets of theft. You will want to be able to place them in an area where they cannot be snatched by others. For example, if you opt for solar panels, you can often put these onto a roof where they are more difficult to access.
Equipment for Self Defense
Should an EMP attack occur, you have to expect a lot of people to panic. Having items that can protect your family is critical since home alarm systems are unlikely to work after this type of event.
A gun with plenty of ammo is always a good choice. Having a gun can also help you to hunt so that you can provide extra food for your family. Because of this, choose your gun and the ammo wisely so that you can use it for multiple purposes.
Stocking up on some wood is something that a lot of people do not consider. However, it may be a good idea to board up the windows on your home’s lower level, as well as basement windows. This will make it much harder for an intruder to gain access to your home when you are away or sleeping.
With some basic hand tools, it is relatively easy to get the boards into place. Just make sure that you also have the nails or screws to secure the boards firmly.
A guard dog can also be a good choice. Just ensure that you have plenty of dog food put back so that you can keep your guard dog well nourished.
Items for Gardening
Being able to grow your own produce can make a big difference when access to the national food supply becomes impossible. In your survival kit, make sure that you have plenty of seeds in multiple varieties.
You also want to have some basic gardening tools so that you can use them to plant a garden. Also, ensure that you have supplies that will allow you to access water. Lastly, things like nutrient-rich topsoil and plant food can also help your garden to flourish.
Stock Up on Non-Perishable Food Items
If you have a basement or a spare closet, use this to start stocking up on non-perishable foods. Those in boxes and cans are a good choice because they remain safe and edible for a long time. About once a year, take a look at your food supply and replace anything that is beyond its expiration date.
It is a good idea to spend about $5 a week gathering these types of foods. Do not forget to also stock up on bottled water. You may not find a safe water source right away and will need to rely on this until you do.
Cold Weather Protection
Your home’s furnace will not function if you do not have electricity, making your family susceptible to the cold and at risk for hypothermia. Make sure that everyone has a sleeping bag and plenty of extra blankets to use to stay warm.
If you have a fireplace in your home, have it inspected and cleaned yearly so that you know that it is always safe to use. A fireplace can help to warm your home and serve as a way to prepare foods that require heat. You can also use it to heat water to bathe more comfortably.
Ensure that you have plenty of firewood. Even if you do not have a fireplace, you can use this wood to make small fires outside for warmth and other purposes. You can find a place in your backyard or a shed or a garage to start keeping your wood. If you are going to keep it outside, make sure that you cover it with a tarp so that the rain and snow are unable to keep it wet since wet wood is far harder to light and keep lit.
People can become ill and injured and since you cannot rely on hospitals following an EMP attack, you will need to have ways to treat those around you. The first thing you want to get is a book on first aid because you can use this as a reference for a wide array of injuries and illnesses.
The next step is to grab a few first aid kits. Make sure that you add to the supplies that are inside. Ideally, you want to make sure that you have enough supplies for at least a year. This includes over-the-counter medications.
If anyone in your home takes prescription medications, putting some back here and there is a good choice. This way they will have access to their important medications if they are unable to use a pharmacy for refills.
Sanitation and Hygiene
You likely will not be able to flush your toilet or take a shower. Because of this, you will need to find alternative hygiene and sanitation methods. For sanitation, you can use portable toilets. It is easy to find these at medical supply stores or on Amazon. Simply dig a hole to dump the waste. Also, ensure that you have wet wipes and toilet paper stocked up.
For hygiene, look for water-free items just in case you are unable to access a water source right away. Baby wipes are an easy choice because they are convenient to use, and you can usually find options that are hypo-allergenic.
Take note of the hygiene items that you use on a weekly basis and start to stockpile these. You want to consider that you might need to rely on your stockpile for a year, so it is best to buy some extras whenever you can and start putting them back. Avoid items that are all natural since these tend to expire quickly.
Hard Copy Maps
You never know if you will need to move around during this type of event, so you want to ensure that you are able to find your way. Since GPS systems will not likely work, you will have to rely on a map to help to guide you.
Getting an atlas of the US is the best choice. You can use this to navigate around the country or just to get to nearby cities, depending on your needs. It is best to update your maps about once a year to ensure that you have an accurate copy.
Keep Your Pennies
Paper cash will only hold value for a short amount of time following an EMP attack. However, pennies are made from copper and this will be a valuable resource for the long-term.
If an EMP attack is coming, it is best to use your cash to grab some last-minute supplies so that you have everything that you need. Over time, you should start saving up your pennies. Grab a jar and every time you have some extra pennies, put them into the jar and they will start to accumulate fast.
Create a Plan for Your Household
All people in your home should know what their role would be should you need to go into survival mode. For example, one person can be responsible for bartering, one person for cooking, etc. Think about each person’s individual skills and use this to craft your plan.
It is a good idea to get everything written down and then put this plan with the rest of your survival gear. This way it is always handy should an EMP attack occur and you have to put your plan into action.
With the threat of an EMP attack looming, according to some, this is something that all people should be thinking about. It is important to know what you should do if this type of event ever occurs in the US.
This extensive guide provides all of the details that you need to survive an EMP attack. It is recommended that no one wait until a threat is imminent. Instead, start taking steps right now to get through this type of disaster.
It is unknown how long the electrical grid and other critical infrastructure would be affected. Because of this, people should be thinking long-term. This will help to ensure that you have everything that you and your family need to survive this type of catastrophe.