By Paul Helinski
Fear is among the most driving of all human emotions. When you fear something, it is very easy to take advantage of the requisite call to action inside of you. That was the original point of this prepping and survival series, to cut through all of the crap the fear mongers are trying to sell us and get to the heart of long-term survival in the face of a genuine collapse, which many of us believe is somewhat imminent.
There is a lot of banter about the fall of the dollar and a collapse of our financial system, but historically, governments and the bankers who control them don’t let that stuff happen. They start a war instead. And an easy way to start such a war would be to burst a nuke 250 miles into space, creating what is called an EMP, or Electro-Magnetic Pulse. By available information and hypothesis, such an event would be devastating to our electrical grid, thereby cutting off our ability to talk, tweet and post poorly produced YouTube videos about any financial crisis, thereby allowing them to keep us enslaved to debt, totally hush hush.
An EMP would, at least theoretically, isolate us from one another. Every man for himself, totally cut off from help and from helping others. Our cars supposedly won’t work. The electric grid could be down for as many as 10 years. No cell phone service, no Internet, blah blah blah. Even the Discovery Channel did an EMP documentary, and a lot of what you see and read out there is just plain wrong, or at best it is poorly researched and largely theoretical. To create an actual EMP on the scale of Armageddon is impossible today, for reasons that I’ll get to. And though we can speculate using available data as to what the actual effects of an EMP would be, at best it is a guess. At the end of the day, prepping for EMP survival is not really different from prepping for the fall of the petro dollar, or the eruption of Yellowstone or little green men (or tall white ones) taking over the world. Water, food, shelter, security, medicine, communications and all the other issues we’ll be talking about in this series matter, and you should get started right away.
To start, the information I am using to write this little synopsis is from two sources. One is the 1977 publication from the U.S. Department of Defense entitled “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons.” Chapter 11 is called “The Electromagnetic Pulse and Its Effects,” and covers most of the science you will see repeated all over the Web about EMP. The other is a website called FutureScience LLC by Jerry Emanuelson, B.S.E.E. (which I hope stands for a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and not BS as in you know what). The latter resource is worth the time if you want to dig beyond my glossed-over explanations into the heart of the push and pull aspects of the science, some of which we’ll get to below. The rest of the issues that apply to nukes we’ll get to in a future installment of this series as well, which will cover radiation poisoning and measurement. Neither of these apply with a traditional nuclear EMP, because the nuke is popped in what we consider space, beyond the sixty or so miles from earth in which our atmosphere has most of its substance. This article is just about EMPs, both man-made and naturally occurring. And this is one of the few articles in this series where there is little if anything to buy.
Natural EMP vs. Man-made
Before we get into the repercussions of an EMP generated by a nuclear bomb, you really have to understand the difference between that and an EMP generated by sunspots. Back in 1859, there was a naturally occurring (as far as anyone knows) serious electrical surge in the U.S. that today would be devastating to the electrical grid. The closest thing to it in modern times was on March 13th, 1989. The entire power system of Quebec, Canada, was shut down by an electromagnetic solar storm. Could such a thing happen today? Yes, it probably could. From my research, I haven’t found that the U.S. has taken anything but the most rudimentary precautions against a bad solar storm, and if the storm were strong enough, it could wipe out our electrical grid in just over one minute. The solar EMP isn’t the same as a nuclear EMP. According to available science, a solar EMP only contains the third type of pulse (E3) that occurs in a nuclear EMP. In a nuclear EMP, the E3 is later in the explosion and much longer-lasting than the initial millisecond E1 pulse. E3 effects much larger networks of electrical conductors, and according to a Russian test, could even have long lasting effects on important electrical equipment. Practically speaking, surviving a solar EMP isn’t that different than surviving a nuclear EMP. It is just at least theoretically less dangerous to anything smaller than the electricity grid. Things like your car and cellphone will most likely not be affected at all by a solar EMP.
Backyard Nuke Testing 101
When most people talk EMP, they are talking about a nuclear EMP, generated by a thermonuclear device that is exploded above the surface of the planet. All of the data we have about such a nuclear EMP was generated in the early 1960s by the United States and the Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War. No above-ground nuclear tests have been conducted since then. EMP research has been at a standstill going back to before the modern semiconductor was engineered. Therefore, in today’s day and age where nearly all electronic switching is done electronically via computers, almost everything on the effect of EMPs today is speculative.
In the early 60s, most signal amplification was still being done with vacuum tubes, and switching was handled by physical contact relays. The transistors that did exist were what are called “discreet” devices that relied on Selenium and Germanium to operate. Modern integrated circuits made from 100% silicone transistors were not involved in the tests, and those are what run all of the electronic gadgets of today. No matter what “EMP recreation” testing you see done, there has not been a true nuclear EMP test since 1962, and therefore any results are at best an educated guess.
Prior to the 1960s, the EMP aspect of experimental nuclear detonations was thought of as merely a nuisance that made data hard to collect. The measuring electronics would blank out or quit entirely. But eventually both the U.S. and USSR realized that there was potential for an entirely new type of weapon from this effect, so they set their scientists to see what exactly you could wipe out if you popped a nuke in the upper atmosphere, and even into space. The Soviets tested smaller devices over Kazakhstan, the most powerful of which was 300 kilotons, and they detonated all of them in either little or no atmosphere, at 22.7 kilometers and higher. Four of the tests were into what we consider space, beyond the Karman line, located at 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, in which the atmosphere thins to nearly immeasurable. The US tests were over Johnson Island in the Pacific, about 900 miles from Hawaii, all in 1962, and reached from the Soviet power and distance all the way up to a 1.4 Megaton device detonated at 400 kilometers or about 250 miles above the planet. So when you hear about “airburst” nukes causing an EMP, it isn’t true. Nukes designed to generate an EMP are specialty bombs, and the scariest thing about them is that the bombs used in the 60s weren’t even ideal for the purpose. There is a pretty good chance that Super EMP nukes exist today.
The Soviet tests provided mixed results. They were conducted over a populated and industrial region loosely transliterated as Karaganda. There isn’t a ton known about them, but the map here breaks out at least the facts that were released publicly. If you read into the details, it appears that the power plant failed, but that the Soviets attributed it to points of failure and not catastrophic loss. Any electrical grid, even the one in your home, is going to have points of weakness. If lightning hits your wellhead and the charge travels inside the house, the damage will come from where the amperage can’t be handled by the system. Electrical fires are generally caused from wires overheating due to too much current traveling through them, and the supposed fires in Karaganda probably resulted from this as well. One interesting note about the Soviet test is that they didn’t see initial damage to the giant electrical transformers in the grid, but later, the dialectric, or insulating material inside the transformers, broke down, causing them to fail months down the road. That most likely means that they almost failed during the EMP, but just short of failure they were able to handle the load. The load artificially aged them though, so that eventually the different windings arced and shorted. See the diagram for other specific failures.
The American tests have even less hard evidence of what an EMP would do today, but it does at least give you some idea of the effected distance. The U.S. popped the nukes over mostly open water in the middle of the Pacific, so the only data that came out of any damage to civilian systems is from Hawaii. Almost 900 miles away, the electric grid did not fail. Hundreds of street lights broke, and some telephone lines popped their overcurrent protection but were otherwise unharmed. Modern scientists explain the lack of major damage to the fact that Hawaii’s electrical grid and underground cabling is short, limited by the size of the islands. One of the American tests even resulted in blowing up the actual rocket on the pad, which led to a long delay until the next rocket. In all of these tests, the military running them seemed to be more concerned with how blinding the flash would be from a distance than the actual electronic damage, or they just kept all of the good stuff classified.
How does an EMP work, and more importantly, how do you protect against it? In the simplest of terms, an EMP is just a wave, or a whole bunch of waves of varying wavelengths, generated by an giant explosion as it happens. With a nuclear explosion, the waves come out as gamma radiation, not unlike the waves in an X-Ray machine, but much stronger. As you know from your car radio, wireless router and cellphone, waves can be converted into electrical energy using an antenna. With an EMP, any long metal structure acts as an antenna. This can be power and phone lines, the towers they are connected to, the guy lines that hold the towers in place, and even railroad tracks. If you dig into the science from the above links, you’ll find equations that estimate how much voltage and amperage an EMP generates per meter of antenna. It’s a lot, even under the most conservative estimates. So the damage of an EMP all boils down to points of failure or circuit-breaking technology designed to break, because once a point of failure fails, the electricity should stop there, protecting systems down the line. In Hawaii, all of the overcurrent protectors and fuses popped, so the runs in between them all got overloaded.
The possability for catastrophic failure comes when a system relies upon traditional circuit protection measures, ie. fuses and circuit breakers, and they just plain don’t work. According to the available science, the initial E1 pulse from an EMP lasts only a few milliseconds but measures at catastrophic levels, enough to fry anything and everything down the line. Regular fuses and circuit breakers cut electricity using heat, from the conductor becoming overloaded and heating up. It takes time to do that, more than milliseconds, and during that time, there is no limit to the current flow that may pass through the conductor. Thousands of amps can pass through a one-amp fuse in the initial milliseconds of the burst, before the fuse has time to heat up and burnt out. More sensitive switching is much more expensive, so even protecting our own houses from lightning strikes (which also defeat standard devices), we seldom upgrade to effective protection. Our government has designed a plan to prepare for an EMP, but little of it has been implemented.
That means that a large transformer at a power plant, connected through traditional circuit breakers to thousands of miles of power lines spanning the country, is potentially vulnerable to EMP. If the giant transformers blow, only two plants in the U.S. can produce them, and they need electricity themselves to do that. Power in America would be out for the foreseeable future, probably years. Over-reaction? I don’t know. We rely on so much digital switching these days that there is no telling what an actual EMP would do to not only the grid, but to the power plants themselves, as well as water delivery systems. I found this interesting map of vulnerable large transformers in the footnotes of the above websites.
Can you protect against an EMP on your own devices? There is decent evidence to suggest that devices that are not powered up, even if connected to something that acts as an antenna, are not as vulnerable to an EMP as when they are on. I haven’t seen any hard science to support the hypothesis though. Think about how an RFID chip works. A radio wave is beamed to it, and that creates a current via the embedded antenna, then the device sends back its own wave signal to the RFID sensor. Modern RFID chips don’t have batteries and they aren’t “on.” Any effective antenna apparatus is going to absorb an EMP wave and generate current, the same way it does in an RFID chip.
For sure, if you are keeping a HAM radio ready for the Apocolypse, don’t leave it connected to power or your antenna. Small professional-grade radios (even consumer Motorola Talkabouts), are somewhat hardened against EMP because they have powerful transmitters in the 5-10 watt range. The receiving circuits are guarded by a pretty good capacitor network, because otherwise the radio would blow out as soon as you push talk with that kid of wattage. (We have a whole article on radios and communications coming.) Most likely your phone would not be fried by an EMP, but the towers are probably toast. If you are prepping with solar (another topic coming soon), I wouldn’t leave a charge controller and batteries connected via cables to each other or to solar panels or wind turbines. Any cord is going to act as an antenna and potentially send damaging current into whatever it is connected to. A pretty good paper was produced in 2010 by a company called MetaTech that examines the science and many of the theoretical effects using smaller-wave testing, including actual melted integrated circuit pictures. If you can stay awake through the science, it is worth a read.
Is your car vulnerable to EMP? I had an interesting factoid thrown at me recently from a friend who had supposedly spoken to an “insider” at DOD. He said that an EMP was coming, and that all cars that didn’t run on points and rotor would be fried within two years. Scary huh? But it is most likely bunk. The Discovery Channel did an interesting test on an 90s Taurus using a “simulated EMP” and came up with the same conclusion, but that hasn’t been born out in official government tests. At about the 46-minute mark in this audio file, you’ll hear someone who witnesses some very involved government tests using over 25 vehicles with a simulated EMP. Only one vehicle needed more than a battery disconnect/reconnect to function normally after the EMP burst. Admittedly, the testers didn’t have the money to pay for destroyed cars, so they were somewhat gentle. But it was their job to measure EMP on cars, so you have to figure they were trying to get a good idea. If you have a metal garage, try to park at least one vehicle inside it at all times. This should act as an antenna, enough to protect car electronics that are already shielded by the chassis of the car itself.
And as much as I seem to be giving actually advice here, I don’t feel that any of these tests are valid, based on the technology of today. There is just too much fundamental difference between the switching devices of then and the switching devices of now. For all we know, silicone-based micro-circuitry is a defacto “fuse” for our electrical grid. Smaller digital components using electronic switches could blink right out at the pulse from an EMP, protecting those hard-to-replace large transformers. Again, switching in the 60s was all made from physical relays. There is no comparison to the electrical grid control system of 1962 , especially in Kazakhstan, with that of the control system today. The problem is that we have no data, and nobody is going to line up to start bursting nukes for EMP testing anytime soon. We pretty much have to guess.
The further you dig into the policy driving events of our recent past, the scarier the world becomes. But remember, the U.S. got involved in World War I due to what was almost definitely a false flag event in the sinking of the RMS Lucitania. The world didn’t end. There is ample evidence that our government knew that Pearl Harbor was about to be attacked by the Japanese to get us into WWII. Vietnam started with a false flag at the Gulf of Tonkin. Still the world didn’t end. If you believe that Russia or China is going to just EMP nuke us, with no financial gain, the world could end any day. All of the false flags in history revolve around money, and the ones in our future will as well. The good news is that the power elite who control our future value the cushy lives that they lead. Bunkers are not fun places after a few weeks, even with Rihanna and Jay Z.
When you boil down the risk of an EMP, it is no different than that of any other disaster that has more than short-term local effects. The power grid isn’t going to last under any collapse. The highways will become parking lots. Backup fuel for the water supply will run out. The supermarkets will be empty. Cash will have little standing in the grand scheme of things. Life will revolve around how much water and food you have stored so you don’t have to go outside. And you’d better be well armed. Gradually we will get through all of these topics in a fairly comprehensive manner, and we hope a collapse will never come to pass. Over and over, I can’t stress enough to get going and be as thorough as you can. I will leave you with this quote from Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Russian Duma International Affairs Committee, in a spat over the Balkans, May 2, 1999:
“If we really wanted to hurt you with no fear of retaliation, we would launch an SLBM [submarine launched ballistic missile] and detonate a single nuclear warhead at high altitude over the United States and shut down your power grid and communications for six months or so.” His partner, Aleksandr Shabonov added, “And if one weapon wouldn’t do it, we have some spares.”
blink blink. WTF!