Prepping 101: EMP Attack – Electro-Magnetic Pulse – Natural & Nuclear

The physics of a nuclear EMP are complex and not much is known about how the scenario would play out today. One thing that everyone can agree upon is that it has to be very high up to be effective and not kill people on the ground.

The physics of a nuclear EMP are complex and not much is known about how the scenario would play out today. One thing that everyone can agree upon is that it has to be very high up to be effective and not kill people on the ground.

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.

One large device could theoretically effect most of North America if it were popped from space.

One large device could theoretically effect most of North America if it were popped from space.

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.

This is very different from a surface burst nuke. Most of the energy goes up, and the blast radius is really not much more than 5 miles.

This is very different from a surface burst nuke. Most of the energy goes up, and the blast radius is really not much more than 5 miles.

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.

These are the estimates of reach from a US DOD study and published paper, linked in the article.

These are the estimates of reach from a U.S. DOD study and published paper, linked in the article.

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.

EMP Protection

The Soviets ran a series of tests in 1962 over Kazakhstan. These were the results in a quick graphic format.

The Soviets ran a series of tests in 1962 over Kazakhstan. These were the results in a quick graphic format.

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.

The most effective distance was as high as their missiles at the time could reach, and the Soviets used only devices in the Kiloton range.

The most effective distance was as high as their missiles at the time could reach, and the Soviets used only devices in the Kiloton range.

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.

The most useful US test was called Starfish. The nuke was 1.4 Megatons burst 250 miles up.

The most useful US test was called Starfish. The nuke was 1.4 Megatons burst 250 miles up.

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.

The US conducted several tests in 1962, but little information has been declassified, except for some damage to civilian systems in Honolulu, almost 900 miles away.

The US conducted several tests in 1962, but little information has been declassified, except for some damage to civilian systems in Honolulu, almost 900 miles away.

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.

Sensible Prepping

The electromagnetic wave from an EMP is complicated, and the Soviet tests showed that there can be long term damage from the longer and less intense wave that comes after the initial pulse that lasts only milliseconds.

The electromagnetic wave from an EMP is complicated, and the Soviet tests showed that there can be long term damage from the longer and less intense wave that comes after the initial pulse that lasts only milliseconds.

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!


{ 44 comments… add one }
  • Clark December 31, 2014, 3:54 pm

    Waiting for moderation?
    How are you going to survive EMP if you can’t survive a comment?

    I have not designed for solar flares.
    I could. No one is calling me. They are the 100 year flood type disaster. We just found out how bad they can be. It is irresponsible for the Obama administration to not be funding solar flare emp hardening of the grid. This is not new technology or big money, just due diligence.

  • Clark December 31, 2014, 3:41 pm

    I have designed electronics to survive EMP and the requirements are secret.
    I have designed electronics to survive static electricity.
    I have designed electronics to survive lightning strike, and those requirements change often.
    I can tell you that I do the same types of things to design to meet all 3 requirements and qualification testing.
    They call guys like me who charge a lot of money and don’t do much “Doctor add a cap”.
    But for the above requirements, I add capacitors, resistors, and especially diodes. Some of the diodes are transorber type.

  • Airbone December 31, 2014, 3:20 pm

    Did anyone one read “One second after”, it’s a great fictional account of what happens to a little So Carolina town after an EMP attack. It was quoted by Newte Gingrich on the floor of the Senate as the most believable account of this situation.

  • Kivaari July 8, 2014, 4:42 pm

    There is an excellent fiction book about this effect and the aftermath. “One Second After” does an excellent job of showing how things could go after an EMP attack. It’s available on audio and in print. If you like post-disaster themed books, like “Patriots” you will enjoy the book.

  • Jonathon May 28, 2014, 3:57 pm

    I am sure this article has touched all the internet people, its
    really really nice article on building up new web site.

  • Kuby, N6JSX, MS-EET May 25, 2014, 11:33 am

    Anyone that is Navy cold-war veteran or communications EE will tell you that EMP & EMI is very real in many forms as this article points out very well (Nuke to Solar). As far as a metal garage protection, I have my doubts. The key is to shield and dissipate the rapid energy hit, i.e. a total Faraday enclosure with no cracks/openings for any energy to leak through is one of the only solutions. Being not only a EE but a HAM of +40yrs that does civic service beyond 10yrs of USN/Vet. I have a go-box with my spare HF/VHF/UHF Transceiver (IC7000) that triples as a WX/water & EMP/EMI proof, grab-n-go box to house this radio. I use a surplus military 60mm Mortar ammo (all steal) box. The radio is cushioned inside with foam-cutouts also housing all power/mic cables in one nice package. The key here is EMP/EMI energy has no way inside to the radio.
    Conversely, a vehicle has no way to dissipate accumulated energy being isolated from the ground on rubber tires and a dragging ground static strap under the vehicle will not have enough conductivity fast enough to dissipate the energy hit.

    Anything hooked to the electrical grid, cable TV/Internet, land-telephone, or antennas/towers will suffer damage – relative to the distance from and amount of EMP/EMI energy that arrives at the device. And these devices may not just get hit once but multiple times as the energy finds other paths and reflected energy re-accumulates on these conductors attacking again in milliseconds or minutes. Then do not forget the SURGE spikes that will occur as the electrical grid collapses and auto-breakers try to reset. We will get thrown back to WWII levels of communications from surviving protected radios using battery/solar/wind/generator (if the generators survive the EMP hit) power for years to come. I’ve read that one of our greatest AC grid vulnerabilities is the custom made electrical power station transformers that takes months to build (if there is power to run the machinery to make the transformer materials).
    EMP/EMI is not prep’er hype it can be real – some levels of prep’ing are always prudent to survive Tornado, E-quakes, Floods, regional power outs, etc! The KEY is to prep BEFORE you need it, not after, due to procrastination! Can your family survive at least five days of no resources if this is just a local event, or months if it is a national event?

  • Jesse May 20, 2014, 10:33 pm

    You need a long arm, a good hand gun, a go bag for each member of the family, and a plan to stay ” on the move” for two weeks. All of these scenarios will be engineered to be resolved relatively quickly. The goal is to survive long enough for the players to “turn the lights back on.” Unless you live in a very remote area I don’t think hunkering down is a good idea….

    – J

    • Chris Baker May 20, 2016, 10:59 am

      Staying on the move will ensure that you are always traveling into an unknown situation that could very well be far worse than what you think you’re avoiding by moving.

      What I worry about is all the talk of gold and silver, precious metals in general, being a good hedge. Might be for a short term minor catastrophe but it’s not going to take long for people to realize that they can’t eat the gold and they can’t wear the gold except as jewelry and liable to get them robbed. I’m saving up stuff people won’t be able to get and will definitely want. Ammo can be traded for food. Alcohol – booze would make great trading materials. So I’ll be hunkering down thank you very much. I might even volunteer to help protect my neighborhood in return for food or go out to hunt food in return for keeping me safe while I sleep. A team can survive things a single person or couple could not. A roving band of people would likely be seen as roving looters and get themselves killed along with some of the people who were trying to protect themselves.

      • Burns July 8, 2016, 10:04 am

        We should keep in touch with like minded people who in case something like this happen, could band together and survive by watching each others 6. I live in a development with over 300 homes, but that will work against me, as most are older and have little knowledge of what to do in this case.

  • Joe k May 20, 2014, 5:21 pm

    What about the us navy’s EMPRESS barge testing in early 90s?
    Exclusion zone of 2 miles and 6000 vertical ft.

  • SimpleMind May 20, 2014, 1:15 pm

    Thanks Todd. Impressive to see the work putting together the knowledge and prep needed. Good links too. As a fellow HAM who has survived some nasty storms over the decades, lose of HAM gear can be fustrating. If something does come down, those who are DIY preps will do well vs. the opnes who buy faraday cages and bags on the internet.

  • keithturtle May 20, 2014, 12:01 am

    I’ve studied most of the material TL mentions, and given a lot of thought to the cost of mitigating [unproven] damages vs doing nothing and staying in complacency mode. I decided that a few hours and some greenbacks spent (while they’re still worth something) was a small sacrifice to protect things that might be useful in a post-EMP America. A couple Faraday cages to store electric tools, welder, generators, things that would be needed to fabricate [whatever] to help out my fellowman didn’t take much investment.

    The uncertainty of how long any of this will remain serviceable to me makes it a bit of an exercise in futility; one well placed bullet and it all means nothing to me now. Assuming I survive, I’d like to think I can contribute to helping others as well as myself. Maybe that is just unfounded idealism, but some basic EMP hardening wasn’t all that costly. If none of this EMP stuff ever comes to pass, I am certainly not out that much; some peace of mind is worth the investment, even if I’m not fully assured any of my measures will work when (of if) the fur flies


  • Todd Lovelace May 19, 2014, 10:01 pm

    One of my buddies once told me that “Believing is what you do when you don’t know.”

    When I don’t know for sure, I research, locate and study the most authentic resources I can find – lots of them – even some with opposing viewpoints. I look at the authors to see what their credentials are to help me understand what their level of credibility might be.

    If you are interested knowing about NEMP, here is a digest of NEMP information from scientists and engineers, based on fact and testing, plus a couple of links to simplified digests on the subject follows. Make up your own mind based on scientific and engineering knowledge.

    For your own credibility-check purposes, I am a 31-year veteran power plant mechanical engineer with much experience in electrical engineering and communications. I am knowledgeable and experienced on the subjects of utility power transformers, generators, distributed control systems, protection equipment, PLCs, and communication gear.

    In 2007 I became interested, then absorbed in NEMP as a military or terrorist tool. I spent the best part of two years – several evenings a week – locating, reading, and evaluating the credibility of sources for NEMP information that was credible. I read literally hundreds of papers on NEMP.

    In 2009 I generated a simple layman’s guide to NEMP in PowerPoint form for my fellow ham radio operators called “Components of a Credible Regional NEMP Threat”. It discusses my findings in layman’s terms and can be found on the web at my local ham club website. It isn’t perfect but gets the idea across and is based on the very best unclassified sources available at the time. Feel free to forward it to others if you deem that it has worth.

    I have copies of and have read every single article and source mentioned in Mr. Helinski’s post. Many of them were used in the presentation mentioned above. Several of the very best sources available about NEMP that are easily read with a minimum of techno-geek-speak follow:

    • The US EMP Commission Report Well written by the very best informed technical folks in the business. Intentionally written for the layman. This is truly a bi-partisan scientific commission to study and sort out the facts about the NEMP threat. A discussion of the credibility of the 2004 and 2008 EMP Commission studies is available at

    • A series of four ham radio magazine articles from 1986 written by Dennis Bodson, a PHD Electrical Engineer that was the head of the National Communication System at the time is very revealing. If you fear for your personal electronic equipment (ham gear or otherwise!), this series of four very lay-person-readable articles is a must-read.

    QST (a technical ham radio Magazine) back-issues…… August –November 1986
    Part 2
    Part 4

    • Read the novel “One Second After”. Yes, it’s a fictional novel, but written with the technical input from William Sanders, USN, a technical expert on the subject. I’ve read the novel several times and the only technical exaggeration I’ve been able to find to date is that in the story, one-hundred-percent of all electronic-control-system vehicles failed due to NEMP attack. Modern automobile control systems are well-protected by the Faraday Effect of the metal body and frame components….which explains why some but not too many vehicles fail totally in NEMP simulator testing.

    After studying NEMP, I made some serious life changes that I thought were necessary. If you’re concerned about NEMP, read up an make up your own mind based on science. TL

  • Correction May 19, 2014, 6:35 pm

    It’s silicon, not silicone.

    • Chris Baker May 20, 2016, 11:04 am

      It’s the fault of those evil spell checkers. They are designed to put in words that sound similar to what you’re trying to say just to screw up what you’re righting, oh yeah, writing.

  • Thomas GEORGE May 19, 2014, 3:19 pm

    So all that to basically say that bankers can not and will not use this method to
    cause problems and turn people’s attention away from a financial crisis.
    What WAS the point of this article? To explain how this could possibly happen from
    a scientific and technical aspect? If it is not going to happen then why relate
    it to a financial crises and scare people?? Seems pointless to me.

  • Ron May 19, 2014, 2:44 pm

    Great article. There is a ton more info on this subject available by simply googling EMP event. In the discussion about vehicles with points and condensers, might also think about alternator versus generator. For the faraday cage storage some additional items to consider might be a rebuild kit for your vehicles alternator/ generator. A spare circuit board for your emergency generator. When storing your chain saw, maybe remove the bar and chain and put the power head in the cage as well. It’s a good idea if you build one to attach it to a grounding rod. Mine is going in the barn, and will ground to the rods for my electric fence. Your home circuitry is grounded to a rod, or the water main into your house, which should also work. Anyway, thanks for an informative article!
    If you enjoy reading, William R. Forstechen has a novel out called One Second After, which takes place during and after a worst case, intentional EMP attack on CONUS. A good read, but disturbing. If you enjoy Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, you’ll probably enjoy this also.

  • truthmatters May 19, 2014, 2:09 pm

    The real Question ? Could this be earth last generation we are seeing ?

    • mach37 May 19, 2014, 2:29 pm

      Those “chick tracts” are BS, in my humble opinion.
      PS: I am not an atheist.

  • DaveM May 19, 2014, 2:01 pm

    I lived in a house with aluminum siding for some years. The siding was grounded. Radio and TV reception inside the house was horrible due to the shielding caused by the siding. Would it be that difficult to put wire mesh or similar under shingles or inside the attic of an existing home to “shield” the entire house? It would not be complete, due to windows, doors, etc., but it could be made pretty close. Alternately, an interior room could be made into a “shielded room”.

  • Tim May 19, 2014, 1:49 pm

    I can’t wait. The American people will figure out a quick way out of this debacle if and when it happens and it might be a very much needed lesson in “Appreciation” to be without creature comforts we have taken for granted so long. Maybe some flabby asses would do a little trimming as well? Being a Florida cracker I have gone through several times of no-power due to hurricanes so I know what it’s like to get the old Bunsen Burner out and go “camping”. EMP’s may be useful to Patriots if the Obama regime tries to enforce Martial Law to knock sown drones used against us? I put “NOTHING” past this turd in chief, do you?

  • DaveM May 19, 2014, 1:48 pm

    A follow-up to the above: amateur radio operators have for some years placed shielding around key electronic components of their car engines and other electrical systems to avoid interfering with their mobile radios. A check with the ARRL might well yield plans. I would be that it would work in reverse (shielding the engine from EMP) as well.

  • DaveM May 19, 2014, 1:39 pm

    Might be worth adding a luggable “Faraday Cage” to your survival gear. Line a suitcase with metal window screen, attach a wire, and when possible, keep it grounded. Pack an older transistor radio (or better still, one that runs on tubes), a Nightstar or other shakeable flashlight, perhaps a Kindle (32 hours on one battery charge and it will hold hundreds of books), some sort of charger for small electronics, and portable FRS or CB radios. You may have you own additions–would love to hear suggestions, actually. The major thing for preppers that will be impacted by an EMP attack is communications. We can get by if the electric grid goes down. At least some of us have transportation that will not be affected (engine with points or a good old-fashioned horse). But we’re going to have to be able to talk to each other and keep up on the news, if any.

    • Administrator May 19, 2014, 1:42 pm

      That website has an analysis of the faraday cage idea, which is really all it is. A metal garage should be the same idea, but nobody knows.

  • Sam Riddle May 19, 2014, 12:22 pm

    I would not minimise the dangers of an EMP, since the Obama Administration is putting so much effort into shutting down coal powered electric generation plants, our energy needs will only get worse. Exposure to declining infrastructure and the manufacturing of sensitive equipment like large power transformers which are not manufactured in the United States anymore and are too expensive to stockpile make it inevitable that something bad will happen.

    Remember when NY City was shut down, at the height of the summer season. A high voltage transmission line sagging too low touched off a cascade event all over the Eastern and Northeastern United States? If there were an attack during a high load situation in the middle of the summer heat or even the winter (We had major transformer failures right here in my area along with requests of rationing our use during the so called Polar Vortex last winter.) we would be more susceptible to long term interruptions to our energy supply by a conventional attack let alone an EMP attack. Remember how cell coverage was affected during 9/11, what cell towers were not fried by an EMP would be overloaded pretty quickly by panicked Americans.

    If one region were successfully attacked by an EMP, there would be rolling brown outs if not full blackouts in most of the other regions of the country since our electrical infrastructure is so interconnected now. And, just how much energy do you think will be available to the general public after most of it is consumed by federal government activities such as base installations and public safety (hospitals / police)?

    If EMPs were not such a risk why has the US Military spent so much time and money hardening all of their equipment and by the way there has been reputable reports that China has been spending a lot of energy in EMP Research…

    Also, with the Obama Administration’s policy of “leading from behind”, the Middle East has been totally consumed with the growth of terrorist in Syria, Most of Africa, Fallujah Iraq, Pakistan, and a resurgence in Afghanistan as we pull out… Iran is becoming the major power broker in the Middle East and it’s a proven fact that they are a major supporter of terrorist, and by the way don’t forget about North Korea who would be very happy to fund such an attack on the US. There is a whole lot to think about, that’s for sure. So I would not put all of my eggs in one basket with a fifty year old government study…

  • Juan Alberto May 19, 2014, 12:18 pm

    I think that the author provided a level headed approach to this topic. Are governments/utilities concerned about such events (EMP or GIC)? In fact, they are. Governments/utilities have spent plenty of money on measurement systems for measuring current flow as described earlier under GIC. As was stated several times in the article above, no one has any certainty of the short or long term effects of such events occurring. Before large sums of money are invested utilities are going to want to know how valid such threats are and what would be the best methods of mitigation. To prepare, even a small power grid for a small town, for such a catastrophe will not be cheap!!!

  • Geezer May 19, 2014, 11:20 am

    So how many of you have those electronic keypad gun safes, hmmmm?

    • One-Geezer-to-another May 19, 2014, 12:24 pm

      Always keep one vehicle with points and a tube type radio with a full tank around (or in your metal garage). Oh and the smoggier your town the greater loss to the EMP in the area (Ozone is good; China industrial should do quite well!). For this particular instance, ‘Green’ could kill ya! Other than that, well done article with no detected BS [from a 30yr retired LANL dude]

    • Pops May 19, 2014, 5:26 pm

      Geezer, I never thought of that. Good point. I like the speed of an electronic lock, and keep spare batteries, but maybe I need to re-evaluate my safes.

      • josh May 19, 2014, 9:39 pm

        Hey pops… most electronic safes have a master key also as a fail safe in case your battery goes dead!!!! Most box store salesman do not even know this!!!! Just a thought to ponder when looking never x out the speed of a electronic safe you’ll be more likely to use it more!!!!! hope you find this advice useful good day sir. 🙂

    • sm May 20, 2014, 4:50 am

      I stick to old-fashioned gun cabinets since we have a LOT of dogs and are seldom ever off the farm anyhow.

      But don’t those keypad safes have some key-type override? I wouldn’t ever use any safe that couldn’t be opened manually somehow.

      • josh May 20, 2014, 9:25 pm

        Yes there is a red button that can reset the password but if you remove that red button there is no issue with overriding your safe and the electronic safe can be opened manually with a master key so its the best of both worlds!!!! Hope you find this helpful good day 🙂

  • Rocky May 19, 2014, 11:16 am

    What they’re not telling you, is that if the electrical grid goes down, so does the water and sewage systems, the gas stations won’t be able to pump gas, the trucks won’t be able to deliver food, etc. Approximately 70% of all Americans would perish, from dehydration and starvation.

  • Rocky May 19, 2014, 11:15 am

    What they’re not telling you, is that if the electrical grid goes down, so does the water and sewage systems, the gas stations won’t be able to pump gas, the trucks won’t be able to deliver food, etc. Approximately 70% of all Americans would perish, from dehydration and starvation.

    • Smoke Hill Farm May 20, 2014, 4:48 am

      I think the 70% number is a pretty low estimate — probably right for the first two to four weeks, maybe. After that, when virtually all the scrounged & looted food is gone, things will get extremely ugly as those remaining start breaking into whatever occupied dwellings are left, looking for food, drink, water or fuel for cooking & heating (propane tanks, firewood etc).

      This is going to depend heavily on the time of year & the weather, and the area of the U.S. In Florida heat may not be much of an issue, but northern areas can get brutal much of the year. And most people don’t have enough firewood to last any time at all, even if they could figure out how to cook over a fireplace, or how to siphon their heating oil tank & fashion a primitive burner to use it — no electricity will be available to run furnaces, burners, blowers or anything else.

      Those of us out a ways, with a pond to fish & get water from, and a well that can be used by hand, are in better shape if we stocked enough bleach (or better, HTH) to purify water. But I only stock about one winter’s worth of firewood (maybe stretchable to two if I heat part of the house), and since chainsaws will be out of fuel soon, cutting firewood the old-fashioned way could take a huge percentage of our time. Not good, and I find myself hoping that the real death toll is high enough that the few of us remaining are a small enough group that we can peacefully share the remaining fuel (abandoned houses).

  • Pops May 19, 2014, 10:18 am

    @Benjamin Trillanes… Your own misquote after “PS” proves you may be referring to yourself. And you are trolling for a reaction. In any case, I didn’t see any fear mongering in this article, in fact, just the opposite. I have friends who think EMP effects can last years, which I have been skeptical of, and this article would seem to ease their fears.

  • Benjamin Trillanes May 19, 2014, 9:17 am

    This story is PURE BULL SHIT ! This is a fear mongering web site. I have worked at making very large transformers and know this is all B.S. If this is the crap Guns America is going to publish, than I am cutting my link with them.
    PS. It is far better to remain silent and thought stupid, than to run your mouth an prove it !

    • Administrator May 19, 2014, 9:25 am

      You see how the government shills show up and say the same thing over and over? This is of course a research article that doesn’t really *say* anything. It merely guides you to available research. So who thinks this is a shill and who thinks it is just a prozac infused moron who only read a little?

      • Glockgame May 19, 2014, 10:08 am

        Ben trill should change it to Ben Shill. And he is not even a good shill at that. He made absolutely no valid argument to reinforce his profanity laced comment. Go somewhere else clown!!!

    • Scott Fritz May 19, 2014, 1:44 pm

      All I am able to discern from your comment is that in the past you worked in manufacturing “very large transformers”. I’m not seeing the link between that and your ability to determine the validity or lack thereof in this article (which goes into a little more detail both historical and theoretical beyond transformers). Care to expound???

    • mach37 May 19, 2014, 2:19 pm

      Ben T., as “Pops” says (below), your PS speaks more about yourself than others, at least on this forum.

    • charleywaite May 19, 2014, 10:42 pm

      Go ahead Benny. Cut the link with GA. PLEASE!!

  • jeff May 19, 2014, 8:14 am


    If I could, just a couple of minor points, any space “storm” including solar events, etc causes a GIC. Geomagnetically Induced Currents may have similar effects but are technically very different than the EMP generated by a high altitude nuclear detonation. Duration of ta GIC type event varies but the energy output is generally far less as you noted above. If you are sitting in the dark because of this type of event, that distinction may be of little comfort..

    EMP comes in may sizes and energy levels. A High altitude & high order detonation of a nuclear device is really more state to state warfare. Getting a high yield device into space is no easy tick. On the other hand, a suitcase size device with far less yield when used to selectively target an area runs more to the terrorism explanation. In either case, a nuclear device has been detonated. The distinction here may also be of little comfort (or interest) if you are directly effected by the initial event.

    There is a great deal of information,and to your point misinformation out there. Don’t believe everything you read. Older works my be useful in understanding the process but there is a lot of very good work in the arena now. Remember, work done in the 70’s or even early 2000’s never really addressed the technology of today. Just how vulnerable we are is open to discussion so read up and come to your own conclusion.

    Paul, great article.


  • Mike Birky May 19, 2014, 5:59 am

    Great article, certainly leaves the reader looking for more information. Your point about connections acting as antennas especially turn on provide clarity to the potential crippling effect.
    So, if the possibility of an emp is not high threat, but the catalyst for greater calamity, be prepared to defend the castle.
    Drives home a point if you have a bug out plan, plan b without a vehicle. Or if you have a vehicle will you be a high value target?
    Either way looking for the next article, well done!

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