EMP – A Summary Starting Point

Electro-Magnetic Pulse kills electronics and wounds many kinds of electrical gear. Some, like large transformers; die from a major pulse, 3 years to replace (when things are working properly and they will not be working properly).

On another thread, a discussion broke out on this topic. This link goes to the top of that discussion chain (so I can find it again in the future…)


It is the point where Carrington Event was mentioned and started the discussion.

There are two major kinds of EMP to worry about. The first is solar induced. It will be a bad day for things plugged into the power grid or network cables, but otherwise modestly easy to survive. The major issue making it uniquely difficult is that it is usually hemispheric and sometimes global in scope. You don’t get much help from anyone else in the world when it happens. And it WILL happen. Absolutely 100% guaranteed. We just have no idea when. We have a sample size of one well observed to guess from.

It is the main “design point” for my preparations. Basically, almost all the cars survive along with any electronics and electrical gear not plugged in at the time or with good discharge protection. (Things like large data centers where the entry point power conditioning equipment will likely die, but save the rest of the shop in the process).

So I have some basic computer gear and communications gear in ‘Faraday cage’ like protective wrappings along with some battery operated radios and batteries. “Camping” stoves and fuel. Kerosene lamps and a few gallons of kerosene. Some LED flashlights. You get the idea. Same stuff you need to survive after a hurricane or major earthquake. (In fact, mine is mostly my ‘quake kit’ with some electronics wrapped in paper/plastic then foil in metal cans).

I’m not going to put much more about it here, other than to remind folks that for about $20 you can get a small portable ‘inverter’ that makes enough power to light a nice light, charge your cell phone and laptop, and run a radio. Plug into your car or just wire it straight to the battery and you have several days of modest power.

There’s an example here:


I always travel with at least one of these. I have a 100 W minimum, that fits in a small backpack pocket, the 300 W in the picture that fits in the glove box, a 1000 W unit that cost $70 at Costco some years back stored in the garage, and another one or two. They are cheap and work well. It is amazing how much can be done with just 100 W of AC from one of these. (Though my laptop took 250 W to run, a Raspberry Pi needs just 5 W …)

All of this gear, being physically small and not plugged in ought to survive any solar event. Even my 1000 W Honda Generator ought to survive. Just too small to couple to the low frequency long wavelengths of a solar EMP.

The bigger (harder) problem is a nuclear EMP event. These are both much stronger in power and voltages induced, and have different frequency spikes. Small size is not nearly as much protection. (It isn’t clear what form an actual pulse would take as the sample we have is small and from 1/2 century ago, so some guessing is involved…)

I’ve generally not ‘prepared’ for this simply because the only real ‘risk’ was the USSR, and it went away… But times change. Now we have Iran on course to get a nuke in under a decade, though it is reasonable to speculate they have a couple already. North Korea has them. For both of these countries, ‘delivery systems’ didn’t exist. That, too, has changed. They both now have missiles intended to reach the USA, but IMHO much more importantly, they are claiming some of these are for space research and for putting satellites on orbit.

So pretty much in the next 5 years to a decade we enter a no-mans-land. There will be two countries who absolutely hate us, have vowed to destroy us, and will have the means to do so. Add to that the Russians getting globally uppity again, and the USA now playing “Chicken” with some Chinese islands (and them being fully able to launch orbital nukes) and it’s not getting better…

Why the emphasis on Orbital?

For the simple reason of where you set off a nuke to make the best EMP.

This map is from this site:


EMP effect on the lower 48 states

Most folks will look at that and notice the circles cover the whole lower 48. Some will notice the outer ring is only 30% to 50% of peak. Others will note it is ‘grid damage’ the article is talking about and not all damage; and many things not grid connected will have different percentage rings. Others, me among them, will note that at a 50% risk band, even a foil wrapped cardboard box inside some plastic bags inside a metal garbage can will be highly likely to survive. (Alternating layers of conductor and insulator, with one layer of iron to keep out the magnetic component, shields things very well.)

There’s a good discussion of how to protect things here:


with personal steps here:


But what I want to point out is one small number on that graphic.

“Height of blast: 298 miles”

That’s orbital height. From about 100 miles to 400 miles is prime space to put up a variety of orbital communications and survey gear. Some, like both Russian and some USA gear, powered by nuclear power.

Unless we grabbed one to open it up and look inside, we can not tell really if that radiation from it is due to it having a nuclear power supply, or a bomb.

So an Iran, Korea, China, Russia, whoever… can just have a ‘scientific’ space program launching some satelites that don’t do much other than radio back some pretty mundane measurement data or photos. We can’t really say much to stop it, and attempting to take one down would likely end badly…

Now, at any time, they can set it to detonate on the next pass over the USA.

As Larry pointed out in the other comment thread, the most effective scenario is to have a few of them and set them off in a couple of waves.

I personally don’t think anyone that seriously contemplated an EMP attack would limit the attack to a single warhead, as no matter how small that device was, it would be surely interpreted as an act of war, and the consequence would be total retaliation (if the source of the attack was known) and our ability to retaliate remained.

The bad news is that of all attack scenarios EMP is the most likely to have considerable doubt about the source if the attacker wanted to execute the attack in the proper way.

My personal planning assumption is a 4 device attack with three devices positioned to bracket most key regions of the country (east, central/mountain and west coast with locally high field strength) and with a 4th super EMP “cleanup device” detonated at altitude to blanket the entire country. Possibly with some time delay after the primary strike to allow reserve and backup systems to come on line before hitting them too.

Also realize that once on orbit, a nuke could also be let drift out with little ‘signature’ to observe it (i.e. no rocket thrust), and if coated in Radar Absorbent Material and mat black (i.e. stealth designed) it would be nearly impossible to see that event from the ground, while assets on orbit would have trouble being ‘tasked’ to observe every one of those satellites 24 / 7 for a couple of years of ‘nothing happening’. That, then, raises the specter of an EMP happening when we can not point at any source at all. Do you just nuke “all the usual suspects” then?

So while I have little worry about solar EMP causing the end of society as we know it, and no real worries about nuclear EMP over the last 20 years. Starting about 2020 it is a whole different situation. ( I personally hope to be in a position to ‘live on my own’ then, out of an urban context, but who knows. I might still be right here as the spouse prefers malls to a well and dirt.)

So that is the “worst possible scenario”, IMHO. A few nukes on orbit that we can’t finger, and then a staccato of EMPS as they pass overhead. No launch in the last year or two pre-event to point at. Maybe a year back some vague smudge on a long put away image of what someone thought might have been an object near one of ‘their’ satellites, but again not actionable. What do you do then?

With that pattern, you have near 100% destruction of the power grid and most everything plugged into it. Even small devices are mostly fried. Some folks, like me, taking stuff out of deep storage can have some lights on, and a radio to listen to??? Who? Radio Moscow? The BBC? Telling us we’re now a 1700s rural agrarian society again? Except almost everyone is in cities with no working water supply, fuel supply, food supply, heat, cooling, lighting, or communications. Hopeless? Not quite, but mostly. That’s why I put it outside my ‘design goal’ for my preparation plans. (At that point, we hunker down with the earthquake water barrels, the stored food ration, and some ‘defense’ and hope to just be among the last ones standing in 4 weeks…)

Unfortunately, this isn’t a “paranoid ideation”. Were I running the “get America” planning group in Iran or North Korea, it is exactly what I would do. Stealth, deception, surprise attack, and utter collapse. Our nuclear subs can completely destroy them, but how do you know which ones to destroy? And then what?

One can hope we have far better satellite tracking abilities and some way to sniff out the nuclear signature of “boom stuff” vs “nuclear power module”. One can hope we know when the nuke is put on orbit and can neutralize it ( say run a pencil sized IR laser through it on orbit…).

“But hope is not a strategy. -E.M.Smith”… Yet I can only hope our military has more than hope to work with. Otherwise this too is a ‘will happen’.

With that, I ‘hope’ we can move the EMP discussion to this thread ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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34 Responses to EMP – A Summary Starting Point

  1. One tidbit of information relative to being able to listen to the BBC came from a discussion on QI of what would happen if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister of the UK, given his long-standing opposition to having or using nuclear weapons. It seems that even if he doesn’t press the button, if BBC Radio 4 ceases transmission for a certain number of days (about a week?) then the nuclear sub captains own their birds and have a set of targets to take out. You can thus expect a second “end of the world as we know it” about a week after the first one. Maybe the US fleet has a similar fallback option if orders can’t be received. Maybe also the Russian and Chinese ones….

    Whereas if you wanted to keep your petrol/gas engine running, you’d probably need to distil some alcohol and accept that the engine probably would need a lot more maintenance, a Diesel will run on pretty-well any vegetable oil with a bit of heating of the oil providing it doesn’t have a computer running it. Probably a good reason to keep that old Diesel with mechanical injection and timing, even if it won’t pass current pollution limits.

    As regards what level of EMP protection is actually needed, it really looks like “we don’t know” since we can’t really test it in advance. We can estimate from lightning strikes, maybe, but it looks pretty likely that we have no idea as to how advanced other people have become. Whereas China and Russia seem unlikely to start nuclear wars and wipe out a lot of their investments around the world, I’d think North Korea and Iran have little to lose and might do it if they think they can get away with it. They may just do it anyway.

    Lets hope that our intelligence services get enough forewarning to knock out the rogue nukes before they can be used (but hope is not a strategy…).

    At the moment, it seems a lot of backbone services are online without sufficient protection against hacking. This is really where I’d expect the unfriendly nations to concentrate – destroy the ability to trade and the power distribution systems. Wikileaks shows us that people with secrets can spill them, and that few systems can’t be disabled from a distance because of an unprotected vulnerability. With the grid close to overload anyway, a failure in one part can knock out the country, especially if the hackers are both intelligent and malicious. I’d rate this as a higher probability than an EMP strike, and probably almost as crippling for a country.

  2. omanuel says:

    Thank you, E. M. Smith, for this blog on a real danger to modern civilization

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    Thanks good to get it under a proper topic hedding. Still need to fish out my last post on the other thread that got swallowed by the spam filter for too many links. If you like feel free to add it as comment to this thread.

    Like you mentioned, as someone with an emergency planner background I tend to look at what is possible as well as what is probable in making planning decisions. Unlike a lot of folks I am not in a panic and making absurd sacrifices to plan for EMP but it is on the radar and 90% of what you do for it, is beneficial for other more likely scenarios like local lightning strikes, or a some day solar Carrington class event which we know is a statistical certainty.

    Working in a data center environment I know first hand how screwed up things can get with sudden power outages. A couple years ago a local ultra light pilot ended up landing in a high power line (it was his last mistake) took down the local grid hard, and our UPS transfer switch did not function and power got yanked out from under the entire data center. Lots of hate and discontent for several hours getting things mostly working and a bit of long term recovery to restore some files, followed by a brand new backup emergency generator which had been under discussion for some time but was always just around the corner.

    Basic preparation as you pointed out is really pretty simple. Long before I found your blog, I had evolved a nearly identical emergency power kit. I go off into remote environments a couple times a year for photography, and ended up with a couple small 100 W cigarette lighter plug in inverters for simple things like charging cell phones and tablets/lap tops, a 375 watt inverter for at the camp site which got upgraded to a truck stop purchased 1000W inverter. I can run just about all my electrical devices any where with this rig and a couple accessories like a short extension cord power strip. It all fits in a small poly storage tub or a 30MM ammo can along with a hand crank LED lantern and an emergency short wave AM/FM radio to allow you to tune into radio stations hundreds of miles away when you are far removed from civilization. In the short term I am not much worried about the car survivability issue, as I have several bicycles. One mountain bike is kept at work and would get me home if things went to hell in a hand basket and I have another old mountain bike here at home. I have a couple older vehicles which could probably be converted to conventional points ignition with a lot of hand tool engineering but I would rather buy something that already runs of the proper vintage but just have not seen the right deal yet.

    As you point out in your post, the prime window for this threat is in the future, but not as far in the future as some would like to think. If the likely bad actors got sufficiently motivated they could do it today with crude devices, but I think the prime window begins to open about 2018 and reaches its peak about 2025 as they are very close to having a significant lift capacity in orbital insertion or intercontinental ballistic missile technology. Both N. Korea and Iran can put about 1000 kg payload in low earth orbit right now but with low reliability. Both have test launched sea launch systems which could put a war head at EMP effective altitude in about 6 minutes from a near coast launch capable ship/submarine giving essentially zero notice and seriously complicating the problem of determining who did it.

    Both countries seem to be little constrained by self survival considerations and rank high on the crazy scale by western standards and both have working relationships with other traditional longstanding opponents like Cuba, Venezuela and Pakistan (part time ally/enemy), Yemen (where the USS Cole was attacked) has large stock piles of scud missiles and is in a shooting war with other middle eastern countries and one faction in Yemen is backed by Iran. Both China and Russia are actively re-arming to directly confront US strengths with new sophisticated missiles with maneuvering warheads and hyper sonic cruise missile systems and a combined challenge by both at the same time is not likely to end well with our currently severely weakened defense posture. Both China and N. Korea can directly strike formerly safe ground Pacific US installations like Guam (B52 and B2 launch point). Iran can do the same to formerly safe west Asian and Mediterranean installations. It will be a dangerous world for western powers over the next few decades as forward power projection from carriers becomes a more and more risky prospect while wild child third world countries enter the nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile clubs.

  4. Ian W says:

    This is a significant risk especially as one of the potential countries involved is run by a theocracy who believe the return of the Imam – their judgement day – will start with an Armageddon style war of global destruction, they would actually welcome a return strike. The other potential launch site is a country whose population would probably not notice EMP from a return strike as there is so little power usage. The only logical response to an EMP strike though is to take out anyone who you believe might be responsible – and make that your known strategy. This would encourage China and Russia to keep a lid on the less logical states that they support.

    Having a ‘crash bag’, hurricane kit or earthquake kit will be of little use if living within 2 days walk of a metroplex of any size as the hunger crazed mobs will be looking for food. Somewhere like New York/New Jersey or SE UK would be lawless within 5 days with no power. So the wilds of Montana or a swamp house in the everglades would be sensible.

    Any sensible government would be hardening their infrastructure against EMP and removing hackable access to the infrastructure from the Internet. Unfortunately, most if not all ‘western’ governments are not sensible and give higher priority to immediate vote winning measures like sugar taxes and soda sizes.

  5. E.M.Smith says:


    You are most welcome. But really it was Larry’s comments that motivated it. Didn’t want to have them lost under some other topic. (So thank him! ;-)


    At one time our nuke launch decisions were delegated all the way down to Army Captain under certain circumstances ( as I was told by someone who ought to have known). That was the Soviet era and there was a ‘real and present danger’ of a decapitation strike, so the answer was to show that the response would come anyway.

    Under various Democrats, nuke launch has been pulled ever more back to Central Authority. At this point, targeting is not pre-set to anyone and even ship captains have to ‘phone home’ to get the OK. Do they have some ‘defense in depth’ ultimate fall back? I’d hope so… but hope is not…

    One of my petite fears is that Central Authority has decided there will be a ‘rise in tensions’ prior to any event so have pulled all independent response ability. Figuring they will shove it back if there’s a week or three of ‘tensions’ building and it looks needed. That is a plan for complete failure in the “surprise” Zero Day Orbital attack. I’d think our military guys are smart enough to know that, so the question is: Have they been able to convince Obama? I’d expect not.

    The Arrogance Of Power does not allow most top managers to delegate well. It is one of the hardest things to do, and the most essential. Push power and responsibility onto those under you. Instead, the urge is to pull it to the center. Especially when anything goes badly, or when you have a mix of non-ideologues under you and you are an ideologue… That argues for no independent launch codes in the hands of ship captains. ( Again, I’d hope subs are treated differently as they are the ‘last line’ in a surprise attack).

    One bit of ‘good news’ is that on the news today (AlJazeera IIRC) a crawler said the USA had issued a P.O. for something like 10,000 sonar buoys for tracking subs globally. Someone has realized the risk… If they are getting a bit nervous, they may delegate down a bit more.

    Per Diesel and vegetable oil:

    I the ’80s I did a LOT of work on that, including testing. In long use, straight vegetable oil (SVO) produces gums and varnishes up the engine. You really want to not let that happen. (Special engines designed for it do not have that problem). Mix 1% lye, 19% methanol / ethanol, with 80% vegetable oil and wait (gentle heat helps, especially with ethanol). A glycerin layer separates out and the biodiesel is on top (IIRC). Separate, wash, and dry. Great fuel. Even in computer driven engines.

    For emergency use, but ONLY in those without fuel sensing computers, you can mix Regular Unleaded Gas (RUG) with SVO. I used about a 25% RUG / 75% SVO in the I.H. Scout and about 35% RUG / 65% SVO in the Mercedes. Not great, but it works OK and doesn’t need external heat in places like California. In anywhere that goes below about 40F, these fuels will gel and clog up fuel lines. (Put a bottle of olive oil in the fridge and watch it over the week as it gradually makes flocculent bits, then turns to a butter like lump…)

    Anything with mechanical injectors and the old Bosche mechanical injector pump ‘takes a punch’ and keeps on ticking, including being happy with ‘funny fuels’. A ‘precombustion chamber’ design like in the Mercedes is best for ‘variety fuels’. Single piston rotor injection pumps like in the GM designs are not nearly as ‘flexible’, and the Cummins higher compression and no precombustion chamber design is a bit picky about things like feeding propane in the air intake as a ‘co fuel’. (Yes, you can ‘fumigate’ natural gas, alcohol, and / or propane in the air intake of the precombustion chamber Diesels up to about 75% of full power. The very high octane rating of those fuels and the relatively low 18:1 compression ratio of those engines, along with a non-stoch mixture prevents pre-detonation. The Cummins balks, though.)

    In my “Aw Shit” across the country plan, I figured I could always hit grocery stores for SVO / Lamp Oil / Kerosene etc. and “make it”. Worst case being buying bottles of Propane and valving it in the air intake via a hose. Yes, I’ve done it. Drove the I.H. around the block on a propane torch with the jet removed and the ‘stem’ into the tank opened a bit. Gets cold fast, though, so I only drove it about a mile. In a ‘real world’ use I’d have some kind of ersatz heat exchanger (coil of copper tube under the hood) and have the tank upside down sending liquid to it. Unfortunately the now mandated valves in BBQ sized tanks to prevent letting liquid out prevent that emergency use… so it would be a much slower limp home on a couple of tanks each slowly venting vapor and freezing up, then ‘sit’ a couple of hours and move a few more miles…

    But that omnivorous nature of the old all mech Bosche Diesels has been thoroughly broken in modern wimpy computerized designs. If ANYTHING is out of spec, it won’t go. Forget emergency needs, at all costs it must not make smog, and that requires everything be ‘just so’ or no go…

    The basic issues with SVO are 2. Viscosity and gum formation. Gum formation is a longer term issue and partly related to the first. So doing a few hundred miles on SVO isn’t a gum problem, but doing a year on it “un modified” is likely a shot engine. SVO is thick. You need to make it thinner so it makes small droplets on injection (spec size) and then it’s OK. At one time there were special injectors and glow plugs available from Germany for the old Mercedes that would deal with it. I now regret not having bought that kit. The alternative is heat the oil (simple heat exchanger with the engine). That also needs a cut over to regular diesel after warming up the engine and a cut back long enough to prevent cold start problems before you shut down. Tank heater for the SVO to prevent jelling needed in cold places. Or you can cut it with RUG and get the needed viscosity but at a small penalty to Cetane rating. (No more than 35% RUG and even then only in ‘forgiving’ engines like the old Benz / Nissan / and old VW engines – the new ones are shit for this kind of use…)

    If anyone wants to know more about his, give a holler. I’ve got a lot of experience with “funny fuels” in old Diesels…


    Those of us who have designed, built, and operated Data Centers have a special perspective on these things ;-)

    Like I said before, I did the “Booking Engine” upgrade at Disney some decade back. It ran about $4 Million / day of booking through it then. A cluster of 6 Sun Servers. Needed 4 up minimum at peak to handle the load, and the upgrade was not compatible. We had a 4 to 6 hour window to ‘cut over, test, and commit or fall back’. That was how long, per day, it could run on just 3 in the cluster. So we converted 2, waited for the window, converted one more, swapped to that cluster, did the QA and committed. Then had about 1 hour to convert at least 1 more before hitting the wall. Well, it went fine.

    But the thing is, you become very aware of numbers like $4 Million / day. So even an unlikely outage becomes a big concern. You stock spares locally. You arrange with the power company to have feeds from 2 different grid segments. You put large UPS boxes in place, and spend money on emergency generators. Power is a major point of concern. As is lightning…

    This last contract I was doing Disaster Recovery Planning. Kind of “focuses the mind”. We had a ‘scenario’ for each DR test. My job was to come up with reasonable / possibles for horribles and then we would use that scenario as the base case for our DR Test. Again, it ‘clarifies the mind’. A hurricane here, an earthquake there, a 500 year flood in the valley where your datacenter sits on a slab foundation instead of a raised platform…

    In that context, a continental EMP is not really survivable for the datacenters of the world. I didn’t even use that scenario since not only would the data center be down, but so would the DR site and all the communications gear in between, and all the telcos and power and all the plant and equipment that would normal use that data center. There was no “bring up DR” scenario possible, so no way to use that as the “test”.

    So I had my ‘mini kit’ in my car, but that was about it. I think I’m more serious about having The Old Cars as I’ve historically been anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand miles from home when working. Here in The Valley, I’ve often had ‘day jobs’ at the far end, about 50 to 75 miles away. I’ve had a contract or two in places like Denver and Las Vegas. About two tanks in the Diesel, but reachable even post Aw Shit. And having lived through a 7ish quake, it’s not a hypothetical to me. ( I was about 20 miles from home then. I could walk it in a real ‘no choice’ world, but driving was better. I was VERY glad to find the overpasses still standing…)

    I’ve gone through several “surprise” power cuts. Sometimes even planned ones with careful shutdowns have issues. Nothing like a power down to let you find out what disk has bearings with so much wear that the drag doesn’t let them get started again, but worked if you didn’t let them stop and freeze up… Or CPUs where things were electrically marginal enough that they ran OK, but the startup “inrush current” pushed them off the edge. After a while to start to play for a few percent of “working equipment” to not start after a planned shutdown. Surprise cuts even more…

    Guess why I have so many copies and spares? 8-0

    Per inverters:

    I’d expect similar solutions to the same problem from folks who think about it. Inverters are just so cheap and so effective. Heck, you can get them for cell phone charging for about $4 each now. (Though they are DC / DC converters for use in cars). I have about 1/2 dozen of them scattered around in various equipment bags. Many construction trucks have them built in for job site use.

    And yes, nothing like working a new build out with everything on generators to get you aware of the need to ‘bring your own power with you’. One data center bring up had a late arrival of power so we rented 3? large Diesel gensets on trailers and parked them out back. Ran the whole place on them for a couple of weeks until the power company got back on schedule… After a while it becomes part of your personal planning…

    @Ian W:

    That “hit them all” scenario is exactly why I’m so bothered by this edge case of worries.

    It is a very small leap to make.

    It also results in a massive, global, thermonuclear war. US taken out. Iran, North Korea, maybe Pakistan taken out. That, then, has India get into the game with Pakistan and the Sunni Shia thing goes nuts. Probably also gets China moving in S.E. Asia (see India… and Japan… and US bases in Asia…). Somewhere along the line, it is likely Russia gets pulled into things. That brings NATO into Asia (while the attack on us brings in NATO but they may have no idea who to attack… so what happens then?…)

    In no time at all the entire N.H. is a mess.

    Then the subs start to launch a week or so later…

    And yes, anyone sensible would be removing dependency and connectivity to both power grids and the internet. Instead with have the IOT Idiots Owning Things … wanting to connect every single gadget and appliance in the world into one ball of crap that all goes together when it goes.

    While a Carrington Event doesn’t really worry me much (too weak, too low a frequency) a well thought out military EMP is not survivable, IMHO; and getting worse ever day as “takes a punch” gets replaced with “safe and regulated” but doesn’t work out of spec.

    The original Mercedes Diesel was designed to be a Nazi Staff Car on the battle front. I’ve taken mine over Christmas Tree Pass in Nevada (where the signs warn to take Jeeps and 4×4 only). It has everything you need in a battle zone ;-) and can run nicely on kerosene / jet fuel / lamp oil etc. The current crop of machines are crap if they are not pampered.

    One “maybe not” on “lawless”:

    It depends on the locals. Some places will be lawless, others not. Post quake, here, there was a very polite “everyone lending a hand” nature. That’s how the place is. A guy in spandex, his bike leaning on a light pole, directing traffic at one major intersection ( 3 lanes one way, 4 the other) and the next intersection had a lady in business suit doing the same thing. I got home and we set up a “Quake Party” with cheese and wine. Similar things all over the valley. We were all “in it together”. Post Aw Shit I intend to set up “Smith’s Kitchen” on the front yard. Invite neighbors to bring their fridge contents and grill or smoke it for preservation (as the freezers give out and start to warm up). Set up the spare tents (likely on the other neighbors oversized front yard) as either a ‘temporary hotel’ or triage center, depending on needs.

    Compare post hurricane New Orleans. Partly due to government stupidity, it was NOT very cooperative… That environment would descend into chaos. Forcing folks to stay in the Dome was not conducive to ‘we are all in this together’…

    I don’t think you need ‘far far away’ to be OK. In my old home town in Central Valley California, they would be just fine. Probably set up a perimeter staffed by locals. Still more guns than people there, and they all know each other. As there are TONS of rice in the local rice dryer and silos (though it varies with time of year) and a lot of garden and orchard space, they could in fact feed a decent influx of ‘new folks’; even if the diet were a bit dull. I think you would see many such rural “centers of stability” that would set up refugee camps outside of town for those who walk in… Oh, and it is 30 miles to the nearest thing I’d call an “Urban Center” and that is the small college town of Chico. Few city folks can walk 30 miles these days, and less after a week of no food.

    In essence, rural areas with a gun culture become the new centers of local governance and policing and it spreads back out from them. That’s what’s happened in a few other places (one was in Mississippi? post Andrew, IIRC, where the ‘neighborhood watch’ posted locals with shotguns to keep looters out. Local police came by, basically said “OK, we have worse things to deal with” and moved on.)

    So I see it more as a bi-polar thing. Rural ‘self rule and civility’ islands, urban “chaos and trouble” and a bit less clarity as to which one wins… (Suburbs in the middle… and South more stable than North East…) As to Europe, no idea how they would handle something like this… Oh, and I suspect Australia and New Zealand wouldn’t even notice… All the action being in the N.Hemisphere.

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and just a quick “how to” on protection from stronger EMP events.

    The quickest and easiest thing to do is alternating plastic and aluminum foil. As strong EMP can generate voltages in the metal wrapping, you want insulation under it and between layers.

    Also there’s a magnetic component, so one iron layer helps stop that penetrating.

    So the “quick and easy” approach is to leave an object (like a portable AM/FM/SW battery operated radio) in the original paper / plastic wrap and put a full cover wrapping of aluminum foil over it. Think “wrapping Christmas present” but with Al foil. Then put that in a plastic tub (or use plastic bags if that’s the best you have) and overwrap with foil again. Place that in a cardboard box in a plastic bag. Put the whole thing in an iron garbage can with tight fitting lid. Ought to survive just about anything short of “it is right over your head”…

    What to put in it? Minimal lighting kit (maybe two of them… leave one in the can for a week or two), that small AM/ FM / SW radio and two or three sets of batteries (wrapped separately, they tend to leak. Even “good” brands. I’ve tested them. They all leak eventually.) A Raspberry Pi or two, along with deep archive USB disks with your data on them. I’d add a camera, but I’m the photographer sort ;-) Any “car parts” you think you will need. A ‘family service radio’ or ‘walky talky set’ can be useful. Maybe that old obsolete cell phone (the 911 service is supposed to work even with cell phones that don’t have a service provider) and of course all the power bricks and such for all those things. Any special needs like AED gear or hearing aids (upgrade to a new one? Put the old one in the can…) Hard Core folks can add things like night vision gear and such. I’d include a couple of clocks (it’s ever harder to find all mechanical clocks… and alarms for night watch shift change are useful sometimes). Spare ‘boundary router’ and WiFi hotspot kits. Some CFL or LED bulbs (they have electronics in them and will not survive nearly so well as the now banned incandescent bulbs…) I’d add a voltmeter / multimeter (as I expect to be fixing things and need it) and maybe a small soldering iron. Depending on where you live, a small electric fence charger could work wonders ;-)

    Any other ideas?

    FWIW, I tend to make two kits. One a ‘deep kit’ for things I don’t think I’ll need very soon or for duplicates. The other a ‘top kit’ where I may be getting into it frequently. So for food, the ‘top kit’ is the pantry. The ‘deep kit’ is jars of bulk goods, cheap and rarely accessed in hard to reach storage spaces, but suited for the Aw Shit. Those I check / rotate once every year or two. Never sooner.

    So I could see having one ‘garbage can’ in the garage with “not needed now” stuff in it, and another small one in the office where things like the Digital Volt Meter might live between uses and where the spare R.Pi resides between projects along with the ‘backup disk’. All fast to get to and use / put back.

  7. Larry Ledwick says:

    Soldering irons, just a couple months ago I bought a new pistol grip 500W soldering iron (sometimes a big honking soldering iron is the only thing that will get a good solder joint without cooking all the adjacent wires) Gets the connection hot so fast no time for conduction. Also bought a new pencil soldering iron and a couple spools of lead solder (now getting hard to find).

    Trash cans for expedient EMP enclosures, Home depot has a small can about 5 gallons with a tight fitting lid, looks like an over sized galvanized bucket with a tight fitting trash can lid about $15.00

    I also noticed today that Home depot has some nice prices on Ryobi Generators (2200 watt) and a 3000 watt Briggs and Stratton generator.

    Aluminum foil — been there done that, keep small items like crank operated radios, small inverters in their bubble pack envelope, wrap with a layer of HD aluminum foil then put back in the box, wrap again, then drop that in an old ammo can with the aluminum foil cover over bare metal edges.
    That is three layers with the outer providing magnetic shielding.

    All band shortwave radio – I have the Grundig (now Eaton) satellite 750, a set of high quality ear phones you won’t mind wearing for 5 hours, and a spool of bare copper stranded wire and a couple plastic electrified fence insulators to rig a long wire antenna. Runs on AC or 4 D cell batteries. Very nice radio with a directional top antenna (you can twist it without turning the radio) to get best reception of distant AM and shortwave stations.

    Have a small scanner to listen to weather radio and such as well also foil wrapped.
    I wrap items in old news papers between foil layers. Another expedient shield is to pick up some of those holiday foil roasting pans. Take a pair of pliers and smash the edge beads flat then put two of them open end to open end and hold them together with a handful of the large bare metal spring type paper clips. Not terribly durable (can be crushed) but works for large items difficult to wrap in foil.

    Diesel fuel jelling, per US Army circa 1990 you could add up to 10% unleaded gas to diesel in the military equipment without engine damage, probably would work with older diesels and also help with the viscosity problem for pure vegetable oil (no I have not tried this, just read it in a tech manual).

    Side note back in the early 1900’s down south they had a lot of farm tractors running on kerosene with conventional spark ignition engines, you had to pre-heat the engine on gasoline and they pre-heated the kerosene with the engine heat and once running and up to temperature, you could switch fuels on the fly and run it on hot kerosene as long as you kept it running and hot. Switched back to gasoline just before shut down so you could restart it.

    I have an 88 subaru which has a physical distributor in it, although designed to use electronic engine management it could be converted to mechanical points (likely and early year model points distributor will just drop in.) Earlier models also had single carburetor setups or single throttle body injectors which could probably be easily adapted to a old 2 bbl carburetor by a competent mechanic. I also have a 94 Chevy astro which has a physical distributor although intended of electronic ignition, I bet it could also be converted to spark ignition.

    Last in the holy crap we’re screwed category , remember in Vietnam they moved thousands of tons of supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail on bicycles. They loaded between 250 pounds and 400 pounds of supplies on each bike and mostly walked them along. A sturdy bicycle (mountain bike or cruiser frame) should work, ultra light weight road bikes not so much. Not that likely that sort of last ditch effort would be needed, but I bet the refugees leaving Poland in WWII or the Bosnian refugees probably never thought they would have to load their most important possessions on hand carts either.

    I have thought about moving cargo on a bicycle as expedient transport where you could still ride the bike, and although I have not tested it, I am convinced you could rig a modern equivalent of the American Indian Travois using a couple long poles in an A frame with small wheels at the rear of the poles and move several hundred pounds and still be able to sit on and peddle the bike if you stayed on paved urban trails or roads. A couple top rails from a chain link fence and some fabricated wheels would be all you would need. Even cheap lawn mower wheels you can buy at building outlets for about $6.00 each would work for short distances.

    At home I have a small 410 watt inverter wired to my emergency battery stack (2 deep cycle 12V batteries wired in parallel) and it can easily run my laptop and a modern LED bulb in a desk lamp for hours on the charge in the batteries. That battery stack is floated on a trickle charger 24x7x365 and if the power goes down I have a few hours of power for near normal computer operations.

    One of the reasons I collect physical printed books is that they don’t need batteries, and still work if you drop them.

    There are numerous historical examples of neighborhoods setting road blocks and controlling access in emergencies both in the US and other countries. No reason to expect that to be uncommon in times of major disaster and large groups of refugees on the move.

    Bad news is as demonstrated recently in Europe when the crowds get big enough nothing short or major violence will prevent them going where they want to go.

    Optics are something which could be highly valuable in emergency situations. A few extra dollars spent on a top quality bright pair of binoculars could be a very worth while investment, allowing you to see what is going on beyond your normal observation range without risking people to do personal recon. I recently bought a very nice set of Nikon Binoculars. Prices are getting very reasonable for them now that Japan is pushing down the value of their currency. In low light a large objective pair of binoculars with good low light image brightness is a poor man’s night vision system.

  8. Larry Ledwick says:

    PBS trailer for blackout in New York

    (needs flash to play)

  9. Clay Marley says:

    Just a couple of random thoughts.

    The US tracks every satellite, including space junk as small as 4 inches across. If someone launched a satellite, then blew it up over the US a few years later, I have no doubt the US would know exactly whose satellite it was.

    There isn’t much defense against that as long as it is not known to be a nuclear weapon. Once it is known I suspect it could be dealt with quickly. I believe the US has anti-satellite missiles. And just to speculate, I wonder if the X-37 could carry a directed energy weapon to destroy another satellite. Might beat having to rendezvous with the target.

    Mutually Assured Destruction works as a deterrent for most enemies still today. It doesn’t work so well when your enemy believes they will win the war by Allah’s will. Best as I can tell from Shia eschatology, during a global war, the Mahdi comes and supernaturally wins the war for Iran. The Mahdi is followed by Jesus who leads a vast army across the world killing every Jew, Christian, and other non-believer on the planet. A nuclear war would do nicely to kick off the chain of events. Mad indeed.

    I think Iran would prefer to go for good-ol blood and guts destruction to make sure the Mahdi comes. Plus their technology to miniaturize a nuke, and make a reliable carrier satellite and launch system, is quite a ways away. Wouldn’t look good to have a dead nuke fall into a Kansas wheat field. Seems a lot easier to float the nuke on a ship into New York harbor, or Haifa or some other port city. Plus if it wasn’t detected before firing, there would be a long investigation to figure out where it came from.

    Whether or not Obama would retaliate is another question. According to him and Mr. Kerry, Anthropogenic Global Warming is the greatest threat to world security. Nothing solves that problem faster than a few EMP blasts. Plus it greatly reduces the US population, and we could build a better utopia after the fact with windmills and solar power. Seems like a progressives wet dream to me. Course, we might just burn down every tree in the country for fuel in the first couple of years. Yea and I’m not quite sure how much of that is sarcasm.

  10. u.k.(us) says:

    You asked for it :)
    Why is everyone so concerned about cell phones, they wont work !! The infrastructure has been destroyed.
    Seems like as good a time as any to start your own island nation, in a warm climate with lots of guns/ammo and breeding stock.
    Just start over, we know the possibilities, just won’t see them again anytime soon.

    Keep a watch out for any intruders !!

  11. gallopingcamel says:

    Ian W,
    “Unfortunately, most if not all ‘western’ governments are not sensible and give higher priority to immediate vote winning measures like sugar taxes and soda sizes.”

    It is a real shame that our government wants to control such trivia.

    At the other extreme governments are looking for “Heroic” problems that only governments can solve. The original “Heroic Problem” was “Global Warming” but when that failed to materialize the problem was re-branded into mitigating “Climate Change”. Who can doubt that climate will change?

    I could support a government that tackled real problems capable of destroying our civilization such as EMP, Carrinton events and another Mount Tambora. You won’t hear any mention of such issues in the run up to electing a new POTUS. The debates will focus on nonsense such as Fiorina’s appearance or Trump’s rug.

    Ronald Reagan sold SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative). We need a president who will re-brand SDI into hardening our infra-structure and stockpiling more food and more fuel.

  12. Terry Jay says:

    You gentlemen are way wiser than I in these matters, but at my age I am not certain it matters. The Neighbors Unite scenario makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of places within 30 miles of Chico, and I am quite familiar with Sterling from circa 1969 and Paradise and Magalia in later years. The upper Sacramento Valley is pretty rich in food stocks and the farmers are not likely wanting to be messed with. And they have the opportunity to grow their own food.

    For the general population, duck and cover is pretty useless. I suspect a very large fatality rate in the overall population concentrated in the cities. Lots of gang-banger shootouts and looting. A stash of 1,000 Starline or comparable empty casings and a commensurate supply of powder, bullets and primers should be on everyone’s list, along with the tools and dies to do the reloading. Sounds awful, but repelling the urban marauders will not be fun. A simple 22 is great for a lot of small game but availability is a problem and reloading not an option. Maybe 38 Special/357 will work as the cases are simple straight wall and the powder required is not excessive and there is a choice of cast or jacketed bullets in a number of weights. There are other choices, and a pistol caliber will not penetrate body armor, but urban hordes will not have it. Semi-automatics are wonderful, but a good lever action rifle will deliver a lot of hurt quickly, to a limit of 10 or less, but not so much in the prone position. If you have a hunting rifle with scope, stock up the ammo and do a bit of practice at distance.

    Fuel deteriorates over time. Storing enough to last the expected outage is a problem. If you need enough for 3 years, where and how do you keep it and how do you rotate it to keep it fresh? Propane may be easy, but there are storage costs.

    Another issue is the amount of cash, old coins and precious metal to keep on hand. Barter is fine, but you need something to barter with, and sometimes cash or bullion is all there is. My guess is $3000 to $5000.

  13. Larry Ledwick says:

    One of the lessons of history is that money becomes anything of intrinsic value. In the formal currency the bills which disappear first and are hardest to replace are small denominations to make change. A bag full of gold does you no good if you are trying to buy a tube of tooth paste or a bar of soap. In Zimbabwe when small denominations disappeared store keepers gave change in pieces of chocolate.

    Small luxury items take on considerable value after a long period of deprivation. Little things like nail clippers, or nail polish, chapstick. In post WWII Germany even a small bottle of perfume or a bar of soap became a rare and very valuable item, along with items like cooking oil.

    There is a reason that in the middle ages tea and spices were worth their weight in gold.
    The difficulty is deciding what is going to be in desperate shortage when normal supply channels dry up. Each person will have different critical shortages according to their needs and special interests.

    Just think of the “show stopper” items that bring everything else to a halt. Things like leaking gaskets (raw gasket material and sealers like Permatex), Grease, engine oil, oil filters, spark plugs, tire patch kits (you tried to buy tire patches lately? hard to find except in places like bike shops, Walmart and truck stops. Spare shoes — what will people do when their shoes give out 9 months into the problem? How much would a good pair of fits anyone sandals be worth? Repair links for bicycle chains, replacement chains, new tubes for bicycles.

    In WWII when the Germans shut down Dutch supplies to as punishment the Dutch used all sorts of expedient ways to solve problems. Cut down decorative trees and stripped interior trim and furniture to burn to keep warm, Made bicycle tires out of rope wrapped around the rims or several wooden blocks shaved to make a more or less round wheel.

    Great story and shows what a civilized desperate community would look like.

  14. Larry Ledwick says:

    Interesting read on testing of equipment to intentional exposure to simulated EMP pulses.

    Click to access ferc_meta-r-323.pdf

  15. beng135 says:

    Interesting. Science Channel or similar had a program showing EMP effects on different makes and decades of different cars. The pulse was delivered by an overhead apparatus just above the vehicle to mimic expected pulse strengths. Tho all except the oldest cars (gas & diesel) stalled out, they restarted after a couple minutes. Surprising. Of course, if service stations are out, refilling the cars can’t be done (unless they have backup generators) & you can only go as far as your tank allows.

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    The nub of the scenario of orbital untracked is the notion of a stealth coating. Yes, we track really small stuff, but I think it is done via RADAR, but don’t know the quality of any optical tracking. So the base question, unstated, was how good stealth coatings and shape must be to have a stealth separation on orbit? I don’t know, but suspect that what works against military radar ought to work in space. Flat black against dark space would be hard to see, and stealth makes an airplane look the size of a bird, so ought to make a small warhead look like even less, by a lot. Add an onboard radar detector to only deploy when not being scanned, and I think it is doable…

    @UK (US):

    Cell phone function is more complex than that. Why keep one:

    1) They now do much more than make calls. Folks store all sorts of data on them. Photos too. They are cameras and note pads and calculators and more. Even without service. Mine is also a flashlight.

    2) The function or failure depends on the specifics of the EMP and your distance from it. Especially around the edges, there will be places where a tower and service survive, but if your phone is fried you can’t use it.

    3) Things get fixed. After a Carrington event takes down phone service, it will be fixed over time. Do you want to be at the wrong end of a 3 year wait for a replacement?

    4) Some folks will be putting up their own phone hot spots. I have plans for one, but not bought parts. The amateur radio folks do this sometimes for r&d like uses, as do police / agencies for security uses. In companies, the r&d folks do it too. A phone switch is in the realm of home hacker now. There will not be a lot, but it will happen. Especially here in Silicon Valley. (I worked at a place that made cell phones and had the gear… it isn’t that hard. Some cell phones could be hacked into a low power base station too. Android phones are just a very small Linux computer with a radio built in. One change of software away from being a different device…)

    @Terry Jay:

    The scenario of gunfights against the urban hoards is, IMHO, very unlikely. Especially by civilized people in areas like California.

    The cops and Sheriff will still be around, and keeping the peace. Rapidly the society will reform in the new context. Don’t know if it will be a democracy or a fiefdom, but people don’t stay tribal for long.

    With that said, IFF you really think you need it, check out the Lee Loader. Small hand kit for reloading. I’ve made 50 rounds while sitting on the floor watching a TV show. Best caliber choice is usually what the military and police use in your area. Personally, I have a preference for a matched set of .357 Magnum revolver and lever action rifle. Enough gun to bag deer, but can also shoot .38 specials and light loads. Case originally designed for black powder, so make your own powder is a possible. Keeping cases is also easier. Oh, and a small handheld bullet mold lets you make bullets from wheel weights.

    BTW, I qualified in the DCM shoot, prone, using my lever action. Prone is not a problem. Slight wrist rotation to the side is all it takes.

    I would be more inclined to have a pellet gun for controlling rats than a 9mm for a hypothetical war…

    Unless you have a farm, you will not be storing enough motor fuel to matter. A rural small farm with large home propane tank is good for a year. Add a typical above ground Diesel tank (and matching Diesel car) and you can store about 300 gallons easy. Diesel keeps for years, and you rotate it by filling it when half used.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    There is one way to store fuel without a farm… The Texas Uncle has a suburban place, but his pickup truck (Diesel) had a drop in fuel bunker in the back. Common in rural areas for getting fuel into the field. He could drive from Dallas to California and back, never buying expensive California fuel. In an AwShit, 2000 miles of fuel ought to last a long time. Use it to fuel the little VW Diesel, and you get more like 10,000 miles.

    Nice looking chromed waffle plate or bright aluminum. Took about 2? feet from the front of the bed. I think he had saddle tanks from the factory too.

  18. Larry Ledwick says:

    Cell phone systems can also function in what they call “Island” mode where a local cell tower can service calls within its coverage area but cannot hand off calls to outside cells. In areas not hard hit you might have local cell service but no ability to call across town.

    When storm chasing some of the guys used amateur radio antennas which were cut for nearby frequencies to extend range of their automobile cell phones. In one case one of them was hitting cell towers 60 miles apart because of his high ground location. Move a little bit and he was talking on a Colorado Springs cell tower, move a few feet in the other direction and he was talking on a cell tower near Denver. Small beam antenna cut for Cell frequencies would allow people to stitch together working cell sites after a disaster with long hop connections to working cell towers.

    It would also help that much of the other traffic on that band suddenly disappeared so that signal to noise ratios would improve dramatically if you were not competing with several hundred other users in the same band.

  19. Steve C says:

    Well, having been responsible for that original gloomy comment bringing the topic of EMP up, I suppose I ought to apologise for thoroughly derailing that thread. OTOH, given that an interestingly wide-ranging discussion has evolved from it, maybe not. ;-) (And my apologies anyhow for going absent for a few days; blame Real Life …)

    I rather like gallopingcamel’s wish for a mini-hit to wake everyone up, although as has been noted Quebec does try to do that from time to time with no noticeable official response. An interesting side note is the UK grid operator’s way of making “the Event” more survivable, which amounts to “Turn Everything On”. I can see the thinking there – maximise the load for the energy to dissipate in – but, given that we’re hearing stuff now about how our generating capacity has only about 1.5% surplus capacity for this coming winter (due to the dogmatic closure of our reliable old coal stations) it would be “interesting” to see how that would pan out in practice. Also, not a lot of my tech is simple resistive loads – it would suffer.

    I thoroughly agree with all comments on keeping old, non-electronic vehicles (etc) operational. I grew up in a world where your brand new Moggy 1000 came with a spare wheel and a small bag of spanners in the boot and, apart from a workshop manual, that would get you through 99.99% of mechanical “issues”. If you “knew cars”, you wouldn’t even need the manual. These days, you have to plug the darn car into a ‘puter to do anything more complicated than changing a wheel. Keep It Simple, Stupid!

    I take a similarly “simple minded” approach to a lot of things, e.g. I am currently looking for a new microwave with a “proper” mechanical door catch and timer – surprisingly rare at the low-budget end of the market. A bit like my original comment that century-old cast-iron tech just ignored those irrelevant electrical surges and got on with the job. Put your knowledge into a neat cam-follower system or the like, and it will survive a lot. Put it into oh-so-fragile microelectronics, and you need to believe in the power of prayer. Books are good, as Larry Ledwick pointed out, though then you have to protect them from the Mob. (I have about 80-100 linear feet of books to protect, and as usual in the UK, no armaments …)

    I had a small but embarrassing demonstration of what a voltage spike can do about 20-25 years ago. I’d borrowed an oscilloscope from work – with permission – to set something up over the weekend; the ‘scope was a little dual-beam Scopex, newer and much better specced than any of my “salvage specials”. The brand was known for being a good deal cheaper than many others, which we put down mainly to its less rugged construction. Plugged in, turned on, yes, there are the little anapests running across the screen, go and make a coffee while it warms up and settles down.

    Coffee in hand, I came back to a big fluffy green blob in the middle of the screen. Oh, shit. Didn’t take long to check, total failure. Checking the circuit diagram revealed a non-mechanical corner that had been cut. The cathode of the CRT was at about -1kV or so, as is normal practice in ‘scopes. Unfortunately, its heater was at 0V, and the 1kV spike when the insulation inside the tube went down took out every transistor in the thing. Hindsight 20/20, as usual, but I still had to explain what had happened. (blush)

    And all that’s quite apart from the ever-changing storage methods, of course, which we already know is a PITA. About 30 years ago (1986), the BBC did a “Domesday Project” to celebrate 800 years since the original Domesday Book by getting schoolchildren and local groups to collect loads of local information together to make a modern equivalent (-ish). All the data was then placed on those newfangled Philips 12″ video discs which, oh dear, never quite caught on – so, more recently, they had to put out a call for any still-working videodisc players they could find to retrieve it all. Aargh!

    And thanks btw for that de-glycerining process for homebrewing diesel – hadn’t come across that one before, but it certainly makes sense. I knew a lad a fair few years ago who occasionally, when his cashflow couldn’t run to duty-paid fuel, used to run his diesel Land Rover on straight domestic paraffin (kerosine). It made quite an impressive stinky black cloud as it went along, though this was years before green activism!

    I agree too with the comments that making Faraday cages isn’t as easy as the basic theory suggests. A couple of years or so ago, a friend and I (both licenced radio amateurs, so we’re more-than-usually “up” on RF) were thinking of investigating some of the stuff online about scalar EM transmission, “just to see”, and there is much mention of Faraday cages in that field. Several of the suggested “scalar” setups appeared to be easily enough explicable with just basic radio knowledge, for all the claims made.

    A preliminary investigation used my 1970-ish trannie radio (Super Sensitive! Six transistors!) tuned to the big BBC Radio 4 transmitter on 198kHz LW – OK, nowhere near the sort of risetimes of an EMP, plus a pretty “deaf” receiver, so it ought to be an easy one. Wrapping the radio in a couple of layers of well crimped cooking foil made almost no difference to the received signal. A followup wrap with bubble wrap and another foil layer, inside a cake tin, made only a little more difference. Scalar investigations remain “pending”.

    As someone once said, “In theory, the difference between theory and practice is small. In practice, the difference between theory and practice is large.”

    So yes. Those of us who understand the tech will do all we can to get stuff running again, but when so much of it depends on chips so minute that a cosmic ray can take out tracks inside ’em, and where nobody seems to think we ought to keep a few spare medium/large transformers handy down at the local power plant, there’s still going to be one heck of a glitch in all of those theories of how things develop, come Carrington 2. Whether even that would be enough of a kick in the backside to persuade the politicians to come to their senses …

  20. E.M.Smith says:


    Also note that the “Kilowatt outboard amp” was a common (illegal) hack to CB radios “back in the day”. I’d not be at all surprised to find someone hooking up an external transmit booster and just broadcasting blind that they needed help. It’s pretty easy, especially if you are not too worried about “splatter” and sidebands… Just a big ‘ol Darlington pair and some wire can do it. (I’m pretty sure the tubes in my antique radio can do it up to FM frequencies. For GHz it would be a bit harder… and likely not more than about 20 W from common semiconductors. But that’s way more than the (now) common 0.4 W.

    Which reminds me… I need to extract the old analog set from one of my dead cars… It’s the original 4 W power ;-)

    I’d used it “out in the boonies” when the nearest towers were 30 miles away on the flat and it was fine. In the mountains, even further. Nice big external antenna in the back too (about a foot long with base loading).

    With about a week of work, I’m pretty sure I could convert my antique (juke box sized) tube radio into a transmitter / receiver but it would be easier to just make it a transmitter and have a separate receiver. (Not on cell frequencies, more like AM or FM bands – it has both plus shortwave in it, and a giant speaker ;-)

    Hmmmm…. Interesting project idea… What would it take to make an AM or FM signal and Morris key out of common electronics bits today, frequency matched to present AM / FM radios? And just where did my old Morris key go?… It’s only been about 40 years since I’ve seen it ;-) Probably in the garage somewhere ;-)

    I wonder if anyone still sells “crystal earphones” anymore? With those high impedance phones, some wire, and a diode you can make a minimal radio. At one time I had such a kit “stashed”. Haven’t seen it in about 40 years either… Maybe it’s time to go through some of those old boxes in the garage…

    I think the last radio I made out of parts was about 1975… Might be fun to do it again. Find an old radio to take apart for parts… With most things now going to “A Radio Chip”, might not be enough discrete parts in it for the whole thing, but volume pot and tuning caps ought to be the same. I also have a large box of discrete parts already… yes, “out in the garage” ;-)

    Houston, I think we have a theme… sorting out the stuff in the garage… Sigh.

    BTW, I’ve also got a modern Trek mountain bike AND the same Schwinn Varsity 10 speed I had at college. UCD was a 3000 acre campus and you used bikes to get anywhere as the center campus was closed to public vehicles. Yes, out in the garage…

    At any rate, post EMP, there will a few thousands of “folks like me” willing to make what is needed. Be it a garden, an ersatz “car” out of the motorcycle behind the shed, or a radio out of whatever is laying around. Or making a battery out of iron chunks and lye from wood ashes. (Edison Cell of a sort.. though I think an aluminum air battery can be made from soda cans…)

    He searches…


    Yes! Empty can, charcoal briquette, copper to connect things, salt water electrolyte.

    One using, er, ‘pee’ as the electrolyte and for the purpose of cell phone charging:


    Sidebar: I have pointed the PiM2 at the PiB for SQUID (just as a test… I want to try if from other computers that don’t have Squid installed, so now I have a squid server up 24 /7 on that card with Bittorent and the rest of the ‘always there’ stuff). This last link has a video in it that is working… so I presume not Youtube…

    Had to change (in /etc/squid/squid.conf) :
    # http_access deny all
    http_access allow all

    for it to work with computers other than “self”. I.e. to let it be a general server to the whole network…

    Probably ought to put that in the Squid posting …

  21. Quail says:

    The North Koreans potentially have one in orbit already. US press said it was a failed launch while the NKs said it performed as planned. It is at the right altitude and crosses the US regularly.
    Link to tracking:
    Click on footprint to highlight ground area sightline.

  22. Steve C says:

    Re radio, I was surprised (but quite pleased) about a year ago to see amateur radio recommended on “Activist Post” as “how to communicate when the world goes silent”. Time to dig out my old ex-mil “62 Set” – eek! 60W out of the battery for about 1W up the spout, but, a motor-generator for the high voltage, so should be decently bustproof.

  23. Larry Ledwick says:

    Drat another too many links post into the bin — I keep forgetting there is a limit of about 4 links.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steve C:


    BTW, no need to apologize about a thread re-railing … While I encourage staying on topic, it isn’t in any way a priority. As long as folks are engaged in something that interests them, that’s fine.

    So, you got me wondering. Dug out my trusty old Sony ICF-2002 travel radio. Put in batteries ( it had a set leak once, about a decade back, so now it’s 100% take batteries out when not in use. “Washing” your radio tends to focus on the issue… Lucky it was standing such that the goop was mostly on plastic bits…)

    So I put it on AM, tuned a local station, and put it inside a nice 25 cm cookie tin. Still has nice reception….

    Tune to FM, repeat. Signal already fades even with the top off the tin. Lid on, nothing but avalanche noise from the transistors…

    It looks like there is a large frequency component involved. No real surprise, since ELF is used to transmit under water to subs. But still it was unexpected at 810 kHz for me.

    The “good news” is that nuclear EMP is much higher frequency. The “bad news” is that a Carrington Event is not as high. So what frequency is it? I don’t know exactly… But then again, it doesn’t couple well to small objects. So maybe it’s still an OK “fix” in that the HF is cut by the tin and wraps while the low frequency won’t couple to what is in the tin anyway?…

    While trying to find the ‘frequency’ of a Carrington event, I stumbled on this site that had some interesting links in a large comment down at the bottom. One interesting thing (that I think I’d heard before but forgot as I didn’t have a dead oven…) was that you can toss things in an old microwave oven as they are designed (naturally…) to be microwave proof. Good up to a wavelength of about 1 mm based on the size of perforation in the metal window on mine… Not sure that’s high enough freq. to block a nuke EMP…

    It also mentions that EMP history is measured by looking at Be isotopes and nitrites in ice cores. Kind of makes me wonder how accurate Be is for climate use if the Sun is cooking it at various times…

    I found the statement that most of a nuke energy is in the 100kH to 10 MHz band distressing, as 100 kHz up to 800 kHz clearly made it through my metal cookie tin… I suspect this needs more R&D to find out how much ‘makes it’ at those frequencies.

    Also a bit of a surprise is the listing of how many events have actually taken down things in the last few decades…

    This comment will be quoted in full starting here, but not put in quote form as it is so large.



    Registered: 08/24/07
    Posts: 31
    Loc: West
    I’ve been doing research on EMP of late, and While I don’t consider myself an expert, I think I’ve learned enough to make a educated assessment for my personal risk assessment.

    My summary: In an emergency, needing to rely on electrical equipment could be risky, such as resupply of batteries, requiring a generator, water damage, etc. If your start your preparations on the foundation of working without electrical equipment, then each and every piece which does work is added convenience and comfort for your situation.

    Here’s a part of how I came to my assessment.

    I found this in “Nuclear Weapons Effects Technology” , http://www.fas.org/threat/mct198-2/p2sec06.pd

    The effects (of Transient Radiation Effects on Electronics (TREE) and Systems-Generated Electromagnetic Pulse (SGEMP)) depend not merely on total dose but also on dose rate. Naturally occurring effects include total dose from electrons and protons trapped in the Van Allen belts and single-event upset (SEU) or even single-event burnout. SEU results when enough ionization charge is deposited by a high-energy particle (natural or man-produced) in a device to change the state of the circuit—for example, flipping a bit from zero to one. The effect on a power transistor can be so severe that the device burns out permanently.

    Delayed gammas in a 1–10 microsecond period at the same dose rate can cause latchup and burnout of devices. Latchup is the initiation of a high-current, low-voltage path within the integrated circuit and causes the circuit to malfunction or burnout by joule heating.

    Total ionization greater than 5,000 rads in silicon delivered over seconds to minutes will degrade semiconductors for long periods. As device sizes decrease, the threshold for damage may go down.

    It is inherently difficult to predict the effects of TREE and SGEMP from first principles. Because components, circuit boards, cases, connectors, and everything else within a system can be arranged in many ways, and because radiation can come from any direction, only a detailed simulation can do the job. The task of prediction is made more complex because the effects of the radiation pulse can depend on the operating state of the system at the moment the radiation passes through it.

    Other good information is available from Nuclear Contamination and Avoidance FM 3-3-1 Appendix C – Nuclear Burst Effects on Electronics http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/army/fm/3-3-1_2/Appc.htm

    Note: This figure outlines the likely vulnerabilities of categories of equipment. Individual items within each category can vary considerably in their vulnerability to EMP. Any equipment attached to a collector or antenna has increased vulnerability.

    Low-power, high-speed digital computer, either transistorized or vacuum tube (operational upset)
    Systems employing transistors or semiconductor rectifiers:
    Computers and power supplies
    Semiconductor components terminating long cable runs, especially between sites
    Alarm systems
    Intercom systems
    Life-support systems
    Some telephone equipment that is partially transistorized
    Transistorized receivers and transmitters
    Transistorized 60-to-400Hz converters
    Transistorized process control systems
    Power system controls and communication links

    Vacuum tube equipment that does not include semiconductor rectifiers:
    Alarm Systems
    Intercom Systems
    Teletypes & telephones
    Power supplies
    Equipment employing low-current switches, relays, meters:
    Life-support systems
    Power systems control panels
    Panel indicators and status boards
    Process controls
    Hazardous equipment containing:
    Pyrotechnical devices
    Explosive mixtures
    Rocket fuels
    Long power cable runs employing dielectric insulation
    Equipment associated with high-energy storage capacitors

    High-voltage equipment:
    Transformers, motors
    Lamps (filament)
    Air-insulated power cable runs
    Rotary converters
    Heavy-duty relays, circuit breakers.

    EMP can cause two types of damage, functional damage and operational upset. Functional damage is physical damage to the equipment which requires replacement or repair of components. Operational upset does not show any physical damage but interferes with the operation of the equipment by erasing data from a computer memory or by causing a computer device to send an erroneous signal to the piece of equipment it controls. Operational upset can occur at EMP energy levels that are 1% to 10% of those required to inflict functional damage.

    Humans can be directly injured by EMP only if they are physically touching metallic collectors (cables, railroad lines, etc.) at the moment of the tremendous EMP surge. EMP hazards may exist from indirect or secondary EMP effects. For example, damaged electronic equipment may catch fire if relays are switched to the wrong positions. Also, those using digital instruments, such as for navigation or health care, may receive incorrect information from those instruments that have been upset by EMP.

    SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems collect data from various sensors in a factory, plant or other remote locations and transmit the data to a central system to then manage and control the systems for which the data was collected. Some examples of SCADA use include control of sensors, relays, pumps and conveyors in manufacturing and distribution systems, remote monitoring of systems in hazardous environments, facilities requiring precise climate control, mining plants, water and electrical utility installations, oil and gas refineries, pipelines, nuclear power plants and mass transit systems. According to the Critical National Infrastructure Report (http://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf), released April 2008, general-purpose desktop computers and SCADA remote and master terminal units were the most susceptible to damage or upset of all items tested. The result of EMP interrupting these systems, even temporarily, would cause a catastrophic failure of the systems, and in the case of transportation systems, an immediate risk of a significant loss of life.

    In 1986 the American Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) QST Magazine presented a 4 part series titled “Electromagnetic Pulse and the Radio Amateur”. This series was condensed from a US Federal government National Communications System report “Electromagnetic Pulse/Transient Threat Testing of Protection Devices for Amateur/Military Affiliate Radio System Equipment”.
    Part 1 appears in QST August 1986, pp. 15-20, 36 (http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/pdf/88615.pdf)
    Part 2 appears in QST September 1986, pp. 22-26 (http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/pdf/98622.pdf)
    Part 3 appears in QST October 1986, pp. 38-41 (http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/pdf/108638.pdf)
    Part 4 appears in QST November 1986, pp. 30-34 (http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/pdf/118630.pdf)
    You may be able to access the articles through ARRL if you’re a member, but they’re currently available at http://www.qsl.net/w3bmd/emp.html

    Some liken EMP to lightning. Unlike lightning, EMP works on all phased angles, vertical and horizontal combined. Because lightning is phased one direction only, when a charge reaches a 90° it will be stopped. Being both vertically and horizontally polarized, EMP will go around 90° angles. (www.aussurvivalist.com/nuclear.empprotection.htm)

    Lightning pulse rise time is a few millionths of a second, lasting hundreds of milliseconds at lower frequencies than EMP. Field Strength is a few thousand volts per meter (highest at 50-100yds ~< EMP). EMP pulse rise time is a few billionths of a second, lasting less than a thousandth of a second in <100MHz frequency range (esp. 100kHz – 10MHz). Field strength can be 50,000 volts per meter. While 99% of HEMP energy is at frequencies below 100mHz, most HEMP occurs in the frequency ranges between 100kHz and 10mHz.

    Cresson Kearney recommends the following steps be taken to protect radios from EMP in the book Nuclear War Survival Skills published by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1979 edition, page 19:
    – Use only the built-in antenna on AM radios. The built-in antennas of small portable radios are too short for EMP to induce damaging surges of current in them.
    – Keep antennas of FM, CB and amateur radios as short as practical, preferably less than 10 inches. When threatened by EMP, do not add a wire antenna or connect a short radio antenna to a pipe. The surge current resulting form EMP can damage diodes and transistors, ending a radio’s usefulness or reducing its range of reception.
    – Keep all unshielded radios at least six feet away from any long piece of metal, such as pipes, metal ducts, or wires found in many basements and other shelters. Long metal conductors can pick up and carry large EMP surges, causing induced current to surge in nearby radios and damage them.
    – Shield each radio against EMP when not in use by completely surrounding it with conducting metal if it is kept within six feet of a long conductor through which powerful currents produced by EMP might surge. A radio may be shielded against EMP by placing it inside a metal cake box or metal storage can, or by completely surrounding it with aluminum foil or a metallic window screen. Old microwave ovens with the cord removed will also provide protection.
    – Disconnect the antenna cable from your car radio at the receiver – or at least ground the antenna when not in use by connecting it with a wire to the car frame. Use tape or clothespins to assure good metal-to-metal contact. The metal of an outside mirror is a convenient grounding point. Park your car as near to shelter as practical, so that after fallout has decayed sufficiently you may be able to use the car radio to get distant stations that are still broadcasting.

    The key principles to remember when dealing with shields and shelters are the requirements for a continuous shield made of metal. Shields are continuous when they have no breaks or openings. Once the shielding metal is at least a few millimeters thick, having a continuous shield with no breaks is more important than adding more layers of shielding metal.

    In some situations, power sources may be more vulnerable to EMP than the devices being driven. While generating equipment may be fairly resistant to EMP, devices within the generating equipment that control power generation can be vulnerable. The long lines used in civilian power systems can pick up significant amounts of EMP energy, which can cause damage to equipment connected to this grid.

    Sun stuff
    Sunspot and solar flare activity is typically on 11 year cycles during which violent storms or bursts on the surface of the sun increase solar output or brightness and through coronal mass ejections, send enormous waves of highly charged solar particles (plasma) through space which can affect electrical distribution systems, satellites and radio/TV signals on earth. Power distribution interruptions were created in Quebec in 1989 and 2000 and Sweden in 2003. Pager and credit card transaction interruptions, relying on satellite communications, were attributed to a solar flare in April 1998.

    A huge solar flare on August 4, 1972, knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois. That event, caused AT&T to redesign its power system for transatlantic cables. A similar flare on March 13, 1989, provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6 million people into darkness for 9 hours; aurora-induced power surges even melted power transformers in New Jersey. Some of the most powerful storms recorded battered the Earth from October 31 to November 7 in what was known as the “Halloween Storms of 2003”, causing aircraft navigation re-routes, and communications and power outages. In December 2006, X-rays from another solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes.

    The largest flare recorded is known as the Carrington Event in September 1859. Normally, the coronal mass ejection from solar flares takes three to four days to reach earth. Less than eighteen hours following the observation the massive solar flare, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole. Not only was this coronal mass ejection an extremely fast mover, the magnetic fields contained within it were extremely intense AND in direct opposition with Earth's magnetic fields. That meant the coronal mass ejection overwhelmed Earth's own magnetic field, allowing charged particles to penetrate into Earth's upper atmosphere. (http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2003/23oct_superstorm.htm) While there was no monitoring equipment to measure the intensity of the storm at the time, scientists are able to examine the amounts of nitrites and beryllium-10 found in ice cores to determine the intensity of the storms. The Carrington Event is believed to be the strongest in the last 500 years.

    A space storm's impact is measured in nano-Teslas (nT). The lower the figure, using negative numbers, the more powerful the storm. A moderate storm can be around -100 nT; extreme and damaging storms have been logged at around -300 nT. The 1989 coronal mass ejection that knocked out power to all of Quebec, Canada measured -589 nT. The 1859 perfect storm was estimated to have been -1,760 nT. (http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mystery_monday_031027.html)

    A US map of vulnerable transformers with areas of probable system collapse encircled is at: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/images/severespaceweather/transformermap.jpg

    After reading "Nuclear Weapons Effects Technology", I lowered the likelihood of an EMP attack in my personal risk assessment due to the requirement of a High Altitude EMP strike (HEMP) to affect a large area.

    A HEMP attack must use a relatively large warhead to be effective (perhaps on the order of one megaton), and new proliferators are unlikely to be able to construct such a device, much less make it small enough to be lofted to high altitude by a ballistic missile or space launcher. Russia and China are likely the only nations which have the capabilities to deliver a single weapon large enough to affect the entire U.S. That's not to say that they wouldn't encourage and enable others. At this time, the likelihood of Russia or China launching an EMP attack is not great, though not impossible, but they are fully aware that our technology is our Maginot line.

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and do note that last paragraph. Needs a megaton or so size. Puts the N. Korea / Iran risk another decade out IMHO. Either that, or they need to use a large cluster of small ones. Both routes are much harder than lofting a 10 kt uranium device…

  26. Larry Ledwick says:

    The above link for transformer map is broken but the wayback machine has it at:

  27. Larry Ledwick says:

    I have seen references that the EMP output is not directly correlated to the energy yield but rather to the gamma ray output, which can be optimized in a smaller weapon to greatly increase its effectiveness for EMP production.

    It is discussed in this link:

  28. Steve C says:

    That’s a nice long quote. The 4-part series from the ARRL that he references is good – Part 1 includes an approximate spectrum for EMP. (Arbitrarily large amounts up to about 1MHz; decreases to about 1/3 of that by about 100MHz, then drops off more rapidly.) It also lists approximate values for risetime, peak voltage and current on a range of typical conductors, and mentions some of the less-expected aspects of EMP, such as the Magnetic Conjugate:

    ” A high altitude detonation also generates beta particles, or free electrons, that spiral along the Earth’s magnetic field lines. This creates an increase in the ionization of the D layer of the atmosphere not only at the local area, but also in the area known as the magnetic conjugate – on the opposite hemisphere! (…) Amateurs in both the local and opposite hemispheres may find a sudden loss in their ability to communicate.” Great. :-(

    There’s also a three part series, “Lightning Protection for the Amateur Station”, in the June, July and August 2002 issues of QST magazine, similarly interesting at lower (!) power levels. If you’re going to try and harden something against EMP, this is the “101”.

    Depressing, though not really surprising, to see just how many of my toys fall into the “Most Susceptible” range above. Distingtly pleasing, though, that at least my gut instinct about the motor-generator (or “Rotary Converter”) was spot on – right down there in the “Least Susceptible” category with all the other boring ironwork and heaters.

    Even so, 1W of unsteady CW or AM out for 60W dc input on 1.8 – 10MHz seems a poor sort of substitute for the fully systhesised, multimode, 5W on 13 bands from 1.8 to 440MHz / 30W dc input of my FT-817, the more so when (a) you can’t just plug in a charger to replace the energy used and (b) the 817 is shoulderstrap kit where the jeep set is (ahem) “transportable”, as we used to call it. Except if it’s the only one that works, of course – big factor, that …

  29. Dodgy Geezer says:

    …Unfortunately, this isn’t a “paranoid ideation”. Were I running the “get America” planning group in Iran or North Korea, it is exactly what I would do. Stealth, deception, surprise attack, and utter collapse. Our nuclear subs can completely destroy them, but how do you know which ones to destroy? And then what? One can hope we have far better satellite tracking abilities and some way to sniff out the nuclear signature of “boom stuff” vs “nuclear power module”…

    Alternatively, we could do what the British Empire did, and operate world-wide free trade with as many countries as possible. Once countries are tired together in mutually-beneficial trading agreements it makes no sense at all to disrupt this with a war and make everybody poor…

  30. E.M.Smith says:


    The “default” limit on W.P. is 4 links. I had set it up to 8 links. Your last link heavy comment had 9 links. I’ve now set it up to 10 links….

    @Steve C:

    One of my “sad day” moments was when I realized that getting rid of my 24 VDC to 110 AC motor generator (at least I think it was 110 AC… old military gear) was a Bad Idea. It was about the size of an oatmeal round box.

    I didn’t have a 24 volt car to drive it… But hey, I was a high school kid then…

    @Dodgy Geezer:

    That works really great!… until… you are dealing with religious fanatics who want to hasten the return of the 12th Imam via global destruction and war… and think if they die it’s a guaranteed ticket to heaven and 72 virgins…

  31. Larry Ledwick says:

    Several conservatives have been actively trying to promote discussion about EMP and major solar flares for some time now. Looks like the white house has decided to co-opt that discussion.


    The Left has been trying to paint it as nonsense for some time and have belittled Republican efforts to bring it into the discussion of Iran’s open threats to destroy the US, and a pattern of tests best explained by use of an EMP weapon.

    Probably took a lot of time to line up the money men to skim funds off the new program.


  32. Larry Ledwick says:

    Somebody has obviously put out the word to run stories on EMP and electric grid vulerablity.
    Stories are coming out of the wood work from folks that typically trot out the administration message and just a few weeks / months ago were saying EMP concern was a hysterical reaction to a non-problem. In this case starting out the article with spin that exactly opposite of long standing concern voiced in conservative media over this issue, but you would never know it because the main stream media black holed all those comments or laughed them off the front page as the ravings of lunatics.


    Smells like a full course propaganda press which will be followed by some urgent cure that will cost billions (when real problem could be mitigated with a few million a year for several years).
    I can’t wait to see what they roll out for this emergency that they don’t want to waste.

  33. omanuel says:

    More stories today acknowledge the inexcusable vulnerability of modern civilization to a solar EMP (electromagnetic pulse):


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