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:
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 ;-)