Dispelling the Myths
A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) vs. High Altitude EMP (HEMP) Weapon: There are really only two known causes of EMP that can wreak havoc on a nationwide scale. One cause is an extremely powerful solar flare (aka Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME) and the other is the detonation of a nuclear device in our upper atmosphere (aka a HEMP). But there is a distinction to be made in the type of effects and potential damage caused by these two EMP events. Let’s take a closer look at some of the science and draw the distinctions.
An electromagnetic pulse event hits our Earth as a series of waves. These EMP “waves” can be broken down into three distinct forms, based primarily on their Frequency and Severity. The severity of an EMP can be rated and the scale includes E1, E2 and E3 in ascending order of intensity. Note that CMEs only produce an E3 pulse while a HEMP produces E1, E2 and an E3. Therefore, the only commonality between what our sun can unleash on us and a HEMP detonation is the E3 wave.
Breaking Down the Science
The E1 pulse is the first of three electromagnetic pulses created by a HEMP. An E1 happens almost instantaneously and lasts for only a microsecond. This E1 pulse is what most people associate with an EMP, that being the ability to destroy unshielded electronic equipment.
Depending on the severity of the E1 blast, your proximity to it, and other external factors such as whether the equipment is plugged into a power source and is running at the time of the event, all factor into the susceptibility of the equipment of being damaged. While an E1 pulse only lasts a microsecond in length, its unique properties make it a “microprocessor” killer wave adversely affecting or frying non-hardened microprocessors.
The E2 pulse is created from previously scattered ambient gammas, as well as from the scattering of the weapon-produced neutrons from the nuclei of air molecules. This pulse happens after the E1 pulse finishes and is thought to last up to a full second.
An E2 pulse is identical to a lightning strike and would strike antenna towers for example. The EMP Commission acknowledged that results of an E2 pulse would not, in general, cause damage to critical infrastructure systems that would typically be protected (i.e. grounded) against lightning strikes.
The third and final pulse of a HEMP event is known as an E3. The E3 is slower to arrive, but lasts up to 1,000 seconds or longer and has low frequency, operating in 1 Hertz . The HEMP causes an E3 wave that is very similar that E3 wave caused by a natural geomagnetic storm, a Coronal Massive Ejection (CME) or solar flare.
An E3 from HEMP or CME would both actually be drawn to the tens of thousands of miles of interconnected electrical and communication lines that make up our power grid and communication networks which would act super antennae for this massive electromagnetic pulse. Within seconds, an E3 would blow High Voltage and Extremely High Voltage transformers and anything electronic plugged into them.
So, if a rogue state like Iran or North Korea launched a HEMP high over the United States, then we are far worse off than if an X class solar flare hits us directly. In the HEMP scenario, not only will our electrical grid be taken down but so too would most of our electronic-based technology.
This last point is worth repeating and noting. A significant EMP caused by a solar flare /CME could take down our electrical grid with its E3 wave, but leave most of your electronic-based technology intact, provided it is unplugged or shielded by surge protectors. That may also include automobiles and trucks. But a HEMP with its E1, E2 and E3 waves would take all of it out—from devices that require microprocessors to the source of the electricity itself!
Let’s now take a look at several myths and misconceptions about EMP:
Solar Storms: There is a common misconception that solar storms only affect the side of the earth that is facing the sun at the time the storm hits our atmosphere, or rather that a CMEs effects only hit the day-light side of Earth. But unfortunately, the most severe solar storms tend to disturb the entire magnetic field of the earth.
The effect of the solar storms tends to be much greater near the geomagnetic poles, but it matters little whether it is night or day. When the electrical power grid of Quebec was shut down by a solar storm on March 13, 1989, the power grid was operating normally at 2:44am. In the span of only 92 seconds, it went from normal operations to a complete overload shutdown.
Electronics: Electronics such as computers, stereo equipment or televisions are laden with dozens of small-specialized electronic components and processors. Simply having these devices off during an E1 HEMP pulse would help, but that is not guarantee of their survivability. Some experts believe that unplugging these devices from wall outlets or home surge protectors will add another layer of protection. But all of them agree that having an electronic device on at the time of an EMP event would only increase the chances of damaging the sensitive electronic equipment. An E1 pulse will use the system’s energy to further damage the equipment.
Shielding: Shielding is the effort to protect an electronic device from the effects of an EMP. A “Faraday cage” is a common shielding device. A very efficient 80 db. Faraday cage would reduce the EMP by a factor of 10,000. In other words, it would reduce a 20,000 volts per meter EMP field to 2 volts per meter or a 50,000 volte per meter EMP to 5 volts per meter. Once again, as we described in the first part of this article, without testing these devices under a true EMP testing facility, it is impossible to accurately measure the effectiveness of any Faraday cage or other prevention device.
Faraday Cages: A Faraday cage will protect electronic equipment against E1 and E2 pulses from a HEMP attack. Of all the myths and urban legends surrounding EMP, Faraday Cages has to rank up there as the least understood aspect of EMP protection. Many people believe that aluminum trashcans or old aluminum ammo cans will work to shield electronic devices from EMP effects. Others profess that old microwaves would be excellent EMP-proof containers. I have even heard of people lining their attic roof with layers of tin foil to insulate themselves from EMP!
One of the keys to constructing a Faraday cage is making sure that the unit itself has a tight RF gasket seal and that it is a homogenous metal container that doesn’t contain welded seams. If the Faraday cage is constructed by welding components, the welds maybe at risk for not being continuous. The simpler the design, the better. Some believe stamped metal containers are superior to their more complicated welded counterparts. Additionally, the electronics placed inside the Faraday cage could be insulated (preferably by rubber) from touching any of the sides of the Faraday cage. Lastly, a leading expert in this field shared with me that the best Faraday protection would be to have a Faraday cage within a Faraday cage. Perhaps, that lends credence to the “Two is One, One is None” mantra in the prepper community!
Surge Protectors: Home or commercial surge protectors are designed to protect your electronics from typical power surges, not an EMP. Unfortunately, most surge protectors found in your typical office or home wouldn’t even be strong enough to protect you against a lightning strike. An E1 HEMP pulse is simply too fast for the typical surge protector to detect and protect your electronic equipment. An E3 pulse caused by a solar flare/CME or by a HEMP, while significantly slower than the E1 or E2 pulses that preceded it, will be drawn to our power grid and the thousands of miles of telephone and power cables snaking across neighborhoods much like lightning is drawn to a lightning rod. These cables will be like magnets attracting the high frequency surge, overwhelming transformers and anything electronic plugged into it.
Simply having expensive surge protection between your house and the grid may protect most of your electronic equipment from an E3 pulse, but more than likely, such precautions will be a moot point for two reasons. If it is a HEMP event, there is a chance the E1 pulse may have already fried critical electronic components throughout your home—especially if they are plugged-in, or worse, operating when the event takes place. The second reason relying on surge protection equipment may be a flawed defense is that if it is a major EMP event and our grid is affected, some studies show it may take years before the power grid is restored. Having your modern appliances protected from an E3 EMP pulse may help you sleep better at night, but if the power grid goes down for an extended period of time, having a 65” plasma television that will work again if and when the power grid is restored will be the least of your worries. There will likely be a lot of drama unfolding right in front of your eyes—and you won’t be needing your TV to deliver the drama to you…
The Wiring in Your House: During the Carrington Event in 1859, a massive CME erupted igniting the country’s vast network of telegraph wires interconnecting the various small towns and cities through out the nation. Not only did the E3 pulse fry the thousands of miles of telegraph wire, some of the telegraph offices that were connected to it reportedly caught fire! One can only imagine what a massive surge of 50,000 volts of energy may do to the hundreds of feet of thin copper wire running behind your drywall! This should make you want to stock up on more fire extinguishers!
Communications: There is a myth that during the 1960s the AT&T Long Lines Division was partially hardened against EMP, and therefore the 21st century telephone system is completely resistant to EMP. This myth, like many others, is quite bizarre, since it involves technology that hasn’t been used in a very long time. There are many other versions of this myth which assert that since some 30-year old (or older) technology was EMP-resistant that current technology is also EMP resistant. These myths get things exactly backward. The main reason that the EMP threat is increasing every year is because electronic devices are becoming more and more sensitive to EMP every year!
Radio Receivers: Conventional wisdom is that small-transistorized radio receivers may survive a nuclear EMP attack provided they were not operational or their antenna was not extended at the time of an E1 or E3 pulse. The fact is that modern day solid-state radio receivers are inherently more sensitive to EMP than the receivers of the 1970s.
Two-Way Radios: More recent testing of portable professional two-way radios has shown that they were resistant to EMP up to quite a high level. This is because two-way radios have sophisticated filtering in order to protect the receiving transmissions. One cannot extrapolate the EMP resistance of professional two-way radios to all other solid-state radio receivers, especially inexpensive consumer radios.
Older Vehicles: Since today’s automobiles and trucks rely on as many as 100 microprocessors, they are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects an E1 pulse from a HEMP attack. The dominant thinking in the prepper community is that pre-1973 vehicles should not be affected due to the lack electronic ignition systems. However, that isn’t necessary a given. During the Soviet high-attitude nuclear tests over Kazakhstan in 1962, rugged diesel generators having no solid-state parts were burned out by the E1 EMP.
In an important international electromagnetics conference in 1994, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, General Vladimir Loborev delivered an important technical paper in which he stated, “The matter of this phenomenon is that the electrical puncture occurs at the weak point of a system. Next, the heat puncture is developed at that point, under the action of the power voltage; as a result, the electrical power source is put out of action very often.”
This illustrates that even vehicles without an electronic ignition or other electronic components are not immune from HEMP. The one saving grace about older vehicles is that they are simpler to work on and maintain. In a post-grid-down world, maintenance on modern vehicles may be a challenge considering the electronic dependent nature of their design. Repairing the damage on an automobile or truck that does not depend on these electronic components for its basic functions should be easier.
New Vehicles: Many of today’s modern vehicles have microprocessors to control such things as your ignition system, climate control, instrumentation panel, airbags, door locks, windows, turn signals, advanced diagnostics, GPS, anti-lock brakes and fuel mixtures, among other things. An E1 HEMP pulse could negatively affect some or all of these processors. The government (or anyone else for that matter) hasn’t tested large quantities or many types of vehicles under EMP conditions because of the costs of the tests as well as the limited scope of their testing requirements—the military really doesn’t need to know which vehicles are vulnerable as long as its Hummers and Bradleys are hardened!
Look at it like this—if you ran a test of one model and make of vehicle and zapped six of these identical cars in the EMP test, half of them might die right there on the spot. One or two of them may have performance issues down the road and may fail to start in a week and maybe one might come out unscathed. It is impossible to know definitively how any EMP event may affect your car in any circumstance, so it may behoove you to simply assume and prepare for the worst.
What we know, and this is a significant distinction to make clear again for everyone reading this article, is that a solar event, regardless how strong it is will not likely be a threat to our modern day vehicles. The only caveat to this statement would be if you had an electric vehicle that happened to be charging at the time of the EMP event. In that scenario, it is conceivable to think that the car’s electronics may be damaged in the surge.
The real threat and the likely source of the nightmarish scenarios conveyed in the Imagine section that began the first article would likely only be caused by a HEMP, or as a result of a high altitude nuclear detonation. However, keep in mind that a significant solar-based EMP attack similar to what we witnessed in 1859 or more recently in Canada could take our national power grid. Without electricity we will not be able to pump gasoline into our cars or run the refineries to manufacture our gasoline. In the long term, automobiles and trucks will be just as useless after a CME causes the loss of our power grid as they would be if a sudden HEMP event had blown their microprocessors!
So what are the repercussions of a HEMP or EMP event?
Consider how dependent we are on technology. Critical infrastructure and systems range from our power grid, satellite, financial, transportation, to food production and processing, communication, to basic utilities. All of these are totally dependent on electricity and microprocessors.
An EMP event, whether HEMP- or CME-induced, could have devastating impacts on our lives as we know them. It is difficult or practically impossible to make yourself and your family immune to the effects of an EMP. The key is to make yourself as independent of electrical conveniences as you possibly can. The death of electricity will likely bring on the death of most Americans. Whatever you can do to set aside water, food, security and first aid and training, the more you increase the chances you will survive along with your family.
We hope that this information on EMP has been helpful. We have thousands of articles that can help you become more prepared on our website that are categorized by topic. Along with EMP resources, we have volumes of information of basic preparedness and survival techniques that can greatly enhance your ability to protect what matters most—your family!
In the meantime, keep your powder dry and your faith strong!
Co-Founder of SurvivalWeek.com and Publisher of The Beacon.