Surviving massive power grid failure – Part 2: EMP attack affects
Ok, we looked at the vulnerability of the power grid to a small unit attack – an easily mounted attack on a vulnerable system that would have enormous impact. Now let’s switch over to an EMP burst, which is simply a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere approximately 20 miles above ground. At that height there is little blast and heat damage on the ground and the real impact is in the electro-magnetic field pulse. It can have devastating effects on all things electrical and electronic, which translates into almost everything that we use in modern society. This attack would require a higher level of sophistication by an attacker, but there are several state and non-state players that may have access to a nuclear device and the ability to deliver an attack. Again, the system is vulnerable and the impact would be enormous. Some government reports cite the ability to launch a device from a ship off the coast, which makes this a potential terrorist threat. My question right now is if it is so easy to do, why haven’t our enemies done it? But I digress…
An EMP burst has three effects respectively called E1, E2, and E3. A technical description of the effects can be found here http://www.futurescience.com/emp/E1-E2-E3.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_electromagnetic_pulse , but I will try to explain it in layman’s terms.
E1 pulse - 5 nanoseconds to 1000 nanoseconds (or 1 microsecond): The E1 component is a brief but intense electro-magnetic pulse that can quickly induce (in nanoseconds) very high voltages in electrical conductors. The speed of the pulse is so quick that normal surge or lightning protection is insufficient although there are special surge protectors that can be installed that will protect against the E1 pulse. A high voltage surge goes through your electric component and shorts the circuits before fuses can blow. A device detonated at 30 miles above ground would potentially affect an area with a radius of approximately 500 miles (noting that the intensity of the E1 and the area affected varies with size of the weapon yield). There is some complicated math involved as the free electrons interact with the earth’s magnetic field and molecules of air in the atmosphere; suffice it to say that in North America, the E1 pulse will be stronger to the southern side of the blast in a “U” shape and weaker to the northern side (another reason to move to Canada). In this area, the voltage should saturate at roughly 50,000 volts/meter while the rest of us will see a pulse with a strength of 25,000 volts/meter.
Almost everything we use in our daily lives has electronic circuitry, which means almost every electrical device might be damaged or fried in an EMP attack. If your car has electronic ignition controls, it could be damaged and you would have to replace electronic components. We have moved so far away from analog devices to digital devices that most appliances in your home could be rendered useless. Unless you have already protected them with a Faraday cage and surge protection devices rated for an E1 pulse. More on hardening your electronic devices later.
E2 pulse – 1 microsecond to 1 second: The E2 component is an intermediate pulse generated by neutrons producing gamma rays in the atmosphere. The E2 component is like a lightning strike (actually a lightning strike would be more intense) and is generally considered easier to protect against. The problem is that it immediately follows the E1 pulse and so many devices might already be damaged and circuit protection has already been compromised. Take-away: plan for the E1 pulse and if your electronic devices have been sufficiently protected or hardened against that, you should be ok for the E2.
E3 Pulse – up to several hundred seconds. The E3 pulse is generated as the Earth’s magnetic field is initially distorted by the EMP blast and then rebounds oscillating in diminishing amplitude until it has returned to its original shape. This is very similar to what happens when the Sun emits a large solar flare generating a geomagnetic storm. For this reason, the E3 is sometimes called the Solar EMP. On 1-2 September, 1859, the sun ejected a large coronal mass and induced large voltages in telegraph wires shocking some operators and starting some fires, this is called the Carrington Event. Basically, the electric current is induced in long lines (like power lines) and we could see damage to transformers and even delivery of large voltages into your home along the power cable and to devices through their electrical cords plugged into the socket (unless there is sufficient surge protection). A storm in 1989, smaller than the Carrington Event (which is estimated to happen once every 500 years), crashed the Quebec power grid. We get about an eighteen-hour warning between the time the sun ejects these coronal masses and when the wave will hit the earth’s atmosphere. You get a one second warning from an EMP. Good luck if you aren’t planning ahead.
Ok, so what can be done?
► Have analog back-up devices for those things that you deem essential to survival. A gas stove instead of an electric one or maybe even just a wood or charcoal grill. Get an older model vehicle that does not have an electronic ignition or get spare electronic components to install on your vehicle after the EMP pulse. Or get a bike, a horse and wagon! Look at all the electric appliances you currently use and start thinking about what would replace them or how you would get along without them.
► Shielding and hardening of certain electric devices.
→ Use shielded cables and wire: Wire with grounded external braided shield will be ok, the current is induced in the wire shielding and then discharges into the ground.
→ Install surge protectors rated to an E1 pulse.
→ Place certain devices inside a Faraday cage or build a Faraday shielded room. If you have protected certain devices inside shielding and you have a means of producing power after the EMP attack (a solar generator that was in a Faraday room), you can power the devices you protected for back up. Devices can be wrapped in aluminum foil for protection and then placed inside a galvanized trash can for further protection.
However, you need to remember that things like your cell phone, iPad or computer might work after an attack but there is no guarantee that they will have connectivity to the internet or the cell network, so…
► Get ready to live for a long time without a power grid and many of the systems that depend on power to operate (telecommunications, sanitary municipal water supply and sewage and trash removal, banking and finance, healthcare system and emergency services, transportation of goods and services all over the country including fuel and food).
Next, we will talk about how to build a Faraday cage or room and what to put in it.
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