By Brian Duff
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a sudden burst of electromagnetic (EM) energy that is triggered by the acceleration of charged particles. EMPs have the potential to cause massive damage to electrical infrastructure, including the communication network, power grid and electronic devices. This is particularly concerning because today’s society has become reliant upon communication, power grids and electronic devices. Should any of these experience a reduction in capability, it could have severe consequences for the stability of society.
Causes of EMPs
EMPs can be caused by both Mother Nature and mankind. Mother Nature’s EMPs take the form of coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs are bursts of energy from the sun that are released during strong solar flares. The largest recorded CME happened in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event. During the Carrington Event, “U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment, some bad enough to set fires.”
Manmade EMPs are caused by the detonation of nuclear devices. When employed by an enemy, a manmade electromagnetic pulse attack can affect an entire geographic region. If a successful attack were to occur, the affected region could experience a permanent power blackout. Such a blackout could become a long-term event that effectively sends the country back to the 1800s. Imagine living in a world with no electricity, cell phones, computers, or automobiles. In short, an EMP attack has the ability to end modern life as we know it.
All nuclear detonations cause EMP effects. In most cases, low altitude detonations are designed to cause damage from the kinetic effects of the explosion. Likewise, in many cases, high altitude detonations are designed to cause damage from the effects of the resulting EMP. Due to the high altitude of the detonation, devices designed to deliver an electromagnetic pulse target a much larger area than low altitude detonations. This allows for EMP delivery devices to be designed to cause maximum infrastructure damage to the region targeted.
Effects of an Electromagnetic Pulse
Theoretically, a high altitude electromagnetic pulse detonation has the potential to cause the collapse of power grids and communication systems. As it stands now, the modern world has become fully dependent on electricity and electronic devices. Without electrical power, transportation could grind to a halt, communications could cease, and entire regions could go dark.
What does this mean to you? In the worst-case scenarios, it means grocery stores could run out of food, vehicles would be inoperable, hospitals would fail, and the government would be hard-pressed to maintain order. Without the ability to obtain food, seek medical help, or rely on public safety, effected regions could fall into chaos.
There have been numerous catastrophes which have affected the United States. Many of these disasters caused massive destructive. When disasters strike, they occasionally provide a localized glimpse of what would happen if the power grid and communications failed. As was evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, without power, life as we know it would come to a virtual standstill. Without electricity, at best, society will be returned to the lifestyle of the 1800s.
During most major storms, the media reports on unprepared people rushing to the store to purchase food and water. The fact is many people are not prepared to weather the effects of a serious but short-term event. So, when an event occurs, people panic and rush to the nearest supermarket to clear out the shelves. Occasionally this rush results in a localized breakdown of law and order, followed by riots and looting.
As bad as this may seem, imagine what would happen if an electromagnetic pulse attack were to succeed. Think about what would happen if the power and communication grids stopped functioning for weeks, months or even longer. The damage caused by the destruction of our personal, local and national electronics-based infrastructure would prove devastating.
Help is Not Coming
In the event of a successful electromagnetic pulse attack, there would be no way to call 911 or your family members. Police officers, firefighters and paramedics would not be able to respond to emergencies. Garbage collection would stop. Life-sustaining medical equipment would stop functioning. In effect, life as we know it today could cease to exist.
Is the Specter of EMP’s Fear Mongering?
Many naysayers would argue that this train of thought is nothing more than fear mongering. But is it? What does the government say about the possible effects of a successful EMP attack? The government’s Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack states:
“Depending on the specific characteristics of the [EMP] attacks, unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result. In that event, a regional or national recovery would be long and difficult and would seriously degrade the safety and overall viability of our Nation.”
Are EMPs Really a Threat?
Most people have never heard of an EMP and have no clue as to what one is. Because of this, the topic of their existence has long been relatively ignored outside of the preparedness community. As a result, very little preparation has been done to mitigate the effects of a successful EMP attack. Unfortunately, ignorance is not an excuse. As indicated by the US government, the threat of an electromagnetic pulse attack is real. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly.
Disturbingly, several countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea have developed the ability to launch EMP attacks. The thought processes behind such a launch, while morally abhorrent, are strategically sound. In effect, a successful EMP attack would devastate a developed nation’s population while leaving its natural resources intact and exploitable. After a period of time, the effected region would be ripe for an easy and exploitable military takeover.
In addition to the threat from nation states, the potential of terrorist-based electromagnetic pulse attacks is also concern. It’s no secret that terrorist organizations around the globe are working to achieve nuclear capability. Sadly, it is not a matter of if they will obtain such a capability. Rather, it is a matter of when they will obtain the capability. Once they do though, it is a near certainty that they will use their new-found capability without hesitation.
So, the answer is yes, EMPs are a real threat. Unfortunately, the possibility of an EMP attack happening is a reality. While a remote possibility, it is a possible reality that we must accept. Once accepted, we must then prepare for it as we should with any potentially disastrous event.
The Government Will Save Me, Right?
Despite its report citing the catastrophic effects of an EMP attack, the government has done little to prepare. As a whole, our national electronic-based infrastructure remains extremely vulnerable. Power grids and communication systems have yet to be hardened and protected. This lack of preparation exposes our nation to severe risks should one occur.
In addition to the effects discussed, the government will be hard-pressed to provide any sort of beneficial response to a successful attack. One only needs to look to the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina to see an example of this. What would the response to Hurricane Katrina have looked like if vehicles didn’t run, cell phones and radios didn’t work, and the external support efforts were completely broken.
Because of this, it is incumbent upon us as individuals to educate and prepare ourselves for an EMP attack. Only through personal education and positive preparedness steps can we improve our chances of overcoming such an event. After all, ignorance is bliss, until the power goes out and never comes back. Then ignorance is in the dark with the government response and those who are unprepared for such an event.
History of EMPs
During the early days of nuclear testing, experts speculated that a nuclear blast could damage or destroy electrical equipment. Because of this, efforts were made to shield electronic equipment near nuclear test sites. Despite the efforts to shield the equipment from the effects of the EMP, some of it was effected. A case in point: scientific equipment experienced issues during the first US nuclear test, which occurred on July 16, 1945. Later, in the early 1950s, British scientists experienced similar problems while conducting their own nuclear testing.
In effect, nuclear scientists had unknowingly created a secondary weapons capability. It was a capability with the capacity to impact power and communication systems around the globe. It was a capability that could be exploited in years to come.
The Starfish Prime EMP Test
Early nuclear testing provided an indication of the damage that a high-altitude EMP could cause. However, on July 9, 1962, researchers came to the full realization that they were dealing with something very powerful. This realization happened during the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test.
The Starfish Prime test consisted of a 1.44 megaton nuclear detonation 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean. This detonation resulted in the production of an electromagnetic pulse. This EMP damaged electrical infrastructure in Hawaii, nearly 900 miles away from the detonation. The Starfish Prime test caused some Hawaiian streetlights to fail, damaged orbiting satellites, and caused several other problems.
Overall, the government has not focused much attention towards the subject of EMPs. As a result, very few measures have been taken to protect the US from an EMP attack. This lack of engagement towards EMPs includes limited to non-existent legislation and government action. Therefore, progress towards dealing with the possibilities of an EMP, including the subsequent aftermath, has also been limited.
The government’s Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack was released on July 22, 2004. Interestingly enough, this report was released the same day as The 9/11 Commission Report. In turn, this has given rise to the theory that the government intended to minimize the public’s awareness of this report. This theory is based upon the startling information contained within the report. For example, page one of the report states:
“The electromagnetic fields produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends. Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the Nation.”
Within the government, there have been some recommendations made to defend against EMP attacks. However, little has been done to implement those recommendations. As a result, we continue to live with a fragile and exposed infrastructure that is ripe for an EMP attack.
What If an EMP Attack Occurred? Back to the 1800s
There are many theories about what would happen if an EMP event occurred. The truth of the matter is that no one has a definite answer. Many experts speculate about the outcome of an EMP attack, but they have yet to come to a group consensus. While a consensus has yet to happen, many propose an electromagnetic pulse would send the country back to the 19th century—a time before there was wide use of and reliance upon electricity and electronic equipment.
In the event of an EMP attack, the nation could experience destruction of the power grid and communication infrastructure. Without the power grid, electronic devices, including cell phones and computers, would become useless, and gas pumps would be inoperable. Society as we know it would change in an instant.
The effects on the power grid become complicated by the fact that in the event of truly extensive damage, replacement of damaged equipment would be difficult, if not nearly impossible. For example, if factories are inoperable, how would replacement power grid equipment be manufactured? If vehicles are inoperable, how would replacement equipment be transported? So, in the worst-case scenario, clawing our way back from an EMP attack could prove difficult. Additionally, it could take a very long time, with time being measured in months and years.
With the grid down, ATMs, credit cards and banking as we know it would be a thing of the past. You would need to have cash on hand in order to conduct transactions. Unfortunately, in a grid-down scenario, cash could be worthless. Therefore, society could return to the days of bartering and trade. Some people propose that gold and silver would become the accepted currency. Regardless of the form, conducting day-to-day transactions would be completely different from today’s debit card society.
Chaos in the Streets
As discussed, in many cases, people are ill-prepared for disasters. They do not have adequate supplies on hand to be able to overcome even short-term events. Many people have less than three days of food in their home and little to no water stored. Additionally, without power, refrigerated and frozen food would quickly go bad, reducing people’s on-hand food stores that much faster.
Following a successful EMP attack, people will slowly realize the magnitude of the situation. As they do, panic and desperation may set in. The streets could become chaotic as people attempted to gather food and supplies. With a lack of law enforcement, order could possibly break down. After all, think about what happens during holiday shopping as near riots occur when people fight over a popular toy. Look back to the riots of Ferguson, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Those all happened with law enforcement present and a still-functioning society in place. Imagine what the case would be if neither were present and people felt panicked and desperate.
In addition to rioting and looting, crime may drastically rise. The potential for organized crime, gangs, etc., to grow in power exists due to the potential vacuum left by a possible lack of law enforcement. In this situation, criminal elements may seek to capitalize upon this opportunity by preying upon individuals, families and smaller groups. As such, you should be ready to protect your family, home and any food or supplies that you have. If not, you should prepare a plan to leave any danger areas. Moving to a safer location may be your only viable option.
How to Prepare for an EMP Attack
Here are some pointers that can help you in EMP attack preparedness:
Food and Water
As discussed earlier, a successful EMP attack may impact the flow of food and other necessary items. Therefore, it is important that you prepare for the lack of external support. Because of the lack of power to preserve food, you should consider food that can be stored at room temperature. Cereals, rice and dry beans do well, as do canned food items. Even better are food items that come freeze dried or otherwise prepared so as to last for long periods of time. Some long-term storage foods will last over twenty years.
Water, like food, is necessary for life. In the event of an EMP attack, water treatment plants and distribution networks could be impacted. As such, it is important that part of your planning is focused on water. That planning includes the storage of water, the ability to gather and purify it, or both.
When there is a successful electromagnetic pulse attack, the internet, phones and power grids may cease to function. As such, it is essential to have an emergency communication plan. Such a plan will allow you to communicate with others and help provide improved situational awareness. Some propose having a two-way radio protected from the effects of the EMP. Testing has been carried out, and they have been shown to be resistant to EMPs. This radio should be set aside as a backup. Fortunately, you can enhance their protection by storing them and other electronics in a Faraday cage.
A Faraday cage is a metal cage or box designed to prevent EMP-type damage to electronics. It was first invented by English scientist Michael Faraday. There are many available on the market. However, with some internet research, know-how and effort, you can build your own Faraday cage.
Most tools in use today are electric and will only work when there is power. In the case of an EMP, basic things like opening cans could become difficult tasks. Therefore, as a preparedness measure, you should have basic, non-electric tools ready for use. These tools should cover most tasks in your home from cooking, to construction and maintenance.
The best way to be prepared for an EMP is by ensuring that you have all the essentials accounted for. Think of the things that you would need in the event of an emergency. Then create a list of what you come up with. Of course there will be other unforeseen emergencies, but you will be better off having basic supplies stored. While luxury items are nice, do not over-think the issue. When establishing your long-term emergency supplies, focus on those that assist with your long-term survival.
Evacuation (Bugging Out)
As mentioned earlier, following an EMP attack, your security may be threatened, and crime rates may rise drastically. You should prepare for such scenarios so that you can protect yourself and your family. This protection includes possibly evacuating you and your family to a safe location.
Evacuating your home is not something that should be taken lightly. As such, creating an emergency plan that includes an evacuation option should be considered. Planning such an event includes pre-identifying the location where you will evacuate to. Once you decide where you will evacuate to, you need to determine the routes you will take to get there. Next, you need to establish a method and plan for living there once you arrive.
While no one should want to experience an electromagnetic pulse attack, the fact remains it’s possible. With societies increased electrical dependency, the likelihood of an enemy-launched EMP attack exists. Should it happen, there could be wide spread and significant damage to the power and communication infrastructure.
Because of this uncertainty, people should prepare for the worst just in case it happens. After all, you probably purchase insurance for problems that are not a certainty. So, why not think the same way for an EMP and other disastrous possibilities? In the end, an investment of time and effort now could pay dividends for you in the future—dividends that would literally mean your family’s future.
Lastly, never forget, you’re just one prep away…
If you have any other information, suggestions, or thoughts about EMPs, please leave a comment below.
Stay safe, secure and prepared.