An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is one of, if not the most, pressing security threats to the world right now. But before you run out and build yourself a Faraday cage to protect your electronics and come up with a survival plan, you’ve got to know that there are many different causes of EMP. It is important to understand the differences so you can prepare accordingly.
This is the scariest cause of EMP. It would occur if a nuclear bomb was detonated 15+ miles above the earth’s surface. The bomb would cause photons of electromagnetic energy to knock electrons lose from atoms. The electrons would come racing towards the earth and interact with the earth’s magnetic field, causing a surge of electrical current (electromagnetic pulse). The EMP would fry out electrical devices.
Scientists didn’t even realize how big of a threat EMP was until the 1950s and 60s when they began to test nuclear bombs. During the Star Fish Prime nuclear test, the bomb knocked out power in Hawaii – even though it was 900+ miles away from the detonation site!
If there is a nuclear EMP attack, then we’ve got bigger problems to worry about than just our electrical grid going out! You will have to get into a nuclear shelter quickly and stay there if you want to avoid radiation. Water will be contaminated, as well as our food sources. You better hope that you’ve got enough stockpiled for at least a month!
The good news is that a nuclear EMP attack is highly unlikely. Not only is it difficult to build a nuclear bomb (not that rogue nations aren’t trying and don’t already have the building blocks of nukes…), but the bomb would have to be detonated high in the air. That means special equipment would be needed to launch the bomb, and there would be time for the US to intercept it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about a nuclear EMP attack, but the reality is that it would be much easier for terrorists or rogue nations to hit us with EMP in other ways.
EMP Weapons (Non-Nuclear EMP)
For a long time, it seemed like EMP weapons were just something from science fiction movies. But now the USA has confirmed that it is using EMP weapons. If this is the information that they are disclosing, then what other major EMP weapons are in the works? We also know that Russia, North Korea, and Iran are toying around with EMP weapons.
An EMP weapon is a much more pressing threat than a nuclear EMP attack for a couple reasons. First off, it is easier to make an EMP weapon than a nuclear bomb. And there are many different ways the EMP weapon could be made, such as a Vircator.
The CHAMP EMP weapon that the US government confirms it has and is using would work by equipping a missile with an EMP cannon. The missile be flown over a building and destroy command centers, communication systems, surveillance systems, and much more – all without physically harming people.
The next reason that EMP weapons are such a big threat is because it would be relatively easy to launch an attack. A terrorist organization doesn’t have to detonate the EMP weapon high above the target to have an effect, which means it could easily be done in international waters before the US could intercede. Translated Iranian military documents talk exactly about this.
This sort of EMP attack would affect a much smaller area than a nuclear EMP. But the effects would still be devastating. It could take months or even years to rebuild the grid. Bear in mind that EMP would take out communication systems, not just the electrical system. You need communications to organize rebuilding of the grid. And you need the grid to have communications… So it is a terrible Catch 22 that would put us in the dark for a long time.
You can prepare for an EMP weapon attack by going low tech, learning survival techniques like how to cook without power, and keeping all of your most important survival electronics safe in a Faraday cage.
Solar Flare EMP Blast
EMP doesn’t have to be a work of mankind. While it isn’t talked about as much, an EMP blast could happen at any moment from a solar flare.
As How Stuff Works aptly describes, the sun is a huge, hot object with an amazing amount of mass. The sun is so hot that its atoms can’t hold onto its atoms. The gas flows around the sun, carrying these electrons with it. This electrical current can create a magnetic field.
The magnetic field is just part of the problem. Hot objects expand, which means that the magnetic field is going outwards. But the sun is also dense and has a strong gravitational pull, so it usually pulls back the magnetic field. Hot gases get trapped beneath the magnetic field. Every once in a while, the gases break through the magnetic field in a giant explosion. We call these explosions a solar flare.
Solar flares are particularly dangerous to satellites and could destroy them completely (though some satellites do have protection against solar flares). You also wouldn’t want to be in an airplane during a solar flare because you’d get a huge dose of radiation. However, a solar flare wouldn’t necessarily take out the electrical grid.
But there are some solar events which would wipe out the grid. They are called coronal mass ejections (CME).
The primary difference between a solar flare and CME is the scale at which they occur. Sometimes CMEs are called “mega solar flares.” Whatever you call it, a CME is going to cause billions of tons of particles to fly out from space. A magnetic shockwave would occur and hit the earth in about 18 to 36 hours.
A CME would wipe out the electrical grid. However, because the pulse travels through large wires, it wouldn’t likely fry your electronics – especially if they aren’t turned on or plugged in during the event. So, your cell phones and tablets are probably safe during a CME. However, since the communications system and grid will be down, they won’t do you much good!
Should you be preparing for a solar EMP event? In short, YES. Mega solar flares don’t just occur, they occur fairly frequently.
The Carrington solar flare of 1859 is the biggest solar flare that we know of. It took out telecommunications systems around the globe. Luckily for people then, the only telecommunications system in place was the telegraph. There have also been major solar events in 1882, 1921, 1938, 1989, 2000 and 2003 – but not nearly on the scale of the 1859 Carrington event. Today, we rely much more intensely on electronics. If a solar flare of that magnitude were to occur again, we’d be devastated.
Are you prepared to live without power when the grid goes down? Let us know how you are preparing in the comments section below or join the discussion on Facebook.