NASA Engineer (ENCORE) | Arthur T. Bradley WARNING: Be Prepared for an EMP

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by Amy S.

Should you be concerned about the risk of a solar or nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) event and how it could impact your life and livelihood? Is an EMP actually a credible threat to your family, or just more “sky is falling” hype? Senior NASA scientist Dr. Arthur T. Bradley, author of numerous books on preparedness including: the “Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family,” the “Prepper’s Instruction Manual,” and “Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks,” joins Reluctant Preppers to answer your vital questions on the true risk of EMPs, possible root causes of EMPs, likely impacts of an EMP event, and especially specific protective action steps you can take now to protect your family.

Solar Flare

A solar flare or Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) created by the sun through normal activity results in electromagnetic radiation that travels through space. That solar CME wave results in an EMP if it hits our atmosphere. Small solar flares hit earth regularly, but medium ones are rare and huge ones are extremely rare. A really big solar flare could occur any time and they are highly unpredictable and extremely rare.

Scientists would detect a coronal mass ejection (CME) and have time to issue a warning. It takes about 5 days for a CME to reach earth. The CME would create a geomagnetic storm or EMP on earth, also referred to as a geomagnetic disturbance (GMD). Our magnetosphere protects us from most solar radiation and EMP effects. A larger solar flare can get through the magnetosphere and impact the earths surface.

A very large, extended Solar Flare EMP could destroy some or all of the high voltage backbone transformers. These transformers are critical to the U.S. electric grid. Even if only a few hundred of the larger transformers were destroyed it would likely disable the entire interconnected system for weeks or even months. Small electronics could survive a solar flare, cell towers could, some cellphones may survive also but the power grid damage for an extended event is the bigger problem. In general a large long lived solar flare would be far worse than a single nuclear EMP.

What is the difference between Solar and Nuclear EMP?

A nuclear EMP is a more energetic and has a shorter burst. A solar flare EMP may also be referred to as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or a geomagnetic storm. Solar flares vary widely in intensity from simply causing bright “northern lights” to potentially destroying some or all of the power grid. Smaller EMPs may cause power grid blackouts. Solar flares can last much longer than nuclear EMPs.

Nuclear EMP

With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the likelihood of a nuclear EMP increases. A nuclear EMP requires a nuclear weapon delivered by a rocket, high flying aircraft or ICBM. The nuke is detonated high in the air (referred to as an “air burst” or atmospheric burst) to create the EMP. In a worst case, the nuke is detonated in the upper atmosphere, approximately 20 miles up. A large 1 kiloton to 2 kiloton nuclear electromagnetic pulse like this would be very serious. A nation state or rogue state such as North Korea or Iran are the most likely cause of an atmospheric nuclear burst (EMP).

The atmospheric nuclear explosion itself would create little to no physical destruction. The gamma radiation would be fairly far away so its direct impact would be limited. However, the air burst nuke would create a widespread EMP and some limited fallout. That large EMP would destroy or at least damage the electrical grid. It would also destroy electronics within the EMP area. Nearly all vehicles with electronic systems would fail when exposed to the EMP. With the level of damage depending on how close and how powerful the blast is. Of course the location and protection of the vehicle impact the level of possible electronics damage.

Basically, a fast burst, high energy nuclear EMP damages or destroys all nearby non-shielded electronic devices (cell phones, refrigerators, generators, inverters, TVs, radios, cars, etc) within its area of effect in a few seconds.

Note: In nuclear weapon tests the EMP doesn’t expand in simple circles. The earth’s magnetosphere deflects and interacts with the blast, causing the waves to spread more strongly away from the poles and may vary widely. The pulse is concentrated more strongly in a semi-circular band, as shown in the image above. The earths magnetic field deforms the explosion. The graphic is only an estimate – and would vary in the real world based on size/altitude/atmospheric state/magnetosphere and other variables.

Protect devices from an EMP

You can shield or protect devices by protecting them from the pulse. Here are three ways:

Building a Faraday cage (a shield that redirects power to ground) using a conductive metal container that is grounded.
Grounding a “shell” around them and isolating them from the electromagnetic radiation/power spikes
Using industrial grade ground fault isolation
Here are some basic protection options:

Foil wrap: A simple Faraday cage can be made by COMPLETELY covering an object with aluminum foil. Wrap your radio with cloth or other insulation, then wrap that with a double layer of aluminum foil (to ensure no gaps). Ensure that this shell is well grounded (electrical ground). If you don’t know what an “electrical ground” is, find someone who does.
Garbage Can or other metal container: A large fairly cheap Faraday cage can be a steel garbage can with a couple of grounding rods. The steel of the garbage can interacts with the EMP and creates a voltage/current spike that is then grounded. That redirects the electrical charge, protecting whatever is inside the garbage can. A Faraday Cage can be used to store radios and other susceptible electronic devices.
Metal Roof: A house with a extremely well grounded metal roof could protect from an EMP, depending on the power of the pulse, because it could effectively “shield” the house by interacting with EMP and then re-directing the resulting voltage/current spike to the heavy ground wires (like lightning). A multi-day solar flare would create ongoing voltage/current. A nuclear explosion would create a spike more like a lightning strike, independently hitting everything within line of sight. Note: A grounded metal roof alone doesn’t fix the problem, because power line spikes could negate any benefits a metal roof would provide.
These items were designed specifically to shield from EMPs:
EMP protection bags, sized to hold individual items
Large electromagnetic pulse protection bags, to hold one or more items.

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Survival Tips after Grid Down Collapse

Preparing for EMP

Basically, you would need to prepare to live an 1800s lifestyle – wood stove, handtools and no electrical power. You would need hand tools and equipment necessary to garden, hunt, prepare food without electricity or gasoline. You would need a good stock of books, tools, medicine, and learn a LOT of skills.

COMMUNICATIONS
Consider joining regional and national emergency communications, such as your local ARES/RACES program. (ARES = Amateur Radio Emergency Service. RACES = Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service.) Get a shortwave radio and EMP protect it. More information here:

MEDICAL
Get First Aid and medical training, and you can use those skills for a storm, EMP or car accident. See Red Cross training programs, YMCA or YWCA, or check out your local vocational tech schools. Participate with your local EMTs. Volunteer to assist in local preparedness exercises. Buy or build a First Aid Kit that would serve you, your family and if you have the funds, your community.

SHELTER
If you don’t have basic carpentry skills, consider learning those skills. Get supplies and tools necessary to repair, improve or worse case, create shelter. Get camping gear, a tent inside a cold house will stay warmer than the house alone or the tent outside.

FOOD
Stockpile at least 3 days of the foods you regularly eat. Once you have 3 days, build up to 3 weeks, and so on. (See “Top 10 Real Foods to Store Without Electricity“.) Extra stored food is useful for a snow storm, tornado, short power outage or even simply feeding your family while you hunt for a new job. Don’t forget to have a way to cook your food, too. See “Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out” for more information.

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WATER
You must have at least one gallon of potable (drinkable) water person per day. Store at least a week of water, or have a guaranteed way to get water without electricity. Get a bathtub water bladder and fill it IMMEDIATELY after any power event (or before if you have warning, such as a snowstorm or Solar EMP). Purchase a Berkey water filter or other water gravity fed filtration system. The higher end filters are good for an EMP or any other natural disaster. Get LifeStraw personal water filters to carry instead of water. See”Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know Before Emergencies Hit“. Again, if you have livestock or pets, plan for their needs, too. Hand pumps and large scale water storage will be essential for large numbers of animals or large animals.

BASIC TOOLS & SUPPLIES
Get a good basic tool kit (hammer, knife, screwdriver, etc.). Ensure you have tarps, duct tape and fire extinguishers. Consider other items like a bike pump and a crank cellphone charger/flashlight/radio. Think about what would you need if the power was out for days or weeks? Think about people powered options for making basic repairs.

DEFENSE
During an extended event, people causing trouble will likely be armed. Emergency services such as the police will likely be overwhelmed and difficult or impossible to reach. If you obtain a firearm, get proper training to use and maintain it. Consider other options such as pepper spray if you don’t feel confident with a firearm or they are prohibited in your area.

Establish good relations with neighbors before emergency situations, so you know someone has your back. (And you have theirs.) Community is how we have survived for 10s of thousands of years. Build your community.

POWER
It is possible a household generator would still function after a small EMP, so having the generator and some extra gas, or propane, could allow you to have limited power while the grid is repaired. This would be useful in storms also. A solar USB charger can keep devices that survived the blast running without grid electricity. This assumes you store the electronic devices in a protected location.

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HYGIENE
Be prepared for toilets to stop functioning. You can use waste bags that fit into a conventional toilet, or a dedicated emergency toilet. See “DIY Portable Toilet, Plus Tips to Get Rid of Smells” for detailed emergency loo tips. Consider a gravity fed solar shower, and make sure you have a clean source of water for hand washing. Solar ovens can do double duty, cooking food and sterilizing water.

 

 

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