Guest Post By: Joshua Osuch (my 14 year old budding writer)
What Is An EMP?
It’s Not Just A Blackout:
Are you addicted to social media? Are you totally dependent on your refrigerator to keep food from spoiling? Are you afraid of the dark? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then you probably dread blackouts.
Blackouts are temporary interruptions in the electrical grid. They have various causes, such as equipment failure, overload on circuits, or even terrorism. Most people have heard the term rolling blackout which occurs in the summer or winter months when demand on the electrical grid is overloaded. These are actually initiated by electric companies to prevent a widespread blackout because circuits are heavily taxed. Basically your power might go out for a short amount of time, but it will come on within an hour or two and then depending on how taxed the circuits are the whole process could be repeated until the circuits are down to a normal capacity.
In a regional blackout power to certain parts of a city, county, state or country is lost until the cause of the blackout is repaired or fixed; in most cases people and equipment are brought in from other areas to help. Generally, power is restored and though people have suffered through the power outage they are able to plug back into the grid without any problems.
Can you image what would happen if all of the electrical devices with circuit boards (basically most appliances, computers, cars, phones, radios, TV, airplanes, trains, all the equipment used to run the electrical grid, and most likely any device made within the last 10 years) in the affected area never turned back on because their circuits were fried? Sounds like something you would only hear about in science fiction books, right? Well, this science is not fiction. Actually scientists have known about this phenomenon for more than a century. It’s called an EMP.
EMP: What You Need To Know To SURVIVE:
Let Me Define A Few Terms:
EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse. An EMP is a quick burst of electromagnetic energy that can induce current in electronics and fry circuit boards but is mostly harmless and is invisible to humans. This quick burst of energy can affect an area that is only a few feet in diameter or it can affect an area that is hundreds of miles in diameter and could cause a blackout. An EMP can be man-made or natural.
Man-made EMPs that affect an area that is a few feet in diameter can be caused by the ignition system in your car or surges in power lines. Small EMPs don’t really cause much damage; they might cause static on your radio or cause a small power surge in your house, but most ignition systems and power lines have devices that prevent this.
Big EMPs that can affect an area a few hundred miles in diameter can be caused by either a giant solar flare or a nuclear bomb detonated above the atmosphere. A big solar flare could cause a widespread EMP that could cause a nationwide or even a worldwide blackout. Luckily the earth’s atmosphere protects us from most solar flares.
If a nuclear bomb was ever detonated above the atmosphere it could cause a widespread EMP that could affect several states. It would take two, three or more bombs to cause a nationwide blackout and a lot more to cause a worldwide black out. Solar flares that can cause big blackouts are pretty rare.
However, there was a famous incident of a solar flare in 1859 called the Carrington event. The Carrington event caused failure in telegraph systems all over North America and Europe. Since people back then weren't dependent on electricity as we are now it wasn't a big problem. A nuclear bomb is not so rare and is a real possibility in today's turbulent world.
What is the Likelihood An EMP Will Affect You?
The big problem is most people don’t know what an EMP is or the damage it can do. There are devices that can protect electronics (more on that in a minute) but since most people don’t know what an EMP is they don’t protect their electronics. Notice when I talk about nuclear bombs and solar flares I say it “could” fry electronic circuits and cause nationwide and worldwide blackouts.
Widespread EMPs have never really happened in the past so we honestly don’t know what would happen. We don’t know precisely how big the area affected would be or what exactly will be affected. In the past 155 years there have been solar flares that have disrupted electronics but haven’t totally destroyed them. In addition to the episode that occurred in 1859, there was a solar flare over Quebec that caused a blackout that lasted more than nine hours and affected systems as far as New Jersey. Although there haven’t been any widespread nuclear related EMPs, in the past there were a few regional areas affected during testing of nuclear weapons. Most of the testing was done over the ocean so the EMP didn't have anything to disrupt except a few islands.
If a nationwide nuclear EMP were to happen the two likely sources would be either an act of war or terrorism, because there would be immediate retaliation for an act of war the more likely candidate would be terrorism. A terrorist act would probably be regional and there would be help and aid from other parts of the country and other countries. However, If it were an act of war then our allies might be too busy fighting the enemy to send help. An EMP is also more likely to hit big cities and not more remote places mostly because terrorists want to strike in a place that would do the most damage or the enemy would want to take out strategic targets. .
How Do You Know It’s Not A Blackout?
The first sign that an EMP has disrupted electronics would be things like cars and cell phones stop working. Since these things are not plugged into an electrical socket a power surge can’t affect them, so therefore an EMP is the likely source of their failure to turn on. Older cars wouldn't be affected because they don’t have any electronic circuits. Newer cars have electronic circuits that control fuel intake and various other operations, but older cars have all mechanical components. Not everything would necessarily stop working however because huge EMPs have never really happened - we just don’t know the full effect of an EMP bomb or solar flare.
What Should You Do To Survive An EMP?
Food And Water:
The problem with a big EMP, aside from the fact that the lights stop working, is that we live in an artificial society (for lack of a better term). All of our food, most of our water, and all of our medicine is dependent on electricity. To grow and transport food takes electricity, to treat and transport water takes electricity, and to manufacture and transport medicine takes electricity. Those are just three of the main things that electricity helps to produce; gasoline and most other fuels require electricity as well.
The most likely EMP is a regional EMP, one that only takes out a few major towns. A regional EMP would probably be similar to when a hurricane hits. More than likely there would be help coming after a few days, weeks, or maybe at the most a month. So for a regional EMP you really only need a food and water supply for three to four weeks.
If there was a nationwide EMP there may not be help for a few months or even a year. In this case your food and water supply should be much bigger than three to four weeks. The best long term survival plan would be living in survival community where each person had a specialized job. This community should be complete with livestock, a water source, ample land, and a means to protect itself. For short term survival simply make friends with your neighbors then talk about and develop an emergency plan. Even a simple plan would save lives.
Protect Your Crucial Electronics:
There are devices that can protect electronics from an EMP - one of those is called a Faraday cage.
A Faraday cage is a sealed enclosure that has an electrically conductive outer layer and usually has an insulator such as cardboard as an inner layer. This inner layer exists so that the electronics don’t touch the outer layer. It can either be an actual cage or just a metal box with a lid. You place the electronics you want to protect inside the cage and the cage will disperse the electromagnetic wave around the cage without letting the wave pass through the inside thus protecting the area inside the cage.
The only problem is that the holes in the cage or the space between the lid and the box must be smaller than the length between each wave of the radiation otherwise the radiation could penetrate the enclosure. A Faraday cage is relatively easy to make - you start with a conductive box like a file cabinet or a metal trash can. Then line the inside with cardboard and use metallic tape to seal the space between the drawers or lid. You can test it by putting your cell phone inside and calling it. If it rings then your cage is not sealed. If an EMP did hit then you probably won’t know how small your holes have to be so it’s not a fool proof plan, and since widespread EMPs have never happened then we don’t know if will protect your electronics, but then again it’s better than nothing.
So next time the power goes out it will likely come back on in a few minutes, but then again it may never come back on at all. Either way now there is no need for YOU to panic.
Two Good Books About EMPs
Disaster Preparedness For EMP Attacks and Solar Storms: This non-fiction book goes into more of the science regarding EMPs and solar flares. Written by a NASA engineer, it focuses on the likelihood and circumstances surrounding EMPs and solar flares. The book also goes into to detail about how to protect your equipment from such treats.
One Second After: This book is about a man and his family who live in North Carolina and have to survive in their community when a nationwide EMP strikes. Things start to get tough when the food starts running out and the insulin for the main character's diabetic daughter runs out. It’s a great example of how society can totally collapse after just a few months without electricity.