(Survival Manual/1. Disaster/Nuclear EMP)
What would happen after a Nuclear EMP attack?
The scenario begins with a nuclear explosion in low earth orbit, at the distance of the International Space Station, above middle America.
A nuclear blast about 200 miles above the mid-U.S. could wipe out every electric grid in the country-plunging our nation into darkness. It would literally send our nation back to the 18th century. (A very powerful X-class solar flare could have the same impact.) An EMP blast from a nuclear bomb would shut down devices or vehicles using microchips. Planes would stop flying; banks and hospitals would cease operation; trains would stop running; tractors, trucks and cars would cease working. Elevators would malfunction; subways would stop. All commerce would cease. A blast like this could not only wipe out the electric grid in the U.S. but in Canada and Mexico. The more technologically advanced a nation is, the more vulnerable it is to an EMP attack.
From the book, One Second After, by William R. Forstchen, a plausible social-economic scenario following an EMP attack on the USA is as follows:
Day 1: July Year 201x
Five container ships in the gulf of Mexico fire medium range SCUD missiles high into the atmosphere until they reach far above Kansas and other states. On board are 45KT nuclear warhead. It explodes creating EMP that takes out all of the integrated circuits in the United States.
That means anything electronic that hasn’t been hardened is going to be ruined. That means your computers, TVs, cars, home electronics, breaker box, phones, radios, cell phones. It also means the power companies, their generators, the backup generators at hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
All of the farms and their harvesting equipment is dead. The trucks that move food to the cities are ruined. The trains that move freight around the country are inoperable.
Every airplane flying crashes. All planes on the down are ruined.
The only thing working are US conventional forces that happened to be hardened against EMP (which means quite a few of them). Some cars stored in underground parking garages would probably work depending on the proximity.
There’s no fall out. Nobody dies from the attack directly.
With power out people’s fridges are DOA. With no working cars, people don’t go to work. In the country and in the suburbs, people take the food out of their refrigerators and freezers before it “goes bad” and have BBQs. It’s a fun time.
People who were driving somewhere are mostly able to make it to town. A few people die of heat stroke on their journeys. In the deep south, particularly Florida, there are a number of deaths due to the heat since air conditioning is out.
In the cities, looting begins quite quickly. The police can’t do much since they’re on foot or on horse.
We know this sort of thing because we have seen what happens during extended power outages. Of course, in those cases cars, cell phones, and other crucial devices still worked but there was still massive looting in the large cities.
Local agencies really don’t know what’s going on since there is no communication. No cell phones. No radio. No land lines. The grid is gone. There are spare parts but nowhere near enough to fix it all and because of the nature of the electrical grid, all the holes have to be plugged for the juice to flow again. And even if they had enough parts, how do they transport them? No trucks. No cars.
International relief from Japan, China, Canada (though most of Canada is taken out too), Mexico, Europe begins but it’ll be slow going. Food shipments can reach the coast in a couple of days but getting it inland will be a major problem as the vehicles will have to be transported in along with parts to try to get the railroads working again (along with teams to get dead trains off the rails).
In the subs, the party is over. It ain’t funny now. People are finishing off what was in their refrigerator. Most people still have some food in the cupboard.
Stores start rationing their supplies. People are still using money (at least, those who keep cash). A bottle of water is $20. How much cash do you keep in your house?
In the cities, riots have broken out with widespread destruction. Being July, it’s hot and dry. Fires from the riots start to spread.
End of Week 1:
By now, most people in the subs have run out of food they would normally remotely consider eating. Looting at the local Wal-Mart and grocery stores begins as people simply take what they need.
Remember, people aren’t hearing anything from the authorities. There are no working TVs. No working radios. The handful of police are walking in the subs.
If you live in the suburbs, take a close look around. How would the police reasonably patrol your city without cars? Meanwhile, people in nursing homes have started dying en-masse.
Without refrigeration drugs quickly go bad. Anyone requiring help breathing or anything else has already died.
People with type 1 diabetes are starting to see the writing on the wall.
Meanwhile, the first container ships of relief have reached San Francisco, Seattle, LA, San Diego, Houston, Miami, Boston, NY, Washington, Raleigh. Lots of food, medicine, some parts, lots of vehicles.
Unfortunately most of those cities are in utter pandemonium. In the south, tens of thousands have already died from heat. In 2003, when there was a heat wave in France, 14800 people died. They didn’t lose power, they just didn’t have air conditioning. In Florida, the death toll is skyrocketing quickly. Same in most of the other southern states.
End of Week 2:
People are starting to die of dysentery from eating bad food, drinking bad water. Many have left the suburbs to head to rural areas where they think there is food (they’re wrong, harvest won’t happen for months, industrialized food processing involves a lot of transportation between the farms and the slaughter houses).
The typical American family, now out of food and with no access to clean water is starting to get pretty desperate.
What? Only 2 weeks? How much food do you have in your house right now? Go check. I’ll wait….
Okay back? So how much is in your pantry? How long would it last you? If you knew at the start, you might have rationed it better. But you didn’t.
Millions of Americans are wishing they had put those steaks and hamburgers and hotdogs in their basements in the cooler temperatures. Others are wishing they had salted them heavily and cooked them well done to store for the long haul.
In the cities on the coast, power is restored via backup generators relatively close to shore. However, within 10 miles from the harbor, death is everywhere. Don’t agree?
Ever been to San Francisco? LA? New York City? 14 days have passed. Where would you have gone? The smart ones, who are able to, would have found their way to the harbors and waited for air lifts of food and such. But most would probably not think about that.
Meanwhile, armed thugs are starting to systematically go through every building and house looking and taking what they need.
End of Week 3
Starvation is starting to become a real problem. If your local law enforcement had a clue, they had already gotten themselves and helpful citizens around to the stores to gather up supplies to start rationing it.
At this point, martial law has been declared by any competent city government. Some cities decide that, for the public good of course, that all community food will be collected and distributed equally to everyone. In other places, large armed mobs are violently taking what is needed to survive.
Are you a survivalist? Got all your supplies right? Got MREs in the basement. You have an AK47 that you managed to get quietly at a gun show. Your kids know how to use the two shot guns. You’ve been prepared for this day right? Great. You’re about to die.
You see, you might be able to keep a few people away. But word got around that you have supplies because you’re that guy who everyone knew was expecting to “bug out” one day when the government and black helicopters came. You might be able to take out a few people but 200+ Nope. You’re going to take a lot of them out but they’re going to come in, kill you, your family, and your supplies.
What? Don’t agree? People won’t do that? Again: Other than on the coast (in some major cities near harbors anyway) you’ve heard and seen nothing from the government other than the occasional Black Hawk flying around. No TV. No phones. No radios.
A few people have managed to dig up old HAM radios and they are getting distant broadcasts of reassurance but it’s clear that nothing’s coming any time soon if you live significantly inland, especially if you don’t live in a densely populated area.
It’s triage at this point and the rural and suburbs areas are simply too spread out. Unfortunately, in the cities, fires have consumed much of them. Anyone strong enough to get out of there has which further distributes the population.
A few older cars start showing up again on the roads as collectables and just old junkers are fixed up and are able to drive because they didn’t have electronics in them.
End of the first month:
A network of outposts are re-established in most large and medium sized cities. Medium sized cities are faring a bit better. Kalamazoo Michigan, Santa Cruz California, and other cities of this kind are doing okay now as convoys are starting to show up.
Really large cities away from the coast are dead at this point. Sorry Omaha, there’s nobody home anymore.
The Second Month:
Now is when the death toll really starts to go up. First, you have about 5% of the population that was on medication to control their mental states. This is now gone. They will mostly die off this month or take out a few others in the process.
Nearly everyone with Type 1 diabetes has died.
Virtually who requires assisted care at this point has died.
Millions of children under 2 have died. Why? Do you have any children? If you’re not nursing them, how are you feeding them at this point?
There are not many domesticated dogs left that haven’t been freed by owners.
The number of deer left that are near people has diminished to the point of being difficult to find. Same with geese, ground hogs, rabbits, etc.
Most cities of any decent size now have an outpost re-established with convoys of food now arriving. However, it’s starting to become a real problem because, well it turns out that the US and Canada supply a significant chunk of the world’s food. 47% of the world’s Soy beans are produced in the United States. 86% of the world’s corn. The bulk of the world’s wheat.
It’s during this second month that the food shipments to the United States are going to start to dry up as hunger starts to become a significant problem in China, Japan, and other countries that have to import food. The US and Canada make up 20% of the world’s food exports and if you count only basic foods the percentage nearly doubles.
The world has its first universal consensus: Oh shit.
It’s at about this time that those who were celebrating in the streets about the downfall of the great Satan are starting to get the first thought that yes, they’re going to die too. North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, and many other countries are about to see starvation on a level that has never been seen before.
By contrast, Europe is doing okay. Not great. But okay. Their economies are in ruins but they’re not going to die en-masse.
In Japan, where starvation is a serious concern, they and Korea have enough money to pay top dollar for the dwindling import food supply. Russia, unfortunately, is about to have a very rough year.
Needless to say, the food aid shipments to the United States are starting to dwindle. Western Europe, particularly Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands are still sending food shipments.
If you’re on the East coast in a secure area, you’re in good shape. If you’re on the west coast, most of you are going to die.
The population of the United States is starting to take on the same appearance it did in 1909.
Here is what it looked like in the year 2000.
8% of the population was over 70. Nearly all of them have died.
3% of the population is under 4. Nearly all of them have died.
Urban populations of the United States have had staggering death tolls, particularly those not near the coasts.
Anyone requiring medication that needed to be refrigerated in order to live (anti-rejection drugs, insulin, various heart medications, for instance) has died. Easily 10% of the population on top of the above.
Around 20% of the population has starved.
Another 10% in the south who are living in places that were uninhabitable without modern technology have died. Think LA is nice? Imagine it without water. Any water.
In fact, if you live in California, take a look around. Where does your water come from? Most of the population of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Utah have died.
Power is starting to get restored due to generators and the government now had a decent supply of cars. Fixing the grid has become a priority.
While heat has killed millions in the south, we’re now getting near November. It’s starting to get cold.
The fourth month
I tell people who come and interview that Michigan’s southern part is about the same latitude as Northern California. Winters in the upper part of the United States and lower Canada aren’t that bad – if you have heat.
But we don’t have heat. Natural gas has to be pumped and pumped through a huge network across the country. When power goes out, even for a few days, a lot of infrastructure falls apart. New York’s subways, for example are gone. Much of Chicago has flooded too. Those who have enough propane will be okay, for awhile (at least until armed thugs come and take it).
By this point, restoring natural gas is not going to be a simple matter of restoring power. Ever wondered how natural gas gets to your house? It’s all repairable but it will take time and unfortunately, a lot of that expertise in people has died or is otherwise unavailable. That means bringing people in which will take more time.
If you live in northern states at this point, and you haven’t starved to death, you’re probably going to start dying of exposure.
But that’s a gift compared to what people still struggling to make it in warmer areas as we get reintroduced to cholera, TB, and diarrhea become major problems.
In fact, in 1900 the #1 cause of death in the United States was pneumonia. The #3 was diarrhea. That’s right. The runs killed more Americans than Heart disease, cancer, strokes, etc. And this November, it returns from retirement as people, without proper sanitation, start to die off from all kinds of things that were previously unheard of.
In fact, as November closes, the United States has reverted to a third world country. No, that’s not fair. Third world countries usually have electricity and their inhabitants usually know how to start a fire. Do you know how to start a fire without matches and such? Remember watching Survivor and laughing at them? They were in pretty good conditions to get a fire going. You, by contrast, are wet, cold, weakened, and not sure if it’s even a good idea to start a fire because, well, what are you going to do with it? There’s little food.
On the west coast, food shipments have dropped to a trickle. LA, Seattle, San Fran, it’s not a fun time there now.
One Year later
The grid is re-established in the mid-west, the east coast, and much of the south. It’s partially re-established on the west coast thanks to help from South Korea, China, and Japan. Thanks guys. We appreciate it even if most of us are dead.
So what’s the death toll? Conservatively, you’re looking at 40% of the population of the US and Canada has died. That’s probably a best case scenario if food and equipment shipments from the rest of the world come in quickly.
A smart (well not really smart because the states that sponsor terrorists have died off due to the unintended consequences) terrorist would have also zinged Japan, South Korea, the Chinese east coast, and western Europe. If that happened, you would be looking far higher deaths everywhere as there would be no relief coming in.
The population of the United States today is over 300 million people. In 1900 it was 76 million. The biggest reason for the increase isn’t due to birth rate but rather the massive decline of the death rate. And remember, they had infrastructure back in 1900. We’d be worse off than they were because they knew how to live back then.
How many people know how to can food? How many modern Americans know how much wood to cut to burn? How many Americans live in places where they need an elevator, as a practical matter, to get to where they live?
Heck, how many Americans are simply living today because they have access to all kinds of medical technology? How many Americans are living in places that can only be inhabited thanks to modern technology? Most of the south west was a barren desert until electrical pumps became possible. Much of the south wasn’t, as a practical matter, livable until air condition.
Also, consider our immune systems of today versus what it was 100 years ago. Our sterilized world has made us very vulnerable to the bacteria and viruses that lurk just outside our electrified civilization. And they would be back to visit within weeks.
Is what I describe realistic? Nobody really knows. There are studies out there. The book, One Second After is a bit more dire than I think it would be. And it may turn out that our infrastructure is tougher than it seems or that the types of nuclear warheads that an Iran or North Korea could produce aren’t powerful enough to cause the necessary EMP.
But what is so frightening is how vulnerable we are. It wouldn’t take much of a shove to bring down the electrical grid. You could still end up with a situation where 10% of the American population (30 million) die simply by screwing up the electrical grid for a couple months.
Do I think this will happen? Probably not. I have a lot of faith in humanity. But when one considers the things that we worry about – global warming comes to mind, it amazes me how unconcerned people are at how easily disrupted our modern lives could be given how dependent we are on our technology today.
Emergency Services and Preparations
A few days after an EMP attack, a lot of people will become really terrified as their food and water supplies run out, and they discover that there is no way to obtain fresh supplies. Within two or three weeks, the military services will likely come to the rescue for many people. If the size of the attack has been very large, though, that period of relief will probably not last very long. An even larger problem for food distribution is that any kind of centrally-directed distribution, no matter how well-intentioned, is highly inefficient. If you drive into any very large city with enough food for everyone, no centralized organization has ever figured out how to devise a mechanism that is anything close to being as efficient as the marketplace to get the food to everyone. In any case, most people will soon simply begin to starve to death.
For many people, their first concern regarding an EMP attack or a solar super storm is the protection of their personal electronics, or even their automobiles. For nearly everyone, though, the first real problem they will face will come from the loss of power to the pumps that supply their water and with the computers that maintain the only local food supplies. Although most individuals cannot do anything to protect critical computers or to protect the power to critical water pumps, some advanced planning can increase the chances that you will have an adequate supply of food and water.
For any emergency food supplies that you do get, it is important to get food that you personally like and are actually likely to use, even if a personal emergency never happens. Then, if an emergency does happen, it will be you, not distant relief workers, who will determine what the content of your food supply is. Some people keep only grains as an emergency food supply. Although some raw grains have a very long shelf life and a high calorie density, they do not have an adequate spectrum of nutrients for long-term use. In any emergency situation where scarcity of food is a long-term problem, we are likely to see the return of long-forgotten nutritional diseases such as scurvy and various kinds of other vitamin deficiencies, especially of the B vitamins and vitamin D.
Don’t forget about water. Few people keep an emergency supply of water, in spite of the fact that it is inexpensive and easy to do. Almost every country of the world has a period of days every year where many people in some large area are without drinkable water. In most countries, much of the water is pumped by electric motors. After a major EMP attack or a solar superstorm, electricity for most of those pumps is going to be unavailable for a very long period of time. It would be easy for most cities to have a protected emergency electrical supply in place for critical pumps; but, like most EMP protection activity, although it is easy and could possibly save millions of lives, it is not being done.
It is also a good idea to have plenty of fire extinguishers. The immediate aftermath of either a nuclear EMP attack or a large solar superstorm is likely result in a number of fires, along with the elimination of the water necessary to extinguish the fires. Both the E3 component of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, as well as the DC-like currents induced by a large solar superstorm, are likely to overheat thousands of transformers that are connected to long wires. Although it is the destruction of the very large transformers in the power grid that could keep the power grid from being restored for many years, many smaller transformers, such as those on utility poles, and spread throughout suburban neighborhoods, are at risk of overheating to the point that they cause fires.
If you plan to use solar cells or battery power, you will probably want to keep a small inverter under shielding. Inverters that can step up ordinary 12 volt DC power to a few hundred watts of household AC are not terribly expensive. For people who own protected photovoltaic solar cells, a number of DC-powered appliances have recently become available.
If you do have access to post-EMP electricity sufficient to run a microwave oven occasionally, that can be a very efficient way of cooking food in many situations. The problem is that most microwave ovens couldn’t be turned on after an EMP event due to the sensitivity of the solid-state control circuitry. The magnetron that generates the heat in a microwave oven would probably survive an EMP just fine. Microwave ovens are heavily shielded, but the sensitive control circuits are outside of the shielding. A few microwave ovens are controlled by a mechanical timer, and these would probably be fully functional after an EMP (assuming that you can occasionally get enough electricity to operate them). You can still find mechanical-timer-controlled microwave ovens occasionally, although they are getting harder to find every year. I bought one about three years ago at K-Mart for $40 for post-EMP use. I have recently seen small microwave ovens with electro-mechanical controls come back onto the market.
If you want to store larger items in a faraday cage, you can use copper screen or aluminum screen. Most commercial faraday cages use copper screen, but copper screen is expensive and is difficult for most individuals to obtain. Bright aluminum screen works almost as well, and aluminum screen can be obtained in rolls at many building supply stores such as Home Depot. Don’t worry about the fact that this screen is not a solid material. The size of the tiny ventilation holes in the mesh of ordinary window screen is irrelevant to EMP protection. Aluminum screen can make a very effective electromagnetic shield. Ordinary ferrous (iron-containing) window screen is not a good material for a faraday cage because it is a poor electrical conductor.
It is important to have all of the computer data that is important to you backed up onto optical media, like CD or DVD. Paper printouts are fine, but after an EMP attack, most of the data on paper printouts will simply never get typed back into computers, so those paper printouts will just become your personal mementos.
CD and DVD data (in other words, optical media) is not affected by EMP. Even if your computers are destroyed, if the country’s economy can get re-built after an EMP attack, then new computers can be purchased from other continents. If all the computer data is gone, then recovery is going to be many years later than it would be if the data could just be reloaded from optical media. Computer data runs our modern world. It is a major part of the invisible magic that I mentioned at the top of this page. If you own a small business, that computer data can be especially important. (It is probably not a good idea to use double-sided DVDs, though, since there is the possibility of arcing between layers during electronic attacks. It is best to just use single-sided single-layer media.) For long-term storage of data, archival grade CD-R and DVD-R media are available at a reasonable price from manufacturers such as Verbatim and Memorex. The archival grade media are much more likely to last for many years or decades, and they don’t cost that much more than standard media. Most stores don’t carry archival grade media, but they aren’t that difficult to find.
Protecting most of the electronic appliances in your house against EMP, if they are plugged in and in use, is probably hopeless. There is always the possibility, though, that you will be near the edge of an area that is affected by an EMP attack. For this possibility, the combination of ordinary surge suppressors and ferrite suppression cores could be very valuable. There is at least one company that makes surge suppressors that look much like ordinary retail store surge suppressors, that are designed to be fast enough for nuclear EMP.
The most difficult part of operating a car after an EMP event (or even a solar superstorm) is likely to be obtaining gasoline. It is very foolish to ever let the level of gasoline in your tank get below half full. In a wide range of emergencies, one of the most valuable things to have is a full tank of gasoline. A solar superstorm will not damage your automobile, but by knocking out the power grid, it can make fuel almost impossible to find.
It is important to remember that the last time an automobile was actually tested against nuclear EMP was in 1962. Everything since then has been in simulators that we hope are close to the real thing.
One common question people ask is about grounding the frames of cars. If you have a car parked in a location where there is a very short and direct connection straight down into a high-quality ground, then grounding the frame of a car might help. In most situations, though, attempts to ground the frame of a car are more likely to just make matters worse by providing an accidental antenna for EMP. The safest way to provide a modest amount of EMP protection for a car is to keep it parked inside a metal shed.
James Rawles on ‘Grid Down’ Scenarios
Author of How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times
We’re looking at two different situations. In one situation where the power grid stays up, you might do well in a city of five or ten thousand people.
If the power grid goes down, I would not recommend being in a town of more than 500 population. Once you get past about 500 people, the group becomes unmanageable, especially with no radio communications and no phones to think that you can pull together as a community. Once you lose that sense of community, it’s basically every man for himself. I think people will go kind of Mad Max in an absolute worst case with the power grid down.
There’s definitely going to be a public health crisis at the very least, if not a situation where the cities become absolutely unlivable very quickly – I’m talking within two weeks.
Mr. Rawles points out the potential for “every man for himself” Mad Max scenarios as being likely outcomes in the event of a down grid. Whether you’re in the city or in rural parts of America you will either be the one looking for food and resources because you didn’t prepare, or you will be the one defending against Mad Max with a full belly and a self defense strategy.
Winter vs. Summer:
If we were to have the onset of a collapse in summertime we’d see a public health crisis very quickly. If it were to happen mid-winter we’d actually see more people dying of exposure, dying of the cold, than we would of dying of disease, especially in the Eastern United States and the North East.
It doesn’t take too long a period before blankets are insufficient – people don’t have any alternate source of heat they’ll be freezing to death in large numbers.
Then what happens in the next spring when everything thaws out? Then you have a really big public health crisis because not only are you worried about human waste – you’re also worried about thousands upon thousands of unburied bodies.
We could be in a situation where we literally could see a 90% die-off in the major metropolitan regions. Ninety percent population loss and that’s just based on loss of the power grid alone, not counting the violence of people as food supplies dwindle, going from house to house taking what little is left – fighting over the scraps in effect.
A recent report from the Center for Security Policy suggests that Mr. Rawles’ estimation of a 90% die-off is right on target, as previously discussed in, Within One Year 9 Out of 10 Americans Would Be Dead.
What to do:
I highly recommend that if any of your listeners have the opportunity, if they’re self employed or if they can find employment, or if they’re retired, that they move to a lightly populated rural region that’s in a food producing area. In the event of a true worst-case scenario, I refer to it as When the Schumer Hits the Fan, that’s going to be your safest place to be. There, the population loss will be minimal.
But otherwise, in a grid down collapse that goes on for more than a year, we literally could see a 90% population loss in the big cities, and a 50% population loss in the suburbs and as much as a 40% loss in non-viable rural areas – I’m talking desert regions or other areas where there’s not a lot of agriculture that goes on.
Protecting Yourself from EMP
Tactically, a space-based nuclear attack has a lot going for it; the magnetic field of the earth tends to spread out EMP so much that just one 20-MT bomb exploded at an altitude of 200 miles could–in theory–blanket the continental US with the effects of EMP. It’s believed that the electrical surge of the EMP from such an explosion would be strong enough to knock out much of the civilian electrical equipment over the whole country. Certainly this is a lot of “bang for the buck” and it would be foolish to think that a nuclear attack would be launched without taking advantage of the confusion a high-altitude explosion could create. Ditto with its use by terrorists should the technology to get such payloads into space become readily available to smaller countries and groups.
But there’s no need for you to go back to the stone age if a nuclear war occurs. It is possible to avoid much of the EMP damage that could be done to electrical equipment–including the computer that brought this article to you–with just a few simple precautions.
First of all, it’s necessary to get rid of a few erroneous facts, however.
1. One mistaken idea is that EMP is like a powerful bolt of lightning. While the two are alike in their end results–burning out electrical equipment with intense electronic surges–EMP is actually more akin to a super-powerful radio wave. Thus, strategies based on using lightning arrestors or lightning-rod grounding techniques are destined to failure in protecting equipment from EMP.
2. Another false concept is that EMP “out of the blue” will fry your brain and/or body the way lightning strikes do. In the levels created by a nuclear weapon, it would not pose a health hazard to plants, animals, or man PROVIDED it isn’t concentrated.
EMP can be concentrated. That could happen if it were “pulled in” by a stretch of metal. If this
happened, EMP would be dangerous to living things. It could become concentrated by metal girders, large stretches of wiring (including telephone lines), long antennas, or similar set ups. So–if a nuclear war were in the offing–you’d do well to avoid being very close to such concentrations. (A safe distance for nuclear-generated EMP would be at least 8 feet from such stretches of metal.)
3. Another “myth” that seems to have grown up with information on EMP is that nearly all cars and trucks would be “knocked out” by EMP. This seems logical, but is one of those cases where “real world” experiments contradict theoretical answers and I’m afraid this is the case with cars and EMP. According to sources working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, cars have proven to be resistant to EMP in actual tests using nuclear weapons as well as during more recent tests (with newer cars) with the US Military’s EMP simulators.
One reason for the ability of a car to resist EMP lies in the fact that its metal body is “insulated” by its rubber tires from the ground. This creates a Faraday cage of sorts. (Drawing on the analogy of EMP being similar to lightning, it is interesting to note that cases of lightning striking and damaging cars is almost non-existent; this apparently carries over to EMP effects on vehicles as well.)
Some electrical equipment is innately EMP-resistant. This includes large electric motors, vacuum tube equipment, electrical generators, transformers, relays, and the like. These might even survive a massive surge of EMP and would likely to survive if a few of the above precautions were taking in their design and deployment.
At the other end of the scale of EMP resistance are some really sensitive electrical parts. These include IC circuits, microwave transistors, and Field Effect Transistors (FET’s). If you have electrical equipment with such components, it must be very well protected if it is to survive EMP.
One “survival system” for such sensitive equipment is the Faraday box.
A Faraday box is simply a metal box designed to divert and soak up the EMP. If the object placed in the box is insulated from the inside surface of the box, it will not be effected by the EMP travelling around the outside metal surface of the box. The Faraday box simple and cheap and often provides more protection to electrical components than “hardening” through circuit designs which can’t be (or haven’t been) adequately tested.
Many containers are suitable for make-shift Faraday boxes: cake boxes, ammunition containers, metal filing cabinets, etc., etc., can all be used. Despite what you may have read or heard, these boxes do NOT have to be airtight due to the long wave length of EMP; boxes can be made of wire screen or other porous metal.
[Image left: metal trash can Faraday cage. Lined with cardboard liner-sides top and bottom.]
The only two requirements for protection with a Faraday box are: (1) the equipment inside the box does NOT touch the metal container (plastic, wadded paper, or cardboard can all be used to insulate it from the metal) and (2) the metal shield is continuous without any gaps between pieces or extra-large holes in it.
Grounding a Faraday box is NOT necessary and in some cases actually may be less than ideal. While EMP and lightning aren’t the “same animal”, a good example of how lack of grounding is a plus can be seen with some types of lightning strikes. Take, for example, a lightning strike on a flying airplane. The strike doesn’t fry the plane’s occupants because the metal shell of the plane is a Faraday box of sorts. Even though the plane, high over the earth, isn’t grounded it will sustain little damage.