It’s Wednesday morning. You are driving into work as the Sun creeps up over the horizon making it difficult for you to see the road. Someone driving a hybrid cuts you off, forcing you to slam on the brakes to avoid getting into a wreck. Frustrated, you compose yourself by taking a deep and focused breath trying to shake off your anger. You continue driving. You’re just minutes away from work, but you’re not rushed; you’re running early today. You come up on a traffic light that you hope you don’t get caught at. It takes forever to cycle through. As you approach, it turns yellow. You think to yourself, “Dammit! If I was 2 seconds earlier I wouldn’t have to wait on this crap!”. As you brake, you have your eyes focused on the yellow light that is moments away from turning red. Suddenly, you see sparks fly from the transformer on the pole on the side of the road. The traffic light explodes in a mesmerizing display of sparks. You notice that your steering wheel is stiff and all the gauges on your dash reset to zero. Holy crap, your car just turned off! The person in the car just behind you to your left veers into your car, jarring you.
What in the hell just happened!?
A very strong solar storm, generated by the Sun, just made a direct hit with the Earth. The entire electrical grid for the northern hemisphere is completely crippled and non-functional. Any vehicles that require a computer to operate are unusable. There is no means of communication via mobile phone or land-line. What do you do now?
An EMP (a.k.a. Electro-Magnetic Pulse) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. A pulse may occur in the form of a radiated electric or magnetic field, and may be natural or man-made. Strong EMP’s can damage electronic equipment. So, any preps that include electronic devices that you have that are not protected from an EMP are at risk of being turned into paper weights. Additionally, a strong enough EMP can knock out the electric grid primarily by destroying transformers.
Sources and History
There are 3 primary sources of EMP’s: Solar Storms from the Sun, Nuclear Explosions, and Engineered Non-Nuclear Devices.
In 1859, a solar storm caused auroras down to the Carribean and caused telegraph systems to fail worldwide due to stray electric currents generated by the solar storm interacting with the telegraph lines. This was dubbed the “Carrington Event“, named after the amateur astronomer that observed the solar flare that caused it. Studies have shown that a solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread problems for modern civilization not limited to destruction of the electric grid. There is an estimated 12% chance of a similar event occurring between 2012 and 2022 (NASA link). Additionally, in 1989, a solar storm blacked out the power grid in Quebec. In July of 2012 the earth was sparred from a huge plasma cloud ejected by the Sun by a mere few days (Washington Post link).
In July of 1962, the military discovered the hard way that detonating a nuclear bomb at a high altitude over the Pacific Ocean caused electrical damage 1,400 km away in Hawaii. The Heritage Foundation has done a great job detailing this threat (link).
The use of Engineered Non-Nuclear Devices to cause an EMP strong enough to cause significant damage to electrical systems and devices does not to my knowledge have any historical occurrences. However, theoretically this is also a source of a threat.
Coming in Part 2
- How to protect your electronics from an EMP (and what electronics are worth protecting)
- What to do in the first 15 minutes
- Essential preps you should have