EMP – The Great Unknown

Many preppers, including myself, have concerns about EMP and frankly, for good reason.  The biggest problem with EMP is that we really don’t know much about them.  Most preppers will reference two events in recent history.  Those being the 1859 Carrington Event Solar Storm and the 1962 Starfish Prime Nuclear Test.  The problem with using these two examples is the lack of sensitive electronics in use at their times in history.

Just what is an EMP you ask?  An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse is a short burst of electromagnetic energy.  It can propagate through the air and does not necessarily need wire or any particular type of conductor to get from one place to another. The radio frequency of an EMP can vary depending on the source of the energy. EMP’s can occur literally anywhere in the spectrum from DC to daylight.

We are surrounded by these pulses everyday.  Whenever you use an electric motor, flip a light switch, or get a shock from rubbing your feet on the carpet, an EMP of some sort is generated.  These types of pulses are harmless and can be dismissed by preppers…it’s just not the type of thing that can upset our fragile society.  The EMP’s we need to concern ourselves with come from 2 sources.

Solar Storms – This was the cause of the 1859 Carrington Event.  A strong CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) caused the natural electromagnetic field around the earth to bend, almost as if it were being blown away.  This movement caused induced currents in long telegraph wires strong enough to cause fires at some telegraph stations.  It is assumed by many that a similar CME would completely destroy the electrical grid we have come to rely on so heavily.  While the increased electrical current in power transmission lines could easily damage any electronics connected to them, there is actually a very recent event that would seem to indicate that the effects could be minimal.
In 1989, a Carrington Event level CME caused the electrical grid in Quebec to shut down.  The increase in current on the transmission lines triggered a cascading shut down of the grid when the current was detected by the system.  Please take note here that transformer stations were not exploding and the grid was down for only a few hours until the current returned to normal and the system could be restarted.  Hydro Quebec has since adjusted their system to compensate for these induced currents and has not suffered any geomagnetic caused shut downs since.

Nuclear Detonation – The EMP caused when a nuclear weapon is detonated is generally accepted to be stronger than that from a solar event.  In reality, it is quite different, not stronger.  The biggest point to remember here is that distance from the detonation is a huge factor.  We have  probably all heard about the damage caused in Hawaii after the Starfish Prime detonation some 900 miles away.  Keep in mind that the damage reported was limited to a few streetlights and other minor issues…the island was not devastated!

So just what will and won’t be affected by an EMP?  That’s a loaded question that depends upon a lot of variables and likely more guess work than science.  Many so called prepper experts warn about the complete destruction of every electronic or electrical device.  There has been some evidence that this simply isn’t true.  Let’s take a look at a few common misconceptions…

Cars will not operate after an EMP.
Recent testing by the US EMP Commision showed that most cars and trucks were not affected by EMP when not running.  Those that were affected while running displayed mostly minor annoyances such as flashing lights on dash boards.  A few vehicles stalled when subjected to a pulse, but most were operable when restarted.  You can read all about that test here.

All electronics will fail in an EMP
Again, testing shows contrary.  Portable Solar LLC has done some research into this common misconception.  Induced currents need to be significant to destroy electronics parts..  Most home electronics do not have sufficiently long conductors to generate damaging levels of current.  Take a look at this video:

One last word of advice about EMP protection.  Many websites and youtube videos proclaim that placing electronics in a microwave will keep them safe from EMP damage.  While microwave ovens do provide excellent protection (which is why you don’t get cooked when standing in front of one)  they are designed to block ONLY microwaves.  Any other frequency of electromagnetism will pass right through it like it wasn’t even there.