The novel One Second After, by William R. Forstchen, deals with an unexpected electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States. An apocalyptic and rather de- pressing scenario, the fact is that such an attack is quite possible. To add to this possibility, there are many scientists who admit that a large EMP produced by a coronal mass ejection (CME) from our sun is even more likely to occur. Both could be devastating for our infrastruc- ture, especially if it was a global incident.
The Carrington Event of 1859, the first observed solar CME, proved that a natural EMP can happen and that they can be devastating. Many nuclear- equipped countries can deploy en- hanced-EMP warheads, and many oth- ers have the capability to put unmanned payloads and satellites into orbit. The fact is that there are many different sce- narios, both natural and manmade, that could expose our countries to the end of the world as we know it via EMP.
But what is an EMP? It is just an electromagnetic pulse, similar to a simple electrostatic discharge between two ob- jects. An EMP event can include nuclear (NEMP), high-altitude (HEMP) and non- nuclear (NNEMP) weapons designed to disrupt enemy infrastructure. Even a so- lar CME creates an EMP-type effect. No matter the type, the real problem is the magnitude of the EMP, be it a solar CME or a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere. These two are the most feared events.
Life will not stop after even the most devastating EMP. We will just be forced to live like our grandparents did back in the 19th century. While the worst-case scenario will not be able to damage our infrastructure beyond recovery, having some sort of communications, indepen- dent power supply and safe computation and data storage will mean the difference between having social services partially working again in a few months and not. Some of your electrical equipment is innately EMP resistant, such as large electric motors, ham radio vacuum tube HF amplifiers, or simple interrupters and relays. On the other side, some devices are very EMP sensitive, such as integrat- ed circuits or field effect transistors.
The most widespread protection system for electrical apparatus is the Faraday box or the Faraday EMP- protected bags. These two systems have to protect your electronics from the three E1, E2 and E3 pulse phases of an NEMP, or the E3 phase of a CME. It is important to note that Faraday cages/ bags are not needed for solar storm protection. A solar storm’s EMP energy is comparable to just the E3 phase of an NEMP. The E3 phrase blasts only very low-frequency energy groundward. That energy cannot directly affect your equip- ment, but it will get into grid power/data lines, and from there it can attack your equipment that is plugged into them. This is why the best protection against CMEs and solar storms is ensuring that your backup electronics are not plugged into anything. This is the most dangerous threat of solar CMEs, HEMPs and NEMPs as the effects will burn electrical infrastructures that will be neither quick nor easy to repair.
On the other side, an NEMP’s E1 pulse arrives as a radio wave and will attack any electronics not buried deep underground or contained inside a Faraday cage. It can damage unplugged electrical equipment with its very short, high-frequency (up to 100 MHz) pulse, sometimes lasting only a few nanosec- onds, which is way too quick for most surge protectors. The E2 phase energy burst is similar but much slower, travel- ing at tens to hundreds of microseconds, and it can be handled much easier by surge protectors.
A Faraday box is simply an electrically seamless metal container, be it a box cylinder, sphere or any other closed shape designed to divert and soak up the EMP. If the object placed in the Faraday box is insulated from the inside surface of the box, it will not be affected by the EMP travelling around the outside metal surface of the box.
Many containers are suit- able for makeshift Faraday boxes: cake boxes, ammunition containers, metal filing cabinets, etc. Despite what you may have read or heard, these boxes do not have to be airtight due to the long wavelength of EMPs; boxes can be made of wire screen or other porous metals. That said, perfect shielding would require the unit to be buried deep underground.
Grounding a Faraday box is controversial. It is not necessary and in some cases it may be counter-productive, but it is also true that an ungrounded cage can reradiate, too. In my opinion, it is generally safer not to ground your Faraday unit since a ground wire can actually conduct additional energy back toward the item you are trying to protect.
I have heard a lot about Faraday cage rooms, but even if copper or aluminum foil in the ceiling, floor and walls appears to insulate a whole room from an EMP, it is doubtful that you will be able to cover all gaps for the wavelengths involved and truly create cage-like protection. Any AC lines, or any construction gaps in the shield, will let the energy in and leave you unprotected. The same goes for non- modified household appliances such as microwave ovens.
What really work are EMP protection bags or Faraday bags, like those from EMP Cover. Used by many agencies, they provide an astonishing 98 decibels of signal strength protection, about double the typical steel trash can when sealed with conductive foil tape. These bags do have limitations in size, but they will do marvels protecting your valuable computers, data hard disks or communi- cations equipment.
For true peace of mind, place Faraday-bag-protected electronics inside bubble wrap bags to separate one from the other, then place everything inside a steel trash can lined with plastic foam. You can even cover all the sides of a large refrigerator or line a wood closet with conductive materials, taking extreme care to double seal the door hinges with the foil to avoid a break in the conductive layer. This type of setup would offer over 100 decibels of signal strength protection, a level close to high- dollar military and commercial Faraday cages, but at a prepper budget, all while adding flood protection, which is more likely to occur than an EMP.
Protecting your equipment is wise, but that may not help if the main power and communications grid goes down and never comes back again. I doubt that can happen, as many countries in the developed world are placing resources to protect themselves in such a scenario, but it could take days, weeks or even months before the grid fully recovers.
With this in mind, I would suggest that before you pack your iPads and laptops for EMP protection, place some basic resources— critical electrical parts— in your Faraday cage. The short-wave radio, in particular, will supply you with communication way before you have internet again.
And what about all the electronic equipment that can’t be unplugged or the vehicles parked in your garage? You will have to accept a certain level of risk and place some simple but effective firewalls. Use UPS surge protectors hooked with
a main cable as short as possible. The best bet to increase your odds is to buy a backup diesel vehicle with a mechanical injection pump, which will increase your vehicle’s survival probability to nearly 100 percent. For more information, visit empcover.com or call 319-432-7134.
This article was originally published in the Survivor’s Edge ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.