Our modern world relies on technology for work, travel, school, security and healthcare — so you may be surprised to know, that this can all become highly vulnerable during an EMP disruption or attack.
Now, we don’t mean to scare you, but the possible threat of EMPs to our energy systems by a weapon or a natural solar flare is plausible — in fact, it’s even happened before.
And, although some people may believe that EMPs are a conspiracy theory, or are blown out of proportion or even fake, according to the Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, they are very much real.
In this post, we’ll cover what an EMP is, how an EMP works, types of EMPs, EMP shielding options available, steps you can take for EMP protection and much more.
Table of Contents
- What is an EMP?
- EMP vs Radio Waves
- How does an EMP Work?
- What is an EMP Attack?
- Nuclear EMP Attacks
- EMP Weapons or Non-Nuclear EMP Bombs
- EMP Solar Flares
- Is Protection from an EMP Possible?
- What is an EMP Shield?
- EMP Shielding for Electronics
- EMP Shielding for Cars and Homes
- Step by Step EMP Protection Tips
- EMP FAQs
What is an EMP?
An EMP or electromagnetic pulse, can be defined as a natural or manmade massive burst of electromagnetic energy, that is released in an instant.
It can be described as the electrical signal in lightning — but with the escalation in voltage being a 100x faster!
To put that into perspective, an EMP may directly not cause us physical harm, but it can go through the earth and has the capacity to cause significant damage to everything on the energy grid, including our personal devices to our present-day communication systems.
EMP vs Radio Waves
EMP differs from standard radio waves in two key ways:
- Intensity: Radio waves are electromagnetic radiation and frequencies that are mainly used to broadcast AM/FM radio, radar detection, Bluetooth and wireless communication. In comparison, an EMP is an intense burst of energy with a much more powerful electric field strength.
While a radio signal may produce a 1/1000 volt in a receiver antenna, an EMP surge can produce 1000s of volts.
- Timing: An EMP is a sudden pulse of energy that may last only for a fraction of a second, unlike radio waves that are constantly around us.
How does an EMP Work?
When an EMP event occurs, it releases an incredible amount of energy in the form of a powerful electromagnetic field at one time.
This tremendous surge of energy is enough to fry and short-circuit electronics and even bring down the entire energy grid.
All of the below can completely be disrupted or stop working in case of an EMP event:
- Power providers (electrical grid)
- The internet
- Phones – landlines and mobile phones
- GPS systems, satellites and radios
- Radar receivers
- Cars, vehicles and traffic lights
- Any electronic device
According to the EIS Council, an EMP strike can destroy critical infrastructure in two ways and have a devastating impact:
- It can hit critical hardware components
- It can destroy the systems that control and use these components
The most affected and vulnerable are SCADA 4 control systems that run on almost all modern current infrastructure including:
- power stations
- water supply networks
- oil refineries and pipelines
- telephone networks
- air traffic control systems
- and many more
Failure of these systems can lead to catastrophic damage, some of which may take years to replace. What’s more terrifying is that it would be close to impossible for disaster-relief support systems to provide help if communication systems fail. That is why a lot of people who know about EMP are petrified of an event like this occurring.
What is an EMP Attack?
EMPs can be emitted naturally through a solar storm, but they can also be manmade and generated in what is known as an EMP attack, such as a nuclear EMP weapon that explodes at a high altitude, also called a High-Altitude EMP (HEMP).
Nuclear EMP Attacks
If a nuclear bomb were to hit the earth, the level of destruction would be unfathomable.
But, even if a nuclear weapon were to detonate over 30 kms or 15+ miles above the earth, it would be disastrous nonetheless.
According to a report presented to the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack:
“Any nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 30 kilometers or higher will generate a potentially catastrophic EMP. A nuclear detonation at 30 kilometers altitude will generate an EMP field with a radius on the ground of about 600 kilometers. Detonated at 400 kilometers altitude, the radius of the EMP field will be about 2,200 kilometers.”
Here’s what would happen during a nuclear EMP blast miles above the earth:
- The nuclear weapon would create photons of electromagnetic energy, knocking off and loosening electrons from atoms (the Compton effect).
- The electrons would charge towards earth, colliding with our planet’s magnetic field, causing a surge of electric current that would give rise to rapidly increasing electromagnetic radiation in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
- The EMP pulse would not only wipe out the electrical grid but overload any kind of electronics and appliances.
Three Phases of a Nuclear EMP Attack
Technically, there are three phases to a nuclear EMP (E1, E2 and E3) attack:
This is the fastest stage and most damaging, with a massive burst of gamma radiation and up to 50,000 volts of electricity being released within a few nanoseconds of the blast.
This is similar to the surge lightning would produce, which is good because our power grid does have built-in protection and grounding against lightning, but it won’t really help, as pretty much everything will have been fried from E1 anyway.
This is a slow moving EMP pulse that produces geo-magnetically induced currents in telephone lines, power lines, and other long electrical conductors, which will slowly start to build up high voltage and zap devices and electronics they’re connected to, such as transformers and any other equipment in their path.
Although, a nuclear EMP attack seems implausible, the concept of EMP weapons has been around for some time, ever since the US started testing nuclear bombs after the 1950s.
Examples of Nuclear EMP Attacks
U.S. “Starfish Prime” High Altitude EMP (HEMP) Test:
US nuclear weapon testing in 1962, resulted in a high-altitude detonation at 250 miles (400km) above the Pacific Ocean.
This was no small blast — it was 100 times bigger than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
It resulted in an EMP field over the Hawaiian Islands, nearly 900 miles away, causing damage to electronic systems, traffic lights, burglar alarms and telephone links.
EMP Stimulator Testing:
50+ years of ongoing testing by the Congressional EMP Commission which proved that:
“…modern electronics are over 1 million times more vulnerable to EMP than the electronics of 1962.”
Russian EMP tests:
Six EMP tests conducted between 1961-1962 over Kazakhstan (larger than all of Western Europe) proved that:
“…a single weapon can cause widespread destruction of the electric grid.”
EMP Weapons or Non-Nuclear EMP Bombs
Today, U.S. intelligence gives more importance to non-nuclear EMP weapons, such as EMP bombs or e-bombs. Different from an EMP nuclear blast, a non-nuclear EMP weapon wouldn’t impact such a large area, as the photons would not blast miles above the earth.
EMP weapons are also not designed for physical harm, but they could generate electromagnetic pulses that would take out power grids, destroy electrical devices and even create blackouts on a local level.
So, for example, an EMP bomb could be used to take out power and communication before a military invasion.
Examples of Non-Nuclear EMP Weapons and Bombs
EMP bombs aren’t a far-fetched conspiracy theory. According to a 2017 article,
“The US Air Force's Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), uses bursts of microwave energy to disable electronic devices such as computers, communications and air defense radar systems.”
Although, EMP weapons may still not be very probable, it seems very likely that the future of modern warfare will include an EMP bomb of some kind.
Other real-life applications include an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) cannon that could stop a smart car by disabling its microprocessors and electronics that control the engine. This could be a game-changer in curbing high speed car chases and catching suspects.
EMP Solar Flares
Nuclear EMP gets a lot of attention, but a solar flare EMP is actually more possible. According to NASA:
A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events.
A solar flare can cause an incredible amount of energy to charge towards the earth, at the speed of light, which is at just over 8 minutes. Solar flares can infiltrate the atmosphere where radio waves travel, disrupting radio communication signals and even causing blackouts.
But they’re nothing compared to a coronal mass ejection (CME), which can be devastating.
Coronal Mass Ejections
A solar flare is not enough to take down the power grid or fry electronics — but a coronal mass ejection (CME) could do just that.
According to NASA, coronal mass ejections can:
“…jostle Earth’s magnetic fields creating currents that drive particles down toward Earth's poles. When these react with oxygen and nitrogen, they help create the aurora, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights. Additionally, the magnetic changes can affect a variety of human technologies. High frequency radio waves can be degraded: Radios transmit static, and GPS coordinates stray by a few yards. The magnetic oscillations can also create electrical currents in utility grids on Earth that can overload electrical systems when power companies are not prepared.”
CMEs are low-frequency and don’t travel as fast as solar flares and can take hours or even days to reach earth. Unlike, high frequency nuclear EMPs, a CME won’t fry electrical devices (mobile phones, laptops, tablets etc.) if they aren’t plugged in or turned on when the event occurred.
As this article from GovTech explains,
“If we are hit with an EMP attack, we have plenty of other things to worry about. If you want to protect items, it is easy to shield them with a Faraday Cage.”
However, a large CME does have the potential to take out the entire power grid, without which many of these devices would be rendered useless, in any case. Here’s how it works:
“A large CME [which emanates from the sun] is a low-frequency event. To have an impact on anything, it requires a long "antenna." Our power lines are the perfect antenna for receiving the energy. The big issue is that this can destroy the large transformers. There are no spares of these, and it takes years to get a new one built.”
An eye-opening research paper titled, An assessment of threats to the American power grid, explains just how catastrophic an event like this can be:
In testimony before a Congressional Committee, it has been asserted that a prolonged collapse of this nation’s electrical grid—through starvation, disease, and societal collapse—could result in the death of up to 90% of the American population.
It's clear that this powerful eruption of high-energy radiation (super-charged plasma particles) from the sun can cause a geomagnetic storm resulting in electromagnetic turbulences on earth.
But, can one really happen in our lifetime?
Examples of EMP Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections
1859 Carrington Solar Storm:
Considered as one of the most significant solar events, the 1859 Carrington geomagnetic storm:
“…created strong auroral displays that were reported globally and caused sparking and even fires in multiple telegraph stations. The geomagnetic storm was most likely the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun colliding with Earth's magnetosphere.”
Events like the 1859 Carrington Storm are expected to occur once in every 150 years, and today with all of our power-hungry technology, such an event would be a LOT more disastrous. It could have the potential to cripple modern global tech infrastructure including the electrical grid, GPS satellites, computer systems and more.
Other notable solar flares that disrupted power grids and telecommunication systems include:
1989 Quebec Solar Storm:
A solar flare overloaded the power grid in Quebec, Canada — leaving 6 million Canadians without power for nine hours and also caused disruptions in 200 US power grids.
2000 Bastille Day Solar Storm:
Hailed as “one of the most violent sun storms in recorded history,” and given the highest designation level possible (X-Class), this storm blasted plasma particles from the sun’s surface out to space, but some made their way to Earth, disrupting satellites and blocking radio communication.
2003 Halloween Solar Storm:
Intense space weather from Oct 19 to Nov 7, 2003 “slammed into Earth's magnetic field,” re-routing airplanes, disrupting satellite communications and systems and causing a power outage in Sweden for an hour.
2005 Near-miss Solar Storm:
Termed as one the strongest solar storms in recorded history, if this storm had hit just a week earlier, according to Nasa scientists, Earth would’ve been in the line of fire, having a catastrophic effect. The National Academy of Sciences calculated that:
the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
Is Protection from an EMP Possible?
What can you do, or what’s being done on the national level to provide protection from an EMP attack or CME?
How to Protect from an EMP Solar Storm
As per this article in NBC News, the best way to provide EMP protection against a solar storm is to forecast them in advance, and have better warning systems in place. Utilities need to work on solutions, including:
“…building capacitor banks, which could work like batteries to absorb and dissipate excess energy. Or they can install electricity-dampening devices called Faraday cages, which are like force fields that can surround critical pieces of equipment and protect them from currents.”
A CME-level solar storm can take hours or days to reach Earth, but the solar flares from it can be seen in just 8 minutes. This gives critical time to take precautions such as protecting equipment and taking transformers completely offline — turning off the power grid, before the storm hits.
Although, we really have no control over an EMP solar flare or CME, countries can prepare with better space weather forecasting and maintaining strong international diplomacy.
How to Protect from an EMP Attack or Event
The Octavian Report, explains how protection from an EMP attack or event can happen on a national level.
“At the national level, besides good intelligence and the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system, electric systems and infrastructure can be hardened against EMP. In fact, a very basic program to protect the thousand most vulnerable transformers might be accomplished for around $150 million. A more extensive US program could cost $2 billion, and a robust program might cost up to $12 billion: still a very small and affordable sum compared to the potential losses.”
Can individuals and businesses do anything to protect from an EMP?
If we’re talking about a low-level EMP event, then planning and preparation would be the same as protecting from any potential calamity.
- This means having a few weeks supply of non-perishable food, water and medications stocked up
- Learning off-grid survival skills (yes, your food supply can get looted) so learning about foraging food, building a basic shelter and more can come in very handy
- Contingency planning for businesses is of course a key concern. Backups of records should be made in a format that may not be easily damaged (DVD or tape)
- With the whole world going cashless, at a time like this, it’s important to have some amount of cash on hand (remember, ATMs won't work)
- A hand-cranked radio or a battery-operated one could be a lifesaver to stay informed and get updates of the situation when modern technology fails
In the case of a Carrington-level EMP event, whether due to natural causes or an EMP attack, it can’t really be said how long it would take — months or years — to pick up the pieces if it led to widespread power loss and damage.
Now, we've listed the research and facts, but you don’t need to let the threat of a potential EMP scare you. Instead, we offer EMP shielding and protection tips below, with action steps you can take now to be prepared if an event like this were to occur.
What is an EMP Shield?
An EMP Shield is anything that ensures that your electronic equipment, your home, and your car, is best protected and shielded from an EMP.
So, how to shield from an EMP?
There are several EMP shielding options available such as using a Faraday bag, or properly shielding solar panels, or using a portable generator that can all help to protect your from dangerous EMP pulses.
EMP Shielding for Electronics
Even if you’re not an avid prepper, simply considering that an EMP event could take out the grid and fry your electronic devices, it makes sense that you’d want to look out for some EMP shielding options and take steps towards some basic EMP protection.
Below, we share some of the most popular EMP shielding options that you can consider for your electronic devices:
Faraday Cage for EMP
A faraday cage is an enclosure that prevents electromagnetic radiation from entering or leaving the space that is confined within the cage. These cages are built of materials such as copper mesh and aluminum, that can effectively conduct electricity, and ultimately stop any EMF radiation from getting through or getting out.
Ready-to-build faraday cages can be purchased online, or you can try DIY solutions that use galvanized steel trash cans with aluminum foil, depending on what you intend to use it for.
If you are building your own faraday cage at home, it’s highly recommended to use Faraday Fabric to line the container, as the fabric is designed for EMF protection, and does a much better job that aluminum foil any day.
Go here to learn how to build a DIY faraday cage.
EMP Proof Box
Faraday fabric, also known as EMP cloth is a flexible shielding fabric made out of interwoven conductive metallic thread — usually cotton/polyester infused with thin strands of copper, silver or nickel.
This creates a powerful mesh that "attenuates," or weakens the intensity of radiation and helps to protect your devices from both natural and man-made EMPs such as power surges, lightning, solar flares, nuclear explosions, EMP bombs and other electromagnetic pulses that can damage or fry your electronics.
At Atmosure, we have many customers who use our faraday fabric to line their own enclosures such as wooden boxes or suitcases to create an EMP proof box to protect from dangerous pulses.
How to use faraday fabric to build an EMP proof box:
- It is recommended to start with a wooden box that has a tight lid and then line the fabric completely inside the box (a staple gun can be used to attach the fabric to the wood)
- Make sure to line the inside of the lid with a double layer of fabric
- You can now store all your devices inside to provide EMP protection
💡 Important note:
If you are looking to aim for 100% shielding, you may need to add more fabric layers and test using a reliable RF EMF meter, until the EMP proof box meets your specifications.
Just like lining a wooden box to create a boxed enclosure, you can easily use faraday fabric to create EMP bags and pouches.
It’s important to note that many people confuse Mylar pouches with faraday bags. A Mylar bag is made of laminated layers of food-grade aluminum and plastic, and although it might block a phone signal, it will not protect against an EMP attack.
You can achieve close to 100% shielding if you use several layers of quality faraday fabric to create an EMP-proof bag.
EMP bags are available online or can be made in all shapes and sizes and used to safeguard your devices when you’re not using them such as your laptop, tablets and mobile phones.
How to make an EMP bag:
- Lay out and measure the fabric to the size that you need
- If you are making the EMP bag for a specific device, such as your smart devices, fold the fabric over your smartphone or tablet to completely cover it. This will help you to measure out the size of your device
- Leave some extra fabric at the edges to have enough space for hemming and sewing the edges or sealing them with faraday tape (you can also simply fold and wrap the fabric tightly around your device)
- Make sure to leave enough fabric to do a double fold for entries and flaps when creating a resealable enclosure like a cell phone case, tablet pouch etc.
- You can attach a Velcro seal to open and close the shielded enclosure
💡 Important note:
If you are looking to aim for 100% shielding, you may need to add more fabric layers and test using a reliable RF EMF meter, until the EMP bag meets your specifications.
Read more on Testing RF Fabric Using an EMF Meter.
EMP Electronics Protection Checklist
It’s highly recommended to store away some items in properly designed and sealed EMP faraday containers and/or EMP bags in case of an emergency.
Here’s a quick checklist of items you can store away:
- An old laptop with personal and important information stored
- Portable USB sticks — make sure to really load these up with e-books, survival books, digital photos, work-related data, scanned documents and more
- DVDs — backup important data on these as well
- DVD player
- Computer hard drives
- Mp3 players loaded with your favorite music
- Spare sets of earphones
- AM/FM/Shortwave radio
- Few battery-operated walkie-talkies
- LED flashlights
- Rechargeable batteries
- Solar battery charger
- Digital or solar-powered watch/clock
- Solar-powered calculator
- Spare electronic medical equipment
- Portable generator — you may need to build a separate EMP proof box for this
EMP Shielding for Cars and Homes
Not everything can fit in a faraday bag. Also, it’s not really practical to store away things you use and need on a daily basis.
Below, we’ll discuss how shielding from EMP pulses is still possible without a faraday cage.
EMP Shield for Cars
Why is EMP protection for vehicles necessary, especially today?
Back in the day, cars were built using mechanical parts — unlike today, where the majority of cars run on electrical components. As per this Forbes article, a typical car today has more than 100+ microprocessors!
“Today’s automobiles use a huge number of computer chips, chips in the engine, chips in the seat, chips in everything…”
According, to this post from Semiconductor Engineering:
Today’s luxury cars contain some 1,500–2000 copper wires—totaling over 1 mile in length. To put that into perspective, in 1948, the average family car contained only about 55 wires, amounting to total length of 150 feet.
Since today’s cars rely so heavily on electronic parts, some of them may fail in the event of an EMP, according to the Commission’s Critical National Infrastructure Report.
So, what are somethings you can do to EMP proof vehicles so they have some amount of protection?
Keep an old car handy
Pre-1960 vehicles that don’t have solid-state electronics (semiconductors, computer chips and transistors) will most likely not be harmed by an electromagnetic pulse. You can also go for a pre-1980 car with a carburetor and distributor (instead of electronic fuel injection). Either way, this is entirely based on speculation, as even circuitry-free cars could be vulnerable. Luck, plays a big factor here.
Remodel your garage
A metal garage could act as a giant faraday cage, but you’ll need to completely remove any wiring as those can serve as an antenna. This means no lighting, electric garage openers, or outlets. There are also other factors to consider — do you have windows? Could the EMP pulse get through the floor? How “leak-proof” is the structure? And more.
Use Ferrite beads/cores
You can buy snap-on ferrite cores (type 61 ferrite), that absorb high frequencies better and can help attenuate the pulses from a small EMP surge. They can be snapped on to bundles of car electrical wiring and act as an EMP shield to offer some vehicle EMP protection.
Install the EMP Shield
The EMP Shield is an award-winning highly-rated product backed by a 10-year warranty, and an insurance policy. It claims to work by diverting energy from an EMP pulse away from the battery and the rest of your vehicle’s electrical circuitry.
That said, most people don’t really have the knowledge (or parts) to DIY a modern vehicle or turn their garage into a faraday cage to survive an EMP strike.
Even if you did manage to do it, in the case of an EMP attack, the corner gas station won’t be open for fuel or spare parts, and your electric car won’t be much use if the power grid is out unless you turn to solar charging (but that device too will need to be stored in a faraday cage).
So, it might be a good idea to think outside the box and consider other travel options — for example, keeping a bicycle handy, or a dirt bike that can run on some basic fuel and commonly available spare parts.
EMP Shield for Home
We already discussed how you can protect the electronics in your home using EMP bags and faraday boxes. So, what else can you do to provide better EMP shielding for home protection?
Protect Solar Panels
If you have solar panels installed in your home, you could better protect them. Solar panels don’t have many electronic parts, meaning they have a lesser chance of being affected by an EMP. However, they do have wired connections which means they’re vulnerable to EMP damage.
You could try installing a Faraday cage around your panels, but if they’re still plugged in, that won’t prevent your circuitry from being fried in an EMP attack. Sol-Ark solar inverters, seem to have come up with a viable solution for this.
Their solar inverters are “EMP-hardened,” meaning they can withstand EMP pulses and disruptions from both natural and man-made EMPs. Check out this video below, to learn more:
Invest in a Portable Generator
Do you use a whole-house generator that’s connected to the power gird for automatic back-up power? That might not be such a good idea during an EMP event, which is why you should consider a portable generator for EMP generator protection.
Whole house generators
The power line that connects your home to your utilities company is the perfect path for EMP energy to travel through and fry the electric components in your connected backup generator (unless it has some incredible EMP surge protection at the input of the transfer switch, and even then, protection is not guaranteed). So, having a whole house generator is risky, during an EMP event.
It’s far better to use a portable power generator that uses diesel, gasoline or propane, as the gas or fuel will not act as an antenna for EMP signals. Although, these generators won’t power your entire home, they’re excellent to keep on stand-by to power critical devices like heaters, pumps, fans and any medical equipment. Just make sure to NEVER plug in any cords (power cord, extension cord) into the portable generator until you absolutely need it, as the cord can act as an antenna for EMP signals.
Consider EMP Paint
Conductive paint has shown to provide shielding from EMP, and with more testing can work out to be a much more feasible, cost-effective and faster solution than trying to create faraday cages for electrical infrastructure.
According to this Forbes article, EMP paint can conduct heat and electricity and can adhere easily to a variety of surfaces, including metal, concrete, glass and composite - much of what the power grid is made of.
These paints are actually thin-film conductors. But anything that conducts an electric field also conducts a magnetic field in the orthogonal direction. So painting a large transformer with this paint is like putting a Faraday Cage over it, but cheaper.
Step by Step EMP Protection Tips
Depending on your unique needs, there are of course different levels of EMP protection you might need.
In accordance to a comprehensive report by the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Protection and Resilience Guidelines for Critical Infrastructure and Equipment, we’ve created a detailed outline on the steps that can be taken for protection from an EMP, both natural and manmade.
These EMP protection tips are further divided into four levels:
- EMP Protection Level 1: Low-cost best practices, where the longest power outages can be tolerated
- EMP Protection Level 2: Guidelines for individuals and businesses where a few hours of power outages can be tolerated
- EMP Protection Level 3: Guidelines for companies, facilities, and systems that cannot tolerate more than a few minutes of outage, to protect life, health, and security
- EMP Protection Level 4: Guidelines for organizations, missions, intelligence and systems that cannot tolerate more than a few seconds of outage, where there is an immediate threat to life and safety
EMP Protection Level 1
Level 1 EMP protection involves making sure that you have essentials such as food, water, medicines and some backup of power to maintain your mission-critical systems until services come back up, for a few days to weeks (or longer). It also means following some basic guidelines to protect your devices and shield from EMP pulses.
Unplug and turn off devices and equipment
- Minimize equipment vulnerabilities by turning off all non-essential electronics and equipment
- Unplug this equipment from all telephone lines, cables, power cords and antenna connections
- Disconnect all equipment from the cords also, not just the wall socket point (wires like power cords and data cables may act as antennas and pick up EMP signals so it is best to disconnect them from the equipment or appliances they connect to)
- Remove battery packs from small electronics (EMP pulses can run through batteries and damage equipment circuits)
- Turn off wireless devices such as mobile phones and tablets and battery-operated devices like portable walkie-talkies)
- Unplug all devices from a charging adapter. If devices need to be charged, be sure to use a cord surge protector that has a 10 ns response time
Use EMP-rated surge protection
Invest in a high-quality low fire risk EMP-rated surge protection device (SPD) to connect all your electronic devices, and guard against voltage spikes not only from EMPs but also more probable causes such as thunderstorms, lightning and faulty wiring.
How to select a good surge protector to best protect from EMP pulses:
- Go with one that offers the highest Joules (units of electrical energy) possible
- If you need to extend your power cable, make sure to get a power strip with surge protection built-in
- Choose a surge protector with more outlets (at least more than six)
- Pick one that has at least a couple of USB connections - great for charging cell phones, tablets and small devices
- Consider a “whole house” surge protector that protects electronics in any room of your home
Use inexpensive faraday bags and cases
Small electronics, cell phones, tablets, laptops, power banks, spare batteries and more can be placed in a faraday bag or case, which is constructed of a cloth with metallic thread to protect devices and gadgets from EMPs. Jump to our EMP Shielding section to learn more about Faraday Bags and where you can get them.
Also note, that placing devices in metallic trash cans does not provide dependable EMP protection, unless they have been altered to completely block radio frequencies from entering through gaps in the lid, base or handles.
Don’t connect your backup generator to the utility line
Most companies recommend connecting your whole house backup generator to the commercial power grid, so that in the case of a power outage an automated transfer to the backup easily occurs. Even, if you have a whole house generator, it is highly recommended to invest in a portable power generator as well.
Use battery-operated radios to receive alerts
It’s handy to have a battery-operated AM/FM/NOAA radio. In the case of an EMP emergency, it can become an important means of receiving critical information on the current state of things from the government’s Emergency Alert System (EAS), which has radio stations, with some level of EMP protection, nationwide.
EMP Protection Level 2
Level 2 EMP protection involves having systems in place to safeguard and protect critical equipment from vulnerabilities, in the most cost-effective way, where complete EMP facility shielding etc. is not a viable option.
In addition to Level 1 EMP protection, for Level 2 protection:
Use cable ferrites
Ferrite beads or cores simply snap around a cable and are used to attenuate or weaken unwanted electromagnetic interference (EMI) and high frequency cable signals in two directions — to and from a device. They interact with the magnetic field of the signal, and create an impendence onto the cable, which affects only common-mode signals, such as EMP pulses or HEMP.
Invest in a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) Unit
A UPS is a device that provides emergency power when the main power source fails. Investing in an EMP-resistant, preferably office-equipment grade UPS system can provide protection by levelling the current and decreasing downtime in the event of a surge.
According to the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Protection and Resilience Guidelines for Critical Infrastructure and Equipment recommendations:
“When selecting a UPS for protecting equipment from EMP, a true on-line, double-conversion type of UPS is recommended although a high quality line interactive UPS with good surge suppression and noise filtering can be used unless the equipment is extremely sensitive. Less expensive UPS units provide insufficient protection in that they allow voltage spikes to reach equipment before the battery is switched into the circuit, which can take as long as 25 milliseconds (ms). The more expensive on-line, double-conversion UPS ensures that the battery is always connected so that no power transfer switches are needed and voltage spikes will not damage the equipment. A high quality line interactive unit will take 2-4 ms to transfer power to the battery source, which easily meets the specifications for all common modern equipment.”
Consider cable types and layouts
For the best protection against EMP, fiber optic cables are recommended, as they contain no metal. If these are not an option, use shielded cables, coupled with EMP-level surge protection and ferrites.
Some tips for “hardening” cables include:
- Running cables along metallic beams or structures, or putting them into tight bundles to short-out the electromagnetic field
- Using grounded metal trays or enclosing cables in well-grounded metal conduits
- Cable entry into a building should be through underground cable runs
- Network shielded cables (preferably braided) should almost always be used for EMP protection, with the shielding effectiveness for frequencies extending from 1 MHz to 1 GHz
- All cable plugs must have metallic sheaves connected to the shield-ready cable jacks
Some other key factors to consider at this level include:
- Installing EMP-rated surge protectors on data cables, antenna lines, power cords and more to protect mission-critical applications
- Implementing EMP-proof radio equipment protection for high-frequency (HF) voice/email for communicating over long-distances and also using shortwave radios
- Using GEO (geosynchronous equatorial orbit) satellite communication (for telecommunications, surveillance) instead of low-orbit satellite services
EMP Protection Level 3
Level 3 EMP protection is geared to organizations, facilities and systems that can only tolerate a few minutes of power outage without putting health, life and security at stake. It requires robust shielding from EMP in the form of electromagnetically shielded racks and rooms to prevent electromagnetic frequencies and pulses from reaching mission-critical equipment.
In addition to Level 1, and Level 2 EMP protection, for Level 3 protection:
Use racks, rooms and facilities that are EMP shielded
If mission-critical applications fail, they can lead to life-threatening situations, or pose a serious threat to security. EMP-shielded racks, rooms, and entire facilities can be developed and used to protect:
- Hospital equipment (especially life-support systems)
- Data centers
- Telecommunication controls and phone switches
- Critical computer systems and servers
- Industrial controls
- …and more
Seen as a traditional approach to EMP hardening, building an EMP shielded enclosure is common in military environments and certain types of facilities and industries.
An EMP facility shield is a “continuous conductive enclosure that meets or exceeds specified shielding effectiveness requirements.” Expensive to build, these structures require to be designed, engineered, installed and tested thoroughly. As there is more awareness around EMP, more commercial-based solutions are likely to become more viable in this niche.
Some other key factors to consider at this level include:
- Employing IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and IEMI (Intentional Electromagnetic Interference) protection standards
- EMP shielding should be in the range of 30+ dB to10 GHz
- Use EMP-tested equipment and surge protection
- Maintain a 30-day supply of essentials and critical supplies, including spares
EMP Protection Level 4
Level 4 EMP protection is for organizations, missions and systems where only a few seconds of outage can be tolerated, due to the immediate threat to life and security. This includes protecting equipment needed in military command, communications, control, and intelligence missions or non-military systems such as medical life support equipment, nuclear power plant controls, air traffic control systems and more.
In addition to Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 EMP protection, for Level 4 protection:
- Use EMP-shielded double door entryways for facilities
- Add double surge protection on critical external lines entering EMP-shielded areas
- Shield all POEs (points of entry) such as wires, pipes, doors etc.
- Add EMP shielding for all electrical POEs such as power, control and communication lines
- Use a six-sided EMP shield barrier constructed as per military standards
- Install mission critical (MC) systems within the EMP barrier such as electronic equipment, power distribution, transformers, data processors, electronics etc.
- Follow best practices for barrier grounding by installing an earth electrode system
- Follow Military HEMP Standards (MIL-STD-188-125-1 and MIL-HDBK-423)
- EMP shielding should be in the range of 80+ dB to 10 GHz
- Conduct EMP barrier testing to validate hardness, and verify the integrity of the EMP shielding
- Maintain a 30+ day supply of Military Standard power/fuel and other sources
- Use communications networks designed to meet Military EMP standards such as EMP shielded fiber optic networks and radios and Advanced EHF (AEHF) satellites
Woah! That was a lot of information regarding how to shield and protect against EMP, but even if you apply a few (level 1 and 2) protection tips, you'll be much better off than a lot of people, if a situation like this were to ever arise.
Lastly, let’s cover some commonly asked questions about EMPs:
What is the difference between EMP and HEMP?
An EMP is an electromagnetic pulse, while a high-altitude EMP (HEMP) is nuclear explosion that detonates high in the earth’s atmosphere.
What’s the major difference between a solar flare and a coronal mass ejection (CME)?
The major difference is on the scale that they occur. Solar flares take place near sunspots and are smaller, whereas CMEs can be huge — even bigger than the sun itself! Solar flares produce rapid X-rays and gamma rays and can reach the earth in 8 minutes, whereas CMEs form slowly and can take days to reach earth.
How can CME-induced solar storms disrupt the grid?
The strong EMP pulse creates a geomagnetic current in power transmission lines which builds up with great energy, causing transformers to overheat rapidly and fry up.
Should we be more worried about solar storms or EMP attacks?
It’s debated, but EMP attacks seem to come out on top for two reasons.
- EMP attacks are unpredictable; with solar storms we can monitor space weather and may have hours to maybe even days of notice to prepare — EMP attacks will come without warning.
- EMP nuclear attacks contain the very high frequency E1 gamma fields that can cause widespread permanent damage to electronics, computers, communication equipment and more, and are too fast for lightning protectors to intercept.
If power does go out for a long period of time, will it really be so bad?
If the power were to go out for lets say a year or more, the results would be nothing less than catastrophic. Everything we depend on, from water to cars to money will be inaccessible as water pumps, gas stations or ATMs would be non-functional.
If it really can get so bad, why isn’t EMP one of our highest national priorities?
Well, because not everyone is in agreement that EMP is that big a threat. The EMP Commission has accused the utility industry of trying to avoid liability by minimizing the risks, but certain skeptics argue that the “EMP hawks” themselves are looking to maximize the profits of their own protection companies.
Should we be worried about an EMP event?
The mainstream opinion is that getting hit by a solar storm or EMP weapon is overhyped — however, we did show examples above, that both are very much possible.
There are many mainstream beliefs that have been proven wrong in history, from the Titanic being hailed as “unsinkable,” to Chernobyl never rupturing, to mortgage-backed securities being safe investments (they led to the 2007 stock market crash), to thinking that we were prepared for Covid-19.
In all these cases, the mainstream belief was proven wrong. The debate on EMP is still on, but it doesn’t hurt to have some EMP shielding and protection in place — you just never know.