EMP and Solar Flare – Threat Update


What will happen when everything electronic stops working?  (Perhaps, for a very, very long time.)

We receive more questions and see more confusion on the threats posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP and CME) than any other threat topic. Since the President of the United States issued Executive Order 13865, and the U.S. Congress released a declassified version of the latest government report on this topic, we decided to provide that report along with this update to our previous article, “Preparing for Solar Storms and EMP Events.”

This new government report, developed by top scientists and peerless experts who came together to study this issue, is a powerful companion to the articles available here on 36READY.com.

Download PDF:  The government did redact this document to remove Classified details, but what remains is still essential reading for anyone interested in this often misunderstood modern threat.  Click Here to download a PDF of the declassified EMP-Commission-Report.

While it’s true that this government report was written for Congress, not the public, and its focus is on the nation’s critical infrastructures such as the electric power grid, it is nevertheless useful for us and our emergency planning. It is an invaluable, authoritative resource that can help us prepare for these threats and the emergency situations which would follow such an incident. 

The U.S. Congress, “Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack” refutes uninformed naysayers, should sober us all, and for those who are willing to act on what we learn, it can help us develop our own action plan.

In 2008, the same congressional commission produced a report that has also been redacted and declassified.  Since that time, little has been done regarding prevention, so that report is still relevant and useful.  Click on this link to download the declassified version of the older report: EMP-Commission-Report-Critical_Natl_Infrastructures-2008


*If you are not knowledgeable about EMP and CME incidents, to gain important background information, read this article before delving into the government report. 



EMP vs. Solar Flare (CME)

EMP (ElectroMagnetic Pulse) is a man-made incident, typically caused by the detonation of a nuclear device 20-300 miles above the earth’s surface.  Whereas a Solar Flare (CME – Coronal Mass Ejection), is a routine event that occurs on the surface of the sun but can adversely affect the earth.  Periodically, CME flares are of sufficient magnitude to cause major problems on earth, especially now in our technology-dependent era.


From the standpoint of a scientist, EMP and CME events are very different. But from a practical vantage point, we can consider them together because the effects and protective measures are essentially the same.

An earlier 36READY article, “Preparing for Solar Storms and EMP Events,” addresses the specific topic of personal preparations and protective measures for these two threats.  Whereas, this article is intended to be a companion to the latest U.S. Government report on EMPs which can be downloaded from this article.  

Importantly, if we do what we can to prepare for EMP and CME (and related events), then we will also be ready to face many other, lesser dangers.  

Unlike the U.S. Congress, most of us are not in a position to influence the hardening of the nation’s critical infrastructure. That is the focus of the congressional report. But if we are willing to learn about this threat from the most authoritative sources available to the United States Government, then we, too, can be better informed.  As a result, our own preparations can be more real-world.


This article is only a simplified summary.  It contains brief explanations of these two threats that we are facing, provides background details, and clarification of often misunderstood aspects, to help you better understand the government report and these threats. Hopefully, it will also help you filter-out the widespread inaccurate information that permeates the news media and the Internet.

Only when we are armed with the facts can we make our own threat assessment. And, only when we have reliable facts, can we make informed choices that will guide our preparations.


Key Points

1.  Experts Disagree on the severity of the event that is coming, and occasionally even on the likelihood that one of these electromagnetic events will happen and create a major problem for a nation. However, it is important to understand that this naysayer group of scientists is now quickly shrinking. Reports like the ones produced by the EMP commission are waking people up. 


2. Experts Agree that we will likely experience a significant EMP or CME event in our lifetime or during the lifetime of our children. Those who are most susceptible to these events are those who live in a developed, technology-dependent country. 

If an EMP or major solar flare (CME) hits the United States, UK, or Europe, the result will be catastrophic for the affected area.  But in addition, since our world’s economic systems are now so interconnected, the collateral damage will be felt worldwide.


3.  Recent History:  EMP and CME Incidents. These are not never-before events. Both EMP pulse incidents and CME (solar flare) events have happened multiple times during the past two centuries. The problem rests in a new reality: Recent decades of rapid technological advances have increased our vulnerability.  A century ago the effect would have been minimal.  Today, it could be catastrophic to an entire continent.  


4. The credibility of this threat. It is universally agreed that since modern societies extensively use computers and other devices which contain microcircuits, and that many societies depend on technology to function, this is a credible threat. 

Both EMP and CME events have the capacity to not only permanently disable all electronic and many electrical devices, but also the manufacturing equipment needed to make these items.

Though the effects on the modern world are not well understood, both an EMP or major CME (solar flare) are now recognized as a clear and present danger, a threat that comes with an extended recovery time; perhaps decades. 

As with the aftermath of the Black Plague and other widespread disasters, we can reasonably assume that an unprepared population will suffer for 10-20+ years before life returns to normal.  If the incident is widespread, which is likely for these types of incidents, many societies will not be able to recover.  Individuals who live in large cities, and those who do not have homesteading skills, will be hardest hit. 


5.  The Severity of Effect is Unknown. The widespread use of electronics in creating electrical power, the movement of fuel in pipelines, gas pumps, transportation systems, trucks and cars, commerce and banking, shopping, the Internet, telephone and communication systems, health care, water, sewer and sanitation equipment, emergency services including 9-1-1 and fire/police communications, government agencies and businesses alike, has dramatically amplified the effect that these incidents will have on society. 

Most people are unaware of this threat, it’s nature and its effect.  Therefore, when an EMP or major CME event does occur, and phones, cars, and electrical devices suddenly fail, the result will be widespread panic.  Within minutes, this will magnify the effects of the catastrophe.  

Since governments have not kept pace and are ill-equipped to help their citizens after this type of large-scale incident, aid and recovery will be extremely slow.  

In many Western countries, ‘continuity of government’ is both a philosophy and set of procedures that have replaced historic civil defense measures.  In the United States, the Continuity_of_Government_Plan-USGovernment (CoG) of 2007 is an example of the current policy. 

In the U.S., even though the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is tasked with establishing emergency shelters when needed, the Civil Defense systems of 1941-1979, which focused on aiding the population, have been dismantled.  Moreover, the modern FEMA response systems and equipment stockpiled to aid the civilian population, are mostly unprotected from EMP and CME damage. 

Worldwide, this same shortcoming is found in most businesses, industries, and national governments.  Therefore, personal preparation is not just important, it is essential.  


6. Technological advances have made us more vulnerable. Energy-saving designs and miniaturization, have introduced unintended very-negative consequences. Our modern electrical and electronic devices are far more susceptible to damage from an EMP or CME than those made even a decade ago. 

Modern electronics are so susceptible to damage that workers who build electronic devices, typically wear a grounding wire.  This is to protect the item from the damage which would occur from a simple static shock (such as those produced by carpet).  So, it’s a no-brainer that an EMP or CME could easily destroy these same electronic devices. 

The first (E1) of several pulses created by a nuclear EMP can instantly blanket a vast area, slamming each square meter with a quick electrical burst of 50,000 volts.  This far exceeds the capacity of even the best surge protectors and lightning-rod protections.


7. The threat of an EMP or CME is expanding. Since the public is largely unaware and not demanding action, little is being done to mitigate this threat. Except for some military vehicles and systems, government services such as the electric power grid, and consumer products, are not hardened against this threat.

China, Russia, U.S., and other Western countries, have developed both nuclear and non-nuclear EMP weapons.  Russia has sold at least one of these to North Korea.  

North Korea has already used its Russian-made non-nuclear EMP “radio-frequency cannon” as an offensive weapon on three occasions (December 210, March 2011, and April-May 2012).  These attacks affected vehicles in South Korea near the DMZ, disrupted airplanes and air traffic control systems, and caused widespread communication blackouts. 

New Threats:  At the same time, new players are surfacing who have the ability and propensity to use an EMP weapon. As their national scientific publications make clear, they regard these as a form of cyber warfare, or a “disruptive” technology; a morally acceptable form of battle.  Also, since these weapons do not directly harm people, animals or crops, the view is that their use is more easily justified. 

Iran, current military doctrine promotes EMP as a Shariah-compliant weapon, explaining that human suffering would not be their fault, but rather a self-induced outcome that is merely the result of living in an evil, materialistic society.


8. The scope of the damage is unimaginable. What most of us can’t wrap our minds around is the magnitude of the disastrous effect an EMP or CME can have on us. And, the degree to which most societies have become dependent on technology.

A significant EMP or CME event is NOT similar to a power surge.  Surge-protectors are not the solution.

Even if a surge protector worked, it would be destroyed in the process.  And, since a nuclear EMP consists of at least three pulses, Pulse E2 and E3 would still strike the electrical device.

In effect, these electromagnetic pulses are more akin to a lightning strike than a traditional power surge.  Think of this more like three rapid bolts of lightning striking suddenly, without warning, hitting every electrical device with more than a megawatt of electrical power.

Perhaps this example can help us better understand the scope, and the power, behind this EMP and CME threat…

A few years ago, lightning hit the radio antenna mounted on the house which belongs to one of our 36READY contributors.  The lightning bolt didn’t just follow the wire attached to his ham radio antenna.  It jumped through the air to adjacent metallic objects and the wiring in his house.  It fried all of his radios, plus his televisions, telephones, washer and dryer, heating and air conditioning unit, etc. 

It was expensive and time-consuming, but our friend was able to fix the damage and replace the electrical equipment.  But imagine how it would be if this same fate overtook you, and at the same time, all of your neighbors as well.  Plus, all the stores, the Internet, all the manufacturing facilities, and the transportation needed to deliver replacements. 


EMP / CME Protection: Faraday Cages

British scientist Michael
Faraday pioneered the study
of electromagnetism.

These protective enclosures for electronics are generally cited as the solution, or as a way to reduce the effects.

Threat-prone military installations and equipment, in addition to some sophisticated commercial installations, are protected by an enclosure commonly referred to as a “Faraday Cage.”  There are many different forms of these cages, but they are all made of highly conductive material, such as copper mesh or sheeting. This enclosure, room, or cage, is used to divert electrical/magnetic energy away from electronics, driving the pulse of energy into the ground.  Since the pulse is too powerful to stop, the threat is reduced by redirecting the energy.

Because it was a “Classified” government project, a friend who worked on building Faraday cages at a new National Security Agency (NSA) facility couldn’t share details, but we were able to gain some practical information from his experience. 

Here is how the government deals with it, followed by what we can do to protect ourselves.

The U.S. Government’s Faraday cages have wire mesh walls and ceilings that are perhaps 6-feet thick. These are anchored by substantial, poured concrete footings and many grounding rods drilled into the earth. These “rooms” have an insulated floor, interior walls and ceilings to make sure nothing touches the cage. 

Some less sensitive field equipment, such as the military’s diesel trucks, are more easily “hardened.”  Still, their design, from the drawing board forward, take this threat into account in both design and construction. 

Unfortunately, this level of protection would be impossible for most of us to afford even if the design wasn’t Classified.  And, most of us don’t have access to EMP-protected electrical and electronic devices. 


Personal Protection:  Do-It-Yourself Solutions

As individuals, we can take steps to help protect our personal electronics. However, most of the commercial products which claim to be “Faraday cages” or “Faraday shields,” are not worth the money. If you want to mitigate this threat, make your own Faraday Cage.  It’s easy.

galvenized_steel_trash_canOur first step toward protection is to understand that we cannot expect to achieve full protection.  This fact acknowledged, some of our electronics might still survive, especially if we take these simple steps to protect emergency radios and other essential electronics. 

Oddly, a galvanized steel trash can, or better yet, a 55-gallon steel drum with clamp lid may be the best Faraday cage solution available to the general public.

Unfortunately, these protective measures will likely only make a difference if we are on the outer ring of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP), but that does not mean that we shouldn’t proceed. Even these simple protective measures can make a substantial difference when it comes to the survivability of electronics. For more on this easy solution, as well as other important details on ‘how-to’ create your own do-it-yourself Faraday Cage, read, “Prepared, Ready to Roll,” Book 2-3, especially pages 489-494  (author, SIG Swanstrom.)

*  If you wisely undertake these simple protective measures, keep in mind, too, that as with an earthquake, a nuclear EMP is actually a multi-pulse weapon, and a solar flare (CME) is often followed by aftershock-like pulses. These can happen immediately after the initial pulse or as much as two days later, so don’t be quick to remove your electronics from your Faraday cage.


CME and Other EMP-like Viable Threats

An EMP nuclear attack isn’t the only electromagnetic-pulse threat we face.  In 1859, the pulse from a solar flare hit the United States. Known by historians as the “Carrington Event,” this sun-created problem set electric and telegraph wires and poles on fire, along with a few telegraph stations.

Technically referred to as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) incident, these solar-flare pulses have struck the earth thousands of times in the past.  But they weren’t noticed because these high-energy pulses do not harm humans, animals, or plant life.  They only affect radio and electrical devices, especially those which utilize micro-circuitry such as computers and electronic devices, but any electricity-powered device can be damaged.

The Carrington Event is a vivid reminder that even a natural solar-caused event can cause big problems, especially in our technology-dependent modern world.

Today, the effect would vary according to the magnitude of the EMP or CME, but even a naturally occurring event such as a CME incident the size of the Carrington Event, has the capacity to create a long-term grid-down “black sky” event. 

This has happened in recent history.  The threat is not far-fetched.  It is easily verified by reviewing the history of these events, and then, taking a look at the specifications of our modern electronics and their susceptibility to damage. 

The only unknowns are “when?,” and “How severe will it be?”

NASA thinks that we are long overdue for a major CME.  On January 4, 2002, the sun produced one of these events, but fortunately for us, the pulse missed the earth. Yet, this was such a sobering event that NASA failed to report it to the public until years later.  They thought this near-miss might cause public panic.


EMP is an even greater threat

These are man-made and can be produced by a nuclear device, a nuclear ‘Super-EMP’ weapon, as well as HEMP explosives and devices such as magnetrons, vircators, and certain types of lasers.  

A missile is not needed to deliver an EMP.  A small nuclear device flown in a jet airplane or meteorological (weather) balloon, would still be high enough to deliver a pulse that would expand for hundreds of miles in each direction.  An attack such as this does not require much sophistication.  Nevertheless, it could melt most of the electrical
devices in an entire region such as the Baltimore / Washington, DC / New York area, or California / Nevada.

It’s important to note that in addition to melting even military electronics in these areas, this same pulse would damage electronics throughout much of the U.S. and Canada.  An attack on either of these locations would likely collapse the power grid for both the U.S. and Canada, with the possible exception of Texas.  



EMP/CME Effects on HumansHorse-and-Smart_Car

These weapons do not harm people, nor do they affect animals or plant life.  Because this is the case, even a nuclear EMP does not have the stigma of using a dirty bomb or a low-yield atomic bomb. An EMP detonated in the upper atmosphere would produce a visible flash, but no sound, wind, debris, or radioactive fallout.

Now that EMP technology has become mainstream and more nations are developing this capability, their use will likely increase. Recent government publications in Russia, China, and Iran, document their view that these weapons are considered morally acceptable and wholly reasonable for first-strike use. 

Several countries have already used EMP weapons against an adversary.  When this happened, there was no international outcry condemning the action, and there was no retaliation. 

Harm to humans is a byproduct, not a direct effect, so the inhibition to use an EMP is greatly diminished.  In the mind of the attacker, human casualties are collateral damage.  Nonetheless, it is the secondary effect of an EMP that is far more serious than the damage caused by the pulse itself. 

While it’s true that an EMP or CME pulse can cause airplanes to crash, vehicles to collide and phones to stop working, it is the terror and violence, the lack of services and supplies, the resulting starvation and lack of water which can produce results more serious than even a nuclear bomb in a city or a WMD.


Evaluating EMP Research and Test Results

Actual nuclear tests, not computer models or lab tests, are the best learning tool for understanding the threat of a nuclear EMP. 

For the Western world, it is the U.S. Government’s nuclear tests conducted in the 1950-60s which may be our best and most practical resource.  These decades-old scientific tests were real-world experiments, not just theoretical.  It’s worth noting, too, that those test results differed greatly from what those scientists expected. 

This is still an arena where computer models and lab tests are in their infancy.  Alone, they are an inadequate basis for decision making.

starfish_prime_aurora_from_honolulu_1For example, the U.S. high altitude nuclear test which occurred on July 9, 1962, known by its code name “Starfish Prime,” is worth studying. This test was conducted over the Pacific Ocean, but the effects were more far-reaching than the projections developed by the scientists who conducted the test.

For the Starfish Prime experiment, a 1.4 megaton warhead was detonated at an altitude of 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean. Despite the elevation and distance, the EMP pulse was experienced in Hawaii and New Zealand, 1,300 miles distant from the explosion.

This was unexpected.  The mathematical models did not anticipate such a far-reaching and damaging electromagnetic pulse.

With this test, electrical and electronic devices in both Hawaii and New Zealand were damaged.  It was embarrassing for the scientists, but fortunately, the electrical devices in use in 1962 were still clunky and not particularly sensitive. 

The 2008 EMP Commission’s report states that our modern electronics are 1-million times more vulnerable to damage than the electronics of the Starfish Prime era (1962). 

Consider this, too.  During the Cold War, the USSR produced at least 250 “suitcase” bombs.  During that same era, the U.S. produced an unknown number of backpack nuclear bombs. The U.S. bombs weighed 50-60 pounds, and their size, weight, and yield are thought to be similar to their USSR counterparts. 

Today, all of the US bombs are accounted for and have been dismantled.  But, most of the USSR’s suitcase bombs are missing. 

Many knowledgeable people in Western intelligence agencies believe that more than 100 of these Soviet-era nuclear bombs were smuggled into Western countries, primarily U.S. cities, but also strategic targets in Europe. They are thought to be still in place, where they were hidden by the Soviets. (As a point of reference, these ‘suitcase’ nuclear bombs are thought to have about the same kiloton rating as the Starfish Prime device.)


Our New, Increased Susceptibility to Extensive Damage

On top of this actual solar flare, EMP, and nuclear bomb history, we need to keep in mind that our modern electronics are far more susceptible to damage than was the electronic equipment that was in use more than half a century ago when the Starfish Prime nuclear test was conducted.  Today, we would see far, far greater damage if this test. or an attack of a similar size was repeated.


nk-us-emp-projectionThe “Black- Sky” Threat

To bring this forward to today, if one of these old Soviet-era suitcase bombs, or a rudimentary nuclear device, was detonated in a high-flying airplane, the EMP produced by that one, relatively small blast would cause a power grid failure for a distance that would be beyond what the pilot could see. 

At the cruising altitude of a cross-country commercial airline flight, which is 39,000 ft (12,000 m), the primary pulse of an EMP would reach 239+ miles (391 km).  On the ground, this would be a circle around the location of the plane, 480 miles (782 km) in diameter.  If this were to happen in the U.S., it could easily cause a cascading failure that would crumble the entire U.S. power grid.  It would take 20 years to repair the damage.

In the U.S., Texas is the only state which has its own, independent power grid.  Even though it is connected to the other two U.S. power grids, Texas might survive a national ‘cascade’ event. Notwithstanding, the power grids of the other States probably wouldn’t survive.

Keep in mind, too, that our modern nuclear bombs have a much greater yield, and pulse, than Starfish Prime and these old suitcase bombs.  North Korea has detonated six nuclear bombs of sizes conservatively estimated to be from 50-140 kt.  To put this in context, their latest test was of a bomb that was 100x larger than the bomb used for the Starfish Prime test.


EMP Delivery to Target

With an EMP attack, the use of a sophisticated missile is unnecessary.  Nevertheless, more than a dozen nations possess the missile technology needed to launch an intercontinental EMP attack. Several dozen more have the technology to launch an off-shore EMP attack against the United States, UK, Europe, Japan, or Israel.

Today, there are at least 9 countries with nuclear bombs.  In addition, Iraq and many terrorist groups are actively pursuing this technology.  It is a reasonable conclusion that someday, someone is going to detonate one that will affect us all.  As nations, and as individuals, we need to be ready for this.

A Likely Scenario

The #1 EMP threat feared by the U.S. Government is an EMP device launched from a ship that is cruising in international waters, just off the coast of the United States. 

By launching an attack from a ship and then immediately sinking the ship, evidence would be destroyed.  This method might make it possible to attack the U.S. or Europe with impunity.

We can retrace the route of the ship, but currently, we would not be able to confirm the source of the bomb with 100% certainty.  As a result, the attacker would know that retaliation would be unlikely since the perpetrator would have a good chance of remaining anonymous.

Lastly, as we consider these topics, let’s keep in mind that laboratory tests and computer modeling is totally inadequate. To date, these theoretical models and small tests have all proven to be flawed and unreliable.


broken-down-car12Our Conclusion 

With EMP and CME threats, the additional effort is minimal to achieve a significant level of added protection. Therefore, it is worth undertaking the basic steps required to protect at least some electronics from damage. 

Further, since either an EMP or CME incident has the capacity to strand motorists and collapse all communication and electrical power, it is important to keep a GO-Bag close at hand (such as in the trunk of your car) and to establish a safe-haven location in case it becomes necessary to walk to a place of safety.  Since the general public is largely unaware of this threat and will be terrorized by the circumstance, irrational behavior and violence should be anticipated, and precautions taken, to ensure personal safety.  

When considering what electronics to protect, special attention should be given to electronics such as 2-way radios and shortwave WB radios which would be needed during an emergency situation, as well as items such as flashlights and lanterns, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and solar-powered smart chargers, which would be helpful during an extended grid-down environment.

Simple precautions, like using a new galvanized steel trash can or steel barrel, properly outfitted and stored, are a worthwhile way to protect crucial electronics such as shortwave radios and 2-way radios.  (For D-I-Y instructions, read “Prepared, Ready to Roll,” Book 2-3, pages 489-494, by SIG Swanstrom.)  Unfortunately, most “Faraday cage” commercial products are largely ineffective, so buyer beware.


Click Here to view a video interview with Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, the primary author of the congressional report on the EMP threat.  In this 39-minute interview, Dr. Pry provides an easy-to-understand summary of EMPs and the threat we are facing.

What makes these do-it-yourself (D-I-Y) preparations even more viable is that random factors, such as the electronics being located inside a metal or rebar-reinforced building, a basement, parking garage, or even being in the electronic shadow made by a mountain or hill, can make a huge difference.  And, we can’t rule out Providence, either.

In the Bible, when God told his people that He was going to give them victory over an enemy in battle, they still went out carrying their weapons.  They still fought.  Not because they didn’t trust their God, but because God expected them to do their part.  Similarly, it behooves us to do our part, too.

Whether you believe in divine Providence or dumb luck, surviving a major event such as these will likely be vastly improved by doing what you can to prepare. Now, in advance of these problems, do what you can to prepare for this and other emergency situations. Be proactive.


Recommended Docu-drama Videos

Though overly optimistic, these videos may nevertheless provide a helpful introduction to these topics. Produced by well-known and respected filmmakers, these docu-dramas might be especially useful to view with those who suffer from a normalcy bias, or family and friends who will not read materials such as this article.

Electronic Armageddon,” by National Geographic.  Chronicling the lives of an assortment of people from different backgrounds, this docu-drama provides insights into the various types of public response that can be expected when the electric grid fails, in this case, due to a cyber attack.  Though not depicting a real historic event, the actors do illustrate likely responses to this real-world potential scenario. Despite some tense moments in this film, it ends with a positive, upbeat outcome; electrical power and social order are restored two weeks after the nation is struck by a black-sky event.   

American Blackout,” by National Geographic.  This video is presented as if it is a topic briefing on EMP and CME events, delivered to a new U.S. President.  It includes snapshot interviews with various experts, and the focus is on the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid.

After Armageddon,” by History Channel.  This docu-drama chronicles the life of an ordinary family in the wake of a global flu pandemic.  Though this catastrophic event was not caused by an EMP, the aftermath effects do offer some useful insight into circumstances a family might encounter after a nationwide disaster.