You’ve probably read books about EMP like One Second After and have likely heard of the Carrington Event, but what is an EMP and what does it have to with a CME?
An Electromagnetic Pulse can be caused by different things like a lightning strike, or a meteor breaking up in the atmosphere, or your car engine starting up. (The latter was corrected back in the 80’s by a law saying they had to shield starters.) The types we’re going to discuss are Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (NEMP), High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).
Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse – Starfish Prime
Back in 1962 scientists launched a W49 thermonuclear warhead into space and exploded it 250 miles above the Earth in a test called Starfish Prime. This caused an EMP much bigger than predicted and it drove much of the instrumentation used to measure it off scale. It also knocked out about 300 street lights, set off burglar alarms, and knocked out a microwave link in Hawaii, which was about 900 miles away. The yield from this weapon was about 1.5 megatons. It also knocked out some satellites in Low Earth Orbit due to an artificial radiation belt caused by the explosion.
Soviet Test 184
Right around the same time as Starfish Prime the Soviets conducted a test over Jezkazgan detonating a 300 kiloton nuclear weapon at an altitude of 180 miles. This is considered to be much lower than the yield from one of today’s nuclear weapons. Since this test was conducted over land the Soviets monitored roughly 570 kilometers of telephone line. When the bomb detonated it caused major damage to overhear power lines, underground power lines buried to a depth of 1 meter, telephone lines, power generation sub-stations, military diesel generators and electronic failures, all despite the fact that they were using EMP-resistant Vacuum Tube technology at the time.
Coronal Mass Ejection
Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME for short, is when the sun blows off plasma and magnetic energy. When these hit the Earth they can cause damage similar to an EMP. In 1859 a CME hit the Earth and caused telegraph lines to give telegraph operators electric shocks.
Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons threw sparks. Some telegraph operators could continue to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies.
A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread disruptions and damage to a modern and technology-dependent society. The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth’s orbit without striking the planet.
There have been a few other large events like The Carrington Event since 1859; however, most have missed the planet sparing us the worst they could do.
In light of current political unrest in a nuclear capable world and Coronal Mass Ejections randomly throwing electromagnetic darts out into the solar system it seems prudent to at least do some serious thinking about what could possibly happen in a long term grid down event. If a grid collapse were to occur it would open the door to Pandora’s Box, in this case meaning that people dependent on electricity to keep them alive would likely be dead within days, if not hours of the event.
What happens when one of the richest countries with the worlds most pampered population is suddenly thrown into darkness?
A grid collapse would lead to an economic collapse, food would no longer be distributed to cities likely causing food riots and major civil unrest would follow. About ten or so years ago a city in Massachusetts had a water main break and people were under an order to boil water before drinking. The city was shipping in free water to hand out to citizens, yet there were fist fights among people waiting in line. The amazing thing is they still had electricity and running water – they just had to boil it first. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to extrapolate large scale food riots if the grid went down and there were no more food deliveries here in the U.S.
Stores will likely start charging exorbitant rates for their goods in the days immediately following a collapse. At least until the store owners figured out the paper they’re accepting for their goods is worthless. Twenty bucks for a package of Oodles of Noodles? Bargain. Buy it quick.
In the book “One Second After” by William Forstchen the story centers around a small town in North Carolina that suddenly has to deal with a complete collapse of the grid after an EMP. One of the things he discusses is the fact that we live in a country where everything is clean and sterile and our natural resistance to diseases has been diminished. A good round of the flu in this situation could kill millions. There are many diseases out there easily communicable that could cause a massive die-off of people.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see towns walling themselves off or setting up checkpoints like the small town in the book. First, to protect themselves from people fleeing the cities and second, to stop the spread of disease.
Preparing for a long term grid down situation would be akin to learning how to live comfortably in the 1800’s. There may be the odd pocket here and there of hardened generators or places with water turbines that could be repaired or what have you, but for the most part the country would be dark.
It’s good to have canned and dehydrated food standing by to stave off hunger for a few months or a year, but eventually you’ll have to learn how to grow crops, raise animals, and hunt and fish for your food. And you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way – by hand or using oxen or horses to plow your fields. If you’re lucky you might have a working tractor, but it’ll be up to you to keep it running.
Learn new skills and acquire knowledge. Put a wood stove in your house if possible. Have a large buck saw with a bunch of blades and an axe and splitting maul in your shed.
Set up a community of people to help each other. No man is an island and someone who’s thought about this scenario needs to step up and become a leader, guiding those who don’t have the first idea of what to do down a path of doing something constructive instead of rioting, stealing, or even killing for a scrap of food.
Learn how to shoot a gun and know when to use it. You will probably have to protect yourself, your family, or your possessions at some point.
Learn how to make candles, natural lamps and oil for light at night. After the batteries are gone it could be years before you see electric lights again.
Raise chickens. A dozen chickens can eat bugs right off the lawn and will lay eggs that will be priceless.
Stop for a minute and take a good look at how you live. Do you wake up in the morning to your phone or tablet waking you up and immediately dive into Facebook or the news before you even get out of bed? Are you totally dependent on electricity to cook your food, heat your water, make your coffee, and everything else you do?
Or if the power goes out can you get out a camp stove and a percolator and make some coffee with water you have stored away? Have you done even the slightest bit of preparation for a power outage?
Are you comfortable camping out in a tent in all seasons? Do you know how to start a fire in the rain or the snow? Can you read a compass and go from point A to point B reliably? Remember that the expensive GPS unit you bought will probably be worthless.
I live in Maine and we typically lose the power here three or four times a year where I live out in the boonies. When the power goes out I have everything I need to make breakfast, wash up, have coffee, and get myself out the door with only a minimum of fuss. I’m comfortable staying in a tipi with just a small woodstove. My wife and kids are comfortable in the woods hanging out around an open fire and eating food cooked over it.
If you live in a city or urban area and have no idea how to make an open fire, or how to take care of yourself or your family if the lights go out for a few days what are you going to do when it goes out for a year? Or two? Could you survive?
I’ve talked with many people about this kind of scenario and a surprising amount of them have told me: “It wouldn’t matter because I’d be dead. I wouldn’t want to live through something like that.” Every time I hear that it blows my mind, but some estimates say we’d lose seven to nine people out of every ten if we had to live through a real long-term grid down situation, so their wish would likely come true.
Are you physically fit? Life after the grid will likely be very strenuous. Can you carry your bug-out bag twenty miles a day? Ten? Five? Have you ever pulled it out of your closet and taken it for a walk? Physical fitness is something we Americans lost touch with a generation ago. Believe it or not most American’s could probably stave off 90% of the illnesses in this country if they’d just diet and exercise properly. But it’s much easier to take a bunch of pills and medications to control high blood pressure or heart disease than to avoid it all together by eating smart. Diet or die. It’s your call.
Get used to a little discomfort. Go for a hike in the woods when it’s snowing or raining. Allow yourself to get cold and wet to see what it really feels like then multiply it by a hundred when it happens for real, because then you might not be able to get to shelter except for what you can build out of natural materials. Go a day or two without eating and see how it feels. Go down in your basement and turn off the electricity for a weekend and see what kind of obstacles you’ll face.
Pain lets you know you’re still alive. At least that’s what the Drill Instructors used to tell us at Parris Island.
So how about it? Could you survive? Would you want to? What kind of challenges do you see if the grid goes down?