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National Geographic Explorer: Electronic Armageddon

2826 Views 17 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  TRX
I don't get National Geographic but this may be interesting.

Explorer | Video | | National Geographic Channel

Teaser: Explore what could happen when a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) occurs and cripples our electrical grid.

Airs June 15 at 11 pm est, June 19 at 5 pm est and June 22 at 4 pm est.
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Much of the Northeast blacked out for a while in 1977:

New York City blackout of 1977 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

And again in 2003:

Northeast Blackout of 2003 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

We lost power for a week in an ice storm in '01. Texarkana lost it for over 10 days.

Your house goes dark, of course. If you have a land line, it usually stays on; the telcos have their own backup power. Hospitals and nursing homes usually have generators. Police stations generally don't. After the tornados of '07 Mountain Home, Arkansas was dark except for Wal-Mart.

Locally, the refrigerator-sized traffic light control boxes don't appear to have any batteries in them; when the power goes off, we lose traffic signals. You can't buy gas anywhere; every gas station has electric pumps. You can't buy gas most places if the phones go down, since everyone is connected to the mothership somewhere else. Cell towers usually have generators, but in some urban areas they might not, due to the crazoids who hate the antennas and manage to get installations restricted in various ways.

After a week or so you'll lose water. The water towers hold 3 to 10 days worth, most places... but without the pumps to refill them, when it's gone, it's gone.

Some places, the sewer system depends on electric pumps to stairstep the flow up changes in grade. If your house is downhill from the local sewer main, you probably have a pump in the house or out in the yard. And around here, if you have a fairly recent septic system, code requires a macerator pump before the settling tank.

Most newer gas water heaters use electric ignition instead of a pilot light. They're not designed to be lit with a match, either.

I've seen new gas meters with digital displays on them. I don't know anything about them (or where they get their power from!), but you might be concerned about interruption in your gas supply if the power goes out in the winter.

Basically, if your power goes out, fill whatever you have with drinking water if you don't have any stocked up already. And be aware the toilet may quit working after a while. Other than that, you're on your own...
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Alarmist hype. They talk about "worst case scenario" and explore that. As in GIANT NUKULAR KABLOOIE scenario.

I read up on EMP years ago. There is a plethora of practical information on EMP damage and what can be done about it around the Internets (thank you Al Gore) :) Civillian Defense resources are a good starting point.

They make it sound like arcs of electricity is going to be dancing off of the power lines and onto my laptop and back to the house. EMP damage doesn't happen that way however. Power grid outages due to a nuke-generated EMP pulse would be temporary at best and would not even affect certain things such as diesel engines (ever wonder why the military uses diesel so much). Generators should also be OK. Hospital equipment may be OK, depends on the shielding. Standard gasoline vehicles would most likely stall, probably even old point-driven engines. Computers that are turned off won't have any problems and those that are on may have some problems, however the typical computer is shielded and you have varying degrees of shielding on cables, etc. At most you may experience data loss, but it wouldn't explode in an arc of brilliant light. An EMP that can fry a computer would have to be HUGE and the computer would have to be relatively close to it or unshielded.

Heck there have been issues with welders being too close to computers (welding on HVAC equipment on one side of a wall with the computer on the other side) and the EM field generated affected the system but only until it was shut off. No long-term data corruption.

I think the biggest thing in today's world that would be affected would have to be wireless communications. An EMP would be close in effect to a lightning storm or possibly a solar flare. Cellular would obviously be affected, and the microwave comm relay towers. Other than that land lines etc. should still work OK. The duration of an EMP would vary but I believe around 30-90 minutes for an "average" city-sized nuke is expected. EMP is essentially a static electric field and dissipates over time just like static on a rug. The NUKULAR KABLOOIE this show explores would be bigger and would last longer but not more than a few hours.

Satellites are also be shielded against cosmic rays, etc. and would only feel the effects of an EMP during the residual, but would start working normally after the EM field dissipates.

If a nuke pops over MY city, I would be more concerned about the heat, blast, and nukular fallout than the EMP. Hell even my rad detector runs on batteries! :)

Sounds like NG is exploring entertaining "this is how the world could end" scenarios. Could be a fun show to watch!
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Fearmongering is the name of the game nowadays, sad to say.
Fearmongering is the name of the game nowadays, sad to say.
And if you are wrong? :eek:
Correcting myself - apparently only electronic ignition is affected:

Office of Radiation Protection - Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)Fact Sheet - Washington State Department of Health

From here:
Electromagnetic Pulse-From Chaos To A Manageable Solution

Although the EMP effect was known to exist during the
detonationtion of conventional explosives prior to the first atomic
explosion and was predicted in nuclear weapons' tests, the extent and
potentially serious nature of EMP were not realized for several
years. Several incidents related to the 1963 detonation of a 1.4
megaton nuclear device 250 miles above Johnston Island highlighted
the potential effects of EMP. Immediately following the detonation,
the island of Oahu, Hawaii, which was located 800 miles from ground
zero, experienced several power outages, the activation of hundreds
of burglar alarms and the short-circuiting of thirty strings of
streetlights (1).
Good links here (not necessarily good info):


Good info on how to reduce EMP and how it would really take a huge KABLOOIE to fry (not just affect) electronics:

AusSurvivalist - EMP Protection

More goodness:

Electromagnetic Pulse Protection - EMP -
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An EMP attack is the most probable one. If they start up in the Middle East, they will surely want to put the US mainland on ICE. But now, in the Summer time is not good timing!
EMP shielding isn't trivial, and modern electronics are far more vulnerable than most people realize. It doesn't take much induced voltage to punch through gate oxide, which renders an integrated circuit pretty useless. With modern chip densities, it only takes a few volts to punch through the oxide (which is only a few nanometers thick). EM is tough because it has a coupled electric and magnetic fields. Shielding the electric field is trivial, but not the magnetic field. Even if powered off, an EMP burst can cause inductive currents, which can then ruin the electronics.

In a good EMP burst, figure that every car with an engine computer will become useless. Power grids, with their electronic controls, could collapse (but given the field strength that the thyristors have to put up with to switch the mains, that's not a given); more likely, the control circuitry would fail. Most modern appliances with embedded computers could be affected.

Several folks have been, for years, advocating that the US government take the issue of national security seriously, and actively rebuild civil defense, including taking steps to harden our power and communication infrastructures against EMP type attacks. Of course, the liberals that hate the US think we should be vulnerable to blackmail by any two-bit moon-worshiping head-banging fanatic regime that happens to get a bomb. Or makes a conventional EMP weapon which doesn't need an A-bomb.
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EMP will be the cheapest and most effective completely disabling thing they could use.

Well, almost the cheapest. Purifying enough uranium for a 5 megaton one shot and igniting it correctly will cost a good penny.
Nah, all the czars in DC are already disabling and destroying our infrastructure.
Several folks have been, for years, advocating that the US government take the issue of national security seriously, and actively rebuild civil defense
When those Gawdless Rooshians collapsed, so did the Civil Defense network, at least here in Arkansas. I don't know how much of the funding was state and how much was Federal.

I haven't seen a radio with a "CD" mark since... I can't even remember. The library and county court house used to have shelters underneath, with 55-gallon drums of water and boxes of cots, bandages, and supplies. When they built a new library a few years ago, they hauled everything off to the dump. Helloo, people, there are still tornadoes and floods and earthquakes... but their focus was so narrowly on atomic armageddon the idea of having a chunk of town wiped clean by tornadoes (it's happened before) doesn't register.

Maybe they don't expect to deal with anything at a local level any more, and planning has turned into some sort of cargo cult where giant FEMA helicopters come swooping down loaded with goodies. Years ago when I was concerned about the disappearance of the shelters, the only answer I got was "we don't need those any more" and a selection of pitying looks.

There used to be Emergency Broadcast Signal ("this is only a test") tests on the radio. Those went away years ago; advertisers began using the EBS alert signal in ads, along with the usual crying babies, ringing telephones, beeping pagers, etc.

The only piece of the old Civil Defense system I know of that's still in operation (locally, anyway) are the air-raid sirens. They were going to take those down before they got reminded they're used to warn for tornadoes, too.
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EMP will be the cheapest and most effective completely disabling thing they could use.
Maybe. There were no modern electronics back when above-ground testing stopped, which was right about the time discrete semiconductors were morphing into the first primitive integrated circuits.

There used to be a lot of EMP stuff up at DTIC Online, Office of Scientific and Technical Information, OSTI, U.S. Department of Energy, and other places. The Fed had scanned a sizeable chunk of the declassified nuke stuff into .PDFs and put it online, but whole categories got yanked down within weeks after 11 Sept 2001. [searches] at least some of it is back up; go for it.

Most of the reports from Oak Ridge, Sandia, and Livermore are quite readable. There's even some Army stuff out there. I liked the reports of how they determined how close a nuke had to be to take out a pickup truck... instead of "modeling" a result, they just parked a bunch of trucks at different distances, popped a fiery mushroom, and then had some guys go out and see which ones would start and drive away.

Empirical testing at its best!
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LOL that truck test sounds like an enjoyable read - do you know where it is? Searching for "EMP Truck" doesn't really produce relevant hits :)
EMP isn't easy to deal with. Just about any modern IC is vulnerable; the only question is how vulnerable.

One major issue is that an EMP bomb can be constructed cheaply with conventional explosives, some high-end capacitors, and a huge discharge coil. One foreign mag did a story on how easy it would be to construct a non-nuke EMP bomb. Many agencies have investigated how to make an EMP weapon; success or failure of these efforts is, obviously, classified.

If you're a survivalist, trade in that late-model computer-controlled vehicle and get something with an old-fashioned distributor, coil, and points. Hell, an old WW2 Jeep should do :)
Hell, an old WW2 Jeep should do :)
Or a "Sport Utility Vehicle."

When I first heard the term, I thought they were talking about something like, oh, a '71 El Camino SS with a 454...
Having spent my first ten years as an engineer in semiconductor, I can tell you that today's semi-conductors are actually more resitant to external spikes than they were originally. I was a test engineer and used to distructively test ICs. Before that I worked for a tester manufacturer and two of the customers that I dealt with were the NSA and Nuclear Effects Directorate. Pretty much all inputs and outputs have protection diodes on them that shunt current to ground over a certain voltage. You have to exceed the break down voltage of that diode and blow it open to get a surge inside. IC traces make pretty poor antenna's so you mostly need to protect it's power source from the surge. Use the shortest cord possible from your electronics to a surgeprotector and most of your electronics will survive.

The problem with the grid is that an EMP will trip substations and surge breakers all over the place. Probably every one on the grid would trip. Almost all of these require someone to go out and manually reset it. When the load goes away, power plants will go into emergency shutdown and need restarted. To restore the function of the grid, pieces will have to be re-enabled after appropriate generation capacity is back online. It will have to be done gradually. The farther away from generation you are, the longer you will be waiting. The entire US grid shuttingdown would suck because first the engineers would have to come up with a plan, which would be F'ed up by meddling from state and Federal officials trying to appease segments of the voting population. The longterm risks to the grid infrastructure come on start up when an unexpected surge could damage equipment in substations. Some of that equipment is one offs that take months to get from other countries since enviro laws and China pretty much killed that industry here.

The problem with modern vehicles is all that wiring acts as an antenna and you get voltage spikes in the wiring harness, which may get to something important like the engine control computer. There is an obscene amount of wiring in a modern car since we can't even roll our own windows down or lock our doors manually. Then again, it may not. I have two friends that had Dodge ram trucks who gto hit by lightning while driving them. Both strikes hit the antenna. One blew up the radio and nothing else. The other fried the engine computer and some sensors but strangely the radio still worked, but it still ran with the engine light on until he got home then wouldn't start again.

EMP effects are not uniform at all points with the same radius from the epicenter. The Earth's magnetic field strenght, terrain, atmospheric conditions, and compostion of the ground all affect how strong the effect is at a given spot. I don't think that we have ever actually set a bomb off at 50,000 feet so how that actually works out is anyones guess since all we have are computer models. I just assume that it will be bad like the simulations.
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Sounds like I'll keep an extra ecm for my car in an insulated metal box in the trunk.
Sounds like I'll keep an extra ecm for my car in an insulated metal box in the trunk.
Then you'd have to get gas, somehow. Even here in Arkansas I haven't seen a non-electronic gas pump in a long time.

You might want to add a hand pump and a long hose to your spare ECM kit!
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