There seems to be much interest in the rising possibility of disruption to our daily lives through a large scale EMP event, whether through natural means such as a solar storm or through terrorist inflicted damage via a high altitude detonation of as nuclear device, otherwise known as a HEMP attack. And along with that rise in interest in the event comes an increase in the amount of advice on how to protect ourselves against such an event. Unfortunately, much of it isn’t quite true.

What exactly would happen in one of these events? In the most severe event that we could expect, a Coronal Mass Eruption or Ejection, a huge wave of electromagnetic disturbance would arise from the suns surface and speed towards the earth. This wave would contain hundreds of thousands of volts at incredibly high amperage levels, much higher levels than most surge protection equipment could handle that is in use today. Look at that little plug strip you plug your computer into for protection. I won’t go into all the details behind how it works and all, but you can read about how these surge protectors work here.

In simple terms, a metal oxide varistor channels high amperage voltage and current to the earthing ground of a circuit, thus dissipating any damaging current and keeping your equipment safe. There is more than one type of ground that can be implied when the term ground is used. One type of ground is the signal ground, the second type is the chassis ground, and the third type is called the earth ground. The third type is the one that is important here. Unfortunately, many people group all three grounds together, and that is where much misinformation gets spread. What you want to concentrate on when making your preparedness plans to survive such an event is making sure that whatever type of protection you use, that protection is solidly connected to some kind of earth ground system.

Perhaps the best way to learn about protecting yourself from these events is to jump into the way-back machine and read all about lightening protection and the Faraday Cage. The Faraday cage was invented by Faraday back in 1836, so it’s not a brand new theory, and we know it works- when constructed properly. Even today, modern high rise buildings are constructed as giant Faraday Cages to protect the structure and its occupants against lightning strikes. We can in fact protect ourselves from these events, but that protection doesn’t come cheap. And it is not always going to come easily, especially if you want widespread protection.

Our national infrastructure is the largest scale challenge, and the technology exists to provide that protection, but not the funding. With that in mind, our best course of action is to protect our own butts, and leave the infrastructure to others. These EMP bursts, pulses or waves, whatever you chose to call them will race through the atmosphere looking for something to take them to the earth or ground. They find that path through metal structures or elements such as wires and steel buildings, buildings and tall trees, or human beings, as in the case of lightning. But the damage from some of these EMPs will be far greater, as the voltage and amperage will be far greater than a lightning strike would be.

The secret to EMP protection is to be able to siphon as much current as possible to the earth ground where it will be dissipated, for one thing, and for another to segregate your electronic devices from any voltage/current potential by wrapping and grounding the packages. The design for a secured grounding grid with an in ground web can get pretty complicated, but visualize a lightning protection circuit (LPC) for your home. Susan Bronson wrote a very good, but quick article in Popular Science with a brief description on an LPC that you can access here. I’ll also suggest you read Plain directions for the construction and erection of lightning-rods by John Phin.

The difference between a standard UL approved system for lightning protection and EMP protection is that you may require larger gauge conductors, and you will definitely need a large scale buried ground web of buried cables and ground rods. As to how much bigger, and how big of a web you need, I’ll refer you to a licensed electrical engineer. To help out, refer to this system as an isolated ground system similar to that used on commercial computer mainframe and control systems. And just as a warning, it’s not going to be cheap, but your home will be protected.

You will also have some problems with solar panels and generators, both gas and wind powered because of the coils of wire on the motor windings, as well as the wires connected to the equipment. Run the conductors leading to your home in metal conduit, and construct a metal mesh cage to completely surround the equipment. Solder leads to the mesh and ground them to the conduit. The generator shouldn’t be a big problem, but the wind turbines will obviously have to have one end of the housing where the shaft exits the housing to allow the blades to freely rotate. There’s nothing you can do about that, so be prepared to make repairs as needed. Solar panels will also be a problem as there really isn’t any way to construct a tight enough mesh over the cells without blocking the light, reducing the unit’s efficiency. I would suggest here that you use a one inch mesh made from a small diameter wire and hope for the best. There may be by now a source for some sort of protective equipment, but I’m not aware of any on the market at this time.

As to your electronic devices, which will surely be subjected to fatal damage in an EMP event, do not leave the plugged into the power supply if you can help it. Also make sure to remove any antennae if possible. Electrical currents will be seeking the path of least resistance, and wires and antennae look like a geek cruising the bad part of town with a fifty dollar bill hanging out the window. Make some electrically insulated bags or boxes to put your equipment in. One item per bag is the safest. You can make these out of rubber sheets; just make sure that the bag is 100% closed to prohibit leakage of stray current. Then place them into some metal screen mesh bags that are also securely closed with no gaps.

If you have a super sensitive device, or high value item such as a laptop with your entire life detailed on it, place these bags into a larger rubber bag and finally cover with a larger screen mesh bag. This screen mesh can be regular window screen, but it has to be metal, not fiber material. Copper is a better conductor, but steel will work also. In a future post I’ll share some designs and construction tips for these bags.

Like I said, there are a lot of things we can do to protect our own butts from an EMP event, but the real problem will come from the failure of the public infrastructure systems. It will be very costly to install these protections, so I really don’t see them in use any time soon. Just remember that the key is to devise a way to siphon off all of that current these events will generate, and funnel them to the earth/ground where they will be safely dissipated. Don’t panic, talk to a professional that knows about grounding systems, especially when it comes to lightning protection as these folks will have the expertise that can help you develop a plan for your situation.

Some people are going to fluff off what I’ve said here as being too simple and old fashioned, but solutions don’t always have to be complicated. They do, however have to work, and if lightning protection systems can keep a skyscraper safe from strikes because they are built as a Faraday Cage, then it will work for you too.


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