I think that it would be safe to say that many people who are reading this have experienced a power outage at some point in their life. You go to flip on the light switch, turn on the coffee maker, or start a load of laundry and, nothing. Luckily, due to the expediency of line workers, most power outages last just a few hours, days, or weeks at most.
But imagine a power outage that is not localized but widespread, say covering an entire continent or more. And the power would not come back on for weeks, months or possibly even years.
An event that could cause such devastating effects to our modern world is not some far fetched theory. It has happened before. The sources of such an event can be caused by an EMP or a CME.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
According to Wikipedia, an EMP is:
“An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also sometimes called a transient electromagnetic disturbance, is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse’s origin may be a natural occurrence or man-made and can occur as a radiated, electric, or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source. “
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)
According to Nasa.gov a CME is:
“The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion.”
Or More Simply…
They can be thought of as producing an invisible pulse of charged particles moving incredibly fast that can damage electronic components by creating a surge of energy.
Electromagnetic Pulse Threat (EMP)
An electromagnetic pulse is most commonly talked about concerning one man-made device, the nuclear bomb. One of the by-products of a nuclear bomb is an electromagnetic pulse. The effect of an EMP in a low atmospheric detonation is fairly minimal since its effects are partially dependent on the line of sight. However, the higher the bomb is detonated, the further the effects of an EMP will reach.
It has been estimated that it would only take one nuclear bomb detonated at a certain altitude over a specific spot, to affect the entire power grid of the United States.
There are two reasons that I find an EMP particularly frightening.
- What it affects: An EMP affects both the power grid, meaning power transmission lines, and electronic devices. Almost everything that we depend on in our daily lives would be affected. Transportation, computers, fueling, banking, fuel, and water supply lines, and anything else that is dependent on sensitive electronic and computer components.
- Speed: An EMP travels at the speed of light. Imagine an event that can irreversibly affect hundreds of millions of people almost instantaneously. You look up to the sky to witness a very bright explosion and by the time you figure out what has happened, the damage has been done.
Coronal Mass Ejection Threat (CME)
The threat of a CME is very real as the surface of the Sun is extremely volatile. However, two things need to happen for that threat to be felt here on Earth.
The first is that there needs to be a large enough CME that can travel the distance between the Sun and the Earth. The second thing is that when a CME occurs it needs to be directed right at the Earth. While this reduces the chances of us being affected it is certainly not impossible.
The largest CME on record is known as the Carrington Event that occurred in September of 1859. The CME was strong enough that the telegraph systems all over the world were affected. There were reports of telegraph operators who were electrocuted, sparks flying from lines, and fires ignited from the uncontrolled surge.
While the telegraph system was certainly important, most of the population did not rely on it to live their daily lives. When a CME of that level happens again, it will have a drastically different effect on our technology driven world.
How To Prepare for EMP/CME Threats
The good news is that there are several things that you can do to prepare for an EMP/CME.
Electronics can be protected by building a faraday cage. Simply put, this is a metal cage or container that will help to divert the harmful effects away from the devices inside. It is important to note that the devices should be insulated away from having direct contact with any of the cage’s metal surface.
Thanks to the fine people who monitor the Sun, there can be some warning when a CME happens. Usually, there is a buildup of activity before a CME that scientists can monitor and record. Based on that information CME threat levels can be adjusted similarly to a severe storm warning system. Should you be concerned about CME it would be best to keep as many devices as possible unplugged from the power grid.
Ultimately, the best thing that you can do to prepare for such an event is to focus your supplies, knowledge, and skills on long term preparations.
As I stated earlier, a powerful enough EMP/CME has the potential for knocking out electronics and the power grid for years or more.
Cover your bases such as shelter, food, water, and first aid in terms of years and not days or weeks. Educate yourself in different ways of maintaining a renewable food source such as gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, raising livestock, and long-term preservation methods to have the product of those food sources last the longest.
You should have hand tools and hardware available so that you can rebuild the necessary infrastructure needed to form the foundation of society. In the end, when power or energy is taken away from us, you need to look back roughly two hundred years ago to see how people lived. While the knowledge that we have now is more advanced than then, our methods will be reduced to those of that period.