Surviving Solar Flares, Coronal Mass Ejections, and EMPs

Welcome to this week’s Urban Survival Newsletter, brought to you by the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival course.  This week is a biggie…we’re going to talk about this week’s solar flare that I briefly mentioned on Tuesday, as why we’re likely to see some BIG solar flares in the next few years and what you need to do to prepare.

You might remember Saddam Hussein threatening to use chemical weapons against both the US and Israel during the first and 2nd Gulf Wars.

You might also remember that we responded to the threat by promising to “respond with overwhelming force and extract a very high price should he be foolish enough to use chemical weapons on United States forces.”

Many thought that this meant dropping a nuke on Iraq and turning the desert to a big pane of glass.

Wile this was definately a possiblity, it’s much more likely that our response would have been for us to use an EMP.

An EMP is an electromagnetic pulse which, in this case, would have been caused by detonating a nuclear bomb 100-300 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Buildings wouldn’t fall down, Geiger counters wouldn’t go off, and people wouldn’t die of radiation poisoning, but the EMP WOULD completely destroy the electrical grid and most unshielded electronic items in Iraq.

An EMP attack like this is the basis for the book, “One Second After” part of the TV series, “Jericho” as well as an episode of “24” and several other fictional accounts.

Where this gets interesting is that in addition to China and Russia having the ability to attack the US with an EMP, North Korea, Iran, and any terrorist organization with deep pockets can do it as well.

In it’s simplest, most unrefined form, an EMP attack could be done with one of the many small nukes missing from the former Soviet Union placed on a SCUD rocket and launched 12 miles off the East coast from a container ship.

It wouldn’t knock out the entire country, but it wouldn’t need to…our economy is so fragile right now that any hiccup, let alone a major attack, would most likely bring down the whole credit default swap scam, as well as be the final blow to many of our country’s insolvent banks.

How long would it take to recover?  Well, it depends on how you define recovery.  One of the casualties of an EMP attack would be the transformers that step up and step down voltage along power transmission lines.  The power grid as we know it may never recover if several large transformers in the same region failed simultaneously.  The transformers used in high voltage transmission weigh from 100 tons up to 300 tons for one transformer manufactured by Siemens.  They take a long time to manufacture, they’re expensive, there’s global demand, and they’re very difficult to transport.

It’s somewhat easy for some people to dismiss EMPs.  Many simply don’t appreciate how much some people hate the US, our freedoms, our wealth, and our support of Israel.  They don’t know us, but they want to kill us.  They want us to live the same miserable lives that they live rather than to have individual liberty.

Well, even if you or one of your relatives are in this group who don’t want to face the threats we face from other countries, this week made the threat of EMPs very difficult to ignore.

I wrote a very quick article on Tuesday about this week’s solar flare.  These are a big deal, which is why I reference solar flares and their potential to wreck havoc on our way of life every few weeks.  This week, we got a harmless wake up call that solar flares/CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejection) DO happen.  This one was TINY.  If or when the sun has a large solar flare that causes a large coronal mass ejection to come our way, it could be like a series of hundreds of EMPs going off every few minutes for days at a time.

Has it happened?  Yes.  In 1859, we experienced a CME so strong that telegraph wires shorted out and started fires from coast to coast.

Where an EMP would only damage electronics over a region, a powerful CME would effect the entire planet.

Far fetched?  Not really.  Unlikely?  400 years of data says an increase in CMEs IS very likely.  In fact, here is the chart of solar activity since 1610 from NASA.  I link to it at the bottom of this article.  You’ll see that there’s a peak every 11 or so years.  We were at the bottom of the current cycle in 2008 and are currently on the upswing.  The red arrow points to what some experts believe our next upswing will look like…fairly weak in comparison, but strong enough considering our dependence on electronics.

So, while the worst case scenario may not be likely, it IS likely that we will experience several solar flares of varying sizes over the next 1-5 years. 

The solar flares could simply cause pretty Northern Lights and bad shortwave propigation, they could cause regional blackouts like what happened in Canada in 1989, it could knock out satellites, or a major CME like the 1859 CME could knock out electronics and our electrical grid.

The only thing is that our infrastructure is MUCH more interdependent and fragile than it was in 1859.  Most of the world wasn’t affected by telegraph lines going down, but most of the world WILL be affected by air conditioning, cars, refrigeration, heating systems, communication, and banking simultaneously going down.

So, how do you prepare for this?  Well, it depends on where you’re at in your process of preparedness.  Some of the advanced things that you can do is to make sure that your house has at least one solid ground.  In most areas, this means driving a 1/2″ copper stake 10 feet into the ground, but it could mean burying/driving copper as far as 40 feet into the ground, continually watering your ground rods, or periodically adding minerals to the soil near your ground rod.

I added a second ground rod to our house after we moved in and I put it at the end of a gutter runout that we don’t collect.

If you have a metal shed, you can ground it.  If you have a metal safe, you can ground it.  You can also create mini poor-man’s Faraday cages out of aluminum foil or mylar.

With an EMP, it’s unlikely that the general public will have any warning of an attack, but with a CME, we’re getting better and better at identifying CMEs and that means that we’ll have between 17 hours (as in 1859) and 3-4 days (as in August, 2010) warning to unplug, shield, and possibly even bury sensitive equipment.

Hold on a second!

Before you go off and spend a bunch of time and money preparing for one specific potential event, make sure you have all of your fundamentals in order.  What I mean is that instead of preparing specifically for an EMP/CME, you’re much better off taking steps that will help you prepare for ALL causes of breakdowns in civil order.

I’m talking about having months or years of food on hand, a way to supply yourself and your family with water, shelter, fire, security, and medical skills.

But that’s not all.  That stuff won’t do you any good if you’re all alone in a city or if you’ve blabbed about your preparedness to every neighbor within a mile. 

You also need to address operational security, disaster/survival psychology, building your mutual aid team, improvised medicine, field expedient ways to up-armor your house, making your house and your family NOT look like a good target, and many of the other important strategies and tactics covered in the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course.

It sounds like a lot, but the course provides a systematic, proven plan of attack that’s powerful enough for career door kickers to learn from and simple enough so that an 8 year old could survive just about any disaster that man or nature throws at them.

If you haven’t signed up yet, take a look at the complete course description and 80+ student reviews at SurviveInPlace.com.  Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been preparing for 37 years, I guarantee the course contains valuable tactics and strategies that you haven’t considered…even though you need to. 

To learn more, go to SurviveInPlace.com

Stay Safe & God Bless!

David Morris
UrbanSurvivalGuide.com   / SurviveInPlace.com
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As always, nothing said in this article should be taken as professional advice.  It is all the opinion of the author.  You could die, get sick, go to jail, lose all your money, or worse if you ever do anything mentioned without consulting a professional.

Here are some more resources you might want to check out to learn more about solar flares, sun spots, and coronal mass ejections.

www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mystery_monday_031027.html
www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=110997398
science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/04jun_swef/
science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/29may_noaaprediction/
spaceweather.com/

About David Morris

David Morris is the creator of the Survive In Place Urban Survival Course, the Fastest Way To Prepare Course, Urban Survival Playing Cards, Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, and other books, courses, and articles on preparedness, survival, firearms, and other tactical topics. He lives with his wife, 2 boys, and 2 dogs.

Comments

  1. Suzanne Patterson says:

    I spend 3 days a week 35 miles from my home. My biggest fear is that an emp or cme will render my car inoperable. Even with a back pack filled with supplies getting home (where all of my food, water, etc. are) on foot is a daunting prospect for me because of medical issues. Is there a practical way to shield just those components that are vulnerable in an auto instead of placing the whole car in a Farrady tent?

  2. Just read this on Yahoo:
    in.news.yahoo.com/139/20100826/981/tsc-massive-solar-storm-to-hit-earth-in_1.html

    Massive solar storm to hit Earth in 2012 with ‘force of 100m bombs’

    –>
    Massive solar storm to hit Earth in 2012 with ‘force of 100m bombs’ –>
    Thu, Aug 26 12:50 PM
    Melbourne, Aug 26 (ANI):

    Astronomers are predicting that a massive solar storm, much bigger in
    potential than the one that caused spectacular light shows on Earth
    earlier this month, is to strike our planet in 2012 with a force of 100
    million hydrogen bombs.
    Several US media outlets have reported that NASA was warning the
    massive flare this month was just a precursor to a massive solar storm
    building that had the potential to wipe out the entire planet’s power
    grid.
    Despite its rebuttal, NASA’s been watching out for this storm since
    2006 and reports from the US this week claim the storms could hit on
    that most Hollywood of disaster dates – 2012.
    Similar storms back in 1859 and 1921 caused worldwide chaos, wiping
    out telegraph wires on a massive scale. The 2012 storm has the
    potential to be even more disruptive.
    “The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly
    solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly
    later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years,” News.com.au
    quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.
    “A bold statement and one taken seriously by those it will affect
    most, namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone
    working with modern GPS systems.
    “They can even trip circuit breakers and knock out orbiting
    satellites, as has already been done this year,” added Reneke.
    No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on
    today’s digital-reliant society.
    Dr Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division, told
    Reneke the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning”, causing
    catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services
    and national security unless precautions are taken.
    NASA said that a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences
    found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause “1 to 2
    trillion dollars in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure and
    require four to 10 years for complete recovery”.
    The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as
    Solar Cycle 24.
    Most experts agree, although those who put the date of Solar Max in
    2012 are getting the most press.
    They claim satellites will be aged by 50 years, rendering GPS even
    more useless than ever, and the blast will have the equivalent energy
    of 100 million hydrogen bombs.
    “We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,”
    Fisher told Reneke.
    “Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on
    the Earth and it’s rapid, just like a lightning bolt. That’s the solar
    effect,” he added.
    The findings are published in the most recent issue of Australasian
    Science. (ANI)

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  4. Johne Martin says:

    I need to know how to “correctly” ground my house using the 1/2″ copper rod. thanks, and will be in touch again.

    • Hey Johne,

      It’s not real simple…it depends on the composition of your soil in
      terms of dirt, sand, clay, and rock, the mineral content of your soil,
      the moisture level of your soil, the sensitivity of your equipment,
      and how big of a pulse you need to disperse.

      Your needs could range from a 4-6 foot, 1/2″ in diameter copper rod to
      a 10 foot 1″ rod that goes down to a ball of copper that weighs
      several tons.

      In many cases, simply burying a metal ammo can 1-3 feet underground
      will effectively protect smaller items.
      David

  5. DougSter says:

    The single most serious threat from an EMP is to solid-state (SS) electronic components: transistors, diodes, and integrated circuit components. Essentially, what happens is that an EMP creates a HUGE electromagnetic field, which electronic devices “see” as a voltage source. Every PN junction within the SS components attempts to rectify that voltage source, but since it is so large, their current ratings are exceeded and the junctions burn out. Shielding can prevent some damage, but it must be very good shielding – aluminum foil will not do. Also, it matters not if the SS equipment is powered or unpowered at the time of the EMP; the damage will still happen if the PN junctions are exposed.

    There is virtually no threat to electrical system transformers themselves because their step-up and step-down ratios are usually pretty low. Any damage to transformers would have to result from the EMP being stepped up to a level high enough to arc through transformer windings – highly unlikely. The REAL threat is to all the electronics that control power generation, regulation, and distribution. A sufficiently large EMP would damage/destroy enough of the control systems, thus the power grid, for a very long time. We no longer have old fashoined electromangetic or electromechanical control systems, so power restoration would be agonizingly slow.

    Vacuum tube electronics WILL survive even the largest EMP because there is no physical (PN) junction within tubes to burn open. Virtually all other electronic components will be unaffected by an EMP. But, the earliest use of SS diodes, as signal detectors, began in the 1940s, so even some “all tube” vintage circuits contain SS diodes. (Yes, there are tube diodes that could be retrofitted.) It’s interesting to note that some of the Soviet Union’s most sofisticated fighters of the cold war era were fitted with electronic systems that contained no SS devices at all, but instead used many, many miniature vacuum tubes fastened to circuit cards.

    Finally, the comments about older cars still functioning after an EMP are generally correct with the following corrections: You will have to go back WAY earlier than 1980s models, or even most 1960s models. Any car with an alternator contains SS diodes within that alternator – see paragraph one above as to why that is a problem. However, those diodes generally have VERY high current ratings, on the order of several hundred peak amps or more, and they MAY survive a large EMP. To be sure of having a running automobile, you’d have to have a car with a true Kettering ignition and a true generator, NOT alternator. (This illustrates a serious technical flaw concerning automotive systems contained in the otherwise excellent book “One Second After”.)

    Who am I to say all this? Electronics technician and engineer for almost 50 years, auto mechanic, aircraft mechanic, radar technician, and retired military (23 years) with specialized experience (wink, wink).

    • Hey Doug,

      Thanks for your comments…especially in light of your history!

      There’s two things that I need to take issue with and that is the comment about transformers and aluminum foil not working…here’s what I mean:

      On aluminum foil, most Faraday cages are made of copper…sometimes simply copper mesh. Aluminum has 60% of the conductivity of copper, so it’s still a very good conductor. The electrical engineers that I’ve talked with about this have had two major reasons why they think that aluminum foil makes a good field expedient Faraday cage.

      1. The amount of shielding needed for an EMP blast depends on the size of the EMP, the efficiency of the EMP (whether it was purpose built to be an EMP or a “normal” nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude), your distance from the EMP, AND atmospheric conditions. In other words, aluminum foil probably wouldn’t work if a purpose built EMP went off directly overhead, but it might work great if you were 1000 miles away from it, if it wasn’t a purpose built EMP, or if it was a small blast.

      2. It’s a guess as to whether or not aluminum foil will work as a Faraday cage in an EMP attack. We just don’t have a large enough dataset. That being said, aluminum foil doesn’t cost much compared to full-on Faraday cages and still gives people a lot of potential bang for the buck. It’s a case where everyone can keep aluminum foil and wire on hand, but most people have more pressing things to spend money on than certified Faraday enclosures.

      On the electrical transformers…the problem, as I understand it from the National Threat Assessment, is that power lines would act like a big anteanna for EMPs and overload the transformers. In essence, the pulse would hit a length of power line roughly simultaneously and then would be transmitted to the transformers almost instantly.

      If you’ve got a different take on this, I’d love to know it. I’m more interested in the truth than one particular point of view.

      • David,

        Sorry about my slow response. I’ve been learning and working on a new radar system and things have been very busy.

        I wasn’t too terribly clear in my first comment. Some electrical transformers would probably survive a large EMP provided that they were low-ratio step-up or down transformers. You are correct that the higher voltage ones would be toast, along with virtually anything they were connected to. The voltage pulse induced into power lines would follow transmission lines into homes and businesses and enter various equipments via conduction. At the same time, the EMP wave would also enter devices via field induction – a double whammy. Many if not most plugged-in devices would be toast, but ironically, toasters would probably survive quite well. The good news is that most electrical transformers are pretty simple tech and could, if necessary, be repaired or re-fabricated with very modest machinery. The bad news is that modern machines used to build/repair transformers have electronic controls and require electrical power. Kind of a chicken or egg dilemma. Also, much of the electronic controls, and spares and parts to repair them, would be destroyed. Bottom line: electrical power would be out for a long time.

        As for the aluminum foil, I would use it in several layers as a shield, but only until I had something better in place. There really wouldn’t be such a thing as an “expedient” shield since there would probably be zero warning before an EMP, and a shield would be unnecessary after. So, the idea is to prepare. I just wouldn’t be comfortable using foil to protect what may become some of the few still-working electronic devices in town. I would opt for a more substantial protective system like static-dissipative bags or wrap for each electronic device, and then those wrapped device packs wrapped in anti-static foam sheeting, and then placed in a surplus military steel ammo can, and the can either buried or in constant direct contact with earth (dirt). That way you would have substantial protection from both an induced pulse and static buildup. What to protect? A small multiband radio/scanner (I have an Icom R5), rechargeable batteries, battery charger, and means to power the charger (solar panel – yes, into the can), FRS radio sets, more batteries & charger, watches, etc.

        • Doug, thanks that is the one piece of info I’ve been looking for- how to build a practical EMP kit for one-second-after, on what you really need. Would you have time to suggest a couple ways or places to test that sort of a kit? I see fancy EMP tents and so forth, online, but I dont see any info on how well anything might work- is there a place, or is there a way to use tesla coil kits to actually test something like this, for example?

          I wonder if having a spare ignition coil and the ballast resistor in that ammo can would give you the back up you needed. I am assuming what the mechanic-friend of actor Tom Cruise in the movie “War of the Worlds” was replacing was the starter, in the van Tom hijacked to drive his family out of the path of the aliens with the lightning weappons- a bit of dramatic license there, but to the point- its not clear what cars might be affected-

          I recall a line from the National Geographic “Explorer” segment on EMP that cited as many as 10% of all cars on the road would be out-of-commission (shouldnt that be less than 10% will be driveable?)
          but my guess is thats not the only thing that would have been fried in that later model van….that same show had engineers frying small circuit boards- I’d guess just about any fuel control, or computer “brain” for any car will be inoperative, if its within any distance of the field effect.

          One thing is for sure, I dont have the time, money, or inclination to copper wire screen my garage..:) and to Davids point, it wont help much to drive if you dont have food to eat once you get there.

          thanks,

          Kevin

        • Hey Doug,

          Thanks again for your thoughtful and educated response. As far as the “field expedient” Faraday shield, I was too vague. Here’s what I meant:

          1. It is an expedient sheild that anyone can rig up TODAY for critical items and keep in place long term.
          2. If the EMP was in the form of a Coronal Mass Ejection, then we would have 17-90 hours advanced warning and people could put them into place.

          If time and money were no object for all of my readers, I would agree 100% with you that aluminum foil should not be used. Reality tells us that time and money ARE concerns, and so even though aluminum foil isn’t ideal, it has to be brought up as a potential improvised solution.

          Is foil perfect? No. But, again, it IS something that everyone can do immediately…probably without having to leave their house. With everything that I talk about, I try to give people immediately achievable steps that they can take as well as longer term steps that are more complete.

          In this case, most people who are concerned about EMPs probably don’t have 1 year of food/water/medications & other supplies and I strongly believe that it’s more important to get these fundamental issues taken care of before going on to higher level preparedness like EMP shielding.

          Again, aluminum foil & a ground wire can be done immediately. If they have ammo boxes that they can ground and bury, even better. At some point in the future when they can build copper cages and set up proper grounds then they can upgrade. In the meantime, grounded aluminum foil cages provide SOME protection.

          Like you said, items would have to be unplugged and all wiring to be inside the sheilding to be fully protected.

          Thanks again,

          David

  6. J. Kraemer says:

    An EMP attack is THE destructive force that I believe is most likely to cause enough catastrophic effect to bring down our current way of life. Along with David’s fictional examples of EMP, there is another that plays a fairly large role in “Ocean’s Eleven”.
    And in my preparation, I still have one large item to purchase should such a disaster occur…an “EMP-proof” car or truck. While it would take a lot of hard work to ground an automobile, I’ve been on a perpetual lookout for a vehicle made before the early 80’s, which is when car manufacturers started putting computer chips in our automobiles.
    I would agree that it’s best to prepare for all catastrophic scenarios, but an EMP attack to me seems the most imminent.

  7. Richard Tylock says:

    I have been following emails sent and agree with the survive in place concepts. The one exception that most have in their plans that will not work well is some expect like the latest History chanel of living off the land for a food supply. It will be brief in most areas. Unskilled, and the fact there is only limited supply, a person could spend h their entire time to seek a food supply.
    EMPs it seems not enough is know for protection except it affects electronics. Some say as long as not running, and unplugged, it is just fine on radios. Others believe burried with foil covering, and metalic boxes, probably will be fine. I know of one group who are building tube type radios of the old days.
    They already have device designed for LEOs that can melt the electronics on a car, that can stop a chase pronto. However must have a down side, because they are not in use. It only works on the electronics while the vehicle is in operation I have also been told EMPs will stop the world as we know it, and to survive in place, with a plan, and supplies would be a sensible start.

  8. the key to security is long guns shot guns and side arms and ammunition to go to what u have and also having food and water supplies and additional clothing that is untaminaed and to have the means to open your food supply and cook it and also first aid supplies and training and have plenty of them. the best shows to watch also is the best defense survival, the history channel after appacalypse ngc world without oil and other shows like personal defense tv which are good jumping off points and should be seen and researched to find out which is the best methods of survival

  9. rick kates says:

    Hey Dave,
    Just a few comments on some of the survival TV shows that have been airing. Really love the Man/Women show, it really show’s a lot of good basics and many ideas on the mindset of survival. The show the colony, I have a few problems with
    because of many things in it. 10 acres of Loiusiana swampland, and the scavenging skills of the participants are not greatly desired. A place where firearms would be in abundant supply, as proven after Katrina and our own Tornado that hit Greensburg KS, there was a article in the newspaper about how many firearms were found laying everywhere some in excellant condition. Even an area after a general evacuation there would still be many excellant supplies
    that could be found, specially in an urban setting like they are in. So any ideason the subject.
    Thanks Rick

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