Sunday, November 14, 2010

Scientists, Politicians Take Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat Seriously. Human Exposure to EM Fields.

Damage to electronic devices, and nation wide infrastructure collapse, due to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from Natural or Man-made sources has been in the open press a few times in the last several months. For example Britain vulnerable to space nuclear attack or 'solar flare' storm, conference told, Scientists, politicians take the threat of an electromagnetic pulse very seriously, and Researchers work to protect, restore vulnerable networks.

It is hard for me to judge how many readers of this blog have any knowlage of EMP, so over at the Ask A Scientist Physics Archive, part of the Newton Project to help students with their homework, we find 16 year old Michael asking about EMP:

Question - When's there's a nuclear blast, how does it create the EMP? - Michael

When a nuclear blast occurs, a number of things happen at once. Manyhigh-energy photons (x-rays and gamma rays) are produced. These photons collide with electrons in the bomb debris or the surrounding air and strip them from their nuclei. This causes a movement of the electrons away from the atomic nuclei. This separation of charges generates an electric field, and the motion of the charged particles (electrons) also induces a magnetic field. Magnetic and electric fields that change with time are all you need to generate electromagnetic radiation.

Because of the high energy of a nuclear explosion and the high temperatureof the fireball, these electromagnetic pulses pack quite a whallop. The frequency of the radiation in an EMP is fairly low, just in the range that electronic devices are sensitive to. Susceptible electronic circuits act as receivers, and pick up damaging voltage and current surges. The electronic components overheat, and that's the end of the device.

Richard Barrans Jr., Ph.D.

If we move up the knowledge scale, in what can be found with simple Internet Searches we find over at the Air University, specifically the Air War College (AWC), on Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama, we come across some class training material:
Electromagnetic Pulse Threats in 2010 by Colin R. Miller, Major, USAF; from the Introduction:


Current U.S. military transformation strategy centers on information dominance, network-centric warfare, and expeditionary operations. Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom demonstrated a spectacular evolution of capability in these key areas. Certainly, adversaries learned from Saddam's poor decision to face American forces head-on and will increasingly employ asymmetric attacks to defeat U.S. forces in the future. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons represent one of the most likely and potentially devastating opportunities for this type of attack in the near future. Ranging from sophisticated intercontinental nuclear weapons specifically designed to generate EMP effects to relatively crude and cheap electromagnetic bombs, these weapons can destroy all electronic devices within a target area as small as an automobile or as large as the continental United States. As U.S. forces continue to modernize and rely on electronic systems for effectiveness, it will become increasingly probable that an adversary will use EMP to strike at America's Achilles' heel. This paper addresses the threat EMP weapons will pose to U.S. expeditionary operations in the near future in terms of their ability to deny access to foreign soil, level the playing field in theater wars, and/or attack the U.S. homeland as a retaliatory or preemptive strike. It begins by discussing the nature of EMP and its effect on vulnerable systems, and then outlines the different methods of generating EMP while categorizing them by probability of use, lethal range, types of (electronic) targets they affect, and who is likely to use them. The paper considers three near-term scenarios for adversary use of EMP and recommends cost-effective response measures. It proposes a diplomatic policy to levy drastic consequences on the perpetrator of an EMP attack, rapid establishment of an EMP-hardened expeditionary force, hardening critical elements of civil infrastructures, integration of EMP attack response in large-scale training scenarios, and congressional action to establish and mandate compliance with EMP hardening standards for future military and civilian systems...

Electronic Circuit Vulnerability to EMP

Electromagnetic pulses damage electrical and electronic circuits by inducing voltages and currents that they are not designed to withstand. To understand how this occurs, it is necessary to understand both the characteristics of electromagnetic pulses and the circuits they offend. An electromagnetic pulse is defined by its rise time (measured in volts/second), its electrical field strength (measured in volts/meter (v/m), and its frequency content (measured in Hertz [Hz]). These factors combine to determine the threat EMP pose to a given system.

Rise time (how long it takes the pulse to reach
peak amplitude) is primarily a factor for protected systems, such as those employing surge protectors. When rise times are less than a few thousandths of a second, protection circuitry often cannot react in time. Field strength defines the amount of energy available to transfer to the target system, and frequency determines the efficiency of that transfer. Electric field orientation is also critical but, for the sake of simplicity, is not considered in this paper. EMPs are typified by fast rise times, high field strengths, and broad frequency content—factors that combine to make them lethal to electronic systems.

EMP induce large voltage and current transients on electrical conductors such as antennas and wires as well as conductive tracks on electronic circuit boards. When pulses enter a system through a path designed to gather electromagnetic energy, such as an antenna, they are said to have entered through the 'front door.' In contrast, when they enter through an unplanned path, such as cracks, seems, trailing wires or conduits, they have entered through the 'back door.' The efficiency of the energy transfer from pulse to system depends upon the frequency compatibility between the pulse and the entry path and on the conductivity of the material. When system characteristics match the offending EMP pulse, higher levels of damage occur. In general, sophisticated integrated circuits with short signal paths are susceptible to high frequency pulses while large electrical systems, such as commercial power characterized by long transmission lines, are vulnerable to low frequency EMP. It follows that a broadband EMP weapon threatens a greater number of systems than a narrowband weapon, though the power requirement for a broadband weapon is much higher.

Regardless of how EMP enters a system, it damages components simply by overloading them. For example, high density metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) computer chips, which rely on extremely narrow internal 'wires' {Bond-wires internal to the IC's.} to connect densely packed components, are permanently damaged when exposed to more than tens of volts or a few tenths of an amp. While it is extremely difficult to calculate the minimum field strength required to induce signals of this magnitude for all cases and systems, testing has shown that pulses of 10 kV/m are sufficient to cause widespread damage.

Ten kV/m could induce electrical charges a billion times more powerful than systems were designed for, not just burning them out, but in some cases melting critical components. As a result, unhardened computers used in data processing systems, communications systems, displays, industrial controls, military systems (including signal processors and electronic engine and flight control systems), telecommunications equipment, radar, satellites, UHF, VHF, HF, and television equipment are all vulnerable to the EMP at and above this level...

In 2009 Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen published the paper A Single Nuke Could Destroy America; a few of the quotes from the paper:

A rocket that can carry a satellite into orbit can also drop a nuclear warhead over any location on the planet in less than forty-five minutes.


An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a by-product of detonating an atomic bomb above the Earth’s atmosphere. When a nuclear weapon is detonated in space, the gamma rays emitted trigger a massive electrical disturbance in the upper atmosphere. Moving at the speed of light, this overload will short out all electrical equipment, power grids and delicate electronics on the earth’s surface.


One small nuclear weapon, delivered by an [Inter Continental Ballistic Missile] ICBM can, in fact, destroy the United States by maximizing the effect of the resultant electromagnetic pulse upon detonation.


Within weeks after such an attack, tens of millions of Americans would perish. The impact has been likened to a nationwide Hurricane Katrina. Some studies estimate that 90% of all Americans might very well die in the year after such an attack as our transportation, food distribution, communications, public safety, law enforcement and medical infrastructures collapse.

Less you think the above is nothing but paranoia, on June 9th 2010 the US House of Representatives passed H.R.5026, know as the "GRID Act":

Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act or GRID Act - (Sec. 2) Amends the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with or without notice, hearing, or report, to issue orders for emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the President issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.

Requires either the President or the Secretary of Energy to notify specified congressional committees promptly whenever the President issues such directive.

Instructs FERC, to the extent practicable in light of the nature of the grid security threat and the urgency for emergency measures, to consult with certain governmental authorities, including Canada and Mexico, regarding implementation of such emergency measures.

Prescribes: (1) implementation procedures; and (2) related cost recovery measures affecting owners, operators, or users of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure.

Directs FERC to require any owner, user, or operator of the bulk-power system in the United States to implement measures necessary to protect the bulk-power system against specified vulnerabilities.

Directs FERC to order the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) to submit reliability standards to: (1) protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event; and (2) require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event that any such transformer is destroyed or disabled as a result of a reasonably foreseeable physical or other attack or a geomagnetic storm event.

Directs the President to designate for FERC the domestic facilities that are: (1) critical to the national defense; and (2) vulnerable to an electric energy supply disruption.

Directs FERC to require an owner or operator of defense critical electric infrastructure to implement measures to protect it against any vulnerability that has not been adequately addressed.

Directs FERC, before promulgating a rule or issuing such order, to request and consider recommendations from the ERO.

Directs the Secretary to establish a program to develop technical expertise in the protection of systems for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy against either geomagnetic storms or malicious acts using electronic communications or electromagnetic pulse.

Exempts the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration for 11 years from any requirement under this Act pertaining to emergency response measures or measures to address Grid security vulnerabilities (except for a requirement addressing a malicious act using electronic communication).

(Sec. 3) States that the budgetary effects of this Act shall be determined by reference to the latest statement titled "Budgetary Effects of PAYGO Legislation" for this Act, provided that such statement has been submitted prior to the vote on passage.

The bill now awaits US Senate action.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects. Per the FERC 'About', FERC is the enforcer that oversees environmental matters related to natural gas and hydroelectricity projects and other matters through imposition of civil penalties and other means.

EMP does not have to be cause by Mankind, it could be caused by Solar Storms. A repeat of the Carrington Event in our modern technical society will be devastating, beyound the belief of most people today.

So devastating in fact that The Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Council hosts international initiatives to coordinate infrastructure protection against electromagnetic threats, in partnership with government representatives, NGOs and corporations. They just hosted a conference on Solar Flares, about taking out the electric grid, and our collectivly poorly designed Embedded Systems in the name of cost savings.

Are your designs ready for EMP, ESD, or even EMC/RFI?

You can test out your design to see if has even a remote hope of surviving an EMP event with an Avalanche Generator. Avalanche Generator create extremely fast rise time pulses. I don't mean to imply that a simple Avalanche Generator is in any way going to have the same energy level as a real EMP event, but if your circuit doesn't make it through a AG test run, there is no hope for EMP survival. Do note that Avalanche Generator have enough energy to kill you! If you have no experience with high energy circuits this is not the place to start!

Some application notes to get you started:

While many see the above as paranoia, a few people do serious research into related areas such as Louis Slesin of Microwave News, check out his new column Short Takes. Among the recent posts are:

  • ICNIRP's stunning rejection of precautionary policies for power-frequency EMFs.
  • An Australian TV video on a brain tumor victim who blames her glioma on heavy use of a mobile phone. The piece includes an interview with Interphone's Bruce Armstrong.
  • Another video on the latest EMF scam.
  • The New York Times' outlook on EMF/RF health risks (with a link to Mike Repacholi's WHO EMF Project).

I can not stress enough that anyone interested in the medical research field and/or the effects of our ever increasing exposure to EMF's, must read The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life by the late Robert Becker and Gary Selden. All research in the field starts here. One key point worth mentioning is that Becker's research showed that low power signals of the same frequency had biological effects that higher power levels of the same signals did not have.

Even the International Electrical Congress (IEC) is getting into the act with their new Assessment of the compliance of low-power electronic and electrical equipment with the basic restrictions related to human exposure to electromagnetic fields (10 MHz to 300 GHz); IEC 62479:2010. Do note that Beckers research was at much lower frequencies.

1 comment:

  1. It's so scary, an EMP hitting at anytime. We need to be prepared. Seeing as how last month was preparedness month, I looked up a lot of stuff about how to get prepared for an EMP. I found some really great information and some really great blogs/articles. The best thing that I came across was; they were having guests on air a lot to talk about different things having to do with an EMP. Now, they still are having guests on their show on Wednesdays at Noon. Tomorrow they are having a guy named Ken Timmerman be on their show. To read more about Ken Timmerman and what he's done, you can go to and look, and then tomorrow you can go back and listen to the show!