Sunday, September 24, 2017

The NEMP threat

NEMP hype is all over the internet again. "Everything electronic will stop working!",
the headlines scream, and describe a future in which all will starve who don't buy their
expensive canned food. We, as hams, have been thru this before, and should know better.

NEMP has been studied since the late 1950s. The NEMP (Nuclear electromagnetic pulse) is
basically a huge induced electrical surge.
Electronic devices connected to large wire arrays, such as the
electrical grid, large LANs or large antennas, will get surges through their data connections,
which in many cases could damage the devices. Many cars and trucks
may be disabled. Military gear is "tempest-hardened" and should be expected to survive.
The main problem will be the electrical grid, which could suffer substantial
damage and be down for long periods of time. The landline telecom network will likely
suffer damage as well, but should come back up more quickly.

It isn't necessary for us, as hams, to have vaccuum-tube gear stashed away in Faraday cages
to reestablish communication in the aftermath of an EMP surge. Some of our equipment will
suffer damage, true, but most of it should come through the surge unscathed.
Using what is available, ham radio should be able to provide emergency services, and may have
to do so for a fairly long time, since the power grid will take a while to be restored to
service. So, preparation for NEMP should be similar to preparation for long-term power
outages: generators, solar panels, batteries, inverters and similar power backup systems.

Interestingly, nuclear war isn't the only possible cause of a large-area induced electrical
surge. In 1859, a large solar flare caused what we now call the
Carrington event. This could happen again; in fact, some scientists expect it to happen.
Unlike nuclear war, we might have as much as several hours advance warning of the surge hitting,
since it involves a wave of sublight particles.
During that advance warning period, we could disconnect any large antennas or networks,
and possibly unplug equipment fron AC power.

Our most important preparation is maintaining our routine of nets, so that we
are ready to carry message traffic, whether for emergency services or just concerned
relatives. As hams, we should not be caught unprepared when any disaster strikes,
whether local or nationwide.

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