Imagine this scenario: In just a matter of seconds, a terrifying event unfolds. A nuclear device explodes high above the Earth’s surface, and suddenly, everything goes eerily quiet. The familiar glow of city lights that typically brighten the night sky vanishes instantly. The conveniences we rely on, powered by intricate electrical systems and microcircuits, abruptly cease to operate.
If you attempt to tune in to the latest news on your television, you’ll be met with frustration because the signal has been disrupted. Phone networks and the Internet, our lifelines to the outside world, are also rendered useless. Panic sweeps through the population as people grapple with the uncertainty of the situation. Little do they know that a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) attack has struck the United States, plunging them into a world of confusion and darkness. The road ahead remains shrouded in uncertainty.
What exactly is a HEMP attack?
Well, it’s crucial to grasp that a HEMP attack, is a unique form of nuclear assault that inflicts widespread devastation without immediate harm to people. This type of attack unfolds when a nuclear device detonates high up in the atmosphere and is then magnified by the ionosphere. The result is an expansive electromagnetic energy field that envelops everything within its line of sight below the detonation point.
This energy field wreaks havoc on electronic devices and electrical systems across a significant area. Consequently, it can trigger a domino effect of failures in critical infrastructure, including the power grid, water treatment facilities, gas refineries, and transportation and communication networks.
In a report titled “Nuclear Weapons EMP Effects,” The Federation of American Scientists underscored that, given specific conditions related to the type of device and its detonation altitude, a nuclear explosion occurring above Kansas could potentially impact the entire continental United States.
This dire scenario relies on wires and other conductive materials like overhead power lines, which can act as antennas to channel the energy shockwave into electronic systems found in communication equipment, automobiles, and aircraft.
Notably, back in 1962, the United States conducted a HEMP test over the Pacific Ocean, resulting in disruptions to radio stations and electronic equipment located 800 miles away in certain parts of Hawaii.
Here’s a simplified explanation of how a HEMP attack works
Let’s delve into the mechanics of a HEMP attack which according to a report prepared for Congress titled “High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices: Threat Assessments,” a HEMP attack, triggered by a nuclear explosion high above the Earth, generates three distinct “energy components.” These components have various effects that, when combined, can wreak havoc on electronic equipment.
First and foremost, there’s the shockwave, lasting a mere one microsecond. Think of it as an intense burst of static electricity. This initial energy component is capable of overloading the circuitry of electronic devices situated within the detonation’s line of sight, making it a hallmark of a HEMP attack.
Following the shockwave is the second energy component, akin to a lightning strike. On its own, this pulse might not pose a threat to infrastructure that’s well-protected against lightning strikes. However, due to the intense and rapid nature of the first energy component, it can compromise these protective measures, rendering the second energy component potentially more destructive in a HEMP attack, as stated in the congressional report.
The final energy component is a “magnetohydrodynamic” signal, with a duration ranging from one microsecond to several seconds. This component inflicts damage on extensive networks of electronic equipment and is a critical aspect of a HEMP attack’s impact.
Within this third energy component, there exist two distinctive parts referred to as “blast” and “heave.” The “blast” is a consequence of the expanding and conductive fireball’s distortion of Earth’s magnetic field lines. Subsequently, the “heave” arises from the heating and ionization of the atmosphere beneath the fireball, further distorting the planet’s magnetic field.
As the fireball continues to expand, it induces a “localized magnetic effect” on the ground, which swiftly collapses. This collapse triggers another “power surge” that can overwhelm electrical equipment connected to the power grid and telecommunications infrastructure, amplifying the devastation caused by a HEMP attack. This can lead to more damage across interconnected communication systems and long-distance power lines.
It’s important to note that while smaller, isolated systems may experience somewhat less disruption from the third energy component, they are still susceptible to damage caused by the initial energy component. The occurrence and magnitude of this third energy component in a HEMP attack depend on the total energy of the nuclear detonation and may not manifest with smaller nuclear weapons.
What happens when there’s a HEMP attack?
If someone were to launch a HEMP attack on the United States, let’s imagine they use a powerful enough device at a high altitude to knock out the entire country’s power grid. While this wouldn’t cause immediate harm to people, it would create chaos in the electronic world.
Most electronic gadgets and equipment would get disrupted, although not necessarily everything. Anything connected to the power grid when the burst occurs is likely to become useless. This means electricity and electronic communication as we know it might go dark.
Furthermore, devices that rely on computer chips, from small gadgets to modern vehicles, could suffer damage. Even if some devices or systems manage to escape destruction, the disruption would be widespread. This is because electronic infrastructures are intricately connected, making the impact of a HEMP attack extensive.
What would that mean for us?
A HEMP attack can lead to some serious consequences.
First off, phone networks would be completely knocked out. Even if your cell phone manages to turn on, you won’t be able to reach anyone. This means it would be tough to locate people who aren’t nearby since communication would be practically non-existent. And if modern vehicles that rely on electronic ignition and control systems are blocking the roads, traveling to find others would be a real challenge.
Now, if the country is hit by a widespread HEMP attack, and order isn’t quickly restored, our everyday lives would undergo a drastic transformation. Most folks typically have only a few days or weeks’ worth of food and water at home. Initially, people might rush to grab supplies from grocery stores, but anything that needs refrigeration won’t remain edible for long. Canned and non-perishable items would vanish from the shelves in no time.
Gasoline, kerosene, and other petroleum-based products all come from oil refineries that rely on electricity. Without electricity, delivery trucks can’t bring food to stores (assuming the trucks themselves aren’t rendered useless due to damaged electronic parts). Farmers might continue growing crops, but they won’t have a way to transport them to customers.
Trucks, trains, and most other modes of transportation would either cease to function or become extremely scarce. The same goes for water and water supplies. Although the Earth has plenty of water, the equipment we use to access and purify it is limited, and people might not be willing to share. This could lead to many tragic deaths from starvation and dehydration.
For those who depend on temperature-sensitive medicines like insulin, finding alternative storage methods would be crucial since refrigerators wouldn’t work. Those who rely on constant medical care, doctors, or medical devices might not survive for long. This is even before factoring in the lack of proper sanitation, which could lead to the spread of diseases.
Hospitals might end up resembling FEMA-like camps, and those who can reach them might get the help they need to survive. However, many people may not be so fortunate.
Banks would shut down without their electronic records, making cash obsolete. People would have to resort to bartering goods and services. Those who’ve thrived in the modern world through their skills and opportunities might find themselves at a loss in this new, almost 19th-century-like world. Surviving would require resourcefulness and adaptability, but even then, life as we know it would be profoundly altered. People would change, and not all of those changes would be for the better.
A changed world
Imagine living in a new world shaped by the aftermath of a HEMP attack, where the term “HEMP attack” signifies a High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse attack. As various systems and modern conveniences gradually become obsolete, life might regress to resemble the way people lived in the 1700s and 1800s – a stark departure from our current civilization.
In this transformed world, your first priority will be securing a source of water, especially if you don’t already have access to a well or similar source. Gathering and transporting the gallons of water needed for daily use will be a time-consuming and energy-draining task. Currently, the average person uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water each day, as per the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Much of this usage is attributed to flushing toilets and taking showers and baths. Without these modern amenities, water consumption might decrease, but it will still be substantial.
Groundwater from wells typically undergoes natural filtration through rocks, reducing the likelihood of pathogens. However, it may still contain chemicals. Surface-water sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs will require filtration. Alongside boiling water, having access to a water purifier will be essential.
Grocery stores will become a thing of the past, and you won’t be able to rely on distant farmers who lack the means to transport their produce. People will have to take up farming or engage in hunting and gathering, unless someone skilled enough establishes a trading post (more on that later). Food, apart from nuts and plants, will spoil quickly without refrigeration, unless you learn preservation techniques.
Hygiene products like shampoos and deodorants will become scarce, and proper waste disposal will become crucial without running water. Contaminated water, whether by feces, urine, or animal waste, can spread diseases. In the absence of regular sanitation and medical care, diseases are likely to proliferate.
Finding a nearby doctor will be challenging, but if you do locate a medical professional, they will need to rely on available resources, such as medicinal plants or traditional medical treatments. You might have to offer incentives for their services, often in the form of bartering goods and services.
Resourceful individuals may establish shops and farmers’ markets, allowing people to live like rural farmers did in the 18th century. Industries like textile factories may thrive once more in this altered landscape after a HEMP attack.
Before electricity, steam-powered transportation like steam locomotives was prevalent, deriving power from coal and water. Steam carriages and similar vehicles could make a comeback, or people might resort to horse-drawn carriages for travel.
However, remember this: Possessing desirable items in this new world carries risk, as they may be forcibly taken from you. Government plans to mitigate HEMP attack consequences and restore order might prove ineffective. In this transformed world, you cannot rely on others for protection – you and your family’s safety will be solely your responsibility.
A HEMP attack may not cause immediate casualties, but it could lead to widespread death in the United States. Those reliant on modern medicines and medical care, as well as those struggling to secure water and food, maintain comfort, and safeguard their families from threats, could face devastating losses.
Many countries possess nuclear weapons capable of turning this scenario into reality. So, in the event of a HEMP attack, you should ask yourself some critical questions: Do I know what to do? Am I prepared for the world that follows? Do I possess the skills and resources required to survive? If you don’t have answers to these questions, the response to all of them is likely “No.” It’s time to start preparing.
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