Someone asked the following questions. “Can an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) destroy electronic devices if it’s not plugged in?” “What if it’s battery powered, and turned off, will an EMP still destroy the electronics inside?”
In my opinion, the short answer is, maybe, or I would lean towards – probably. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. You’re looking for a yes or no answer. However, it depends…
If you’re reading this right now, it means you’re concerned about the after effects of an EMP. I suggest that you read the following best selling novel. It exemplifies what might happen to society after an EMP. I guarantee it will motivate you into action:
ONE SECOND AFTER
(view on amzn)
It’s not a sole determining factor. Plugged in or not. It makes some difference. But it’s not necessarily a sole determining factor to the survivability of the electronic device. When the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) strikes, be it from a massive solar flare event (CME, coronal mass ejection), or a nuclear explosion at altitude (an EMP bomb), it does a similar thing… Emit a pulse of fairly broadband high energy (volts per square meter) which radiates outward from the source.
CME from the Sun, and Man-made EMP
A CME from the sun will be a fairly long duration event. Hours. The CME’s electromagnetic energy will interact and induce voltage and current into power lines above ground (the electric grid). And anything acting as a electrical conductor. One factor is the longer the conductor/antenna, the more induction of the radiated energy.
Whereas a man-made nuclear EMP is a very short duration event – although it produces a massive high voltage broadband pulse. We’re talking in the range of 50,000+ volts per meter. An extremely short time duration of only nanoseconds.
This energy will radiate outward while losing some strength as it travels further away from its source. You might look up the ‘inverse-square law‘ for specifics. Knowing this, we can conclude the following… The further away from the EMP source, the less potential damage. Though we’re talking long distances here – assuming a high altitude EMP detonation.
How far away? The specifics are complicated. Beyond the scope of this article. There are many factors. EMP strength. Its delivery. And others. For the sake of generalization, I would speculate the following… You’re electronics are much safer being ~ 1,000 miles away from a man-made high altitude EMP compared with only a few hundred miles.
However, the affects from a solar CME are different. The earth’s atmosphere and power grids interact with the CME energy during its many hours of duration. This has the potential to affect everyone.
Some of the EMP energy (from CME, or, high altitude EMP detonation) will be instantly induced into the power grid. Most of our power lines are above the ground. They behave like a giant antenna. The grid will soak up and distribute the pulse.
EMP Electronic Destruction – Plugged in versus Not Plugged in
Plugged in, and in range? Probably zapped. Most of our electric power grid is above ground. It will quickly absorb the EMP (or the longer duration ebb and flow from a CME). This will near instantly distribute throughout the affected portion of the grid. The result? Wide spread electronics destruction. Plugged in? More vulnerable.
Not plugged in certainly has an advantage. Though not impervious to electronic destruction. Battery operated? Turned off? (Doesn’t matter one way or the other if it’s on or off via battery) Here’s what matters most… Strength of EMP field at its location.
Even if the electronic device is NOT plugged in, it will still be vulnerable to the effects of EMP. The invisible high voltage pulse. It radiates outwards through the air. It envelopes everything in its path. Except for those items which are protected in a Faraday cage. The energy from the EMP pulse wave may melt down the transistor ‘junctions’ within semiconductor electronics.
You could have a portable shortwave radio sitting on your desk, not plugged into anything at all. As the invisible wave strikes it, it may fry (assuming sufficient EMP strength and the other caveats…). Again, the degree of damage will depend on your proximity, and other factors.
Ted Koppel gets in-depth regarding America’s EMP threat:
Lights Out, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath
The Faraday Cage
By the way, a simple description of a Faraday cage. It’s basically a containment with an exterior comprising a conductive material (e.g. metal or conductive screen, etc.). A Faraday cage shields the interior from an external charge or electromagnetic radiation to an extent depending on its design.
Faraday cage effectiveness? It’s defined by the following… The cages design. And choice of construction materials. All Faraday cages take electrostatic charges, or even certain types of electromagnetic radiation, and distribute them around the exterior of the cage. Thus, protecting whatever is inside – within the limitations of its design.
In conclusion, just know that ALL electronics are vulnerable to EMP / CME. That is, unless specifically hardened against EMP or protected via a purpose-built Faraday cage. Electronics. They’re embedded in nearly everything we use today.
A major EMP would be the end of civilization as we know it.
There are no clear answers to the questions at the beginning of this article. However, in general, it may be safe to assume this… Electronics Armageddon. So, plan ahead accordingly.
[ Read: 5 Nanoseconds To Lights Out ]