Brits Prepare for EMP Blasts, Solar Flares

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Brits Prepare for EMP Blasts, Solar Flares

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The threat of a massive solar event or a weaponized EMP is very real.

An electromagnetic pulse or EMP has been a staple of science fiction stories and terrorist dramatizations like 24 for a while. The effects of an EMP would destroy any electronic circuitry and render most of the devices we depend upon useless, as well as disrupt electricity delivery necessary for the population's access to fresh water, heating, cooling and lighting systems. While extreme natural occurrences such as solar flares might produce an EMP, modern societies must also be prepared for a malicious attack using nuclear explosions that creates EMPs. The British government is not taking these risks lightly, and is planning for such contingencies.

In 1859, a major solar storm known as the Carrington event occurred. English astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington saw a large bright spot on the Sun and a few days later as the wave of energy hit the Earth and knocked out the most advanced technology of the era - the telegraph. Telegraph workers reported disruption of services, some even being shocked through the equipment and telegraph paper spontaneously igniting into flame.

"The risk of severe space weather is fully recognized by the Government. It has published its initial assessment of the likelihood and likely impact of a Carrington-magnitude event in the National Risk Register of civil emergencies," read the United Kingdom Parliament's response to a report on EMP preparedness from the House of Commons Defense Committee.

"Depending on the magnitude of the event, the current assessment is that severe space weather would be expected to have moderate to significant effects upon a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids," the report continued.

The use of a nuclear bomb detonated in the atmosphere would have a similar effect to space weather, and the British government recognizes that threat as well. States which have nuclear capabilities are the clear threat, but the Brits acknowledge a crude EMP device could be built using public knowledge. "There is evidence of the proliferation of the technology, which may have already led to its acquisition by countries and/or non-state actors of concern to the UK; for example, some open source information is available on the internet."

With EMP blast seen as a possibility, the question then becomes how to prevent or mitigate the dangers. The UK already concentrates on stopping nuclear attacks - by employing MI6 agents with a license to kill, of course - and advances in predicting space weather will aid in dealing with solar flares. But there is some debate whether the cost in shielding electronics through hard metal shells is cost effective.

"It would not be cost-effective to harden civilian infrastructure unnecessarily. In some larger and diffuse structures, hardening one part of a system may simply transfer the vulnerability to another area," read the report. "Hardening should be undertaken in a way that is cost-effective and appropriate to both the infrastructure and the risk in question."

The plan, then, is to concentrate EMP shielding on vital military targets, and to communicate with civilian infrastructure organizations like National Grid on how to respond to an EMP.

Even after reading through this report, I don't really feel that much safer. Do you?

Source: Parliament.uk

(Image from NASA)

Permalink

England... fuck yeah?

Doesn't sound right.

Anyway, this is indeed a scary prospect, but I'm glad people are thinking ahead.

CardinalPiggles:
England... fuck yeah?

: ( More than just England in the UK

In 1859, a major solar storm known as the Carrington event occurred. English astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington saw a large bright spot on the Sun and a few days later as the wave of energy hit the Earth and knocked out the most advanced technology of the era - the telegraph. Telegraph workers reported disruption of services, some even being shocked through the equipment and telegraph paper spontaneously igniting into flame.

Sir,

What a simply extraordinary story. Indeed it sounds like something from the splendid speculative fictions of Mr. H.G. Wells.

I would like to think that gentlemen of science, in top hats and steam powered space rockets, took appropriate steps to prevent such an event from recurring. That is certainly what Her Majesty's Government should do now.

Please. A Tory-run goverment? Taking steps to help people? Best comedy I've seen in months. Sereoiusly though, I hope it wont be too bad.

So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

The Artificially Prolonged:
So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

Shhh don't spoil the 'making mountain out of molehill so we can get off work/pad the news' party. It's become a national past time by now. We know it's stupid but damn it all if it's not fun.

I'm pretty sure the snow just sends my Facebook news feed into chaos...

("OMG IT'S SNOWING!", etc.)

Charli:

The Artificially Prolonged:
So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

Shhh don't spoil the 'making mountain out of molehill so we can get off work/pad the news' party. It's become a national past time by now. We know it's stupid but damn it all if it's not fun.

Actually, solar flares are a legitimate threat, we've just been dodging bullets since we hit the electronic revolution. If a major flare were to hit, conservative estimates say that it'd take a good decade before we recovered, since ALL ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS would basically surge with power for the duration of the storm, blowing out not only all our transformers, but anything with an integrated circuit board would cease to function entirely. That means unless your computer runs on vacuum tubes, it'd be fried.

Sixcess:

In 1859, a major solar storm known as the Carrington event occurred. English astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington saw a large bright spot on the Sun and a few days later as the wave of energy hit the Earth and knocked out the most advanced technology of the era - the telegraph. Telegraph workers reported disruption of services, some even being shocked through the equipment and telegraph paper spontaneously igniting into flame.

Sir,

What a simply extraordinary story. Indeed it sounds like something from the splendid speculative fictions of Mr. H.G. Wells.

I would like to think that gentlemen of science, in top hats and steam powered space rockets, took appropriate steps to prevent such an event from recurring. That is certainly what Her Majesty's Government should do now.

Actually, the flare did happen. Most telegraph offices reported that their electrical equipment either exploded or simply melted, starting fires. The auras that the flare created were so bright that workers as far south as Colorado woke up, thinking it was dawn. We're talking about billions of charged particles suddenly hitting the earth, and charged particles look for good conductors to latch onto, like power grids and electronic devices. If another one hit, conservative estimates put our recovery time to about ten years before we get power back to most regions.

Rainboq:

Charli:

The Artificially Prolonged:
So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

Shhh don't spoil the 'making mountain out of molehill so we can get off work/pad the news' party. It's become a national past time by now. We know it's stupid but damn it all if it's not fun.

Actually, solar flares are a legitimate threat, we've just been dodging bullets since we hit the electronic revolution. If a major flare were to hit, conservative estimates say that it'd take a good decade before we recovered, since ALL ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS would basically surge with power for the duration of the storm, blowing out not only all our transformers, but anything with an integrated circuit board would cease to function entirely. That means unless your computer runs on vacuum tubes, it'd be fried.

Thanks now im scared.
*sits in corner out of fear*

Why does no one remember the EMP from a solar flare that struck Quebec in 1989? While it wasn't an extreme case, it definitely cause a hell of a lot of havoc- it tripped 5 lines and essentially prevented 17 percent of Quebecers from having any electricity for 9+ hours.

Meanwhile, the UK's infrastructure is getting fucked by a drought and floods at the same time...
They should really think about their natural disaster priorities.

Isn't that the exact plot of Goldeneye?

Where is Pierce Brosnan when you need him?

No, not really. Though I live in the US, but the possibility is just as much. Then again, I doubt there's much we can do against all the strange kinds of shit that can hit us from space. I suppose we can try to do what we can to protect ourselves without taking it out of hand (which they will do) and just accept that we live in a dangerous universe.

No, not really. Though I live in the US, but the possibility is just as much. Then again, I doubt there's much we can do against all the strange kinds of shit that can hit us from space. I suppose we can try to do what we can to protect ourselves without taking it out of hand (which they will do) and just accept that we live in a dangerous universe.

oh my God, WE'RE ALL GO--

*looks at ad pop up*

ooo, look, Diablo 3

=O

...

meh, I'll be fine, wutevs

ruthaford_jive:
No, not really. Though I live in the US, but the possibility is just as much. Then again, I doubt there's much we can do against all the strange kinds of shit that can hit us from space. I suppose we can try to do what we can to protect ourselves without taking it out of hand (which they will do) and just accept that we live in a dangerous universe.

If I could figure out how to get off the grid, I could harden the house I'm living in.

antipunt:

meh, I'll be fine, wutevs

Pray tell?
Solar flares aren't just limited to the UK you know... nor are EMP attacks.
---------
Well, if we're attacked, we're fucked anyway, but if it's a solar flare at least it seems we'll have some warning...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage

Interesting read.

Sizzle Montyjing:

antipunt:

meh, I'll be fine, wutevs

Pray tell?
Solar flares aren't just limited to the UK you know... nor are EMP attacks.
---------

It's mostly a joke about how easily distracted I am by shiny objects.

vxicepickxv:

ruthaford_jive:
No, not really. Though I live in the US, but the possibility is just as much. Then again, I doubt there's much we can do against all the strange kinds of shit that can hit us from space. I suppose we can try to do what we can to protect ourselves without taking it out of hand (which they will do) and just accept that we live in a dangerous universe.

If I could figure out how to get off the grid, I could harden the house I'm living in.

I've thought about how to get off the grid, but it's increasingly difficult these days.

EDIT never mind

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Greg Tito:

The use of a nuclear bomb detonated in the atmosphere would have a similar effect to space weather, and the British government recognizes that threat as well. States which have nuclear capabilities

Ahem. Counties, good sir. We in the United Kingdom do not have states, we have counties.

Also, considering that we're technically in a drought while also having been through one of the wettest Aprils on record, I can't say I trust anything the muppets in charge have to say right now.

*Looks out the window to see so much drought, it's pouring down the windows, gushing down the ditches and flooding up the roads*

Ah, the joys of being an island nation with a pitch-perfect sense of irony.

States in the sense of international parties, like how North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, the U.S., could all be considered States.

OT: I read that like this:

If we get hit by an EMP, we will still be fucked, but a different kind of fucked that may or may not actually be worse.

The Artificially Prolonged:
So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

it's the correct decision, though

investing in snow gear for the 0-4 days a year it snows in the uk is totally pointless as the cost to buy and maintain said gear is higher than the damages to the economy if people make preparations before and after

top-gear actually addressed this issue, using a large tractor with a blade attachment to clear roads
( something i personally think the government should start applying because it's just intelligent use of resources )

however the possibility of thousands of miles of phone / power cable being fried in an instant,
disabling the country for an indefinite period until they are totally replaced, ( more resources and an incredible amount of manpower ) not to mention damages to government computers and private power systems and backup generators for hospitals

in plain English the uk government is taking the people > money attitude
seems logical to me

CardinalPiggles:
Anyway, this is indeed a scary prospect, but I'm glad people are thinking ahead.

It's really not that scary. A large EMP wouldn't do anywhere near the damage this article is implying. It would disrupt radio waves and (depending on proximity) fry anything not behind a fuse/surge protector, but it's not going to do any real damage outside of a 800ish meter radius. There's simply not enough power anywhere for a strong EMP to reach any further.

The most noticeable impact of it, assuming you live away from ground zero, will be a complete scrambling of radio waves for a minute or so. If you're in ground zero, you'll probably be shocked to some degree (at worst, on par with a lightning strike, but it really depends on your surroundings, and none of it will be from the EMP directly), and most of your electronics will probably need replacing, but that's about it.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
Ahem. Counties, good sir. We in the United Kingdom do not have states, we have counties.

State is the official/formal term for a government. It has nothing to do with provinces of a particular country (even though the US co-opted the term for its members).

Berenzen:
Why does no one remember the EMP from a solar flare that struck Quebec in 1989? While it wasn't an extreme case, it definitely cause a hell of a lot of havoc- it tripped 5 lines and essentially prevented 17 percent of Quebecers from having any electricity for 9+ hours.

Mostly because a 9 hour blackout is not all that bad. It's inconvenient as all hell sure, but it's not gonna hurt anyone.

The Lugz:
however the possibility of thousands of miles of phone / power cable being fried in an instant,
disabling the country for an indefinite period until they are totally replaced, ( more resources and an incredible amount of manpower ) not to mention damages to government computers and private power systems and backup generators for hospitals

I agree with you that the UK is taking the sensible approach to it, but you're overestimating the damage an EMP will do. The wires will be just fine. We won't need to replace many wires at all. There will be some that melt certainly, but the vast majority of them will be in a situation that's as easy as possible to replace.

The worst of the damage (at least with regards to infrastructure) will be the transformers. Most of those are likely to explode, figuratively speaking, under the strain of a strong EMP and will therefore need replacing. Most personal electronics within range will likely need replacing as well.

It's going to be one hell of an inconvenience for sure, and it will likely take a while to fully restore the affected area, but it's not going to destroy human civilization.

Gearhead mk2:
Please. A Tory-run goverment? Taking steps to help people? Best comedy I've seen in months. Sereoiusly though, I hope it wont be too bad.

They're probably using tons of taxpayer money and as of now it only benefits the military, you can calm down now. On a related note Christ I wish we had a left wing party to vote for.

So, not cost effective to prevent the complete destruction of our country's electrical and information infrastructure? Huh, and I thought the Tory government was doing its level best to fucking marry "the City" - that is, the square mile that forms the hub of the country's financial enterprises.

Agayek:

CardinalPiggles:
Anyway, this is indeed a scary prospect, but I'm glad people are thinking ahead.

and most of your electronics will need replacing, but that's about it.

That's the part I'm scared about to be honest.

Agayek:
[snip]
I agree with you that the UK is taking the sensible approach to it, but you're overestimating the damage an EMP will do. The wires will be just fine. We won't need to replace many wires at all. There will be some that melt certainly, but the vast majority of them will be in a situation that's as easy as possible to replace.

The worst of the damage (at least with regards to infrastructure) will be the transformers. Most of those are likely to explode, figuratively speaking, under the strain of a strong EMP and will therefore need replacing. Most personal electronics within range will likely need replacing as well.

It's going to be one hell of an inconvenience for sure, and it will likely take a while to fully restore the affected area, but it's not going to destroy human civilization.

Well, one key issue there is that we wouldn't be able to replace the transformers in anything like a reasonable timescale. In event of such a catastrophe, there's not much scope for recovery in a timescale that would avert panic.

No fridges or freezers, main communications out, water pumps off, no electrical lighting or heating. No electronic payments. No computer coordination of anything from banking to traffic lights. Police radios would probably work until the battery runs flat, so perhaps there'd be some law and order presence initially, but with the majority of people unable to work, access their money, use the money they have or store fresh food you're not going to have a civilised experience.

It's an eventuality that's quite scary to contemplate, really, and one that the ordinary person can't really do much to deal with, save actually getting their apocalypse plan dusted off and stocking up on non-perishable foods.

Wicky_42:
Well, one key issue there is that we wouldn't be able to replace the transformers in anything like a reasonable timescale. In event of such a catastrophe, there's not much scope for recovery in a timescale that would avert panic.

No fridges or freezers, main communications out, water pumps off, no electrical lighting or heating. No electronic payments. No computer coordination of anything from banking to traffic lights. Police radios would probably work until the battery runs flat, so perhaps there'd be some law and order presence initially, but with the majority of people unable to work, access their money, use the money they have or store fresh food you're not going to have a civilised experience.

It's an eventuality that's quite scary to contemplate, really, and one that the ordinary person can't really do much to deal with, save actually getting their apocalypse plan dusted off and stocking up on non-perishable foods.

Very true, there would be quite a bit of unrest about it. Replacing all of the infrastructure would take quite a bit of time, if we're lucky, it'd be fully restored in a year or two, but that's an optimistic estimation at best.

That said, the core of our civilization would survive intact. The average person would be without power yes, and the price of generators would skyrocket, but anyone who owns a generator or a wind turbine or possibly even solar panels, would be just fine. They would have to see a drastic decrease in their power consumption obviously, as it would be prohibitively expensive/unfeasible to generate the normal level of electricity used by the average household, but they'd be able to keep the fridge running at least (assuming it wasn't knocked out in the EMP, the odds of which are somewhere between unlikely and moderately likely).

The biggest problems will be:
1) Current power grid will cease to function for some time

2) Long-range communication will be difficult, since many of the antennas, transmitters and receivers will have been fried.

3) Civil unrest about the lack of conveniences

It's certainly something to prepare for, but it's definitely recoverable and it's most certainly not apocalyptic.

SPACE WEATHER.

I am reminded of the newscaster in the Family guy star wars parody.

Rainboq:

Charli:

The Artificially Prolonged:
So our government is fully prepared for solar flare, but a bit of snow still sends the entire country into chaos? Only in Britain could this be possible

Shhh don't spoil the 'making mountain out of molehill so we can get off work/pad the news' party. It's become a national past time by now. We know it's stupid but damn it all if it's not fun.

Actually, solar flares are a legitimate threat, we've just been dodging bullets since we hit the electronic revolution. If a major flare were to hit, conservative estimates say that it'd take a good decade before we recovered, since ALL ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS would basically surge with power for the duration of the storm, blowing out not only all our transformers, but anything with an integrated circuit board would cease to function entirely. That means unless your computer runs on vacuum tubes, it'd be fried.

Hmmm, what if we covered our electronic devices in rubber sheets and unplugged them/powered them down?

Syzygy23:
Hmmm, what if we covered our electronic devices in rubber sheets and unplugged them/powered them down?

Wouldn't do much. There's enough energy in an EMP on the scale this article discusses that it would go straight through a rubber sheet. And powering them down wouldn't do anything because when you've got a potential difference of somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 V, an additional 120 isn't going to do much to effect it either way.

You'd basically need to encase your belongings in a Faraday cage to prevent them from being fried.

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