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A National Plan for EMP Protection (Part 1)

Don White, Jerry Emanuelson


This article has two parts. It begins with a brief EMP historical review demonstrating the field strength threat that must be shielded against in order to assure survival of electrical and electronic items and systems, and the retention of our modern lifestyle.

Next comes planning, protection options, installation, test and certification, cost, financing and development of new products, services and markets – an ambitious scope.

In Part 1 of this article, a national program is offered in two phases to make EMP protection viable: Phase 1 is a two-year pilot design and installation of EMP protection of a few villages and towns. From lessons learned, Phase 2 is an eight-year, follow up with installation, test and certification tailored to several selected economic levels and coastal/inland locations as well as various latitudes. Structures range from individual sheds and homes to office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, industrial parks and warehouses, public works and hospitals.

In Part 2 of this article, entitled, EMP Protection of Buildings, protection detail is addressed. This includes shielding of buildings, via shield options, shield bonding, grounding, cable surge suppression and filtering. A significant lowering in cost develops from savings in shielding a new structure vs. retrofitting existing buildings. To ensure timely replenishment, products from areas outside of the EMP event are shipped to all EMP protected towns that have railroad sidings, a 4,000 foot dirt-mat runway, and/or an expanded marina, as applicable. They support the offloading and provide local distribution arrangements.

Solar rooftop costs are projected to achieve parity with the electric grid in kWhr cost before the end of the present decade. This encourages rapid EMP protection expansion, hopefully, before the first EMP event strikes. In addition, the existence of widespread EMP protection dramatically reduces the chances of experiencing an EMP attack in the first place.

The last section of this article presents a summary of new products and services created, their markets and the resulting millions of jobs that will be developed.

Figure 1: The E1 pulse, which is the first wave of high-altitude nuclear EMP energy, is generated in the mid-stratosphere when the atoms there are hit by a pulse of gamma radiation and are acted upon by the earth's magnetic field to cause a burst of extremely high-intensity electromagnetic radiation. (Illustration is from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency.)


This article is concerned with a particular type of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), specifically high-altitude nuclear EMP. Although much of the history of high-altitude nuclear EMP remains classified, the unique characteristics of high-altitude nuclear EMP were apparently not foreseen by anyone in the scientific and engineering community.

The effects of low-altitude nuclear EMP, however, were foreseen by Enrico Fermi prior to the very first nuclear test in 1945. As a result of Fermi’s foresight, all of the lines leading to electronic recording instruments were carefully shielded. Nevertheless, much information was lost because of the intensity of the EMP close to a nuclear explosion.

By the time of the first high-altitude nuclear explosions, Fermi had died and the other great physicists of the time expected the EMP from a high-altitude detonation to operate under the same basic mechanism as a low-altitude detonation.

The first openly available account of a high-altitude nuclear EMP is from the helium balloon lofted Hardtack-Yucca test of a 1.7 kiloton nuclear device over the Pacific Ocean on April 28, 1958.

The EMP from that test was a pulse that was five times the oscilloscope limits at most locations. The electric field was initially a positive-going pulse rather than the expected negative pulse. The EMP was principally horizontally polarized rather than the expected vertical polarization. Since the facts did not agree with the accepted theory of the time, the results were dismissed as possibly a wave propagation anomaly.

In July of 1962, a higher yield detonation at a much higher altitude made its effects known in a much more dramatic fashion that proved conclusively that previous theories of high-altitude nuclear EMP generation were wrong. That test was the Starfish Prime test over Johnston Island in the Pacific.

Because of its proximity to Hawaii (about 900 miles away) it was necessary to announce the time and location of the Starfish Prime test to the public. Many were watching the detonation under cloudy skies over the Pacific as 300 streetlights in Honolulu were abruptly extinguished, many burglar alarms went off and a microwave telephone link to the Hawaiian island of Kauai suddenly went dead.

Although the intensity of the EMP from Starfish Prime caught scientists completely by surprise, and resulted in very little in the way of useful EMP measurements, they were more prepared for the subsequent high-altitude tests of 1962.

Finally, in the Bluegill Triple Prime and Kingfish high altitude nuclear tests of October and November 1962, the scientists were ready for this previously unexpected phenomenon, and accurate EMP records were obtained.

The Soviet Union also had their share of EMP problems during their 1962 high-altitude tests over Kazakhstan (which was then a Soviet Republic). In a high-altitude test of October 22, 1962 over central Kazakhstan, and a carefully monitored 570-kilometer telephone line was shut down, a shallow buried 1000-kilometer power cable was shut down (along with a fire in the power plant feeding the line). Also, arcing across some porcelain insulators on overhead power lines caused the insulators to break, and consequently, some power lines to fall to the ground.

In 1963, Los Alamos physicist Conrad Longmire was shown the EMP results of the high-altitude testing and finally figured out the mechanism that was generating the surprisingly large EMP.

There were two factors that had been largely ignored by physicists previously. One was the large effect of the interaction of the earth’s magnetic field during high-altitude EMP. The other factor was the coherence of the pulse caused by enormous amounts of gamma rays hitting the upper atmosphere at almost exactly the same time. This coherence resulted in most of the first wave of EMP energy being concentrated into a very narrow pulse of very high amplitude.

Figure 2: EMP Peak Electric Field


The blue ‘pre-ionization’ curve in Figure 2 applies where gamma and X-rays from the weapon’s primary stage ionizes the atmosphere, making it electrically conductive before the main pulse from the thermonuclear stage. The pre-ionization can prevent the formation of part of the EMP from the secondary explosion.

Figure 2 shows how the peak EMP radiated field strength reaching the ground varies with the weapon yield and burst altitude. Note that the yield here is the prompt gamma ray output measured in kilotons. For known nuclear weapons, this varies from 0.1-0.5% of the total weapon yield, depending on weapon design. The 1.4 megaton total yield of the 1962 Starfish test had an gamma radiation output of 0.1%; therefore, 1.4 kiloton of prompt gamma rays.

Figure 2 also shows that the ground-based electric-field strength approximates 50 kV/m, a value used in MIL-STD- 461E and below for calculating the 80-dB shielding effectiveness recommended for EMP protection described below. This does not mean that every shield must provide 80 dB as it may happen from two or three layers of shielding and/or partial radiation blocking from other obstacles.

One must realize that most electronic devices were tested for a field strength of 10 V/m or other specifications pursuant to MIL-STD-461 RE-105, European Union EN61000-4-3 or other international radiated susceptibility limits, to show no malfunctioning or undesirable response. Thus, an EMP threat has a 50,000 /10 volts per meter or 5,000 times more severe shielding required to comply.

One default value is that 20*log10(5,000) = 74 dB or more shielding is generally needed for EMP compliance. Frequently, a factor of 2 (6dB) is added for safety margin. This suggests that 80 dB shielding is needed to ensure EMP immunity. Details are shown in Section 10. Again, remember that another intervening housing rack, cabinet, room or whatever else may reduce this number.


Although the U.S. government has EMP-hardened (“hardened” is military vernacular for protected) the military sector, intelligence community and other selected office buildings, essentially nothing has been done in the civil sector of residential, commercial, industrial, and public utilities. This seems ironic since employees of DOD (Department of Defense), DHS, DOE, DOT and others, nearly all live off premises, shop in malls, shop pharmacies, buy gasoline and other products from EMP unprotected facilities. Thus, the U.S. remains unprotected from an EMP burst.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and other pro-EMP protection organizations are perceived by many to be frustrated from lack of timely U.S. EMP protection actions. Therefore, this section addresses a few examples of strategies, tactics, planning and implementation options. The matter of post-EMP lifestyle is a major consideration not addresse in the Internet with few exceptions.

Post-EMP lifestyle is compared and contrasted with pre- EMP lifestyle. While EMP survivalists plan to move out to the country, storing water, 25-year shelf-life freeze-dried food, medications, guns, ammo and barter items, they fail the lifestyle test. On the first day of the EMP event, they lose their job, die from failure of the dialysis machine, lack of gasoline and scores of certain provisions. Their focus, however, is surviving, defined as a bridge from a disaster to the day things are “restored.” However, after an EMP event, lifestyle may never be restored within their lifetimes.

Other interim lifestyle options may be offered at HOA (Home Owners Associations), developments, hamlet, village and town levels for EMP protection. This begins to fail at the city levels, where survival crimes increase manifold. This is due to highrise structure limitations; the starving are stalking the survivalists for their own surviving, since goods replenishment severely lags need in bigger cities.

Figure 3: Standard of Living after an EMP burst, assuming the entire local gathering is also EMP protected.

How does all this happen?

Just how does the Survivalist score, when compared to other EMP-protection options. Figure 3 suggest three elements of many comparisons.

The surviving group size from an individual to a large city is displayed as the horizontal axis. A value judgment is shown for the vertical axis. It ranges from excellent to very bad. Of course, most value judgments are in the eyes of the beholders (like lifestyle, per se), while others are absolute, like losing your job.

Figure 3 shows that basic surviving is scored very good compared to no other EMP protection. It scores particularly bad in the big city since there is a plethora of starving people ready to break into the homes of anyone storing food. That’s why survivalists prefer to move to the country when an EMP event happens.

Figure 3 also shows that one major disadvantage of the EMP survivalists is that he loses his job after an event since nothing else is working anyway. However, if a village or town were EMP protected, and almost all employment is geared to the local events of a city, job retention may approximate 90% after an event. In fact it could exceed 100% if the town is a manufacturer or it develops products or services in demand from unprotected neighboring areas struck by the same EMP event.


5.1- The Concept of a Four-Tier, National EMP Protection Plan

Lifestyle is rarely addressed in EMP protection literature. Does it not matter? Yet, EMP survivalist will lead a very different lifestyle vs. those in a whole village or town that is nearly completely EMP protected. For example, following an EMP event, the EMP survivalists individual (or family) loses his job, loses access to shopping stores, hospitals, dentist, undertaker, etc. that have all become dysfunctional. Contrast this to an EMP-protected municipality in which almost nothing is lost except uncertainty of when the EMP-protected replenishment vehicles, airstrip or railroad siding may be revisited with more replenishments. Even here, a warehouse can store survivalists freeze-dried and selected canned food, principal medications, etc. These matters lead to the reason why different tiers of EMP protection are addressed as one strategy of several.

There are four tiers of EMP protection to be initiated herein in order to get things started. Except for EMP survivalists, who have started their planning and implementing years ago, the top three tiers may initially be regarded as Phase-1 pilot programs, from which a substantial pragmatic learning experience develops.

They are started at the same time and have been selected by location and economy as discussed later. Each tier advisory group has a representative of the other two tiers plus an EMP survivalist, a county Economic Development office participant, and a Chamber of Commerce person since all learn from the progress, failures and wisdom of each other. Also, as discussed later, financing comes from issuing county and corporate bonds.

The 3,140 counties in the U.S. are divided into four quartiles of median household income (Fig. 4, data from 2010 census): (1) Tier-1, highest quartile (25% of total U.S. households earn more than $69,000/annum), (2) Tier-2, median quartiles (2nd and 3rd quartiles earn between $22,000 and $69,000/annum with $39,000/annum being their geometric midpoint), and (3) Tier-3, lower quartile, 25% of the total U.S. county households earn less than $22,000 per year.

The master plan also provides for north and south (different latitude) locations and three geographical regions in the U.S. to be similar in the four-tier EMP protections. This allows for coastal U.S. exposures, coastal-inland and central regions in order to gain information different from each other’s location.

Figure 4: Four - Tier EMP Protection Concept

The diagram, Figure 4, illustrates the four tiers of EMP protection. Their assigned names are located at the outer periphery of the four-sides of the square. Just inside the square, the corresponding household income range is listed. As mentioned, Tier-1 counties can afford greater (full) EMP protection and Tier-3 less. Of course, there is allowance for exceptions, not discussed here. One example is that many counties will have poorer sections among the wealthier section locations within a single county.

Figure 4 also has a three-line brief (shown in black), closest to the center square, to suggest what is covered in their respective tiers. A few details of these remarks are described in the next section.

The following discussion addresses some information about the first Tier-1, High Income Homes, Commercial and Other Buildings. The others are beyond the scope of this article for space reasons.

There are 91 million homes in the U.S. and 39 million apartments to shelter it’s 314 million population (year 2012). For Phase-1, two-year pilot program, a town of about 10,000 population is selected for the first tier. With an average household size of 2.6 people, this corresponds to 10,000/2.6 = 3,850 households. Of these, 2,700 are detached homes and 1,150 are apartments. Therefore, at the end of Phase-1, about 3 locations x 3,850 = 11.6 thousand Tier-1 homes will be EMP protected. Parenthetically, assuming Phase-2 is completed eight years later, up to 23 million Tier-1 homes in all of the U.S. will be EMP protected with new jobs running into the millions.

Since average new home and new commercial building construction is estimated to be 2.5% per year, Tier-1 site, 0.025 x 3,850 = 96 new Tier-1 homes per year will be added per site. This is mentioned now to inform the reader that EMP protection for new home construction is estimated to cost about 65% of that for a retrofit home, since EMP protection is more easily and economically achieved on a new home construction.

Home EMP protection in Tier-1 involves a 100% shielding of the outside skin (including the floor), some details for achievement of which are provided in later sections The shielding is bonded and grounded to earth and any lead-in power lines and others (telephone, data) are filtered and surge suppressed as also presented in later sections.

The low end of home size in the high income counties is roughly 4,000 sq. ft. (372 sq. meters) under air. The power required for a solar rooftop is about 10 kW. This is sufficient to handle air conditioning, and hot water loads in addition to the electrical appliances, lighting, computer and peripherals, radio and TV, etc. Of course, the solar rooftop is also shielded and processed as explained in a later section.

Along with the solar rooftop is both a battery bank of about 30, 12-volt deep-cycle lead-acid batteries. They provide an energy capacity of about 30 kwh (kilowatt hours), nominally sufficient to handle all night time use and a few overcast days when solar electricity is nearly unproductive. As explained later, the number of batteries is adjusted for greater latitudes and climates having more overcast days.

The cost for a high income county, EMP protected home with protected solar rooftop will range from about $50,000 to over $100,000 for large homes over 10,000 sq. ft. (929 sq. m). Ignoring inflation, this will be reduced by about 30-40% in 10 years by Moore’s Law for electronics and by quantity production cost reduction. (Moore’s Law is the engineering dictim that, among other things, describes the cost reduction of semi-conductor products over time.)

Figure 5: Identification of Principal Resources for Survival and Living Needs

Figure 5′s wording speaks of “larger retail replenishing stores.” Focus on Column B for the present. Scan down the list of facilities that will have been EMP hardened. Note that nearly everything has been protected so that the affluent town as a whole is nearly unaware of an EMP incident. The reason that the word “nearly” is used is that communication and transportation of delivery vehicles, delivering replenishment food, medications and other is essential to survival. This requires that some modes of communication such as satellite and fiber optics are functional. Also, all Tier-1 communities have at least a 4,000 foot metal-mat runway to help ensure vitals replenishment. Space restrictions in this article do not permit discussing the other three tiers here: (1) Column C, medium income counties, (2) Column D, low-income counties and (3) EMP survivalists.


Phase 2 of the proposed National EMP Protection Plan is the follow up of Phase 1 as it is the implementation thereof. Phase 2 lasts for eight years after Phase 1. Both will be graphed later regarding expenses, growth and job generation expectations.

Remember that Phase 1 had a design and development team at each of the pilot 12 villages and towns at the county level. Near continuous feedback among all entities takes place to ensure (1) not repeating things that work poorly, plus rationale and (2) emphasizing, in a timely manner, those that work well. This is pragmatism at its best. Further, each tier can learn from a higher (or lower number) tier for possible sectors to EMP protect, along with rationale and cost.

Meanwhile a consumer EMP protection guide was under development in Phase 1 and many seminars are taught at different levels to ensure timely awareness, and how-to actions and events. Once a week a broader webinar is orchestrated for both the 12 EMP villages and towns to participate and for others looking on who may be anxious to participate during Phase 2.

Implementing Phase 2 requires significant training in all facets as the implementation involves roughly 500 times the Phase 1 cost and activities, but spread over eight years. Especially significant is the generation and refinement in mass production of the solar rooftop installation and solar panels and inverter production, all with built-in shielding and surge suppression.

Detail discussion of Phase 2 is deferred here as emphasis shifts over to physical realizability, costs, new products and services, markets and job creation.


This section gives the readers a peek at expectations regarding costs and jobs, first for Phase-1, EMP-Solar, Pilot Project (experiment or study). Then, when carried through Phase 2 – the entire U.S. by 2023.

Figure 6, in a spreadsheet form, gives a glimpse of the various element data and their totals on the bottom line. (Regrettably, space does not permit the development of the data here.) Column B is the customer town or village population involved and Column C is the corresponding population in percent relative to the entire U.S. population of 314 million as of 2012. Column D is the approximate number of homes involved and E is their rough cost per average home. Column F is the total home cost in units of million dollars (M) for the Tier and location shown in Column A.

Figure 6: Summary of general EMP tier classification and assignment

The electric utility industry reports that 38% of their electricity load (users) are residential and 62% is a combination of commercial plus industrial. The latter is 62/38 = 1.6 times the residential load. So, Column G is 1.6 times the amount of column F. Finally, Column H is a total of both Columns F and G. Remember, the numbers here are rough since there are many expenses and variables involved and the lower cost of government participation and support has not yet been added.

Figure 7. Cumulative jobs generated in millions since 2013

Figure 7 shows that the cost for Phase-1 over the first two years is about $1.3 billion (total at bottom right in column H). This is spread over 12 counties with the first three, each serving a town population of 10,000 which is the highest cost at about $386 million. The average population of all 3,140 U.S. counties is ($314 million U.S./3,140 counties) = about 100,000 people/county. Their estimated net worth (according to the U.S. census) is about $55 trillion/3,140 counties = an average of $17 billion/county. Highest income counties may approximate $40 billion and the lower income about $4B. For a high-income county of 100,000 population, $40B net worth corresponds to $400,000 per person.

The $386 M of Column H, town in Fig. 7 is spread over a 100,000 county population and amounts to about $3,800 per person. However, this is not relevant since, as mentioned earlier, the money comes from the issuance of county and corporate bonds from investors, retirement funds, and annuities. From the previous paragraph, $3,800 is less than 1% of the county per capita wealth; so this is no financial challenge (in other words, it is readily affordable).

Regarding jobs, the $1.3 billion pilot, Phase-1 cost (bottom line, Fig. 7, Column H) is the total direct cost exclusive of government participation. Thirty per cent (30)% is arbitrarily added to account for government participation cost, some volunteer time contributed, publicity and education costs, plus items not identified in Fig. 7. So the $1.3 billion becomes roughly $1.7 billion cost for Phase-1.

Since $225,000 of money spent back into a U.S. economy corresponds to one new job created (at $48,000 avg. annual salary), the number of jobs created from Phase-1 is $1.7B/$2250k = 7,600 job-years (see Fig. 7). Because this is spread over two years, this represents 3,800 jobs lasting for two years. For the entire U.S., this will approximate the above (7,600/0.000124) or (Jobs/Total, Col. C, Fig..6) = 61 million job-years, or averaged over 8 years = 7.6 million U.S. jobs.

The above financial information is admittedly rough, but adequate to get a first order evaluation of the financial doability of Phase-1 and Phase-2.

Part 1 of this article addressed a Proposed National Plan for EMP Protecting the U.S. Part 2 of the article presents methods and techniques for EMP protection of buildings, solar rooftops and other structures. As such, Part 2 will cover details of shielding, bonding, grounding, and cable or device surge suppression and filtering. These apply to structures from sheds and rooms to small and large homes, and to commercial and industrial buildings less than about five floors in height. Look for part two in our Directory & Design Guide 2014!

Don White, registered professional engineer, retd., holds BSEE and MSEE degrees from the University of Maryland. He is past CEO of three Electro-magnetic Compatibility companies in metro Washington, D.C.

Don has written and published 14 technical books over a span of 30 years. His last book was The EMC, Telecom and Computer Encyclopedia, an 800-page compendium.

At Don White Consultants, he published a bimonthly trade journal called EMC Technology magazine circulated over four continents. He was the technical editor and wrote many of the tutorial articles. Don is a past president of IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society. He may be reached at 941-743-8100 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Jerry Emanuelson holds a BSEE degree from the University of Colorado. He began his career as an audio and video test engineer for Ampex Corp., the manufacturer of audio and video tape recorders. He later became the Transmitter Supervisor for a broadcasting company with transmitter locations on mountaintops, subject to severe lightning and significant EMI problems due to many types of closely packed transmitters.

Emanuelson is the leading EMP Internet author with scores of EMP related subjects. He is a former member of IEEE Broadcast Society, and is now part-time electronics consultant and a part-time non-fiction science writer. Emanuelson can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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