Letter Re: Motor Vehicles and the EMP Threat

Hi Jim,
I continue to be amused by prepper concerns for the vulnerability of their vehicles to an EMP event.  I have followed the EMP issue closely ever since becoming a NBC qualified officer in the service, many years ago.  In 1984, by accident and through a military book-of-the-month club I received a copy of Warday and the Journey Onwards, by Whitley Strieber. Reading the book was another wake up call for me, another step towards becoming a full-fledged prepper.  A few years later, through my wife, I met a friend who was a top expert on EMP.  He explained about the various wave forms of EMP and the possible susceptibility of electronics to EMP.  He also detailed that hardening of items was not difficult, but often overlooked by civilian engineers.  He had spent many years helping the military successfully harden gear against EMP.    

Fast forward to 2010: I started listening to EMPAct America on Blog Talk radio where I heard my EMP friend speak, and where I have frequently heard authors like you and William Forstchen speak.  Forstchen of course wrote the book One Second After. In that book the EMP event takes out almost all automobiles instantly and gridlocks the roads, streets and interstates.  This led me to discuss the likelihood of vehicle susceptibility with my EMP friend.  He directed me to the EMP Commission results. (This was a commission set up by the US Congress.)  There I read not only the executive summary, but the full report.  Later I discussed the report with my friend.  He reiterated, (and I quote loosely), “If you are focused on the direct and immediate effects of EMP to your automobile, you may be disappointed and you will have missed the main point.  The effect of an EMP event could be the collapse of interdependent and critical infrastructures, particularly loss of the electric power grid and the resulting inability to get fuel for your car.  Only a few cars will stop right away.  But they will soon have no purpose if there is no fuel.”  

So the all the details are laid out in the commission report, for the following areas, Infrastructure Commonalities (including SCADA systems), Electric Power, Telecommunications, Banking and Finance, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Transportation, Food Infrastructure, Water Infrastructure, Emergency Services, Space Systems, and Government.  But I want to quote the automobile transportation section in detail from page 115:

“We tested a sample of 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory, with automobile vintages
ranging from 1986 through 2002. Automobiles of these vintages include extensive
electronics and represent a significant fraction of automobiles on the road today. The
testing was conducted by exposing running and non-running automobiles to sequentially
increasing EMP field intensities. If anomalous response (either temporary or permanent)
was observed, the testing of that particular automobile was stopped. If no anomalous
response was observed, the testing was continued up to the field intensity limits of the
simulation capability (approximately 50 kV/m).
Automobiles were subjected to EMP environments under both engine turned off and
engine turned on conditions. No effects were subsequently observed in those automobiles
that were not turned on during EMP exposure. The most serious effect observed on running
automobiles was that the motors in three cars stopped at field strengths of approximately
30 kV/m or above. In an actual EMP exposure, these vehicles would glide to a
stop and require the driver to restart them. Electronics in the dashboard of one automobile
were damaged and required repair. Other effects were relatively minor. Twenty-five
automobiles exhibited malfunctions that could be considered only a nuisance (e.g.,
blinking dashboard lights) and did not require driver intervention to correct. Eight of the
37 cars tested did not exhibit any anomalous response.
Based on these test results, we expect few automobile effects at EMP field levels below
25 kV/m. Approximately 10 percent or more of the automobiles exposed to higher field
levels may experience serious EMP effects, including engine stall, that require driver
intervention to correct. We further expect that at least two out of three automobiles on the
road will manifest some nuisance response at these higher field levels. The serious malfunctions
could trigger car crashes on U.S. highways; the nuisance malfunctions could exacerbate
this condition. The ultimate result of automobile EMP exposure could be triggered
crashes that damage many more vehicles than are damaged by the EMP, the consequent
loss of life, and multiple injuries.”

So the bottom line is, yes you should be concerned about an EMP event, either naturally occurring or nuclear induced, but not because it is going to instantly make your car stop running.  Take time to read the whole Commission report and you will know where the real dangers lie.  Thanks, – W.J.

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