Letter Re: EMP

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Hugh,

While the routers and switches do require power (which will be spotty at best), they too will be fried by the EMP. Many of the modern ASICs are based on IBM proprietary copper chips and as a result really don’t get along well with any form of EMP. It’s bad enough that I’ve seen a floating ground stretched between two buildings fry Cisco, ACC / Wellfleet, and Extreme gear.

The only purpose-built router that is tempest hardened is the very old TGS router by Cisco. This was an AGS that was built into a hardened shell. Wide scale deployment of this router outside the Air Force was not seen.

Telcos, of course, were and are so cost constrained in most of their wide scale deployments that pennies per device and dollars per central office are the dividing line between profit and loss. Hence to think they would spend extra on Faraday cage enclosures or tempest rated devices is laughable.

My estimation, having consulted with all the large regional carriers globally as well as having built a large number of FOREX networks, is that it won’t even take a Carrington level event to nail the Internet or most banking. – H.D.

Hugh Replies: It is a common misconception that all electronics will be killed by an EMP blast. This just isn’t so. The EMP needs an antenna to transfer the energy into the conductors of the electronics, and any length of metal can act as a antenna. Some electronics, such as your land-line phone or your AM radio, by necessity have long lengths of wire designed into their operation. The phone uses copper wire to connect to the closest switch, which is sometimes up to two or three miles of wire. Your AM radio has a built-in antenna that probably has more than a 100 feet of copper wire. These lengths of conductors make for efficient transfer of energy, and those electronics will probably die. Your cell phone, on the other hand, has a very short antenna, and the amount of energy transferred into the electronics is much, much smaller. Of course, the cell tower is probably connected to the power grid and will most likely be taken out, making your cell phone useless, even if it survives the EMP event. Modern electronics are so sensitive to static electricity that they ALL come with some amount of built-in protection. You can view the protection on a tiered basis. The integrated circuit will always have protection as part of its design. A well-designed PC board will have another layer of protection on it, and so on. Protection built into electronics will work regardless, but protection designed for external connections requires the help of the installers. If your ground is not properly connected, you are starting out in a hole and will probably loose the device. Cars are designed to operate in noisy environments. Even though there is significant wire that interconnects the small computers, they have relatively decent grounding, shielding, and rf/emp spike protection. It all depends on how close the electronic device is to the source of the EMP, how much antenna the device presents to the EMP spike, and how well protected the device is from an EMP spike. Military-grade electronics will generally be hardened because they are expected to be targets. Consumer devices will display varying levels of protection, depending on how they are installed and any added protection given to them. The bottom line: You don’t know how close to the EMP spike you will be, so if you absolutely need survivablilty in your electronics, you have to go with the best protection possible. If your electronics are nice, but not necessary, you can relax the requirements a bit and hope for the best.

The Internet is a complex beast. For operation, it requires connectivity. The better the connectivity, the more useful it is. Small islands of operation only give you local communications, but even if sufficient chunks of the Internet survive, it won’t be the same. Commerce and banking are the core of commercial Internet. Without those, an Internet will only give us communications at best. T.P. sent me the link to this video clip from “Jericho”, which had me ROFL. Caution: This clip contains some offensive language.

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