The reliance of society on electronics invokes fear in terms of what happens when an Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP disables these electronics. This conversation came up recently. Along with the 75th anniversary edition of the WWII Jeep, this made for a combination that I thought would be a good debate for Planet Analog readers.
The person who initiated the conversation said that “it kept him up at night and kept the director of the CIA up at night as well”. Granted, this person did not seem to be an engineer so there were obvious limitations to his concerns. I don’t think he understood the inverse square law or how a Faraday shield works. This was reflected in his statement that discharging a pulse over Nebraska was centralized enough to take out the US. Regardless of his technical limitations, as engineers we rely on electronics for our livelihood and to improve our lives. So “what if” the pulse did in fact occur? How would it change life as we know it today?
Before we get into that discussion, the anniversary edition of the WWII Jeep offered me an opportunity to write an article in one of my other areas of interest, four wheel drive vehicles. It also offered me a chance to revisit vehicle technology during that time when ignition systems were point based and thus less vulnerable to EMP. I began to wonder about how to combine the threat of EMP on everyday life with how it would affect transportation as we know it today.
There is no doubt that automobile function and navigation rely heavily on electronics that are semiconductor based. Although the right amount of EMP could potentially pop most types of electronics, semiconductors are especially vulnerable. As I sat in on a seminar for converting my Scout to electronic ignition and fuel injection, I envied the thought of increasing my gas mileage above 15 MPG, a level virtually unknown in early four wheel drive vehicles. I also thought of EMP and what the current carburetor and point based ignition system meant in terms of surviving an event.
As my thoughts progressed I realized if I kept the original system then I would have one of the few vehicles that was still operating after the pulse hit. I could charge any Uber price I wanted. Then again, the telecomm infrastructure and most phones might not be operational so nobody could contact me to begin with. Another get rich quick opportunity lost. My Scout’s value still rests in its lack of rust and not in being the only vehicle still in operation. Back to square one.
From here this blog diverges from the value of my vehicle and the effects of EMP on transportation. As a result of searching the subject, the results had three different themes: ‘what will EMP “fry”?’, how to prepare for EMP, and the usual Wiki article that interestingly enough focused on facts and myths. Wow. What a diverse set of topics. Perhaps I’ve opened a can of worms that is best left to a series on EMP and its impact on society. Certainly this wide variety can’t be covered in a single blog. However, we can dedicate a paragraph to each result and further introduce the theme it projected.
The article mentioned above with the subject of ‘what will EMP “fry”?’ was a very good technical assessment that originated with a concern for a GM electronic ignition system. This article was the only one of the three that focused on transportation. It also did a good job of going beyond transportation to a general analogy of the effects of EMP on society at a high level.
With regards to the article on how to prepare for EMP focused on survival, I’m not big on conspiracies or preparedness so this subject will be left to the audience to decide whether it’s worthy of debate. If so, I’m happy to address it further.
Finally, the Wiki article on myths and facts, was of the most interest to me. I guess that’s because it seems to diverge from the typical Wiki explanation of a subject more towards the manner in which it is viewed by the public. Perhaps we could take the subject there.
This blog jumps around like a movie without a plot not by accident, rather it is presented this way on purpose. In typical form I have thrown a bunch of subjects out so as to see how the audience perceives this topic. I hope you have read enough of my blogs to realize that I not only try to present subjects I am knowledgeable in, I also like to start debates on subjects that are of interest to analog engineers.
This topic in particular could go in many different directions and could have many different titles. Nobody is currently at the helm. Feel free to steer this towards the subject of your choice. If I haven’t presented a subject that interests you, introduce your own. If it concerns you, it probably concerns other engineers. I’m just the catalyst that starts the reaction. I hope it doesn’t keep you up at night. Yikes! I hope Beavis and Butthead don’t respond to that closing statement. Mike Judge, spare me…hent, hent. Huh huh, you jutht thaid…..