Sunday, June 13, 2010

EMP -- The Great Darkening: A Review of One Second After

When I was not quite eight years old, I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that made a great impression upon me at the time: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street."

The episode begins in late summer when Maple Street is full of playing children and adults talking. A shadow passes overhead and a loud roar is heard, accompanied by a flash of light. The residents of Maple Street find that their machines no longer work, and there is no power, their cars won't start. They gather together in the street to discuss the matter. By the end of the episode, they have all turned on one another, manipulated into chaos by aliens who do nothing but use their own fears against them.

You can find "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" in three parts, here, here, and here.

Another episode I well remember is "The Shelter."

The episode begins with a birthday party of good friends and neighbors, one of whom has just finished building a fallout shelter. A Conelrad warning comes on the radio, indicating incoming "unidentified objects" which may be Russian nukes. In the ensuing panic, the neighbors turn on the family with the fallout shelter -- which only has room, supplies and air for themselves and no more -- finally breaking down the door just as the all clear is announced.

You can find "The Shelter" also in three parts, here, here, and here.

The moral of both of these stories is simple: civilization is less than skin deep and the veneer can be stripped away in an instant.

This is also the point of the "useful dire warning" of William Forstchen's One Second After, a tale centered around the small college town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. (Not coincidentally, Black mountain is Forstchen's home town.)

A friend gave me a copy of this volume this past week and I have just finished reading it.

It is a ripping good read, if incredibly depressing because of the subject matter and the very real threat EMP poses.

Here is a snippet of a web review.

In One Second After, Forstchen asks not what could have been, but what will be the results of an EMP attack.

Electromagnetic pulses result from natural phenomena and in much greater strength from nuclear blasts. EMPs fry unprotected electronics. A nuclear bomb set off at a high altitude could cause electronics over a large swathe of the planet to fail. Little has been done to protect the US from this threat. This novel depicts what life might be like in the case of an EMP attack.

With no electronics vehicles won't run. How do we move necessities without modern transportation? Without electronics, we have no phones, computers, radios, or televisions. How do we communicate? How do we grow food or run our factories without vehicles or electricity? In One Second After, a lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Society crumbles. Cities turn against the countryside and friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive. Criminals take advantage. Forstchen humanizes it by giving a detailed look at how events unfold around Montreat College in North Carolina. He uses convincing detail to make the events real.

One Second After is a masterpiece of distopian literature that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World. More important though than its role in our literature is what we do about the grave threat it portrays. Because, one second after the attack, it'll be too late.

Now I don't know about it ranking with Orwell or Huxley, but I had few quibbles with the narrative. Among them: the realization that country has been hit with an EMP attack unfolds too slowly, especially in the mind of the main character, a retired U.S. Army officer and with the emergency response personnel running the town. Also, the disaster effects themselves play out, in my mind, either too quickly for some or too slowly for others. Finally, the availability of alternate technologies that would afford means of communication, transportation, agriculture and community defense are somewhat minimized.

Still, the ghastly nature of the breakdown attendant to an EMP attack is not glossed over. Forstchen makes us stare directly into that beast's many faces.

For this reason, if no other, I recommend One Second After to all Threepers. Make sure Momma reads it, too. She'll start loading up the larder and the medicine cabinet without further urging from you.

There are several links about EMP and its effects on Forstchen's site. There is also a twenty-year old -- but still pertinent -- post of Duncan Long's on EMP protection here.

Start out, though, by getting a copy of One Second After. You will redouble your preparations afterward.



Dennis308 said...

Don´t take much to getém started now does it.
Speaking of good books Can we have a update on ¨Absolved¨.
Still waiting...


CorbinKale said...

"Alas, Babylon" and "Lights Out" got me prepping. I'll be sure to get this one, too. Thanks.

Dakota said...

Society is a fragile thing, I think most of us understand the nature of this and hopefully will plan for that possibility. Faraday Cages are easy to build for emergency radios and other essential commo gear.

Great reference to "The Shelter" ... I have used this episode as an instructive piece for many years as a demonstration of the nature of people and the need to keep things to ourselves about our preparedness.

Witchwood said...

Here's an article I read a couple of years ago that discusses several EMP scenarios.

I'd say it's a safe bet that if the United States goes dark, the rest of the world is going dark with us. Our silos probably have EMP protection of some sort, and I doubt we'd just accept being made uniquely vulnerable by an EMP strike.

Luckily, your rifle will work just fine. Woe to whoever lacks the basic means of self-defense.

Pat H. said...

This book sounds a lot like War Day by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, published in 1985.

Also worth a read.

Anonymous said...

Got it last year,eye opener. Even my mid-wife for our 5th child read it well she was visiting.

Anonymous said...

I've read this book as well - I thought it nearly as good as the book which got me thinking about preparedness, ALAS BABYLON.

Chaos said...

Found this at and with the code 25more it was $8.99 free shipping.

MikeH. said...

The thought that can cause a number ten pucker factor is, NO country (read: N.Korea or Iran) needs to produce more than a few nuclear devices. (which we suspect both already have) All they really require now is a reliable delivery vehicle to the device 300 miles over our heads.

Using the ocean going launch platform, as described in "One Second After", a Taepodong II (with it's reported 2500 km range) may very well be that delivery vehicle... if they can get all the bugs worked out.

Who needs a full blown nuclear exchange when just one or two of these little gems could put the U.S. smack back in the dark ages?


pdxr13 said...

If a high-altitude burst "just happened" without a clearly defined owner to blame it on, would The Mighty Kenyan authorize retaliation, and on whom?

Or, would it be "an unfortunate event" that the American people would have to suck up and endure for months without effective organized external response?

It sure would be easy and understandable for the POTUS to declare a national emergency and execute any number of Executive Orders, as needed or required by local military commanders.

An EMP-optimized burst would make a very-fine false-flag event, benefiting those who need a distraction from our domestic and international economic troubles.

"What Economy? This is a crisis!"

We would soon discover the difference between ability-to-pay (fiat money, positive PayPal account) and ability-to-deliver (real goods and services), and how one is imagination/hope/theft and the other is real. What will be and is real is naked force, and threat/promise of force.

Got points and carburetors? Got mechanical injectors? Got spare CPU's and ignition modules in buried ammo cans? How many have the ability to lift fuel from tanks by hand or battery powered pumps and pay the owner?

I can't see how even the best prepared individuals or small groups will do better in a city than in a more rural location.


Anonymous said...

Makes me think I need to reinforce my basement some more - steel door instead of wood, shutters on windows, that kind of thing.

I remember those Twilight Zone episodes. All of them had an impact on my youth.

B Woodman

Anonymous said...

If you like novels about the effects of EMP, here is one I found on Google. It is called "Lights Out" and is available free online.

drjim said...

I always keep a "back up" HF radio in a metal ammo can. I also keep a solar panel wrapped in aluminum foil so I'll at least have some way to power the radio.

Ahab said...

This is one of the issues discussed by my small group. In our preparations we've discussed and acquired good handheld radio transceivers, and put up electronics and computer devices for the coming unpleasantness. One of the safeguards all of us have contemplated is exactly that, a method to safeguard these electronics, to include a basic digital wristwatch, is the FARADAY BOX, emphasis mine.

An EMP incident will do exactly as advertised, fry all electrical and electronic devices. The principle is the same as that of an electrical generator. As the magnetic lines of flux emanating from any source pass through a conducting wire, electric current is generated in the wire. The pulse is so strong from a nuclear detonation that anything with a conductive wire will have a monstrous electric current generated through it. That current, expressed as amperes, (amps), will slam through the device, be so high it'll burn clean through the wire, or printed circuit. Result, dead device.

How to safeguard those things you don't want to be burned up? Put them into an electrically shielding container such as a metal box. If you have a box big enough, like an aluminum shipping crate, and if you shield your devices from the skin of the crate (like with cardboard), the pulse of an EMP will go around the skin of the box, the metal itself, and dissipate over time, the time is of extremely short duration. A strap on the box connected to a ground rod wouldn't hurt either, shorting the pulse to ground (earth). Your shielded items will be safe.

What items? Walkie-Talkies, laptop computers, digital clocks/watches, hand generator powered am/fm/shortwave emergency radio receivers, and anything else you want to protect. Most modern automobiles will be inoperable because of the EMP; but, not all.

The car/truck itself is a kind of Faraday Box, shielded from the ground by it's tires. The pulse will travel all around the skin of the vehicle, IF it's an all metal outer body car/truck. Those with fiberglass/plastic body parts may not survive because too much of the body outer skin is exposed to the pulse, which will travel inside to the electronics. If you have spare electronics modules, those should also be put into your shielded Faraday Box for protection. We've all got spares, right? Yeah, I know, big joke; but, you get the picture.

Carl said...

Just finished "One Second After" 2 weeks ago. I told my family that each and every one of them WILL read it. It brings up many scenarios that "Lights Out" and others did not, but it is not a substitute for them, either.
All my personal com equipment is stored in Faraday boxes, but I still need to build more to house my ham gear. Prepping really never ends.

Loren said...

For an analysis from a former targeteer. Take precautions, but I'll bet most commercial and military/former military hardware will fair pretty well.

Anonymous said...

It's a good yarn, but the effect of EMP is overstated in the book. I've participated in EMP testing and found a lot of electronics is pretty resistant. The most vulnerable are those things connected to power lines and phone lines. Wireless devices running on batteries will likely survive, as would unconnected home generators. Cars are not that easy to shut down with EMP. Jaycor looked into EMP to shut down cars in chases and found physical contact with a car to be necessary (for a reliable result).
In short there are many other more likely things to worry about before creating your "EMP proof" shelter.

Einherjar said...

We Amateur Radio folks spend allot of time thinking about EMP. The following articles will help you understand the science behind the EMP threat and what you can do to protect your personal equipment. The last few pages of part 4 have some very good homemade (and tested) circuit protectors.

Also, search on YouTube for "Future Weapons EMP". You'll find the episode of "Future Weapons" were they did a very good (if sensationalized) explanation and demonstration of the Compton (EMP) effect.


ARRL Lightning Protection

Electromagnetic Pulse and the Radio Amateur - Part 1

Electromagnetic Pulse and the Radio Amateur - Part 2

Electromagnetic Pulse and the Radio Amateur - Part 3

Electromagnetic Pulse and the Radio Amateur - Part 4

Anonymous said...

A Really large EMP requires a nuclear bomb. So setting off an EMP over our country would be the equivalent to attacking us with nuclear weapons. It is incredibly unlikely that anyone would do this without a full scale attack. An EMP is very unlikely. Also unlike what your diagram shows and EMP would ot be effective over the entire country. It could take 10-12 really big EMP devices to cover most of the country and even then the effect would be erratic leaving many places untouched or with minor damage to electric devices. Probably only the U.S., Russia and China could build a large EMP device. Terrorists couldn't do it and if they had the nuke to power it they would prefer the devastation the nuke would provide over the less harmful EMP. There are small non-nuclear EMP devices which are mostly ineffective kind of line of sight for a distance measured in yards. All in all an EMP is the least likely propblem we face well behind serious things like a pandemic, asteroid, nuclear attack, a bio weapon, chemical attack on a major city or sporte event or even some conventional attack on our infrastructure. In fact the inevitable ice age in the next hundred years or so is more likely then an EMP and potentially more devastating.

Anonymous said...

I just attended a safety training class for the largest electric power supplier for Kentucky. This training allows me to do work at many generating facilites. The reason I'm mentioning this is because the guy giving the class spoke of EMP's (we talked a bit after class) and he said one over Denver and one over St. Louis would put the USA back to the stone age in minutes. Kinda funny reading this and having him discuss that so soon.

Allen said...

and somehow all the "iran isn't our problem" crowd isn't here.

when they get a rocket able to get into orbit (and they will) this EMP will be on their "to do" list..

little satan or big satan just depends on who's pissed them off more at the time.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that a CME event will have effects very similar to a man-made EMP event.

An event replicating what already happened on 1 September 1859 would eat our modern infrastructure!


Christian Patriot III said...

lol... I guess I can shelve my manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Received this book from on Friday evening. Finished it Saturday evening. Some things about the scenerio did not surprise me; there were many other things I never thought of. Time to get a lot more .22 ammo. The nursing home scene after 4 days was particularly gut-wrenching, as were the people thinking that the old world was somehow going to spring back. Keep preparing, keep training. We face losing 80% of our population in various levels of die-off and "road warrior" type stuff. So much for that corner office, parking spot and stock options, Carol.