Protecting your Radio from an EMP: Part #1

note: article first appeared in May 2016.

So what about the EMP thing?

Is it for real? Can it affect your handheld radio? Can you protect your radio from an EMP?

Before I get into all of that, remember, I look at “threats” as “risks.” And I then look at all of it as “risk mitigation”. The level of risk is judged based on probability of the risk actually occurring and severity of what the aftermath looks like. I look at an EMP strike the same way…a risk to be calculated and mitigated.

Probability –

I see the risk of us being hit by a nuclear weapon that generates an EMP as low, very low actually. The reason I give it such a low probability is the attacker’s fear of retaliation. Russia and China have no desire to exchange a nuclear strike with us. Iran would probably love to but they aren’t ready for that…yet. Pakistan probably isn’t too far behind Iran but they are maintaining a resemblance of normal behavior. North Korea, well, their leadership are complete nuts jobs in that country. I don’t expect North Korea to actually launch a nuke at us, but you never know with them.

So based on all of that, I see the probability as pretty dang low. However, 20 years ago I would have given it a zero chance. 10 years ago, slightly more than zero. When Iran did the nuke deal with Obozo I believe Iran’s potential use of a nuke against another country went to 100%. Their use of a nuke against us maybe 50%…against Israel is 100% but only when Iran is ready.

And then there is the wildcard…our missile protection system. Can we stop/defeat a missile that is EMP capable from reaching us? Yes…for the most part…but, there is no guarantee…and it depends on how many missiles are inbound over a given period of time and from what directions..

So now I have the probability rating “on the chart.”

Severity –

Here is where it could get ugly. If anyone launches a nuke at us and it actually detonates on US soil, it will be devastating. It will be the blow that negates our super-power status. If we are hit, and we don’t hit back. we will be re-categorized to the same group that includes France, England, Italy…maybe worse. If we are hit and we hit back, then we can expect WWIII. And should that happen, an EMP is the least of our problems.

So let’s look at the severity if it is just an EMP strike against the US. By the way, it would be more along the lines of North Korea going rogue and hitting us without China telling them to. However, there is a potential scenario where China would tell them to hit us with an EMP just to weaken us and test out retaliation resolve. China could then deny involvement and avoid retaliation.

Whatever the reason we would be hit, the outcome would be very damaging. The damage would be two-fold. 1) The actual direct result damage to infrastructure, 2) the economic fallout.

The economic damage would be far worse than the direct damage. The stock markets would crash, the economy would nose dive, and the dollar would be become worthless as a world reserve currency, And all of that would transpire very quickly. It would be Economic Armageddon for a while. Mostly due to banking be out of business. Yeah, completely out of business. Modern banking is all computer based with that information being transferred between customers and banks, banks and businesses, banks and banks, etc. And all entirely by electronics. An EMP would fry most large-scale electronic systems, including telecommunications.

The direct damage is a little less clear. EMP damage is directly affected by a few things:

  1. The size of the weapon as described by “megatons”
  2. The altitude above the surface
  3. The electronic/electric system relative location to the blast area

The absolute worse location would be directly under the atmospheric blast. As the zone expanded outward, the impact would lessen. But, that would be in direct relation to the size of the detonated weapon. The bigger the weapon, the larger the affected area. However, the further away from the blast you were, the more diminished the impact would be. Finally, the closer the detonation to the earth’s surface the smaller affected area as well.

So, for this discussion we are talking about an EMP strike that will affect you with the Electromagnetic Pulse but won’t fry you into a gooey mess of melted skin, muscle, and bone.

Can you properly prepare for such a strike ensuring your radios make it through in operating condition?

Well, I honestly can’t answer that question. Yeah, bummer, I know. And realistically, no one can give a 100% sure answer to that question either. At least not honestly. Why? Because it hasn’t actually happened anywhere so there is no historical perspective. Sure, there have been experiments and endless computer simulations…but it hasn’t actually occurred so even the best scientists don’t know for sure what an actual strike would look like. If someone tells you they have a 100% guaranteed solution they are BS’ing you.

But, let’s remember what you are actually protecting against…

Real-Life EMP –

I had the opportunity to talk to a 40 year expert that worked for Motorola and was a professor of electronics at a major university. We discussed the EMP potential. He explained to me that all their testing was different than the hype and scare that we hear about in the media and read about in the books.

If electronics weren’t protected they usually got wiped out. But, they also discovered that protecting the delicate electronics wasn’t all that difficult. They found the concept was to direct the energy of the pulse around the electronic gadget not allowing any of the energy to come in contact with the guts inside the piece of equipment.

When I asked him how difficult it was, he chuckled and said, “Not very.” He told me that placing electronics in a metal box on insulated material should be just fine.

To me the operative word was “should.”

He said there was no way to conclusively say what kind of metal box worked all the time. And the reason is the EMP pulse itself. The energy flows through the air at different frequencies. The key was to block that specific frequency of energy. And he also told me that there couldn’t be any gaps in the metal box, a tight seal wsa paramount.

Then he said it was pretty simple to test. He said take an FM radio, tune it to a clearly heard station, and turn the volume up. Then place it in your metal box on insulated material. Slowly start to close the lid. If the radio reception died away and you could no longer hear the radio then the box was blocking the energy frequency of most EMP pulses.

He did qualify that by saying that to the best of their knowledge at that time EMP, energy pulse frequencies were roughly that of FM stations. And that is why if you could block the FM reception, you could block the pulse energy. And technically you weren’t “blocking” the energy pulse. The metal box was moving the energy pulse around the outside via the conductive metal not allowing the energy to come into contact with the radio’s antenna.

He also said it would be a good idea to remove the battery and the antenna. That would further assist in keeping the energy out of the radio since both of those items attracted energy. We talked about wrapping the radio in a layer of insulation and he said it would help if there were no gaps.

Faraday Cages –

There is a lot of talk, as well as a lot of hype, about Faraday Cages. I have read countless stories and articles about different version and options of a Faraday Cage. Everything from simple chicken wire to a box made from an old microwave. Some have even talked about making their house or bunker a Faraday Cage itself by using cooper mesh, etc. wrapped around the entire structure.

Well, I just don’t get it! Yes, the theory is supposed to be sound, and is supposed to work just fine. Some “experts” have talked about the practicality of Faraday Cages and that they will work perfectly to protect your gear. Some of the written stuff out there sounds really, really impressive. But, and I don’t know how to put this nicely, but…I just don’t trust them to have the prefect solution.

Here’s what I mean…The concept is to move the surge of power that is coming in on a range of frequencies, around the electronic gadget, without any of the power actually contacting the gadget itself. So do you want a mesh with a bunch of holes/gaps protecting the gadget…or solid metal with no holes or gaps?

Yeah, I know…the electromagnetic energy can flow around mesh just fine. But, what if just one of those gaps in the mesh allows the energy to come into contact with the gadget? You’re screwed. And ever get a quote for a house covered in copper mesh????

To me, it makes much more sense for a solid layer of metal to protect the gadget that has no holes in its protective cover combined with an insulating layer to protect the metal outer layer from contacting the gadget. My person, the real-life expert, also promotes that “solid “alternative. Then it dawned on me that during my days in the Navy I served on-board an aircraft carrier. And on that carrier were a variety of jets; bombers and fighters. One day I noticed that the canopies of those jets had a faint gold coloring to them. I asked one of the airman what that was all about. He explained to me that is was actually “gold.” It was so thin it was transparent like sunglasses. But the gold protected the pilot from radar microwaves.

And what are microwaves? Energy. Energy pulsed out on specific frequencies. Just like an EMP pulse of energy. Bingo!

My Solution –

After talking with my “expert” who actually worked in the field and had researched EMPs, and then drawing on my Navy experience, I went into research mode big time. Bottom line is two-fold:

  1. Insulate the gadget from energy pulses reaching the gadget.
  2. Deflect (i.e. move) the energy around the gadget vs. through it.

So, based on all of the above, here is my step-by-step solution:

Hey, for Steps 2 – 27 you gotta read the next article!  It will be posted tomorrow.


Related Articles:




2009 - 2020 Copyright © ~ All rights reserved
No reproduction or other use of this content
without expressed written permission from
See Content Use Policy for more information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s