Helping Others

Imagine that you are a philanthropist who wants to blunt the effects of an EMP catastrophe. You can’t save everyone, but you want to do more than just save your own family. What should you do?

The most important thing you should do is save the farmers. Without them, everyone will starve. To save the farmers, you also need to save people who support farmers, such as rural policemen, farm equipment repair specialists, and small power system specialists.

Beyond the question of whom you should save from a practical standpoint, there is the moral perspective. Who deserves to survive? I believe one answer to this is, you should help those who help themselves, who recognize the danger and take steps to prepare. A family can stock food for a possible disaster, but it is hard for a single family to defend itself from looters. So help such families band together to defend themselves.

EMP-Hardened Power Systems

Note: This article was revised on 8/7/15.

The best system for a post-Pulse world – solar photoelectric – would be destroyed by an EMP weapon. The high frequency E1 wave would burn out the solar panels, the inverter, and the charge controller. The E3 wave (which is equivalent to that generated by a geomagnetic storm) might damage some of these components as well, if the system is tied into the grid as most systems are. This means that the components of a photoelectric system should be protected in a Faraday Cage until after the Pulse, then brought out and assembled. The wiring, batteries, and panel support system can be put into place ahead of time to minimize later assembly work. The batteries can handle the Pulse, but since they might be sitting around unused for years, they should be purchased dry, if possible. The sulfuric acid should be added only when the system is assembled. Otherwise, the batteries will go bad in a few years even if they are unused. (I was unable to find dry batteries for my own system and ended up using a trickle charge to extend battery life)

The best rainy-day backup for the photoelectric system, and one that can be activated quickly, is a propane-fueled electric generator. Propane, unlike gasoline and even diesel fuel, can be stored indefinitely without going bad. Modern fixed generator sets are controlled by microelectronics, and so most fixed residential generators would have to be encased in a Faraday Cage, with no penetrations (power out cord and propane tubing would have to be by a quick connect pigtail folded inside the cage). Most of these generators are started by a battery which is normally kept charged by a connection to the grid. This means the generator has to occasionally be connected to the grid, or it has to be periodically run such that part of its output is directed back to the unit to recharge the battery.

Portable generators are much less expensive than fixed generators, can be started by hand, and have fewer EMP-sensitive components. It is cheap to buy backup rectifiers, diodes, and voltage regulators and store them in Faraday bags. If you happen to have a room outfitted as a Faraday cage, you can even store a portable generator in the room and roll it out when you need it. Or, you can wrap foil around the box it comes in (to shield it from EMP) and add oil and wheels after an EMP event. I bought a 7kw portable dual fuel (propane/gasoline) generator from Costco for $650. A Kohler fixed residential generator that size costs thousands of dollars (a backup replacement part for the Kohler digital controller alone costs $600).

Generators are noisy, and the high rpm ones don’t last too long. Though propane doesn’t degrade, there is no guarantee that you will be able to find more when your tank runs dry. For these reasons, the photoelectric system is the more important one. Still, portable generators are relatively cheap, and if they are run just an hour at a time to pump water and recharge batteries, they can be valuable.

During the pre-Pulse period be glad you can tap any amount of power at any time by simply connecting to your local electrical grid. But put in a transfer switch and an alternative system if you want to be prepared for hard times.

The Improvident

After an EMP disaster, looting is likely to be one of your greatest concerns, and respect for private property in your locale becomes of prime importance. Only if you know you can eat what food you have grown or stockpiled will you build up a stockpile in the first place. Respect for private property implies laws against stealing, but it goes beyond law; it includes upholding the moral right to what you have earned and a moral condemnation of those who expect others to feed them.

Part of the reason we do not prepare for disasters is we are afraid the government will not protect our food stockpiles from thieves, and indeed may confiscate them. Our politicians do not respect private property, and neither do many of our neighbors. People are used to getting things free from the government, and many in fact think it is their moral right to do so. They imagine that if there is a disaster, the government should and will take care of them. So why should they do anything to prepare? They occupy the moral high ground, or so they believe.

The brutal truth is, there is no practical alternative to each family setting aside its own stores for a rainy day. In a major crisis, most people who don’t do so are going to starve, and there is nothing to be done about that. What is doable is protecting the provident from the improvident, the makers from the takers, so at least those who are virtuous can survive. As things stand, government cannot be counted on to protect the provident; it doesn’t even admit the danger exists, and it will fall apart or turn predatory when disaster strikes.  What is needed is a coming together of neighbors (or friends sharing a house) who agree not to steal or beg from one another, but instead for each home to stock its own larder, and for the neighborhood to mount a common defense against the improvident.

What I’ve seen instead is the mindset that “we’re all in this together, so we should share. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This mindset provides no incentive (beyond vague social approbation) to save, to be provident. It works only in a society where there is plenty of food.

When you look for partners in your efforts toward emergency preparedness, look for those with a well-stocked pantry. Try to pick companions who favor justice over mercy. Enshrine respect for private property as a leading moral principle in the hard reality that follows a catastrophe.

International Relations

If Europe or Asia were hit with an EMP attack, within weeks Americans would mount a massive rescue effort. So if America were nuked (and Europeans and Asians weren’t), would they soon arrive with food?

The US is the world’s leading agricultural exporter, in particular of the critical commodities wheat, corn, and soybeans. A disaster hitting any of the major food-exporting nations – US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – would trigger such high prices for food that people in many countries would starve. So however much Europeans and Asians might want to help, they are unlikely to have significant food surpluses they could send – certainly not enough to feed 300 million people.

In the event of an attack on the US, America’s foreign military personnel would likely redeploy to the continental US. This could be helpful; they could work to impose order in farm country and around fuel and power infrastructure, and help to funnel whatever international aid becomes available to these areas. Yet in many parts of the world, it is US forces that maintain the peace, so without these forces in place, war is likely to break out overseas. This too will impede foreign food production, trade, and the willingness of our friends overseas to help us.

If anything saves the US from a nuclear HEMP, it will be the realization by our enemies that if they attack us, they will starve. Of course, that won’t protect us from a powerful geomagnetic storm.