For those with too much time: "One Second After" plausibility (long)

“One Second After” was a Novel by William Forstchen. It describes the aftermath of an EMP attack (Electro-Magnetic Pulse–basically nukes set off in the upper atmosphere to send a debilitating power surge over a large area.)

Supposedly thoroughly researched, it plays as as follows: post-explosion, all powered modern conveniences stop, though nobody knows why. No vehicles run, other than older, carb’d cars w/o computers. No communications; supply lines severed. Government reverts to individual cities. By time things begin to get sorted, there’s been >50% die off, and China is running the Western half of the US.

So, what I wondered is whether you think this outcome is plausible. I don’t, and here’s why:

(First of all, I’ll concede Mr. Forstchen’s research, and if he says everything with microprocessors dies…I’ll concede it. )

1. Regarding transportation: While all the computers die, apparently the older cars can still run, and there is no mention of having to charge batteries/hand crank to start; thus, the coated copper wire in electric motors/condensers is hardy enough to survive. This is a crucial point

So, I’d also assume that any carbed vehicle with magnetos would also run…like a lawnmower. By using a junkyard carb and magnets/magnetos attached to the flywheel, ANY gas car could be made to run (albeit poorly) in this post-attack world. (As for diesels, that might be even easier, though I’m out of my area there.)

I think that this would happen rather quickly, once some mechanic noticed that (a) has car didn’t run and (b) his mower did.

2. Regarding power supply: This really hinges on the viability of electric motors. Remember, any motor can be reverse-driven as a generator. Also remember, spinning any coiled wires through a magnetic field works, too…and both wires and permanent magnets will survive.

Given that we’d have both working mowers and working PMAlternators…and both the mower output shaft and the alternator are designed to accept belts…away we go. Also, any town of reasonable size will have at least one coot who fixes up steam, hit-and-miss, or many other engines that wouldn’t know a silicon chip from a potato chip.

3. Regarding communication: Well, once the individual cities have power (again, not long, once the nature of the problem is realized) power lines could be used for Morse code communications until “the Grid” is back up. Also, I’d imagine fiber-optic communication lines could carry Morse too…though I’d be deuced to tell you how.

Also, all the transistorized radios would die…but what about the “cat’s whiskers” and “crystal diode” radios? Would they survive, and are there enough hobbyists of this type to transmit information?

4. Regarding supply lines:

Well, now that we have power, transportation, and communication, restoring the supply lines ought to be doable. This can really only happen once these three conditions are met over a large geographic area; hopefully, before supplies of medicine and food are consumed.

Verdict: Transportation, power, communication, and supply aren’t as vulnerable as predicted in the book. The necessary retrofits would be readily achieved once the nature of the problem was realized. There might, however, be a fair amount of looting in certain locations until things got sorted, however.

After that, the effects would be like that of the Great Depression, or somewhat worse, but there wouldn’t be 50+% die off, foreign occupation, or the like.


I think you miss-read it.

And EMP pulse would only effect electronic devices that were currently running. If powerful enough the pulse could short out the electronic device. If the device was NOT running when the EMP went off…then that device would NOT be effected.

Second…many devices (especially military) are designed with special shielding to withstand a EMP. It’s not that difficult to design into the product. The telecom equipment my company builds is designed with the shielding…that can withstand a significant EMP even when running.

Technically an ECU is always running since its stored data is in non-permanent RAM and not flash memory. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that an unshielded ECU would be dead whether the car was running or not.

As to getting the engine running again with carburetors, good luck. Let’s take the premise as-read - - anything with an unshielded microprocessor is dead, and isn’t coming back. So the mechanic figures out (amidst the panic and looting going on outside his shop) that he needs to put a carburetor on everyone’s car. Where does he get them from? He certainly doesn’t have any in stock. Neither does the parts store next door because how many people need a carb anymore? So he has to order them.

Oh . . Wait. Phones and computers have unshielded processors in them, and so he can’t call or order online. He’s gonna have to write a letter ordering the parts, which won’t get delivered because the auto-sorting equipment at the post office is microprocessor controlled, and besides all their vehicles are dead anyway, and even if one or two somehow managed to survive due to inadvertent shielding (parked behind something made of lead, etc) they’ve been destroyed by the rioting looters, and the Pony Express is going to take quite some time to spin up again. Not that this matters because the place that rebuilds/makes carburetors is shut down because all of its equipment is also microprocessor controlled, and who’s going to EMP-harden a carburetor-building robot? You can try to get more employees in to do all the work manually, but you’d better hope they live close because their cars are dead too, and it’s hard to get to work while trying to drive around rioters - especially when traffic signals are also down. And then you have to train them, assuming you have the proper equipment to rebuild a carburetor without the assistance of any modern equipment - maybe you have the old stuff stored in the basement somewhere. Hope you can find the manual. Of course, now the carb factory has to also figure out how to get its raw materials, so the problems experienced by the mechanic are experienced tenfold by the factory.

In short, commerce and communications grind to a halt, and society as a whole breaks down. Think LA riots on crack, nationwide.

Of course, the Chinese wouldn’t have much luck taking over because as noted, the military has plenty of hardened communications capabilities, and hardened computers, and a hardened network (the backbone of the internet would keep running, because it’s been hardened since it was called ARPAnet). And so when the Chinese, or whoever else, came calling, the military would notice, and take action up to and including nuking their home country in retaliation for the EMP attack.

Guess it’s a good thing that such an EMP attack would be nearly impossible to pull off, at least not without significant and dire retaliation. :wink:

Your cell phone will probably survive if turned off. The problem will be the the satellites and cell towers…they will probably be running when the pulse goes off.

Cars that are turned off should also be fine.

Mike in NH, I was just going “by the book” and conceding that everything Mr. Forstchen claimed would fail, would, as I lacked sufficient EMP background to refute him there. I imagine he used a “worst-case scenario” for a compelling read, but he had EVERY silicon-based circuit failing, on or not (including Air Force One in-flight, BTW.)

Shadowfax, I think you under-estimate the number of serviceable carburetors in a community. Pretty much every auto-parts store I’m in has several carbs “on display,” with however many more in stock. (Granted, I live in Pittsburgh, PA, where I suspect we have more than our fair share of “Mullets” needing one for their IROC and/or Monte Carlo.)

Take the number of carbs in stock, plus the number of serviceable carbs in junkyards, plus the number of Carb’d quads/motorcycles/dirtbikes still being made…and people could get around. I imagine there’d be stuff like gas rations and mandatory carpooling, but people could get around.

Also, electricity would be EASY. All you have to do is get a electric motor/generator to rotate. I have a lawnmower with a belt-driven self-propel; I have a belt-driven alternator; I have batteries; I have tools. I could probably have a WORKING generator setup in <24 hours.

As for deterrent: in the book, the nukes are fired from cargo ships, subsequently scuttled. We bomb the “usual suspects,” (i.e. Nations beginning I-R-A…whatever), and we may or may not have guessed right. The Chinese come over in the guise of “humanitarian assistance,” then decline to leave.

Well, first off, the book is wrong. Air Force 1 can withstand damn near anything. They (there are 2) are the only 747’s that have active missile defense, for one. Everything on them is hardened against just about any imaginable interference including EMPs.

As for serviceable carburetors, there are a lot fewer carbs than there are cars. And how will you buy them? You’ll run out of cash quickly, especially today when most people don’t carry more than 20 or 40 bucks on them. The ATM won’t work and the bank won’t know how much money you have until they can rebuild their computer infrastructure, so they won’t give you any. Assuming you figure out how to buy them, you’re going to have to figure out how to adapt them. It’s not like you can superglue a carburetor to a modern engine and have it working, and btw if you don’t get the air/fuel mix right you’ll detonate and destroy the engine in short order.

But let’s assume that you can buy a carburetor and somehow make it work on my TL. Where am I going to go? The streets are jammed with cars that are disabled, so driving on the road isn’t much of an option. And I can only drive a max of 300 miles because I can’t get gas, since the gas pumps are computer controlled, and I have no money to buy gas with anyway.

As for electricity being easy, hardly. First, you have to get the gas. See above. Second, you have to have the knowhow to hook a lawn mower up to an alternator to make electricity. Most would not have that knowhow. Then you have to convert that 12v alternator output to 120v AC house current, at which point the losses would be so great that you’d be lucky to run a nightlight.

And we’re still not addressing the inevitable mass rioting that would happen if the technological world suddenly broke down completely. Even if you figure out a way to get electricity, and a car, you’d instantly be the target of all the people who haven’t figured that out yet. They’d steal your car, drag you from your garage and possibly kill you, and then take your electricity for themselves.

You guys may also be forgetting that most automatic transmissions now will not work without the PCM.

The closest satellite will be 150 miles above the blast if it is directly overhead. The closest a geosynchronous spacecraft could be is 22,000 miles away, directly overhead. Pulses from the Sun are more of a concern unless the blast is close enough that the disturbance hasn’t dissipated. Dissipation is proportional to the square of the distance between the blast and the object; that occurs pretty quickly.

shadowfax, I agree that the most critical time would be the first 100 hours or so, post-incident. If individual communities could mitigate the amount of rioting, enough communities would come back “on” and the four things I mentioned (transportation, electricity, communication, supply) would quickly be re-established.

As for trade, assuming the auto parts store is staffed (I would NOT be going to work a minimum-wage job that day), the carbs could be bartered for. (“I’ll sell you this carb for 5 cans of beans and a carton of smokes.”) I probably could get a carb in exchange for explaining how to get a generator running.

I’d hook up the carb by (worst case) slicing open the plastic intake runner, sheet metal screws, and cardboard and silicone caulk to seal leaks. If it ran rich…oh, well; if it ran lean, I’d duct tape 3/4 of the intake as a “permanent choke.”

Remember that not each and every person need figure this out, one person (per area of “emergency governance”) needs to, and sufficient order need be maintained to disseminate this knowledge.

I think you’re in fantasy-land, but then this whole topic is fantasy-land, so that’s ok :wink:

Individual communities wouldn’t be able to stop the rioting. LA couldn’t stop the riots after the Rodney King trial, and the cops had radios, squad cars, helicopters, and other technology that cops today rely on to do their job. A bunch of uncoordinated cops with no communication, on foot, with service pistols aren’t going to do much to stop a whole city from rioting.

Your carb hookup idea would probably not work on a modern engine (They require precise control of fuel/air mix or they won’t run, not to mention the fact that if ALL electronics are fried, then so is the distributor and so you’re not going to get spark either). Even if it did, you still haven’t addressed how you will get through streets clogged with dead cars, trucks and busses, or how you will fuel your car if you do manage to get through.

BTW, hooking a lawn mower’s self propelled wheel up to an alternator (which btw is dead because the voltage regulator just got fried in the EMP) would not generate much. The lawnmower wheel turns at what. . 200rpm? That’s way below what alternators are designed to generate anything useful at, and then as mentioned above the voltage conversion would sap a huge amount of whatever power you did manage to generate.

I think half the town would show up at my house to use all my tired, pre-computer, old junk. Mechanical diesel truck that’ll run as long as it has fuel, magneto ignition gas engines, propane heaters, maybe a horse & buggy. Just keep your hands off my daughters.

if ALL electronics are fried, then so is the distributor and so you’re not going to get spark either

One strong magnet on the flywheel. Two magnetos timed to fire at 15BTDC(?) and 180 degrees from that. One mag runs to 2+3 cyl (on 4 cyl car); the other runs to 1+4. You’d have two sparks per power stroke, but the “wasted spark” would be on the exhaust stroke, so it wouldn’t hurt anything.

Here’s another link with some info about EMP:

I’ve seen no evidence in the literature that devices are more susceptible to damage if they are “turned on” or “being used”.
What matters is if they are connected to long wires or a structure that can act as an efficient antenna.
So I don’t think cars are as susceptible as devices connected to phone or power lines.

A vacuum tube radio will be more resistant to EMP than one with transistors.
In the 1970’s the Soviets were still using vacuum tubes in their military aircraft, so they had this one advantage.

Since it was not classified, I am going to tell you about EMP testing on military products. We had a “black box” (which wasn’t black) for a military aircraft. To test it for EMP, every single box had to go through the test sequence.

That consisted of doing an extensive test, on all specified parameters, which was called running data.

Then the box was cycled hot and cold, with testing in the chamber at both extremes.

Then, it again had a complete data package run.

Then, it was shipped to the EMP lab.

In the EMP lab, they had a call out for every pin into that box, and it would have been perhaps 100 or more, but after this many years (I retired in 1997) I can’t remember. Each pin was specified as either voltage or current susceptible.

They had a high power RF transmitter, and I also can’t remember, but it seems like it must have been 1000 watts. They had to connect that transmitter at full power to each pin, one at a time, at three frequencies. By memory 100KhZ; 1Mhz, and 10Mhz, also not sure.

After they did that on each pin, and the data package mandated checking off each pin at each frequency, they sent it back to us, and we had to run a complete data package again.

Not only was any failure after EMP an EMP failure, our team had to spend a fortune telling the government why it happened, and what they were going to do to make sure it never happened again.


And, it is also not just microprocessors which get zapped. Anything that can get zapped by high voltage or high current can be blown. A simple test is, would a lightning strike blow it out? If so, so will EMP, and I assure you tube televisions got zapped by lightning.

On the other hand, not everything will go. Life is just not that simple. There will be odds and ends that survive, and no one will ever know why.

For example, I live in the mountains of rural Puebla in Mexico. My telephone line is bad news. I assume near lightning strikes induce high current spikes on the phone line. I have lost a lot of equipment and now run Infinite capacity protection, the Phillips boxes from Wal-mart in the US. The electrical adaptors switch off a relay when the pulse gets big enough. But, the telephone line protectors have fast blow fuses which give up the ghost if the MOV circuits can’t handle it.

Before I got the Phillips system installed, a pulse came in on the telephone line (Let me add Telmex spends not one cent on lightning protection for your entry box) went through a modem with no damage and blew up the NIC and CDrom on my laptop.

As far as quick recovery, that is as much utter nonsense as the idea that equipment not running will be safe. I have seen for many decades estimates that less than 6 days with no electricity; with no water; no food deliveries; that NYC will die, and cannot be saved by any means.

Perhaps you did not follow the mess a few years ago when they tried to evacuate Houston, a much smaller city, with the lights on, with the cars and fuel pumps running? It was an awful mess. With 4 million hungry and thirsty people seeking safety, they are mostly not going to make it.

My nephew worked for some years converting coal powered electrical generators to digital. I gotta’ ask my brother to ask him if they were nuclear hardened.

Though I happen to think your predictions are pure fantasy, I do admire your attempt to look for solutions outside the box. If you live out in the boonies, with corn in corn fields, or maybe wheat, and wood to burn, you will have time to work these things out. If you live in a major metropolitan area, forget it.

Part of the testing done by NASA in regards to the Toyota unintended acceleration issue involved subjecting the car to various levels of electromagnetic energy. The NASA people could not induce a failure in the electronic throttle based on this electromagnetic energy bombardment.There used to be quite a bit of automotive “maladys” that were claimed to be caused by subjecting certain automobiles to the electrical signal frequencies and power levels common with CB radios, airport radar systems,and high voltage power lines. The pulse from any “nuke” device (does not even need to be one designed for maximun electro magnetic pulse generation, they all do it to a degree and the detonation parameters are very important in regards to effectiveness) is a bit more than what the NASA people were working with.