Are electromagnetic pulses a real threat?

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Who has not seen a movie where an evil power, alien or otherwise, throws an electromagnetic pulse on a city, country or planet, which paralyses it completely? Cars stop, planes drop in mid-flight, even buildings and basic infrastructure like hospitals, power plants, water supply, mobile networks and data centres are disabled.

Science fiction movies, apart from entertaining, often show the effects of some type of catastrophe, now only speculative but perhaps reality one day. And EMPs are not an exception, particularly in the approaching 5G era.

The governments of the US and some European countries are taking preventive measures. An EMP cannot be prevented, but its effects can be minimised with a good understanding of the factors that affect the coupling of the pulse to the electrical systems of the infrastructure.

Construction materials and methods are paramount for the evaluation of the potential impact. There are myriad ways for an EMP to enter a building, and a single one suffices to achieve its purpose: walls, roof, windows, piping, ventilation, all of them must be considered.

Physical testing of existing facilities is hardly feasible and rather dangerous, hence generic rules and protection criteria are usually applied; but these tend be expensive and not very practical and, what is worse, they do not identify vulnerability problems.

Electromagnetic simulation software overcomes all these barriers and allows obtaining a detailed map of the weaknesses of a building, economically and efficiently, by generating and analysing virtual prototypes.

Everything can be simulated: construction materials, electric cabling, piping, connections, energy and incidence angle of the EMP, to produce a reliable scenario for determining the most efficient methods to minimise the effects in each particular case, as a hospital and a telecommunications antenna pose very different problems.

Nuclear winter, return to the Stone Age… Well, still too much fiction perhaps, but it doesn’t hurt to be prudent and electromagnetic simulation software is a most efficient tool for validating that the protection measures implemented in infrastructure and critical services ensure that they continue operating in the real world the way we expect them.


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