Saturday, June 26, 2010

Protecting Computer Equipment cheaply with Faraday Cages or a Microwave

There has been a lot of talk for several years about protecting electronic equipment from magnetic storms, solar flares, and any potential nuclear explosions when some idiot hits the panic button and sets off the bomb, or even a suitcase nuke is set off by terrorists. NASA warns solar flares from 'huge space storm' predicted soon will cause devastation. Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks, while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine around 2013 to produce unprecedented levels of radiation. (Other scientists give a wider range of potential timing, and spanning several years.) 

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken. Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion dollar damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.

As an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) travels to earth, whether from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME, projected for 2012) or a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere, it hits and runs along electrical power lines as well, building up voltage and amperage, which is what happened during the last solar storm a dozen years ago, blowing out transformers and leaving 6 million people in eastern Canada without power for weeks.

There are lots of sites online on how to build a Faraday Cage, which blocks the radiation and grounds it outside into the earth. When Einstein and others first refined and purified uranium, they took time off and studied its properties. That's when they discovered the "rays" that were harmful, as well as the phase transformations. In the course of their work, one of the scientists discovered that simply covering an object with a grounded copper mesh would stop virtually all electromagnetic radiation, whether proton or neutron. Obviously, they had to protect their monitoring equipment! Thus was born the "Faraday cage."

Solar flares vary in strength and in impact on Earth’s magnetic field. The flares are highly radioactive, although humans are protected from this radiation by the atmosphere. What suffers is technology. The heat from the flares can damage satellites, and magnetic rays can disturb radio communications. 

The bottom line is that we don't know for sure 'when'... but we do know the possibility of electromagnetic energy affecting our electronics, esp. computers along with magnetic hard drives and back-up disks is always lurking, whether from solar flares or some nut with a trigger finger. So, the time to prepare is now.

Building a Faraday Cage actually isn't expensive, nor hard to do. (The easiest idea is below.) It can be as simple as getting 2 cardboard boxes that fit tightly one inside the other. Wrap the outside box with heavy duty aluminum foil, then plastic to protect the foil from ripping. Run a ground wire from the foil outside to the ground, and attach the end to a ground rod. Place the smaller box, which provides insulation, inside the lined box and put your computer and drives in it. (Or radios, TV's, etc. You should always have a protected emergency radio.)

Something like a printer paper box with a lid might work and give you daily access to the computer, just be sure to line the lid. I have no idea if one layer of HD aluminum foil would block really strong magnetic pulses, but I might consider building a copper foil-lined box for small electronic items (other than my computer and stored data).

However, here's a much quicker and cheaper solution. Microwaves ARE Faraday cages. They are made to contain the RF signals generated by the cavity magnetron which cooks the food. Since they are made to block RF signals from escaping the unit, they will also block RF waves from entering it. And it has a door for easy access.

Get an old, non-working but intact microwave free from a landfill, town dump, or recycling center (or your neighbor!). Put it in your office, and keep your valuable magnetic data and computer in it when you aren't using it. You should cut off the electric plug and run a heavy copper ground wire from the ground wire in the cable outside and ground it. The heavier, the more juice it will carry, but be sure it is small enough in diameter you can bend it into corners, and out. I'm inclined to buy the cheap grounding rods that are pounded deep in the earth and used to ground your house electricity. Most are about 8' long, pointed on one end, and used to be under $5. Get a good clamp, too.

I have a huge over-the-stove microwave stored out in the barn. (It works, I just won't use a microwave for the damage it does to foods.) It's big enough to hold all my disks, drives, and 17" laptop. Plus, it will keep everything dust-free... something my office does not. I'll park it on the counter in back of my desk, along with the coffeepot, where it will be handy enough to access every day.

Another tip
You could buy a small sheet of pliable copper foil in a craft shop, and line a cell phone pouch with it. The phone wouldn't receive a signal inside the pouch so you wouldn't use it normally, but you might have some warning of when to use the shield. Any strong geomagnetic storm will likely come with extraordinarily intense aurorae. This won't be just visible at the poles -- during the 1989 storm, the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Texas, and the auroras of 1859 are thought to be perhaps the most spectacular ever witnessed throughout recent recorded history. 

Such a visual display could prove useful as a warning of incoming magnetic disruption, giving you time to shield your cell phone immediately. Hopefully, you put your computer in the old microwave before you left home!


  1. Great info! I plan on doing this to protect my computer and phone. Question: If there aren't very many others doing this...who would we be able to connect to after one of these events? Will the net go down? Comcast lines, power grids,and all of our standard means would be fired? Seems like there would be alot of car engines gone, also. Any ideas on that? Do their rubber tires protect?

  2. There are a lot of thoughts, examples and suggestions in the book, One Second After. We have to assume not everything in the world may get hit, and sooner or later technology will catch up. I may be disconnected for some time, but hopefully my data will survive.

  3. Just buy a simple metal trash can with a metal cover you can buy at hardware store..... Dig a big hole in the back yard... line it with cardboard or plastic liner or something and you are good to go


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