When discussing the most serious natural disasters and catastrophic man-made events, there is one that you’ll often hear mentioned as among the very worst. An EMP.
To hear some people tell it, an EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, has the potential to send much of civilization back to the Stone Age In the blink of an eye. Harrowing stuff to be sure. But are EMPs for real?
Yes, the threat of an EMP is real. EMPs may result due to the detonation of a nuclear weapon or specialized electromagnetic device, but they can also occur naturally as part of solar phenomena, and can do severe damage to electronics and the power grid.
If you have spent any time at all in prepping circles, you have likely already seen theoretical projections of just how much damage an EMP could do to our civilization at large, or even much of the globe.
Sadly, a powerful, large-scale EMP event is among the most likely of the truly catastrophic doomsday scenarios, so this is something you’d be wise to learn about. Keep reading to get the full story.
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EMPs are a Legitimate Threat Event
As we’ve already stated, an EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy. This can come from either a natural or man-made source.
A natural EMP would be something like a severe solar flare, while a man-made one could be the result of a nuclear weapon detonation or other specialized device.
In either case, these bursts of energy can cause severe damage to or totally destroy electronic devices and systems.
Our power grid and anything connected to it along with most circuit boards and other modern electronics are likely to be destroyed or, at best, taken offline.
Think about it: Everything that is dependent on the electrical grid or a computer to function, would either be rendered useless or would no longer work properly.
This includes but is not limited to cell phones, televisions, PCs and tablets, many cars and trucks, ATMs, refrigerators and other appliances.
In a nutshell, civilization as we know it would come to a screeching halt.
There would be widespread panic and chaos as people tried to figure out what happened and what to do next. And this is before the actual long-term consequences were felt.
What Does an EMP Do, Exactly?
The effects of a localized EMP can be devastating, and the consequences of wide-area EMP damage could be catastrophic.
For this reason, it is important to understand how an EMP works and what steps can be taken to protect against its effects.
The effects of an EMP depend on the strength of the EMP and the distance from the source.
A small, weaker and localized EMP might only affect a few electronic devices in its immediate vicinity. But a large, widespread EMP has the potential to take out the power grid of an entire region.
The damage caused by an EMP is twofold. First, the EMP itself can destroy electronic devices and circuits directly.
Second, the resulting power surge imparted can overload electrical supply systems and fry any devices or components attached to it.
This is why an EMP is so dangerous and such a worry to people who are in the know: It has the potential to do crippling, long-term damage to our modern and electrically-dependent society.
Significant EMPs are Usually Generated by Nuclear and Special Weapons
The most “common” and dreaded EMP is the kind created as a secondary effect of a nuclear warhead detonation.
But there are other ways an EMP could be generated. Specialized electromagnetic weapons, known dully as EMP bombs, can generate powerful, grid-frying EMPs as well.
These non-nuclear EMP devices are sometimes referred to as “stand-alone” because they don’t require a nuclear explosion to function.
While the chances of a nuclear war are admittedly low (but never zero, and indeed climbing), the possibility of a terrorist organization or rogue state using an EMP bomb is actually pretty high if they get their hands on one.
This is especially true given the fact that such weapons are asymmetric in nature, and thought to be unlikely to provoke an actual nuclear response.
That being said, a nuclear exchange, aside from the obvious and catastrophic damage inflicted, would further devastate target countries due to the ruinous effects of widespread EMPs on what electronics survive direct destruction.
EMPs Can Also Occur Due to Natural Phenomenon
Though EMPs are most commonly associated with nuclear war or the deployment of specialized weapons, it’s important to remember that EMPs can also be caused by natural phenomena, namely solar activity in the form of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
CMEs are bursts of plasma and accompanying magnetic energy from the sun, and have the potential to cause some serious havoc here on Earth.
The most famous and well-documented example of this is the Carrington Event of 1859, which was caused by a massive solar flare.
This event was so powerful that it actually slagged telegraph wires and started several fires around the nation.
Today, such an event would be much more damaging given our massive reliance on electronic devices and digital infrastructure.
That’s to say nothing of the breadth and vulnerability of our own decrepit electrical grid.
Other natural causes of EMP include geomagnetic storms, which are caused by changes in the Earth’s magnetic field.
Though most such phenomena are nowhere near as powerful as the Carrington Event, scientists believe we are nearly due for an event of such magnitude.
Even a far weaker event could still cause significant damage to electrical grids and vulnerable electronics.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Equipment from an EMP
The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to protect against EMP damage. The most important step is to ensure that any critical electronics are properly shielded.
This can be done in a number of ways, but the most effective method is to encase equipment in a Faraday cage.
A Faraday cage is simply an enclosure made of a conductive material, such as metal mesh or aluminum foil, that blocks electromagnetic fields.
When electronics are placed inside a Faraday cage, the cage will intercept external electromagnetic fields and distribute them around the enclosure evenly, essentially shielding the equipment from EMP damage.
There are a number of ways to build your own Faraday cage, and doing so is actually pretty simple.
The most important thing to remember is that the cage must be made of a material that conducts electricity, and that it must be enclosed on all sides.
Once you have your cage assembled, simply place your electronics inside, making sure they’re not touching the conductive material.
In any case, the bottom line is that EMPs are a very real threat and one that all preppers need to take seriously. The best way to protect against an EMP is to be prepared for it.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.