A massive EMP event, from any cause, is a crisis unto itself. It is difficult to quantify just how much damage such an occurrence can do to our modern society, as dependent as we are upon our electronics and the Byzantine power grid needed to supply them with energy.
To say that we might be rolled back to the Stone Age in the single blink of an eye is entirely plausible, and regrettably an increasingly likely scenario thanks to the proliferation of man-made weapons that can generate powerful EMPs.
EMPs are being discussed all over the Internet and survival centric circles like this one, and even in the halls of Congress and the lofty planning rooms of the Pentagon.
There is certainly a lot to consider, but one of the most basic things that an EMP is likely to take from you is the ability to simply turn on the lights.
Since much of the nation, possibly even much of the world, will no longer be able to banish the darkness with the flick of a switch how will you light your way?
We will be answering that question in this article, providing you with seven sure ways to reliably light up the darkness in the aftermath of a major EMP event. Grab your gear and let’s get going.
An EMP means “lights out,” and Maybe Permanently
One thing that must be kept in mind when dealing with an EMP event and the attendant loss of power compared to more traditional disasters, natural or otherwise, is that the lights may not come back at all in the aftermath of an EMP.
An electromagnetic pulse is a short burst of electromagnetic energy that affects a wide range of frequencies and causes surge in current and voltage to a greater or lesser degree.
Low level EMP effect can cause detectable electrical noise or interference and the operation of various devices, whereas intense, powerful EMP can cause massive sparking, and completely destroy affected systems.
Certain systems and devices such as magnetic tapes, computer hard drives, and anything relying on a circuit board are particularly vulnerable. An EMP can even cause a fire by direct heating of material.
An electromagnetic pulse, particularly a large and powerful one caused by a nuclear warhead detonation or a potent non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon such as an explosively pumped flux compression generator (really, look it up) could potentially affect an extremely wide area with devastating effect.
Modern power grids will be rendered offline totally, at best, and will likely be catastrophically destroyed. This means that the supply of electrical power to society is probably shut down for the indefinite future going forward.
Unlike most disaster scenarios, you won’t be able to simply rough it or wait it out until crews can finally get around to cleaning up all the down limbs, broken power poles and snapped transmission lines that will eventually see power restored to your home and the rest of your town.
No, after an EMP you will probably be living in the “Long Dark.” That means your personal lighting solutions will need to adapt accordingly, and any that you’ll be able to rely on in the immediate aftermath must be totally EMP proofed.
Positive Protection is not a Sure Bet
If you were already well-read on the subject of EMPs, the thought might have crossed your mind to simply protect your vulnerable electronics, including your lighting solutions, within an EMP protective envelope, container or similar device, commonly known as a Faraday cage.
Faraday cages are real and they do work, but most commercially available solutions are not rated for the momentous, high-energy event that is a massive EMP, and even if they were advertised as such, most such products do not undergo any kind of reliable or reputable testing.
What common plans there are for fashioning your own container to accomplish the same ends likewise cannot be tested practically under the high energy conditions that they’ll experience during a real EMP.
The bottom line is you might be able to keep your typical lighting solutions safe if they are protected in some type of Faraday cage or other environment during an EMP, but you shouldn’t count on it, and a well-rounded response plan will include alternate lighting solutions that are in no way affected by the event itself.
It’s the only way to be sure you won’t be stuck in the dark if it happens.
7 Ways to Light Your Way After an EMP Event
1. Battery-powered Flashlights
Considering that I just finished discussing how electronic devices are going to let you down should an EMP occur, you might find the leading inclusion on this list, flashlights, a bit puzzling. Allow me to explain.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not likely that an EMP event will damage certain flashlights, or otherwise drain or discharge batteries so long as they are not installed.
What this means is that having a reliable flashlight or 10 on standby and a supply of batteries to fuel them you should be able to pop the batteries into your flashlights and turn them on with the expectation that they function normally.
This is a great thing for preppers, because this means that we should be able to count on one of the most convenient and handiest light sources in the wake of such an event.
However, there are some exceptions. First, any flashlight that has the batteries installed may be damaged or degraded by the EMP.
Another fly in the ointment is that the overwhelmingly popular and common LED flashlights we enjoy today will probably not survive an EMP since they are in essence tiny circuit boards. If you will recall from the discussion above, circuit boards are extremely vulnerable to high power EMPs.
A prepper who is genuinely worried about an EMP event will make it a point to have a selection of traditional, incandescent bulb flashlights on hand and ready to go, along with a supply of batteries, kept separately, to power them. This same methodology applies to modern battery powered lanterns, also.
2. Liquid-Fueled Lanterns
One trusty light source that is a perfect fit for EMP readiness is the classic, liquid-fueled lantern. Rarely anything more than a protective enclosure for a wick in an oil cistern, lanterns are easy to carry, easy to set about handily, and plenty reliable enough for almost any purpose. Lanterns also make great signaling devices when called upon.
There are all kinds of lanterns that use various kinds of fuel, and some lanterns are capable of using multiple fuels. Modern lanterns as popularized by the Coleman company rely upon white gas, commonly marketed as “camp fuel”.
Kerosene lanterns are a venerable, reliable and popular choice also, one your great grandparents likely used, but kerosene is not always easy to come by in some locales. Butane is a modern fuel that is affordable and stable, similarly popular.
To operate a lantern, all you need to do is fill the reservoir with the appropriate liquid fuel and then ignite the mantle by way of a starter or separate match.
Though lanterns are extremely convenient and easy to operate after a little practice, they present other logistical challenges for preppers who must rely on them.
First, they are nowhere near as safe as a flashlight or battery powered lantern, and a liquid fueled lantern that is knocked over or dropped is an extreme fire hazard that will prove difficult to extinguish.
They also require considerably more maintenance than their battery powered brethren, as globes need cleaning and wicks need trimming on the regular.
Also, any combustible fuel releases carbon monoxide, and lanterns are no different. This means that use inside an enclosed space must be monitored carefully to prevent the buildup of deadly gas.
Considering that many popular fuels have extremely long shelf lives, and the lanterns themselves require effectively no maintenance in storage, you should definitely consider obtaining a handful if only for use in conditions where the risk of fire is minimal.
Candles are a lighting option that has been around since time immemorial, used by kings and paupers alike in cultures all around the world.
Today we can enjoy cheap and plentiful candles both for their ambience and for their practicality when electrical systems have failed totally. That makes them another reliable option for EMP preparedness.
You should be able to buy all sorts of candles in great abundance at any grocery or department store, and you can get them scented, unscented, tall or short, thin or wide to suit your preference. You can even make your own using basic materials.
However, not all candles are created equal, and however you feel about them for decoration you would be well served to get purpose designed emergency candles that will provide you an excellent return on your investment and also minimize indoor air pollution.
The biggest problem with candles when it comes to emergency lighting is that they present an open flame, which is a huge accidental fire hazard, obviously, and they are easily put out by incidental drafts of wind.
A candle also puts out very little light compared to other options on this list, and you must keep multiple candles burning if you want to meaningfully light up a room.
Trying to navigate through a dark environment using a candle alone is fraught with peril, as the candle will easily be snuffed out, dripping wax can burn your hands and the chances are good you can accidentally set something on fire if you aren’t very careful.
Despite this, candles can easily be used in conjunction with hurricane lamps and specialized candle holders to help protect the candle from the environment and the environment from the candle, not to mention making them much easier to transport while lit.
Chemlights, or snap lights, are one of my very favorite emergency lighting tools. You are probably already acquainted with these tubular glow sticks from their perennial usage around Halloween and at various parties, but these devices are no mere novelty.
High-quality chemlights have the reliability, the output and the longevity to deserve a legitimate place in your arsenal as an emergency lighting solution.
In operation, they are simplicity itself. The tubular body contains a pair of chemicals, one of them separated and contained in an ampoule.
By sharply flexing the outer casing this ampoule breaks allowing the chemicals to mix and subsequently producing a colorful, if eerie, green glow, though other colors are available. The resulting light is useful for close range task lighting, emergency signaling, marking and so much more.
The best part is that the chemlights are just about as safe as any light source can be, producing no harmful byproducts with the chemicals themselves being completely inert and non-toxic, and generating effectively no heat during operation.
Though the light they emit will steadily grow dimmer and dimmer over time, a modern, high quality chemlight will produce several hours of usable light and work well as a marker or signal in dark conditions for long after that.
Affordable, versatile, adaptable, safe and effective. What is not to like?
5. Propane Lamps
Propane lamps are similar to liquid-fueled lanterns but the primary difference is that these are available in a huge variety of form factors, including fixed lamps built into homes or set atop poles or light posts.
Commonly used in areas where it is practically impossible to deliver electricity and the transportation of large quantities of liquid fuel is impractical or dangerous propane lights are energy efficient and can be turned up or down much like a dimmer switch affects electrical lighting in your home today. These lights are also quite bright!
Also like lanterns, propane lighting systems require ongoing maintenance, particularly of the mantle that forms the heart of the lamp.
However, a prepper who made it a point to outfit themselves with smaller, portable propane lamps and equipped their home with similar systems, particularly if already operating off of a large propane tank on site could find themselves with full lighting capability in the aftermath of an EMP. At least, as long as they have propane close at hand.
But be warned; just like all other combustible materials and fuels burning propane releases combustion byproducts, including deadly carbon monoxide so you’ll need to account for this when using them in an enclosed space.
Mankind’s oldest, most symbolic and surprisingly still relevant lighting tool is the humble torch. Little more than a stick with a wad of combustible material affixed to the far end, torches have been lighting mankind’s journeys into the darkness since before history even was.
And note when I say ‘torch’ I’m referring to the classical, primitive torch, not the modern flashlight according to the Brits.
Although the torch is undeniably primitive technology, throughout history improvements were made.
Oftentimes, the flammable material at the end of the torch, sometimes made of cloth and sometimes plant or even animal matter, would be further doused in a flammable substance to make the torch easier to light, burn more reliably or burn brighter.
Pitch is sometimes used, and the ancient Romans used sulfur mixed with lime to produce a waterproof torch. Today a primitive torch can be improvised but made surprisingly efficient and durable through the use of modern fabrics like Kevlar or hessian.
As you might expect, an open flame of this nature represents a serious secondary fire hazard, so torches must always be used with caution and you had better have a plan for setting one down when the time comes if it is not extinguished!
For a prepper, torches can be prepared ahead of time or improvised easily using nearly anything that is close at hand.
With some basic understanding of torch construction and principles of illumination it is possible to fashion a reliable torch that can burn for some time, even after being immersed in water.
Adding a few quality of life enhancements such as a ring or collar about halfway up the stave can protect the wearer’s hand from heat or from dripping wax and other substances.
Flares are pyrotechnic devices that produce an extremely bright, vivid light for upwards of 15 minutes to half an hour.
Commonly used for emergency signaling, especially in highway safety situations and for indicating distress at sea, flares can nonetheless crank out a significant amount of light for a long time though they come with some drawbacks when used in a personal illumination role.
The good news is that flares are easy to come by, affordable, long lasting, and easy to activate, relying on a large striker cap to ignite that functions for the entire world like an oversized match.
Other ignition systems are available but are less common. Upon ignition, a flare will burn with an intense, typically red light that is easily visible over great distances, and will handily light up the near area.
Considering that proper flares are pyrotechnic devices typically based on strontium nitrate, potassium perchlorate or potassium nitrate and mixed with other ingredients such as sawdust, sulfur, charcoal, aluminum or magnesium there are no electronics, batteries or any other components that are in any way vulnerable to the effects of an EMP.
The bad news is that flares often sputter, spark, and otherwise misbehave in use meaning they present a substantial secondary fire hazard when used carelessly. For this reason, along with the substantial amount of combustion byproducts that are generated flares are entirely inadequate for home use or illumination in any enclosed area.
But for rapid, dependable emergency signaling or fast illumination of an outdoor area when the risk of fire is not a major hazard, flares are hard to beat.
Any EMP event that completely knocks out the power grid and renders most traditional lighting solutions unusable will prove to be a momentous catastrophe, but this does not mean you have to stumble around in the dark when the sun goes down.
Mankind has relied on various lighting tools for millennia and we can rely on them again when the situation calls for it. Be they modern innovations or venerable and ancient tools you’ll always have a way to chase off the shadows if you have the right know-how and materials.
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.