Most preppers spend a considerable amount of time theorizing and occasionally worrying over what disasters might lie in store.
Much of this speculation is grounded in reality, concerned with such natural disasters as tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes, along with man-made crises such as terrorist attacks and civil unrest. However, some preppers think “big picture”.
Some preppers worry about genuinely apocalyptic events, be it an asteroid strike, mega volcano eruption, or some other cataclysmic event that happens once a millennium if that.
Mercifully, most of this theorizing is simply the stuff of fiction, so unlikely are these gargantuan catastrophes to happen.
However, there is one doomsday scenario that is entirely, frighteningly real, and perhaps even likely to occur- a major EMP event.
An EMP has the capability to absolutely devastate modern electrical and information grids, and destroy anything utilizing a circuit board.
It could, quite literally, plunge civilization back into a pre-industrial age in the blink of an eye. This is not science fiction. This is not speculation.
This is one doomsday scenario you’ll need to be prepared for, and this article, along with the resources linked below, will tell you what you need to know.
Table of Contents
What is an EMP?
EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a sudden surge or burst of electromagnetic energy. This energy can disrupt and disable electronic equipment and cause power outages.
Think of an EMP as an invisible wave, or field, expanding from a point of origin in all directions.
It’s similar to the way a pebble dropped in a pond creates ripples. But instead of water, an EMP is made up of electric and magnetic fields.
These fields will interact with objects and equipment in various ways when they contact them, and none of the effects are good.
Effects of an EMP
The effects of an EMP can be divided into three categories: immediate, delayed, and residual.
Immediate effects are instantly caused by the electromagnetic pulse itself interacting with equipment and systems.
Delayed effects happen when the EMP damages power lines and other infrastructure to create a cascading failure or “domino effect.” This can cause long-term blackouts and other disruptions.
Residual effects are those that persist after the initial surge of energy has dissipated or passed. This can include things like induced currents that can overload and fry electronic equipment.
The severity of these effects can vary depending on the strength of the EMP. Low-intensity EMP fields might do nothing more than corrupt or wash out communication signals, make speakers crackle with static or create curious artifacts on televisions and LED displays.
More serious EMPs will induce actual high voltage currents in any system that can be affected by them, potentially damaging or even destroying them outright, even if they are not connected to an existing power source or electrical grid.
Further harm can be inflicted by the magnetic component of the pulse, disrupting, erasing, and generally interfering with anything that can be affected by a strong magnetic field, from hard disk memory and sensitive instrumentation to pacemakers and other medical equipment.
For our purposes, the type and nature of EMPs that we are worried about will, as a rule, occupy the upper limit of EMP intensity, and be capable of overloading and destroying electrical grids at the regional level, starting fires, and permanently disabling or destroying electronics and other electrical equipment.
Everything from personal electronics to regional power stations can be negatively affected. In short, the more sophisticated a device is the more vulnerable it is, if unprotected, to the effects of an EMP.
EMP protection is a growing concern for governments, individuals, and businesses alike. With a near-total reliance on electronic equipment and infrastructure, the threat of an EMP looms ever larger.
Sources of Destructive EMPs
In this context, EMPs are typically discussed as the byproduct of a nuclear warhead detonation or else created from a dedicated, specialized EMP weapon.
Either produce a frighteningly intense come-up powerful EMP capable of causing widespread destruction depending on the method and altitude of employment.
However, it probably won’t make you feel any better to learn that EMPs are also naturally occurring, and there is precious little we can do to protect against them.
But just because they are natural does not mean they are any less worrisome than man-made EMPs, and indeed we already have recorded historical instances of such events causing widespread chaos.
The list below will tell you more about the origins of various types of EMP and how they might affect us in the future.
A nuclear EMP, or nuclear-generated EMP, is one that is created by the detonation of a nuclear warhead.
When discussing such things, people naturally and rightly worry about the cataclysmic damage inflicted by such explosive weapons and the form of the fireball and blast wave.
However, the EMP can prove to be just as dangerous in the long term, or just inflict further devastation to the targeted area.
Nuclear EMPs are particularly powerful, and experts speculate that this one punch created by the detonation of a nuclear warhead is accounted for and indeed factors into the planning of nuclear strategists.
Perhaps more worryingly, a nuclear warhead could be detonated high in the sky, sparing a target much or even all of the effects of the blast but increasing the area that is affected by the EMP.
This is because nuclear EMPs can be said to be a line of sight effect, meaning that anything that can draw a rough line of sight from its location to the epicenter of the explosion could potentially be affected by extremely powerful electromagnetic energy.
Accordingly, many folks fear that a rogue state or even particularly sophisticated terrorists might utilize a nuclear warhead principally as an EMP weapon to completely capsize the information and energy grid in a targeted area, potentially doing far more damage and causing far more chaos over the long term than even the impact of the nuke itself could do.
Non-Nuclear EMP (NNEMP)
A non-nuclear EMP is another man-made variety, but one that is created from the activation or detonation of an EMP generator or an EMP bomb.
Unlike a nuke, the activation of such a weapon system will not be accompanied by explosive destruction on a Titanic scale, but like the detonation of a nuke an EMP will be created that is near the upper end of the power spectrum.
Although such weapons have rarely if ever been employed on a large scale, at least in the public eye, modern military and advanced Nations increasingly have the technical skill to assemble or procure these weapon systems.
In some ways, this opens up a new, unpredictable and entirely frightening category of strategic warfare.
for softening up a Target and reducing or even eliminating its capability to fight back, such EMP weapons, deployed wide scale, could plunge a civilization basically back to the Stone Age, cause widespread chaos and soften up a target for invasion or follow-on strikes.
It is difficult to assess the potential second and third-order effects of these weapons if they were to be deployed militarily.
They do not inflict direct destruction in the same way as a nuke or the indiscriminate mayhem of chemical or biological weapon deployments; does this mean that disproportionate retribution in the form of nuclear retaliation is off the table? Maybe it doesn’t?
What if such weapons were deployed by a rogue state, terror group or even a similar faction used as a sort of cat’s paw for a first world belligerent? The damage they can inflict is out of all proportion with their overt destructiveness.
Nonetheless, concerning our own preparations the deployment of a non-nuclear EMP device will still likely herald a major long-term survival situation.
Believe it or not, solar activity in the form of coronal mass ejections can prove to be one of the most powerful and most regularly occurring sources of natural EMPs.
In fact, it is one such event, known as the Carrington Event of 1859, gives us a frightening preview of what such solar activity is capable of.
The Carrington Event was reported to have caused intense Aurora activity the world over, a scrambling or severe degradation of radio signals and even ignited telegraph wires, with telegraph lines being reported to have slagged and sparked in the hardest-hit areas.
This was certainly a powerful EMP resulting from a coronal mass ejection, but certainly not the most powerful that could be expected.
Considering the advanced industrialization, proliferation of digital technology, and total reliance on the electrical grid in our modern era, any such event that is even approximate to the power of the Carrington Event could have globally devastating consequences.
Believe it or not, fluctuations in the Earth’s own magnetic field, a field created by the rotation of our planet’s molten iron core, can potentially result in EMP effects on a global or regional level.
Although not thought to be anywhere near as troubling or as powerful as coronal mass ejections, or certainly by man-made EMPs, some scientists speculate the particular fluctuations could be strong enough to seriously disrupt electrical systems.
Assuming that such geomagnetic activity is nowhere near the magnitude of the other types of EMP listed here, and nonetheless illustrates that you’ll never be truly safe from the effects of one, at least as long as you live on earth!
Short and Long Term Consequences of an EMP
So let’s say the fateful day has finally arrived. Whatever the cause, whatever the source, a powerful EMP has impacted your region. What happens?
First, you will notice an immediate or near immediate cessation of electricity, and pretty much every device and every machine that is reliant upon a circuit board or connected to an electrical grid will fail, shutting down and perhaps being spectacularly damaged.
Electrical lines and much equipment will spark, and fires will be widespread. Your computer, your cell phone, your TV, all offline permanently, at least for the time being.
To say that this will create widespread panic and chaos is no exaggeration.
This chaos will only intensify and casualties will continue to mount as governmental agencies and first responders find that the equipment and technology they rely on to do their jobs is likely to be out of action.
You will be truly on your own, and will only be able to rely on tools and equipment that are either inherently immune to the effects of an EMP or sufficiently shielded or hardened against it.
Even more pressingly, critical equipment is still likely to fail when an EMP occurs.
Life support equipment, machines used for medical treatment, refrigeration, air handling and more will all be knocked offline unless both they and any existing backup power supplies are EMP hardened or shielded in some way.
Even though an EMP is not directly dangerous to human beings, the immediate consequences of one will likely result in hundreds or thousands of deaths in the first few minutes depending on the scale of the event.
Sadly, there is precious little technology of any kind in the commercial sector that is genuinely hardened against the effects of a potent EMP.
Hard drives, circuit boards, computers, radios, microchips and more will all be severely damaged or destroyed outright inside the critically affected area.
What you’ll be facing is a crisis situation where you’ll be truly deprived of modern technology.
Long-term, things might be even grimmer. Transportation and production sectors, both entirely dependent in our day on modern electrical infrastructure and computers, will absolutely grind to a halt with no relief in sight except for what can be brought to bear from outside the affected area.
Production of everything from food to essential medicines and replacement parts will essentially be at zero at the societal scale.
Considering how dependent pretty much every industry is on electricity and digital technology beginning to unravel the exponentially expanding web of destruction will be a nightmare.
You won’t be able to rely on modern methods of communication or likely even fast, automobile couriers to attempt to reach friends and loved ones outside of the immediate area. No email, no phone and very likely no radio.
If you or anyone else you know is dependent upon vital medicines or ongoing medical treatments you’ll be facing a grim future without them.
Neither will you be able to truly depend on any relief, aid or intervention at your local level from government agencies, local state or federal.
They will be dealing with plenty of problems themselves and will be in full-blown triage mode according to what command structures remain intact and obedient.
It is entirely likely that deprived of central organization, command, and control many will collapse outright as their personnel seeks to tend to their own concerns or else will turn to try to manage what damage and problems they can affect at a greatly narrowed scale.
Surviving the Onset
Surviving the onset of an EMP is mostly a matter of reacting quickly, taking the correct procedures, and sadly, a little bit of luck.
One of the things that make an EMP so very dangerous is how quickly it can take effect. They’re typically created from sources that provide very little if any warning and the damage they do happens pretty much instantly.
This means that quite literally one moment everything is fine and the next society as you know it has been changed forever.
Even so, surviving the onset of an EMP is possible most of the time, but what actions you take will be dictated by whether or not you have any advanced warning.
If you are fortunate, scientists and astrological agencies might be able to detect the approaching emission of a coronal mass ejection and warn the populace, giving you perhaps a few precious minutes to take defensive action and improve your position.
In the case of a nuclear-generated EMP or the potential threat of a non-nuclear EMP device, you might similarly have emergency broadcast warnings.
Surviving a nuclear detonation is an entirely separate article, but assuming you are not near ground zero you’ll still need to act quickly to protect yourself from the effects of the EMP.
However, it is just as likely that the source of the EMP will arrive with no warning and leave you scrambling to react. Consider the following procedures depending on whether or not you have an advanced warning:
- Take immediate action to improve your position for maximum safety. If you are on foot, get away from roadways and any other machines which could suddenly switch off or go out of control.
- If you are driving, pull over and get well away from any roads and other traffic paths. Put the car in park.
- If you are flying, you must make an emergency landing at the earliest possible opportunity.
- If time permits and you have access to a Faraday cage, place all personal electronics inside and secure it until you know the EMP has dissipated and follow-up events are not likely.
- Staying safe is paramount. Forget all notions of protecting electronics and other equipment. It is already too late.
- If you are on foot, immediately move away from all machinery and electrical equipment in your nearby area. Vehicles and machines will go out of control and sparking, arcing and fires are likely.
- If you’re operating a motor vehicle it will likely turn off and all electrical systems will fail. Sparking, arcing and smoke should be expected but may not occur. Remain calm and bring the vehicle to a stop under control as quickly as you can.
- Once the initial carnage dies down, start improving your position. Head for home, rally with family members and see what comes next.
Remember: Many resources you would otherwise be able to depend on in the aftermath of other disasters will be completely out of action in the wake of a powerful EMP. You must plan accordingly!
In short, any powerful EMP that can affect the nation and society at the regional level, to say nothing of the national or global level, will be a paradigm-shifting event.
There will be life before the EMP, and there will be life after the EMP, and they will look very, very different.
Some experts in the field speculate that as many as 90% of the population could perish in the months and years following a national-level EMP event as a result of second and third-order damage and capability loss, or simple starvation.
To say this is a survival challenge unlike any other you have likely planned to say nothing of prepared for is putting it lightly.
Nonetheless, where there is understanding there is the ability to plan, and if you can plan you can meaningfully prepare!
Is it Possible to Protect Equipment from an EMP?
EMP protection is a complex, nuanced endeavor, particularly when considering the tremendous energy levels associated with the destructive EMPs we have been discussing.
It is worth keeping in mind that, practically, genuine protection from a nuclear EMP or NNEMP might well prove impossible for most citizens outside of the most intensive (and expensive) preparation.
There are several methods that can protect electronics from an EMP, grouped broadly into shielding- methods that prevent or block an EMP from affecting an item – or hardening, inherent design or upgrade characteristics that make a device or system immune or at least resistant to EMP up to a certain level of intensity.
One option is to use Faraday cages, which are enclosures made of conductive material that can shield against electromagnetic fields.
Another possibility is to use surge suppressors or uninterruptible power supplies, which can help prevent damage to electronics from sudden power surges.
In the latter case, the power systems themselves would need to be EMP-hardened.
One of the most primitive but nonetheless effective methods for EMP shielding is to simply bury an item deep underground, preferably under lots of stone and other dense materials.
Finally, it is also important to have a plan in place for how to deal with damaged electronics in the event of an EMP.
Some items will be permanently destroyed, as will be the case for most consumer electronics, computers, smart devices, and so forth.
However, other things like vehicles might only have one or two critical or non-essential systems burned out, meaning that a simple refit or bypass operation might restore them or at least provide limited service.
Taking steps to protect your possessions and other vital equipment from an EMP will be a challenging and highly meticulous undertaking outside of shielding the smallest items.
Prepping for an EMP: What you Need to Do
Preparing for a major EMP event is much like preparing for any other catastrophic disaster, only in some ways, the task will be made far more complicated.
The outright destruction and EMP will cause upfront is quite low compared to other disasters, but the long-term consequences will be frightfully severe.
Planning for an EMP is mostly a matter of putting yourself into the mindset of an earlier, older era.
Even compared to the most destructive natural disasters, you must count on an EMP utterly ruining most methods of communication and transportation.
The impact this will have on your baseline contingency planning cannot be overstated. Knowing how you will get in touch with to say nothing of reach loved ones or friends that have been separated from you will be significantly more challenging than it would be otherwise.
Relief in the form of first responders or government agencies, unreliable in the best of times during large-scale situations, will likely be absent entirely.
Equipment and Provisions
The survival supplies and provisions you will need to survive the onset and aftermath of an EMP really have not changed, because necessities are universal. Shelter, water, food, tools, weapons, and more will all be needed as normal.
However, you will not be able to count on anything that is inherently electronic or computerized, or any basic provisions that are produced or processed by such devices.
Furthermore, sustainability, durability, and longevity are the watchwords for EMP preps, because all of the networks, systems, machines and services that produce them will be taken offline for the indefinite future and perhaps permanently.
Beyond the typical, all-purpose survival kit detailed in the linked article, there are a number of things you’ll want to add to your complement as EMP-specific survival tools and provisions.
- Extra water. And lots of it. An EMP will likely result in a cascading, system-wide failure of both sewage treatment facilities and water processing.
Combined with all of the other mayhem, your usual household water systems are probably going to become either terribly contaminated or shut off in very short order.
Water is now, as always, a precious commodity in a survival scenario but most underestimate just how quickly an EMP will compromise a system you should be able to depend on.
- Shelf-stable food. Again, plenty of it. Any prepper worth the name should already have a sizable quantity of food that is ready to eat or easy to prepare, but it is especially important when dealing with the aftermath of an EMP.
You might have the luxury of not facing mass destruction where you live, but with the widespread nature of an EMP combined with the chaos it causes, we’ll see people far and wide outside of your area scarfing up what food there is at a truly terrifying rate.
It will take you time to implement your own sustainable food sources going forward, and even then you’ll have to guard them relentlessly. Having plenty of food on hand that is ready to eat will be a major boon for you and yours.
- Traditional ice chest. If you can create, or refurbish, a classic ice chest you’ll be in a better position to preserve what foods you have and potentially even life-saving medicine that people need.
You or someone you trust that is in the loop will have to act quickly in order to stock this chest if you do not use it full time, but it is one of the only ways to make use of cold temperature refrigeration if you do not live in the colder regions.
- Manual tools. There will be no shortage of work that needs doing in the aftermath of an EMP.
And though much simple gas- and battery-operated power tools will continue to function the infrastructure that will supply the fuel they need, gasoline and electricity respectively, will not.
That means those tools are operating on borrowed time. To offset this, go manual. Things like shovels, axes, farm jacks, saws and more will all pick up the slack so long as you can supply the muscle.
- Wagons and carts. The transportation of goods is going to grind to a halt immediately after an EMP, and things cannot be moved by manpower or by beasts of burden, they aren’t going to go very far at all.
Set yourself up for success by investing in trailers, wagons, and carts that are adaptable to such needs so you can continue to move large or bulk cargo.
Low-tech Redundancy is Paramount
As mentioned earlier in this article, the single best thing you can do for yourself if you genuinely want to be prepared for surviving the aftermath of an EMP it’s to start living and training with an eye toward low-tech redundancy.
Old school skills and tools that do not rely on electricity or computers in any way to get things done or function will be worth their weight in gold.
Durable manual tools, books, heating systems, conveyances and more can all be had in forms that do not depend on electricity or sophisticated technology.
Where other methods fail or are destroyed entirely, these will persist and quickly become the new standard going forward in society.
Assess Techno-centric Vulnerabilities
Most importantly, everyone who has the will to survive in the aftermath of an EMP must use exacting care in assessing the techno-centric vulnerabilities of themselves and their family members.
This could be anything from reliance upon electricity for needed life support equipment to specialized medication that cannot be replaced by holistic methods or one that requires refrigeration.
Even outside of immediate life support, if you live in such a way that you are almost totally dependent upon vulnerable technologies or equipment to sustain yourself or to move around in society you must come up with a low-tech alternative or produce certain and foolproof protection for the needed equipment, or else you will be among the foremost casualties of an EMP.
This is a sobering thing to think about, but it must be done if you are serious about protecting yourself and your loved ones.
The Threat is Real
A powerful EMP event is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The threat is and has been real for some time, either as a naturally occurring disaster or the consequences of mankind’s destructive impulses.
Preparing for an EMP it’s probably the most challenging undertaking that the average prepper will handle, but it must be done if you want to consider yourself ready in our modern era.
Use the information provided in this article and the other linked resources to jumpstart your EMP preparations before the lights go out: by then it will be too late…
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.