There’s been a lot of talk about EMP attacks and it’s gotten a lot of people wondering what it is, and also what will survive one of those attacks. So, let’s answer those questions…
An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a burst of energy that can destroy electronic devices. This can be caused by a natural event, such as a lightning strike, or by man-made means, such as a nuclear explosion blast.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of an EMP attack, it’s important to know what will and won’t survive it.
In this article, we will discuss the items that are most likely to be affected by an EMP and provide tips for protecting them.
But before we talk about each of them, here’s a quick table with all of them. You can also download a PDF checklist at the end of this article.
|Will Work After An EMP||Won’t Work After an EMP|
|✅ most vehicles||❌ vehicles with computers connected to the engine|
|✅ dirt bikes and off-road motorcycles||❌ anything connected to a charger|
|✅ batteries (not connected to the grid)||❌ main power grid|
|✅ power tools (not connected to the grid)||❌ electric cars and battery-operate vehicles|
|✅ unplugged appliances||❌ computerized motorcycles|
|✅ wind turbines||❌ computer-operated houses|
|✅ older electronics (unplugged)||❌ electric heaters|
|✅ commercial aircraft||❌ portable generators|
|✅ solar panels||❌ public water (operated by electrical pumps connected to the grid)|
|✅ non-electric appliances||❌ computers|
|✅ manual tools||❌ folks with pacemakers|
What Will Survive an EMP
✅ Most Vehicles
Conventional wisdom says that most vehicles won’t survive an EMP due to the number of delicate electronics that are in virtually all modern cars.
A 2004 study by the US EMP Commission came to the conclusion that, in the event of an EMP, approximately 10% of the vehicles on the road will stop:
Approximately 10 percent of the vehicles on the road will stop, at least temporarily, thereby possibly triggering accidents, as well as congestionReport of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
This is an optimistic perspective, and further research is definitely needed to better approximate the disaster that will unfold. The vehicles that would come to a stop, particularly those on highways and/or speeding will most likely cause accidents.
Whether that percentage is accurate or not, here’s a list of the vehicles that are most likely to survive an electromagnetic pulse:
- Toyota 4×4 Trucks 1985-and earlier – The key factors that make these types of trucks EMP-ready are a solid front axle and a carbureted 22R motor. It’s a simple setup, but when it comes to withstanding a pulse, these will do it. And the best part is, these trucks are known to perform better under pressure.
- American-made pre-1980 trucks, SUVs, and commercial vehicles – American truck motors were built very simple pre-1980. When it comes to choosing the right type of truck to use after an EMP, follow this rule of thumb: The simpler the motor, the better. American trucks can withstand and handle the duty of a bug-out vehicle.
- Dune Buggy – These are not fun, but they are awesome bug-out vehicles that will withstand an EMP.
- Pre-1980 Jeep – Jeeps are iconic for survival. They will make great bug-out vehicles and can double as daily-duty vehicles.
- Pre-1980 Land Rover – Like the Jeep, Land Rovers have their place in the survival game for a reason. They are efficient and they can handle off-road situations when getting you from point A to point B.
- Old tractors.
✅ Dirt Bikes and Off-Road Motorcycles
Certain types of motorcycles may survive an EMP. Those would be the off-road kind, those designed to trek through the backcountry and over rough terrain.
Motorcycles are excellent choices for surviving an attack. If you plan to use a motorcycle for an SHTF type of situation, choose one that is definitely off-road and one that can be converted to diesel.
Converting a motorcycle to diesel, and using it as a survival vehicle is highly recommended.
A couple of favorites among preppers are the Kawasaki KLR 650 and the ROKON 2×2. The Kawasaki can be converted to fit your needs.
The ROKON is a bike that is designed to go everywhere and do almost everything. It’s designed to handle everything from escaping to scouting.
Primary cell and rechargeable batteries alike are, surprisingly, likely to survive an EMP with no ill effects. This is because the chemicals inside them are not affected by electromagnetic fields.
The only exception to this rule are those batteries that are still connected to an electrical grid- if your battery is plugged into a charger, for example, the surge of power will probably destroy it.
Similarly, any device that relies on batteries is not necessarily going to be destroyed by an EMP. This is a common misconception because many battery-operated devices rely on components that are vulnerable.
Knock out one part and most battery-powered devices are offline.
But even if the electronic components are fried on a device that uses a non-removable battery, as long as the battery is intact you should be able to replace it and get the device working again.
✅ Power Tools
Power tools, whether they are corded or cordless, surprisingly will fare just fine during and after an EMP.
Their electric motors are simple enough to be unaffected except by the most intense electromagnetic fields- strong enough that you probably have bigger problems!
There are two exceptions:
- Any solid-state switches will probably be destroyed outright, necessitating replacement or jury-rigging to fix;
- Any tool (or battery) that is still connected to the electrical grid, through its charger or not.
The surge of power that will inevitably flow into the tool or its power pack will utterly fry it in that case.
The same goes for most appliances in your home. If it has a simple electromechanical motor, such as a refrigerator, washer, or dryer, it will probably survive an EMP with little to no damage.
The main exceptions are those that have solid-state electronic controls- if your fridge has a digital display panel telling you the temperature, chances are good that it will be destroyed by an EMP.
As a general rule, newer appliances are more likely to have complicated control circuits and other electronic trickery. The loss of any component might deactivate the appliance or put it into an error state where it malfunctions.
In this regard, older appliances have an advantage- the simpler their internals, the more likely they are to keep working.
✅ Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are a critical part of the electrical grid in many places, and even though they aren’t necessarily hardened against an EMP, they’re highly resistant to its effects in most circumstances.
The main components of a wind turbine- the blades, generator, and tower- are all made of metal, which protects them from electromagnetic fields.
However, the control circuits and other electronic components may not be protected from the effects of the EMP, especially considering it is likely hooked up to a power grid.
If you’re relying on wind turbines of your own for a post-SHTF power supply, you should be able to count on them so long as they were not hooked up to existing electrical infrastructure.
✅ Older Electronics
Older electronics, such as tube radios and CRT TVs, are more likely to survive an EMP than newer ones.
This is because they do not have the solid-state components that are so vulnerable to electromagnetic fields. Vacuum tubes and other obsolete electronic components prove time and again to be highly resistant to EMPs.
Even if the power supply or other electronic components are damaged, as long as the tubes themselves are intact you should be able to replace them and get the device working again.
There might be a good reason to keep your old electronics instead of tossing them out just in case!
✅ Commercial Aircraft
Commercial aircraft are designed to withstand a wide variety of conditions, including EMPs. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all aircraft be able to withstand an EMP with no loss of function or safety.
Lightning strikes are an entirely common, natural source of EMPs, and large aircraft have to deal with them all the time!
This is because the electronic components on an aircraft are critical for its operation and if even one were to fail it could lead to disastrous consequences. Aircraft are also shielded against EMPs by their metal hulls, which protect electronics from electromagnetic fields.
However, it is important to note that, while an aircraft may be able to withstand an EMP, this doesn’t mean it will be unscathed or remain airworthy afterward.
If the airports and other infrastructure needed for takeoffs and landings are destroyed by the EMP then the aircraft will be effectively grounded. at any rate.
✅ Solar Panels
Solar panels absorb nuclear radiation from the sun daily. An EMP will only affect these slightly. They’ll suffer a small decrease in power output.
They’ll still be able to power. If your home or bug-out shelter is powered by solar panels, you can rest easy knowing that an EMP will not wipe out your power source.
It’s a good idea to keep a spare power inverter and other electronic parts in a Faraday cage. The solar panels themselves won’t be affected by an EMP but the electronic components of your system can be. Better safe than sorry.
We put people on the list because overall humans as a whole are unaffected by EMPs. However, some will not be as seen in the list below of things that will not survive.
✅ Non-Electric Appliances
Appliances such as a solar oven for cooking and a wood stove or fireplace for heating your home.
Without power in your home, you need to have a manual method for washing clothes, such as a hand plunger and buckets or even a washboard with a tub and hand wringer.
✅ Manual Tools
These will come in handy. Make sure you have critical items to help you accomplish basic cooking tasks like a hand-operated can opener, hand-powered coffee grinder, coffee percolator, manual mixer, and Zeer clay pot fridge.
When an EMP causes an extended grid-down situation, you’ll need additional hand-powered items such as a hand-operated grain mill, meat grinder, and pasta maker.
Make sure you have hand tools such as screwdrivers, saws, a hammer, a hand drill, block sander, sandpaper, etc. so that you can accomplish basic carpentry tasks and make repairs as needed. A brace and bit for drilling holes and driving screws will make repairs a lot easier.
Any device (including means of transportation) that is mechanical. I.e. mechanical watches, bicycles, etc.
What Won’t Survive an EMP
❌ The Main Power Grid
The main reason why enemies launch an EMP attack is to disable the power grid.
Without power, there are no computers to maintain the military defense system, there’s no communication between law enforcement or emergency personnel, and without power and communication, the land is sure to descend into chaos.
Shutting down the main grid puts everyone in the dark. Literally. Radio darkness occurs, causing confusion and panic everywhere.
Without an emergency generator of some kind, if the EMP attack is bad enough, it could cripple the affected area for a very long time, and thus give an enemy the upper hand.
❌ Any Device Connected to a Charger
As mentioned before, any device that is plugged into a charger or other electrical grid is vulnerable to the effects of an EMP. The surge of power will destroy the delicate electronic components, rendering the device useless.
This includes laptops, cell phones, and even some vehicles that have to be plugged in for charging.
If you have a laptop or phone that is not currently in use, make sure it is unplugged and stored in a Faraday cage if you want to increase its chances of surviving an EMP.
❌ Vehicles with Engine Management Computers
Many modern vehicles rely on engine management computers (EMCs) to function properly. These computers control everything from the ignition timing to the fuel mixture and are very sensitive to electromagnetic fields.
An EMP will almost certainly fry the delicate electronic components in an EMC, rendering the vehicle inoperable. Even if the engine itself is not affected, without the EMC the vehicle will be unable to start.
This includes not just cars and trucks but also motorcycles, boats, and other vehicles with engines that are managed by computers.
The super-efficient computers that manufacturers boast about could be useless to their owners once a pulse has been unleashed. If you have a car that is computerized in any shape or form, it may not work following an EMP.
If your car has any of the following features, an EMP will render it useless:
- electronic fuel injection,
- anything computerized that controls your vehicle’s main systems,
- a PCM (also called a powertrain control module),
- ABS (Anti-locking Brake Systems) electronic ignition or keyless ignition,
- or a negative battery terminal that is grounded to the vehicle frame.
❌ Electric Cars/Battery Operated Vehicles
Electric cars are particularly vulnerable to EMPs since they rely on electronic components for both their operation and charging.
The battery, motor, and other components can be easily damaged by an EMP, rendering the car inoperable. Though the battery itself will likely survive an EMP (assuming it is not plugged in and charging) so many of the components that make these cars function will not make it, unfortunately.
Even if the electric vehicle is not destroyed by the EMP, it will likely be stranded if the infrastructure needed to charge it is also destroyed. Electric cars are a luxury that will not be an option in a post-EMP world.
In short, a vehicle that relies heavily on computers, solid-state switching, and other such intricate electronic components is highly vulnerable to an EMP as first- or second-order consequence.
Any vehicle that is plugged into a charger or other electrical grid is doubly vulnerable to the effects of an EMP.
❌ Upgraded Computerized Motorcycles
We love our Harleys and our touring bikes, but if you have a motorcycle that is computerized and 21st-century fancy, you can forget about getting the heck outta dodge on it when an attack happens.
❌ Homes that are Computer-Operated
In the 21st century, we have all these great new and innovative home appliances. They call them appliances for the home of tomorrow!
You must admit, some of those gadgets are cool. The touch screen refrigerator or the voice-activated oven. They’re cool, but will they survive an EMP attack? Most likely not. Why?
Because of the solid-state components that they’re made up of. These “smart homes” may be smart and innovative but they’ll be shut completely down during an attack.
Can you imagine spending all your prepping budget to build a smart computerized home, only to fall victim to an EMP attack and get stuck inside your house?
❌ Electric Heaters
While electric heaters aren’t as common as they once were, there are still many homes that rely on them for warmth.
Electric heaters work by converting electricity into heat, using a process called resistive heating. This conversion is accomplished with a coil of wire that is heated by the flow of electrons through it.
When an EMP hits, the switching that controls the flow of electrons is disrupted and the coil can no longer generate heat. This means that electric heaters will not work after an EMP has hit, leaving people in cold climates out in the cold, literally.
❌ Portable Generators
Portable generators are a popular backup option for people who want to be prepared for power outages. However, many of these generators are also likely vulnerable to EMPs.
The generator itself may be fine, but the electronic components that control it can be easily damaged, rendering the generator useless.
Even if the generators themselves are not destroyed, they will likely be unable to function without fuel. If the EMP hits while you are relying on a portable generator for power, you could find yourself in a very difficult situation.
The best way to protect your portable generator is to store it in a Faraday cage or disconnect it from any electronics that could be damaged by an EMP. This includes not just the generator itself but also any cords or wires that are connected to it.
❌ Public Water Supplies
Public water supplies are another critical infrastructure that could be easily disrupted by an EMP.
The pumps that move water through the system rely on intricate, multi-point control systems just full of electronic components that can be damaged by an electromagnetic pulse.
This means that if the EMP hits while the system is connected to the grid (oh, and it will be except in the most telegraphed of attacks) it will likely be destroyed.
This will certainly lead to a loss of water pressure and a shortage of water for people who rely on the public water supply. Water towers in some areas might be able to pick up the slack, briefly, but the efficacy of this is uncertain.
And let us assume that, somehow, the control system survives the event, or that authorities have the spares and the skills to quickly replaced the fried components.
It is unlikely to matter since the electrical grid that powers them is going to be “hard bent”- damaged beyond the possibility of a timely repair. This means that they won’t have any power to run on.
This is a major problem because, without water, people will quickly start to die of dehydration. Even in a post-EMP world where people are used to living without many modern conveniences, water will be, as ever, a necessity.
These are a given. Computers are getting faster and more complex these days, but they cannot withstand an attack by an electromagnetic pulse.
Most of us are aware that you can’t put a magnet on a laptop because it’ll mess up the hard drive. Likewise, just imagine what will happen when a gigantic magnetic wave hits the region. Everything computerized within the affected area will flat line.
❌ People with Pacemakers
It’s a sad truth. The electromagnetic pulse that is released during an attack would no doubt render any pacemaker useless. Though it all depends on how close they are in proximity to the initial burst.
So, knowing that so many things we rely on will fall victim to an EMP attack, what can be done?
Will Generators Still Work Following an EMP?
Possibly. Inverter-style generators are more vulnerable to the effects of an EMP, and any generator that has a computer-controlled component, uses an electronically controlled tandem connector (for joining two or more gennies), or has an electronic control panel will be toast unless protected in advance, even if the “guts” of the generator are okay.
That said, some older generators (pre-1980 or so) may have enough metal in their winding cages and other parts to physically block the effects of an EMP.
If you’re not sure whether your generator would be affected by an EMP, the best bet is to contact the manufacturer but don’t be surprised if this is something that they are unprepared to answer.
However, if you keep after their customer service department they will usually, eventually, get you in touch with someone in the engineering department that can answer your question definitively.
The question of survival is a particular challenge in the case of large, permanently installed standby
These are typically too big to make use of a Faraday cage or bag and, by their very nature, remain connected at all times to provide power on demand, and also typically make use of various circuit boards for loss-of-power detection and activation.
Protection for these units, of any size, is usually attained by the installation of voltage suppressors and transient protectors.
This is not a task for the DIY’er lacking serious electrical systems knowledge and skill. Contact your generator manufacturer or a skilled electrician for help.
If not an option, you had better plan on protecting your generator by keeping it disconnected from all electrical networks that are unshielded or otherwise vulnerable to the effects of an EMP.
Will CB and Ham Radios Still Work?
Surprisingly, yes, though with a few caveats.
CB and ham radios use simple, rugged technology that is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of an EMP compared to more complex electronic devices.
This is particularly true of sets with solid metal casings, which act in essence like a Faraday cage for the internals.
In addition, these radios are often used in vehicles which can provide some level of additional shielding from an EMP. Just the same as how a metal car body can protect occupants from a lightning strike.
However, it is still possible for an EMP to damage or destroy a CB or ham radio, so it is important to take measures to protect these devices in advance if you plan on using them following a nuclear EMP.
The single biggest vulnerability is, as always, being connected to an existing power grid. The surge of EMP energy can easily energize and overload power lines and other conductive materials, ones leading into your radio, causing irreparable damage and even a fire.
It is therefore important to disconnect any directly wired radios from their power source before an EMP occurs if you plan on using them in the aftermath.
The other major vulnerability is one most seasoned ham ops are already familiar with; the antenna.
If the antenna is connected to your set it can provide an ingress point for the EMP to enter and fry the internals.
The best way to protect your set, mobile or not, is to disconnect the antenna until it is needed. Other than that, as long as you take basic precautions, CBs and ham radios should continue working following an EMP.
Will Walkie-Talkies Still Work Following an EMP?
Generally yes, again, so long as they are not on a charger or otherwise connected to an external power source.
As with CBs and ham radios, walkie-talkies use simple technology that is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of an EMP.
Their batteries, whether disposable primary cells or rechargeable secondary cells are not directly vulnerable to an EMP’s effects. So long as they are free of any connections described above, they should remain operational.
That said, you are always advised to keep any dedicated survival comm sets in a Faraday cage or other protective enclosure just to be sure.
It is also a good idea to have a backup set of batteries on hand as even if the walkie-talkies themselves are unharmed by an EMP they are no good without power!
Will Flashlights Still Work Following an EMP?
Typical incandescent bulb flashlights will work just fine after an EMP so long as, again, they aren’t plugged into a charger or connected to another electrical grid.
The batteries that flashlights rely on are also inherently safe so long as they are not on a charger. But things get complicated when it comes to LED flashlights.
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, and increasingly ubiquitous in flashlights, and for good reason: they are more efficient, have a longer lifespan, and can be made much smaller than traditional incandescent bulbs. But they are also more vulnerable to the effects of an EMP.
The reason for this is that LEDs are not, contrary to popular belief, little light bulbs. They are actually semiconductor devices, similar in design to the transistors used in electronic devices.
This means that they are inherently sensitive to the effects of an EMP, which can damage or destroy the delicate semiconductor junction at the heart of the LED.
Worse, many of the best-performing flashlights on the market rely on circuit boards for power control and other functions. Not good!
Now, some people say that such flashlights, if possessing an all-metal body, will be protected from the effects of an EMP by the Faraday cage effect in the same way as a ham or CB radio above. This is, however, not really dependable.
While it is certainly true that an all-metal body will provide some protection, it does not fully enclose the LED; the head and reflector assembly invariably has a glass or plastic lens that may provide an entry point for EMP energy.
The debate rages even now, and absent some seriously well-equipped laboratory testing you might be rolling the dice if you are depending on an LED flashlight for EMP preparation.
However, as with most such devices, you can protect LEDs from an EMP by encasing them in a Faraday cage, blocking the EMP energy.
How to Prepare for an EMP Attack
When an enemy decides to unleash an EMP, it’s usually when no one is expecting it. And when it does happen, even the ones who are prepared are caught off guard.
The best way to make sure that even if you’re ready for an EMP is by preparing ahead of time and routinely practicing drills. Practice a drill of what to do if an EMP attack happens:
- At home
- At work
- At school
EMP attacks are nasty and will cripple an entire city and its population. Imagine the state of panic that will arise if an EMP hits New York City. That’s a city packed full of millions upon millions of people.
They don’t call it the city that never sleeps for no reason. If an EMP hits the Big Apple, it will immediately descend into darkness.
If it happens during the day, the inhabitants of the city will not be prepared, and they will panic and panic quickly.
Subway trains, buses, and taxi cars will all simply stop working. Traffic lights and other electronic signs or devices will stop working.
Once night falls on the city and all the lights are out, chaos will reign. That’s the main purpose of the design of the EMP. To knock out the communication.
A communications breakdown leads to a breakdown in society. Turning out the lights will only make matters worse.
If you live near a densely populated metropolitan city, understand that cities with huge populations are prime targets for EMPs.
Enemies want to hit hard and hit fast, disabling as many sections as possible, so they can confuse the population and cause widespread panic and mayhem.
Plan Ahead Now
If you don’t want to get caught up with the rest of the general population then the time to prepare is now.
The key to moving quickly right after an attack is to be familiar with the signs of an EMP and be prepared to act immediately when you discern a threat.
Quite obviously, the lights will go out, and everything that is electronic will cease to function, even if they’re already turned off.
If you’ve practiced your escape plan, you will have already put it into action, especially if you are caught in the city when it happens.
With the right plans in place, you will have access to electronics, if they were protected in a Faraday cage.
You will have lighting, water, and ways to cook and heat your home while the rest of the area is trying to figure out what to do. If you are bugging out, be prepared to do it quickly.
The last place you want to be is in the city when an EMP strikes and get stuck there after nightfall.
Your chances of an EMP survival have lessened the longer you stay in the city. It’s best to get out of the city and as far out as possible so you can implement your other plans of action.
Mira has been prepping for 10 years. Living in the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta with her 3 children, she’s preparing not just for SHTF events but also for everyday emergencies.