How to prepare for an electromagnetic pulse aka EMP
As someone who was initially overwhelmed at the thought of prepping for every conceivable event on the planet, I finally settled into a routine of approaching preparedness methodically and in accordance with time, budget and perceived need.
What evolved was “12 Months of Prepping” and it has had quite a run. Now, six years later, to me, it seems rather simplistic. That said, countless readers have pointed out that “12 Months of Prepping” was the perfect tool to help them get started and to become grounded in what it means to be a prepper.
It is now time to take things to the next level and become educated relative to specific risks that we all may face at some point down the road. Many of these risks are related to natural disasters while others may be considered apocalyptic. Whatever the risk, the goal of this series is to provide you with the basics you need to survive.
Let us begin with Month One: Preparing for an electromagnetic pulse, commonly known as an EMP.
Those of you who are new to the world of prepping may not immediately think of EMPs when it comes to immediate threats. Instead, the top threats in your own mind might be a nuclear war, economic collapse and the uncontrollable events that Mother Nature regularly throws our way.
Seasoned preppers, however, rank EMPs pretty high on the list of potentially disruptive events. For many, it is the number one threat. In this article, we will look at why that is, what they are and what you can do to prepare for an EMP.
What is an EMP?
EMP is the abbreviation for electromagnetic pulse. In some circles, it is also known as a TED or transient electromagnetic disturbance.
Sci-Fi fans may smile at the mention of an EMP. It was quite the plot device in the movie The Matrix. It was also a part of the con used in the movie Ocean’s Eleven. Although theoretical EMPs have been a favorite of movie makers for years, the reality is they are not just some heated vision of a screenwriter. They are a real thing, and they happen on a regular basis all over the world.
On the surface, EMPs don’t really seem all that scary. They are simply a short burst of electricity or electromagnetic energy. What’s so bad about that? After all, electricity surrounds us every day and much of the modern world we live in is powered by it. It really doesn’t seem that harmful.
That said, the concern we have as preppers is not only that electricity itself is a powerful source, but that most of the Western world is totally plugged in and reliant on electricity for most of what we do. This makes any catastrophic disruption of the power grid a major calamity.
Can it really happen?
One of the scariest things about an EMP is that unlike just about any other disaster, this one can happen either naturally or due to man’s intervention. This is in contrast to most disasters that are either man-made (nuclear, economic, war, etc.) or natural (hurricane, earthquake, tornado, flood, etc.). An EMP is unique in that it can be caused both ways.
EMPs can be caused by three things: lightning, solar storms or nuclear explosions. In fact, many people have already experienced low-impact EMPs already and may not have thought about it. This is because low-impact EMPs easily happen on a small scale during a lightning and thunderstorm.
Let’s walk through what happens.
A bolt of lightning hits a local transformer or nearby power line. A huge surge of electricity is sent through the lines to a small number of surrounding buildings. If that surge happens to hit your home, it may take out devices not connected to a power surge protector. Things affected are plugged-in televisions, stereos, microwaves and other appliances. These items are easily replaced, so no real harm is done other than a little inconvenience and a blow to the budget.
On the other hand, when an EMP occurs on a much larger scale, it is a lot more than an inconvenience. It is a disaster of major proportions because nothing works! All of the electronics we depend upon to live our lives day-to-day become inoperable. If this were to happen, we would have a major mess on our hands — a mess that could last for years.
Okay, so we know EMPs can be caused by major solar storms and even by a lightning storm if we are unlucky enough to be near a strike. But how likely is a man-made EMP that can cripple the nation or even the entire world?
Pretty likely. There really are real-life EMP weapons out there. According to the global intelligence firm Stratfor, the technology that is involved in creating an EMP attack will be a big part of modern warfare going forward.
In addition, there are also readily available and relatively cheap ways that localized terrorists, domestic or otherwise, can wreak havoc on target areas. Using explosives to take out power lines and send a big surge through them is one possibility. This type of attack could take out a big portion of the power grid. If an entire power plant is destroyed, power will be knocked out to entire cities or even large segments of the country.
Think about that and consider the effects that go beyond not being able to charge your cell phone or turn on a television. Without electricity, anything plugged into the “grid” will be fried unless it has been protected by a Faraday cage. But what else… your car? If it is less than 20 years old, it will very likely be rendered useless.
Do you think you’re safe with a generator for power? Think again. Many modern generators have electronic circuits in them to help regulate the flow of electricity. Bye-bye generator.
Getting back on point, seasoned preppers feel they are prepared because they have their own food resources and have practiced disconnecting from the grid to hone their off-grid skills. The less experienced beginning prepper may not understand the effect of a total grid-down situation. Anything you buy, whether it is coffee, sugar or household batteries and matches, is going to be in very short supply if a long-term disruption occurs. Consumables may not be available at all.
Transportation will be difficult over distances, and factories will not be able to function. If you still have money in a bank or other financial institution, it may be inaccessible and completely unavailable for a very long time. It may “disappear” and barter may become the currency of the day.
Alright, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Okay, okay, so people could cause major havoc with a nuclear strike or EMP weapon. And lightning can take out a local transformer. But nuclear strikes are a mutually assured destruction so they are not that imminent, and lightning can be recovered from quickly. Sure, terrorists can attack with a weapon, but there are protections up to help stop that… so?”
No matter what protections there are, those things can still happen, but solar storms are something we simply can’t stop or control.
Solar storms powerful enough to cause widespread EMP destruction happen roughly every 11 years. Consider this: If a solar flare erupts, it can take as little as five minutes for major damage to occur. Not pleasant to think about, but planes, helicopters and anything electronic in the air will fall to the earth when an EMP hits. Nuclear plants will melt down, and people will go to war with each other in the streets over food and supplies.
When thinking about the destruction a widespread EMP could cause, think “throwback.” Everyone will instantly be transported without the use of a time machine to the very early 1900s, or even the 1800s.
Skills, strategies and supplies you need to prepare for an EMP
On the plus side, other than nuclear attack, most EMPs are small and are not deadly to people, only electronics. You are likely to survive a common EMP. That does not mean, however, it will be an easy life. If you are not prepared, the struggle will be very real and very difficult.
Learn how to purify water. No matter how much water you can store, eventually you will run out. When planning for an EMP, don’t think short term. A major EMP disaster will be longer-lasting than anything you can stock up for.
Learn to cook outdoors over an open fire.
Learn to cook from scratch using bulk foods, canned goods and fruits and vegetables you have grown yourself or that you acquire from neighboring farms or farmer’s markets.
Practice and be prepared to be a leader. Family members, as well as people in your surrounding area, are likely to be distraught and scared. It will take strong leadership to develop a watch group to protect each other from marauders.
Develop old time, pioneer skills that allow you to continue to carry on life, even if it is not the same as before the EMP strike.
Attend flea markets, garage sales or estates sales and learn the art of bargaining. This skill will be useful in a barter economy.
Build a Faraday cage and acquire a “Faraday collection.” Place small electronics like radios, laptops, inverters, batteries, watches and even cell phones in a galvanized metal garbage can, or a popcorn can that is insulated with cardboard or Styrofoam so they can be ready and keep you connected to the outside world following an EMP attack. You can find out how to build a quick and easy Faraday cage here.
Note: Keep in mind that even protected electronics may not work following a blast depending. No one knows for sure what will work and what will not, with the differential possibly being their frequency range. For that reason, try to have multiples of the items you wish to have on hand. They can be old and outdated by today’s standard but that will not matter. What you want to do is increase the likelihood that at least one device of each type will work.
Have a long-term supply of food and water or the resources to generate them without power.
Get a bike! There’s nothing better than pedal power when an EMP hits, and it beats walking.
Learn to grow food in whatever area you have available. If that is not possible due to locale or other reasons, develop relationships with others in your community that do have the ability to grow food. Offer to lend a helping hand in return for some of the bounty. There is not a gardener on the planet that will turn down an offer to pull weeds!
Be prepared to defend yourself and your property. You need to decide how you want to arm yourself whether with a firearm, pepper spray, a baseball bat or a bow and arrow.
Seek out like minded folks that will barter for things they need in return for items that you have available.
Live a healthy lifestyle. If stuff happens, you will be much better off if you are healthy and not reliant on exotic prescription drugs or medical procedures. Eat healthy, natural and real foods and get regular exercise. This just makes good common sense.
Create your own power with solar panels. Surprisingly, the sun is also the most powerful resource for surviving an EMP as well as one of its instigators. Solar panels themselves should not be affected by EMP bursts. On the other hand, the inverters and generators connected to the panels power may be destroyed by an EMP strike. Keep this in mind and keep a spare inverter in your Faraday cage so it is ready to replace the one you may be using that gets fried.
TVs, video games and computers will no longer work. Stock up on board games, books (including coloring books and pencils for the adults) and puzzles to keep your mind occupied while you wait out the crisis.
Have plenty of emergency candles, matches, flashlights and extra batteries on hand at all times.
Make sure you have a generous supply of the prescription medications you use on a regular basis. Also, stock the first aid kit with lots of supplies and plenty of over-the-counter medicines that will be impossible to get once local stores are sold out (or looted).
Store plenty of drinkable water plus some method to purify water. Locate supplemental water sources now and be prepared to purify the water on your own.
Stock plenty of basic, non-perishable food that will get you by while you are learning to survive under the most trying of circumstances. (See 20 Items to Kick Start Your Food Storage Plan.)
Recommendation: Bug in or bug out?
When an EMP occurs, your best bet is to “bug in.” Hunker down and deal with the aftermath.
An EMP, whether natural or man made, is likely to happen quickly and it will be impossible to have enough notice for running off to a remote retreat or bug-out location. In addition, it is pretty likely that there isn’t going to be anywhere you can run to that is far enough away to not be affected by a major attack.
If you do have a bug-out location, and most of your supplies are located at a distant location, the first few days will be difficult. Getting to your bug-out destination, if you can even get there, will most certainly be harder than you had planned for. Conditions may be dire as the unprepared mob the streets and roads, willing to attack anyone and everyone that appear to have more than they do.
In that case, it is still best to hunker down in your current location for the initial days after an EMP strike. Wait until everything and everyone settles down a bit. Have some food and water on hand and other emergency supplies to allow for several days of seclusion. Before venturing out, wait to find out if the EMP was caused by a temporary issue like a lightning strike or if it was a long-term disruption that will not be solved anytime some by the local power company.
Once you are sure you can make it to your long-term bug-out location, you will likely be hoofing it to your destination. Be prepared to carry what you need and to take the time it takes to get there. It is also a good idea to be fully armed because you will be threatened along the way. Guaranteed.
Throughout this article, I have linked to resources you can read to help you understand EMPs and some of the strategies you can incorporate now to survive after the fact. Here are a couple of additional articles and resources.
This video explains how solar flares and other causes create EMPs:
Check out this article on how to store food when the power goes out: 11 Tips for Keeping Food Safe When the Power Goes Out.
New to prepping? There is no need to be overwhelmed. Start with 12 Months of Prepping: Month One
Is your first aid kit in order? Here is a portable first aid kit that is easy to pull together yourself: How to Create an Emergency Ammo Can First Aid Kit
The final word
While small-scale EMPs are actually quite common, a catastrophic EMP can be one of the most destructive and disruptive events a prepper can prepare for. They are scary to imagine but there are ways to live through them and to live well. In this article, I have tried to provide you with a sense of life after an EMP as well as some of the basic preps you will need to survive such an event.
In closing, l hope you have learned how eerily easy it is for an EMP to occur and how devastating the damage can be after the fact. This damage will happen in an instant, but once you get over the shock of it all, you can and will carry on if you are prepared.
Why not get ready now, by adopting strategies, skills and supplies to make you EMP-ready? The good news is that if you take the time to really develop a plan for surviving an EMP, you will be ready to survive just about any other disruptive event that nature or man can throw your way.