EMP Survival 101

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by Tara

All of our lives would be drastically impacted if either a man-made or natural EMP disaster happened.  It would not take weeks, or even months, to repair the power grid and all aspects of modern life, but years! If the vital piece of United States infrastructure goes down, we would awake in an entirely different version of America – one which most non-preppers would not be equipped to survive.

Not fully grasping what an electromagnetic pulse actually is and how it works, has played a substantial role in the development of the two most dangerous myths about EMPs.

What Exactly Is An EMP?

An EMP is a short, but very strong burst, of electromagnetic energy caused by a rapid and intense increase in charged particles in the ionosphere. The acceleration of particles can occur as the result of a solar storm, a nuclear bomb, or even due to a simple, yet strong, bolt of lightning.

Once the ionosphere experiences a particle surge, a wave of electrical currents emerges and shorts out all, modern equipment which needs electricity to function – including the transformers are necessary to make power grids all around the world, work.

An EMP disturbance has the capability to not only destroy sensitive electronic equipment, but can even burst power lines, down airplanes, and damage brick-and-mortar structures.

Scientists often refer to EMPs as a “transient electromagnetic disturbance.” The incidents can be natural disturbances due to solar flares or a man-made current used as part of a weapons system.

Depending upon the origin of the electromagnetic pulse, a man-made disturbance can stem from an electric, radiated, conducted electric current, or magnetic field. A nuclear EMP attack would be even more devastating than a solar EMP – or coronal mass ejection – CME.

Just like tornados and hurricanes, there is a classification system for electromagnetic pulses.

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E1 – This is the briefest type of electromagnetic pulse disturbance. E1s usually last for barely a microsecond, but are incredibly powerful. The mother-of-all EMP incidents happens only when an electromagnetic pulse weapon has detonated or after a nuclear blast.

E2 – Although this type of an EMP forms more slowly than an E1 and lasts slightly longer, it can still be caused by a nuclear bomb or a weaponized electromagnetic pulse. Should a man-made attack occur, an E1 blast would likely happen first and then dissipate to, or be followed by, an E2 level incident. If this happens, the E2 level protection built into sensitive electronic equipment and the power grid would already be destroyed by the initial power of the attack. There is currently no protection against an E1 EMP disturbance.

E3 – The least powerful type of EMP can last hours or even or days. This type of electromagnetic pulse happens during fairly routine solar flares – the type that make our television sets go fuzzy for a while, especially during a summer storm.

EMP Myth #1

“It can’t happen here.”

Not only can an EMP event happen in America, it already has – multiple times! The first known such incident happened in 1859 and has been dubbed the Carrington Event when an earth-directed X-Class solar flare hit our planet on the first morning of September.

In 1859, the most advanced piece of technology was the telegram. Lines across the country were fried when an EMP disturbance caused by the solar flare happened. Telegram operators of the time reported the papers on their office desks suddenly burst into flames when shocking bolts of electricity flowed through the communications lines.

Astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed the devastating EMP unfold through the lens of his telescope. Carrington’s documentation of the electromagnetic pulse disturbance prompted the naming of the natural disaster after him.

In 1989, a solar flare hit Canada and caused a massive power outage that left about six million people in the dark. The electromagnetic pulse was so strong it even knocked out power grid transformers in New Jersey. According to NASA scientists, the Canadian solar flare only boasted about one-third of the strength of the Carrington Event solar flare.

In 1962, the Star Fish Prime test, conducted by the United States government occurred – and things did not go as planned. A 1.4 megaton nuclear warhead was launched over the Pacific Ocean.

The electromagnetic pulses caused by the warhead test were far stronger than the government scientists expected. Street lights almost 1,000 miles away in Hawaii were even damaged by the launch. The impact of the EMP caused by the nuclear test were so massive the government experts were unable to measure them accurately because the electromagnetic pulses were so strong they surpassed the power of the gauges they possessed.

The “Test 184” EMP incident was taking place in Russia at the same time as the Start Fish Prime test. Few specific details are known about the type of warhead used in the test by the former Soviet Union even to this day. But, the Russian warhead is believed to have been less powerful than the weapon launched in America.

During the Test 184, the nuclear warhead was launched 180 miles into the air over Kazakhstan. A 600-mile section of powerline that was shielded underground by three feet of dirt, was knocked out due to the test – and a multitude of diesel generators were damaged as well.

The Earth dodged a big bullet during the summer of 2012 when an X-Class Carrington Event size solar storm brewing in space just barely missed our orbit. The mainstream media barely, if at all, covered the near-miss disaster. A teachable moment was missed and allowed hundreds of millions of people to continue to walk about blissfully believing the “it can’t happen” myth.

EMP incidents caused by solar flares are believed to have been going on since the beginning of time. Nitrates found in ice cores in Greenland have convinced many scientists solar flares run in cycles – and that we are long overdue for a whopper.

If Mother Nature does not jettison us back to the Stone Age, or at least to an 1800s way of life, our fellow man is capable of doing it – and perhaps on an even more devastating scale. Multiple nations which have declared their hatred for our way of life possess the capability to launch nuclear weapons which could take down our power grid.

EMP Myth #2

“The government will fix it in a few days.”

Most people with this mindset have no clue about exactly what the government will have to fix after an EMP attack or natural electromagnetic pulse disaster – or even the true magnitude of the aftermath of such a monumental disaster.

The power would not just “go off” during a power grid failure caused by an EMP attack, it won’t come back on without extensive repair of parts that have been stored in an EMP proof manner, and the replacement of all the technological equipment used to operate the energy utility.

Virtually nothing is made in America anymore – power grid repair and replacement parts are no exception. If the EMP disturbance hits not only the United States, but Europe as well, garnering transformers to fix the power grid would be essentially impossible.

The government probably has some transformers tucked away (any maybe stored in an EMP-proof Faraday Cage) in a warehouse somewhere, but do you want to bet your life and the life of your family on it?

It took FEMA five days to deliver water to the Super Dome after Hurricane Katrina, and even then, did not bring enough to aid all the struggling victims of the natural disaster.

When Appalachia experienced a week-long power outage during a 105-degree heat wave six years ago, FEMA arrived on day three. Once again, they did not bring enough water – and the bags of ice delivered in non-refrigerated trucks were melting before hundreds of folks in a long line of cars even garnered a single bag.

Every item you possess or use as a part of your daily life that is attached to an electrical cord would be fried beyond repair after an EMP attack. Vehicles made after the 1970s would likely stop in their tracks and immediately and strand its occupants. Vintage vehicles might also fail, but could be repaired if the owner had stored spare parts.

Water would stop flowing out of your faucets and sanitary sewer systems would cease to function. Wells which run on electricity would also cease to work – unless and until the rural property owner crafted a manual water retrieval system that could be lowered down into the well.

Forget calling 911 for help, cellphones and landlines will no longer function either. A short-wave radio, if it was stored in a Faraday Cage, would be your most advanced means of communication after an EMP disaster.

Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics would only be able to roll to the copious amount of emergency scenes if their vehicles did not contain sensitive electrical components and could be repaired. The first responders would only be able to respond to the needs of their fellow citizens as long as their tanks remained filled by fuel they had stored – gas pumps run on electricity as well.

Airplanes, all 7,000 or so of them which typically fly in the sky above America at any given time, will crash to the ground and cause massive fires, after an EMP attack. The electromagnetic pulse will fry the computer flight and guidance systems both in the plane and inside the airport control tower.

Hospitals would only remain open until the gas in their emergency generators ran out – which would probably take just a few days to occur. Draining fuel from the many useless chunks of metal clogging the roadways will extend the ability of first responders and hospitals to remain in operation a little longer – but only if the local heroes get to the gas tanks of vehicles before the roving hordes of marauders.

Boats, tractor-trailers, and airplanes will cease to move goods as well. FEMA estimates grocery store shelves will be empty in three days – but in all reality, that will happen in mere hours.

What’s The Worst Mistake You Could Make After An EMP Attack?

The one place no one should want to be during or after any type of apocalyptic disaster, especially an EMT attack, is in a city. If you find yourself in a metropolitan area after an electromagnetic pulse incident, leave – immediately.

Do not wait for the government to fix what you thought could never happen. Do not wait for things to return to normal in a few days. It is just not going to happen. Know that right now. Things will only get worse, far worse, in the days, weeks, and months, after a power grid failure.

Leaving the city, even on foot, should be done during the immediate aftermath of the EMP attack when the populace is still stunned and trying to figure out what the heck is going on. We have all watched on television how quickly civil unrest occurs during a riot and, when people will find out what’s really happening and about the devastating long-term effects, there will be chaos.


Make no mistake about it folks, there will be riots, violent ones. Panicked people, both ones who were decent law-abiding citizens before the doomsday disaster and those with a rap sheet as long as your arm, will attack a seemingly weaker person over food, water, a warm dry place to sleep, and even for a pair of gloves or a warm coat.

Top 7 EMP Preparedness Areas To Master Now, Before The SHTF

  1. Supermarkets – If you are not growing/raising and preserving your own groceries, you will starve. Stockpile both long-term storage food and heirloom seeds for family use and bartering.
  2. Pharmacies – Anyone relying on prescription medications will not have a long life expectancy after an EMP attack. Stockpiling medications and natural alternatives is a must for individuals with a chronic or life-threatening health problem.
  3. Energy – When the power grid fails, alternative energy sources must be used to keep warm, keep cool, cook, and to boil water after filtering it to make it safe to drink. Stockpile as much firewood, fire starters, and waterproof matches as possible and store it all properly so it does not get wet.
  4. Transportation – If you cannot walk to where you need to go or ride a horse, of have an EMP-proof bugout vehicle, you won’t be traveling very far. Travel will not be safe during the perhaps months of civil unrest which will follow a SHTF mega disaster of this sort. Bugging in will enhance your chances of survival. Bug out only if essential and have a detailed plan in place about where you are going and alternative routes to get there – and practice traversing those routes.
  5. Fire Departments – Fires will wreak havoc on our communities after an EMP disaster. People desperate to get warm and to have light will accidentally cause a plethora of blazes by using heat sources they are unfamiliar with and are not designed for indoor use – and no big red truck will be coming to save your home and family as it spreads. Stockpile firefighting basics – especially buckets to relay water to save your home, barn, and stores of food. Volunteer fire departments across the country are typically eager to welcome new recruits and even pay for their training and gear. Educate yourself now, and always practice your skills and cross-train others in your family and mutual assistance group.
  6. Police Departments – The men and women in blue will surely do their best to help their respective communities, but they are only human and have loved ones to protect as well. Those who cannot protect themselves, their families, their home and food, will lose them all. Learn how to use and stockpile not only all legal firearms and ammunition, but bows, arrows, and reloading equipment as well. Take a gunsmith course or learn via free online videos how to properly clean and repair your firearm – a broken gun, or a dirty one which can misfire or hang fire, will not save a single life.
  7. Medical Care – Learning advanced first aid and natural remedies – or forming/joining a mutual assistance group containing medical care professionals of some type will vastly enhance the chances of surviving an EMP attack. Homesteading and survival online and in-person training course are typically affordable and teach even first aid novices how to deal with routine medical emergencies. Preparedness expos, like the largest hands-on annual event in North Carolina known as Prepper Camp, often feature medical professional as presenters who delve far more deeply into advanced first aid and survival medicine techniques.

Faraday Cages

In 1836 English scientist Michael Faraday invented a cage that could be used as shield from electromagnetic pulses. The electrical charge runs on and around the surface metal of a Faraday Cage and prevents the surge from harming the devices inside.

While many preppers use metal trash cans with tight-fitting lids as Faraday cages because they are relatively cheap and sturdy, metal fencing material or metal mesh sold at your local hardware store can be used as well – or a metal pet/livestock cage.

The denser the metal on the cage, the more protected the electronic devices inside will be – another reason why metal trash cans are often used as Faraday cages. The electronics inside the cage cannot be permitted to touch either each other or the metal cage itself.

Line the inner wall of the trash can or cage with cardboard and place a layer (two is better) or cardboard between each row of electronic devices when stacking them inside the cage. To test a Faraday cage, put our cellphone inside and the call the number. If it rings, the cage is not thick enough or insulated enough to prevent damage to the device.

Will a Faraday cage save electronics during an E1 disturbance? We won’t know if the cage can withstand such a substantial electromagnetic surge – but laboratory simulations appear to indicate it could.

EMP-Proof Bugout Vehicles

One of my prepping mentors, the “Survivalist Gardener,” Rick Austin, just finished building an amazing EMP-proof truck. Although Rick and his wife, Survivor Jane, left their lucrative careers in the city for the homesteading way of life and created the ultimate prepper retreat in the mountains of Appalachia, they could still use their monster of a survival truck as a bugout vehicle if forced to leave their sustainable homestead during a doomsday disaster.

The Austin’s turned the military version of a diesel powered 1984 Chevy Blazer (M1009) with a military trailer into an EMP-proof bugout vehicle that will can get them pretty much anywhere they need to go – while most of the rest of the world remains on foot.

“Basically, any EMP proof vehicle [or bug out vehicle/ TEOTWAWKI vehicle] would have to have no electronics, as an EMP could fry any chips, computers, etc., thus rendering the vehicle into a giant paper weight. My Land Rover Discovery II, for example, has electronics throughout and everything goes through a mother board that can easily be fried.  So even though it is a great all time four-wheel drive vehicle and can get through tough terrain, it would be absolutely useless after an EMP,” Rick Austin said.

Rick is right, his Land Rover would never start again, no matter how many times you tried to jump it. The popular model SUV would forever be stuck in park. Many folks probably think their gear shifter is simply a mechanical lever, but in most modern vehicles, it is not. As Austin pointed out, the shifter is not linked to the gear box – transmission, at all.

Sure, you could manually move the gear shifter so the indicator tab physically sits underneath the “R,” or “D,” but you are still not going to go anywhere. Austin explained that moving the lever only moves an electrical contact so the vehicle’s computer learns what gear the actuate.

“So, with no electronics, you can’t even get the vehicle into neutral to roll it downhill and jump start it,” Rick added. “Any bug out vehicle should have a lot of capacity to carry your family and your stuff, and ought to be 4-wheel drive, so it can get you through bad weather, and into places where you may have to go off road to avoid bad situations, traffic jams, and bad people.”

When deciding to embark on such a massive EMP preparedness project, pay keen attention to the type of fuel the vehicle requires in order to function. Gasoline will go bad after about 12 months. Pouring stabilizer into storage containers helps, but does not extend the life of the gasoline for extensive long-term use. Austin notes gas can be scavenged after a SHTF disaster, but aptly added that gasoline will also eventually become too old to use and turn what was intended to be a TEOTWAWKI vehicle into a “giant paper weight.”

Diesel fuel will maintain its usable properties far better than gasoline. A EMP-proof bugout vehicle with a diesel engine can run on a myriad of alternative fuels. Rick and Jane Austin’s truck can easily run on either kerosene, vegetable oil, or a host of other alternative forms of fuels already being used in diesel engines around the world.

During the vehicle selection process, do your homework about available parts as well. Parts for Ford and Chevy models appear to be the most readily available – at an affordable price, from dealers. The older the vehicle the more difficult, and expensive, it may be to find parts. Do not buy any vehicle older than 1990 – or risk being saddled with an immobile bugout vehicle after an EMP fries its sensitive electronics.

Size definitely matters when choosing what type of truck or SUV to prep for an EMP bugout vehicle. It must be large enough to carry not only your beloveds, but also spare tires, hand tools, shovels, primitive camping equipment, cooking equipment, medical supplies – basically everything you need to survive because if you are fleeing your home after an electromagnetic pulse attack, you are probably never coming back!

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  1. So how do you EMP-proof a modern electronic bug-out vehicle? I’m no major mechanic; a bicycle is the most sophisticated engine I can build from scratch. And I have no garage to Faraday. Any ideas?

    • Kat Pettycrew – you don’t. Simple as that. Best bet for an automobile is an old carburetor based non-electronic (that is – all circuits) ignition system. With a bicycle, a battery that holds a charge and a DC motor, you may be able to gerry-rig a charging system and power supply however. That’s the best you will be able to do. Like below, Jim’s quandry with a whole-house genset – both of you will learn to do without what you now think your require. Imagine!!! No cellphones, internet, television, most radio, computers, tablets, cool cars, planes or anything else electric/electronic…. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. You’ll find the reason for life has not a thing to do with electricity.

  2. Rather than wait for some laboratory simulation to test your concepts and/or prototype, I suggest actually real-world testing. Use a cellphone in the cage and call it. Or, use a hand-set landline telephone and call it. Set the ringers to maximum audio output. Most of the time, you will be able to hear them ring through the cage walls. If not and the test call-to phone has ‘missed calls’ – you’ll be able to read if a signal got through. Another excellent test is a neon-bulb – like the cheap shirt pocket variety used to check AC wall jacks – connected to a latching relay circuit. Just google such – a SCR item that will connect the output to a indicator of your choice (light, audio….) and will stay in the on position if and after a pulse is received. If you live in a marine area where there are shipboard radars, simply place in the beampath of a transmitting radar. Use standard precautions as to soft tissue exposure. If any of the above checks allow a signal to pass, your cage will NOT stop an EMP pulse.

  3. If talking about an EMP from a nuke attack – most probably it will include an enhanced EMP producing device specifically engineered to disable the highly protected military gear …

    Weakly built Faraday Cages on the level of tin foil covered paper boxes won’t be up to that level of challenge – prep heavy for all levels of possible EMP involved SHTFs ….

    • Illini Warrior — you said “prep heavy for all EMP events.” What would “heavy” mean? I have stuff in garbage cans sealed with aluminum tape. I have solar panels wrapped in aluminum foil and tape. What will work? Give some examples please. Thanks.

  4. What about our new whole house generator? Will it survive an EMP if hard wired directly into the main breaker box? Cannot find answers.

    • Jim – I’m sorry; but……… no. Wiring into any breaker box merely adds conduits to destroy via an EMP. Illini Warrior is exactly right. 99.9% of supposed EMP protection schemes will fail. Your modern generator has no intrinsic EMP protection I’m aware of in off-the-shelf purchases. ANY semiconductor can be burst by an EMP overload. All gensets require some diode or other such device to work. The best generator I’ve ever seen was an old diesel hand-cranked compression started rig that used old vacuum tube rectifiers.

    • flabbergasted, if a nuclear power plant melts down there is no broadcasted EMP. A ‘melt-down’ is just that, when the reactor core is no longer contained nor the fissionable material control rods separate the cells and the mass of material becomes one. Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘China Syndrome’? A moniker that strove to make people understand that if and when such an event occurred the reactor core would literally sink into the earth (and supposedly not stop til it reached the other side of the earth, LOL). But other than local radiation – all waves emitted – there is not massive pulse produced.

      • I think flabbergasted was perhaps noting that all of the Nuclear plants will cease to work, and each and everyone would soon turn into a Fukashima: or worse, Chernobyl. If you look at how bad Fukishima was, at a time when everything else was and still is working perfectly where they have been nearly unable to get it under control (as of last week they were talking about releasing some kind of emission into the sea 6 years after the event occurred). Now imagine how bad that would be if EVERY reactor in the US duplicated that horror story under significantly worse conditions. Most states have reactors and despite not being noted in the story, would contribute greatly to the disaster.

  5. Great, basic article. Thanks. Being a trucker, I could be anywhere if one happens. Is there a way to protect a tablet that has topo maps, survival data in it? Also, a way to protect a solar battery charger to power the tablet? If so, any recommendations on a solar charger?

  6. Think North Korea, and (soon) Iran. Be prepared.

    The federal government won’t help you; they will take care of themselves. THEIR survival and continuity.

  7. If an all-metal container will act as a faraday cage I have the perfect solution. An all metal steel building with steel doors that fit tightly and no windows should be the perfect situation but I received telephone calls in that metal building all day long another choice would be in a shipping container with metal floor again my cell phone receives phone calls all day long and wrapping myself in bubble wrap or cardboard boxes does not make any difference. The only place my cell phone does not work is in my all concrete storm shelter 2 ft Underground. I used to drive truck for a living and often pick up loads in the caves in Kansas City and it always amazed me how far into the cave I could drive before my cell phone stopped working. My thoughts on the information in this website is this is a bunch of BS. By the way most farmers machine sheds are an all steel construction and I’ve been in many of them with no problem of receiving cell phone calls.

  8. I forgot we have a grain bin with a false floor in it for drying purposes made out of steel and you guessed it cell phone works in there too

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