Imagine for a Moment – The Reality of an EMP Event Part One

Author’s Note:  Rourke has been a good friend of our team at and is aware of the tremendous research we have done on the topic of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP).  Since he receives numerous questions each week regarding this topic, he asked us to put together a two-part article to provide some clarity on the EMP topic to his Modern Survival Online readers and hopefully clear up some common misconception and myths about EMPs that pervade the internet. 

In this first part, we will explore some of the first-person effects of EMP and define the two major causes of this catastrophe.


Imagine for a Moment – The Reality of an EMP Event

– Part One –


By Steve Nolan

with M.S. Wall


Imagine for a moment, all of your electronic conveniences such as lights, air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, cell phones, computers, ATM machines—anything that contained a microprocessor or required electricity to power it, suddenly stopped working—forever.

Imagine for a moment, the most basic things we Americans have taken for granted such as running water, electricity or natural gas suddenly stopped flowing—forever.

Imagine for a moment, you or a loved one is on an airplane flying at altitude when an event takes place and suddenly thousands of aircraft begin plummeting from the sky as the aircrafts’ computer-controlled systems suddenly fail.

Imagine for a moment, you are driving on the highway when your car suddenly decelerates and you have to veer to the side of the road as nearby vehicles swerve into one another and the entire Interstate becomes one massive parking lot.

Imagine this occurs and you are hundreds of miles from your home and you find your only way to get back home is your own two feet.

Imagine for a moment, the confusion that would set in when you try to help those injured in their vehicles and find out that everyone’s cell phones or CB Radios no longer work and there was no way to call 911.

Imagine for a moment, the feeling of total helplessness of not being able to communicate with your loved ones when your world is instantly turned upside down.

Imagine for a moment, you are forced to walk to your local grocery store with the hopes of buying water and food for your family and realize that debit and credit cards are no longer accepted.

Imagine for a moment, you or a loved one are in a hospital requiring life support or dialysis when the power goes out and the back-up generators either fail to kick-in or eventually run out of fuel and there are no means of refueling them.

These hellish scenarios are not the result of an alien attack or some other science-fictional phenomenon.  They are just a few of the nightmares we might experience in the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event.

Electromagnet Pulse Defined

An electromagnetic pulse An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic radiation caused by a rapid acceleration of charged electron particles. Depending upon the type of burst, it can cause catastrophic damage to electrical devices due to its impact on both electric and magnetic fields. Modern technology is extremely susceptible to these effects.

There are two main causes of an EMP.  The first is the result of a massive solar flare, or a Coronal Mass Ejection, which we will describe later in this article. The other is caused by a man-made event, which is known as a High Altitude EMP Event, or HEMP, which we will describe next.

High Altitude EMP (HEMP)—Overview

A HEMP is a caused by a nuclear detonation in the earth’s upper atmosphere—some 50 to 200 miles above the Earth’s surface.  As an observer on the ground you may notice a brief flash of light. But there would be no warning. No sound or aftershock or radiation to worry about.  Chances are you would never know a nuclear attack happened —except for the fact anything electronic or requiring electricity would suddenly cease to work…Forever.

On a human level, the results of a HEMP include all the effects described in the “Imagine” introduction to this article…  It seems incredible that a single and relatively low-yield nuclear weapon could have such a sinister and extraordinarily destructive effect without directly killing a single human being.  But this is the reality of living in an advanced technology-dependent world that is extremely vulnerable to the effects of an electromagnetic pulse.  The first observation of the repercussions of a HEMP were during the height of the Cold War as the United States and the Soviet Union were experimenting with high altitude atomic weapon detonations.  It is ironic that the effects of a HEMP could be much broad and more deadly to our country’s inhabitants over the course of a year than the death and destruction caused by any single or multiple-head ICBM.

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)—Overview

The second cause of an EMP is from a solar event called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. The solar flare or CME emits radiation that eventually hits the Earth’s atmosphere, causing similar effects as the HEMP, but the degree of the effects depends on a number of factors. The early discovery of the effects of CME dates back to 1859 when Richard Carrington, one of England’s foremost solar astronomers, observed a series of intense solar flares that fried thousands of miles of interconnected telegraph wires throughout the United States. A CME on a similar scale as the Carrington event would have drastic results on our modern civilization that has become utterly dependent on electricity and microprocessors.

Similar but Different

In spite of there being two totally different potential causes of an EMP, the outcome can be equally devastating. Both a HEMP and a significant CME could have real world repercussions that threaten our electrical grid. At primary risk in both cases are our high voltage transformers which would likely be destroyed by the overwhelming surge in electrons that race across the tens of thousands of electrical and communication lines crisscrossing the country. Without these transformers and the lines to transmit electricity from source to use, our modern society simply stops…  And unfortunately, the replacement lead-time for manufacturing and shipping these high voltage transformers, which are now all manufactured in China, is longer than 12-months!

Imagine for a moment what life would be like without electricity for twelve months or perhaps longer!  According to a 2008 study by Metatech, the time required to obtain replacements of these devices under these circumstances could be up to 3-years!  The devastation inflicted on the United States by either a HEMP or severe EMP event would plunge us back to a life that is reminiscent of how we lived in the 1800s. According to several experts, the resulting death rate in the United States as result of prolonged grid-down event is expected to be as high 90%!

It is important to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between the potential scale of damage from a man-made HEMP attack versus that from a solar-based event. It is likely that under the man-made High Altitude EMP/HEMP scenario, we will be dealing with an even greater danger than in the event of a CME. A HEMP differs from a CME in that it is packed with a one-two punch. A HEMP will not only fry unhardened microprocessors (i.e. ruin all electrical devices), but it also could utterly destroy our fragile power grid (i.e. all transformers and transmission devices and wires)!

With a CME, at least we have some variables that will dictate the level of damage such as the severity of the solar flare itself, the direction of impact, and the relative defenses of our atmosphere and the earth’s magnetic field.  The fact is that CME’s hit our Earth with some frequency but are often weak, or hit our atmosphere and magnetic field with a glancing blow.  These weaker or indirect CMEs may only cause some interesting visuals in the night sky, or interrupt some radio transmissions, but are not as catastrophic as a HEMP.  But a massive CME that hits Earth straight on may end up destroying electrical our high voltage electrical grid systems  much the same as a HEMP. Unfortunately, in either case, we will not have much time to prepare for such an event once it’s launched or expelled from the Sun, so preparing for both potential events before they occur is what we should all consider doing.

Protecting Yourself from EMP

There is much speculation and misinformation circulating about how you can protect yourself from a CME or HEMP attack. A lot of this conjecture and confusion is in part due to our government’s Top Secret classification on the subject and the fact that they only perform tests on their own hardened structures and military equipment.

The unfortunate reality is that testing various pieces of equipment at one of the few EMP testing facilities open to civilian testing is extremely expensive.   Because of this, there simply has not been a series of tests of non-military vehicles or electronic equipment inside microwave ovens, or aluminum garbage cans to see if these contraptions can actually prevent the passage of electromagnetic waves through the containers like poor man’s Faraday cage! The only EMP protectors available to the civilian population that are guaranteed to work are likely the very expensive commercially produced versions you seen online.  So, whether you choose to make a contraption yourself, or purchase a device made by someone else, it will be hard to say with any certainty that it will protect electronic devices unless it has actually been tested in an EMP testing facility.

The bottom line is that it will be very difficult for the average civilian to protect his/her electronics or automobile with absolute certainty from an HEMP and there is more hope associated with these items “surviving” a CME or solar flare EMP event.  What everyone can and should be doing now is stock up on water, food, medical and other items essential to surviving a world without electricity.  Equally important to taking care of your own/family preparations is to help your neighbors and communities wake up and prepare as well!

Coming Next!

In the second part of this article coming tomorrow, we will break down the science of an electromagnetic pulse as well as attempt to dispel more myths and separate more fact from fiction surrounding EMP…

As mentioned in the introduction, our Thinking the Unthinkable Report: EMP Attack! report covers this entire topic in much greater depth and explores the repercussions to the major industries that support our modern society—that is, our financial, manufacturing, farming, healthcare, communications and transportation industries.  Along with this information, we will include suggestions of how you might prepare yourself, your family and your community for such a catastrophic event.

Thinking the Unthinkable: EMP Attack! is available for sale by clicking HERE or by visiting our Shopping Cart at This thought-provoking 80-page report sells for $24.95 but will be offered to Modern Survival Online readers at a 20% discount by typing in the coupon code: Rourke.

In the meantime, keep your powder dry and your faith strong!

Steve Nolan

Co-Founder of and Publisher of The Beacon.

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19 thoughts on “Imagine for a Moment – The Reality of an EMP Event Part One”

  1. An EMP from a nuke is a nuclear attack. Why would any nuclear power do that? It would not cripple our ability to retalliate and it would insure a full blown nuclear attack on their nation. The simple fact is an EMP nuke is not an effective aqttack strategy against a nuclear power. EMP devices are greatly limited in their power by distance and line of sight barriers. You could not cripple this country with one large EMP you would probably need at least 24 large EMP devices and even then the best you could hope for is about a 90% effectiveness with many pockets where the EMP caused little to no damage. It’s just not practical. Could a terrorist get an EMP device? Very unlikely, they are very complex compared to a simple nuke and in fact there are probably more fingers on your right hand then there are nuclear EMP devices in the world. So why do we preppers keep talking about EMP’s??? The answer is simple; it is a preppers wet dream. In theory few are killed, the grid is gone and if you prepped you get to live and if you didn’t well nanaa nanaa we told you so. But in fact our electric grid is not so delicate as it is claimed to be. If we did have a large scale EMP attack within an hour the tens of thousands of utility workers would begin repairing the grid. Within 24 hours emergency and hospital facilities would be back on line. Within 2-7 days most parts of the cities would be back on line and within a month or two most of the suburbs and country areas would be online. Contrary to popular belief an EMP doesn’t destroy everything or burn out everything. It will simply overload the system and burn out the weakest link much like a fuse and thus protect the rest of the system. 99% of the transformers would be intact and not need repair as would 99% of the overhead power lines. The damage would not be widespread and would in fact be localized at various points in the system where the weak links are. An EMP is unlikely and the damage is no where near as serious as theorized.

    • GoneWithTheWind –

      I appreciate your comments however I would ask that you do a little more research on EMP. I think after doing so you will see what many others do – a serious threat that would devastate this country in a way that nothing else would.

      Please read Part #2 tomorrow.


  2. Rourke / Steve –

    Excellent post! I’m looking forward to the rest in this series. I can’t imagine a more devastating event occurring. Certainly, there is no shortage of things to be worried about and planning for but I suppose I lose more sleep thinking about this than anything else. Everything we take for granted on a daily basis could be changed in an instant.

    In Liberty,

  3. Great article Rourke, looking forward to part 2.

    I’m less concerned about a “man made” than I am about the sun. When NASA is a heavily regulated Gov. organisation and when their scientists publicly show concern over “things in space” it’s definitely worth paying attention. Because of the interconnected world we live in, I believe this is a real concern!


  4. A couple of things…….

    GoneWithTheWind – While I not pretend to know much of EMP’s (just enough to be dangerous), I have to disagree in part.
    Currently, I do not believe that the US is especially worried about EMP attack from a superpower nation. The concern is more in the nature of a terror attack or small country with nothing to lose (cough: North Korea?).

    Terrorists are not concerned with repercussions. Their sole intent is simple to do damage and cause confusion. Whether or not the US retaliates does not concern them.

    The damage done to the US from even a small EMP device would be devastating! On 9/11, the total damage incurred and number of lives lost was extremely minor in comparison to it’s effects. On 9/11 and-a-half, our country effectively shut down NATIONALLY. The only people directly affected by the attacks were sites in NY, DC and PA. Yet the entire country was INDIRECTLY affected. What happens when an EMP takes out multiple states DIRECTLY? Do you not think that it will not effect the other states? Loss of commodities? refugees? Evacuations? Loss of transportation if it hits a port?

    You then go on to state that everything would be up and running in a month or two. No problem, right?
    How many people are ready for a “no notice event” (not like knowing that the hurricane is coming and going out to to shop before hand) that last three days? Even the ones prepared would be swamped by those who didn’t.
    Of the ones who prepared ahead of time. How many prepared specifically for an EMP event? Couple that with, of the ones who did, how many of the preps actually worked?

    Now throw in “Not Knowing.” Not knowing throws fear through everyone. What happened? How long will it last? Who did it? No phones. No news. No radios/TV. Just word-of-mouth/gossip……and we all know how accurate gossip is. Yep, PANIC is right around the corner.

    Now time for the wicked brew……
    A cup of Panic
    Three tbsp of the Unknown
    A Gallon of Attitude of Sheep
    Mix and then strain out the available Resources
    Place in pot and boil until the Over Reaction occurs.
    Reduce heat to medium high and allow to sit until the liquid is gone and the pot catches fire!

    Yep, I’m sure that the same people that riot during trials and basketball games, loot during storms and championships, assault and rob on an everyday basis, arrest and confiscate during floods and hurricanes will have no problem behaving during those two to three months.

    Now, what about the workers repairing all the damage?
    Now remember, the tens of thousands of workers out there repairing it all will absolutely show up for work and not worry about their families and homes while they’re gone. Heck, after all, during Katrina, those same responders were being attacked and shot at by locals within days. I’m sure they’ll understand this time and behave as help/police are just a call away like during Katrine….oops, wait, the phones don’t work, do they?

    Well, I guess they can just drive off and come back later when it is safer…..oops, wait, most vehicles don’t work either. Now wait a minute… did the workers all get to work? And how did they travel all over the state/county/city to each work site? Especially carrying their tools and replacement parts? Hmmmm big mystery to me there unless there’s a cadre of Omish linemen set to respond in the event of an EMP incident.

    Great! So now the Omish workforce has repaired all the lines. We’re saved! Oops….why does the TV still not work? Oh, yeah…. it was damaged too. So now that has to be replaced along with every other electrical device. Guess we’ll just have to run down to the local Fry’s Electronics (that somehow wasn’t looted and buy replacements with all the extra money we have lying around (especially since most will have been out of work for the last few months) or we couple just swipe our credit/debit cards…….ah nuts….guess it’s gonna have to be cash since nobody fixed all the credit card machines yet, and load up the truck and start pushing it home since we still haven’t fixed the truck yet either.

    Yep this wasn’t so bad. And this was only in the area directly affected by an EMP as I’m sure in the rest of the country it is just business as usual since they didn’t get hit (I may have missed a few things as I only had about 10 minutes to come up with these things).

    I asked Rourke about this a few weeks ago and he deferred to you in your upcoming posts.
    With today’s Combat Technology, how would an EMP affect things like red dot sights and (rather expensive) LED flashlights and weaponlights that are the rage? I am assuming that a standard krypton bulbed flashlight is still operable, but what about the higher end LEDs since I am seeing circuit boards in them? Or the rechargeable flashlights? I was transitioning to LEDs for their shock-proof value and higher run time until I considered possible EMP problems, but I can’t seem to find an answer.

    Thanks in advance.

    • ANDBBMO –

      Great info – thanks.

      As for the questions – good ones. Maybe Steve will give his opinion.


  5. Rourke,

    If we lose the grid to a large CME or worse, HEMP, won’t the nuclear power plants begin to melt down after their backup systems run out of fuel (assuming the backups survive)?

    I am somewhat prepared for grid down, but am in NO WAY prepared to deal with 100+ Fukushima disasters occuring to my west. I live in NC.


    • Navy91 –

      Good question on clear power plants.

      I live in SC not too far from one. Let’s hope the can get shutdown.


  6. GoneWithTheWind is probably right, from the standpoint that if the S-really-had-to-hit-HTF, an EMP that threw the US back a 100 years would be very survivable event for the prepared survivalist. After zombies (Romero type, not the fast movers), EMP would be my second choice if I had to choose. It’s fun to consider, but not very likely imo. Still, I have a double shielded faraday cage with some gear inside. Sometimes dreams do come true.

  7. here is a link giving some rather nasty answers why power going out would be REAL bad for the whole planet…think 270 Nuke reactors all going into meltdown after their cooling pools containing the fuel rods just boil dry then the containment dome bows up… read through it, it is almost an extinction event.

    one word comes to mind… SOBERING… even if only 100 plants worldwide blew…

    “There are 440 nuclear power plants operating across 30 countries around the world today. There are an additional 250 so-called “research reactors” in existence, making a total of roughly 700 nuclear reactors to be dealt with (

    Now imagine the scenario: You’ve got a massive solar flare that knocks out the world power grid and destroys the majority of the power grid transformers, thrusting the world into darkness. Cities collapse into chaos and rioting, martial law is quickly declared (but it hardly matters), and every nation in the world is on full emergency. But that doesn’t solve the really big problem, which is that you’ve got 700 nuclear reactors that can’t feed power into the grid (because all the transformers are blown up) and yet simultaneously have to be fed a steady stream of emergency fuels to run the generators the keep the coolant pumps functioning.”

  8. ANDBBMO: I share your fear that a rogue nation or terrorists would get a nuke and use it on us. But an EMP!! Why? First there are about 40,000 nuclear blasting devices worldwide and perhaps 3 or 4 EMP devices, which do you think would be easier for a terrorist to get? And why use an EMP device if you could drop a nuke on NY City? So it could happen but if it does I hope and pray they use an EMP and not a nuclear bomb.

    Will the effects of an EMP last long and cause havoc and panic? Sure! But again much better then a nuke set off on Wall Street or outside the white house. Will it cause damage to consumer goods, cars and trucks making them inoperable? Yes but probably not as extensively or universally as feared. To understand the effect of an EMP think how light or your cell phone works. Any natural barrier will reduce or divert the EMP effect such that your neighbors car might get fried while yours will still run. A city 100 miles away from a EMP might get totally blacked out because it is on flat land while a city 25 miles away in the hills might have 50% or 75% untouched. An EMP set off over Kansas city might put the entire Midwest in a blackout but on both coasts there would be no effect at all. I am not saying an EMP will be no big deal, what I’m saying is it will be so less harmful then a regular nuke and therefore so less likely to be used against us.

    I don’t have any better crystal ball then anyone else I am simply applying logic and what I know or believe I know to this issue. I cannot come up with a single advantage to using a EMP strategically (as opposed to a small tactical use). But I can think of some devastating reasons not to use it strategically, the primary one being we would retaliate with real nukes, the kind that kill people and destroy large areas. You could argue that if a small terrorist group used an EMP that we wouldn’t know who to retaliate against. But we would know where it came from and that would be target #1. We would know who built it (radioactive signature) and that could be target #2. We would know who sold it, who bought it and who supplied the money, etc. The enormity of the “deed” and the easy traceability of the device make it a very bad choice for a terrorist or a rogue state. Again I ask; why not just use a nuke? Why waste millions a lot of planning and effort to kill no one and irritate the second largest nuclear power in the world? Why wouldn’t a terrorist organization instead hit NY City with a conventional nuke and destroy it and kill 8 million people? Why fool around with a less then effective, less then destructive, less then lethal EMP device?

    That’s my take on it. If it turns out I’m wrong you have my mea culpa in advance since the internet will be down.

  9. I have seen an EMP affect the powergrid

    it will travel down powerlines and blow every transformer it seems like an artillery attack when it happens fire sparks and booms

    most older vehicles will not be bothered by an EMP

    Batteries protect from an EMP to an extent they hold the charge and draw it from the devices they are connected to

    most metal boxes protect from EMP
    lids and doors must be connected to the rest of the box with metal or cables

    most old electronics are EMP resistant including tube electronics

    a Faraday cage does not have to be solid it can be mesh metal to protect solar panels etc

  10. Love the questions and debates! I have been a big fan of Rourke for several years and have broken bread with him many times. The fact of the matter is a Rouge country like North Korea or Iran have all the reasons in the world to launch a missile from a freighter or like George Rummy Rumsfeld coined, a “Scud in a Box.” It wouldn’t take much and in a blink of an eye we would have our national grid down, the majority of our electronic control systems, computers, microprocessor based equipment would either be fried or compromised. A HEMP is one of the most devastating weapons on the planet. Within a year 90% of the population of the US would be die off. It is one of the Black Swans that keeps me up in the middle of the night. Either way a HEMP or EMP would be devastating knowing that it could take years to turn the grid back on if that was possible.

    The nightmare scenario of the devastating effects of what would happen to our 104 nuclear power reactors when the backup generators used to cool the waste and rods fail because of the lack of diesel would make North America a nuclear wasteland. All of this covered in our 80 page EMP Attack! report as well as our upcoming report entitled Nuclear Meltdown!

  11. I have an acquaintance who works for a major power company in Texas. He said they had one of the huge transformers catch on fire in New Mexico. While they had a second ‘back up’ transformer at that site, it also took more than 18 months to get a replacement for it (since they are created by a company overseas only after an order is received). If 10s or 100s of these transformers were destroyed at the same time, you can guess how long it would take to get replacements. The electrical grid would be very limited for a long, long time.

  12. I found this helpful in understanding how an EMP can effect such a large area:
    “The mechanism for a 400 km high altitude burst EMP: gamma rays hit the atmosphere between 20–40 km altitude, ejecting electrons which are then deflected sideways by the Earth’s magnetic field. This makes the electrons radiate EMP over a massive area. Because of the curvature and downward tilt of Earth’s magnetic field over the USA, the maximum EMP occurs south of the detonation and the minimum occurs to the north”

  13. We’ve tested EMP effects.

    Almost all vehicles survive just fine (some electronics like the radio might die, but they are still drive-able)

    It is equipment with long metal runs (antennas, your local power grid) that are trashed.

    That is WORSE from a survivalist standpoint, as there won’t be easily tapped ‘fuel dumps’ stalled all over the road.

    Instead people will panic, jump into their 8-mpg SUVs, and run their tanks dry in a frantic effort to escape the city or shop for flashlights, etc.

  14. GoneWithTheWind

    dude you crack me up ! who are you kidding ? people prepare mostly the ones I know not to have a “wet dream” as you call it if a CME occurs or a EMP , folks I know who prepare actually PLAN to have a positive future , one with LESS government intervention and LESS tax , I plan to prepare for a BETTER society, one in which there are real free men ! how about you ? got your head in the sand ? or do you think things can’t happen because you say so ???

  15. oh by the way , its a mathematical piece of logic that US debt created by the Fed cannot be outrun, that sometime within the next few years, the US D will collapse, sadly when that comes, it will be the single biggest cataclysmic event for man in all earths history , the US Dollar collapsing will take down, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and dozens of other countries.

    the savings of hundreds of millions of people will be wiped out , then watch what happens, the sheep who have not bothered to look further than American ” idiot” on tv , will not be happy.

    That event is almost upon us !


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