So, What Will Work After an EMP Attack? (Here are 10 Things that Will)

One of the most terrifying, and sadly most plausible, doomsday scenarios is that of a major EMP attack.

power line

Whether it is caused by a high-altitude nuclear detonation or the deployment of a purpose-made EMP generator, either has the capability of plunging a society back into the pre-industrial era by destroying electrical grids and any technology reliant on a circuit board.

The first, second, and third-order effects are difficult to calculate, but suffice it to say that many devices, tools, and vehicles that preppers count on will be out of action unless specifically hardened or protected. This is difficult to do, especially for the things that we use every day.

A better option might be preparing for an EMP attack by learning what items are likely to work after such an event.

By acquiring these items ahead of time or even making their use habitual, you can better insulate yourself against the massive loss of capability attendant with a high-energy EMP.


Power Tools

In what will certainly be a surprise to some readers, most power tools will work after an EMP, even battery-powered ones, so long as a few things are kept in mind.

First, the tool itself or the batteries must not be directly connected to the power grid when the EMP occurs. That will likely burn out the electric motor and render them useless.

Second, any specialized tools that make use of an electronic control panel or a circuit board for power regulation will probably be toast even if they aren’t connected to the grid.

Barring this, you can probably depend on electric- or gasoline-operated power tools in the aftermath.


The previous entry should have tipped you off, but for clarity, pretty much all primary and secondary cells that we depend on in life will survive an EMP so long as they are not on a charging dock that is connected to the electrical grid.

The casing of a battery itself acts like a Faraday cage for protecting the electrolyte inside from the effects of an EMP, and so long as the terminals do not complete a circuit there is no way for the dangerous current present during the event to damage them.

It should be noted, however, that batteries that are presently connected to vulnerable devices might be destroyed or damaged from the immediate effects of an EMP on its host device, but you generally won’t need to worry about your survival batteries kept in storage at all.

Manual Tools

I hope this is something that everyone knows, but you should not forget that you can always depend on manual tools in the aftermath of an EMP when electric tools and devices fail.

Anything that relies on humans or animals for power will still function the same as it always has, from hammers and saws to more intricate tools like plows and mills.

If it was not dependent upon electricity before the event then you can count on it working after.

In fact, assembling a collection of manual tools that can supplement or even replace the capability of your more modern ones is a good first step in EMP preparedness.

Flashlights and Lanterns

Another surprise EMP survivor is the common flashlight, whether or not it has batteries in it. This rule of thumb counts for electric and liquid-fueled lanterns, too.

Considering how important these fundamental tools are in survival situations, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you won’t be left totally in the dark after an EMP.

Your best bet, if going electric, is to choose incandescent versions instead of the more modern LEDs.

LEDs themselves may or may not be directly vulnerable to EMPs depending on who you listen to, but more sophisticated versions of these lighting tools might rely on tiny circuit boards for power regulation and more. Simpler is definitely better in this case!


A traditional magnetic compass, though it might be temporarily spoofed by an EMP, will return to normal function in the aftermath.

Because an EMP, even an extremely powerful one, is generally not a sustained bombardment of electromagnetic energy it will not permanently interfere with the polarity of the Earth’s own magnetic field that a compass depends on for orientation.

You’ll be able to depend on your compass to help you find your way once the event is over, although actually making your way could be another story entirely!

Mechanical Watches and Timers

Some timing devices do not depend on electricity at all to function or else depend only on battery power.

You’ll still have need of clocks and precise timers for a variety of purposes in any major survival scenario, particularly a long-term bug in scenario, and so it is a good idea if your timing devices will survive an EMP.

From wristwatches to alarm clocks and even something simple like a kitchen timer, a wide variety of mechanical timing devices deserve a spot in your EMP prep plan.

As mentioned above, in the case of battery-powered clocks or other timers that can also be plugged into a power outlet, don’t count on them surviving if they are plugged in when the event occurs.

Anything connected to the grid is probably toasted during an EMP!

Mechanical Pumps

From simply moving water to operating sprayers and even siphoning other fluids from a variety of vessels or holding tanks, pumps are rarely in the limelight in our society but are absolutely necessary for a variety of industrial and residential settings.

Depending on where you live and where you get your water from, you may or may not be able to depend on water coming from any taps you open.

If it stops flowing, having an alternative pumping system to supply your house would be a boon.

Similarly, having a variety of pumps to handle everything from watering the garden to giving your animals fresh water is great capability to have. Larger pumps that can move huge volumes are still an option if they can be operated by generators.

Most Pre-1980 Vehicles

Most folks who set out to prepare for an EMP do so with the understanding that your typical motor vehicle is going to be rendered immediately and probably permanently out of action.

This might not necessarily be the case! Though modern cars are marvels of technology- which you can read as packed full of computer chips, circuit boards, and other delicate, vulnerable electronics- it wasn’t always this way.

Vehicles from several decades ago either did not depend upon computers to operate or they were used only to supplement their performance, meaning you can still turn the key and get them going after an EMP.

The cut-off for generally reliable function post EMP for domestic and foreign vehicles alike seems to be around 1980, so look for older model years if you want an EMP-proof ride.

Solar Panels

One of the best possible investments you can make in EMP preparedness is a good set of solar panels, either larger ones that can supply your household needs, or smaller ones that can recharge your personal electronics.

Solar panels themselves are not directly vulnerable to the effects of an EMP, and so long as they are not connected to an electrical grid when it occurs. The worst that will happen to them is usually a tiny overall loss in efficiency.

A properly set up solar array can keep the electricity flowing when everyone else is scrambling in the aftermath.

Consider that if you were going to use solar panels for full-time or supplemental power for your house you’ll need to take special steps to protect them from the surge of energy that an EMP will cause.

Basic Appliances

Most basic appliances that you rely on will continue to function after an EMP so long as they are not connected to the electrical grid, as has been mentioned several times throughout this article.

Especially older-model appliances like refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, and the like. As with all electronics, if it does not have a sophisticated control panel it will probably be fine if it survives the surge of power.

Basic appliances that people use everyday like coffee makers can easily be run off of solar panels, above, and that means you don’t need to go all in on non-electric replacements so long as you plan properly.

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5 thoughts on “So, What Will Work After an EMP Attack? (Here are 10 Things that Will)”

  1. A couple of studies, (taking into account the massive effect of newer nukes in the hundreds of megaton ranges, that can penetrate NORAD up to two miles deep) may short circuit or even weld alternators and points on older vehicles. (Keep spares in faraday cages) and may also possibly reverse the polarity of exposed batteries, which will need to be adapted to function. (Bear in mind that most info online is still projecting off of older data and studies)

  2. Anything with a semi conductor in it, including solar panels, even if not connected, will probably be ruined.
    When a semi conductor junction fails, it usually goes a short circuit. A solar panel is a series of silicon junctions that become forward biased when exposed to light. Obviously, the regulator, inverter and appliances that are in the way of a EMP/CME will be a short circuit and hence, current will flow back from the battery to the damaged device and if not fused, may start a fire or worse.
    In an instant, we will be back to the 1800’s, relying on animal power, but that’s not the worst of it.
    Nuke plants, even when shut down, still emit around 10% of the energy they produced when in operation as waste heat, which has to be got rid of. Normally, pumps operating from the grid, or a backup generator do the work, but after everything is fried, the generators will eventually run out of fuel, the water ponds will boil away and we have dozens of 3 mile islands or chenobals.
    Good by world.

    • Not likely. Each reactor, in addition to boron control rods, has a tank of boric acid placed above as a failsafe. Climbing a ladder up the outside of the tank, a technician turns the valve manually and gravity does the rest. The boric acid shuts down the reactor pile. Unless you have incapacitated all the workers, this is a one person job to shut down the reactor pile. Your dozens of 3 mile islands are very unlikely.

    AN E.M.P. IS A DEFENSIVE WEAPON. Let’s say you have to capture a modern city. The E.M.P. blast will wipeout the power grid. Plus all of the city’s computer networks. How will you know what parts you will need to repair everything?
    you’ll also need the spare parts. plus people who can repair what you fried.
    Why not use INFILTRATION TROOPS to capture the city? They will capture the city while everything’s still functioning.

  4. Amateur Radio Operators are well aware of the loss of communications from an EMP event… most modern radios (including cell phones) will be wiped out. 911 centers will be destroyed due to their heavy use of computers and radio equipment. “Hams” often have backup radio systems in faraday cages, buried in metal garbage cans lined with non-conductive material, and our antenna are generally not affected. Our power supply may be toast, but simple car batteries will power our equipment. We will be able to supply backup communications to law enforcement, fire, and EMS. Our local plans include operating from various local fire departments to our county Emergency Operations Center which is hardened against EMP. “When all else fails, Amateur Radio will still work!”


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