Camping & Survival

The Only Thing You Need to Survive an EMP

Picture shows a drawing of the San Diego skyline after an apocalyptic event.

“This could be the kind of catastrophe that ends civilization—and that’s not an exaggeration.” —Newt Gringrich

What is an EMP?

On any given day, without warning, imagine an event so catastrophic that life as we know it could come to a grinding halt an instant. Picture yourself driving home from work on a nice sunny day along with hundreds of other commuters, dreaming of the succulent steaks that you are going to grill that evening when suddenly your car goes dead. The majority of other vehicles on the road die, too. Some drivers are able to restart their cars; however, there is no radio and your cell phone has stopped working.

Picture shows a close up detailed picture of a solar flare from the sun.
In 1989, a solar flare or “coronal mass ejection” caused an EMP so great it gave Texans the opportunity to the see The Northern Lights.

There is no fire, mushroom cloud, loud explosion and there is definitely not a large metal robot bursting out of the concrete below you. Amid the traffic congestion and automobile accidents due to the confusing and sudden event, you have no way of knowing what just happened. Even if you get your car restarted or it never died in the first place, what do you do next?

An electromagnetic pulse or EMP results when an event—either natural or manmade—disrupts electrons and protons in the air. These charged particles are then caught in the magnetic field of the Earth, creating a wave, pulse or burst of electromagnetic energy traveling through a wide range of frequencies that jams and even fries all electronic components.

An EMP has three steps. The first one is the pulse of electromagnetic shock jamming electronics. The second is an event such as lightning that can cause physical damages to structures. The third is a pulse of energy that travels through wires and lines. An EMP has the capability of destroying electronic components beyond repair, requiring rebuilding of America’s electronic infrastructure.

EMPs are nothing new. Scientists have known about its effects since we have been testing nuclear weapons. On July 9, 1962, we launched a 1.4-megaton nuclear warhead called Starfish Prime, 900 miles off the southwest coast of Hawaii. It was detonated 240 miles up above the earth in outer space. Messing up the Earth’s flow of electricity is one of the effects of high-altitude nuclear weapons. Starfish Prime caused streetlights to blow out in Oahu; communications failures, airplanes in midair experienced electrical surges, and further the resulting EMP damaged six satellites. Several countries, including the United States, have admitted having non-nuclear e-bombs, specifically made to destroy communication systems.

More worrisome are solar flares or a super solar storm. In 1989, a solar flare or “coronal mass ejection” caused an EMP so great it gave Texans the opportunity to see The Northern Lights and knocked out electricity to six million customers for over nine hours throughout the United States and Canada.

Many of the militaries operations, banking, broadcasting, transportation, food and water supplies, and communications would be gone. Imagine having no way to connect to family members, the media, law enforcement, disaster relief or anyone for that matter to find out what is going on.

Within the first week, even the first few days, many dependent on electronic medical equipment will die, followed shortly by others dependent on daily medications, if they have not stocked up or if the medications need refrigeration. It will not take but a few days for everyone to realize the world as we know it is over. Rioting, looting, violence and chaos will ensue. The majority of Americans will be totally unprepared and supplies will dry up quickly—with no hope of replenishment. Those aware of the serious consequences of a large EMP attack suspect that literally millions would die within the first week.

Unfortunately, an EMP is one disaster I cannot tell you how to prep for in 10 easy steps—this is not as easy as stockpiling a week’s worth of food and water. An EMP will set America back to the days where electricity, running water, refrigeration, automobiles, airplanes, TV, radio and phones did not exist. Some predict that recovering from an EMP might take years. Your chances of survival exponentially increase if you prepare now. The first step is to accept how dependent you are on the grid and learn how to live off of it.

Picture shows a drawing of the San Diego skyline after an apocalyptic event.
It won’t take but a few days for everyone to realize the world as we know it is over.

Homesteading

Modern homesteading is seeing a resurgence in popularity since 9/11. Modern homesteading is a way of life that generates self-reliance, sustainability and independence. Those choosing to move towards a homesteading lifestyle wish to:

  • Live more simply
  • Be less wasteful
  • Live cheaply
  • Be independent of the government
  • Live independently off the grid
  • Be more healthy

It is not a hippie thing or right-wing anti-government thing—people from all walks of life are choosing this way of life.

When someone describes themselves as a homesteader, whichever extent it is—from fully living off the grid to the urban homesteader who has a paying job—the purpose is to be self-sufficient and live as much like the pioneers as possible. Some homesteaders have container gardens on the roofs of their high-rise apartments and bike to work. Others have given up cities all together by building a log cabin in the woods hundreds of miles from nowhere and hunting, slaughtering and curing all their own meat. Regardless, the less dependent on others to fulfill you and your families needs, the better. Homesteading is the only way I see you not only surviving, but also thriving if there ever was an EMP attack. Here is why.

Food and Water

To meet the minimum requirement for drinking and personal hygiene, you should keep one gallon of water per person per day. The Canned Food Alliance suggests two cans of food a day per person. If you add that up for a family of four, that is 96 cans of food just for 12 days and 48 gallons of water. Unless you have a large warehouse or underground storage unit, the amount of long-term food and water storage needed for years is extremely overwhelming. There aren’t many of us with the amount of space and money required to store that much. That is why it is important to be educated on water purification, filtering and where to find alternative sources of water.

In addition, learning how to hunt and field dress game, garden, stockpiling seeds, canning, preserving, salting and curing meat and raising chickens, rabbits, goats or other animals for food will help you in the long run.

For a beginner’s guide to procuring water, starting a garden and long-term food storage and sustainability, read the following posts:

Skills

Without the electric grid, the United States alone will be set back hundreds of years. Now is the time to read books to learn about pioneering and homesteading. Sewing, leather craft, woodworking, homeopathy, animal husbandry, cooking, blacksmithing, gunsmithing, farming, and other such skills our forefathers relied on will be highly desirable and sought after when the grid goes down indefinitely. Interestingly, in tests done on vehicles during an EMP event, not all of them quit working. Cars made before 1965 have a better chance of continuing to work. Knowing how to maintain and fix old cars will allow you to get around, help others and barter your services—for as long as the gas lasts, that is. Without gas delivery, supplies will eventually run out. Bicycles, horses and mules will become our regular mode of transportation. Have you always had an idea how to make alternative fuels? Now is the time to start experimenting. Many Americans do not know how to perform even some of the simplest tasks. Have you ever chopped down a tree or split wood? To heat your home and cook you will need a fireplace or wood stove. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two million Americans work in industries that apply the same skills needed after an EMP such as carpenters, steel and iron workers, brick masons, loggers and farmers. For the rest of us—the majority—unless we do something now to prepare, will be useless.

Picture shows a brown, plowed field with a barn in the background and an old-timey plow in the foreground.
Modern homesteading is a way of life that generates self-reliance, sustainability and independence.

For more about bartering and trade, read the following posts:

Security

Quickly, we will find out how dependent most Americans are on the grid and what the lengths people will go to, to survive. Cities and urban areas will be dangerous. Hurricane Katrina proved this. Burial tubes keep your last-ditch rifles secure from looters and curious neighbors. Keep boards, nails and a hammer ready to board up windows and keep lighting down to a minimum at night. However, bugging-in might just be safe for a few days. If you have a bug-out location, this will be the best place to seek refuge. If you are a city dweller or live in an apartment, now is the time to join a local preppers group so you have a place to go.

Due to availability and cost, I know it is difficult, but set aside, bury, hide or put up ammo just in case. Resist the urge to use it for practice. Purchase SHTF ammo separately from target ammo. Cheaper Than Dirt! sells convenient long-term storage packed ammo in barrels, vinyl battle packs and ammo cans. Teach all your family members how to use firearms.

A long-term solution is to learn how to reload your own ammunition, shoot and maintain a black powder gun.

Mindset

The thought of an EMP and its aftermath is daunting and scary at best—if not downright mind-blowing. Historian and author of “One Second After,” Dr. William R. Forstchen, writes, “And finally, the impact is so overwhelming, it triggers a psychological sense of helplessness, and therefore why bother, since if it happens we are finished.” There is a good chance that if you are reading this article, you too are dependent on the grid. It is going to be hard work. However, there is no need to rush out and charge up your credit cards, buy a 100-acre plot of land two hours outside of town and a herd of cattle. Even urban dwellers are participating in homesteading.

My advice to you is to start small. Read and learn as much as you can about the skills that you are going to need. There are many websites devoted to homesteading and pioneering, along with just as many, if not more, books. In whatever extra room you have, plant a garden or raise chickens. Even if all you can do right now is a windowsill herb garden, it’s a start.

Build Something

Using no power tools, build something with wood—a chicken coop, smoke house, side table or anything else. Instead of going to the lumberyard for the wood, chop down a tree.

Practice

Live without electricity, running water, phones, TVs, your car or any other electronic that does not take batteries for an entire weekend and see how you fare.

In order to survive such a disaster, you must have the will to survive it. Determination, confidence, creativity, and a positive, can-do attitude may sound cheesy, but essential. The more self-sustaining you become, the more confidence you will have in your abilities to take your homesteading that much further.

There are things that will be difficult to make on your own. Stock up on these 10 items:

What steps are you taking to prepare for an EMP? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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[suzanne]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. OMG!

    Could you just picture what would happen in the city areas around this nation? No cell phones, television or radios functioning!

    The Kardashians, Jenners, Paris Hilton, Nikki Minaj, celebrities, or just your average media addicted civilian incapable of using their own mind to freely think about survival because they’re a slave to the technological system. What a nightmare.

  2. Don’t forget the 1559 event that was so strong it shut the telegraph down and that s system was more durable than the old landline phones

    1. @ michael.

      Not Aware of ANY “Supernova” explosions that took place in 1559, that had an EMP Effect on Electromechanical Communications Telephones (1877 to 1983), But, Non-Nuclear Powered Devices can Create an EMP Pulse too. An EPFCG (Explosively Pumped Flux Compression Generator) and an EDFG (Explosively-Driven Ferroelectric/Ferromagnetic Generators) can do the Same Thing. Of the THREE, the EPFCG is the Only Device that I’m aware of that’s Man-Portable. Both the Soviet Union and the USA experimented on these type’s of Devices in the 1950’s…

  3. The Author mentions stocking flashlights and batteries. Most modern flashlights use an LED. This will not function after an EMP event either, as the LED is a semi-conductor too, a simple P/N junction.. I suggest keeping a few incandescent flashlights also.

  4. To start with those with wells can install a hand pump for water. For fuel, for a while, get a hand fuel pump and hoses to dip into the tanks. If you want to have workable electronics, you will need to EMP proof them. Best want is ti totally enclose them inside a copper screen box- minimum of one layer but two are better. When I say totally enclosed that means no wires running outside the box at all. AND no openings greater than 1 inch in length at seams. solder tack the mesh every inch. Use spring type paper clips for the door spaces 1 inch apart. Remember an EMP generates around 50,000 volts per meter of exposed wire. This means lots of fires inside your house anywhere it arc’s. Most cars will be fried. Ignition coils alternators, and of course any electronic ignitions are susceptible. Have some spares and protect them by placing them inside a 1 gallon bare metal paint can with a solid lid. Scrape off any inside protective coatings that might touch the lid to can interface. Ditto for small radios.
    dave

  5. The oil refineries will catch on fire. Has nothing to do with the emp. If electric goes out the generators automatically kick on (I am talking about normal electric outage not emp) but once they run out of gas the fires start. That is the nature of an oil refinery. Coastal areas of louisiana and Texas will be a mess.

    I have lived off grid and without electric for ten years. Just got 200 watts of solar to run a fan and mini fridge two weeks ago cause I an 53 and heat gets harder and harder as you get older so I’m not too worried about it. Just like a little comfort. But since you bring it up, how long before anyone can go outside after every nuclear power plant in the US and possibly the world melts down. I figure I will take potassium iodide and head out after a few days.

    1. @ Judy.

      Consider the FreeWatt made by Honda. Its a Self Contained Non-Networked Power System or the Stirling Air-Independent Steam Power Generation Unit. It will produce ~45-days worth of Power, Breathable Air and Potable Water using a Hydrogren Fuel Cell. Also consider a 3-D Food Protein Resequencer developed by Michigan State University. That uses Textured Vegetable Protein to Replicated Edible Meals.

  6. I have three questions. Will my marine batteries which are hooked up to my solar panels survive a nuclear at emp? I have read the panels will be fried in a nuclear but will survive a solar flare emp.

    2nd question: if the entire nation’s grid went down, won’t all the nuclear power plants melt down and cause a nuclear winter which will make it impossible to grow food? Side question: won’t the oil refineries catch on fire causing huge pollution and adding to the nuclear winter?

    Ok 3rd question: anyone know how long a nuclear winter would last?

    1. @ Judy.

      Question 1: Only if there Properly Shielded.
      Question 2: Nuclear Fall-Out (Radiation), isn’t going to cause a Nuclear Winter. Only Blocking the Amount of Sunlight actually Bathing Earth’s Surface is going to do that.
      Question 3: Depending on Severity of the Attack. On the Low end of the Scale, about a Year. High End, hard to predict. But probably a Generation or More (1 Generation equals 40-years).

    2. Ok thanks. But I was just reading on another site that batteries will be fine. So now I’m even more confused. Will they survive a solar but not a nuclear emp?

      So the nuclear power plants melting down will not cause a nuclear winter but all the oil refineries catching the n fire might?

    3. @ Judy.

      An “EMP” is NOT going start any Fires, especially at an Oil Refinery. Even if Nuclear Radiation is present at your location. From Time-to-Time your going to have clean the Solar Panels to get electricity. Who’s going to be the “Sacrificial Lamb” to do that Feit.

  7. Hey Secundius, a few things about EMP. A microwave does produce an electromagnetic wave, but is shielded to prevent leakage of the emissions outside the box. For this reason, it should also protect what is inside from an EMP, assuming you know it is coming and have time to store items. Think of the window, that perforated metal grid is a faraday cage to allow viewing but prevent dangerous emissions from leaking out. An insulated metal container should shield most objects, in fact a trash can or ammo can lined with rubber insulator should do the trick.

    The reason this works is stuff you may remember from science in high school. An electromagnetic wave passing over a metal wire or surface, will generate an electric current. Big wire, more current. But microchips work with extremely low voltages and more I portably amps. The generated current will most likely exceed the amperage rating of the conductors and they will arc and fry. Wrap an object in metal and insulate the inside, waves pass around object and generate a current in the surface metal, but it is insulated protecting thhe delicate electronics inside. Same thing the military uses to protect communications systems, delicate spares are stored in shielded containers for replacement after an event. Old school incandescent flashlights will stand a good chance of surviving, and though the LED itself will be fine, the chip controlling the voltage will be toast on some of the fancier flashlghts, so maybe keep the old mag light around wiltha spare bulb in the ammo can.

    1. @ AngryFCO.

      I’m aware of what an Electromagnetic Wave is, Sir. I just NEVER heard of One Countering Another One, Sir…

  8. @ possomhead.

    That’s a new one, on me! I don’t see how an inactive mild steel constructed box, can protect electronics from an EMP burst. When the same device, while on, produces an EMP bursts.

  9. I’ve been told that vital electronic gear, such as radios, and be protected in event of emp by keeping / storing them in a microwave oven. Does anyone know if there is any truth to this ??

  10. I have thought about the EMP threat for a while. The best book I have found on the subject is “A Nation Forsaken” by F. Michael Maloof. The best part of his book organizes preparing for the long ordeal.
    The one thing everyone misses is transportation. The only thing running after an EMP will be chip free. 93-97 Dodge pickups are the best I have found. I am collecting chip free tractor trucks as well.
    If you have a high water table, driving a well and getting a hand PVC well pump is a great idea. We drove one in my back yard in a trak house neighborhood.

  11. G-man: Thanks. I think I trust the AMC specs more than FEMA. When I was a young Marine and we went into the filed we had to have two canteens of water and your squad leader always checked to make sure they were full. I usually only drank one and traded the other for smokes or chow.

  12. As far as notice goes:
    I remember the opening of a book, “Stockade,” by Jack Pearl that I read in the early sixties. It started with gallows humor that was later quoted by the instructors at ABC school: “If you’re walking down the street and you see a blinding flash, sit down where you are. pull your knees up to you chest, stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass good bye because that’s an atomic bomb!”

  13. What do you mean a few day’s to notice? Try a few minutes, when their TV’s, Cell Phone’s, Electricity, Internet, Cars, and every other electric/electronics doesn’t work.

    1. Howdy Secundius, I think the author was referring to one’s ability to truly begin to comprehend the overall realizations of the long-term prospects.

      Sure people will immediately notice the things you’ve mentioned, but there is a second stage that may take days and weeks before people begin to actualize the realities that have just befallen them. It is worth its own separate mention by the author because it is different than the initial shock. The second stage ushers in an entirely new and psychological dimension to an already existing nightmare.

      It could go something like this: Initially people will wait for power to be restored like in any natural disaster. When it does not, lack of information and rumors will become our worst enemy. People will be forced to venture out for supplies only to realize pandemonium. There will be ethical people that stand in lines and there will be the criminal element taking advantage. Law enforcement will attempt to maintain order but will fail. Many officials will realize they need to be home with their families or abandoned their post completely like officers did during Katrina.

      Realization of those outside dangers will force people to remain closer to home and instead assess current supplies on hand. They will attempt to make do. Those that are ill prepared will of course run out quickly, and so you will begin to see looting. Those nice neighbors aren’t so nice when they are hungry or have a baby to feed. People will realize they require defensive weapons.

      I could go on, but I hope by now you get my point. There are psychological stages of realization to disasters and each becomes apparent to different people at different times and to varying degrees depending on their specific level of preparedness or lack thereof.

  14. After reading this article and the attached links I have a couple of questions:
    1. Admittedly it’s been a few years since I taught Standard First Aid and Personal Safety under the auspices of the American Red Cross but at that time they recommended an allowance of two gallons of water per person per day, The present specification seems to have been reduced to one gallon. That’s a 50% difference. I have to ask why and, ” Who says?”

    Additionally, my alma mater; the USMC, didn’t recommend skimping on water because of the physical damage it could do. I have stockpiled 82 gallons of water for the two of us and I think it’s reasonable to assume it would last the wife and I for about 20 1/2 days. I really don’t see it lasting 41 days. I’d appreciate you comments on this please.

    2. I looked at the cost and availability of 5 gallon plastic buckets with tight fitting lids. The so called, ‘food grade,’ buckets were almost twice as much and they weren’t readily available here. Since all the food we’ve set aside is canned or factory wrapped, (as in the case of dry gods like rice and pasta), I bought the orange buckets and lids from The Home Depot. I think we’ll be okay. Or am I wrong? Again, your opinions please. Thank you.

    1. This one gallon a day per person is the official FEMA recommendation. Specifically they state:

      [BEGIN QUOTE]“A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts (half gallon) of water each day. People in hot environments, children, nursing mothers, and ill people will require even more.

      You will also need water for food preparation and hygiene. Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

      If supplies run low, never ration water. Drink the amount you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow.”[END QUOTE]

      As for the “food grade” buckets, as far as I know all plastic containers are required to have a grade stamped somewhere on each unit. Check the grade class on your Home Depot buckets. You may be in luck. Regardless, you should be fine using the HD buckets given you stated your food is already packaged and then place inside.

      The food grade is really only important for raw storage of say rice and beans directly in these buckets. Also a tip is that you can hit up your larger grocery chains and ask their bakery department for their empty food grade buckets. These are 5 gallon and larger which just get thrown away.

      Don’t be surprised if other savvy preppers already have a connection. But usually it’s first-come-first served. Hope this helps.

  15. No one really knows the actual residual effects of an EMP. All known data is derived from accidents like the one in 1962.

    The magnitude of the EMP will vary greatly and will definitely determine the amount of damage. Electrical isolation within a Faraday’s cage is the only “apparent” way to protect a device from an EMP.

    The probable EMP effects will certainly hit us in many unforeseen ways. For example, people with ICD’s and Pacemakers won’t stand a chance of survival unless they are dressed in a Faraday’s cage that will protect them. Given a powerful EMP, ordnance that uses laser pointing/aiming systems will find that their lasers won’t work anymore. Illuminated sights will be fried as well as flashlights and anything that uses batteries or an electrical circuit will be fried.

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