EMP Protection – How to Survive an Electromagnetic Pulse

EMP Protection – How to Survive an Electromagnetic Pulse

Like any other kind of preparedness, EMP protection starts long before any kind of electromagnetic pulse occurs. Knowing what causes an EMP, what happens when an EMP occurs and what to store are all key to EMP protection.

In 1962, the U.S. military detonated a 1.4 megaton warhead at a distance of 240 miles above sea level. The resulting electromagnetic pulse destroyed streetlights, caused telephone outages and radio blackouts 600 miles away! Prior to this test, scientists thought they understood the EMP effect and how it would affect electronics, but seeing it in the real world proved them wrong.

Operation Starfish

Scientists were sent scrambling to figure out how the EMP effect would affect the defense of the U.S. and how it could be used against the country.

I’m a strong believer that understanding how and why events happen helps you to better prepare yourself than just reading a checklist. If you’re interested in just learning what you need to do to protect yourself from an EMP you can skip down to that section in the article.

Most of this information is taken from material provided by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack (Referred to as the EMP Commission from here on out.).

How Does an EMP Work?

An EMP is created when a nuclear weapon is detonated high in the atmosphere. At these heights, the blast effects of the weapon aren’t a concern. Instead, it is the wave of rapidly changing electric and magnetic fields that concern us.

An EMP has three components associated with it. The International Electrotechnical Commission calls these pulses E1, E2, and E3.

E1 travels at about 90% of the speed of light but is very intense. It exceeds the voltage limitation that components in computers and telecommunications devices use, overloading them and making them unusable.

Protection of the Power Grid

E2 is much less of a concern. This effect lasts for up to 1 second and is similar to a lightning strike. Luckily, most parts of the power grid are protected from this type of electrical effect.

E3 is the slowest of the pulses and is compared to the effects that scientists associate with a very strong solar flare. When E3 strikes the power grid, the power lines themselves act as a form of antenna transferring massive amounts of power to the lines, destroying transformers and potentially damaging power plants.

How Likely is it That We Could Get Attacked by an EMP?

The more reliant we are on electronics, the more likely it is that our enemies will use an EMP against us. Reports from various intelligence agencies show that Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea all possess (or could possess) a means of delivering an EMP weapon.

Dr. William Graham has researched EMP effects since the first tests in the 60’s, he was also the Chairman of the two Congressional EMP Commissions. Dr. Graham has said multiple times that something as simple as a container ship could be used to transport an EMP weapon close enough to the U.S. to make it effective.

Container ship used to hide EMP weapon

He also has said that the weapons don’t even need to be all that accurate. Even an older generation SCUD could effectively be used to launch a nuclear warhead high enough to create the desired EMP effect.

Basically, the missile just needs to be able to go up high enough and it can be effective.

Iran has tested launching its version of the SCUD from the sea onto land and ISIS has even displayed captured SCUDs in the past. So as we get more and more reliant upon electronics in our everyday lives, our enemies get access to more and more means of delivering an EMP attack!

What Will Happen After an EMP?

Even one relatively small weapon would wipe out a large portion of the U.S. power grid. At the height of about 200 miles, a nuclear detonation could affect 70-80% of the continental United States.

The parts of the grid that remain operational would begin to be taxed to a point that they would fail soon after an attack.

The good news is the military has been preparing their electronics to some degree since the 1960s. The bad news is civilian electronics aren’t protected at all from the effects of an EMP.

What Happens to Electronics?

There is conflicting information, even from reliable sources, about what will really happen to electronics. I’ve done my best to choose the info that has the most scientific backing behind it.

It’s estimated that about 1/3 of running vehicles will stall. Of those vehicles, about 1 in 6 will not start back up. Now that may seem low, and it may be, but imagine if 1/3 of the vehicles on a busy highway suddenly stalled. The accidents alone would clog the roadways even if they all were able to get started again.

 

Power Transformers
Transformers convert electricity from low to high voltage for long-distance transmission, then convert it back to low voltage for use in homes and other facilities.

Components used in power distribution centers, power plants, and even transformers take time to make. It takes far longer to produce them and get them into service than most people imagine. They’re difficult to manufacture and are typically build when they’re needed, not stockpiled for later use.

Can you imagine a world with no power or electronics?

Our society is based completely around the use of computers and near-instant communication. Take these things away and everything from the stock market and the banking system to ordering the next delivery to Walmart screeches to a halt!

Manufacturing comes to an end until power is restored. There are no more batteries, fuels, etc. being produced.

How much fuel to do you have saved up for your generator or vehicle even if they do continue to work?

Pumps of all kinds cease to function, many cars stop working, there is no way for radio stations to broadcast emergency information (Even if there was, who would be listening?). It’s a total SHTF scenario. In fact, it’s basically everyone’s worst SHTF scenarios all happening at the same time.

These effects are going to be felt worldwide, not just in the United States. How much of the world economy is based here in the U.S.? Who’s going to rush to fill the power vacuum? How are countries going to deal with American refugees?

Remember, these are the estimated effects of ONE EMP! If Russia attacked us we’d be looking at 10 or more weapons detonated to ensure overlapping coverage, and that means Canada and Mexico are also going to feel the effects as well!

Humanitarian aid

Won’t There Be Humanitarian Aid from Other Countries?

I’m certain there will be humanitarian aid sent after an EMP. Everyone from European countries to China will be sending in humanitarian goods.

The bad part is it won’t come close to being enough!

There is no way to effectively provide humanitarian aid to a country as large as the United States. Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, would likely be reeling from the effects of the EMP as well so they would be of little help.

How Do You Protect Yourself from the Effects of an EMP?

So what should you be doing now? EMP protection really revolves around you becoming as self-sufficient as possible.

An EMP would send us back into a 1700’s lifestyle. The best thing that you can do is to be able to rely on yourself for everything from food production to medical care to construction.

Surround yourself with as many able-bodied and reliable people as you can and you’ll be even better off.

small farms and homesteads.

Ideally, this preparation probably looks something like a small, nearly self-sufficient farm, and a simple lifestyle with little dependence upon electronics. Having a mechanical back up for as many systems as possible will make this even more efficient. A mechanical pump for the well as an example.

City Prepping

For most of us, protecting yourself from an EMP by starting a self-sufficient homestead is either not possible or not desirable. So what can most people do to maximize their EMP protection?

The first thing you can do is to mentally prepare yourself for what would likely occur. Are you ready to deal with the sight of many dead bodies? Are you ready to watch people go crazy as they realize that their world has forever changed and there’s no going back?

Simply considering these things now will put you ahead of most of the population. By even having the desire to read this article you’re infinitely more prepared than the 9-5 day to day office worker that has never even considered the possibility of an EMP.

Having a plan and being aware of the possibility of an EMP is key. Don’t go stand out in the road with all of your neighbors and try to figure out what is happening. You need to act because the world hasn’t stopped moving forward. While everyone else is standing around talking or sitting in their cubicle waiting for the lights to come back on, you should be grabbing your get home bag and going home as fast as you can.

You need to be on the move before everyone else realizes what has happened! Once that occurs, it’s anyone’s guess how things will go down.

Faraday Cages

Faraday cages are designed to limit the strength of the effects of an EMP on electronic items. Sealed Mylar bags and certain mesh bags also have the same effect.

Faraday Cage for EMP Protection

There’s a few common misconceptions that people have about Faraday cages. The first is that they only protect against nuclear EMP and not EMPs that are generated from the sun. The E1 pulse is what damages smaller electronics and that type of pulse is not generated by solar events.

The second is that they need to be grounded. Grounded Faraday cages are actually more susceptible to the E1 pulse than other Faraday cages.

The final misconception comes from home-brewed testing. Many people build a Faraday cage and then try to test them with 2 way radios. This seems logical but it actually doesn’t prove if the Faraday cage works or not. 2 way radios are designed to receive very faint signals. This method works if you use three levels of protection. At that point your layered Faraday cages should stop the signal if they’re doing their job.

While Faraday cages work, they aren’t really practical. The best use of a Faraday cage would be to protect medical equipment or some other piece of equipment that you couldn’t live without.

You could put radios, a spare laptop, or extra phone in a Faraday cage but you’d need to have protected some way to recharge them as well.

Additional EMP Protection Reading

The EMP Commissions that were put together by Congress did a great job of putting the information into terms that the common person could understand! Their writing is in plain language because they wanted the results to be understood by everyone. Despite these facts, there has been very little done to protect the power grid from an EMP attack.

It’s either so far-fetched to our lawmakers that they don’t believe it’s possible or (more likely) it’s so outrageously expensive to protect the power grid that they’re just willing to risk it.

A lot of the work the EMP Commision did is available here.

Conclusion

In the end, EMP protection comes from preparing ahead of time to live a simple, self-reliant, lifestyle. The world is going to continue after an EMP, it’s just going to be completely different than it was.

If you have any EMP protection suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

Make sure you check out our other preparedness articles before you go!

About Joe Ready 101 Articles
Joe “Ready” is an active duty Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician with more than 20 years of service and multiple ground combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has a bachelors degree in Emergency and Disaster Management and has been interested in prepping and preparedness for close to two decades.

2 Comments

  1. Even with a Faraday cage to protect your electronic items, you still need a way to provide power to operate them ! ! ! ! ! What ever power generation you have (wind, solar hydro etc. ) they too have to be protected with a Faraday cage ( solar panels, wind generators and standby generators) also contain electronic components that will be destroyed by an EMP ! ! ! !

    • Yeah, I see Faraday cages as more of a novelty item for the most part. There are so many conflicting studies that it’s difficult to really narrow down the best protective measures for an EMP beyond just being ready to live like it’s 1700 again.

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