EMP. These three letters may look innocent enough, but every prepper worth his or her salt should know better. Let’s take a look at what EMP really is and what it can do in relation to humanity’s survival in SHTF scenarios.
You may have heard about EMP attacks on shows such as NBC’s doomsday-themed TV series Revolution, or read about it in end-of-days books such as One Second After. ElectroMagnetic Pulses, or EMP’s for short, are used to shut down and disable anything that has an electronic component within. In the movie The Matrix, an EMP was used to disable the Sentinels that were invading Zion. In Ocean’s Eleven, EMP was used to temporarily knock out power as the protagonists went on to complete a heist.
You can see it on various social media platforms. Type in the letters “EMP” on YouTube and you’ll be presented with hundreds of videos regarding the subject. EMP has become a part of both survivalist’s and prepper’s scenarios. You can do a search and see many blogs tackling the subject of how to prepare against EMP attacks when they happen.
EMP attacks are a big enough problem, so much that they could become a threat at a national level. The idea of EMP started out with scientists and researchers thinking about the after-effects of a considerable nuclear blast. The rise of modern technology and the terrifying pace of scientific achievements have led to EMP’s being able to stand alone. Today, EMP’s are electronic bombs that can attack one of the most precious human resources- electricity. If broken down in the simplest terms, an EMP attack is an electromagnetic burst of energy caused by the rapid acceleration of particles.
What are the effects of an EMP blast? It can cause trouble to all electronic devices, equipment, and products that make use of electrical components to function. A large enough EMP can even physically damage power lines, buildings, and airplanes. For example, a massive EMP burst can have enough power to fry electronic circuits within the radius of the blast range, potentially disabling power grids. This effect can set back cities and the affected areas immediately back to the stone age until the power is turned back on. In military scenarios, it can disable a base or a strategic installation in just a few minutes.
1) The Chemistry of ElectroMagnetic Pulses
The IEC or the International Electrotechnical Commission states that EMP can be classified into 3 categories- the E1, the E2, and the E3.
- E1 Electromagnetic Pulse
The E1 is considered as the fastest EMP pulse amongst the three. The lifespan of an E1 is also very brief, only lasting a few microseconds. Its effect is very intense. Most EMP weapons and nuclear blasts give out an E1 pulse.
The best example of an E1 attack is a huge nuclear detonation occurring hundreds of miles from above. Once the charge is detonated, a strong EMP usually follows. There are some factors that influence how potent the blast is, including the size of the blast, how high it was and the scale of the magnetic field present in the blast area. As the EMP pulse expands, gamma rays are created via the fission process, which is then sent down towards the earth.
In technical terms, the resulting gamma radiation takes out the electrons from the higher atmosphere and sends them hurtling towards the lower atmosphere. The natural magnetic field of Earth reacts with the charged particles, producing an electromagnetic pulse which then travels at nearly the speed of light towards the ground. The first gamma-ray reaction has a potent cascading effect that produces around 30,000 electrons. All of these things happen within just a few billionths of a second and in a simultaneous manner.
- E2 Electromagnetic Pulse
The E2 is a bit slower than E1. It can be compared to that of a lightning bolt strike. The E2 is perhaps the easiest type of EMP attack to protect against, but some nuclear detonations can have both E1 and E2 types of EMP pulses. In these cases, some of the electronic equipment or power grids that are protected from E2-type blasts could be disabled or destroyed when exposed to the deadly effects of the E1 blast.
It’s also worthy to note that the E2 comes right after the E1 blast commences. The secondary gamma rays and the high-energy scattered rays are produced after the reaction of the air molecules; the E2 blast comes after the E1 and lasts just 1 second. E2 EMP’s are considered as intermediate pulses.
- E3 Electromagnetic Pulse
The E3 blast is the longest-lasting of the three. It can either last for minutes, hours and even days. It is also the slowest of the 3 types due to its low frequency of 1 Hz or less. It can be compared to that of natural geomagnetic storms that are produced by extreme solar flares. Our sun is known to produce intense E3 pulses via coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. You should know that the sun does not produce E1 or E2 EMP’s.
2) Sources of EMP
There are 3 things that can cause EMP’s – solar storms, a nuclear blast or something similar, and a lightning bolt.
Lightning bolts are natural phenomenons. A lightning strike directly affects the electric current on all nearby cables and wires. The resulting surge of enormous electricity can incapacitate all the electronic devices, equipment, and appliances that are plugged into the electric wall sockets of your home. For this reason, most electricians and experts recommend using a surge protector to keep your electronic devices such as computers, TV and other appliances safe from lightning bolts.
CME’s come from the sun and directly above us. This goes the same for high altitude nuclear detonations. EMP’s release a huge amount of charged particles that interact with our Earth’s ionosphere, which is the atmosphere that contains electrically charged particles and electrons. The ionosphere can be found if one goes up between 30 to 500 miles above the Earth’s surface.
An EMP blast puts out a sizeable amount of downward particle surge within the Earth’s ionosphere, creating tremendous electrical currents that have the power to short-circuit transformers, power grids and equipment that rely on electricity to run.
In retrospect, E1 pulses can be generated by stars found in our galaxy, but we don’t have to worry about getting hit by one. The chances are so small that we have a greater chance of being hit by a large asteroid than being hit with E1 pulses coming from the surrounding stars.
So that leaves out nuclear-based EMP’s and solar-based EMP’s. We shouldn’t be worried about being hit by a nuclear EMP as long as those in power do what they can to prevent it from happening. Solar EMP’s are different- they can and will happen sooner or later. Our sun produces CMEs in a regular manner. Scientists have witnessed that the sun releases solar EMP’s anywhere from one per 5 days to 3 per day. The solar EMP that reaches Earth may or may not have the strength to devastate mankind. Most solar EMP’s that reach Earth are usually pointing in a direction that will not have any significant effect on us. You should know that Earth has been hit with a few solar EMP’s during the course of history.
3) The Effects of EMP
An EMP blast can affect those who are within line of sight on the center point of the explosion. An EMP blast that originates from California can affect the whole of the United States if it is large enough and high enough.
The short time interval between the type of EMP blasts amplifies the effect of the electromagnetic pulse. Chief among the concerns is the deadly E1 pulse. E1 pulses are fast, simultaneous and generate high frequencies. Most preppers are worried about E1 waves because they are deadly and difficult to protect against. They can potentially break down communication systems and civilized communities by disabling sensors, security components, electronic equipment, computers and anything else that runs on electricity. The usual precautions against lightning bolts (power surge protection, etc) will not work because E1 pulses have immense energy and are very quick.
The resulting E2 pulses aren’t as potent as E1 waves are, but they could enhance the damage that the E1 pulses have created. E3 EMP pulses do the most damage in power supplies. They could delay or even halt power delivery systems carried by undersea and underground cables.
The doomsday scenario seen in most SHTF films is quite accurate. Society today is so dependent on electrical systems for security, communication, and other day-to-day function. Now, imagine if an EMP blast disabled all types of electrical systems and electronics in less than a second. The United States is instantly thrown back decades in terms of technology.
All modern conveniences such as computers, the internet, smartphones, microwave ovens, and TVs won’t work. Not only that, but some of the latest cars would instantly decelerate and stop, and airplanes both commercial and private would fall out of the sky. Think of how hard it would be to communicate with friends and loved ones, and how difficult it would be to resume a normal life without the aid of electricity or computers.
4) Why You Should Worry About EMP
As mentioned before, America has grown so much in technological aspects that it’s impossible to turn back and function without the use of computers and other electronic staples. This means that we are vulnerable to EMP attacks. An EMP lights up the sky while turning the cities dark. Electronic communication is halted. It becomes hard to transport food and other necessities. Transportation for medical emergencies will not exist. All vehicles, whether trucks, sports cars, and buses will come to a complete stop. Traffic lights won’t work. Computers and mobile phones will be shut off. The recent unrests in the Middle East and the production of bomb-grade Plutonium and Uranium bring us closer to the likelihood of an EMP pulse that could disrupt all civilization.
The threat of an EMP pulse should be taken seriously by the United States. Vigilance in terms of looking at other countries’ nuclear capacity should be done. Remedies that could prevent or even counteract EMP attacks should be developed. These precautions should be done as soon as possible, or else we’ll suffer the deadly consequences.
How real is the EMP threat we’re talking about? It’s very real. In fact, we should not put it off in a theoretical manner. National Homeland Security Executive Director Peter Vincent Pry was a part of the EMP Task Force and worked as a CIA staffer in regards to possible EMP attacks. You can read more about EMP by picking up his latest book “The Long Sunday”.
The US government is taking the right step towards preparing for possible EMP blasts. We have seen hearings on two separate occasions- one in 2012 and the other in 2014, about how EMP pulses from nuclear blasts or from the sun could negatively affect the U.S. infrastructure.
The EMP Commission stated before the Armed Services Committee in 2008 that the United States economy and its society are so dependent on electricity that collapse on the power grid via a man-made or natural EMP wave of a significant scale can certainly lead to disastrous civilian casualties. The same conclusion was reached on separate reports made the NAS, DOE, DHS, DOD and other independent research facilities and government agencies. As of the moment, there are 11 unique government case studies on the vulnerabilities and threats the US has to face from GMD and EMP assaults.
EMP Threat Commission chairman Dr. William Graham has predicted that if an EMP attack were to knock out the power grid for 1 year’s time, the human population will be reduced to 10%.
But the fact stands that Earth has been hit with significant EMP pulses before, and we are most likely to be hit again. The first ever recorded EMP wave was the Carrington Event in 1859, recorded documentation of our Earth being hit with a solar flare. On September 1, 11:18 am EDT, a solar astronomer named Richard Carrington witnessed the event through the use of a telescope.
The second instance was in 1962, named the Star Fish Prime experiment. Our United States government launched a 1.4 megaton nuclear charge about 250 miles high above the Pacific Ocean. The test results were much stronger than anticipated- the pulse damaged microwave links and street lights in Hawaii, located 900 miles away.
The third time was the Soviet EMP test that was called Test 184, which was coincidentally around the same time as the Star Fish Prime experiment. The nuclear warhead wasn’t as powerful as the Star Fish Prime explosion, but the test was conducted over the populated area of Kazakhstan, about 180 miles above ground. The EMP blast that resulted from Test 184 incapacitated a shielded, 600-mile underground power line buried 3 ft. below ground.
The final EMP event was a natural CME wave that hit Canada. In March of 1989, six million residents were without electricity for approximately 9 hours.
There’s only so much we can do to counter the effects of EMP attacks when they finally happen. Even the best preppers may not know how to prepare against TEOTWAWKI events that have electromagnetic pulse aspects in them. A well-stocked underground bunker that’s about 35 feet or more below ground may provide enough protection to survive the initial blasts, but that’s about it.
Those who are caught completely unaware will have even lesser chances of surviving the cataclysmic event. The key is to prepare ahead of time and expect that the EMP attack will happen. The protective measures and the costs needed to acquire them may be too much for some, but there are a few simple and straightforward methods to countering the most damaging effects. Practicing and honing the art of concealment and evasion will help against massive EMP attacks.
2) Consider Your Home Location
You can be certain that your sanctuary will be the target of refugees and looters after an EMP attack brings down the civilized world. It makes sense to fortify your home against these types of attacks. Homes in rural and suburban locations are especially vulnerable. A small, close-knit community that is situated just behind large bodies of water can come together and collectively defend their territory. Home locations that are near the proximity of military bases are excellent so long as the military base stands active.
3) How Deep Can You Go?
A vacation house or a fortified remote location can prove to be great against small bands of thieves and marauders, but the best type of defense is digging deep at an approximate 30 ft underground. As mentioned earlier, evasion is your best defense for EMP attacks; it allows you to survive as long as you are undetected by hostile forces. It might not be a good idea to build your own underground construct, but you can pool with like-minded individuals, friends or relatives. Making it to the bunker should also be part of the plan.
4) Protect Your Electronic Devices
One of the best communication devices that will be your best friend is a HAM radio. If you don’t have one, then now is the best time to get one. Satellite phones and computers could still have limited uses in a post-EMP society. Medical equipment that is battery operated could prove to be invaluable to some. Preppers may insulate whole rooms from EMP waves, or protect their most vital electronic equipment by investing in Faraday cages. You can even create DIY EMP shielding projects using copper mesh, aluminum foil or Mylar products.
5) Study Health and Medicine
An EMP attack can put a premium on medicines and medical equipment. Those who have serious medical conditions should understand and prepare for a rapidly-dwindling stock. Most medicines will not be available in a large enough supply, so you should prepare by seeking alternative preventive and medical care. Take a good look at your natural surroundings. This is where most of your medicines will come from. Learn how to extract natural oils, herbs, and plants that can help you in cases of medical emergency. Moreover, your diet should prioritize building up one’s immune system and overall health.
6) Water, Food and Storage
These 3 commodities should be on top of any TEOTWAWKI situations you prepare for. You should remember that air and heat are the biggest factors that could affect your food and water storage. Seal the grains in a vacuum-tight container and store them in a cool, dry place. You will need plenty of water to survive long-term. The minimum consumption of water is a gallon a day for each person. If you can, go for a renewable source instead of stocking up on a year’s supply of potable water.
7) Tips For Surviving an EMP Attack
Tip Number 1: Don’t Ever Underestimate The Dangers of EMP
Staying alive entails never underestimating the situation you are in. The rules of survival will state this again and again. Plan an immediate route in the aftermath of an EMP assault. How important is this tip? You may very well be dead if you hesitate in just a few seconds. Anything could happen. No one can tell what will happen next. Prepare for the worst.
Tip Number 2: Use All Your Available Money
You should understand that cash becomes one of the most useless resources in the event that an SHTF happens. Preppers understand how the economy shifts to that of basic goods. Do what you can to trade your cash to essential survival items such as water, ammo, food, etc. Certain years of pennies older than 1982 can be left out as the copper inside them can prove to be invaluable.
Tip Number 3: Ration Your Food
Your survival stash of food and water should last for a year at the very least. When the EMP hits, start rationing the food because you’ll be sharing it with the other people as part of the survival process. Remember that no one is likely to survive End Of Day scenarios alone, but what you can do is control the food distribution until new sources are found.
No one wants to experience a terrifying EMP attack, much less surviving one. But we should all do our best to prepare for its eventuality if we want to make it out alive. There’s much you can do now instead of having to scramble for precious resources and making sense of it all when an EMP pulse lights up the atmosphere. Do your best to plan accordingly.