Think of all the things you depend on every day that require electricity in one way or another. Now think of what would happen if suddenly and unexpectedly they no longer worked.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy, which can overload electronic devices and possibly large-scale power grids. When dealing with such a disaster, there a few key preps we can perform to get through it.
In the case of an EMP, our modern world as we know it can come to a screeching halt.
There are a number of different sources for EMPs, both natural and manmade. Some examples of natural EMPs are lightning strikes and solar flares. In the past, solar flares have caused moderate to extensive damage. One of the largest EMPs on record occurred back in the 1880s, taking out telegraph lines.
Manmade EMPs can come from electrical motors, nuclear weapons and EMP weapons. A nuclear warhead detonated at ground level will generate an EMP. More specific to an EMP attack is a warhead detonated high in the atmosphere, which would result in a large EMP.
Small events such as a lightning strike are often inconvenient, but wide-scale EMPs would interfere with our lives for more than just a few hours. One of the trickiest parts of dealing with an EMP is the fact we are uncertain of how drastic its effects will be. The strength of an EMP can be vary depending on a number of conditions, such as the distance from the core of the blast or the timing of solar flares in the earth’s rotation.
Don’t Plan to Improvise
Prepping requires more than just hoarding supplies. You need to have a solid plan. In the case of an EMP, the availability of power may be zero if you don’t have the right supplies.
Don’t wait until there is no power for tools. Figure out how to rig your house so that when an emergency hits, a vast majority of the work is done. The same should be done for every emergency including an EMP.
The primary danger of an EMP is its ability to overload fine circuitry and burn it out. In some cases, people have suggested that what we need to do is keep a backup central computer for our car in a Faraday cage.
I wouldn’t go running out and doing that until you have assessed the car you are driving. The central computer in a vehicle receives and coordinates information from a multitude of different sensors. All the sensors are electronic devices in their own right. All of these sensors are dispersed around the vehicle, and the network of communication between these is important. They do things such as regulate ignition and sense oxygen-fuel mixtures.
Yet other sensors will cause the car to run improperly or not at all if they are not present. So to say that all you need to do is to replace the central computer is misleading.
An alternative would be to have a vehicle that would date back before the electronic age. Keep in mind, though, that this age goes back a lot further than many realize. One of the first cars I drove was a 1978 Newport and under the hood Chrysler installed a 400-cubic-inch engine named the “400 Lean Burn.”
Yes, even back in ‘78 they were messing with electronics. My other cars from 1972 and 1974 were free of electronics but you would still have to worry about the starter motor and the battery. A powerful enough surge could fry the windings in a starter motor.
If you have a vehicle of some sort that runs on fuel but no electronics, it is best to keep a non-charged battery for it and keep the starter in it grounded. If you want to go all out, you might consider building a vehicle that was more than a go-cart but a bit less than a dune buggy.
When people think about preparing for an EMP, a lot of our attention is focused on saving our electronic devices. For the most part, there are some devices worth saving or at least some information worth storing electronically for the future. In the immediate situation, things that run on electricity will be of limited value.
Sure we can protect some items and use alternative ways such as solar panels and wind energy to charge them, but in the end the capacity to keep some items charged might exceed our need to use them.
Old school is another answer. For every item you have that runs on electricity, back it up with one that doesn’t if possible. Need transportation? Keep a bicycle. Tools are a common example. Need a cordless drill? Use a brace and bit or a New Yankee screwdriver. Need to cut something? Get a variety of saws. Any item that fills a need (and not a desire), back it up with one that doesn’t require electricity, but instead uses good old muscle power.
The Fabric Unweaves
Everything we do has been handed over to computers or, to some extent, has become dependent on electronics.
Most important of these things is food and water. In the case of an EMP, all routes of transportation will be closed down. Large-scale farming will cease to exist because the huge machinery used to run large farms will be inoperable. Water pump stations will stop operating.
To be prepared, we will need a stockpile of food and water. In the case of food, I would plan for enough food to last the duration of one winter. There is no telling when either a man-made or naturally occurring EMP will hit. If you live in a cold climate area with a limited growing season and the EMP occurs in the fall, there will be no planting of gardens until April. Unlike other disasters, it might take us longer to recover from an EMP.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Preparing for an EMP is not an easy thing because there doesn’t seem to be any definitive consensus on the extent of the effects.
Some people feel it will knock us back to the stone age, and some people from the power companies I have talked to have estimated it would be only weeks until we can get back up and running.
Some predict society will collapse and others, like me, hope that people will maintain order and work to overcome the disaster together. No matter how you see it turning out, it could not hurt to be prepared for the worse-case scenario.
A Faraday cage is a device to protect electronics from an EMP. A Faraday cage can be built any number of ways.
Basically, you’re looking for a container to buy or build to surround your items with metal. To test the cage, you’ll also need a battery-operated radio.
You can start with a steel garbage can. First, inspect the can to make sure the lid fits tightly. The lid has to make full contact all the way around; there can be no gaps. You might need to do a little bending or you can build up the lip of the bottom by wrapping it in metal duct tape.
Keep wrapping it until you get a tight press-on fit. It is important to remember that once you place items in the Faraday cage, you won’t be using them: it will basically be like a time capsule. Once you have the lid tight, start lining the inside of the can with non-conductive material such as cardboard or foam. It is important to note that no matter what container you use, nothing can contact the outside that might conduct an EMP wave.
To avoid any problems, once the container is insulated and all the gaps have been blocked, you can go a step further and nest your items inside the cage by putting them in a second cage.
The last step is to ground the cage. Some say that you don’t need to ground a Faraday cage. But the more intense the pulse, the more the pulse will exploit any flaws in the cage. A friend of mine, who worked for more than 30 years in a nuclear power plant, told me they ran their cages to ground to be safe.
The easiest way to run a cage to ground is to connect a wire from the container to your copper water source pipes. If you are not on city water, then run a piece of copper into the ground and connect a wire between it and the container.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Doomsday 2016 print issue of American Survival Guide Magazine.