An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a unique kind of disaster to prepare for, and it can be frightening. Unlike other disasters, an EMP is one of the few where most people have little to physically fear from the blast. The problems come from the lack of electricity and your neighbors, not environmental threats.
EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse, which is a strong burst of electromagnetic energy that overloads the fragile components within an electrical system, causing them to stop functioning suddenly. There are four potential sources of EMP: lightning, the sun, a nuclear blast, a weaponized EMP, and a geomagnetic storm. The likely threat of an EMP would be from a high-altitude nuclear blast.
This type of disaster is used as fodder for apocalyptic novels like One Second After and doomsday TV shows like NBC’s Revolution, making it a fixture in pop culture. In case the threat moves from fiction to reality, here’s an EMP survival guide to help you get prepared.
What to Do Immediately After an EMP Attack
When you’re hit with an EMP attack, here are the things you first need to do:
Verify what happened.
Turn on your radio and get as much information as possible. Most electronic devices will stop working as soon as the EMP goes off, but depending on the type of EMP, there’s a good chance that radios will still work, at least for a short while. Computers, phones, and electrical grids will likely go out, but electronics that rely on radio signals won’t be affected.
Tune in to any news source with a decent signal and pay attention while you take the next steps.
Shelter in place.
The immediate loss of electricity and the stoppage of all electronics will cause a lot of sudden chaos. If you’re not at home, wait for the initial chaos to subside. Go home if you’re within a few miles away, and if you’re already home, stay and don’t go outside.
If the news mentions a nuclear blast, stay where you are and get as low as possible in your building. Go to the lowest level of your home, basement, or underground room. The air is thinner the higher you are up, and nuclear gamma rays will affect you more easily if you are up high.
If you have a family, your first thought is to find them and make sure they are safe. If your family has no emergency plan, nobody will fault you if you get your kids from school or your partner from their workplace.
When EMP strikes, electronic-powered vehicles will suddenly stop in their tracks, while other vehicles will likely continue running. This may cause gridlock, traffic congestion, and potential car crashes. If you live in a city or a moderately-sized town, walking will likely be faster even if your car works.
If your car is older or if it doesn’t rely on electrical signals outside the battery, it may still work. Drive it if you absolutely have to, but staying off the roads is safer, as other vehicles may just block your way. If you aren’t home or if you’re going to retrieve family members when the EMP happened, stay out of your vehicle if you have less than three to four miles to travel. If there was a nuclear blast, cover your nose and mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing in toxic particles.
Harvest as much water as you can.
Many municipal water systems rely on electronics. While water may flow from your faucets now, it may go out within a few hours as the pressure empties out. You can put a stopper in your tub and fill it with water to create a reserve and fill your bottles, buckets, and pitchers.
Eat foods from the fridge first.
For the first 1-2 days, prioritize eating food from your fridge to minimize food shortages. Save the dry stuff for later. It’s best to go through everything that’s going to go bad and consume it before it gets wasted.
Pack frozen goods in a cooler with ice.
For frozen foods you can’t consume right away, dump them in a cooler and pour in the ice from your ice trays or ice maker. If it’s cooler outdoors, set it outside.
What to Prepare to Survive an EMP
Preparing for a disaster beforehand is a surefire way to survive an EMP. Here are some essential things to prepare so you can be as comfortable as possible should the situation arise:
During an EMP, most cellular services will be knocked out. Most of us rely on our smartphones, but they may be useless for this kind of event. Some high-level government towers may still work, but their regions are localized, and their service is often restricted.
Still, other forms of communication may remain viable, like walkie-talkies and battery-operated two-way radios. A good prepper must have these items on hand in case of an emergency. Anything that plugs into a socket won’t work, so you must use a battery-operated device.
An EMP attack won’t affect food, but your fridge and freezer will. So make sure you are always stocked up with foods that don’t require refrigeration and freezing, like flour, beans, rice, canned meat and vegetables, and energy bars.
However, these kinds of foods will only last long. Either by time or by consumption, there will come a day when you’d be out of food. In case of a total electrical grid collapse, society will take years to recover. So, maintaining a steady food supply within your household would be helpful. Growing vegetables, crops, and livestock might just keep you alive during a multi-year blackout. You will need the seeds, the tools, and the livestock – as well as knowledge about gardening and livestock breeding – but a little experience and some good books will help you be on the right path.
Water itself is impervious to EMP, but running water is not. As mentioned earlier, the key to survival is to stockpile as much water as you can, especially if you live in an urban area without access to nearby water bodies.
Water filtration will become paramount to your survival as clean water runs out. With electricity down, clean drinking water won’t be pumped to the comfort of your homes. Having a water purification system at your home will keep your family hydrated even if your water source is contaminated.
To ensure you will have power in your home, if an EMP hits, switch to solar power. You may want solar panels installed on the roof and your entire house rewired. If you can’t switch, you can get a gas-operated generator. However, remember that having electricity in a world without any would make you a target. It’s best to keep things like these to yourself and keep some backup electronics in a shielded container.
It pays to have non-electric household appliances and devices that can help you survive a disaster like an EMP. Check out camping catalogs – you can start with those. These are some things you may want to have:
- Solar oven
- Portable gas stove
- Wood cook stove
- Manual can opener
- Grain and meat grinders
- Crank coffee grinder
- Wind-up flashlight
- Hand-powered water pump
When the grid goes down, you can’t do online banking, and your debit cards will be useless. This is why you will need cash to buy some goods. The best way to cooperate in survival mode is to ensure you can still trade, so try to have enough bills. Try to have at least $1,000 divided between $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1 bills.
Medications are also impervious to EMP attacks but will be in short supply once a major collapse hits. It’s wise to stockpile basic medicine and medical supplies like clean dressings and antiseptics before disaster strikes.
Repairing and reinforcing your home can be challenging to do during a disaster if all your tools need electricity. Keep some hand tools in your tool chest. Think of hand saws, hammers, knives, axes, nails, screwdrivers, wrenches, screws, planes, braces, block sanders, etc.
Blankets and warm clothes
Most people rely on electricity for heat. Since you have to save power, whatever your alternative power source is, you must invest in heavy blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter clothing. You need to be prepared when EMP strikes in winter, and you can’t get the usual warmth you are accustomed to.
You must know how to defend yourself. You may want to have a pistol or a rifle, but a shotgun and plenty of ammo to accompany it are the most versatile means of self-defense in a grid-down scenario. It can be used both against home intruders and for hunting games. However, don’t get hasty with using it whenever someone approaches your door.
Plus, you don’t have to have a gun. A baseball bat, pepper spray, or knife can serve this purpose during an emergency. Only use a gun if you’re actively being attacked and your life is in danger. Make it your last resort.