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Preppers must be ready to deal with a wide variety of survival situations — from relatively common natural disasters through to rare events like electromagnetic pulses generated by solar flares.

Part of that preparation process is understanding the nature of each emergency situation and what must be done to increase your chances of survival. 

This article will take explain the causes of EMPs and 12 actions to take in the event of an EMP.

What is an Electromagnetic Pulse?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy.  It can come from a variety of different sources that are natural or man-made.  Various forms of EMPs differ based upon:

Type of energy causing the pulse (electric, magnetic, radiated or conducted)

The shape of the EMP waveform

And frequencies present in the burst

The potential causes of an EMP are numerous and include:

Meteors — Electromagnetic energy can be discharged when a large meteor enters the atmosphere

Large Solar Flares — powerful geomagnetic solar storms with solar flares can cause large-scale EMPs.  The most recent one occurred in 1859.

Lightning Electromagnetic Pulse (LEMP) — Usually a very large pulse that decreases rapidly

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) — Two charged objects coming into close proximity. This may occur as a result of an industrial accident or through a lightning strike close to another charged object.  ESDs can occur whenever large amounts of static electricity are generated.  Usually generates a very short range EMP.

Man-made Devices — A variety of man-made devices can cause an EMP.  The fast switching action of electrical circuitry, gasoline ignition systems, electric motors and digital electronic circuitry can all cause an EMP.

Power Surges —A surge in electricity on a power line can cause a brief EMP that damages unprotected electrical equipment.

Non-nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (NNEMP) — weapons specifically designed to generate an EMP.

Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (NEMP) — The detonation of a nuclear weapon can create an EMP.  Additionally, when a nuclear weapon is discharged at high altitudes, it can produce an EMP with a greater amplitude.

NEMPs can be very damaging because they have multiple pulses.  They are categorized as E1, E2, and E3:

E1 is a very quick but intense EMP.  It can quickly induce very high voltages in electrical conductors that start fires.  This kind of EMP occurs too rapidly for most surge protectors to react to.

E2 is a slower EMP which lasts between one microsecond to one-second after the event.  It is easier to protect your devices against this form of EMP, however, because the E1 impact may have already damaged surge protectors, E2 can also be problematic.

E3 is a very slow pulse that lasts for seconds or minutes.  This kind of pulse can occur when a nuclear weapon impacts the Earth’s magnetic field or there is a geomagnetic storm caused by a severe solar flare.  It can increase currents in electrical devices.

The Consequences of an EMP Strike

Minor EMP events may cause electrical noise or interference to devices. Larger EMP events can cause high voltages and currents in electrical devices, causing them to malfunction or be destroyed.

Very large EMP events like a lightning strike, ESD or NEMP can generate a very large EMP that disrupts a wide geographical area. Electronic devices that have been affected by an EMP may also overheat and catch on fire. 

Surviving an EMP Strike

There are a number of locations that can be very dangerous after or during an EMP strike. 

The following locations should be avoided after a strike has occurred:

  • Anywhere near lots of electrical gear or industrial machinery can be dangerous because of the explosion or fire risk
  • Anywhere near a correctional facility can be dangerous because alarms and security measures may malfunction
  • Locations that looters may target
  • Subway systems, freeway tunnels can become dangerous because exhaust fans and lighting will malfunction after an EMP strike
  • Nuclear plants may be dangerous if the EMP causes a meltdown
  • Airports may be dangerous because aircraft that are coming into land may be affected by an EMP and crash
  • Industrial facilities like gas plants or chemical plants should be avoided because an EMP may trigger an industrial accident

Unless you are in an airplane, factory, power plant, elevator or motor vehicle, the EMP blast may not cause you any harm immediately.  The survival situation that is created is usually a result of the massive social upheaval that occurs after an EMP. 

Preppers should consider what would happen if a terrorist used an EMP strike on a large city like New York. 

  • Electrical devices would fail (including security systems),
  • ATMs would be shut down,
  • The food supply chain and gasoline supply chain would be interrupted
  • Most communication devices would stop working
  • Looting or rioting would soon ensue.
  • Lights would stop working
  • Electrical transformers could be blowing, potentially disabling the electricity grid for many months
  • Electronic ventilation would fail, so some buildings would become hazardous to enter
  • Electronic medical equipment would stop working
  • Planes may crash from the sky.  Without communications, electronic controls or a navigational system it becomes very hard for planes to land safely after an EMP.

In such a chaotic environment, your survival skills will be put the test very quickly.  Here are some tips for survivalists planning to survive an EMP.

1) Be Alert and Recognize What Has Happened

If you are at work and electrical devices malfunction, your colleagues may be puzzled or angry that their computer has stopped working. 

You must quickly assess if this was an EMP.  Check a number of available electrical devices including those not connected to the electrical grid.  If off-the-grid electronic devices like mobile phones no longer work — it is an EMP.

2) Take Advantage of Initial Confusion

As you leave your workplace or before you bunker down, spend all of your remaining cash.  Paper cash may not hold much value soon and shop owners may start charging very high prices for items.  Visit stores very early on — within the first 30 minutes of an EMP strike.  After 30 minutes, they may become more dangerous as people realize what has happened.

3) Gather Information to Determine the Nature of the EMP

One of the essential survival tools that a prepper should purchase is a hand crank or solar powered analog radio.  It can survive an EMP and helps you to gather information about the event.  Store one in your car, at your workplace and in your home so you can gather information about the event quickly. 

Is it a large-scale EMP that has affected the entire West Coast or a small local event.  That can help you decide which survival plan to enact.  You might be able to bug out to a part of the country that still has its electrical grid intact.
A solar flare may not disable your vehicle, but an NEMP probably will.  Determine how much damage the EMP has done.

4) Implement Your Survival Plan Quickly — Bug Out or Bunker Down

Smart preppers will already have a survival plan that they have spent months or years developing.  After you have gathered details about the EMP, decide which survival plan you will be enacting — bugging out or bunkering down. 

If it is a local event that has only affected your city, help may be on the way.  If the entire country has been affected by a large EMP, you can expect months of chaos.  Decide which approach is the best given the circumstances.

5) Think About Heating and Cooling

If you are bunkering down, your survival plan should include a few options for heating and cooling.  When an EMP has damaged the electrical grid and your electrical appliances, suddenly your options are greatly reduced!

 If you don’t have much fuel stockpiled and are in a cold environment, one of your first steps after an EMP should be to gather some fuel (gas, firewood and so on).

6) Make Use of Non-electrical Transport

Don’t even bother trying to get your modern car going if a large EMP strike has occurred — chances are it will be seriously damaged.  Use a mountain bike for getting around quickly.

7) Get More Water While You Can

Water is a crucial part of emergency preparedness because humans require so much of it to survive.  Even if you have a healthy stockpile, replenish your water stocks immediately. 

Fill your bathtubs and sinks if you are bunkering down.  Consider how an EMP may have impacted the quality of water into the future.  It may have knocked out municipal water filtration systems, greatly limiting the available water.

8) Gather More Fuel While You Can

If you are bugging out, get to the gas station fast!  Unless you live in a rural area, you have approximately an hour before cars begin lining up to the gas station and people begin panicking.

9) Think About Medical Supplies

If you use prescription medicine, think about how much you have left.  It might be worthwhile to visit a pharmacy before you bunker down or bug out. 

Pharmacies will be one of the more dangerous locations to visit later on, so this needs to be done within an hour of an EMP event.

10) Eat Your Perishable Food

The electrical grid may be down for a long period and your refrigerator’s engine may have been destroyed by the EMP.  Eat and cook any food that won’t last long without refrigeration. 

11) Ration Your Food Immediately

It is almost impossible to determine how long the food supply chain may be disrupted after an EMP strike.  It could be days or weeks or months. 

Take inventory of your food supplies immediately.  Ration your food based on a worst case scenario, just giving yourself enough to meet your nutritional requirements.

12) Prepare Your Defenses

If the EMP has been a major event that has caused social upheaval, prepare your home for the inevitable scavengers that will come around looking for food.  Prepare your home’s defenses and make sure your weapons are ready for self-defense.

One step that you should take before an EMP strike hits are building or buying a Faraday  Cage.  This is a device that protects electronic equipment from most EMPs.  You should store any valuable electronic items in the cage when you are not using them, including your ham radio, two-way radios, solar battery charger, inverters, laptop and emergency radios.

The key to prepping for an EMP strike is to act quickly and understand what is going on before anyone else does!  Get any additional supplies you need and enact your survival plan.

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