With every year that passes, technology become more ingrained in our lives. Essentially all modern cars on the road use an onboard computer operating system to function, the majority of our payments for goods and services are done digitally, and even the bulk of the information we have access to requires a computer or smart device to view. While overall technology like this improves our lives by most metrics, we have become inexorably tied to the technology we use. Our dependence on technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what happens when all of that technology, everything that weaves society together, disappears in a matter of minutes?
What is an EMP?
An Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP, is a brief surge of electromagnetic energy that can be either naturally occurring or man made. Naturally occurring EMPs come in the form of solar storms, intense geomagnetic events that are nearly unpredictable, but tend to be mild in their effects. Human made EMPs are far more likely to occur, and are a result of the detonation of a nuclear device high in the earth’s atmosphere.
While nuclear weapons on their own can wreak horrific damage through the initial blast, heat wave, and residual radiation, an EMP is a much more subtle event. The use of EMPs as a weapon is especially appealing to countries with fledgling nuclear programs like North Korea, as they require far less accuracy than a traditional nuclear strike and have the potential to wreak more widespread havoc. Due to the high altitudes involved in an EMP attack, they are also much harder to defend against than other similar threats.
Though it isn’t widely discussed publicly, the government of the United States is well aware of the dangers of an EMP. Nuclear testing conducted by the US during the Cold War showed officials the true scope and power of an EMP, which affected the power grid of Hawaii over 900 miles away from the site of the high-altitude detonation. Since then, the US has been struggling to find a feasible defense from an enhanced EMP with little progress.
What an EMP Does
The main effect of an EMP is that it fries all electronics within range. While that may not seem like too big of an issue for those who engage in a prepper lifestyle and can effectively survive off the grid, the consequences for the majority of Americans would be severe. It is important to remember that EMPs are merely an after-effect of the detonation of a powerful nuclear device, which on its own can cause massive destruction, but the effects of an EMP have the potential to kill 90 percent of the American population under certain conditions.
To put into perspective just how dangerous losing power nation-wide due to an EMP attack is, all you have to do is look at some statistics from the US military. In the event of an EMP attack, nearly 100 nuclear reactors would likely melt down without electricity to cool them; military bases would be cut off and unable to effectively communicate, making defense and counter-attacks unlikely; and computer circuit boards and GPS units would cease to function — all these effectively grinding modern civilization to a jarring halt. Loss of electrical power could potentially last months, shutting down our ability to process sewage, access fresh water, use cell phones or landlines to communicate, or even pilot modern motor vehicles.
An EMP detonation would cause widespread panic, especially in urban centers that rely heavily on technological infrastructure. The death toll could reach nearly 500,000 immediately as commercial airliners lose power and drop from the sky with no way to safely steer them. The most unsettling fact about an EMP however, is that it does not affect the human body. If an EMP attack occurs, most won’t likely know it has happened until they try to start their car or flip a light switch only to be met with darkness and silence.
How to Survive
Fortunately, with the right preparation, the likelihood of surviving an EMP attack is greatly increased. While attempting to survive in a city after an EMP detonation is a fool’s errand, those who have a contingency plan involving more rural areas have a higher chance of success. Though the grid will be down and communication devices will be limited, there are still options available to those with the grit and will to survive.
Your home’s furnace won’t survive an EMP, but if you’ve invested in a wood-burning stove or have access to a fireplace, you’ll still be able to keep your home warm come winter. As long as you keep them maintained and your access to combustible materials isn’t stymied, these non-electric options will last the duration of an EMP’s effects. Combine this with a nice camping blanket, and you’ll never have to worry about freezing to death when the temperatures drop below freezing.
There are other viable methods to prepare for an EMP attack that can be done well in advance of the actual event. A makeshift Faraday Cage can be constructed from old microwaves, metal filing cabinets, aluminum cans and cardboard, which can protect electronics like a small generator depending on the scale of the EMP. With access to refrigeration completely taken away, it is always a good idea to stock up on shelf-stable canned and dry goods. Though cellular, wifi, and other communication services will be offline, storing a two-way radio in your Faraday Cage will provide you with reliable communication, so long as you remember to stock up on batteries before things turn sour.
An EMP is certainly a terrifying event, and thought the world at large may not be prepared to deal with what some consider the inevitability of a wide-scale EMP attack, those who value survival above all else will be able to improve their chances greatly. It might seem like a lot to take on, but prepping for an EMP is like prepping for anything else, you just have to possess the drive and will to live, keep a cool head when things go south, and be prepared to make hard decisions quickly.
Ross Cowan is a freelance writer who lives in Idaho. He enjoys white-water rafting, long camping trips with his partner and dog, and is an avid hiker. Follow Ross on his Twitter @RossCowanWrites.