It is a warm summer day. The air conditioner is running and the television is providing background noise as you surf the web on your smartphone. Then, in an instant, everything stops. It grows eerily quiet as every electrical device in your home sits unresponsive. The idea of it just being a power outage is eliminated because your phone is as dead as the television. You walk outside to see if anyone else is experiencing the event as well, only to be greeted by all of your neighbors wondering the same thing. Then you see the unbelievable as aircraft begin falling out of the sky. Fires rise in the distance and you realize it is not a simple power outage. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) has been unleashed.

An EMP is a natural or manmade event where a powerful radio pulse is blanketed across a large area. The detonation of a nuclear weapon can generate such a pulse. These events can be a rarely occurring natural phenomenon as well. In 1859, such an event took place. A coronal mass ejection from the sun generated a natural EMP with catastrophic consequences. A geomagnetic superstorm called the Carrington event caused worldwide damage and fires in telegraph stations and other primitive electronics. Such an event today would be devastating.

Under Attack

Equally disturbing is the development of EMP weapons by nefarious countries with a desire to damage or even eliminate the United States. While this seems to be the plot line of a poorly written spy novel, it is painfully true. In May of 2015, a group of over 30 former high-level military, intelligence and national security policy makers and scientists requested that President Obama initiate an effort to harden critical civilian electrical grid infrastructure to withstand an EMP event. These would be the same protocols already used by the military to protect nuclear weapon sites around the country.

The letter was blunt and carried an urgent message. The United States as well as most of the Western world would see unthinkable devastation with the occurrence of an EMP event, called a “Black Swan” event in reference to an event that comes as a surprise and has a massive effect. In 2012, the National Intelligence Council, which represents the whole of the U.S. intelligence community, published a report saying that “an EMP is one of only eight Black Swan events that could change the course of global civilization by or before 2030.”

To answer the question of just what an EMP event would be like, we need only to review the findings of the U.S. EMP Commission in 2008. It estimated that “within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90 percent of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown.” This is based purely on our utter reliance on electricity and, more specifically, an electrical grid that has grown with the times but has not been hardened against attack.

These numbers seem unbelievable, but they are the unfortunate reality. We must take into mind several major factors. There would be no electricity for medical facilities, no power for water-purification systems and no electricity for heat during the winter. Some would quickly consider building fires or finding other ways to stay warm. This would work for some, but in a country of over 300 million people, the winters alone would kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Protect & Prevent

The question is, what can we do to prepare? As with any potential catastrophic event, preparation is important. Due to the scope of an EMP event, we can only focus on our immediate safety and survival. One of the dangers in an EMP event is electrical surges. During the Carrington event, several telegraph operators suffered electrocution and many fires erupted because of the pulse.

The use of surge protectors is a good way to help prevent these same dangers. While it would be hopeful that these would also protect your electronics, it is unlikely to be the case. The pulse would overload processors and circuits.

Immediately following an EMP event, there are several things you can do. First is to fill your bathtub with water. Purification systems will be down and clean water will be harder to find. In the same vein, plan on using any ice cubes as a source of water. Just like any other long-term prepping situation, you should plan on being without water for a very long time. Your refrigerator will obviously no longer be able to cool or freeze food. Open the door sparingly and consume any fresh food first. As time goes along, you should consume anything that thaws.

Make plans ahead of time regarding alternative power sources. A well-made generator can mean the difference between life and death. While many people in the prepping world look to solar or even wind power, an EMP event can destroy even these hopeful sources. The presence of microchips and diodes make them unlikely to survive an EMP. This along with a loadout similar to any serious disaster preparedness kit will serve you well.

Finally, you should consider your location. The lack of electricity will become much more than just an inconvenience if you are in an area near a nuclear power plant. These types of power plants not only generate electricity, but also rely on them to maintain the cooling pools and general safety functions.

While it would be irresponsible to project just what would occur, it stands to reason that the further away you are, the safer you will be. It is this final thought that brings home the dangers of an EMP. A brief flash in the sky or solar flare has the capacity to throw our world into a technological stone age. The best we can do is prepare. 

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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