The Sensible Guide to EMP Protection and Preparation

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disaster could undoubtedly be one of the worst disasters to strike.  However, when it comes to EMP protection, a lot of the information out there is overly sensationalized.

While I believe that prepping for an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack should be taken seriously, I also believe that it can be done in a non-panicky way.

This guide aims to move beyond the fear-mongering and give you practical and scientifically-backed information you can use to prepare.

What Is An electromagnetic pulse?

EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse.  There are actually several types of pulses, and they are very difficult to understand (there is a lot of physics involved).

In layman’s terms, it can be simplified as a huge amount of electromagnetic energy being released at once.

It is important that you understand that there are three types of EMP: Nuclear, Solar, and weapons.

If you are scientifically-minded and want to learn more details about electromagnetic pulse, there are some resources below. Warning: None of these are light reading!

 

1. Nuclear

nuclear test blast

If a nuclear bomb were to hit the earth, we’d have a nuclear fallout disaster.  However, if the bomb were detonated 15+ miles above the earth’s surface, it could cause a very different disaster.

The bomb would cause photons of electromagnetic energy to knock electrons loose from atoms.

The electrons would come racing towards the earth and interact with the earth’s magnetic field, causing a surge of electrical current. This current would result in an EMP.

The Federation of American Scientists describes what would happen during a nuclear EMP blast:

A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. These electrons are then trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. This current is asymmetric in general and gives rise to a rapidly rising radiated electromagnetic field called an electromagnetic pulse. Because the electrons are trapped essentially simultaneously, a very large electromagnetic source radiates coherently.

The electromagnetic pulse created from the blast could overload the electrical grid.  Not only could the grid be wiped out, the pulse could also overload electrical appliances.(1)

The good news is that a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack is highly unlikely.

Not only is it difficult to build a nuclear bomb, but the bomb would have to be detonated high in the air. That means special equipment would be needed to launch the bomb, and there would (in theory) be time to intercept the bomb.(2)

 

2. Solar Flare

solar flare Even though nuclear EMP gets the most attention, EMP from solar flare is probably more likely.

As How Stuff Works aptly describes, the sun is a huge, hot object with an amazing amount of mass. The sun is so hot that its atoms can’t hold onto its electrons. The gas flows around the sun, carrying these electrons with it. This electrical current can create a magnetic field.

Because hot objects expand, this means that the sun’s magnetic field goes outwards. But the sun is also dense and has a strong gravitational pull, so it usually pulls back the magnetic field. Hot gases get trapped beneath the magnetic field.

Think of it like a rubber ball which is being stretched in various directions.  The outside of the ball is the sun’s magnetic field.  Inside are gases which cause it to shift shape.

Every once in a while, the gases break through the magnetic field in a giant explosion.

We call these explosions a solar flare.

 

Solar Flare vs. Coronal Mass Ejection

A solar flare causes huge amounts of energy to race towards the earth.  This energy can temporarily disrupt communication signals and cause blackouts.  However, a solar flare isn’t going to take down the grid or fry electronic devices.

By contrast, a solar event called a coronal mass ejection (CME) could be devastating.  A CME occurs when there is such a shift in the sun’s magnetic field that an explosion of high-energy particles is sent towards the earth.

The primary difference between a solar flare and CME is the scale at which they occur. Sometimes CMEs are called “mega solar flares.”

As NASA writes,

A CME can jostle Earth’s magnetic fields creating currents that drive particles down toward Earth’s poles…The magnetic changes can affect a variety of human technologies. High frequency radio waves can be degraded: Radios transmit static, and GPS coordinates stray by a few yards. The magnetic oscillations can also create electrical currents in utility grids on Earth that can overload electrical systems when power companies are not prepared.

EMP from a CME is a low-frequency event. Unlike EMP from a nuclear blast (which is high-frequency), a CME won’t fry your electronics.  So, your laptops, cell phones, and other gear should be okay – especially if they weren’t plugged in or turned on during the event.  However, since the grid wouldn’t be working, many of these items would be completely useless.

Damage to the grid from a CME could be huge. As Eric Holdeman and Robert Hanson write at GovTech,

A large CME [which emanates from the sun] is a low-frequency event. To have an impact on anything, it requires a long ‘antenna.’ Our power lines are the perfect antenna for receiving the energy. The big issue is that this can destroy the large transformers. There are no spares of these, and it takes years to get a new one built.

Solar flares and CMEs actually occur quite frequently (more on this later), so preparing for this type of EMP makes more sense than a nuclear EMP blast.

 

3. EMP Weapons (Non-Nuclear)

This is the final type of EMP.  These weapons are not designed to physically harm people.  Rather, they are designed to emit electromagnetic pulses to take out power systems or electrical devices.

These weapons aren’t just science fiction.  The US government has already confirmed it has the CHAMP weapon.

For example, the military could use an EMP weapon to take out the power and communications of a specific target before raiding it.

And a Canadian company announced back in 2010 that it had an EMP cannon which could stop cars – potentially useful in stopping suspects in high-speed car chases. (3)

However, despite many sensationalist headlines, these weapons are still a long way from being useful – particularly since they have to be flown so close over the target to work.

This hasn’t stopped many people from worrying about whether nations like North Korea, Russia, and Iran could harness the power of EMP to destroy our infrastructure.  It might be a ways off, but the future of warfare will likely include EMP. (4)

 

Why Is EMP a Concern?

During an EMP event, a huge amount of energy is released at once.  It goes through the earth and everything on and around it.

This energy will not directly harm us.  However, the large surge of energy could fry electronics and take down the energy grid.  All of these things could completely stop working:

  • The electrical grid
  • GPS systems
  • Cell phones
  • Landline telephones
  • The internet
  • Cars and vehicles
  • Radios
  • Flashlights
  • Pretty much any electrical device

Center for Security Policy reports that SCADA4 control systems are most vulnerable to pulses.  These run almost all modern installations, including:

  • Oil refineries
  • Pipelines
  • Telephone networks
  • Air traffic control systems
  • National and local power stations
  • City water supply networks

Additionally, EMP could damage the hardware which controls these systems – including generators which could take years to replace.

It is worth noting that pretty much all disaster-relief services rely on these systems.  For example, it would be nearly impossible for the National Guard to step in and provide support if bases couldn’t communicate with each other.  Our reliance on the electric grid is why so many preppers are terrified of an EMP event occurring.

 

Is It Hype or Legitimate Concern?

When you read about how the entire grid could be taken out from EMP, it is hard not to get scared.

For example:

  • Peter Vincent Pry of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security believes that an EMP attack could disable the power grid for up to a year, take out 90% of the US population, and lights would be out for anywhere from 18 months to 10 years.
  • In 2004 a congressional commission reported that a single EMP unleashed high above Omaha, Nebraska, would cripple half the nation’s economy.
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared an EMP attack “one of the three great threats to our survival,” and a knockout of as few as nine “nodal points” on the US grid could result in “catastrophic” blackouts from which “conceivably you couldn’t recover for years.”(5, 6, 7, 8)

We’ve also seen the potential effects of an EMP attack in popular culture.  It was the theme of the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye. Lex Luther uses EMP in the 2006 film Superman Returns.  And the 2011 novel One Second After shows an apocalyptic view of America after a strike.

Recommended Reading:

 

But, if EMP is so disastrous, how come nothing is being done about it?

Part of the problem with EMP preparation is that there is little information about what would really happen.  Any large-scale test of the effects of EMP could potentially take down the grid, so experts can only theorize.

Further, we also need to take into account that sensationalist accounts are more likely to make the headlines.

For example, a report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) didn’t nearly get as much attention. It found that “an EMP weapon would have a marginal effect on bulk power transformers.” (9)

Wired article featured many experts who contradict the doomsday scenarios of EMP.  Philip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation says, “I don’t know how the proponents of EMP get such huge results…There just isn’t a scientific basis to get these huge results, these huge numbers.”

Sharon Burke, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, says, “There’s no actual proof that this would happen.”

And Frank Cilluffo, director of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, explains why EMP gets so much attention even though the real risks are unknown:

The threat is perhaps best characterized as low ​probability but ​potentially ​very high consequence​. For this reason, the prudent course is to prepare in advance.”

Actual Incidences of EMP

What we do know about the effects of EMP mostly comes from past events.  You’ll hear these events mentioned in many of the sensationalist headlines about EMP.

Often, these past events are exaggerated and put into apocalyptic terms.  This doesn’t mean that any current EMP event wouldn’t be catastrophic – but I want to repeat that we don’t know what the real effects of EMP would be since there haven’t been any tests.

 

Starfish Prime Nuclear Tests

Starfish Prime test

In the 1950s and 1960s, the US government began to test nuclear bombs.  They weren’t even aware that EMP was a threat until these tests.

During the Starfish Prime tests in 1962, the US launched a 1.4 megaton nuclear missile about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Infamously, those tests knocked out power in Hawaii – even though it was 900 miles away!

Note that those sensationalist headlines would have you believe that all of Hawaii was in complete blackness.  In reality, the bomb “knocked out a few streetlights.”

Less than 1% of the streetlights on Oahu went out, and this could be due to the low-quality electrical work on the island.

The Soviets also launched their own EMP nuclear tests in the 1960s (see here for details). In the aftermath, there were consequences including a massive fire in an electrical plant, telephone lines were knocked out, and over 600 miles of underground power lines were shut down. There are also reports that the EMP destroyed the cars by knocking out their internal operating systems – even though they didn’t have any electrical components.

On the flip side though, it has been argued that these tests are poorly documented and are very hyped-up.  David Hathaway in his book EMP Hoak writes,

The total number of worldwide nuclear detonations is 2,476. No mass EMP damage has ever occurred from any of them. Yet, we are still required to tremble at the thought of a nuclear EMP.

(1011, 12, 13)

The Carrington Solar Storm

On September 1st of 1859, astronomer Richard Carrington was observing sun spots with his telescope.  He watched as blinding white light appeared over the sunspots.

Sunspots of September 1, 1859, as sketched by Richard Carrington
Sunspots as sketched by Richard Carrington

The light was a huge coronal mass ejection which sped towards the earth.  The next morning, NASA reports that, “Skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight.”

In telegraph centers, the systems went haywire.  Sparks flew and papers caught on fire.  The telegraph machines were so alive with current from the flare that they continued to transmit messages – even after being disconnected.

The Carrington solar storm took out telecommunications systems around the world.  Luckily for people then, the only telecommunications system in place was the telegraph so it didn’t disrupt most people’s lives.

That wouldn’t be the case if a Carrington-sized event were to occur today. Francis O’Sullivan, director of research for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, told CNET,

An event of that scale could be catastrophic if it happened tomorrow. It’s not just the lights going off now. It’s bank accounts disappearing… If you think what would happen if the stock exchange was taken offline for a week or month or if communications were down for a week or a month, you very quickly get to a point where this might be one of the most important threats the nation faces, bar none.

O’Sullivan isn’t alone in his fear. Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, told National Geographic that the big fear is what would happen to the electrical grid.

Power surges from solar flares can blow out the transformers, which take a very long time to replace. Baker warns, “Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year.” (14, 15, 16)

 

Other Solar Events:

No recorded solar event is as large as the Carrington event.  However, there have been numerous solar flares which caused damage to power and telecommunication systems.  These are just some of the notable ones:

  • 1921: An intense solar flare caused blackouts, blown fuses, damaged equipment, and stopped telegraph services. Most electric lights were not affected by the flare though. (17)
  • 1989 Quebec: The entire province of Quebec in Canada lost power when a solar flare overloaded the utility grid. The entire region – of 6 million people — was without power for 9 hours.  The surge also caused more than 200 power grid disruptions in the US.  (18, 19)
  • 2003, Bastille Day Storm: This eruption was given the highest class of a solar flare (X-class). It didn’t cause any reported damage down on earth, but did damage some of the satellite equipment that was monitoring it. (20)
  • 2003 Halloween Solar Storm: The storm caused aircrafts to reroute, disrupted satellite systems and communications, and caused a power outage in Sweden for approximately 1 hour. (21)
  • 2005: X-rays from a solar flare disrupted satellite communications and GPS systems for about 10 minutes. (22)
aurora from CME
Aurora during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on 24 May 2010

EMP Options and Products

Considering that a major EMP event could wipe out the grid and fry all electronic devices, it makes sense that you’d want to take steps towards EMP protection for your electronics.

 

It’s Mostly Out of Your Hands

Unfortunately, even if you shield all of your own devices (laptops, radios, phones, etc.), most of those devices rely on local or national systems.  Without those systems functioning, your devices would be useless.

As Popular Mechanics reports, some utilities are taking steps towards EMP protection – such as by shielding control rooms, power cables, and transformers.

These steps are not required by utilities though.  As GE reports, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has no mandatory standards in place.  Further, mandatory standards aren’t going to be set unless they would “mitigate the EMP threat effectively and at a justifiable cost.”

Since Homeland Security didn’t include Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks as one of its “planning scenarios,” it’s unlikely that any standards will be initiated soon.

 

What About My Devices?

Since many devices rely on a local or national network to be useful, it might not make sense to protect them against EMP.  However, there are some devices which might warrant closer attention.

  • Emergency Radios: A massive EMP could take down radio communications. However, it might only effect local systems.  Shielding your emergency radio from EMP means you could still access national networks.
  • Generators: Since generators are meant to be used as an emergency power backup, you’d want to shield them from EMP.
  • Your vehicle: If your vehicle is part of your bug-out plan, then it should be protected against EMP. (more on this later)
  • Off-grid systems (such as solar panels): A great thing about solar power is that it gives you independence from the electric grid. To keep it functional after an EMP event, you would need to safeguard all of the circuitry that connects to the panels and possibly the panels themselves (more on this later).

 

Faraday Cages

Faraday cage and Tesla coil experiment
A Faraday cage protects these people in an experiment with a Tesla coil

A Faraday cage is a sealed enclosure which has an outer layer made from a conductive material and an inner layer made from a non-conductive material.

It provides sheilding in two ways:

  1. The conductive outer layer reflects incoming pulses
  2. The conductive outer layer absorbs incoming pulses

Because one layer reflects and the other layer absorbs, this results in something known as “field cancellation.”

In layman’s terms, the pulse travels all around the conductive outer layer of the Faraday cage. It meets with other pulses and they cancel each other out.  You can learn more about how Faraday cages work by clicking the link.

Buying a Faraday Cage

Because EMP is such a big concern with preppers, there are now lots of Faraday cages that you can buy.  The large ones are usually sold as kits that you need to build yourself.

For example, you can buy this EMP-shielding nickle-coated fabric to create a Faraday cage.   You could even use it on big spaces – such as by lining your entire garage with two layers of the fabric.

 

Building Your Own Faraday Cage

There is a lot of misinformation on the web which states that you can just put devices in a microwave, refrigerator, or even a stove.

It’s not that easy.  The seal needs to be very tight to provide adequate shielding.

For example, a police department tried to prevent people from remotely wiping confiscated phones by placing them inside a microwave oven.  They found that only commercial-grade microwave ovens worked. (23)

However, it doesn’t take that much to transform a metal filing cabinet, garbage can, or cocktail shaker into a DIY Faraday cage.

You’ll need equipment like aluminum duct tape and aluminum insulation. In theory, you can use aluminum foil to create a DIY Faraday cage – but it tears easily and is hard to layer properly, so you are better off with duct tape or insulation.

Buy Online

Here are some videos if you are interested in building a DIY faraday cage.

EMP Bags

If you don’t want to bother building your own Faraday cage, there are plenty of EMP-proof bags you can buy.

You may even have seen videos of people testing their phones in an EMP bag, like the video below which features bags from Tech Protect.

Most preppers test their bags with this method:

  1. Put something like a phone inside the bag.
  2. Seal it.
  3. Call the phone to see if the signal goes through.

On a basic level, this seems like a good test.  However, it doesn’t actually test how well the bag would hold up against EMP.

Why?  Because the test doesn’t take into account the strength of the signal.  A standard Mylar bag which is often marketed as a Faraday bag might provide 40dB of protection – enough to block a phone’s signal but not enough to safeguard against an EMP event.

According to Interface Technology, 74dB of shielding is required for EMP compliance, but 6dB is generally added on as a safety margin.  This means that any EMP bag should have a shielding of 80dB or more.

So, the bag shown in the video (which provides 40dB of shielding) isn’t a great choices UNLESS you double-bag your devices inside.

Good EMP bags are going to be better constructed so they provide a higher dB of protection (and cost more than a few dollars!).

Here are some good options:

How to Protect Against EMP

Not everything will fit in a Faraday cage.  And it isn’t practical to store gear you use every day inside of a Faraday cage.   So, here I want to address how to protect key gear against EMP.

 

Cars

car engine

In the past, cars were built with good ol’ mechanical parts. Today, increasingly more of a car is run by electrical parts. Some newer cars even have more than 100 microprocessors in them!

According to one report from Embedded, cars have over 200 lbs of electronics in them and more than a mile of wiring!

By the way, that article was written in 2003, and cars have obviously picked up a lot more electronics since then.

Since so many parts of our vehicles rely on electronics, these are just some of the parts which could fail due to EMP:

  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Electronic fuel injection
  • Electronic ignition
  • Powertrain Control Module
  • Electronic locks
  • Air bags
  • Negative battery terminal ground to vehicle frame
  • GPS

 

Would It Really Disable Cars Though?

Various car manufacturers have performed tests about the effects of EMP on vehicles, but they aren’t about to publically publish the data – especially if it shows that their cars are vulnerable.

There was that video showing how an EMP cannon could disable a car– but I am skeptical of anything produced for entertainment.

Here are a few public studies about the effects of EMP on vehicles.

 

1. The 1962 Tests

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union and USA did tests which found that EMP could blow out the internal operating systems of vehicles – even when they didn’t have any electronic circuitry inside.

We don’t have any confirmation that the circuitry failed, and that it failed because of the EMP.

Still, the idea that a major EMP blast could destroy an old car without electronic circuitry is disconcerting.

Yes, it might be a good idea to have an old vehicle on hand in case of an EMP emergency, but you’ll also want some spare parts too.

2. EMP Commission Study

The biggest public study we have about the effects of EMP on cars is the one carried out by the EMP Commission and published in the Critical National Infrastructure Report.

The commission took 37 cars with vintages from 1986 to 2002. The vehicles were to pulses at increasing intensities. If any changes were observed, then the testing was immediately stopped. If no changes were observed, then the testing continued up to 50kV/m.

The results?

Three vehicles which were running stopped when exposed to pulses at 30kV/m or more. 25 vehicles had small malfunctions, such as blinking dashboard lights. 8 cars did not have any changes.

Based on these results, we could conclude that cars wouldn’t be affected by EMP when exposed to pulses below 25kV/m.

But, as Off The Grid News notes, there are a lot of problems with the study – like the fact that it was so underfunded that they were required to return the borrowed vehicles back in working condition! That kind of defeats the point of having a study about what damages would be caused by EMP.

Today’s vehicles also have a lot more circuitry in them than those of 2002, so they would be more vulnerable to damage.

Also, bear in mind that modern Nuclear EMP weapons can blast out up to 200kV/m (24) – which is far more than the amount used in the tests.

3. US Department of Defense Tests

In 2010, the DoD performed a test on the effects of EMP on vehicles. Their findings were more disconcerting.   At this point, it had been estimated that 30-80kV/m was needed to disable vehicles. But they found that a Toyota Prius dashboard went blank and the car was stopped at just 5kV/m.   This just shows how much more vulnerable modern vehicles are because of their small microchips. (25)

 

How to Protect Your Car

There is a lot of talk in prepper forums about bug-out vehicles and how you could protect your car or truck from an EMP blast. The truth is that we don’t know for sure (again, there are too many variables to consider and we’ve never experienced anything like this in modern times). We can only do our best at planning.

Every good disaster plan should include a backup! So make sure your disaster plan also includes a backup in case your vehicle is out of commission.

Here are some ways you could safeguard your car or truck:

  • Keep an old vehicle handy: Older cars have less electronic circuitry and are therefore less vulnerable to EMP. But, if the 1962 tests are to be believed, even cars without electronic circuitry could be fried by EMP – so be sure to learn basic mechanic skills and have spare parts on hand. You’ll want to have a spare generator, fuses, ignition coils, and other parts which are installed with wires.
  • Upgrade your garage: Metal garages could act like a giant Faraday cage. Just be sure you don’t have any electronic wiring in the garage or they will act like an antenna and amplify the blast.
  • Snap-On Ferrite Cores: These would protect your car electronics from small EMP blasts. They simple go over the wiring and act as a shield. For maximum protection, choose ferrite cores made from type 61 ferrite. (26)

 

Generators

generator

In the book One Second After, all the backup generators in hospitals are destroyed by an EMP blast – leaving critical systems nonoperational.

Would this really happen if EMP struck?

Most generators today have electronic, computerized parts for regulating functions like voltage and starting. These parts could be susceptible to EMP. However, as an engineer will tell you, the pulse that reaches these parts depends on the size of the antenna in the generator.

  • If the generator isn’t plugged in, then the only antenna is the plug wire. So, the generator will probably survive EMP.
  • If the generator is plugged in, then it will be more susceptible to EMP.

But no one can say for sure whether EMP will damage portable generators. Since most people use portable generators as backup power, it makes sense that you’d want to take the extra precaution of protecting the generator from EMP.

 

Small Portable Generators

Remember that generators are more susceptible if they are plugged in.  So, DON’T PLUG ANYTHING INTO YOUR PORTABLE GENERATOR UNTIL YOU NEED IT!

As an extra precaution, put the entire generator into a Faraday cage.  Go back to the section on building Faraday cages to figure out how to do this.

 

Whole-House Generators

These generators are harder to protect against EMP because they are connected to your electric system.  At the very least, you should protect against the surge which could occur from an electromagnetic pulse.  This involves installing a voltage transient surge suppressor (TVSS) at the transfer switch’s input.

To learn more about this, here are two good guides:

Unfortunately, most TVSS devices are not fast enough to protect generators against EMP (though apparently the ones by Transector and the SOLA unit STV100K-10S are.)

Additionally, you’ll want to put a TVSS on the output side (load side).

Since even this isn’t guaranteed to protect generators against a large EMP, you might want to protect the vulnerable components of the generator in a Faraday cage.

To protect your generator with a Faraday cage:

  • Identify the vulnerable components (you’ll probably need to call the manufacturer since each model is different)
  • Get spares
  • Put these spare parts into a Faraday cage
  • Learn how to replace those parts
  • Protect any tools that are needed to replace those parts (such as soldering guns)

Of course, you’ll have to have knowledge of electronics and wiring to protect your generator this way.  However, it’s good practice to know how to fix your own devices – especially when preparing for major disasters. (27, 28, 29)

 

Batteries

batteries

Will batteries survive EMP?  This is one of the most-argued about topics – particularly in regards to flashlights.

The general consensus is that batteries will survive because:

  • The batteries are not connected to the electric system and thus won’t be affected by the power surges of EMP
  • The metal casing of flashlights and other devices shields against EMP
  • If the switch is off, then there is virtually no wiring to transmit voltage to the battery and components

However, some argue that batteries could actually be susceptible because:

  • Coils in devices (such as devices with crank power) could act as conductors which transfer voltage spikes to the batteries, causing damage.
  • The metal casing of flashlights and devices don’t actually protect against EMP. There are too many areas which aren’t sealed off (such as around O-rings and the lens area).
  • The metal spring contact for the battery acts as a conductor.
  • Lithium-Ion rechargeables have a temperature regulating chip in them that could be affected by EMP.

These issues are probably more of a concern for the LEDs in flashlights than the actual batteries.  So, while the flashlight battery would probably still work, the LED could be burnt out – making the battery useless.

Again, we can’t be sure what would happen to batteries during EMP.  For extra protection, some people like to keep some spare batteries (as well as spare LEDs for their flashlights) in a Faraday cage or bag.

If you are going to take this step, I’d recommend that you put rechargeable batteries plus a solar charger (or crank charger) in the Faraday cage. (30, 31, 32, 33)

 

Solar Panels

solar panels

Solar panels themselves don’t contain many electronics.  So, it is unlikely that they will be damaged.

However, the solar panels are connected to electronics which would transmit a surge to the panels during EMP.  This surge could damage the solar panels.

Even if the solar panels remain functional, there is still the issue of the inverter, charge controller, wires, and other components – these would almost definitely be damaged.

Some people have come up with extensive systems of protecting solar panel systems from EMP damage, such as:

  • Putting vulnerable parts in the ground
  • Using powerful surge protectors
  • Shielding vulnerable parts in EMP-proof cages
  • Taking the system off-grid
  • Buying EMP-hardened solar parts, such as those made by Sol-Ark

Unfortunately, we don’t know how EMP will affect solar panels – so no one can say with 100% certainty that these methods will work.

The only “sure” way to keep your solar panels functional after EMP is to buy duplicate parts and store them in a Faraday cage.  Obviously, this is a pricey solution and you’ll have to know how to fix the solar system once it goes down. (34, 35)

NOTE: You wouldn’t want to be the only ones with lights in a dark world.  It would draw attention to yourself and attract the scared, hungry masses.  So, be sure to include this in your EMP plan – such as by making a way to completely black out your windows.

Because this is such a complex topic, it is best answered in video format. Below are some videos which shed more light on what would happen to solar panels during EMP and some  methods for safeguarding solar panels.

Solar panel susceptibility to EMP – answered by an engineer

DIY solar power system: Disadvantages of grid tied

What happens when solar panels are hit by EMP?

DIY solar power system with EMP protection

Sensible Steps to Take for EMP Preparation

Yes, there are some hardcore preppers who prepare for EMP by moving to a remote property and going completely off-grid.

This isn’t realistic for most people!

It is possible, however, to take some small steps that will greatly prepare you for EMP.  All of these EMP preparation steps are realistic and sensible.

There is no reason not to get started.  Many of these steps will help prepare you for other disasters as well.

 

1. Accept the Reality

You need to accept that EMP could wipe out our grid at any second.  But, don’t let the threat scare you.  Rather, you should let it propel you into action so you are prepared if it does occur.

 

2. Learn What Will Be Affected

I want to emphasize that we don’t know what will happen after an EMP event!

Despite how much time survivalists and preppers spend predicting the aftermath, no one can foretell the future.

Maybe it will just be a small EMP event and the utilities will be up within a few hours. Or maybe it will be such a catastrophic event that literally every electronic device on the planet will get fried.

As a survivalist, you should always hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  Assume that all electronic devices could be destroyed by EMP.  Protect critical devices in a Faraday cage.

 

3. Stockpile Supplies

Our entire food production and distribution system relies on the grid.  Likewise, our utilities – including water – rely on the grid.

To be prepared, everyone should have 30 day’s worth of supplies stockpiled.

Water should be your #1 priority, followed by food items. After that, you should stockpile first aid items and survival basics like candles and hygiene items.

To help you prepare, read:

 

4. Learn Off-Grid Survival Skills

Stockpiling supplies will only take you so far. These supplies will eventually run out. Or a group of looters could easily steal them from you.

Knowing survival skills will help you through an EMP disaster better than any stockpile will. For example, you’ll be really happy if you know which urban plants are ediblehow to grow your own food, and how to make a survival shelter in the wilderness.

You could read a whole bunch of blog posts and watch YouTube videos on survival skills. But many of these skills are best learned in person. Check out our survival directory to find a survival school near you.

 

5. Pack a Bug Out Bag

A Bug Out Bag (BOB) is a backpack which contains everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours after a disaster. If you need to flee, you just grab your BOB and go.

Here is complete 3-day Bug Out Bag checklist.

 

6. Create an Emergency Plan

If a disaster strikes (EMP or other), what will you do? This disaster plan should answer questions like:

  • Where will you go?
  • How will you get there?
  • What will you take with you?
  • How will you get in touch with loved ones?
  • How will you stay informed about the disaster situation?
  • If trapped in your home, how will you handle issues like food, water, and hygiene?

To get you started, read this comprehensive guide to disaster preparedness.

 

7. Get Your Community Involved

To increase your chances of surviving EMP (or any other major disaster), you need to have your community on board. Talk to your neighbors about disaster preparedness and come up with a community disaster response plan.

 

In Conclusion

When reading about the EMP threat, it is easy to get scared and panic.

I get it – EMP is scary.

But this doesn’t mean you need to live in fear. This won’t help anyone.

The best thing you can do is take steps to increase your EMP preparedness level every day while continuing to enjoy your life.

Diane Vukovic spent her childhood roaming the woods of upstate NY, making brush shelters, backpacking and orienteering.

Now she is the proud mother of two adventurous girls whom she takes wild camping and teaches survival skills and self-defense. Learn more about Diane here.

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