What is an EMP and Should I Be Worried?

If you have been a prepper for any length of time, you probably already know about the threat of an EMP. If you are a fan of survival fiction, you already know about EMP’s. It’s that nuke detonated above the surface of the Earth’s surface that takes out the electrical grid along with all of our electronics. This kind of disaster has been on the minds of many preppers for some time. But what is an EMP really capable of and what could be expected if we were hit by one?

What is an EMP?

EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse, in short, it’s a burst of electromagnetic radiation high above the Earth’s surface. An EMP can come from a nuclear detonation or a burst from our own sun. When I refer to an EMP in this article, I will be discussing the nuclear detonation.

The Science of an EMP

Emergency Essentials

Not to get too technical, let’s go over some of the scientific aspects of an EMP. There are three types of electromagnetic pulses that occur from an EMP blast, E1, E2, and E3.

E1 – High energy gamma rays colliding with air molecules at around 20 miles above the surface. Electrons rain down and get pulled into the Earth’s natural magnetic field. A brief and intense electromagnetic field that induces high voltages into electrical equipment and electronics. The effects are so fast, that the surge protector you think will save you will be too slow to respond.

E2 – High energy neutrons that get pushed into different directions and are scattered throughout the atmosphere. This is an intermediate timed pulse that can last from about 1 microsecond to 1 second after the initial blast. According to the United States EMP Commission, the issue with E2 fall out is that it immediately follows E1, damaging equipment that may have been spared in an E2.

E3 – This is the effect of the blast itself and affects the Earth’s magnetic field. An E3 pulse is much slower than the previous two and lasts many more seconds after the blast. An E3 is caused by the nuclear detonation’s temporary distortion of the Earth’s magnetic field. The E3 component has similarities to a geomagnetic storm caused by a solar flare. I will discuss solar flares in another article.

Where Will and EMP Hit?

What is an EMP?
What is an EMP?

Aside from the usual fears of a nuclear blast such as blinding flash of light, a powerful blast wave, and radioactive fallout, there is the effect it will have on our electrical system. An EMP detonated at the right altitude could severely or permanently damage our electrical infrastructure.

The elevation is the key to the effectiveness of an EMP. At a higher elevation, gamma rays can easily be dispersed, contacting upper-atmosphere air molecules over a larger area at one time. The lower concentration of air permits electrons to move more freely and maximize the intensity of an EMP. Although, there’s disagreement over how effective such a tactic would be, it is a real threat and needs to be addressed.

The Effects of an EMP on the Electrical Grid and Electronics

What is an EMP
What is an EMP?

We are dependent on the electrical system for many gadgets that make life easier and even save lives. Things that we take for granted will no longer work and many systems will completely shut down. Here are just a few things that will be immediately affected if an EMP were to hit.

  • Those in the hospitals who are dependent on modern day electronics would be affected immediately. This also includes those that have pacemakers.
  • Emergency vehicles would be rendered useless because most modern-day automobiles are depended on electronics.
  • Your vehicles may be knocked out of commission. Unless you own an American made Pre-1980 trucks, SUVs, or commercial vehicles, your vehicle also relies heavily on electronics that may not survive an EMP.
  • Your home computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones will most likely be fried in an EMP attack. Backup communications stored in a Faraday cage is highly recommended.
  • Passengers on airplanes at the time will be in extreme danger. Modern airplanes are controlled mostly by electronics.
  • Places you may be trapped: elevator, subway, amusement park ride, lockdown in prison or high-security facility or far away from home. If you want an example of how things would be if you were stranded away from home, read the Going Home series of books by A. American.
  • Your early warning systems at home may fail such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

What can I do to Prepare for an EMP?

What Should I do if I Suspect and EMP has Hit?

  • Tune into an emergency radio for information on the current situation (hopefully you have your backup communications in a Faraday cage)
  • Implement your family security plan
  • Keep your thoughts to yourself and don’t cause panic
  • Read some great EMP fiction stories: Going Home, One Second After
  • Prepare now and put sensitive electronics and backups in a Faraday cage. I will develop a guide on building a Faraday cage in a later article.

Mass Power Outages and EMP’s are on the Governments Radar

Recently, in a report by The National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) and published by the Department of Homeland Security, a study was released on catastrophic power outages and how ill prepared we are for such a wide spread disaster.

The report lists three major recommendations on how to protect our infrastructure:

  1. First, we must build stronger alliances that can rapidly attribute and then deliver a credible response to deter an aggressor from attempting such an attack.
  2. We must motivate state regulators and power companies to secure our electrical grid now, in order to mitigate the severity and duration of the effects of an electromagnetic pulse.
  3. Finally, we need to encourage civil-military relationships that can quickly recover the critical components of our infrastructure.

Even though the powers that be are discussing ways to prevent this disaster, don’t trust them to keep you safe. Additionally, don’t rely on them to come to your rescue in the event things go south fast.

You can read the report here: Catastrophic Power Outage Study.

Although an EMP may be difficult for an attacking nation to pull off and would most certainly be a death sentence for that nation, it is still a credible threat. An electromagnetic pulse is highly unpredictable and much of what it can do is still debated. That being said, it’s worth adding to your list of things to prepare for in the future.