My 10-Step Guide to Preparing for an EMP

When it comes to mega disasters, if there is one guaranteed to make any prepper wince these days, it is the looming threat of an EMP, or electromagnetic pulse.

solar flares
solar flares

A really powerful EMP, be it caused by natural phenomena or man-made weapons, brings with it the possibility of plunging society back to the Stone Age by knocking out and destroying electrical grids and anything that relies on electronics to function.

The worst part is, we just don’t know how bad it’ll be, but experts you can trust say it will be anywhere from utterly devastating to apocalyptic. With so much of what we rely on these days, in day-to-day life and for survival, being electronic in some capacity, you’ve got to know how to prep for this threat.

It’s enough to make anyone anxious, but you don’t have to be afraid. I’ve got a 10-step EMP preparation guide for you below.

Before we delve into EMP-specific preparations, you need to get prepared on a fundamental level. I’m talking about the essentials: food, water, first aid kit, fuel, clothing, shelter materials, self-defense items, etc.

When it comes right down to it, no matter what sort of disaster you are facing you’ll still have to face the same fundamental threats to your survival. EMPs are no different in that they can expose you to the elements, compromise your food chain, cut you off from reliably safe water, and pose a physical threat from secondary effects.

You must ensure your access to food, water to drink, and shelter supplies so can warm enough that you don’t freeze. That’s why EMP preparation entails stockpiling all of that stuff for yourself and your family so you know you have it in the aftermath. And don’t worry: we’ve covered this topic from front to back here on Survival Sullivan.

If you aren’t ready with these survival basics, you aren’t ready for an EMP at all. Get ready, and only then start making the following EMP-specific preparations.

emp electronics to protect
A selection of small electronics to protect from an EMP (clockwise) Laptop loaded with reference materials, blood pressure monitor, red-dot optic, ham radios, thermometer, pulse-oxygen meter, Kardia mobile EKG monitor, cell phones loaded with offline apps and reference materials, glucometer.

The next thing you need to do to get ready for an EMP is to assess your specific weaknesses to the event. Meaning, if all electrical service and all electronics were suddenly, instantly, knocked out in the blink of an eye, how would that affect you in your day-to-day life?

  • Are you a commuter?
  • If your car suddenly lost power along with all the other cars around it, how would you handle that?
  • How would you get home?
  • How much food do you have stored for the long haul that isn’t refrigerated or frozen?
  • How far away are your family, friends, and other loved ones?
  • If you couldn’t call them on the phone, how would you get in touch with them?
  • Do you have a family member who needs some kind of machine for life support or remediation of an illness or ailment?
  • Likewise, does anybody depend on refrigerated medicine like insulin?

These are the questions that you must answer, and the context is unique to each individual and family. By understanding these vulnerabilities, you can start prepping against them and ensuring continuity of service or communication after the pulse.

Briggs & Stratton generator
a Briggs & Stratton generator

If you don’t have a generator by now, you really should – especially if you want to be ready for an EMP. They can be absolutely invaluable because you’ll be able to provide your own electricity in a self-contained way.

An in-depth discussion of generators is an entirely separate endeavor, but you’ve got two basic schools of thought. You can try to power just the basics like the refrigerator, freezer, and a few lights, or you can run the whole house so you can stay more comfortable.

Whichever route you want to go, you must protect the generator itself from the EMP, because many modern ones are vulnerable to its effects. I’ll tell you how to do that a little later on, just keep it in mind for now. Something else to consider: it’s possible older generators might be a bit more resistant to EMPs, but this theory has not been properly tested in lab settings. Something to think about!

a Baofeng handheld ham radio
a Baofeng handheld ham radio

You might think me a hypocrite or a fool telling you to invest in radios, something inherently electronic, when you’re getting ready for an EMP, but bear with me and I think you’ll see my reasoning…

Radio is definitely old-fashioned compared to our modern cell phones, but unlike phones and phone lines, radios are totally self-contained, meaning they aren’t reliant necessarily on any network infrastructure in order to function.

Your radio can transmit and receive all by itself. A radio will be worth its weight in gold in the aftermath, and it can help you get in touch with first responders, family, friends, or just other survivors.

If you have the cash, stocking up on radios now for a particularly rainy post-EMP day could make for excellent trading. Just make sure you keep them protected until that day comes!

The trick with radio is that you’ve got to know what you’re doing. That takes practice and if you want to use more capable ham radios, getting a license.

And, just like with your generator, you’ll need to protect your radio from the effects of an EMP so it is intact and ready to call when you need it.

Depending on who you ask, it is either sad or wondrous how inextricably linked modern automobiles are with electronics and computers. Sure, it might make them faster, more efficient, more comfortable, and more capable overall, but a sad side effect is that these vehicles are hideously vulnerable to EMPs.

Many of these cars can’t be driven at all if they lose even a single essential computer, and an EMP would literally fry the brain and nervous system of these cars and trucks.

It’s worth considering getting an older vehicle, say pre-1982 at the latest, that is less dependent on electronic fuel injection and any sort of computer. Even if you have it put away for this rainy day, it will keep you on the road when everyone with a newer ride is stranded.

faraday cage materials
The materials to make several faraday cages: garbage can, tinfoil, foil tape, ammo can, mylar bag

One of the most important and fundamental EMP-specific preps you should invest in are Faraday cages. I’ll spare you the science lesson, but basically, a Faraday cage is a metallic enclosure that will surround and protect vulnerable electronics and infrastructure – say, for instance, your cell phone or your radio.

Larger ones can even protect vehicles, and specialized bags can even hold a generator that is kept for just such an occasion.

It’s possible to buy specially made Faraday cages for the purpose, or you can DIY your own with a little ingenuity assuming you have an understanding of the principles behind how EMPs cause damage.

If your home depends on electricity for heat, you should understand explicitly by now that you’re not going to have heat after an EMP, unless you’ve got a pretty large genny. But don’t count yourself lucky if you have gas, assuming you don’t have an on-property propane tank.

The civic systems that deliver natural gas, and many natural gas furnaces and other appliances, still depend on a certain amount of electronic controls to operate. Controls which will be knocked out by an EMP, making gas infrastructure and appliances unsafe or totally unusable.

Some other types of heating systems, such as a simple propane heater, wood-burning stove, fireplace on could literally save your life, especially if you live in a colder climate. You’ll want to stock up on the appropriate fuel too.

One of the very best and, somewhat humorously, most commonly overlooked defenses against the ravaging effects of an EMP is simply going analog.

Basically, any gadget, function, tool, or anything else that can rely on muscle power or something else in order to operate is worth considering, especially if it’s something you need or use all the time.

In the case of power tools, you could instead go with manually operated equivalents. You might replace a car with a bicycle, or even a horse. Trucks can be replaced with draft animals pulling wagons, etc.

Get creative, and you might be surprised to learn how little electricity you actually need with the right approach.

Crucially important for our purposes is establishing an intricate family contingency plan and then rehearsing it. Truly, I cannot impress upon you enough how total the chaos will be in the aftermath of this awful crisis.

People won’t be able to call each other, they won’t be able to drive anywhere, and even if they could, the roads will be clogged with stalled vehicles, planes may fall out of the sky, electronic currency won’t work- it’s going to be mayhem.

And, because most well-adjusted folks don’t just wait in their homes for the sky to fall, chances are you, your spouse, your kids, your other family members, etc., will all be out and about in different places doing different things at different times.

So now, this is where we start working through those variables…

If an EMP happens, what will you do to get home or get to your family? Should they stay where they are, should they immediately head home, or should they listen to authorities?

Have you some pre-established plan or signal for re-establishing communication with each other? Is there anyone you might send to collect them in your stead? If the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in this instance, the chaos will only be magnified.

Make a plan, go over it, then rehearse it. Then start adding layers, additional contingencies, and complications, so that everyone is prepared for a true worst-case scenario.

This is arguably going to be one of the most difficult and intensive parts of EMP prep, but I can guarantee you it will be a real comfort if it ever happens, and this type of plan can also serve you well for lots of other disasters.

Last but certainly not least, if you are serious about being ready for an EMP, the big one, you’ve got to skill up. But skill up on what? Everything.

Society is going to go completely to pieces, and even if the event only affects a regional level (which is arguably a “best case” scenario compared to the nation or much of the globe) there will be so many victims pile up, and so fast, that no cavalry will be coming.

Even then, first responders’ own capabilities are going to be gravely diminished, almost to zero, under the circumstances.

Because of this, you must become your own sanitation engineer, your own paramedic, your own firefighter, your own security guard, your own logistics specialist, and your own electrical company.

It’s the only way to guarantee that you and yours will have the know-how, and with a little elbow grease, have a chance of surviving what will be a historic event.

Luckily, if you’ve been prepping for any length of time already, there are definitely some of these skills you already bring to the table, but now is not the time to sit on your haunches!

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