In our evolved and technologically inclined society, we often take for granted how many everyday items run on electricity. Being tech savvy is incredibly useful, but in an EMP situation, those skills are about as useful as knowing which spices taste best on mammoth meat if/when it happens Sure, you’ll be the go-to guy if you survive long enough to help rebuild society, but you’ll need to have a really good backup plan to make it that far.
What Devices Can Survive an EMP Attack? A good rule of thumb for finding EMP proof devices is the well known KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). In other words, the less complicated, the less susceptible it is. Avoid anything with cords or circuits.
How Does an EMP Work?
Before we get in to what devices will survive an EMP, it helps to understand how it would actually effect things so you can expand on this list yourself. There are several stages to a nuclear EMP, and each is dangerous in a different way. Leaving aside the ‘nuclear,’ aspect (because handing radiation is a different article entirely) it is these three waves you need to focus on.
The first part of an EMP event is called E1. This happens in a flash, literally. It will be over at the speed of light or close to it. What this does is exceed the electrical breakdown voltages. It fries your wires. E1 is the stage that is likely to ruin communications and computers along with other unprotected complex machinery.
This happens too fast for a regular surge protector to be of much help. Despite efforts that are being made to improve transient protectors and handle faster rise time pulses, most wiring simply can’t hack it. There are options available that will protect against EMPs… at least in theory.
The next part happens within a second after the initial “blast.” An E2 is known as an “intermediate time pulse,” and in many ways resembles a lightning strike. Under normal circumstances, such a thing would be of little consequence. Many modern electronics are relatively prepared for a lightning strike or similar surge.
However, when this happens the effect is naturally compounded. Essentially an E2 is dangerous primarily because it comes after an E1.
An E3 is comparable to a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection- AKA solar EMP or geomagnetic storm) which does not exhibit the E1 and E2 components. This pulse is much slower lasting dozens of seconds or even minutes. The short explanation is that this type of event shoves around the Earths’ magnetic field in some pretty brutal ways.
The resulting currents, sometimes called quasi-DC currents can damage important equipment like power line transformers. Most of the damage will occur in the AC power grid because it is ill equipped to handle DC power surges.
Top 10 Devices That (Should) Work After an EMP-
The trick to surviving an EMP, if you are a tool or device, is to avoid solid state electronic components. Transistors and semiconductors, among other parts, that transmit solid (as opposed to gaseous) electronic action are the victims in an EMP attack. Technology without this particular weakness will likely go unharmed, though it’s all speculation until an EMP event occurs.
- Batteries- You may be concerned about your batteries exploding or otherwise failing. Not to worry, the metal casings and lack of wires should protect the batteries themselves.
- Flashlights- Another useful item with a metal case is the flashlight. (Well… not the plastic cheapies obviously) Because of the design and use of batteries as a power source, your flashlights should be just fine when the grid goes down from an EMP.
- Older cars- A decent old steel ‘boat,’ of a car will get you through many tough situations. EMPs are just one example.
- Vacuum Tube-Tech (Old TVs and Some Radios)- The way tube technology conducts electricity makes it unlikely to be effected by and EMP/
- Solar Panels- It’s possible your solar power cells will see a small decrease in output, less than 15%, but a solar cell is not a wired device. Unfortunately, components that make the cells useful may need replacing, but the solar cell itself should be just fine. There is some risk of wires connected to solar panels causing a problem. Unplug them if you’ve any warning of a potential EMP attack.
- Hand Tools- Perhaps it’s just too obvious, however, anything you power with your own muscles is fine. If you have no wires to fry, then your risk from an EMP frankly doesn’t exist.
- Watches and Clocks- Non-Digital clocks that run on batteries and winding will be alright. They lack the necessary conductors to suffer from EMP based attacks.
- Clothes Washer- Ultramodern programable smart-washers are likely not going to make it. A good solid, has-a-motor-and-a-power-source, older washing machine is most likely going to make it through. As with all wired machines, there is a risk, and unplugging when not in use is best.
- Portable Devices- A small modern device that isn’t plugged in during an attack may surprise you. Owing to the size and nature of their ‘guts’ it makes them less likely to suffer.
- LED Lamps- Like a flashlight, these are not designed in a way that is particularly vulnerable to EMPs.
How can I Protect Against an EMP
Let’s set aside the fact that the most effective human produced EMPs by a wide margin come from nuclear weapons detonation, which means the power outage is a truly secondary issue. If you want to save your gear and equipment there are three ways to reach that goal.
Not everyone is comfortable with simplifying to the point necessary to avoid EMP complications. Just the same, minimalist living is easy to maintain. Industrialization and technological advances are convenient. They make it ever cheaper and easier to have more intricate equipment.
More is not always better. What we gain in time by not having to maintain or build for ourselves, we also gain as a vulnerability. Every time you add a battery or the need to plug anything into a power source you add to your difficulty. With greater complexity comes a need for even more spare parts, and more weight to carry in an emergency.
Faraday Cages and DIY Versions
Wrap it in foil. Bury an aluminum trashcan. You can bury a shipping container if your needs are large enough. The gist of a Faraday Cage is that you need a non-conducting frame and a metal shell to safely disburse the electricity. There are dozens, if not hundreds of sites that will sell you, or show you how to DIY, a simple Faraday Cage.
With modern warning systems and the ability to inexpensively protect your vital equipment there’s little excuse not to do so. The trouble is that many devices may be in use during an attack. The infrastructure that supports the devices, like cell towers and power stations, are vulnerable. Saving individual devices is never the biggest problem in an EMP situation.
Hardening is another option. It’s not something everyone can simply do with tools they have on hand, but some hardened devices are available for purchase. Hardening refers to creating circuits that can withstand extreme circumstances and keep working.
The idea to design your circuits specifically to handle sudden power surges like those from an EMP isn’t new. You can, with sufficient knowledge, do this in several ways. Simpler components, backup redundancies, heavier conductors and no or much shorter wires are among the basic ideas. It’s not a perfect plan but has tested well enough.
Come what may, surviving an EMP is entirely achievable. It’s not difficult to figure out how to get past the event itself. Simplify, protect, harden and back up everything. Carry spare parts. These things are a foregone conclusion. In the 2-4 years (or more) it would take to repair what remains of an electrically decimated country most people would not survive.
Just some food for thought: Having backups and any kind of obvious power when others have none makes you a well-lit target. Perhaps avoiding that scenario is a better strategy for survival.
How Long Will it Take Society to Recover? This is a reasonable concern and the answer depends on several factors. The size of the EMP is the largest factor. How prepared is the society to make replacement parts and how dependent on technology is the society in question? In general, it could range from a few weeks to more than a decade.
How Long Does an EMP Take? While the immediate effect is… well immediate, it can take several days for the storm-like effects to disburse. You may want to wait a week just to be on the safe side.
Can EMPs Hurt People and Animals? It might damage a cyborg or someone who has a pacemaker but typically the answer is no. EMPs are not going to short out your dog. If they do, you have other concerns because that was not a dog.