So, What Will Survive An EMP?

Original post 3/17/2012

First, visit some survival sites and forums and obtain books to study what an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) is, what will cause it, and the immediate results from it.

Study the website One Second After or read the novel with the same name. Another good "instructional" novel is Patriots by James Wesley Rawles. A TV series called Revolution is worth getting on DVD. It's a SciFi storyline that shows how life may be like 13 years after all technology fails.

First, no one knows exactly what will be affected by an EMP. The items for discussion are my personal views, opinions, research, and electronic experience. Some things stated here may be slightly off too. I have also seen so many anecdotes and blogs from those vehemently stating what will, and won't be damaged or destroyed. There is no basis for their statements primarily because much depends on the intensity and proximity to the detonation. So how will you know if it is an actual EMP? Click here for a discussion.

Some things to consider:

1) The strength of the blast if nuclear. If a blast were low to the ground and a low to medium yield, areas under the blast would be more seriously affected. Areas further away would have various levels of damage. A full blown high yield detonation at a strategic altitude could wipe out all electronics over the continental U.S.

2) The proximity of the detonation. It is unknown how accurate an enemy bomb could be placed. If it was far off course and mis-directed, it could be no more than a glitch or an inconvenience to the public.

3) The amount of hardening of sensitive electronics. RF tight containers could shield most electronics. Any leakage in the container could damage any electronics beyond use.

A solar flare "Carrington Effect" or CME could be just a mild jolt that would effect some of the grid and ultra sensitive equipment or it could be an all out solar blast that would knock the whole world's technology back to the early 1800's.

I call the EMP bomb a "clean bomb". This means there will be very little noise, flash of light, radioactive material and physical damage from the results of the actual detonation should the detonation occur in the upper atmosphere. With a full blown high intensity detonation, in a split second the area affected, most likely the United States and portions of Canada and Mexico will be transformed technologically into an 1865 Civil War era.

If you have watched movies from the Old West, Civil War or even the war of Independence, and seen the way people lived and survived, this is where we as a nation could be transformed to.

What can one do? One needs to study, prepare, and stock up on necessary provisions and supplies, protect (harden) anything electric or electronic. Do so without looking like a conspirator or fanatic. Psychologically you must also be prepared. Otherwise you and your family will not survive a year or even six months or less. But remember, "stocking up" assumes everything will return to normal after a period of time. This is not true. You must be able to grow your own food, make your own clothing and tools, learn many skills, etc. because you will need to sustain your living without external re-supply. For how long? Maybe for many years. Not just a few.

This catastrophic event could be considered very long term. It has been stated that as much as 90% of the population of the affected area would not survive six months. Depending upon what areas of the world were not effected, and if they were to able to re-supply America, we could possibly be back to almost normal life but probably under control of a different kind of government or country. To rebuild and re-supply America would mean we would have to have the monetary funds to purchase and the willingness of foreign countries to trade with us. Many countries would like to see our way of life fail. If we as a nation study and prepare, we as the United States could be back on our feet in a few years but it will be a long, tough challenge.

Let's look at who will not be adversely affected after the "Change" or the "Day", (EMP).

Traditional Amish: Groups living their traditional ways of life for generations will most likely survive unless infiltrated or overtaken by outsiders. They live, barter, grow their own food, and make their own clothes and everything else necessary to live.

Preppers/Survivalists: They have anticipated any type of disaster including an EMP attack and have prepared by stocking up on necessary supplies, they're hold up in secret hideaways with their families and select friends, most fully armed and will not take on any outsiders no matter who they are. Other people living in rural/backwoods/off grid locations will have minimal effect unless they brought technology into their domain.

Government: Some of the government infrastructure, FEMA/DHS agencies will most likely survive relatively untouched to some extent. Obviously there are shadow government departments that will be in place to try and keep our leadership intact but no one knows how long or to what extent.

Anyone outside the effects of the EMP bomb. Submarines well below the surface of the water. Anyone in fully underground shelters or bunkers with no power or antenna wires entering the complex. It's not likely the whole earth would be affected by a single attack unless it's from the sun (Carrington Effect).

Let's get down to exactly what will be damaged beyond use from an EMP.

To clearly understand just what will happen, think of every electronic component and piece of equipment, hit with a huge spike of E1 electricity exceeding 50,000 volts and hundreds of amps, but for just a very short period of time, probably a few thousandths of a second. The device or equipment doesn't even have to be plugged in or connected to anything. Even a single component like a diode sitting on a shelf can be destroyed. What does this mean? Anything with the latest technology will become permanently useless. Some claim that as long as it's not plugged into any wire 18 inches or more it will survive. I'm not that confident.

Here's a short list of what could likely be destroyed: Digital watches, cell phones, newer style telephones, pagers, laptops, ipods, tape recorders, all portable radios, all TV's, CFL and LED light bulbs, LED flashlights, all home computers and printers, hard drives, usb flash drives, DVD recorders, satellite receivers, pacemakers, dialysis machines, police and fire two-way radios, walkie-talkies, newer ham radio transceivers, digital cameras, refrigerators and appliances less than 30 years old, air conditioners less than 20 years old, electronic musical instruments and amplifiers, battery chargers, modern portable generators, late model lawn mowers with solid state ignitions, all automobiles from about 1965 and newer, most motorcycles, most modern diesel vehicles and tractors. A more detailed explanation and modifications can be seen here. Very limited fuel from gas stations. Of course there will be no power from the power company, no cell phone service, no telephone (most if not all telephone exchanges have been converted to modern technology) or cable service. Power companies are under control of modern electronics which will not function. Radio and television stations' equipment will be destroyed. As a broadcast radio engineer I can accurately say, no TV or radio stations will survive an EMP strike. Indirectly, there will be no fresh water or sewage disposal, no insulin for diabetics, no dialysis machines, life sustaining medication, or medicine for heart patients.

One major statement I will make has never been talked about on other EMP pages: Statements like after an EMP, going to the hospital for care, notifying law enforcement about a crime, calling the fire department to report a fire, going to a store to get much needed supplies....remember, there is no reason for any employees or workers to be present and at your service. They will all know that they will never get another paycheck or be reimbursed for their services so why would they stick around? Each one of them have family and loved ones that are waiting for them to return and none of them will be at their place of employment. I believe this will hold true for military personnel too. Most will abandon their posts and duties to return home. They also won't be paid or compensated. They know they are just pawns and will be discarded when the time comes, so why wait?

Just what will survive?

Very little current technology. As far as communications equipment, anything with 100% vacuum tubes including rectifiers as active components should be completely unaffected. Also, any electronic equipment including battery operated that was "hardened". This means if a modern electronic item was sealed in an RF tight (hardened) EMP proof container (Faraday Cage) or room will most likely continue to function. However without a way of charging the batteries they will become unusable so battery chargers should be protected too. Tube equipment however, will require large amounts of power unavailable from batteries. Of course, all modern firearms will be unaffected but laser sights and LED lights will not function.

The jury is still out on the effects of EMP on solar electric panels. The cell panels themselves may continue to produce electricity but any Schottky shadow or blocking diodes will have to be removed and replaced. The charge controllers however will be totally destroyed. Charge controllers prevent solar panels from overcharging the batteries.

Also beware of the one-two punch. After an initial EMP event occurs, some days later a second volley of EMP bombs would destroy anything that was pulled out of "hardened" locations.

Components: Conventional filament light bulbs will survive. Conventional fluorescent tubes with conventional transformer ballasts may survive. The ones with solid state ballasts will not function. Compact fluorescent bulbs will be dead. LED bulbs will be dead. Conventional electric motors without solid state controllers will be useable. Flashlight batteries, alkaline, carbon-zinc should be ok. LED flashlights will most likely die because of the LED bulbs. Rechargeable batteries will survive as long as the chargers were protected. 12 volt automobile batteries will be undamaged if alternator and regulators are immediately disconnected from vehicle. The alternators and regulators will immediately drain the battery because they will short out and discharge the battery. Vehicles with carburetors and no other electronic ignitions should still start and run. Older refrigerators and deep freezers without electronic controllers will survive. Remember though, no AC power to operate them.

What about older vehicles? Pre-1963 will most likely fully function. This is because they use generators and relay regulators to make power to keep the battery charged and provide ignition power. Most pre-1963 cars don't have any other electronic components to keep them running. Read this page to understand what vehicles would survive. Transistor auto radios will not function but tube ones will. This will be true with most older vehicles of that vintage and other antique and restored autos. Probably all vehicles manufactured pre 1963 will still function as long as no modern upgrades were placed into the ignition or charging circuitry such as alternators, regulators, or transistor ignitions. Mopeds will likely function. Some motorcycles will still function if ignition system uses magnetos. Older diesel Volkswagen vans will most likely run. Old farm tractors, diesel or gas, will function normally with generators and not alternators for chargers.

Older vehicles with generators will still charge as long as the regulators are still relay controlled. Small gas engines with conventional magnetos will start and run. If the magnetos were upgraded with a solid state module, it may not run. Most modern small engines such as lawn mowers, chain saws, weed trimmers, tillers, all have electronic magnetos. These will probably cease to function. Older lawn mowers and chain saws may run as long as they don't have modern electronic magnetos. Remember, gas stations will not be able to pump gas from their tanks or receive deliveries. However there will be millions of vehicles stopped all over the roads with fuel tanks full of gas ready to be siphoned. Older gas and diesel portable generators without solid state circuitry may produce power.

"I have a 1980 Chevy van. If I replace the alternator and regulator with a generator and relay regulator, and replace the solid state distributor with a vintage points and condenser, the van will start and run perfectly, probably not as efficient though. The radio won't function either. The heater, wipers and lights will all function normally. There is no air conditioning in the van but it there were, the generator might not provide enough power to make it function normally". The biggest problem is that generators are no longer available in the U.S. Most have been turned into scrap yards for recycling.

Seek out and befriend a ham (amateur) radio operator, preferably an older person. He will most likely have all tube radios and transmitters and the means of generating electricity to provide two-way communications from all around the world. He may also be able to repair some electronic equipment.

How can you deduce what may or may not function from an EMP attack? One crude test is to use a stun gun. One that generates a large two inch spark. If you "shock" a component or piece of equipment with the stun gun and it still functions, it will most likely survive. If it is destroyed, you will know this part of equipment won't survive.

How can you prepare and "harden" your electronics? If one places components or equipment in tightly sealed containers or "Faraday shielded" rooms, the items will most likely survive the EMP. What should you harden? It will depend on what you have and what you need. You should also stock extra electronic items that you can barter with. IPods, IPads, laptops, mp3 players, Kindles, short wave radios, AM/FM/SW portable radios, led flashlights, FRS walkie talkies, Ham and CB radios, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, etc. If you're technically savvy, a good stock of transistors, diodes, LED's, and IC's of many types should be stored protected.

One thing I have to disagree with when websites and books refer to insulating the inside of a metal trash can, Faraday cage or similar metal container. Due to the "skin effect", an EMP or RF pulse only travels on the outside of the container and does not penetrate the metal container. Insulating the inside wall does absolutely nothing to protect the contents from an EMP. Period!

What will one do and how will one live? Visit a flea market or steam engine show. Here in the mid-Atlantic (US), there are many old time flea markets and auctions throughout the summer. The steam engine shows not only demonstrate some of the old time steam powered tractors, grain mills, washing machines, and water pumps, but usually incorporate a flea market selling old tools, supplies, and equipment, and have demonstrations of traditional skills from the 1800's and early 1900's.

There are many good books and links devoted to an EMP attack and how to ready yourself and your family.

1) How To Survive The End Of The World As We Know It - by James Wesley Rawles
2) EMP Survival - by Larry and Cheryl Poole
3) Prepper Instruction Manual - by Arthur T. Bradley
4) Long Term Disaster Communications - by Rick C.
5) EMP Proof Vehicle - by Rick C.
6) What's The Best Radio When The SHTF? - by Rick C.
7) Your Personal DataBase (YPDB) - by Rick C.

Stock up on heirloom seeds and books on how to grow an efficient garden. Obtain a good set of home schooling books from K-12. Other books on how to survive, herbal medicine substitutes, traditional skills, and technical books.

Form community groups to provide for common defense, food, camaraderie.


This is an ongoing article and will be updated periodically especially in these trying times. I can be contacted at the link in the Copyright.

Copyright 2022 Rick C. Version 0.22 April 4, 2022