Mind Matters: What Would It Take To Survive an EMP Attack?

Emp altitude vs coverage

What Would It Take To Survive an EMP Attack? at Mind Matters News is written by Forrest Mims III. If you’re an amateur radio or electronics enthusiast, then you may be familiar with Mims. Forrest Mims III has written many electronics and communications introductory texts and project workbooks. I know I have several of his works. In this article he discusses natural CME damage as well as nuclear EMP attack and some steps you can take to survive.

We are increasingly vulnerable to both natural disruptions and military attacks on our power grids. Earlier this month I wrote about electromagnetic pulse impulses (EMPs), which would destroy your electronics, leaving you and your surroundings intact — but without easy means of survival.

Force of nature: Sometimes the sun is to blame for knocking out the power supply

Natural disruptions can give us some idea what to expect. When lightning destroys a transformer atop a power pole, nearby businesses and residence must get by without power until the transformer is replaced but it usually doesn’t last long. Far more damage can occur in the rare event that the sun erupts with a major coronal mass ejection (CME) of plasma and magnetic field directed toward Earth.

The first recorded example occurred on September 1, 1859, while British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington was observing the sun. Carrington made careful drawings of the massive solar flare he observed. Less than a day later, a CME arrived and caused spectacular auroral displays. It even affected telegraph equipment, setting some ablaze. Today, such an event can damage or destroy much electrical equipment connected to a network.


During March 1989, my daughter Vicki detected a string of major solar flares with a Geiger counter she was using for a science fair project. On March 13, one of those flares was associated with a CME that led to powerful electrical transients in transmission lines across Quebec. It tripped circuit breakers and shut down power across the entire province for nine hours. The CME also severely damaged a high-voltage transformer at the Salem New Jersey Nuclear Plant.

Other CME’s have also struck Earth, including a major event in 1921: “Countries such as Australia, Brazil, France, Denmark, Japan, the U.K., New Zealand and the U.S. experienced widespread disruptions in telephone and telegraph communications.” (International Business Times) Here’s how it was experienced at the time:

A telephone station in Sweden burned out, a New York telegraph operator claimed that “he was driven away from his instrument by a flare of flame which enveloped the switchboard and ignited the building”, and telegraph lines in France “seemed possessed by evil spirits”. The event even touched Australia, with the Argus reporting disruptions to telephone services between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Delores Knipp & Brett Carter, “The Concerning History of Coronal Mass Ejections” at RealClearScience (October 2, 2016)

In 2012, the sun emitted a CME believed to be more powerful than the Carrington event. Fortunately, it was not pointed at Earth.

The key difference between a natural CME and the dreaded EMP attack

While a massive solar CME could shut down a significant fraction of the world’s electrical grid, electronic devices not connected to the grid would not be damaged. But the electromagnetic pulse emitted by a nuclear explosion is very different because the first of its three phases occurs within billionths of a second. This extremely fast EMP can travel hundreds of miles from an exploding nuke with a voltage potential of 50,000 or more volts per meter. That is far more than enough to permanently damage unshielded semiconductor electronic equipment. The second phase of EMP from a nuke can also damage electronics.

The third phase is much slower and longer. Its target is thousands of miles of high-voltage power lines that serve as EMP antennas. As Russia learned during nuclear experiments in the 1960s, the massive electrical currents absorbed by power lines can critically damage high-voltage transformers and even entire power plants.

A widely speculated scenario is that an enemy might launch an EMP nuke high over the central US in an attempt to shut down the nation’s electrical infrastructure together. Included would be communications networks and the computers and controllers that run everything from traffic lights and emergency vehicles to weather instruments and satellites.

While a nationwide EMP event will not directly injure or kill people, its side effects will. Consider what could happen during critical surgeries or for emergency room patients dependent on working electronic systems, and fast moving vehicles that suddenly lose power while cruising along busy highways.

While this doomsday scenario has been depicted in books and movies, widespread preparation for a nuclear EMP is sorely lacking. Even the US government acknowledges this in various unclassified reports. For example, there’s “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): Threat To Critical Infrastructure,” the title of a 2014 hearing before a subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives. Don’t read any of it before going to bed, for you’ll not be able to sleep. For example,

Another myth is that rogue states or terrorists need a sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile to make an EMP attack. In fact, any missile, including short-range missiles that can deliver a nuclear warhead to an altitude of 30 kilometers or more, can make a catastrophic EMP attack on the United States, by launching off a ship or freighter. Indeed, Iran has practiced ship-launched EMP attacks using Scud missiles–which are in the possession of scores of nations and even terrorist groups. An EMP attack launched off a ship, since Scuds are common-place and a warhead detonated in outer space would leave no bomb debris for forensic analysis, could enable rogue states or terrorists to destroy U.S. critical infrastructures and kill millions of Americans anonymously.

– From the statement of Peter Pry, Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, May 8, 2014

During the opening of this hearing, Texas representative Michael McCaul began his talk by stating: “We talk a lot about a nuclear bomb in Manhattan, and we talk about a cybersecurity threat, the grid, power grid, in the Northeast, and all these things would actually probably pale in comparison to the devastation that an EMP attack could perpetrate on Americans.”

As I learned after sending an open records request to the city adjacent to my property, most local and national government agencies in the US are unprepared for an EMP attack. Even the US military is not well prepared, for all branches of the military employ off-the-shelf radio gear, computers, mobile phones and other equipment that is highly vulnerable to an EMP event.

hurricane supplies

Consider what might occur if a relatively small atomic bomb is detonated several hundred miles over Kansas. The EMP from the explosion would cover most of the US within a few billionths of a second. In regions where the EMP created an initial pulse of 30,000 to 50,000 volts per meter, a significant fraction of unprotected electronics would be instantly rendered inoperable. Modern cars and trucks are equipped with EMP-vulnerable microprocessors that control everything from engines to dashboard electronics and entertainment devices. While a vehicle’s metal shielding will provide some protection, it is possible that some vehicles will be rendered inoperable by an EMP. This would not be good for people driving along a packed expressway where only a few inoperable vehicles could cause a massive traffic pileup.

All this assumes a bomb that produces a peak of 50,000 volts/meter EMP, which has long been the standard assumption by the US military. Unfortunately, Russia and China have developed much more powerful super EMP bombs.

Remember that through all this an EMP bomb will not destroy buildings, spread radioactivity, or even make a sound.

What reasonable precautions should we take?

Many personal electronic devices might be rendered inoperable by an EMP, including laptops, radios, and mobile phones. If the initial EMP pulse does not damage the grid, the third phase certainly could. Power plant transformers can cost a million dollars or more and require more than a year to replace, assuming a suitable manufacturer can be found.

While some people can afford to install an expensive EMP-proof solar or propane fueled power supply for their residence, most of us cannot. So what should you try to secure and protect for use after an EMP?

● A compact, battery-powered radio, preferably with shortwave reception, is number one on my list. A second priority is an LED flashlight for every family member. A third priority is a mobile phone loaded with plenty of music and photos of family and important documents. If the cell phone service in your area fails, you’ll be ready when service is restored.

● Other electronic devices you might need include medical devices, a pair of walkie-talkies, and a Geiger counter for use if you are in the fallout pattern downwind from a nuclear attack.

● Be sure to keep spare batteries for most of these devices. Recharging a cell phone is another matter. Unless you possess or have access to a propane or solar generator that can survive an EMP, your best solution is a miniature solar power device. The ones that come with a built-in battery can be charged outdoors and brought indoors to charge your phone. Their main drawback is that rechargeable batteries don’t like heat, and solar-powered battery packs can become very warm.

A small solar panel that charges a phone directly might be a better choice if you keep the phone shaded when it’s being charged. Whichever charging method you select, be sure you have an appropriate cable for connecting it to your phone.

● All these items (except extra batteries) should be stored in EMP-proof containers, sleeves, or bags available online…(continues)

Canadian Prepper: NASA Engineer Discusses EMP and Grid Down Events

In this video posted by Canadian Prepper, NASA engineer and author Arthur T Bradley discusses some grid down and other SHTF events about which he is concerned. Dr. Bradley also has his own video channel (and website) where he discusses preparing for EMP and other preparedness topics. The video below is supposed to be the first of a three part series.

AF Magazine: AF Researches Call for National EMP Preparation

From Air Force Magazine, Air Force Researchers Call for National Electromagnetic Attack Preparation.

Everyday Americans aren’t worried enough about the threat of a massive electromagnetic attack, according to a new, 130-page Air University report on electromagnetic spectrum vulnerabilities.

During the Cold War, the public was aware of the threat of nuclear attack and took it seriously, participants in the Electromagnetic Task Force’s 2019 study said. They concluded the US should mount a similar national campaign encouraging individuals, the military, and industry to adopt electromagnetic protection and resilience plans, just as citizens built bomb shelters during the Cold War.

An electromagnetic pulse attack is essentially a surge of energy, caused by a nuclear detonation or a solar storm, that could overload electronics and cause them to fail. While national leaders and industry are more aware of the potential impacts, the Air University study said, an effort akin to the “Smokey Bear” wildfire-prevention initiative could better alert the public.

The second annual study, undertaken by hundreds of scholars, industry experts, and military officers earlier this year, argued that the proliferation of “efficient but delicate” computers, networks, and other electronic infrastructure leaves the US particularly vulnerable to electromagnetic attacks on a grand scale…

Click here to read the entire article at Air Force Magazine.

2019 NW Preparedness Expo, Apr. 13 & 14


Speakers include:

  • Patrice Lewis of Rural Revolution
  • John Jacob Schmidt of AmRRON and Radio Free Redoubt
  • Glen Tate, author of the 299 Days book series
  • Shelby Gallagher, author of the A Great State book series
  • Rep. Matt Shea from WA district 4 and the Liberty state movement
  • K from Combat Studies Group
  • Brian Domke from Strategic Landscape Design
  • Ranger Rick
  • Dennis Walters from Dana Engineering
  • Kaery Dudenhofer of Kaery Concealed

as well as other ham radio operators, herbalists, survivors, precious metal investors, beekeepers, and government emergency management planners.


EMP Reports Unclassified

The DoD unclassified the final three EMP reports from the EMP Commission at the end of January. Michael Mabee, the author of The Civil Defense Book, has copies of the new reports as well as the previously released reports on his website.

The last three unclassified EMP Commission Reports were finally approved for publication by DoD on Monday

There is a disingenuous note by the Department of Defense (DoD) that states that the reports were “cleared for open publication by the DoD Office of Prepublication and Security Review on July 16, 2018.” The truth is that the EMP Commission fought DoD since 2017 to get the unclassified EMP Commission reports published – and this finally happened on January 21, 2019.

According the EMP Commission Chief of Staff, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry:

The military doctrines of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea view nuclear EMP attack as the ultimate “cyber-weapon” that can deliver the decisive blow on the battlefield or against entire nations or alliances.  For example, a single EMP attack on European NATO could destroy electronic systems crucial to military operations and black-out electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures (communications, transportation, industry and manufacturing, business and finance, food and water) crucial to national survival.  A nuclear EMP attack would be executed, and perhaps be preceded, by such cyber operations as computer viruses and hacking, and selective sabotage, the synergistic effects of which would virtually guarantee the collapse of electric grids, critical infrastructures, and adversary military power.

Links to 10 new unclassified EMP Commission Reports

Below are links to all the unclassified EMP Commission Reports and other
EMP Commission documents.

EIS: Earth Ex 2018 – Black Sky, Aug. 22

The Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) council’s second annual Earth Ex is coming Wednesday, August 22nd. You can submit an email address to get exercise notifications.

Our integrated world – and the “catch” that comes with it

In the modern world, everything we do depends on nationally and globally interconnected utility, infrastructure, resource and service networks. Together, they are much like our bodies – a fully integrated, interdependent organic system.

But there is a catch. Like our bodies, this integration – while critically important – brings with it a unique vulnerability. If any major piece fails, the whole system can collapse. Six “Black Sky” hazards represent particularly serious concerns for such vulnerabilities.

What can be done?

Sector by sector, nation by nation, leading government organizations and corporations are beginning to make investments and develop plans to build resilience against these “Black Sky” hazard scenarios. With EARTH EX, they are joining together to evaluate those plans.

But government organizations and corporations cannot do this alone. Resilience – at the level that will be needed for these extreme hazards – begins with individuals, with families and with neighborhoods.

The Individual and Family EARTH EX Experience

Individual and Family participants in EARTH EX will have an opportunity to experience the same full-scale video “injects” used by their corporate and government colleagues, as an introduction to a special, animated, interactive learning experience.

In the exercise, you will learn some of the most important preparatory steps you can take to prepare for extreme hazards:

To protect yourself and your family, and prepare to help your friends and neighbors to get through an unprecedented crisis.

Who is participating?

Professional sectors are participating in six categories:

  • Utilities (electricity, water and communications providers)
  • Government (all levels of government, law enforcement, finance and emergency responders)
  • Non-profits (both local and international organizations)
  • Health (health services of all kinds)
  • Cyberworld (cyber response and forensics)
  • Private sector providers (transportation, retail, factories, agriculture, finance, food and pharmaceuticals)
  • And for the first time … individuals and families, adults and children

Click here to download the EIS preparedness checklist.

Dana Engineering: High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) Information

This evening Dennis Walters gave a talk on the threat of High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse.  For more information, you can visit his reference site at http://danaengineering.org.

Click here to download a pdf of the slides of a similar presentation that he gave earlier this year. We hope to be able to post this evening’s slides soon.

And click here to download a pdf of the slides from our meeting.

Click here to view a video recording of that same presentation.

The threat of a rogue nation or a well-funded and supported terrorist group detonating a small nuclear weapon at a high-altitude would have devastating consequences to the United States. The consequences threaten to cause the loss of millions of civilians who rely on the infrastructure to live in urban areas. In the aftermath of an attack, electrical and electronic component failures would potentially be wide-spread and long lasting. The initial response to this type of event is time critical to maintain civil order and begin the process of recovery.


Until local emergency plans are put into place and/or our infrastructure is hardened against these threats, the public remains unprotected and unprepared to deal with an existential threat that, at this time, has an unacceptably high probability of occurrence. The existing infrastructure allows us to live in densely populated areas that will not be able to meet minimum survival needs (Food, water and septic, medical). Experts estimate that up to 90% of the population in America would die if the electrical grid was out of service for a year. With adequate preparation, you can improve the survival of your family, business, and community by reducing the risk of a breakdown of social order. The first step at home is to assess your ability to adequately provide food and water for your family if there is extended power outage. The first step in your business and community is to identify and assess mission critical equipment that are needed to assure continuity of operations after an EMP attack.

Click here for an example of an RF/EMI shielded tent.

Click here for a spec page on RF/EMI shielded pouches.

And here is a link to a blog post with instructions on how to make simple faraday cages at home from foil and metal containers. In that post it says to use heavy duty aluminum foil. Mr. Walters said that in his testing regular aluminum foil actually made a better RF seal around items, but heavy duty foil can be used if you need more abrasion resistance. The blog post also does not mention using metal foil tape to seal your seams.