Few survival scenarios have captured the imagination (or spawned fear) like the electro-magnetic pulse. This event or weapon, commonly known as an EMP, creates a short burst of electromagnetic energy that can disrupt or even destroy electronic devices and systems, potentially even the electrical power grid. An EMP can occur naturally, such as the pulse from a massive solar flare, but EMPs are also created by technological devices, typically nuclear weapons.
The most frightening scenario is the detonation of several high-energy EMPs over an unsuspecting nation. According to some models, just a few of these devices detonated at a high altitude could wipe out all of the unshielded electronics and all power grids in the continental United States. Commonly used as fodder for apocalyptic novels like One Second After and doomsday TV shows like NBC’s Revolution, these weapons have become a fixture of pop culture. In the event that this threat moves from fiction to reality, here are some things you ought to consider having in place.
No electricity to operate your electric can opener? If you had a hand-operated one, Fluffy wouldn't have to go without her Fancy Feast. Check out camping catalogs and companies that sell non-electric household devices. There is a surprising number of choices in the marketplace. Here are a few:
1. Solar oven: As long as the sun shines, food can be cooked and water can be boiled.
2. Manual can opener: The P38 is a military classic, and it even fits on a key chain.
3. Grain and meat grinders: Grind flour from whole grains or create burger meat from available critters.
4. Crank coffee grinder: For the caffeine addicts who turns up their nose at instant java.
5. Wind-up flashlight: Will light the way, assuming the electronics inside it weren’t fried by the pulse.
6. Butter churn: Find cow, milk cow, separate cream, churn butter, enjoy.
7. Hand-powered water pump: To get water out of a well or cistern
8. Well sleeve (or well bucket): This is one of the most important gadgets that most people have never heard of. A well bucket is a cylinder fitted with a couple hundred feet of string and lowered down slender modern wells to draw up water. This is a cheaper option for your well than a hand pump, but much more work.
If the power is out, your credit and debit cards aren't going to do you much good, and the ancient art of bartering once again becomes a viable economic option. It's best to hold onto food with a long shelf life and weapons that could be used against you. But other items—goods that serve no major constructive use in the home but are popular nevertheless—could be parted with if you can find a willing trading partner.
Beans, bullets, and gasoline should be hoarded, but vices like alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine; hygiene products; and various forms of entertainment, like books and playing cards, could be very valuable to the dependent, the dirty, and the bored.
Chemical light sticks are a good non-electric light source, but what about something with a longer burn time? Candles are EMP-proof, but they are dim, messy, and vulnerable to the wind. This is where oil lamps come into play, my favorite being the lightweight Dietz Original lamp. This classic lamp works indoors and outdoors, through wind and rain. The little lamp’s eight-ounce fuel capacity gives you an 11-hour burn time. The heat output is around 900 BTU’s per hour, and it puts out an average of 7 candle power with a half inch of burning wick exposed. The lamps cost about $11 each and operate on an average of 3 cents worth of lamp oil per hour. When’s the last time you received an hour’s worth of anything for 3 cents?
Approved Fuels for Oil Lamps :
1. Non-dyed (clear) kerosene
2. Klean-heat kerosene substitute
3. Standard clear lamp oil
4. Citronella oil (outdoor use only)
Keep in mind that paraffin oil (wax oil, Nowell's, Ultra-Pure, Tropical Lights, etc.) might be marketed for oil lamps, but it typically burns half as bright of any of the approved fuels listed above. Paraffin oil is thicker than those and its flash point is 100 degrees higher than kerosene. This inhibits the capillary action of the wick, and will cause lanterns with wicks 7/8 inch or larger to burn improperly and erratically. Once a wick is contaminated with paraffin, it must be replaced in order for the lamp to burn properly with a different fuel.
Repairing and reinforcing your home won’t be very easy if all your tools require electricity. Keep some backup hand tools in your tool chest. Hand saws and a hammer are obvious choices, but grab some less obvious choices too, like planes, block sanders, and a brace and bit for hole drilling and driving screws. Add a variety of nails, screws, and glue to round out your tool set.
A Faraday cage (named for the 19th-century inventor, Michael Faraday), is any conductive structure that protects its contents from electrical pulses. Your simplest option is an old microwave oven or a tightly sealed metal garbage can (other options include an ammo can or a metal safe). A Faraday cage is easy to build, but since we don't know the exact level of damage that can be caused by a weaponized EMP, it’s impossible to say which electronics might survive. All we can do is rely on informed best guesses. Follow these steps and hope for the best.
Determine what size box you’re going to need. Gather up everything you want to shield and see how much space they require. Likely items include shortwave radios, walkie-talkies, crucial medical equipment (i.e. a glucose meter), and spare electronic parts for your generator and car. Note that batteries are not affected by EMP, so they don’t need to be included in your stash.
Choose a box or container that closes as securely as possible. Any gaps will render the grounding ineffective.
Wrap your box securely in aluminum foil. Be sure the body of the box and its lid are totally encased.
Tape every seam down firmly. You can use regular tape for this, although aluminum or copper tape will provide better security.
Line the inside of the box with cardboard to ensure that your electronics do not contact any of the foil or metal tape.
Place your items inside and seal the lid firmly.
Hope that no one ever activates an EMP.
With our beloved mobile phones inoperable after an EMP, you’ll be left with few options for distance communication. This is where CB radios and walkie-talkies show their true worth. If these items are protected adequately in a Faraday cage, or the EMP was distant or of low strength, they might just work after the pulse is over. Install the batteries or an alternative power source and find out. Unless you need medical electronics to live, communications equipment could be the most vital gear you’d store in a Faraday cage. It’s hard to impress upon the average modern person the luxury that they are tapping into every time they use a mobile phone. With that option gone, I’m sure that most millennials would succumb to temporary insanity.
You could make your own electricity from solar panels, micro hydroelectric systems, and backyard wind turbine generators, along with noisy gasoline generators and vehicles modified with electrical outlets. But be aware that having electricity in a world without any would paint a big target on your back. It would almost certainly be best to keep things like this to yourself, and keep backup electronics like charge controllers and inverters in a shielded container. Even then, your neighbors will start to wonder why you never run out of rechargeable batteries and the lights in your home are anything but candles. Invest in alternative power only after considering the risk-to-reward ratio. A few small solar panels and chargers may be all you really need (or dare to possess).
Self Defense Equipment
A home-defense shotgun and plenty of rounds to accompany it are potentially the most versatile means for self-defense in a grid-down scenario like an EMP attack. A variety of shotgun loads can be used both against home intruders and for hunting wild game. Many other items, besides the predictable shotguns, handguns, and rifles, can be used as tools for self-protection and defense.
These can be as simple as bells hanging on the inside of your entry doors. These noisy non-electric alarms are low-tech, but also very reliable. Guard dogs are another great way to protect the family, particularly in the dead of night. You could even pull out the hand tools mentioned above and board up a few ground floor windows in the back of the house and other likely ingress points around your home. No corners should be cut when it comes to your family’s defense during a crisis situation.
Food Production Supplies
Let’s face it, your hoard of MREs will only last so long. Either by time or consumption, there would come a day when you’d be out of food if an event like an EMP attack occurred. It could take years to restore power to a handful of regions, and in the meantime people would have to find ways to provide food for their families other than hitting the local grocery. Having the knowledge, means, and location to grow food crops and livestock might just keep you alive during a multi-year blackout.
Of course you’d need the seeds, livestock, and tools to jumpstart the system, as well as the knowledge of seed saving and livestock breeding, but a little experience and a few good books can set you on the right path. In the end, you might end up giving a large share of food to the warlord who controls the region, but at least you’ll have some food—and you’ll be a valuable person to the community.