Four Letters Re: A Prepper’s Guide to EMP

That was a very good article by Chris C. to get people up to speed on EMP threats and mitigation, there is one very simple thing to add that was shared with me by a former military contractor who was involved in EMP work.   While it’s possible to protect equipment in place with shielding, grounding and specialized electronic components, the most economical solution is to store spares.  This has the advantage of protecting (remember, “two is one”) with backups from ANY type of equipment failure, EMP or otherwise.  This method uses readily obtainable and very economical materials.  There’s really no excuse not to do this, as you’ll be protected against a number of different possible problems.

Go through your your gear and determine what you need for spares.  Many, many things now have microelectronics inside.  Low startup power water pumps, tankless hot water heaters, refrigerators, LED light bulbs and flashlights, audio equipment, inverters, charge controllers, solar panel diodes, video cameras, network routers and switches, computers, cars and trucks etc. all have electronics that could be fried.  

According to my source, the best way to store electronic equipment is in it’s original box, which provides an insulator from the outside via plastic, cardboard or foam.  Many electronic components come in static protecting bags, which will provide yet another layer of protection.  Double wrap the box with heavy duty aluminum foil, being careful to seal all seams with metal ducting tape in each layer.  The outside of this is then wrapped in plastic bubble wrap and placed inside a galvanized steel 32 gallon trash can.  

The inside of the trash can needs to have the same metal tape applied over the holes in the metal from the handles on the barrel and the lid and an insulating layer of cardboard should be fitted to the inside of the metal trash can.  This is to provide an insulator between the Faraday cage of the trash can and the electronics inside.  

Place all your wrapped electronics (double foil and bubble wrap) inside this trash can and seal the lid with more metal duct tape.  This provides two layers of security from the can and each component is also separately protected inside the can.   You can test this by placing an FM radio that is turned on, wrapping it in a box, layering the foil and bubble wrap, then placing it inside the metal trash can.  If you don’t hear any radio signal after it’s been wrapped and placed inside the metal trash can, you are good to go. – C.K.


While I appreciate the thought that Chris C. and others put into discussions of EMP scenarios, Chris and others are all forgetting one fact that makes all of this an exercise in futility:  There are dozens of active nuclear reactors operating in the US.  Any EMP burst will travel along the high tension wires that are used to distribute their output and fry them.  It’s not going to be the 1850s, it’s going to be more like The Omega Man, with most of the population dead within weeks from radiation poisoning when the cores melt down and explode. Those who survive this initial die off will be left with a land that will not grow crops for millennia to come.  That’s why I don’t worry about EMP anymore: There’s going to be nothing left. My family and I live in Butte, Montana astride the Great Divide. That puts us upwind of most of America’s nuclear reactors.

If we do ever suffer an EMP, I hope that there won’t be concurrent or subsequent radioactive fallout. The fallout from the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/reactor incident has really made me think hard about this.  If memory serves, there are 47 active reactors in the US, if they all overheat their cores [or spent fuel ponds] at once (or within the same week, say) I seriously fear for the population of the US and other countries. 

Wouldn’t the Jet Stream eventually carry the fallout around the northern hemisphere and hit us here as well?  I read that it takes several months under controlled conditions to completely shut down a reactor [and disassemble its pile], and that if the fuel rods were exposed to air because the pumps stopped that it might take years for them to cool off and stop spewing radiation. If the grid collapsed due to an EMP, there would be no heroic efforts like we saw in January, with 47 reactors going critical and no communications or transport, Sir Isaac Newton is in the drivers seat. 

I don’t want to sound defeatist, I have been following SurvivalBlog for several years, and am doing my best to prepare to keep my family alive in case of emergency.  I’m even working on a Bug-Out Bag article, which is what caused me to really start thinking about what I was prepping for.  The collapse of the grid like in your novel Patriots is obviously the biggie we all try to plan for, and if it goes down like that we all might have a chance to try the 1850s over again.  – Greg C. (A former USMC Captain.)

JWR Replies: These issues were described in detail in a SurvivalBlog article posted back in September, 2010. The only good news is that by the time that fallout clouds circle the globe, they will have already dropped most of their heavier components. In an absolute worst-case situation where all of the nuclear power plants and spent fuel ponds boil off and melt down, the worst-affected regions would be: the northeastern United States, Quebec, Iceland, and northern Europe. (Sorry about that!)

The southern hemisphere would obviously be safer, since there are relatively few nuke plants compared to the more industrialized northern hemisphere. Here in the United States, the least-affected regions would be the Pacific Northwest and the Inland Northwest (The American Redoubt.) I would not want to be living anywhere in the eastern United States!

Mr. Rawles,
We have had a couple telephone consults and I have found your knowledge to be of great use. I try to make your blog one of my first early morning reads here on the East Coast.
Chris C.’s article on EMP was extremely well thought out, comprehensive and full of accurate information. The only thing I take issue with is his statement regarding the reason we are a very likely target. Chris stated, “We now face an enemy who is difficult to put a face on, impossible to identify, and hates us for no other reason that the fact that we are a nation of free infidels.”
I find this type of thinking to be all too prevalent in America today. I am in no way a Muslim apologist. I feel strongly that the Islamic community has done little to nothing to denounce terrorism, either through fear of retribution from fellow Muslims or tacit approval of the activities of their radical counterparts. Additionally, my late father was a United States Marine, I was a U.S. Navy Corpsman and my son is presently a Marine Lieutenant attending flight school in Pensacola, so I do not take what I am about to say lightly.
Chris C.’s way of thinking is short-sighted and flat out wrong. The vast majority of Muslims do not hate us for our “freedom”. That is a false narrative that [the media] has been trying to create for decades. Just as any red-blooded American would be outraged at the presence of a foreign military on our soil, so do those inhabitants of Islamic countries who have had our military occupy and/or invade their lands. There is no denying that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive and evil tyrant and the world is a better place without his presence, but the same can be said about many dictators throughout the world, particularly on the African continent. The government of Afghanistan may or may not have known the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, but did its people deserve invasion and continued occupation?
Let’s use a fictitious example for a moment. An American citizen or group of citizens plots and successfully blows up the Eiffel Tower. Washington D.C., for whatever reason, states they don’t know where the group is, or simply will not turn them over. Would YOU accept French planes bombing U.S. cities, breaking down doors in the middle of the night looking for suspected terrorists or knocking your car out of the way with an APC because they wanted to get through……or would YOU be planting IEDs alongside the road to blow up the French troops?
The hijackers on 9/11 were almost all Saudi’s, as was OBL, yet they are our “allies”. OBL was found and killed in Pakistan, yet they are our allies. Does anyone believe that OBL lived in Pakistan for years without the knowledge of elements high within the Pakistani government? Let us not be naive. America is a great country, but we serve our interests, as do all nations. That said, we must not be surprised when our actions result in hatred. Most Muslims knew nothing of the United States, but when we bomb their countries, kill thousands and call it “collateral damage”, should we be surprised when that hatred is turned towards us?
We have involved ourselves in the politics of oppression throughout the world to serve our own national interests and must realize that the end result is hatred directed towards us. Yes, they resent the encroachment of “Western” corruption on their generations, but don’t we resent many of the very same vices that they do: promiscuity, drugs, alcoholism, abortion. Christianity preaches against the same things. They hate us not because we are free, but because we wish them to “be like us”. Forcing your ways upon the people of another land is not freedom, no matter how backwards we may perceive them.
Many of us resent the way our own government is trying to force us to comply with their beliefs. Anyone with the slightest bit of intellectual honesty will admit that our country is not the beacon of freedom it once was. That oppression they feel will soon be directed upon those who disagree with our present government. You basically wrote as much in your first novel, Patriots.
America has much to be proud of, its people are kind, generous and caring. Our government is not. If we need to know why they hate us, we need to look no further than those in Washington, D.C. Hatred of freedom? Please, let’s not fall into that jingoistic trap of false patriotism. True freedom is when people are left alone to live their lives, safe with their families, to live their lives. It’s not having Humvees racing down the street with guns pointed at your children. Let’s at least have an honest discussion.
Otherwise, it was an outstanding piece. Thanks, – Ken B. on Long Island


Chris C.’s essay on EMP has some false information and conclusions unjustified even by those falsehoods, and misleading advice. His essay rehashes some myths that have been circulating on the Internet for years in spite of the ready availability of reliable contradictory evidence. He tries to qualify his remarks by saying there is “debate” over situations where “no one is sure what will happen,” but in truth we do know. It’s just that the facts contradict his opinions.

He clearly wants to believe that “small transistor devices”, airplanes, modern cars, laptops, and pacemakers are at high risk from EMP, but the facts show that they aren’t. Of course, they shouldn’t be. They simply aren’t able to capture very much energy from EMP, and the features that protect these devices from electrostatic discharge (whether fingertip static on a cold day, or nearby lightning strikes during a storm) also serve to shunt EMP energy away from their critical systems. – P.N.G.