Getting Home In The Event Of An EMP- Part 1, by B.M.

I want to open by saying that this is not a blueprint for long-term survival or preparedness, nor is it the same as a bug-out-bag scenario. This is a guide for getting home in the initial stages of a grid-down scenario. I served in the USMC,  worked the streets of this country for 25 plus years and I have also traveled extensively (to 60 plus countries). I have dealt, on a regular basis, with human beings from all walks of life, and there is no accounting for the ignorant and irrational behavior that they display.

The One Thing You Can Trust in Dealing with People in Duress

The one thing that you can trust in when it comes to dealing with people who are in duress is that you cannot trust them! They are self-serving and will not act or think rationally when under extreme strain. Learning how to limit your interactions with them while moving rapidly out of an urban environment in a grid-down scenario is a must for all those who have to work in the major urban areas of the United States.

Normalcy Bias An Advantage in the Beginning

Most people will adhere to the rule of law for as long as they can. Obviously different places with different cultures have different dynamics, but in the end most people (not all but most) will follow the norms of society in the beginning stages of TEOTWAWKI. The normalcy bias will be an advantage in the beginning, so it is incumbent upon you to capitalize on it by moving rapidly and intelligently. Pre-planning is the most important factor. All the great gear will not save you or your family if you don’t have a clue where you are going or what you are doing. Honing your survival skills, including but not limited to, physical fitness (this is priority one), marksmanship, fire starting, knot tying, and terrain knowledge, is more of an aid in survival than all the gear in the world.

Before You Leave Your House

It is imperative for you to have a detailed plan in place for ensuring the safety and well-being of your dependents while you are away. If you work a long way from home, like I do, and your significant other also works, you have a problem. If your children are older (high schoolers), they might be able to assess the situation (if properly educated and prepared) and make a judgment call to get home immediately or at least get to a relatives or friends close by. Smaller children are helpless; they are trapped at school with no communication, no transportation, limited supplies, and the frightening reality that Mommy and Daddy are not there. It is necessary that relatives nearby recognize the signs of an EMP or Grid-Down scenario and act quickly to retrieve your children, if possible. You can’t get home quick enough (I don’t care how fast you run) to protect them, so you need to put in place protection plans before it happens.

Time- Your Enemy

Time is your enemy. You have to move rapidly but intelligently. Having a detailed plan in place that covers several contingencies will cut down on the time you spend trying to assess your egress route on the day of the event. I understand that no plan survives initial contact, but planning gives you options that the unprepared will not have. The stress and panic of the situation tends to shut most down. Options cut down on stress. Less stress causes fewer mistakes. Fewer mistakes minimizes risk of catastrophic incident for yourself.

Day One

You’ve parked your car, rode the elevator up to the twentieth floor, poured yourself a cup of coffee, and just sat down for a morning meeting with Lou from accounting when the power inexplicably goes out. The elevators immediately return to ground floor, the rooms become dark with only the light from outside coming through the windows to light the way, and the commotion of people trying to figure out what is happening fills the building. You look out the window and notice that all the cars have come to a stop and nothing is moving. Immediately, because of your training and preparations, you think EMP attack. You realize that the clock is now ticking for you and the longer that you wait the more dangerous your trip home will be.

Your Trip Home

Your first thought is your spouse and two children, 15 and 9. You work 50 miles from home, and the spouse works 15 miles away from the house. Trusting in the detailed plans you have put in place for the well-being of your spouse and children, you begin the process of your trip home. It is going to be a very long walk.

The average relatively fit person can cover approximately three miles per hour walking, so those are the numbers I’ll use when calculating this walk. If a reasonable amount of travel time in a day is 8 to 10 hours you should be able to make the trip in two days, right? Maybe not. There are many factors when trying to make it out of an urban setting during a grid-down scenario. For one, there will literally be thousands of people on foot and bicycle. The next thing to worry about is actually making it to the main highway in a timely fashion. The neighborhoods near highways are often not the best, so walking through these can be a challenge. After that, once you are on the highway you will have to navigate through the thousands of stalled cars and people roaming everywhere. Remaining low-key will be your number one ally during this time. You want to move quickly but discreetly. People will be loaded with questions. It is best for you to remain vague, unassuming, bland, and forgettable.

The Gray-Man

It is important to be forgettable, obscure, and unassuming– the Gray-Man. The Gray-Man is a concept of being able to hide in plain sight, to be the type of person who people don’t take a second look at. This will aid you in moving through large crowds unnoticed, and that is where you want to be in this scenario. I always keep a pair of blue jeans (a waist size bigger and relaxed fit), a black t-shirt (breaks up the printing of the concealed firearm the best), some type of light jacket, and hiking boots in the back of my car. Also, a non-descript baseball hat or black watch cap (nothing that stands out) is useful. I know this seems obvious, but any abnormalities will stand out. Avoid cargo pants (especially olive drab or digital pattern), as this will give you the appearance of a “prepared person” with “good stuff” in your Marine Corp digital pattern super pack. Rifles, shotguns, machetes, swords, et cetera draw attention to you, as does military (molle) gear. Being the Gray-Man will save your life.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is the most important aspect of your movement. You can have all the guns and gear in the world, but someone only needs a snub nose .38 to take it all away. You need to be able to recognize a threat. Predators are easy to spot, if you train yourself to look for them. Most in a situation like this will be clueless. They’ll look clueless; they’ll act clueless, and if you pay attention you’ll notice it.

During this movement, you will encounter many street people. It is best to avoid eye contact. Remember, they are predatory by nature and are always looking for a “mope”. Use your periphery vision to observe these people. Look for the ones who are stalking. Their facial expressions and their body language will give them away. It is important to focus on your ultimate goal but not so much as to blind yourself to existential threats.

An Encounter

Always give an encountered person an out. Let them know that they can depart and that you don’t wish for a confrontation but that you are absolutely willing to do what is necessary to get home to your loved ones. Showing a willingness to barter or trade and knowing when to do it is important. After an encounter, whether force is used or not, get out of the area ASAP. Try not to use a direct straight route, if possible.


The use of firearms is always a very personal decision. Firearms are loud and tend to draw the type of attention you are looking to avoid. Use only when absolutely necessary. I am a firm advocate of your right to carry a firearm but also knowing how to use them responsibly and appropriately. A fool with a gun is an even more dangerous fool. A firearm is the ultimate equalizer, if handled properly. The Spirit should be your guide in this decision.


Dealing with the police can be tricky. Avoid them at all costs. There is absolutely nothing they can do for you at this point, and they are definitely armed. Most are not wealthy and are not prepared. You don’t want to look tough, shady, or targetable, as this will draw their attention. Cops are confrontational by nature, and if you give them a reason you will get confronted. If you get cute, you are going to get thumped.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in plain sight is a skill that needs to be developed. Attempting to sneak around or move stealthily will only get you noticed, so move with the flow as you work your way out in the direction that you need to go. Try not to move against the flow of the crowd as this draws attention. You need to realize that your “Super-Secret Special Backway” is also the “Super-Secret Special Backway” of 50,000 other mopes.

Don’t Linger, First Several Hours Crucial to Escaping the City

The interstate will look like a parking lot with hundreds if not thousands of people roaming around, intermingling, and conversing. It is recommended that you avoid the temptation to opine or “hang around”, as this kills precious time. The first several hours is the most crucial to you escaping the confines of the city. The atmosphere will not remain jovial for long, so the more distance you can put between you and the city the better it is for you.

Exiting the city rapidly is the ultimate goal here. Using the crowd and the atmosphere to your advantage is paramount to you escaping what will soon to become an urban nightmare. You have many more miles to cover, so don’t linger.

This is the day that you need to cover the most ground. Staying alert and remaining focused will help you to achieve this goal.

Tomorrow, we’ll cover “overnight” and day two of getting home after an EMP event has occurred.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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  1. In theory not all vehicles would be disabled by an EMP. But no matter what the streets would be impassible from traffic jams from those that were. I think if I had to walk out of a city, I’d try to find railroad tracks heading my general direction. Problem is the homeless frequent those areas. Like you said keep moving. If I were to come across a bicycle ,I’d do what was necessary within reason to acquire it. If one had this concern, might be a good idea to keep a bike in your vehicle. At least until an EMP threat was diminished.Currently, Russia , China North Korea and Iran are capable and given current events you just don’t know what could happen. I pray we avoid war, but the writing has been on the wall …

  2. Good start to the article. I always have a plan in place for getting home in the event of a disaster if I’m on the road, and as you mentioned time is of the essence. Since I want to be able to move quickly I prefer riding a bicycle (assuming conditions allow) to walking, so I always have my old Montague Paratrooper folding mountain bike in the back of my SUV if I’m traveling any significant distance from my house. You can also find less expensive folding bikes on Amazon – just make sure you get one that can handle some rough conditions.

  3. The first thing you should try if your vehicle is not working is to unplug the negative battery terminal for about 5-10 mins, then hook it back up and try to start it. If that doesn’t work, look for an older vehicle and try again. Though if trapped in a city it may make you a target, so you would have to be fast and pay close attention to road and pedestrian conditions. But if done immediately (first 20 mins to an hr) they may just stare and yell questions as to how you got yours to work. May that day never come, God Bless.

  4. Excellent article. I worked for 18 years in the financial district of a major midwestern city, 35 miles from home. I prayed every day that I would be able to get home safely. I would have had to walk through ghetto neighborhoods no matter which direction I deemed safest. A very scary thought.

  5. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. Every person’s situation is a bit different. I’m in my 70s, wife a bit younger. I’m a former Marine and stay in shape, always carry enough gear in my truck for a 2 week trek. She has physical limitations and I’m not kidding myself that we’re going to make great progress. I plan to take advantage of day 1, but bikes are out of the question. My plans for getting home depends on where we get stranded. Whether to use freeway, secondary roads, railroad tracks, possibly waterways. Actually.. Planning for the worst, hoping for something better.

  6. Maybe its just me, but I don’t see cars being useful, even if they did work. If you are in a major city and an EMP event occurs, its game over for cars. I’d be lucky to get my car out of the parking garage. Then once on the narrow streets, lined with buildings and stopped cars and people all over the place, you aren’t moving. Then if you were lucky enough to get out and on a highway, many highways have concrete barricades on either side of the road, so with stopped cars, you can’t get around. Then if you were lucky enough to get out of the city, you best have a 4×4, because you’re going to be in the grass and the ditches driving with stopped cars on the road.

    The fold-up bike in your car trunk would be your best bet. Biking 6 mph would get you 48 miles in a day. But of course, you’d be dodging people and stopped cars, so you’d end up going slower. Of course within a few hours, people would start wanting to steal that bike out of desperation. Imagine a 200 lbs. out of shape man who is 20 miles from home… that bike would look awfully nice.

    Either way…. my prayer is that IF this ever happened, I’d be at home.

  7. Because you wrote this article you should definetly read American Exodus by JK Franks. It’s about a guy getting home to his family after a massive CME hits the planet! Great article by the way!

  8. Good input…I keep a fold-up mountain bike in my SUV to make my 18 mile trek home. My issues will be crossing the many waterways if there’s something more – like an earthquake…Looking forward to the following article installments.

  9. Keep in mind that a EMP attack is a NUCLEAR attack on us and should be considered the opening salvo of a Nuclear War. The only delay in our response would occur if the missile was fired from a freighter off our coast and it took awhile to ID the attacker. IMHO if this occurred under BHO the betting would be he would just surrender or have no response. Giving you time to get home. I don’t think this will occur under Trump. As stated Time is not on your side.

  10. B.M.:
    You are SO correct!
    At BEST you have three days to get away from a City to your survival point.
    As we both know, bugging-in is slow-motion suicide…
    God bless!

  11. Seawind: An EMP would of course disable the power grid, which would leave no way for most of America’s nuclear reactors to be cooled. Within days many would likely imitate Chernobyl.

  12. If one is 50 miles from home I would think a bike is a must. A good mountain bike with run flat tires.

    It would be equipped with very bright lights front and rear to use to blind unsavory people. Also, a 130db siren to again keep people away.

    Now the last protective element is a bulletproof jacket. Does this sound extreme, it is not. If the police wear them why not you.

    1. Skip:
      I’ve never tried it, but I imagine that wearing a plate carrier with effective plates would reduce your carrying capacity, speed and/or range.
      Not good during SHTF…

      1. I can’t see the time period outlined by the author being the full plate carrier time. This is the ‘second chance’ vest time window, protection for general handguns, and far lighter and more mobile.

  13. Good writing and very good points. I think being physically fit is so important. I try to walk every day and this is without a pack weighing 35 pounds Weight is a killer . I have pared my bag to the very basics. Shelter, water and purification, fire , and some energy for the body. Prayer is always a good starting point. Good job.

  14. I agree about L.E.O.’s. Just type in “Bad Cops” on you tube, and enjoy a weeks worth of infuriating videos. Of coarse, all cops are not bad, but they do follow a blue line so it would be rare for the honest one to stop the bad one.

  15. I tend to disagree about the green cargo pants, they are non discript and blend in to a lot of terrain, specially once you get out of the city and may need to hide, in the city gray or coyote colored though may be a better choice, blue jeans stand out against buildings, plants, ect, but do agree you do not want to wear camo at this stage. Other points are very good. Last look like a lion to those around you except police and officials for those act like the sheep.

    1. What I received from the author’s comments about pants was low-key, not camouflage. A pair of practical pants that look very much like business casual is IMO key. Tan 5/11-style pants that look like something you could pull off in a relaxed business environment is good. MARPAT = bad, unless you go all the way with a full “down on his luck” loser look.

      Curious that this article actually gave me three distinct business ideas.

  16. Excellent article! As the author emphasized, I think planning is the key element to success. I’ve found that Google Earth is a big help in assessing possible off-road routes home (though I’m still a little creeped out by it!). I work 35 miles from home, but discovered a railroad that runs 2 blocks from my workplace, which would get me out of the dense commercial suburbs and to the country within 10 miles. This is a trade-off, as others have mentioned that railroads often run through rather seedy areas, especially in urban environments; however, I would never consider being unarmed in this situation, and the railroad provides excellent cover on either side. I would plan to switch sides according to the probable threat, and, if necessary, drop behind a rail to engage an aggressor. Google Earth has also helped to map a cross-country route after leaving the railroad, including compass bearings and distance in yards (my “get somewhere” stride is about 1 yard). Of course, caution must be exercised when cutting across private land. Speaking of “cutting”, a small pair of bolt cutters in your get-home-bag may be worth the weight. Though I would never want to damage private property as a matter of course, getting home to my family would not be stopped by a chain-link fence.

    Here’s hoping this will always remain a thought-exercise!

    All the best

  17. A contractor sized garbage bag should be included by all, given its many applications. Ground cloth, shelter, water collector, overnight wood protector, raincoat, and duffel bag. Loaded with leaves, an insulator. What else?

  18. One thing to add to your article would be the massive number of electrical fires caused by EMP.

    Along with the confused masses, imagine a city with several uncontrolled fires per square block.

    That shortens your time horizon to just minutes to bug out.

  19. This is a well thought out article. The only part I take issue with it the mythology that all vehicles will stop running. The EMP Commission tested a significant number of light vehicles, semi tractors, and other transportation systems on EMP simulators. Based on that series of tests, the Commission expects around 94% of the national fleet to continue to operate, though at some level of degradation. Your intermittent wipers will likely not work and maybe your radio…too many unshielded chips.
    I tried to pry specifics on brand, year, model, out of my source (who actually participated in the testing) and he was protective of this information. But he did provide a hint. “Dodge products were the most likely to fail. Sometimes, we could re-start the vehicle if we disconnected the battery cables for few minutes to allow the drive train ECUs to reset. Usually, they would re-start. But after the second insult, they would not respond. Ford Motor Company has its own simulator.” And that’s the extent of the hint part of our conversation.
    Vehicles are not (for the most part) attached to the grid, the Great EMP Reception Antenna. Their wiring tends to be tucked inside metal enclosures, and the ECUs have been shielded inside aluminum or steel boxes for some time.
    Since the early 1990s, manufacturers of automobiles have been improving the hardness of engine control systems. So, newer cars may prove more robust to insult than older ones. Soviet testing over Kazakstan in their EMP test series burned out ignition systems on 1930’s era automobiles and diesel generators (and a lot of other things!). It’s hard to imagine Soviet automotive design being very sophisticated in that era.
    The big problem will be fuel and the cars that do stall on the road system. The author is dead-on about time being critical to GET OUT of an urban center, and the human behavior factor.
    Maybe the actual number of immobile vehicles could be higher, but many will still run. What’s in your fuel tank? Do you stock extra and stabilize it (avoid bio-diesel…storage life is extremely short)?
    When I was 15, I walked 57 miles in a single day with three friends. It’s doable, if you’re in shape. Now, I’m 62, and I would have trouble making ten! The folding bike idea is a good one….if you can hang onto it.
    I give Trump 3% odds he’ll reach any significant deal on de-nuking NK. Un is NOTHING without his nukes and rockets. We’ve been down this road before.

    1. The EMP commission didn’t test under full power. They just tested till they got the first problem. A real EMP will almost certainly be worse.

  20. While plotting out potential routes be sure to look for power and pipeline right-of-ways. The utilities paid a legion of surveyors to route these through the cheapest properties they could. That means through the lowest building and people densities as well.
    I currently have five routes home plotted out, 35 to 46 miles depending, and have hiked a few of them. Most of the paths are primarily along the power lines, although some bushwhacking to cut from one to another until I reach the rural area we live in.
    Keep in mind though that the described three mph is wildly optimistic – skirting the edge of large planted fields, ie; clear sailing, I can do 4 mph forever. Cross country it’s closer to one. And these numbers are while hoofing it for speed without security concerns. My SERE training, a week of hell, keeps intruding, and reminds me of having to wait 10 bleeping hours to cross a single road.
    Whatever assumptions you make about your travel time: double it, and load your GHB appropriately. And get the weight down! A 35 lb pack will work you into the dirt after a couple of days. My target for eight days is 15 lbs without weapons or water.
    Regarding the GHB: consider a cargo vest or fisherman’s vest as an addition. Any item you consider to be absolutely critical should be on your person, not stashed in your pack. You could lose it during a water crossing, or drop it to take a dump and get run off by a group of hostiles before you could recover the pack.

    1. Bron Cikotas was directly involved in the testing of light vehicles. He told me they tested to 50kv/m2. Some consider this a light insult in the context of possible Super EMP weapons, but we really won’t know until………

  21. Interesting scenario. Almost exactly what I used as the scenario for my book (1). While I had the grid go down from terrorists, not an EMP, the social effect would be much the same. The protagonist (who also worked in a big downtown, 50 miles from home) figures he’s got a couple days of general befuddlement in society before things start getting grim.

    The great masses of the unpreppared aren’t going to suddenly become ravening zombies on Day One. Normalcy bias will keep them waiting for the lights to come back on by themselves (like the usual outage) or for the government to save them, etc. It’s only after things don’t return to normal (several days) that the sheeple will start to panic.

    It will also take a couple days for the authorities to come to grips with things and start to implement ’emergency measures’ akin to martial law.

    That all means you’ve probably got two or three days of confusion in which you can be mobile. Since mobility is key, traveling light will help. Water, minimal shelter for overnight, and basics. No need for kitchen sinks. Your goal is to get home ASAP, not camp in the woods for a week.

    — Mic

  22. The bullet proof product I was referring to is The styles of clothing cover normal looking work jackets, vest to sport jackets.

    If a EMP event hits I would want some protection from the trigger happy thug.

    Also, bikes would be great but add the electric style and now you are talking range. And storing it in ones vehicle with a faraday cage would be easy.

    I would want quiet speed, protective armor in my clothing and serious firepower like a desert eagle.

  23. I always see people mention keeping a non-descript baseball hat. Why non-descript? I would only do camo if I lived in an area where wearing camo is a normal sight on a daily basis (the rural south, anyone?). If not, think of the nearest large sports college, or city with pro sports. It would not look out of place for someone in Ohio to be wearing an Ohio State hat–or (God forbid) if you were close to Chicago to be wearing a Bears or a Cubs hat. Yes, it might be more visible with the bright colors, but would probably raise a lot less attention.

  24. Close to a strong EMP nothing may be salvaged electrically as I’ve seen even systems down to the smallest engine fryed from just a lighting strike, distance and location (think as simple as between a couple of truck bodies) may leave a vehicle running or nearby vehicles able to be ‘rebooted’.
    Unless you’re prepared with all the needed electronics and tools to replace them quickly (not drawling attention too yourself too ) just get out.
    EMP damage has a strong debunking crowd to divide and conquer us on the ability to survive , and in my opinion to cut their competition so their ‘friends’ have best chance.
    As many quote it’s “prepare for the worse and ‘hope’ for the best”

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