We live in an uncertain world. Riots have popped up in cities across the United States under the guise of righteous protests of elections or officer-involved shootings. Terrorists have taken to the streets in attacks both large and small. Hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes have wiped out entire cities. Our economy is under siege from within and without. Ebola, Zika, West Nile, and H1N1 have dominated headlines, though admittedly done little damage. The ability and precedent for grid failure are ever present. And finally, and maybe most nefariously, our very own government waits in the wings for any one of these events to transpire with devious plans already devised for containment of the populace through martial law.
Each of these scenarios presents unique challenges. While much is made of what to do in advance of any of these events (and rightly so), ultimate survival could depend on what you do in the minutes, hours, and days immediately following an event.
I originally wrote this guide for my family and close personal friends. Many of them have little understanding of the scenarios discussed. My hope was to bring some awareness to the issues in hope that, should an event transpire, they would have taken the necessary steps and know what to expect and what to do.
If anyone else can benefit from what is, admittedly, a beginner’s introduction to preparedness, so much the better!
- Grid down
- Natural disaster (flood, snow/ice storm, tornado)
- Economic collapse
- Terrorist attack
- Martial Law
This is probably the worst-case scenario, so I’ll start here. An EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) can occur in two ways: a coronal mass ejection or nuclear blast.
First, EMPs can occur naturally when a coronal mass ejection (CME) erupts on the sun. These CMEs occur quite regularly; however, the intensity and direction vary. Some of them fire off away from earth. The vast majority are of a low enough intensity that we never notice them.
Significant CMEs do occur and can cause massive damage. In 1859, a CME hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record. Observed by astronomer Richard Carrington, this is known as the Carrington Event.
The auroras were so bright that it awoke gold miners in California who thought the sun was rising. The EMP was so powerful that it melted telegraph lines in places, while other telegraph operators were still able to send and receive messages, despite their power supplies being disconnected.
Less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960 when widespread radio disruption was reported. The March 1989 geomagnetic storm knocked out power across large sections of Quebec. On July 23, 2012, a “Carrington-class” Solar Superstorm (solar flare, coronal mass ejection, solar EMP) was observed; its trajectory missed Earth in orbit. (Source: Wikipedia)
While previous incidents have caused little damage and appear as a footnote in history. A “Carrington-class” event in the present day would be catastrophic. Unlike life in 1859, nearly every aspect of modern society is reliant upon technology. EMPs, while not directly dangerous to humans, are specifically destructive to small-circuit technology. This is why only telegraphs were affected in the Carrington event.
An EMP can also be generated artificially by detonating a nuclear warhead in the atmosphere above Earth. This matter was the subject of a congressional inquiry a few years ago. Some well-respected members of the military and intelligence communities consider this one of the most likely types of major threat we face.
The height of the blast impacts the diameter of the blast zone and thus the area of impact. In this scenario, the farther from the epicenter the lesser the impact of the EMP. Depending on the placement and power of the device, vast swaths of the United States would be affected. Because the device is detonated in the atmosphere, there would be no radioactive fallout. But, as we have discussed, the long-term effects would be catastrophic. The congressional study concluded that a major EMP attack on the U.S. would result in 90% loss of life within one year of the event.
Tactically speaking, this is a better option for an attack that a traditional nuclear strike. First, it would kill more people over time. Second, without communication networks and basic infrastructure, it would be nearly impossible to determine the origin of the device and thus even know who attacked us.
Imagine a scenario where all communications and grid power simultaneously becomes unavailable. Most cars manufactured after 1980 would likely stop functioning. By extension, deliveries of all kinds would cease. Specifically, that includes fuel and food. Grocery stores stock a three-day supply of food. Even in a mild panic, stores would empty in a matter of hours. ATMs would cease to function, and banks would be closed. Cash would essentially cease to exist. Credit cards would not be able to be processed. You would be left with the physical cash in your possession.
All systems requiring electricity would be offline indefinitely as electric substations would have experienced massive hardware and software failures. The providers of the major parts for electric sub-stations are all overseas and take months to replace in the best of conditions.
Running water would stop running. Furnaces would stop working. Essentially, every minute of every day of life as you know it would be catastrophically affected. As I said, this really is the worst case scenario.
So, what do we do?
As with each of these scenarios, we need to break our preparation up into two categories: pre-event and post-event.
I’m going to focus on post-event for the purpose of this document, as it is designed to be an action plan and not a shopping list. It’s safe to say, the pre-event plan would be reasonably similar for each event. That would cover stocking food, water, self-defense items (guns and ammo), communications equipment, clothing, and other assorted gear.
Without a post-event plan, however, even the most well-stocked bunker could be of little significance if you can’t get to it!
While I don’t want to dwell on pre-event preps, there are a couple things that I want to call out specific to an EMP event: cash, coins, and cages.
Cash. If the power goes out, conventional wisdom suggests that while credit card payments won’t be accepted, many merchants would accept cash for a short time. The closer to the event, the more reasonable the prices. As people become more aware of what’s happening, prices will inflate as resources become scarce. Eventually, people will realize that cash has no value and will look for alternative methods of payment, like…
Coins. Many believe that trade will (d)evolve into precious metals as currency and barter. Obviously, by the time of an event, it will be too late to acquire gold and silver. While gold will hold its value, it will be difficult to segment out for smaller transactions. Having a stash of silver will be the most beneficial, in my opinion.
Cages. It is possible to make a Faraday cage. This is essentially a container that protects against the effects of an EMP. It is somewhat impractical to build a large cage and, realistically, only helpful for a few things. For example, putting a cell phone in there won’t do you much good as the cell networks would be down, but putting Ham radio equipment in would be helpful if others in your network did as well.
Now that you have a few things in order pre-event, here’s what I would suggest once the lights go out.
What to do:
- Get home. Your first priority should be getting home and making sure your family is home. You should always have a plan to get home. This should be fairly easy to plan from your normal places of visitation. You should think through how you’d get home on foot from work, church, et cetera. You should also have supplies in your car at all times that you’d need along the way. (For example, keep a pair of sturdy shoes or boots in your car, should you need to get home in the winter.)
- Get supplies. Using the cash you’ve stocked away, get to the closest stores and buy everything you can using the money you have. As discussed, prices will likely inflate quickly, and at this point you have to assume that resources are now finite. You’re looking for food that keeps, possibly water, depending on what you can transport. It would be best to develop a list so you don’t have to think about it at the time.
- Stay vigilant. Things will get bad. The good news is that if you’re paying attention, then you’re more prepared than 95% of the population to deal with the situation. Security will be increasingly important, so develop a plan that works for your location and given your resources.
This scenario is a slight twist on an EMP scenario. Many elements hold true; others do not.
A grid down scenario could come about in a couple of ways. The first and most likely is a cyber-attack. This has already happened in a number of places around the world in varying scale. Maybe the most notable was in Ukraine, where large areas of the country were affected. Malware has already been detected in a variety of grid systems across the U.S. and Canada. The nature of our aging infrastructure is such that a major attack would likely cause a cascading outage. As one system goes down and others try to help with the load, more systems would become overwhelmed and then go down.
The second scenario entails a physical attack on the grid in key locations. Targeting the actual infrastructure would have a similar crippling effect. It would take multiple coordinated attacks to cause widespread outages, but as we saw on 9/11, large scale attacks must be considered viable.
The possibility exists that a large scale attack could entail both cyber and physical attacks.
If we assume a successful attack, then we must consider partial to total grid failure. In this case, many of the failures from an EMP would still be present. Communication networks would fail, credit cards won’t work, ATMs won’t function, and banks won’t be open.
Some things will be notably different, however. Cars will continue to operate. Electronic devices will continue to work as long as they are charged. Generators would operate as long as they are fueled. As long as it is powered, any microprocessor will continue to function, which lends credence to having a backup power source, like solar.