What Items Might Survive an EMP?
Identifying the systems that would probably fail if there were a strong-enough EMP from either a massive solar CME, a nuclear EMP weapon, or a tactical EMP bomb, is easier to speculate than items that might survive an EMP. There are some obvious items that would survive, but many are not that obvious.
An EMP, an ‘electro-magnetic-pulse’, is a side-effect of a nuclear explosion, a coronal mass ejection (from the Sun), or a purposed EMP bomb. An EMP is a near instantaneous and invisible ‘ZAP’ of electricity that surges through electrical wires and electrical semiconductor components. ‘IF’ the EMP is strong enough and the electronic components are close enough to the source, then these components could fry. Once they are fried, that’s it… they’re done. Only physical replacements will bring the systems back up and running.
So, while attempting to discover what items will survive an EMP, we need to know what is INSIDE the item… namely, if there are any electronic semiconductors (transistors, IC ‘chips’, microprocessors, etc.). It is the microscopic semiconductor ‘junctions’ themselves that are vulnerable to melting due to an excess of electrical current being forced through the junction (from the EMP).
Also, an EMP will be carried through overhead power lines (at the speed of light) and could instantaneously overwhelm power transformers along the grid with excess electrical current, causing the windings of the transformers to melt into a molten blob. The power lines will also carry the EMP (at the speed of light) far and wide into homes and businesses in search of semiconductors to fry.
Here’s another thing to know… an EMP’s energy will decay the further away from the source that you get. Electronic circuits that are further away will be less vulnerable to the EMP. How far away? Well that depends (of course). It depends on the overall strength of the EMP, the altitude of the EMP, the ‘line-of-sight’ distance from the EMP, and any protection that the device might have to protect it from an EMP.
After all that, the simple answer to what items might survive, are those items that do not contain semiconductors!
The problem is, nearly all devices today contain semiconductors!
If the device you are wondering about contains any digital interface whatsoever, then you can probably kiss it good-bye. Often it may be difficult to even know if there are semiconductors in a device. Even if there is no digital interface, there could still very well be semiconductors or electronic circuits somewhere inside.
Since winter is coming on, let’s talk Heaters.
Electric heaters… Fogetaboutit. The grid will probably be down.
Oil heat… The burner’s ignitor transformers, electronic control circuits, and electronic controlled pumps will fry. Plus, with no electrical power, the pumps won’t function.
Natural gas heat… The utility gas pressure will probably remain for awhile, but electronic thermostats or gas valve controllers may fry. Some basic-style natural gas heaters, such as wall units, could be lit manually though – until the pressure runs out.
Portable heaters… Most self-fueled heaters without electronic controls will survive – until your fuel source runs out. If it plugs in, it’s toast.
Wood Stove heater… Ding Ding Ding… we have a winner!
Let’s talk cars.
As most of us know, any new car today is jam packed full of electronics. Forget it. It’s dead.
Any car made with electronic ignition and fuel injection will probably stop in it’s tracks. Cars have been being built with these features longer than you may think (~1980’s). Depending on the exact vehicle, you may be somewhat ‘safe’ with a car built in the early 1980’s, 1970’s or earlier. It would take some significant research to list the vehicles built without these electronic systems, but suffice it to say that most any vehicle today is vulnerable to EMP failure (if close enough to the EMP source).
Let’s talk ‘general’.
Generally speaking, ranging from tools, to appliances, to heaters, to vehicles… if it has electronic circuits, it is vulnerable to EMP. This basically leaves hand tools, hand operated or primitive appliances, wood stove heat, and old vehicles. We’re talking living like the 1800’s or earlier.
While the threat of an EMP to the degree of mass outages is apparently slim, the fact is that it is not zero. A huge portion of the world population today relies on electricity for survival. It has enabled great advancements in civilization. The lack thereof could enable great setbacks to civilization.
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@Ken, great post… Glad to see wide spectrum analysis… Yes another “Ding, Ding, Ding”, for M.S.B.. Always looking for the perfect post… I’m sure we will see more… Survive as always…
I don’t know about generators. But my gasoline driven chainsaw (pull start) definately has a electronic ignition. An egine without electronic ignition would have to use old fashioned points.
My Vespa P200 scooter is made in 1977 and was the first model to be sold without a point-ignition. So anything running on gasoline after, say 1980 will be fried with a EMP.
Check for yourself: if the cable running to the sparkplug come from a sealed block of plastic, than chances are that it has an electronic ignition. If on the other hand the spark plug cable runs to a stator-plate, behind the flywheel, you will have a point igintion.
Hope this helps…
Most discussion on EMP is on the effects on infrastructure systems such as the obvious electric power system. I am curious what would have happen to the transportation system in particular, commercial airlines. Are commercial airplanes susceptible to EMP?
In a word, yes. From the research I’ve done, commercial airlines are now computer controlled and use electricity to fly, which means that when EMP hits, they would be shut down. The planes will drop like flies, and according to the One Second after website, 250,000 to 500,000 people would die when the planes crash.
…and his book can be found here, One Second After
I would I protect a back-up generator from an EMP?
@joe, if you meant to say, “How would I protect a back-up generator from an EMP?”, I would suggest keeping it in a metal storage shed that is grounded (wire-bonded from the metal to a ground rod).
This doesn’t affect me, thankfully, but I’m curious about pacemakers and insulin pumps, etc. I remember reading recently that hackers can get into pacemaker systems somehow. I guess these are a newer breed that can be adjusted externally via a computer?? My memory may be way off on the mechanics of it, but I DO remember clearly that they can be hacked and messed with. Curious if an EMP would harm such things, too. What about someone on a portable oxygen pump? No more dialysis? Can something like that run on a generator? WOULD they even run them on generators or would there be greater healthcare issues to manage first? Wow…
stuff like pacemakers, insulin pumps, ect would no longer work either.
Yall should look into how to build a faraday cage or faraday boxes to protect your equipment and or cars. Not like in the long run it will make much of a difference in a solar flare situation…
But it might keep you and your stuff running long enough to get to a “safer” place.
Although the more I have been researching the more I realize that if the sun does produce a massive solar flare there will be no escaping the radiation from all the failing Nuclear power plants at once (at least if your in the northern hemisphere). The southern hemisphere has only 3 or 4 (known) nuclear power plants vs. the hundreds in the north and thankfully due to the airstreams there is little to no crossover. Something to think about.
I know where Im going if the sun does what it does!
Jeremy – how far south would you need to go?
Thank you for the post.
I dont know how feasible or not feasible it is to worry about an emp. And who says it would have to be an enemy? From what I have read it could be our good old friend the sun sending a solar flare our way. And I dont think you would have to take the whole US down in order to make huge issues. I cant imagine the fun that would be unleashed if an emp took down even the east coast. Or Washington DC. I personally dont want to think about freezing my fanny off during the winter even if the grid was just for a few weeks.
No need to risk a missile sent to emp the U.S. The Russians have a “malfunctioning” satllite that they may have to auto destruct it before it falls to land, Opps blew it up over The U.S. lights out.
Here in the Netherlands almost all our power lines are underground.
There are a few mainline above ground, but most are not.
Does that mean an EMP won’t be harmful here?
@sufi, You are definitely better prepared and less vulnerable with power lines underground. However, a pulse that is induced in any above-ground wiring may also end up traveling along in underground wiring – assuming that much of the overall system structure is interconnected. Underground wiring though will not pick up any ‘extra’ voltage/current induction because the pulse will be stopped as it enters the ground (it will penetrate somewhat – but most underground wiring is at least 18″ underground in conduit).
@ Ken, Thank you for your feed back as regards underground power. That’s one that at times I have thought about. There is the issue in the back of my mind regarding the power source that feeds an area that has buried power lines? Not much good having underground power if your power is, as most grid power is, from afar… Just saying… Survive-All…
You can order 1 nanosecond surge protectors and cages for your generators at:
They are in Florida and the products are professional and sophisticated.
Fireproof file cabinets and safes can hold electronics wrapped inside to protect them.
Contact your local utility and ask them to “harden” their facilities before it is too late.
It takes a long time to get a transformer replaced from Korea.
Although fiction, I suggest reading “One Second After” just for a few thoughts on the subject. Quite realistic.
i read it a few years ago… one of my most favorite stories.
Are Solar Panels safe from EMP? Thinking of investing in portable ones that can be taken with me in a bugout pack etc.
Simon, Solar panels are not safe from EMP. There are blocking diodes built-in to the panels which ‘might’ burn out. This is something that I am interested to explore further – that is, how much would it take to burn out these diodes. Having said that, there are other concerns such as the electronics that are inside the charge controllers and the inverters. It is feasible, although expensive, to keep some spare panels in a shielded storage area, along with spare electronic parts. It may be more reasonable to discover where these diodes are located within, and then you could keep spares of just the diodes (provided you know how to replace them, soldering, etc.).
My gut tells me that unless the EMP is relatively ‘nearby’ (assuming a man-made weapon), that the induced voltages in the panels may be low enough not to exceed the breakdown voltage and current of the diodes. It’s something I need to discover the specifics of… Thanks for the comment.
What would happen to electronic devices that have had their power sources depleated or devices that have not been plugged or used for sometime?Like an old 1996 lamp thats sat in the basement for 10 or so years.Would these devices be affected, as they haven’t been conncected to a source of electricity and have little to power left to be transferred or be added to fry the device?
It will make little difference in the outcome whether or not the device is powered up, plugged in, or not. If it contains semiconductor junctions (transistors, diodes, IC’s, etc.) then it will be toast (assuming the EMP is of sufficient strength in your vicinity). The only protection will be Faraday cage protection (or equivalent).
Question on wind generators. Would most of the modern wind generators stationed outside doing their thing survive? I believe most of them are ” alternator based ” and i am very ” technically un-versed ” on the difference between alternator and generator based sources. I have heard for example that all cars with alternators would not survive, but older cars that are generator based… ( like my old 1953 Chev ) would ? Thoughts? Thanks.. Great Site and very informative! – Mongo Blazing Saddles..
Would a diesel generator survive?
Mechanical items like motors, generators would likely not be damaged. Electronic and some electrical components that are part of the controls for motors/gens might be affected, but can be protected to some degree if they are enclosed in a metal case or enclosure that is well-grounded. A typical older vehicle with a solid metal body, using a ground strap connected to a grounding rod could be an example, but note that the ground is important, since you can’t actually insulate against EMF, but you can divert the pulse around sensitive components to ground. IMHO.
Where you gonna go? North,South, do u really think its going to matter when its total chaos with everyone starving to death, if your not underground like all the elite have already planned for, you will be soon!
my question is wondering if my tiller, and old tractors as in 1950 john deere model A would still work. I have no interest in going anywhere, i’d be set fine where I am. but I would like the ability to keep growing my food and even in an emergency event, plant several more acres of survival foods…potatoes, beans, carrots. I have the land to expand onto that would allow me to help feed a lot of people.
If you have an underground home/service bay for equipment , how far underground would you have to be to avoid the effects of EMP?
I understand how a magnet destroys a processor, and literally and physically bends and destroys the connections of hard drives and interface connections. What i am not understanding is how will hard connections to generators and coils in xmfrs. For servers it wouldn’t take much, but generator or a turbine, i mean hell the blaste from a grenade could do that. Not understanding this surge of current, wouldn’t a over current drain just send it all to ground or a resistor bank. You have a lot of systems that are set up to dump excess current and voltage.??
So, I’m a bit confused. Something powered by steam/clockwork wouldn’t be effected by an Emp, right?
Old tube hamradio may survive. It had high voltage dc tubes in it anyway and should work. Russian bombers had 3o year old tube radios found in them when other countries radios were modern semi conductor.
High altitude enhances emp effect by pumping up more of the atmosphere.You dont need 24 weapons. Effect would diminish some from center of attack for non connected hardware but would matter little to the surge along power and communication lines.Not all hardware gets fried,depending on the band and type of antenne many hand held radios would still work,modern auto electronics are actually well protected and test done at the EMP simulator show that most do very well,aircraft are also well protected and are frequently struck by lightning with no adverse effects.The infrastructure systems that control fuel,power,communications and water systems all have connections to power and communication lines that will bring the voltage spike to them burning many of them out. Most dispatch and emergency centers are wired into the grid,a backup generator cant power burned out gear.the tests done at the govt simulator could produce voltages of up to 50000 volts per meter ,I dont know if this is what is expected in an attack or just the best they could come up with.The actual reports are easily found on the web and date back as far as the 80s.Just losing the power grid or a large section of it would be catostrophic ,most hospitals cannot sustain operations for more than a few days and the rest of our fuel,foodand medicine supplies are on a just in time delivery for economic reasons.
would we be able to retaliate? could we launch nukes after an EMP?
You can bet that almost all Dept. of Defense equipment and facilities can and would be protected. Nobody but the average citizen has been neglecting EMP hardening. I’m guessing the government has been working on it for at least 30 to 40 years. The Soviet Union always thought in terms of HUGE warheads, and it’s been known for a long time that a 20 megaton warhead would cause EMP.
Whether or not our government could or WOULD help us is a completely different topic.
As for diesel engines, if they have mechanical fuel injections systems, mechanical fuel pumps and no solid state controllers of any sort, they will be fine, needing only air and fuel to run, but I’m sure you all already know that.
Does anyone one know if our submarines would survive?