How to Protect Against an EMP: EMP Protection 101

January 11, 2023 7 min read

how to protect against emp

 

Our modern society depends on an intricate and complex web of electronic equipment and systems. This system is awe-inspiring and affords us many luxurious creature comforts we have come to enjoy (and take for granted). But what if that system turned off in the blink of an eye?

When it comes to SHTF scenarios, there is a lot to be prepared for. High on your list should be EMPs and EMP protection.


Keep reading to learn about various sources of EMPs, the steps you can take to protect your electronic equipment, and preparing for the aftermath of an EMP.  

 

What is an EMP?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also known as a transient electromagnetic disturbance (TED), is a short, intense wave of electromagnetic energy. EMPs can be natural or artificial. Depending on the source of the EMP, it can occur as an electric field, magnetic field, electrical current, or electromagnetic field. The disturbance caused by an EMP can disrupt communications and damage electronic equipment.  

What Causes EMPs?

There are many different types of EMPs, and they can come from natural or man-made disturbances. Some types of EMPs are quite mundane, while other EMPs could ignite a SHTF scenario. 


Natural EMP Events

  • An electrostatic discharge (ESD) can occur when two charged objects come into proximity or contact.

    emp protection for lightning

     
  • Lightning electromagnetic pulses (LEMP) occur from lightning strikes, which cause a massive initial current flow, followed by a train of pulsating decreasing energy flows.

  • A meteoric EMP occurs from the discharge of electromagnetic energy, resulting from the impact of a meteoroid on a spacecraft or a meteoroid passing through Earth’s atmosphere.
     
  • Coronal mass ejections (CMS), or solar EMPs, occur from a blast of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s corona. CMEs are often associated with solar flares; however, the relationship has not been established. 

Types of Man-Made EMP Events

  • Surges of electrical current from faulty electrical systems in your home or in the power grid can cause damage to electrical equipment.

  • A nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP) occurs in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. The gamma rays from the nuclear detonation ionize the air molecules to produce positive ions and recoil electrons called Compton electrons. This pulse of energy is what creates the EMP.
     
  • An electromagnetic bomb, or E-bomb, can cause a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NNEMP) without nuclear technology. NNEMP weapons can be carried as payloads in cruise missiles and drones. The pulse from the NNEMP weapon is its primary effect, but it has a limited range.   

What Are The Potential Impacts Of An EMP?

The impacts of an EMP are correlated with temporarily or permanently disabling electrical and electronic equipment and devices. Therefore, EMPs have little to no effect on living organisms. Additionally, EMPs are not radioactive—however, radiation will be present if the EMP results from a nuclear explosion.


After an EMP has deployed, a powerful electromagnetic field short-circuits any electrical equipment nearby. Because the EMP's electromagnetic energy travels at the speed of light, all vulnerable equipment will be affected virtually simultaneously.


Some effects of an EMP are more serious than others. For example, the fallout from losing access to the internet on your cellphone is inconvenient—but the fallout of losing the municipal power grid and water supply could be catastrophic. 


A List of Vulnerable Equipment

  • Computers
  • Satellites
  • Radios
  • Radar receivers
  • Traffic lights
  • Railway networks
  • Power systems
  • Telecommunications equipment
  • Water supplies
  • Electronic systems in cars 
  • Cell phones
  • Antennas

 

electronics will break without preparation for an EMP

 

EMPs could damage significant portions of the United State’s critical infrastructure. The electrical grid, communications equipment, water, wastewater system, and transportation modes are all vulnerable. 

The impacts of an EMP on critical infrastructure are likely to worsen and cascade into other sectors until the effects of the EMP are no longer bound to any single geographic region. The multiplying effects of the EMP could last for weeks, if not months, until the systems are restored. 

Due to the wide range of indispensable electronic equipment that can be rendered useless after an EMP, it’s vital to take precautions.  

 

How to Protect Against EMPs

1. Turn Off and Unplug Equipment

The simplest and easiest way to reduce the damage caused by an EMP is to turn off non-essential equipment. You should also unplug the equipment from metallic cables, such as power cords, ethernet cables, telephone lines, and coaxial cables. 


Wherever possible, cables should be removed from the devices and not just unplugged from the wall. If you cannot remove the cord from the device, coil it near the equipment to reduce its size and ability to pick up EMP energy. 


For wireless equipment, turn them off and remove them from any charging stations or adaptors. Battery packs should be removed from small electronics, because the batteries can inadvertently assist the EMP in damaging the equipment. 

2. Use Surge Protection Devices

Surge protection devices protect the consumer unit, wiring, and accessories from electrical power surges that may result from an EMP. 

Many surge protection devices use metal oxide varistors that can be a fire risk if they fail. Whenever possible, use fire-proof surge protection devices.


We recommend keeping spare surge protection devices just in case one needs to be replaced.  

3. Use the Best Building Materials

Some materials protect against EMPs better than others. We understand that no one can live in an all-metal home without windows; but if you want to protect certain sections of your home, you must consider the materials you are using.


Building Shielding 

Protection Rating

Material

Transparent

Wood

Poor

Masonry

Moderate

Concrete, no windows

Good

Metal siding, no windows

Very good

All metal, no windows

 

4. Ensure your Backup Generator System is not Connected to Commercial Power

To protect against EMPs, it’s vital to have a backup generator system. The generator system should not be connected to commercial power unless you have high-quality surge protection. 

The best option for backup power generators is natural gas, because natural gas itself cannot act as an antenna for EMP energy. 

5. Use Heavy-Duty Aluminum Or Faraday Cases

Wrapping electronic devices in heavy-duty aluminum foil is another way to protect against EMPs. Now, wrapping things in aluminum foil is obviously going to set off “conspiracy nut” alarms, but the aluminum foil genuinely deflects the EMP energy and prevents it from frying the device by providing a conductive surface completely surrounding vulnerable electronics. This truth is where the whole trope of “tinfoil hats” comes from. Just save the foil for your electronics and keep it off your head.

When you wrap your devices, ensure that the foil completely covers the device. Always overlap the seams of the foil wrap. Whenever possible, we recommend at least two layers of aluminum foil. 

Small handheld devices are generally relatively immune to EMP effects unless they have long power cords or antennas. In this case, wrap the power cord or antenna as well.

A faraday cage or bag is any container or enclosure made with a conducting material, most often metal or metal mesh. The conductive metal directs the electrical charge generated by the EMP around the outside of the cage. Therefore, Faraday containers can be any hollow containers that shield devices from external electrical fields—like an EMP. Any electrical charge the cage receives passes harmlessly on the outside and does not enter the cage.  

You can also use microwaves as improvised Faraday cases for small electronic devices. However, you should test to see if there is any cell phone or AM/FM reception inside the microwave. You should obviously never turn on the microwave with electronic devices inside.

 

A microwave can protect against an EMP

 

What Devices Can Survive an EMP? 

Not all devices are affected by an EMP. It may be worth it to include some of these items in your emergency preparedness plans. 

  • Non-electric appliances – Solar oven, fireplace, and gas-powered generators.

  • Manual appliances – Can opener, manual mixer, food processor, coffee percolator.
     
  • Vintage electronics – Vintage electronics are solid-state devices, meaning their electricity flows through solid semiconductor crystals rather than vacuum tubes.
     
  • Some small handheld devices – Depending on where they are stored and the type and severity of the EMP.   
      

Long-term Survival After an EMP

Believe it or not, surviving an EMP and resulting immediate blackout from a lightning strike, coronal mass ejection, or other natural or man-made EMP is the easy part. Dealing with the long-term effects the EMP will have on society will prove to be much more difficult.

With the power grid, transportation, and water systems disabled, the aftermath of an EMP can prove to be a stressful experience to survive. To be prepared for the long-term effects of an EMP, it’s critical to have a stockpile of food, water, and other emergency supplies. If there’s widespread damage to most electrical systems in the country, it could literally take years to get manufacturing up and running again and produce the necessary replacement parts—leaving you on your own until then!

For example, if it’s safe to evacuate and you have a reliable bug-out location, you will want to ensure you have all your go bag essentials. Otherwise, you might want to bug in and rely on supplies you have stockpiled until society has normalized. Remember that most vehicles won’t run if their components get fried by an EMP.

Food like bulk rice and beans, freeze-dried fruit, water storage, and other food staples will ensure you remain food secure and do not have to rely on grocery stores to feed your family.

 

Final Thoughts How To Protect Yourself From EMPs

EMPs are one of those disasters that you hope you never have to deal with. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still prepare for one. You’ll be better enough in the long-term if you take EMP protection precautions now. Just remember, this threat could vary from very localized after a lightning strike near your house, to a major worldwide event, if there’s a big enough coronal mass ejection.

For more helpful articles like this one and to learn about delicious freeze-dried vs. dehydrated food we create to help you prepare for unexpected emergencies, visit our Practical Prepper Blog.