Last night at the Prep 101 meeting, Fred and I were giving a class on the effects of EMP, or Electromagnetic Pulse. Specifically, we were discussing what EMP is, what the effects are if it were to happen, and what you can do to protect your gear from it.
I’ll be getting into these topics later, both on the podcast and this site in the not-too-distant future, but one of the members had a question that showed he was connecting the dots. His question was, “If the pulse of the EMP is going to take out the power grid, should we be stocking up on hand tools?” His question was spot on. It’s quite a connection made from talking about a highly technological weapon to needing the technology of the mid-1800s.
The answer is, You are going to need hand tools. While the range of effects are different for EMP and a CME (coronal mass ejection, or solar flare) impact, they both will take down the power grid. Because neither the governments, nor the electricity companies are doing anything to protect the grid from these events, nor are they stocking up on any spare parts, once the grid goes down it will be down for years.
Years? Aren’t I being a little over dramatic? Unfortunately, no.
Be sure to check out the videos I did that demonstrates shielding against a 50,000 watt AM signal, and the Surviving EMP Mini-Guide:
- The Preparedness Podcast Mini-Guide: Surviving EMP [Kindle Edition] ebook
- Testing Faraday shielding for EMP, part 1
- Testing Faraday shielding for EMP, part 2
- Testing Faraday shielding for EMP, part 3
In summary, power plants generate electricity at high voltages; in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of volts. Because high voltage is easier to move around long distances than lower voltage, the electricity is stepped up, using large transformers, anywhere from 100,000 volts to 750,000 volts for transmitting across the country. This voltage flows into substations which use transformers to reduce the voltage, again with large transformers, and eventually to the 240 volts coming into your house (120V is what you get with only half of a 240V circuit).
These transformers are foreign order only. There are no companies in North America that makes these large transformers. When one is ordered, it can take months to years to get just one. How long will it take to get 10? How about 100? We’re talking years just to get the parts needed to repair our electrical infrastructure.
So, let’s take a look at the scoreboard…
An EMP pulse will fry all the circuits that control the power generation of electricity, plus all the circuits that automate the flow and control of electricity, and all the transformers that are needed to step the voltage up and down on the grid. It takes anywhere from days to weeks to repair power lines damaged in a storm. This is accomplished with the resources available from outside the affected area.
In an EMP grid down scenario, we’re looking at:
- The affected area is likely the entire United States, northern Mexico and southern Canada;
- Little to none in spare parts availability;
- Many vehicles will not be working;
- All the electronics that have been fried, from pocket multimeters to nuclear power stations;
- No ability to communicate beyond how far you can yell;
- No organized effort to affect repairs (people will quickly be fighting each other for food, water and other resources).
An EMP event is one of the worst-case scenarios I can think of, and one that requires a lot of planning and getting together with family and friends to develop a survival strategy for it. But that’s what we do as preppers. Identify the problems and find solutions for them.