EMP Myths Are Wasting People’s Money

The prevailing wisdom of the prepper community is that EMP will destroy all electronic devices. “Anything with a chip” is how it’s commonly stated, and because this is repeated in fiction and all over prepper online resources, it’s taken as an absolute truth. Many useless or unneeded protection boxes, bags, and electronic doodads are also sold every year to people who believe this.

But, the truth behind the threat of EMP is a lot more complicated. It’s a big deal, but instead of wasting money on junk you don’t need, it’s better to learn more about how EMP works and protect your essential electronics for cheap or free.

What’s EMP?

EMP is short for Electromagnetic Pulse. Powerful waves of energy like this can be created by nuclear weapons, the most intense solar storms, and other high-powered sources. Whatever the source, EMP is actually three pules in one, designated by researchers as E1, E2, and E2. Because these pulses are all different, they have to be considered separately for the protection of electronic devices.

High-altitude nuclear blasts produce the worst components (E1 and E2) that rise too quickly for things like surge protectors to make a difference. Solar storms produce induced currents similar to the E3 from nuclear blasts, and is commonly referred to as “Solar EMP”, as opposed to “Nuclear EMP”.

How EMP Affects Electronics

The good news about EMP is that it won’t fry “anything with a chip”. In reality, EMP of all kinds comes at the earth in a very long wavelength. This means that a piece of metal needs to be very long to resonate with the EMP and receive the energy effectively. Shorter wires receive less and less of the energy, and electronic devices with no cords or wires hanging out of them won’t receive enough energy to get damaged.

The bad news is that we rely on long, long wires every day: the power grid. Power lines stretch for miles and miles, so they’re particularly effective antennas for EMP. They collect all of that energy, and then it can damage high voltage transformers, neighborhood transformers, and get funneled into your home or business to damage anything plugged in. Longer radio antennas and other long wires around the house can also collect up some energy and harm devices.

The same is true for other long wires, such as telephone, internet, and other communication infrastructure. Expect to have no cellular or phone service in the event of an EMP event.

Once it’s over, the grid itself is likely to be down for months or years. The many things that depend on grid power will also be unavailable, which alone can cause a lot of death and destruction. Food, water, sewers, heating and cooling, and many other essential things could be unavailable for a while after an EMP.

But, handheld radios, radios not plugged in, phones and tablets, and even laptops will almost all survive an EMP blast even with no protection around them. Testing has shown that even most modern fuel-injected and electric cars are also very unlikely to suffer any permanent damage, with most affective vehicles fixed by disconnecting the negative battery terminal for a few seconds.

Sadly, even a small percentage of cars stalling out will cause major traffic headaches, and fuel will not be available from most gas stations, so having a car that runs probably won’t help you for more than a few days unless it’s a plugin hybrid or EV and you have your own solar power to charge it. The same is true for anything still working that needs a charge. Unless you’ve got a power source of some kind, the devices will become useless once their batteries run out.

One bit of good news is that Solar EMP is starting to be less of a threat. Major solar storms are monitored for now, and power companies are increasingly ready to unplug essential things from the grid to protect it from them. But, the threat of nuclear EMP can’t be seen coming, so that’s still a major threat.

Don’t Take My Word For It

Here are several reputable sources you can use to learn more about EMP. The sources are a few years old, but the laws of physics have not changed and solid state electronics existed at the time of publication.

Featured image from the EMP Commission (Public Domain).

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