Radio & Energy

What Is An EMP?

Many people have heard of an EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, attack, but far fewer people know what it actually means.

An EMP attack is a very popular topic with preppers for a few reasons.  For one thing, it’s a very common theme in post-apocalyptic fiction.  For another thing, it’s downright scary, and there are few disasters that can meet the devastation level or scope of an EMP attack.

Let’s discuss what EMP’s are and how they would affect the world in greater detail.

What Is An EMP?

EMP stands for ‘electromagnetic pulse.’

An electromagnetic pulse can either happen naturally, such as from a solar flare from the sun, or it can be man-made from a nuclear device that would be detonated in the atmosphere.

Should an EMP device be detonated high enough into the atmosphere, it would cause there to be a very sudden but brief burst of electromagnetic radiation that would fry literally all electronics within a very wide area.  The higher the detonation, the more square miles it will affect.

For the entire United States, as well as most of Canada and Mexico to be affected by the EMP, the nuclear device would need to be detonated approximately two hundred and fifty miles into the atmosphere, and over the center of the North American continent.

What Would Electronic Items Be Affected By An EMP?

It’s not the EMP itself that’s so dangerous, but rather the effects of it that are.  An EMP detonated at high enough altitude over the US would literally cause the power grid across most of North America to completely collapse.

Examples of items that would no longer work include smart phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, radios, cars that use computerized systems (which are almost all cars since 1990), airplanes, motorcycles/ATVs with computerized systems, freezers, refrigerators, and pacemakers.  The power grid would collapse and there would no longer be electricity, cell service, internet, online banking, or running water either.

Many preppers like to say that a large enough EMP attack would throw America back to the ‘Stone Ages’ or at least to the ‘1800s.’

But that’s not entirely true, as there would also be some electrical items that would survive an EMP attack, including cars that lack computerized systems (most cars built before 1990 or at least before 1985), vintage electronics, solar panels, and several kinds of battery operated devices such as flashlights.

Types of EMP’s

There are three primary different types of EMP’s that could go off: E1, E2, and E3.

An E1 is the fastest electromagnetic pulse, lasting less than a second, but it is also incredibly intense and has the capability to fry all the electronics that were listed above.  This is the kind of EMP that would happen from a nuclear blast going off in the atmosphere or the kind that could take down the power grid across the entire United States.

An E2 is a slower and less devastating kind of EMP.  It’s the kind of electromagnetic pulse that would be created by a lightning strike and can temporarily cause a power outage.

An E3, meanwhile, is the slowest pulse is all, lasting several hours if not days.  This is the type of pulse that would be created by a solar flare from the sun.  So far, the sun has not been known to create an E1 or an E2 electromagnetic pulse.

Why Would An EMP Attack Be So Devastating?

The primary reason an EMP attack would be so devastating isn’t just because it would fry most electrical systems that we depend on everyday, but because both the United States government and the general public are so unprepared for it that it’s astonishing.

You may think that the power grid going down is no big deal.  After all, we have power outages all the time.  But the problem is that an EMP would be far more large scale than that, and it would last for several months if not years before things could rebuild.

For example, if the computerized systems in cars quit working instantly, literally millions of people would instantly die in car wrecks.  Airplanes would fall out of the sky and kill hundreds of thousands more, not to mention cause massive fires in the countryside.

No one would be able to get in touch with one another thanks to the lack of cell service and internet.

There would be no more running water, meaning that people would die from dehydration and sanitation standards will become horrific.  Once all the stores get looted, there would be no more food left either, other than that you can scavenge, grow, or hunt/forage/fish for, and millions more would starve.

An EMP attack on a large enough scale would also almost certainly result in an economic collapse and a massive devaluing of the dollar, so the emergency cash you have stored away in your home would become useless as well (you would be wise to spend as much of it as possible in the early stages of the EMP before things get rough).

Experts estimate that it would take anywhere from six months to ten years (yes, a full decade) to get all the power systems back up and running and for life to return to at least somewhat like it was before.  But even so, there’s no question that the United States (and the world for that matter) would no longer be the same again after an EMP attack.


The above information isn’t mean to scare you or to convince you to prep through fear tactics.  It’s simply meant to inform you about what very well could happen.

An EMP is no laughing matter.  A small, localized event is one thing and won’t be that significant of a problem for the country as a whole, but something on a national scale is something else entirely.

As was mentioned above, all it takes is for a nuclear device to be detonated at a high enough altitude, and literally, most of the North American continent is going to be affected.

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