An electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) is a burst of radiation capable of disabling or destroying electronics. Typically, we experience low-grade EMPs frequently due to solar flares and even locally through direct lightning strikes. However, they can also be caused by humans through the use of nuclear weapons.
Conventional wisdom says that anything related to electronics will be destroyed after an EMP attack, but that’s not entirely true.
So, what exactly will work after an EMP attack?
The most obvious thing that would still work after an EMP attack would be anything that is entirely mechanical. However, almost everything these days has some sort of electronic chip in it, so how do we know what will actually work?
Certain Cars May Work
Although modern vehicles are loaded with hundreds of sensors, computers, and other electronic components, certain older cars will still function without worry.
For example, dive deep into a pre-1980s pickup truck and you’ll find virtually nothing electronic. In the event of an EMP attack, you’ll have no issues getting an older car running.
With that being said, there’s still a decent chance that any car could still drive. It’s important to remember that modern cars are rigorously tested and designed to handle ridiculously extreme conditions. When a car gets struck by lightning, for example, it’s generally still driveable. It is, however, good practice to keep a spare alternator and battery on hand (in a faraday cage).
However, instead of relying entirely on your car, it’s a great idea to have a bicycle on hand. Although some people may look down on bikes, they’re an incredibly reliable and cheap method of getting around. In the event of an EMP attack, bikes will suffer no consequences and you’ll still have the ability to get around quickly. As a bonus, bikes can easily go places that cars simply cannot.
The next thing that would likely work after an EMP attack would be any appliance that is simple and basic.
Refrigerators, except for ultra-advanced newer models, have a fairly low chance of failure. The reason for this is that they use rather simple mechanisms, and most fridges are designed to withstand power surges from lightning strikes.
Stoves and ovens are a similar case. Most high-quality ranges will be overbuilt and protected to withstand power surges. A fuse might pop, but it’s easy to have some extra ones on hand.
Washers and dryers will usually still work after an EMP attack. They, just like other appliances, are designed to be resistant to spikes. Once again, fuses may need to be replaced, but there’s a good chance your laundry equipment will survive.
Now, it’s important to note that none of this matters if the electrical grid is destroyed. That’s why it’s important to have an alternative source of backup energy (solar or generators), which we’ll cover more later in the article.
These next items may seem obvious but they’re worth mentioning. Any fully manual tool will still work perfectly fine.
This can mean anything from screwdrivers and saws to (hand-powered) coffee grinders and can openers. As great as modern electronics are, it’s always important to have classic, manual versions of everything.
What might surprise you is that plenty of electronics will still work, or at least partially work, after an EMP attack.
In many cases, batteries will actually survive an EMP. This is because the chemicals inside are unaffected by electrical surges. The exception to this, of course, is if they’re connected to the grid via being plugged into a charger.
For this reason, it’s incredibly important to keep a stockpile of batteries on hand. Make sure they’re not plugged in, of course, and consider wrapping them in foil for added safety.
Next up, certain old electronics may survive an EMP attack. Typically, the fewer fully electronic (circuit boards) components there are in an item, the less likely it is to fall to an electrical surge.
Older crank radios are a perfect example of this. They have electrical components, yes, but they’re less prone to failure than newer, fully-electronic radios. Additionally, old TVs and the like may still function and could, in theory, be scavenged for parts if needed.
Here’s another one that might surprise you: power tools. While power tools do have electronic motors and components, they’re typically small and simple enough to where they should be fairly unaffected by an EMP attack.
Naturally, like anything else, they’ll be completely obliterated if they’re plugged into the grid, but any left in storage should be able to get through relatively well.
Modern power tools are designed to withstand all sorts of insane conditions (and yes, that includes electrical surges), but they can still fall victim sometimes. A critical failure point could be if the tool has any sort of fully electronic switch. For this reason, it is once again, critical to have manual, non-electronic backups of every tool.
Certain Communication Devices
Even certain communication devices could, in theory, survive an EMP attack.
Ham and CB radio would likely survive, with the exception of anything that was plugged into the power grid. The other main point of failure would be the antenna. Disconnecting the antenna before the event (always keep it disconnected) would allow your ham or CB radio to survive.
In that same vein, walkie-talkies would also likely still work. So long as they’re not plugged into the grid, walkie-talkies use very simple technology that isn’t entirely reliant on electronic components.
Finally, the last electronic item to likely survive would be flashlights. However, not all flashlights are created equally when it comes to surviving an EMP attack. Newer, LED-style flashlights rely heavily on electronic components and are much more likely to be fried after a surge.
Classic incandescent flashlights, however, should survive just fine so long as they aren’t connected (plugged in) to the electrical grid. Always keep a few extra on hand.
It’s great that all these electronic items can survive an EMP attack, but how the heck do you get them all charged back up after the event?
Well, as it turns out, you have some options.
So will generators still work following an EMP attack? The short answer is: maybe.
Typical generators, although they may rely on liquid fuel, have a lot of electronic components to manage voltage, transmit power, etc. Some very, very old generators (pre-80s) may have enough metal to protect the vulnerable electronics, but newer ones are likely going to be fried.
With that being said, a generator inside a (large) faraday cage will still survive. However, building a faraday cage that big may be expensive and challenging. The best precaution you could take is to keep the generator unplugged from the grid. Then, at least, its chances of survival are higher.
Finally, your best bet may actually be green energy! Solar panels, although they also rely on inverters and other electrical components, are lightweight (unlike a generator) and can easily be stored in a faraday cage.
The panels themselves won’t suffer any sort of negative effects from an EMP attack, but their related electrical components will (inverter, battery storage, etc.) so it’s a good idea to keep those items separated and protected.
Still, in the event of a total grid shutdown, solar panels provide limitless (during daytime) and reliable energy. You’ll never have to worry about running out of fuel like you would with a generator.
So, in the end, there are still plenty of items that will survive an EMP attack. Although most electronics will be fried, there are still plenty of manual/mechanical backups.
When it comes down to it, being educated and prepared are the absolute best things you can do to weather the storm.