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The First Thing You Should Do If An EMP Strikes

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As preppers, most of us are aware of the dangers of an EMP attack. Unlike most of the population, we’ve usually stockpiled at least some EMP-proof items that will keep working after a nuclear-powered surge of energy has fried everyone else’s stuff.

Most importantly, we have the mindset to survive. We’re mentally prepared for things going very badly wrong. When disaster strikes we should go into response mode instead of panicking.

Even preppers can’t just carry on as before though. If an EMP attack comes, we need to know how to react. Here’s what you should do if an enemy – or the sun – switches the lights off:

Get Home

The chances are you’ll realize an EMP has hit right away. If you’re at work or shopping, lights will go off and screens will shut down. 

If that happens, look out the nearest window; if life seems to be going on as normal everywhere else there could be an electrical fault in your building.

If everywhere you can see is affected there’s a good chance an EMP attack or SME (solar mass ejection) has taken down the power.

Your priority now is to get home, as quickly and safely as possible.

If you have cash on you and you pass any stores that are open and look quiet, you could take the chance to stock up on food and other essentials.

Related: If You Don’t Have These 7 Items, You Are Not Really Prepared

But don’t go out of your way to do that, and don’t take any risks. Stores will quickly become targets for looting.

Check For Fires

When you get home, immediately check for any signs of an electrical fire. 

If anything’s actively burning that will be pretty obvious. But check all your appliances for signs of damage in case anything’s caught fire and then died down.

If anything looks scorched or distorted, immediately disconnect it and put it outside.

Be Ready To Shelter

If there’s been one EMP attack there’s a very high risk of a follow-up, either another EMP or nuclear (which has its own EMP hazard). If you have a fallout shelter make sure it’s stocked with everything you need. 

If you don’t, prepare a fallout room with an inner shelter. Equip it so you can stay in the inner shelter for 48 hours after a nuclear attack, and in the fallout room for two weeks. Stay close to it until you feel the danger of a follow-on strike has passed. It is likely to be a matter of hours.

If a nuclear weapon detonates nearby, you need to be able to get into the fallout room within five minutes. Meanwhile you can get on with the rest of the things you need to do.

Disconnect Everything

There’s no guarantee that any electronics that survived the first attack will also survive the next one, so do what you can to isolate things.


First, pull the main circuit breaker for your home. EMP can generate very powerful surges in long power cables, and tripping the breaker will isolate your equipment from these.

Next, unplug everything you can. If you have Faraday cages put everything you can in them.

Check Vehicles

If your bug-out plan involves a vehicle, now’s the time to make sure it’s still running.

If you don’t need it immediately, protect it from follow-up strikes (and thieves!) by disconnecting the battery and removing fuzes to break electrical circuits.

EMP generates current spikes in wires, but breaking circuits limits what those spikes can get at and could prevent damage.

Collect Water

With the power out, there’s no way to predict how long mains water will keep flowing for. If it’s still working when you get home after the attack, take the chance to collect as much as you can. 

Fill the bathtub (and cover it, if you can). Fill every container you can get your hands on.

Bottles, jerrycans, old milk jugs – anything that will hold water. When they’re all full start on pitchers, saucepans and buckets. Again, cover them if you can.

All water that comes out the faucet after an EMP attack needs to be treated as potentially contaminated, because the treatment equipment will probably be down. So make sure to filter, boil or chemically purify it before drinking or cooking with it.

Secure Your Food

If an EMP attack takes down the power, it’s likely to be off for a long time. It certainly isn’t going to come back on before the food in your freezer has thawed and things in the refrigerator have started to spoil.

If you have a generator or other independent power supply get it running as soon as you think the danger of another strike has passed. If you have coolers, load the contents of the freezer into them; pack in any ice you have.Don’t put food from the fridge in with the frozen stuff; it will just raise the average temperature in the cooler and thaw it more quickly.

Instead, keep the fridge closed as much as possible to hold the temperature down as long as you can, and eat what’s in there first.

Then eat as much of your frozen food as you can while it’s still safe. Frozen meat that’s thawed will be fine in a cooler for a day or two, unless the weather’s hot, but be very careful.

A case of food poisoning in a crisis can be lethal, especially as diarrhea and vomiting will dehydrate you and force you to use limited water supplies more quickly.

Get Information

Your chances of survival go way up if you know what’s going on. After an EMP strike, information is vital.

You need to know if there have also been nuclear attacks. If there have you need to worry about fallout.

You need to know how bad the damage is, so you have an idea of how long it will be before services start to get restored.In a crisis the government will try to broadcast information by radio, so make sure you have a couple of cheap FM receivers in your stockpile. You can get a battery-powered FM radio for less than $10. If you have more than one that gives you a backup in case the first one is powered up when another EMP strike comes in.

Keep Things Calm

An EMP attack would be a terrifying event. The electricity we all rely on so much will be gone, and might not be turned back on again anytime soon.

Nuclear war will be a very real fear. An enemy that’s carried out an EMP strike has already shown they’re willing to use nuclear weapons, and they might just decide to put the next one on a city or airbase instead of detonating it in space.

It’s important to stay calm and encourage your family to do the same. Get as much accurate information as you can. Discuss the situation honestly but calmly, and discourage panic or wild speculation about what could happen. As bad as an EMP is, you can survive it.

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    • GJ

      Asking myself before they knew a nuclear blast caused an EMP how did the first bombs get dropped without the aircraft falling from the skies? If an EMP was the result of a nuclear blast shouldn’t those first aircraft been effected? Just a 5hought so don’t get your drawers in a twist.

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