EMP Myths and Facts. What’s BS and What’s True?

Ask a Prepper – by C. Davis

Most of the questions I receive on my website AskaPrepper.com are about EMP’s and Faraday Cages.

What I realized is that there are a lot of EMP myths generated by movies and even some internet sources. The situation is so bad that the United States Air Force Space Command commissioned Bill Nye to make a video for the Air Force called “Hollywood vs EMP” (which is not available to the public). It seems that the Air Force wanted to make sure that Hollywood fiction would not confuse those who must deal with real EMP events. (Source)  

Well… this is exactly the purpose of this article. No bs, no exaggerations.

Myth or Fact? Will an EMP destroy batteries?

Not likely. Batteries are made of relatively thick plates of metal that are unaffected by EMP’s. Some experts claim that they even extra charge a little bit. (Source)

But if the batteries are connected to the power grid, they will take some damage.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter that much, since all of the electronics you run off of that batteries will likely be fried.

I was thinking that if a car dies, why not use the battery? But what to do with it?

Myth or Fact? – Will Cars Really Come to a Halt?

There are a lot of people saying that cars will work just fine. Some say that they’ll stop and all you need to do is to restart them. And some say that all cars made after 1990 will come to a halt because they are totally dependent on their electric parts.

All of this is based on a report made by the EMP Commission. They tested 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory (up to 50 kV/m). All cars stopped at approx. 30 kV/m, but only one car was damaged seriously. The other cars just needed to be restarted.

What people don’t know is that this test was made long ago and the 37 cars tested were vintages ranging from 1986 through 2002, which means they depended less on electronics.

The EMP Commission also states that “since 2002, the number of microprocessors in cars and the reliance on microprocessors in all motor vehicles has increased greatly.  Also, the sensitivity of the electronic circuitry to EMP has increased due to the use of smaller electronic components designed to operate on lower voltages.”

Another thing is that an HEMP can produce more than 50 kV/m, which can have even more damaging effects on cars.

The fact is that you don’t need to damage all cars to make the traffic stop. I think it’s enough to permanently damage 40%-60% (some sources say even 15%) of cars to block cities, highways and supply lines.

Myth or Fact?Will Phones/iPads/Electronic Devices be Affected by an EMP?

Well, first you should know that 95% of these devices already have an internal EMI shielding (which is there to protect the components from affecting each other). Plus, these devices are very small (comparing to the power grid) so you have very good chances of using your iPhone immediately after an EMP. But not to make calls or to search stuff on the internet. Telecommunication antennas will be fried so signal (on any kind) will be dead.

But if the phone is connected to the power grid – charging – at the moment when the EMP hits it will be fried. And even so, you have a chance of getting away with only a fried phone charger.

Myth or Fact? Solar Storms Will Only Affect the Side of the Earth that is Facing the Sun when the Storm Hits.

EMP MythsNot true! Solar storms tend to disturb the entire magnetic field of the Earth and can affect both sides.

Because of a solar storm on 13 March 1989, Hydro-Quebec lost electric power, cutting the supply of electricity to 6 million people for several hours. This happened at 2:44 a.m. in complete darkness, so Quebec was on the side opposed to the Sun.

In the picture: A fried transformer from Hydro-Quebec electric power grid.

Myth or Fact? Will Planes Fall Out of the Sky When an EMP Hits?

Older planes use hydraulics and cables attached to the pilot controls (with manual valve actuation & direct pressurization from the ram air turbine) which means they’ll still have semi-functional flight controls.

Newer planes (almost all airlines) will be extremely difficult to control after all their electronic parts will be fried. But even so, all Airbus and Boing planes are demonstrated to be controllable with complete electrical failure. They would be extremely difficult to land, but it would still be possible.

All planes will be turned into semi-controllable gliders… with newer planes having almost no control and older planes having almost full control over the plane.

And pilots will face a very hard task: to land the plane, with highways being full of broken cars, no emergency services and if it’s night then add no ground lights to this. I’m not an expert, but I guess that if you’re on a plain when an EMP strikes you are pretty much dead or incredibly lucky.

But don’t think that an EMP will cause planes to enter in a spin and pancake into the ground like you’ve probably seen in movies.

Myth or Fact? Will the World as We Know it Come to an end?

A world without electricity is not the world as most of us know it. But if the blackout lasts for 1-3 days then it won’t be a huge problem.

It all depends on the time required to replace the broken pieces:

“The equipment used in the transmission grid is costly, specially produced, and has to be ordered from overseas before replacement in the U.S. Those with the expertise to replace transformers and capacitors are likely to be overwhelmed if much of our infrastructure is damaged, only delaying the replacement of equipment that generally takes two years to be manufactured and delivered.” (Source)

Nobody knows for sure how much it will take to replace all transformers and capacitors if other countries help, but a time-frame of 10-20 months is not far-fetched.

Did you know that New York City had a blackout (in 1977) that lasted for only a day? It was called “The Night of Terror”. The night resulted in widespread looting throughout many New York neighborhoods. The police were outmatched and had no chance of stopping such massive theft, largely having no choice but to stand by watching the looters from a distance. This will be just the first night after an EMP. After a few months it will be total chaos and widespread starvation to say the least.

Myth or Fact? Do Faraday Cages need grounding?

No. Grounding, but it’s not necessary. To be sure that you made an EMP hardened Faraday cage all you need to do is to place a small turned on radio. If it stops… then you have an EMP hardened box.

Myth or Fact? If you test your Faraday Cage with a radio then the electronics inside are 100% protected against an EMP

NO! No protection is 100% certain, but shielding against a 20,000 volts/m EMP will be enough to protect it from known weapons.

Jerry Emanuelson from Futurescience has a very good explanation for this:

“A very efficient 80 db faraday cage would reduce the EMP by a factor of 10,000.  In other words, it would reduce a 20,000 volts per meter EMP field to 2 volts per meter.  This high level of shielding is necessary for some applications, but not for the average consumer (except for the most critical electronics such as an emergency radio receiver).  For many applications, an imperfect shield is quite helpful and may be all that is necessary.  (In some cases, though, such as an expensive solar panel system, it makes sense to try to get as close as possible to military grade protection since a functioning solar power system may determine whether you have electricity or not.)

This myth is analogous to saying that if a coat doesn’t keep you from being cold during a winter blizzard that you might as well just rip your coat off and go shirtless while out in the snowstorm.  Asking how much shielding that you will need is like asking how much of a coat you will need in the winter.   (It depends upon how cold it will get, and upon how sensitive you are to the cold.)”

Myth or Fact? Turning Off Electronics Will Better Protect Them

Yes, it seems that equipment is more vulnerable if it is operating. And this also includes cars. Cars that will be running when an EMP hits have a higher chance of getting broken.

But this of course doesn’t mean that all systems that are turned off will be unaffected.


6 thoughts on “EMP Myths and Facts. What’s BS and What’s True?

  1. Governments and contractors are now building and testing EMPs that can create the same effect as a multi megaton nuclear weapon without the fallout.

  2. Thanks for the informative post. About two years ago, I bought a 1984 Mercedes 300D (Turbo Diesel) because I perceived it to be EMP proof. It uses manual fuel injection and no spark plugs, being a diesel.
    I keep a couple spare voltage regulators in a small Faraday Cage in my trunk, as it might be fried by an EMP.

    I have boxed solar panels double wrapped in heavy tin foil. Does anyone know if that will adequately shield them from EMP?

  3. I (as an electronics tech) agree with this article. It is very hard to make an emp that is so strong it will destroy a battery or older cars. If it is small, low voltage, low current, ON, connected to an AC power source they will likely get hurt.

    The power grid is the most at risk. It requires a fine line of monitored inputs to maintain a balance between the power plant generation and the ever changing LOAD. IT is very hard to restart with a full load and if the load goes away they must shut down plants or blow the plants up.

  4. “All planes will be turned into semi-controllable gliders… with newer planes having almost no control and older planes having almost full control over the plane.”

    Which is why I always say, “I want a car that I can control. Not a car that can control me.” It’s common sense. Unfortunately, it is not “Communist sense”.

  5. Once again, they fail to mention about the fact that Nuclear Power Plants will go into meltdown if they are not controlled or up and running within 2 weeks of the power outage. So who cares about surviving a month or a year. The radiation will infect if not kill you long before then.

    Funny how they fail to mention this in ANY of these EMP “what if” scenario stories as though they don’t want you to know about it.

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