9 Mind Bending Effects of a Grid Collapsing EMP

James Walton
By James Walton March 27, 2017 13:58

9 Mind Bending Effects of a Grid Collapsing EMP

We have seen swaths of Americans without power and basics services for weeks. We have seen the worst from desperate people in these situations.

What we have never witnessed is a nation of 300 million or even a quarter of the nation, 75 million people, falling victim to a compromised electrical grid. Even a partial grid down scenario would, to some degree, affect the flow of information, services and resources all over the nation.

The best source of EMP knowledge available is a report created by a committee of brilliant men and women. They are called the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.

“Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system, its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP’s particular damage mechanisms, creates the possibility of long-term, catastrophic consequences. The implicit invitation to take advantage of this vulnerability, when coupled with increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, is a serious concern. A single EMP attack may seriously degrade or shut down a large part of the electric power grid in the geographic area of EMP exposure effectively instantaneously. There is also a possibility of functional collapse of grids beyond the exposed area, as electrical effects propagate from one region to another.”

Excerpt from the Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.

We live and operate in a fully connected and dependent system. We will observe the many consequences of an EMP attack on our highly-integrated systems.

Banking and Finance

According to the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC):

“The financial services industry has evolved to a point where it would be impossible to operate without the efficiencies of information technology and networks.”

There are trades happening electronically faster than we can even fathom. The scary thing about all of this is that we have created a system that can only go forward. There is no standing still or going back. Banks would go into panic mode and they would be hard pressed to give out any cash money. Cash on hand is not the strong suit of most Americans.

Related: Emergency Bag to Keep in Your Car in Case of an EMP

Petroleum and Natural Gas

Though we are dealing with natural substances born of the earth the systems in place to refine, hold and transport this energy would be affected. Just as we discussed in the section on infrastructure valves, shutoffs and other components would be rendered inoperable. The flow of energy will come to a standstill in the face of an EMP.

Related: How to Store Fuel Long Term


This powerful report describes telecommunications about as thoroughly as possible.

  • The mix of equipment used to initiate and receive voice, data, and video messages (e.g., cell phones and personal computers).
  • The associated media (e.g., fiber optics and copper) and equipment (e.g., multiplexers) that transport those messages.
  • The equipment that routes the messages between destinations (e.g., Internet Protocol [IP]-based routers).
  • The basic and enhanced services offered by communications carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Comcast.
  • The supporting monitoring and management systems that identify, mitigate, and repair problems that can impact performance of services.
  • The supporting administrative systems for functions such as billing.

This explanation helps you understand just how much of your own life would be effected. Now imagine a world that is inextricably tied by these services. The true effect of the EMP is not merely the loss of electricity but a punishing blow to these systems that all depend on one another.

Related: The Only Form of Communication After T-SHTF

Transportation Infrastructure

Whether we are talking about railroad, trucking, maritime or air travel each will be drastically affected by an EMP. The very GPS and satellite information that drives these modes of transportation could be compromised not to mention our discussion on the energies they need to be fueled.

Of course, without these heavy freight transports food and textile resources would no longer move either. By now you are probably starting to understand just how connected and dependent these systems are.

Water Infrastructure

Now the obvious challenge with water will be the machinery that skims and cleans it as well as the pumps that prevent backflow. I want to present a different concern to the ‘pool’ of issues.

The analysis of our water is done primarily by TOC (totally organic carbon) analyzers that measure pollutants and other disease causing pathogens. Without our ability to analyze the water we would have to create a common and consistent method of measuring water quality. This could result in hundreds of thousands of sick people if not done correctly.

Related: 5 Water Storage Myths

Food Infrastructure

Food processing—cleaning, sorting, packaging, and canning of all kinds of agricultural and meat products—is typically an automated operation, performed on assembly lines by electrically powered machinery.

Like so many of the systems we have created our food system has worked us into a corner. We would have to build new machines and employ hundreds of thousands of people to do the cleaning, sorting, packaging and preserving of all the food required to feed our nation.

That said we are in luck in that most of it grows in the nation. Many countries struggle to feed themselves on domestic product. Still, much of our farming is based on gas powered equipment as well. So, we would be stifled there as well.

Refrigerators and freezers would stop working immediately after an EMP strike and the food will spoil in a matter of days. 

Emergency Services

Whether we measure the effectiveness of emergency services by their access to energy, emergency supplies or ability to communicate it’s clear that these services will be insufficient. We have very real deficiencies in our emergency systems in today’s fast paced world. An EMP would place the burden of emergency services on local resources only. In areas like Manhattan there simply wouldn’t be enough to go around.

Space Systems

A high altitude EMP could damage satellites directly. There is some debate on this topic. What is not up for debate is that ground communications to those satellites will be disrupted. That is crucial because most satellites operate unhindered after the initial programming. The ping back of information from the satellite is often what counts. On the ground there would be no way to receive that information or communicate additional programming to those satellites above.

Keeping The Citizenry Informed: Effects On People

According to the Commission:

The human consequences of such a scenario include the social and psychological reactions to a sudden loss of stability in the modern infrastructure over a large area of the country. Loss of connectivity between the government and its populace would only exacerbate the consequences of such a scenario.

Failure of the vast array of systems mentioned would cause wide spread panic and it will be imperative that the public is communicated with. One of the greatest villains to arise following an EMP could be the vacuum of information to the public.

When you read stories about the world being thrust back to the 1800’s an EMP can truly have that effect. However, this is not an apt scenario. Instead we would have to figure out how to run a country like it were the 1800’s while living in the shell of a 21st century world. The hurdles may be far too high to get over.

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James Walton
By James Walton March 27, 2017 13:58
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  1. Michael March 27, 15:37

    Water will be a huge issue and the first priority for our family since we get our water from a well. We plan to use our Emergency Well Tube (www.emergencywelltube.com) in a crisis to maintain our ability to get drinking water from our well.

    Reply to this comment
  2. PB -dave March 27, 21:38

    how many times have you heard: ” why keep all those reference books, you can find anything on line…. ?”

    Articles like this make me rethink cleaning off book shelves.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck March 27, 23:42

      Assuming you have stored all your information on some electronic media device, and assuming that you have satisfactorily safeguarded that media in a faraday cage, and assuming that you have a solar charger that will recharge the batteries powering your electronic media device, how long are those batteries good for? Two years? Three? Five? The batteries in my laptop are good for about three years and then it is new battery time. I guess one could squirrel away replacement batteries and hope that usage played a part in the useful lifetime of a battery as opposed to just deterioration with age. BUT whatever you do, at some point in time your batteries will be dead and not rechargeable. Then what? The 500 books you have stored on your laptop or whatever are lost forever. There was a time between about the 1860s and the end of WWII when paper was high acid paper. You could tell because it got brown and crisp fairly quickly. The Library of Congress has a significant problem with trying to convert that high acid paper so that they can preserve the vast store of books they have written in that time period. Since about the 1960s or perhaps sooner, paper was made with a different process and lasts much longer. Properly cared for, paper has a life in excess of 300 years. All the knowledge you put away on paper will be there long after all the battery devices have faded away. You will be able to pass on the knowledge you have stored to your progeny or to others who need it. I wrap all my reference books in a double layer of heavy duty saran wrap and make sure that the edges are sealed down good and tight. If I need to refer to the book after it is prepared for storage, it is an easy matter to remove the wrap and replace it with new. The plastic wrap seals out moisture and bugs. I suppose a further step would be to seal it in a nitrogen filled sealed bucket, but that adds too much work to store and remove if needed. When one considers how long it takes government to respond to limited emergency situations and how long it takes government to ameliorate the damage from the emergency situation, a significant event such as an EMP attack, a CME event or even just a simple attack on multiple electricity generating facilities will take the government a minimum of six months to decide if something has really happened. Another six months of fingerpointing about who is at fault and then, maybe, they will start to take some action in response to whatever emergency has taken place.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Anzennosensei March 28, 04:04

    Starfish Prime killed Telstar and a number of other communications satellites with its EMP in the early 1960’s.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Ben Leucking March 28, 05:41

    The effects you have listed would occur nearly simultaneously. The only variable would be for backup generators. Once their fuel supply is exhausted, which could range from a few hours to a few days, the systems that rely on backup power would also grind to a halt.

    I think you are being overly optimistic regarding our food infrastructure. Without fuel and harvesting equipment, crops would rot in the field. The Commission report projects that up to 90% of the U.S. population could die within the first year following an EMP event that brings down the national power grid.

    The mega electric transformers that support the flow of power aren’t even manufactured in the U.S., and it takes more than one year just to build one.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Tangobravo March 28, 13:33

    what is the effect of EMP on solar array panels and circuitry. Would be grateful for reference sources

    Reply to this comment
    • Ben Leucking March 30, 01:24

      I have read several authoritative articles by electrical engineers who say that the is is not the solar panels, per se, although you could get some minor degradation in output. The real issue is the circuit boards, which could be damaged or rendered useless in an EMP event. Do a search with the words “EMP damage solar panels,” or variations on that. The articles are out there, but I think they are two or three years old.

      Reply to this comment
  6. Trent March 28, 13:55

    Don’t forget the nuclear power stations running on an alternative fuel source to keep the reactors cool that will run out eventually. Then it will be a nuclear meltdown and additional lives will be lost and areas permanently comtaiminanted.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Farmer Phyl March 29, 04:23

    Don’t take too much comfort in the idea that America grows a lot of food. Much of the ‘food’ we grow is animal feed and humans usually cannot digest the types of grain used for animals or ethanol. Most food in America travels an average of 1500 miles to reach our kitchens. So we need gas to power the farm equipment, petroleum based agricultural chemicals, and gas to ship to market, fuel for heat to process food, and refrigeration or freezers to keep food edible. We may have enough farm land to grow enough food for our nation, but people don’t live where the food is. If you think you could always grow a garden…try it this summer and see how hungry you’d be if that was all you had to eat.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Bill March 29, 15:22

    There’s a novel built on this scenario. Descent to anarchy and Dark Age fortress settlements. It’s a cautionary book, not violence porn.

    Reply to this comment
  9. vocalpatriot March 30, 03:09

    “Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system, its vulnerability to an EMP attack..blah, blah, blah..”
    I’m bettin’ folks will find Americans are a LOT less dependent on grid power than is generally assumed. But, Y’all can kiss my ass if you don’t believe me.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck April 10, 19:08

      A comment like this does little to add to intelligent discussion. People come to this site to get information about surviving catastrophic events. None of us is an expert in what will happen in the event of a large CME event, an EMP attack which will be designed to inflict maximum damage or a standard attack on our grid system which is very vulnerable to such. While it may be your opinion that we are not vulnerable to such events, that is fine and you are certainly entitled to it. Perhaps many U.S. citizens are much more self-sufficient than is generally believed and it would be our hope that your views are correct. Yet you offer no evidence to support your opinion, if it is valid, and end your post with a vulgarity that adds nothing to the discussion. If you are not going to post factual information, please refrain from posting at all.

      As an interesting aside, I am currently reading a book about the Crusades and sometime in the 11th century there was an apparent CME event. The crusaders reported seeing aurora borealis as far south as south of Antioch in what is, I believe, current day Syria. Of course, then the internet was mainly trumpets and drums for those close by and a fast horseback messenger for those somewhat further away, so it was merely, according to the crusaders, a sign from God that they were on the right path. No other indication of the strength of the CME event other than how far south it was seen. It would appear to me, not being a solar scientist, that would make it somewhere on the order of the Carrington event which blew out telegraph facilities all over the northern hemisphere. I doubt that there were any telegraph facilities in the southern hemisphere at that time, but I could be in error.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Rod June 15, 00:36

    Re: Keeping people informed. There is an active program to make sure that there are broadcast stations still viable post-EMP. Have a hand crank/solar powered radio (or 2 or 3) shielded and in your preps. Most of these stations are AM, but there are a few FM’s scattered around.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Jan Bo June 16, 02:25

    The Amish live without this stuff every day. The beginning, shuffling people around, will be tough, but Americans are very resourceful. I am certainly not above harvesting at local farms in return for food. Now if it happened in winter, that might be a real problem (except in AZ and SoCal).

    Reply to this comment
    • Ben Leucking February 9, 14:39

      Jan Bo,
      While you are correct that crops are grown in southern and central Arizona year-round, the farmers still rely on fuel for tractors, electricity to pump water, fertilizers that they cannot store, and seed that they must purchase from sources that are not nearby. Transportation of harvested crops (in refrigerated tractor-trailers) is essential.

      I drive through many square miles of agricultural fields several times a week on the 303 Loop, heading into Phoenix. There are several hundred thousand people much closer these fields than you probably are, assuming that you could get to these farm fields on foot in the first place.

      Without fuel, these fields cannot be cultivated. Without electricity or fuel for generators, the crops cannot be watered. Without harvesting combines and transportation, the crops cannot be moved to processing facilities for transshipment.

      Assuming that any crop survives long enough to be harvested, you would be fortunate if it was sweet corn; but you are just a likely to end up with a supply of radishes as payment.

      My guess is that the farmers will have hired armed watchmen long before you reach their fields.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Joe June 20, 15:10

    EMP is a threat that many people believe is just a prepper sweet dream and not something that could actually happen. The fact is it’s not only possible, but it’s actually likely should anyone ever get serious about taking the US down. If we ever get past saber rattling with Russia, the threat of us getting hit with an EMP is going to skyrocket.

    Reply to this comment
    • Rod June 20, 15:43

      EMP devices, relatively speaking, are rather cheap to make which allows the lower tier bad actors this ability as well as the larger nations. The threat is real and approaching probability as opposed to possibility.

      Reply to this comment
  13. Chuck February 8, 19:59

    Samo Samo. Wise up ALL. The SHTF has hit the fan.

    Reply to this comment
    • LCC February 9, 05:50

      In case anybody wondered if I had gone off track or something, the above post was not by Left Coast Chuck

      Reply to this comment
  14. Rick February 8, 20:27

    1800’s? No way. We do not have the tools and skills to live an 1800 lifestyle. Try Mad Max post apocalyptic scavenger life! the living will envy the dead!

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck February 8, 23:57

      I have to agree, Rick. I haven’t thrown a saddle on a horse in over fifty years. My wife doesn’t know how to spin yarn and anyway, I sure am a little short on how to shear a sheep. Yeah, I got it. You hold the sheep down and give them a buzz cut. I feel confident it is just a little more complicated than that.

      I generally know how milk is obtained from a cow, but as to the actual technique, I am clueless. I would like to see a few more knowledgable articles on this site about the day in and day out mechanics of raising chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs. The sum totality of what I know about raising any of these common animals can be written easily on a 3″ x 3″ post it note. In the 1800s everybody knew how to raise any of those animals. Even 13 year olds knew more about the subject than I.

      Reply to this comment
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