How to Tell in 5 Minutes If It’s a Power Outage or an EMP and Get a Massive Head Start

James Walton
By James Walton January 15, 2019 07:21

How to Tell in 5 Minutes If It’s a Power Outage or an EMP and Get a Massive Head Start

Would you know how to diagnose an EMP strike within five minutes of the event? Do you know the steps to take to be sure it’s not just a power outage?

The threat of the EMP can come from the life-giving sun or from nuclear weapons. The worst part about a weaponized EMP or HEMP (High Altitude Electro Magnetic Pulse) is that it has the potential to come without warning.

The direct threat to human life does not come from an EMP itself. Rather, it comes from a tidal wave of circumstances that will follow. If the attack is placed properly, or if there are multiple, the three major power grids of the United States could be destroyed. That means a nation without power and there is nothing we take for granted more than light switch and a water faucet.

The good news is that tech and early detection are working together. The most recent SpaceX launch was a success and its payload, headed to deep space to provide warning of solar storms that could potentially create and EMP. Some people are paying attention.

After an EMP most preppers will look to take shelter at an undisclosed bugout location. This is because there will be many threats that soon follow a world without power.

  • Civil Unrest
  • Starvation
  • Disease
  • Martial Law
  • Societal Collapse

Maybe, in that order.

So, what on Earth do we look for to tell us an EMP has struck and everything has changed?

Before an Emp

The precious moments between the time the lights go out and when you get on the road to safety will make all the difference. If you are on the road or making moves long before the rest of the panicked nation, you will at least be able to survive the early stages of a nationwide, catastrophic EMP.

Pre EMP Intel

While you might be looking for information to aid you immediately after an EMP, we are preppers so there are things that need to be done long before an EMP strikes.

Whether you know it or not there are ways of staying on top of the threats posed by an EMP. While many will point to HAM radio to get intel during a disaster, remember, after an EMP your HAM radio is going to be out of order unless you take precautionary measures. You will need some sort of Faraday cage or bag to store your precious electronics in.

Are you familiar with NOAA Space Weather Prediction?

You can see up to date information of the sun and its patterns. This could give you a heads up when dealing with a sun born EMP.

Of course, this will not protect your against and EMP that is triggered by a nuclear weapon. That threat is harder to identify.

Threat Alert Systems

A relatively new idea, threat alert systems do some of the leg work for you. The best ones look at a variety of threats and intel from all over the world and determine the risk. These systems could be just what you are looking for if you are a little too busy to deal with crawling the internet for information.

There are lots of agencies like the DHS that offer free alert systems. You don’t have to pay for anything. Still, these small alerts could alert you to a serious storm in your area or the threat of a terrorist attack.

Related: Where Not To Be During an EMP

During an EMP

There is one telltale sign that you are dealing with an EMP and not a power outage, it will reveal itself early on.

Surges and Explosions

I read a lot of articles about EMP preparedness. A lot of them talk about an EMP strike happening at night without much of a change to the outside world. Its often depicted as the street lights go out and never come back on.

If an EMP hits near a highly populated area it will  create a power surge. We know this because of what happened to the telegraph lines during the Carrington Event in the 1800s. People operating the lines were shocked and some even caught fire. Now consider that on a grand scale with transformers and substations going BOOM!

These power surges would affect the area around you and it would be a pretty terrifying situation. It might even seem like a bombing with a succession of flashes and booms happening in a short time frame.

An EMP hitting a targeted area will cause these damaging surges. These surges may not happen in all areas but if you experience something like this, it will be a good sign that something more than a power outage is afoot.

Related: 9 Mind Bending Effects of a Grid Collapsing EMP

5 Minutes After

A lot will change immediately after an EMP. Some of the changes will leave you speechless, if you know where to look. Let’s go through a few steps to take immediately after a suspected EMP power outage.

#1. Check the lights.

#2. Check the breakers to be sure its not just your home.

#3. Check your phone as it is a close by device that is not tied to your homes power.

#4. If none of that is working its time to go check your vehicle. The car and the radio in the car will be worth checking. If both are out its time to get worried. Here you can find a couple of affordable vehicles that can survive an EMP. 

#5. You may want to do one final check with a neighbor to follow up just in case it’s an extremely rare coincidence that your car battery died, and your phone ran out of charge at the same time as a local power outage.

#6. Finally, if its night time, look to the horizon. Because of the surges we mentioned earlier there will likely be fires. There could be many fires and in a blacked-out night sky, following an EMP, fires will be easy to notice. If you see a glowing horizon that is another great sign.

Very rarely do we see fires that stem from normal power outages. The idea that all those items could be out of power at once is so improbably that you better take it very seriously. If steps 1-6 yield poor results, its time to take action.

The first thing people will notice is that their cell phones aren’t working and that will make everyone scared. While they are panicking you could be making your next move.

It will only take weeks before areas are completely shifted into disorder. The food will be gone in days and once people realize the water is not safe to drink everyone will get desperate. Make every adjustment you can to get away from crowded areas and find a place with a natural water source to start your new life.

Some experts estimate it would take 4 years to fully repair the electrical grid after something like this. Who is going to be alive after 4 years? Not many. No, an EMP means you get clear of crowded areas and do your best to survive the new world.

You may also like:

10 EMP Proof Items to Hoard

7 Actions to Take Immediately Following an EMP Strike (Video)

Powering an Off the Grid House (Cost-Effective)

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

Can a Nuclear Plant Shutdown Safely After an EMP?

James Walton
By James Walton January 15, 2019 07:21
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  1. Hoosier Homesteader January 15, 14:10

    Another quick check to confirm: If you have a generator, and it doesn’t start, it could point to an EMP. If the generator does start, but nothing in the house works, it IS an EMP.

    Reply to this comment
    • Stan January 15, 17:19

      An emp is NOT going to take out your generator. If it does you are going to be in an electric field so ontrnse your body will literally cook like you were in the electric chair. If that happens you won’t be checking anything.

      Reply to this comment
      • Spike January 15, 20:54

        Why won’t an EMP take out a generator? It has electronics just like a car and everything else.

        Reply to this comment
        • Stan January 17, 09:59

          Well, in fairness I guess it depends on exactly what sort of generator we are talking about. But most common, recoil start generators found in homes are not going to have electronics in them. So the only way they are going to be taken out by an emp is if induced currents are enough to melt windings. For such a small antenna that’s just not going to happen

          Reply to this comment
          • brotherhorse January 27, 01:16

            There is the posibility a surge could dammage the iginition coil, then your generator is just dead, same with lawn mowers, chainsaws..
            Not too worried about it.

            Reply to this comment
    • Jim May 22, 07:25

      I highly recommend it!!
      Also a few older vehicles with faraday cages in the back (metal ammo cans)with a spare starter, alternator, ECM and the few wrenches to change them out should be in everyone’s vehicle they drive to work. Of course along with their “get home bags” and a good pair of boots or shoes.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Kathy January 15, 16:00

    Check your wrist watch. Flashlights, battery operated anything. Start saving water.

    Reply to this comment
    • Stan January 15, 17:20

      No. Read the Congressional emp report. It’s not like what you see in the movies…

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck January 16, 01:03

        Stan: A website URL would be most helpful so that we could read the same congressional EMP report that you refer to. I am confident there is more than one congressional report dealing with the topic.

        Reply to this comment
    • Rod January 15, 18:07

      A battery operated watch is the best check. While on that subject, is it possible to buy a manual, wind-up watch anymore? I have not been able to find any.

      Reply to this comment
      • Dan January 15, 20:07

        Re. wind up watches and clocks. Flea Markets are your best bet.Also Salvation Army and Goodwill stores can provide back-up resources.

        Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck January 15, 22:05

        Here is the answer to your question:

        Seiko Men’s SNK805 Seiko 5 Automatic Stainless Steel Watch with Green Canvas Band.
        4.0 out of 5 stars 2,137 customer reviews | 103 answered questions
        Note: This item is only available from third-party sellers (see all offers).
        Available from these sellers.
        Military-inspired timepiece featuring green dial, luminous accents, and day/date functions.Case dimensions: 37mm,Strap length: 7 inch
        Automatic movement with analog display
        Features green nylon strap with buckle closure. When setting the minute hand of a quartz watch, advance it to a few minutes ahead of the time and then turn it back to the exact time
        Water resistant to 30 m (99 ft): In general, withstands splashes or brief immersion in water, but not suitable for swimming.

        It is not a wind-up watch, it is a self-winding watch. Your body movement energizes the balance wheel. If you don’t wear it, you have to shake it to wind it. It needs movement daily to stay current.

        It got good reviews except for the cheesy band. There are other wind up watches on Amazon too but Seiko is the only brand name I recognized. I own a Seiko dive watch that is a self-actuated watch. It kept good time. I still have it. I don’t know why I don’t wear it now. I should

        Reply to this comment
    • Jer January 15, 18:14

      You need to get OOT. Your village will burn off like Paradise CA. You have a chance avoid the smoke it contains deadly inhalants.

      Reply to this comment
    • Du January 16, 15:56

      Not sure about today, but back in the 80s, I had a new Casio calculator watch that inadvertently went through multiple threat level EMP tests and survived fine, while the military vehicle actually being tested had a few issues. So while things with longish wires and antennas and the like may well have problems, if the “wiring” is short enough, it apparently won’t get enough of the voltage differential to burn out the electronics. Realize that this is a single day, single person experience with a single item of electronics from over 3 decades ago, so your experience may vary.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Thiswebsite Istotalbullshit January 15, 21:23

    Everyone will be dead in weeks bands of armed marauders roaming around pillaging and killing and you think you’ll be safe hiding out with your bucket of freeze dried food, if your not rounded up by fema and fed to one of their many guillotines you’ll die from one of the thousands of diseases your not immune to.
    Wake up your already dead, there is no way any of you are going to get out of this alive

    Reply to this comment
    • SubNavigator January 16, 00:20

      And your plan would be?

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 16, 01:02

      Certainly not a helpful post. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps some following this list have determined that they will not be among the folk who perish? With that nihilistic outlook of yours, why do YOU follow this list? It seems to me you would be better served staying hiding out in your Mommy’s basement playing video war games.

      Reply to this comment
    • Meathead January 16, 01:22

      Learn how to construct an IED using a 2-liter soda bottle, engine starter fluid and small nails, nuts, bolts, etc.
      Spray the engine starter fluid into the bottle until there is visible fluid in the bottom of the bottle and cap the bottle. Tape the small nails, nuts, bolt, etc to the bottle on a side facing away from you and tape the bottle to a post about waist high. Shoot it with a “tracer round” to explode it and you can take out a group up to about 25 depending on what you use and how many.
      You can always stagger several bottles in case the first one you explode doesn’t take out all of them.
      Good luck!

      Reply to this comment
    • Stormvet1st January 16, 02:30

      Wow dont sugar coat this tell us what you really feel

      Reply to this comment
    • Dupin January 16, 15:57

      Yawn…another troll opens his piehole.

      Reply to this comment
    • Hoosier Homesteader January 17, 14:00

      Feel sorry for ya bud.

      Reply to this comment
    • Travis January 17, 18:19

      Mind your own business and get lost troll.

      Reply to this comment
    • VeeDubya January 18, 00:01

      wished you lived closer to me,would look forward to harvesting your stuff since your not going to make it anyway…

      Reply to this comment
    • Spike January 25, 01:51

      Come on guys! Russia, China and Iran will send ships of supplies to save us since that is what we always do to devastated countries. Their benevolence will shine brightly around the world.

      Reply to this comment
  4. fee January 16, 02:44

    FOUR YEARS??? SERIOUSLY??? I want a pair of YOUR rose colored glasses! If this were one isolated area, you could be right. But IF is is countrywide, just where do you think you are going to get all the replacement transformers, etc., needed? And how long does it take to produce just one of them? Possibly if it is a CME and it is limited to a small area. But if it is the ”big” one, 4 years won’t touch it! Remember, if it happens to our country, most everything we have will be out of commission, and we won’t be able to boss everybody in the world around anymore; they won’t care, because we will basically be impotent. Won’t have so many nukes to threaten people with and all! The main thing to look for is 1) power out all over the place 2) cars and trucks stopped and not running (except for cars from early 70s and earlier, as well as trucks and tractors from of olde) 3) cell phones totally out and of course, the delightful number 4) planes falling out of the sky! (You can go to Kindle on Amazon and type in EMP fiction on the search. If you have Kindle unlimited, you can get many of them for free to read. But after you read a few of these, you will be pretty knowledgeable of what to look for (and they will tell you the FIRST thing to do after you get your family home, is to go to a store and spend all the cash you have on additional supplies and food. Cash will be usable at first, when people know the electrics are down, but the majority don’t yet know they won’t be coming back, so they will be taking cash for a little while. But it won’t be good for that long; only until people figure out the posses will not be out to help them.) There actually is a lot of good info in most of these books. OH! Make sure all products you have to use are unscented, as scents can let people know you are around, as can smoke if you are cooking. Of course, on a website this good, I know I’m preaching to the choir!!!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Wilmwitch February 5, 15:10

      Stores won’t sell to you because the cash registers won’t work.

      Reply to this comment
      • KCK February 5, 16:12

        The small ‘mom and pop’ stores might. They will simply take cash for a short (VERY short) while. The big stores such as Wally World? Forget about it. The managers and every other employee will be gone! It’s not THEIR store.

        I would think looting would begin there if the Gov hasn’t figured out to clear it first thing.

        A good book (even audio on youtube) is One Second After. GREAT story about EMP and very valuable in seeing just what could happen.

        Reply to this comment
    • Ham Man February 23, 19:21

      The question about 4 years to recover depends on to what level and how much are we thinking we will need to recover. How many people will survive to service? The thing to keep in mind is if the entire lower 48 states are impacted, the world as we know it has permanently changed. We won’t need to replace all the transformers and power lines as we won’t have nearly as many people left. In all likelihood, assuming we are not invaded or faced with other overriding issues we will move to local or personal power generation such as solar, wind, and micro-hydro. It will be faster and cheaper than restoring the national grid. In the end, we should not focus on restoring power as we will learn do with far less. We need to focus on the restoration of law and order. It is the period of time between loss of law and order and it’s restoration that we are vulnerable and mostly unable to attend to the restoration of power and other issues.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Grammyprepper January 16, 03:35

    I appreciate this site, and this article, but boy y’all need a proof reader!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Dupin January 16, 16:11

    I’d say check your phone (as in cell phone) as #2. If it doesn’t even light up, there’s a good chance it got fried from a power surge up your charging cable (if it was plugged in), or via its internal antenna. That might well be from EMP. If it does work, which is also possible with EMP, see if you can get out to the web. I’m assuming 4G since you don’t have power. If you can get to things, it’s not EMP. If you can’t, or don’t show any signal, it might be, or it might be an extensive power outage, but cell towers usually have backup power. If you do connect, go to your provider’s outage map and see what’s going on since it most likely isn’t EMP.

    With a landline (assuming you still have one), if you don’t get a dial tone, then it’s probably something more extensive and might be EMP since POTS usually runs backup power. This assumes a directly wired phone and not a portable since your base unit would be unpowered at this point.

    #3 should be to walk outside to your street and look down the street and see if street lights are shining and your neighbors have lights shining (assuming night). If it’s daytime, there’s a good chance that some of your neighbors will be walking out to the front if they’ve lost power and you can compare notes. If everyone else has power, it’s not EMP, but you do need to check your breakers.

    Reply to this comment
  7. IvyMike January 17, 00:07

    Sometimes I think westcoastchuck is a good old country boy who ended up out in California, then he goes and uses a word like nihilistic in a post just as free and easy as a Professor at UC Santa Barbara. It’s almost Kafkaesque…

    Reply to this comment
  8. Oldprep January 17, 21:09

    I think that those of you concerned about dealing with gangs of bad guys traveling from a big city out into the mountains or other rural areas to take your stuff, can relax. In the case of a nuclear EMP, where will they get a running vehicle to travel 20 or 50 miles to your rural location? And if some vehicles are still running, most of them will be limited by the gas already in their tank. And much of that will be used up running around the city trying to find supplies, rounding up relatives, etc.
    So, 5 or 10 days into the shutdown, things will be getting pretty desperate with no food or gas and maybe no water. So now how are they going to get out to your remote area? With virtually no transportation they would be on foot. And how far can a hungry gang of people walk while carrying all their water and weapons, etc? And why would they invest so much of their remaining resources to get to your area, when they could assume that your rural area is most likely just as desperate as their big city. Farms would be more attractive, but they still might have a few day of walking to get there, if they were in good shape and with ample supplies. But then the farms are naturally widely spaced, meaning that a lot more walking would be needed to cover very many farms.
    Bicycles were suggested, but a bike will only carry one person. A gang of 6 would have to round up 6 bikes, which not all would be in top condition for such a trip and no repairs along the way. And all of this says nothing about having to deal with other marauders along the way wanting what they may have. I think traveling any place will be a major challenge during these times. If you live in a safe rural area, local traveling will probably be ok.
    In my opinion, we will still need to be on guard, because there will always be that one exception that gets through. But I doubt there will be any numbers of people getting through. I think many of them would find cannibalism easier than running the gauntlet of travel.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dupin January 18, 13:56

      As to vehicles, if they can get hold of a running vehicle, there will be plenty of other vehicles to siphon gasoline from. With a few gas cans, they can make it quite a ways. While most probably won’t want to leave their general area, some will, as will the regular people who are fleeing the gangs. While some of the regular people might not have planned, it doesn’t mean they won’t have skills. We’ve seen around the world that in times of need, people can do a lot more than you would expect. That’s my thoughts.

      Reply to this comment
    • TheSouthernNationalist January 18, 17:55

      I kinda agree with you, I dont think many gang members will want to make such a long trip out to the country, they would probably stay in the city where they can set up their own little kingdoms since a city holds a lot of supplies (grocery stores, curb markets, warehouses, restaurants) that will last a little while for them and their crew.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Wannabe January 18, 12:58

    First thing you need to check is if you paid your light bill. Lol

    Reply to this comment
  10. TheSouthernNationalist January 18, 17:47

    Faraday cages can be as simple as a steel trash can with a tight fitting lid, be sure to line the inside with a non conductive material such as old rubber floor mats, bubble wrap, ect.. put any electronics you want to save in there and close the lid down tight. I have mine filled with radios, batteries, ignition parts for my vehicle, solar panels, 12 volt motors for my well pump, and a bunch more stuff.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Ben January 30, 17:12

    It is a sad reality that an SHTF scenario can happen anywhere, anytime, any place. But they do and the majority of the population has no idea what to expect in such situations. I’ll share a few facts that might help: 1. You can’t rely on anyone or anything but yourself in such scenario. 2. Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. 3. The police are not duty-bound to protect you (

    Reply to this comment
  12. Dan February 2, 19:10

    Ben I’m sorry to say that I have to agree with you. A sad as it may seem, society in general will always fold back into itself.
    But on a somewhat positive note, speaking as a Professional Historian, history shows that the rements of society do bounce back and rebuild, albeit, not over night.
    Second Timothy 4:7 gang

    Reply to this comment
  13. brotherhorse February 6, 00:15

    Little silly, if your electronic junk don’t work go next door and see if they’re junk works or not, including vehicles.
    That will give your answer.
    Need further verification pester a second neighbor, heck go all out and annoy a third.

    Occam’s razor -look it up

    Reply to this comment
  14. Thor1 March 23, 08:37

    Your cellphone will still work. The cell tower will go out.
    This is because there isn’t enough wire or antenna to absorb the pulse.

    The electronics in most generators will fry unless they are protected by a metal shield/cover or Faraday cage.

    Some cars may still work even if newer, its not definite.

    Any electronics that are plugged into the grid will be fried.

    Electrical motors should survive due to their construction.

    Laptops not plugged into the grid can be rebooted. I’ve seen tests.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Meathead May 21, 23:24

    There are three waves associated with an EMP: E1, E2, E3. The wave (pulse) will be between 20,000 to 50,000 volts and last 1 to 4 thousandths of a second. A blast from the sun contains only E3 waves and will only affect items in the air (telephone lines,power lines, cable lines, etc.). The E1 and E2 waves are the waves that knock out your electronics.
    The EMP waves CANNOT normally cannot be blocked, but they can be ROUTED AROUND your equipment by providing a “path of least resistance”. Wrap your equipment in a non-conducting material (rubber, plastic, etc.) and then wrap it in aluminum foil (use gold foil if you are a Billionaire). Be sure that your item is completely covered by both materials with no gaps in either one.
    Think that this won’t work? Wrap your cell phone in plastic and then aluminum foil. Call your cell phone. I bet that it WILL NOT ring,

    Reply to this comment
  16. MKS May 29, 11:27

    Most generators are insulated with lacour insulation rated at 600V. EMP is 50,000 V+. They will damage any transformer device that has wires tightly wound. The first thing you should do is fill everything you can with water as long as the water pressure is available. This includes the bed of your pickup. Line it will a tarp, place jacks under the truck and fill the bed up with water. dump out your coffee from the containers and fill them, too. Steal a port-a-potty and clear it up. While you are doing this, your spouse should be gathering food from small neighborhood stores.
    If you can find some foam board, build your self a box to cover your bed so you can stay warm in the winter.

    If you haven’t done this yet, it’s time to start planning your pathway to escape the house while the bad guys ransack the place.

    Use baby carriages as cargo trailers for your (or your kids) bicycles. Load up and start moving some of your stash to a reachable, yet hidden location after dark.

    EMP is the worst case scenario. Nuclear war limits the number of attackers. EMP maximizes the number of attackers you will have to deal with.

    Reply to this comment
    • Tim June 5, 14:34

      Here’s another problem with the EMP blast. No matter how protected you are you should realize biggest problem of all. What about all the nuclear power plants in this country question they are all robotic or automate. When is blast happened it will knock out all Automation in the nuclear power plants oh, then that are in water will eventually start to melt. Creating a nuclear meltdown. Now just picture how many nuclear power plants we have in the U.S. research what happens in the Russian city of Chernobyl it will be worse here because of the more advancement we have made with nuclear fuel rods.

      Reply to this comment
      • Al December 7, 20:35

        This is not as much of a problem as the “news” media and Hollywood have lead most people to believe. The boiling water reactors that are in most of the power plants in the US have all been tested in the Loss of Fluid Test at the Idaho National Laboratory and the results are available. The fuel melts along with approximately a third of the core. The metal that makes up the core dilutes the fissile materials in the fuel to the point that the fissile molecules are too far apart to react. Then everything solidifies again. As long as the containment is not breached by some outside action, no radioactivity will escape. Don’t let the news liars spook you.

        Reply to this comment
  17. desertisland July 13, 01:04

    Where I live -only the bad guys have weapons. knifes, machetes, guns. On this island the bad guys would be out FAST killing every person they could.

    Reply to this comment
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