Post-EMP Survival: What If You Can’t Get Home?

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One of the most haunting emails I’ve received this year is from Mallory:
I recently started reading your blog (love it!) and have your EMP First 15 Steps PDF. I have a couple more business trips planned for the rest of 2015, and some are quite a distance from home. I wondered if you could give any advice at all on what I should prep for, gear-wise or even mentally?
The thought of an EMP happening when I am NOT at home, maybe not with my spouse and children, it scares me.  I just want to be as prepared as I can be, because who knows when something like this could happen — 2 minutes from now or 2 years from now?
Once you’re aware of a power grid failure due to an EMP, cyberterrorism, or a solar event, you can’t help but share Mallory’s worries, and readers of One Second After, become paranoid about being a few miles from home.

This past month I’ve been reading Ted Koppel’s newest book, Lights Out, and, frankly, it has done nothing to ease my concerns. In fact, in this book, he clearly lays out how our nation’s leaders have done virtually nothing to protect our power grid from any type of attack, nor are there effective plans in place to help the millions of citizens who will be completely unprepared.

He knows because as part of his research, he interviewed those who should know, such as Janet Napolitano, Leon Panetta, and Admiral William Gortney, who provided a Pentagon news briefing earlier this year on the topic of power grid vulnerability.

You can never get home, or can you?

One memorable example from Lights Out that might provide at least one solution for Mallory and others in her position is Craig Kephart’s plan.

Craig is an avid bicyclist and a prepper. They live in an upscale area of St. Louis and his business required that he make frequent business trips around the country. From the book:

“Craig worries that he may be trapped out of town and that all conventional forms of travel could be shut down. He always carries enough cash so that, no matter which city he’s in, he would be able to buy a bicycle, biking shoes, and whatever other equipment he would need to take him back to St. Louis.”
“Craig assumes that he could ride 150 to 200 miles a day. He’s thought about this a lot. “Last place I want to be is in a major metropolitan area during a time of national crisis.”

Craig’s plan might be a very effective one for him, in the case of a cyber-terrorist attack. This type of attack on our power grid would disable the grid itself but wouldn’t be as devastating as an electromagnetic pulse.

Craig has realized that getting home from hundreds of miles away when the world has erupted into chaos won’t be easy and he’s come up with a plan and is training for that possibility. If this should happen, there will be countless scenarios which he may not have anticipated, but at least he has a plan for getting home. Your plan should include:

  1. Transportation. Planning on hoofing it home? Better start getting into super-shape now and invest in an excellent pair of walking shoes/boots. If they’re waterproof, that’s even better. Tuck some Shoe-Goo in your emergency kit for quick repairs and for a quick waterproofing job.
  2. Water. Where you’re stranded and the terrain between you and home will determine if you will be able to find a plentiful supply of water on a regular basis. If you’re not sure you can, stay where you are. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, but something like this would help distribute the weight and is refillable.
  3. Food. Can you set traps? Hunt and fish using alternative methods? Can you identify edible and medicinal wild plants? Do you know which parts are edible and which are poisonous? Do you know how to start a small fire for cooking and purifying water, and, if so, what will you use for a cooking pot? (This tiny, lightweight campstove weighs just a little over 4 ounces.) These are just a few of the issues to consider.
  4. Shelter.  Putting up a lean-to is one thing, but surviving the elements within that shelter is quite another. A small, lightweight tent in your emergency kit would be a smart idea.
  5. Security. You may be surrounded by people more desperate than you. More fit, more strong than you. Can you survive on your wits alone? What self-defense skills do you have?
  6. Weather and terrain. Those will both change as you travel. Are you ready for all possibilities? Do you know of alternate routes that might be easier or would allow you to avoid populated areas?

5 Possible ways to survive post-EMP when miles separate you and your loved ones

In my view, being stranded from home in a post-EMP world would leave you with few options. As part of my own research into EMP survival, here are a few viable options in case the worst really does happen and you are dozens, if not hundreds, of miles from home.

  1. Head home regardless, carrying with you the basics for survival, or whatever you can acquire. Survival novels are full of tales of determined men, making their way home to their families over hundreds of miles. This option might work if you are in good physical shape, have no health issues, and are blessed with an enormous amount of luck. It wouldn’t hurt if the terrain between you and your family has multiple supplies of water. Forget it if you have more than just a few miles of desert to traverse.
  2. Stay put and lay low. If you have the skills and knowledge, set up a wilderness camp and use your ingenuity and Boy Scout skills to live off the land. You’ll end up dying a pretty quick death, most likely, but this is an option.
  3. Stay put and try to become an indispensable part of another household or group. If you have a bank of life-saving skills, such as knowing how to grow and preserve food, medical training, or can help guard your new group of fellow survivors. When the infrastructure begins to be rebuilt, you can then begin heading home.
  4. Stay put and start a new life. This option isn’t necessarily pessimistic. Given the circumstances, you may have no other choice.
  5. Do a little bit of both. Combine stints on the road, always heading homeward, with time spent staying with a community or with a family. They might be grateful for the additional help with physical labor and whatever practical skills you possess may help get them through a difficult time until you’re able to travel again.

A number of my readers mentioned seeing Ted Koppel on various news shows discussing his book and the very likely event of a significant cyberterror attack on the power grid. My guess is that this weekend there are thousands of new “preppers” who suddenly realize their comfortable lives are built on a very shaky foundation and that the very government they pay taxes to, has no plan to save them if the worst happens.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

27 thoughts on “Post-EMP Survival: What If You Can’t Get Home?”

  1. EMP – only way an EMP event occurs is from a nuk blast …. there’s only one immediate response to that – find deep shelter – the country is under attack …. could be a single nuk terrorist grid attack scenario or prelude to an entire wave of missiles ….

    1. That is SO NOT true Illini Warrior. (States only way an EMP can hit is from a nuclear blast) An EMP can be caused by a solar flare and one happened in 2012! Unfortunately, this has happened to the planet before. This time in 2012 that it hit towards the Earth’s orbit, the good old Earth was in a different place in orbit so it missed us. Good thing OR we would have all been fried. Story true, look it up. Follow the science. Scary to me for sure. The EMP from Solar Flares is my biggest worry of all of the disasters possible that could effect our life as we know it.
      K. S.

    2. 3 low yield atmospheric nukes detonated in the atmosphere could knock the USA back to the 1800’s. North Korea can do more damage to the US like this as opposed to targeting cities. It’s hard to miss the atmosphere

  2. Today’s electrical grid is much more robust than most people realize. This is achieved through providing multiple electrical pathways between the interconnected generating stations, and your home.

    If one transformer goes down due to sabotage, the grid’s computers will reconnect your home within minutes. There are many choices for feeding your home with electricity.

    Note that some – perhaps many – locations will survive an EMP. Automobiles, houses, factories etc. shaded from a nuclear explosion over Kansas by high local mountains (see West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey). Tall buildings in coastal cities (thousands of miles away from Kansas) may shade smaller buildings and vehicles.

    Diesel trucks may continue to operate (but without lights) because diesel engines do not use electricity to cause the fuel to explode within the cylinders. Ditto railroad locomotives.

    There are tens of thousands of possibilities too numerous to examine – just don’t think that EVERYTHING will be dead!

  3. I don’t know if wiseman is right. The diesel engine he’s talking about is controlled by electronics. While the ECM is wrapped in a metal housing, the mother board is not protected with a rubber shielding. Also it takes the same power to run the head lights and the electronics, note: there is nothing in a head light that a EMP will effect unless its the battery of the truck. If it does then nothing on the unit will work. From my reading on EMPs, either man made (blast at 300 mile high over Kansas) or nature( sun solar flare), it will go through anything that is not protected with a metal shield and surrounded by rubber. I can’t speak for everyplace, but in rual areas it will be a different story as large cities. The large cities will get taken care of first due to hospitals and the number of people.
    While a lot can be said on this subject, you need to remember to plan ahead and lay in supplies for each problem you can think of, EMP, Pandemic, War, Marshal Law and so on . Make a list of what you will need in each case and see what items are common to each and start buying those items first( food ,water, protection, first aid, shelter)and then branch out.
    Always remember baby steps so you don’t over load your self or your checking account.

    1. Your diesel engine might be computer controlled….i.e. electronic fuel injection, but mine isn’t. Cummins engines in the Dodge Ram manufactured before 1998 1/2 were and still are mechanical injection. The only electronics on the engine is a crank sensor, which is actually a mechanical switch opened and closed by a magnet. The purpose of this crank sensor is to tell the transmissions how fast the engine is running. The automatic transmissions have a “computer” that uses this information to determine when to shift, but even then it will run, abet not well and not with the proper shift points.

      More troublesome to me would be the alternator. It does indeed contain electronics that control voltages. A quick “fix” to this would be to have a spare for both of these items hidden away in a deep dark cabinet (or in your truck box) that is heavily padded/insulated and wrapped in multiple layers of foil. Having replaced both of these items at various times, the crank position sensor is a 20 minute job if the engine is cool and the alternator is not much more. I am a bit of a wimp, I hate getting burned. Getting the serpentine belt off and back on was the biggest problem for me.

      The computer for the tranny is a different matter, and I have never had to deal with one. Considering the position of the tranny comp, an EMP may or may not have any effect considering its location and that there is 8000 pounds of truck above it.

      Something that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere I know of is whether the batteries in a vehicle can survive an EMP. It is possible, considering the voltages and amperages being generated by the EMP that the batteries would either be shorted out or drained. In either case, a new battery would be needed.

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  5. Here’s something to think about, okay so an emp happens-lights go out, halfway charged cell phone is dead with no reception and the car will not start. i work about twenty miles from home, 3 to 5 days later i make it home. will my apartment still be available to hunker down with my supplies or is everything gone? my apartment complex is 8 to 10 miles from a small regional airport and there inbound flights overshoot my apartment. everybody talks about ground level happenings in the event of an emp, what happens to airplanes when there flying and this event takes place let alone what about satellites in space? shalom bob

    1. There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to the effects of EMP. Airplane engines and the structure itself have been designed to survive lightning strikes, which have much in common with an EMP. However, when it comes to knowing, for certain, if an EMP will affect planes, causing them to suddenly drop to the ground, there isn’t a consensus. As far as your apartment is concerned, I personally would head in that direction and hope for the best. You could always pack up the most necessary supplies and gear and head for another location, further away. If you don’t already, it would be a good idea to carry a well-equipped “get home bag” in your vehicle. That way, you could head home if it appeared to be safe or go in another direction.

  6. Personally, I like #5 under the second section. Thinking back to the Civil War soldiers who were discharged wherever they happened to be when the war ended, many of them did this to get back home. Some spent several years working their way to their loved ones, so there’s no reason it couldn’t be a viable option for the future. I like that much better than the thought of starting over where I’m stranded.

    1. In such a worst case scenario, I would hope that good people all over the country would help each other out, lending whatever support possible to both the travelers trying to make their way home as well as those needing temporary shelter.

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  8. Hi Lisa,

    I appreciate your blog and the great information you share.

    I believe the first 24 to 72 hours will be the most critical window of time to get out of the big city, get home and get settled in to deal with the crisis. After that, the masses of people will move past their confusion and shock into desperation and anarchy will rule the day and night. Guaranteed the couple pictured in your article wouldn’t last long if they had very far to go.

    Traveling, obtaining fuel or buying a ride during that first time of confusion will be critical. Many older readers will remember how South Viet Nam collapsed as the Americans lost the war and pulled out. Those who were affiliated with the USA at any level knew the communists would most likely murder them so they flocked to the airports and docks to get passage out of the country. Those who only held Viet Nam’s currency (which instantly became worthless) were out of luck. Those who had gold were able to buy passage. I have spoken with a few of the survivors. Every one said having gold to barter for a ride saved their lives. In light of this I often ask my friends who own gold how much they have with them when they travel. Every one so far has had none. They keep their gold and silver in their safe at home because it is too bulky to carry all the time.

    Fortunately, there is a great solution. I found a great source of affordable gold that comes in barterable form and is easy to carry when traveling. This form of gold makes it possible to carry a thousand dollars in gold in your wallet and you won’t even notice it is there. The 24 karat gold comes in 1 gram, 2 1/2 and 5 gram bars mounted on credit card sized security cards. Toss those loyalty cards and replace them with Karatbars when you travel and wa-la, you will have real gold money with you should it hit the fan. . Plus, the company will soon be releasing paper-like folding money with fractional gram 24 karat gold bars embedded within. This currency will come in fractional gram weights of 1/10 gram, 1/4 gram and 1/2 grams. Now anybody could have real 24 karat real gold money to barter for bread, a bicycle, a tank of fuel or a lifesaving ride.

    Karatbars makes barterable gold affordable to the common person. Even better they are paying commissions on referrals so people who get the concept can even get paid in gold rather than paying for gold. That is what I’m doing and can affirm to you the concept is sound and works well.

    I believe this is a great way to over time for us to have an alternative to central bank controlled fiat money.

    Thanks again for your great service to us readers.

  9. The concern over an EMP creating a long-term power outage and being widespread seems overblown to me. The effect is going to be inversely proportional to the distance from the source. So, if the EMP were man-made, the effect is going to be local. If you are away from home, the probability that it will interrupt power where you are and at your home is even lower than the threat of an EMP. The only source of a continent-wide EMP I can think of would be a solar flare – in which case there would be some warning time to protect some electronic equipment from the EMP using Faraday cages.
    Even if such would occur, I doubt we would be reduced to walking, or riding a bicycle, hundreds of miles to get home.
    In my opinion the most likely natural disasters that will disrupt people’s lives will be local and short-term. The widespread ones will be government-made – like war and economic collapse. These will not happen in a day. The store shelves are not going to empty overnight. Hyper-inflation bouts last a few years at the longest. Only government can block supply from rushing to where demand is highest.
    I remember the Y2K bug and the predictions of chaos that would occur when our stuff could not tell what day it was. The predictions were wrong.
    On a list of worries, I think an EMP pulse forcing us back to a 19th century lifestyle for months, or years, is toward the bottom.

  10. Because my financial situation prevents me from stocking up certain supplies needed to survive a global crisis, I’ve elected to put my knowledge of plants and their medicinal and edible properties to work for me. What I know could be invaluable to a group and I could either join or use my knowledge for bartering.

    1. Lisa, Your knowledge CAN be king…once you’ve proved yourself to a group who have the supplies you may need to survive. But, I’m wondering WHY wait?! If you are truly serious and you know that you cannot afford some necessities/supplies, then NOW is the time to find that group of folks who will be willing to barter with you. All good planning starts with the “first steps”…and your survival will depend upon YOU and your advance planning.

      I don’t really know how to go about “finding a group” but if you have supportive family members (or friends) who think like you do, that is a good start. Anyway, my suggestion is to start today looking for that group you can join. Established relationships build trust…an extremely important factor should “that day” arrive.

  11. I think am emp whether man made or natural would most likely be and end to this country. With sll the civil unrest we all ready have groups good and bad will look to take advantage. When the east coast lost power a few years ago I lived just outside the blacked out area. My town was filled with people buying gas and groceries. Good luck finding the basic supplies. This was a short term emergency. We see it all the time with snow storms or hurricanes. People flock to the stores and shelves are empty. Now imagine a loss of power even basic stuff for a longer period of time. The government is slow to respond. Look at Katrina for example. Now picture the government without power. How long do you think they will take to respond? I am usually not far from home so I feel confident I can get home in a few days. I don’t live in a heavily populated area. For those in large cities it will be total anarchy. I like to believe that people are genuinely good but the news is full of proff that most are not. If you came to my door during a disaster such as this I might help I might not. Do you really think having a diesel that kinda runs will get you out of trouble? Be prepared to shoot your way out of town. People will panic and try and take what you have. Ive been in the military and served as a volunteer firefighter and emt. Disaster always brings out the worst in people. Yes good people also show up but they are not the ones who will kill you for your backpack or vehicle. Good luck!

    1. Robert, you are correct on so many points. A massive, long-term power grid failure, by whatever cause, will be the end of the information age here in the U.S. — or wherever the calamity occurs. People go NUTS when there’s just a hurricane or major winter storm on the way, and it’s not that hard to imagine their reaction to something far bigger and much worse.

  12. I work 56 miles from home every day. I have mapped out a good route to get home from work. I have some supplies with me in my car to help with the walk. My daughter is a few miles from where I work and we have planned a place to meet and then head to our home. thank you for all of the tips and information. I would rather be prepared and never need it than to be caught unprepared.

  13. This is such important information. With books like Ted Koppel’s Lights Out becoming mainstream, you know that prepping is no longer associated with fringe groups. People are truly frightened. I truly appreciate everything you do to educate us about what we can do to protect ourselves for the worst emergency situations.

  14. they key to survival in any situation is PMA (a positive mental attitude) never give up and stay optimistic. if it’s you and the wilderness, use this priority system: #1 shelter, #2 water, #3 fire, and #4 food. (note 2&3 become equal if its necessary to boil you water)
    if you are in an urban environment, then personal safety/protection becomes #1!
    Thom.catt
    S&R specialist.

  15. What do you do if you have a 10 year old child and you lock your keys and purse, laying on front seat, and it’s raining hard and 40 miles from home and no money to PSAT locksmith?

    1. That happened once with our dog! He locked himself in a running car. Our insurance policy included roadside assistance, so that’s who came along and helped us. In your case, I would have probably broken one of the back windows if there was no other choice!

  16. Started reading,then I saw you had an ad/sponser,Him Bakker(Mr.NO MORALS)You have to abide by them but don’t.I’m sure your blogs/posts have alot of useful information, but I can’t continue reading,believe me I’m not Mr. Morals,but I hate hypocrites.

    1. I have zero control over the ads on my site, since I work with an ad network. I understand your personal view of this individual, but if the product isn’t pornographic or promotes drugs/alcohol and the like, the network will run it.

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