Living off the Grid – Could You Survive an EMP?

Living off the Grid – Could You Survive an EMP?

A few months ago I downloaded some audio books to get me through a long car trip.  One of them was One Second After by William R. Forstchen.   In the story, a nuclear bomb from an unnamed enemy was exploded high in the atmosphere over the United States.  No one was injured by the bomb itself since the explosion was so high in the atmosphere.  However, the explosion caused an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) which instantly disabled much of the nation’s power grid.  All electronic equipment immediately stopped working – cars, cell phones, air conditioning, medical equipment, appliances.  Electric-Power-Grid

The main character, John Matherson, lived with his two daughters in a small town in North Carolina.  He quickly figured out what was going on, and they began to deal with the short-term and long-term effects – disease, lack of food and water, panic, lack of communication with others.  It was a fascinating book.  What would you do if suddenly the stores were empty (in the book, it only took a few days for that to happen), no food supply, no running water, and the only medical care available harkened back to that of the 1800s.

Since reading the book, I’ve read up on EMPs and came across the story of Roscoe Bartlett.  Roscoe Bartlett was a Congressman from Maryland’s 6th congressional district from 1993 to 2013.  He garnered fame (or infamy, if you prefer) while he served in Congress for his doomsday visions, particularly about the vulnerability of the nation’s power grid.  He felt that a well-placed terrorist attack could put an “end to life as we know it” in America.  Bartlett claimed that a nuclear weapon detonated high above the country or a violent solar storm could cause an EMP that would shut down the power grid for six months or more.  Every single critical infrastructure system, including food and agriculture, water and sewer, transportation, emergency services would screech to a halt.  Why?  Because they all are basically useless without electricity.

When Bartlett left Congress, he moved to a remote 153-acre property in West Virginia where he lives “off the grid” – no phone service, no outside power, no municipal plumbing.  He has “composting toilets,” and he grows much of the food for his extended family.

“People ask me ‘Why?’ . . . and I ask people why you climb Mount Everest.  It’s a challenge, and it’s challenging to think what life would be like if there weren’t any grid and there weren’t any grocery stores.  That’s what life was like for our forefathers.”

Many people think Bartlett might be a tad paranoid.  However, it turns out that Bartlett’s fears are shared by many – and not just the doomsday preppers among us.

When Janet Napolitano was leaving DHS, she warned of possible attacks – including EMPs. She had a warning for her successor:

A massive and “serious” cyber attack on the U.S. homeland is coming, and a natural disaster — the likes of which the nation has never seen — is also likely on its way.  So prepare, and bring “a large bottle of Advil.”

Former CIA Director, R. James Woolsey, discussed the vulnerability of the United States’ power grid.

“The problem mainly with the grid is that everything depends on it, and it itself has some very substantial vulnerabilities,” said Woolsey, “We need to move as quickly as possible to generating power where the load is.”

 “We have 18 critical infrastructures in the United States: water, food, electricity and so forth. All 17 of the others depend on electricity,” Woolsey said. “Everything depends on the electric grid.”

How long could you survive if the power grid went down? You can’t drive your car anywhere. You can’t make any phone calls. There is no running water or municipal sewer system. No internet. Will you have food and water to last a week? a month? 3 months? a year? Do you have a source of water? Do you have the means to protect yourself? The time to make those preparations is now.

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  • Abner "Call me Abbie" Normal says:

    Some government agency or another actually did a test on real cars using simulated EMP blasts. Not a single car had their electronics knocked out. The worst that happened was that the car stalled, and they had to restart the thing. So, at least some of the hype is just that, hype.

  • Melanie says:

    How interesting, Abbie! I’ll look into that. Thanks for the info.

  • David says:

    Yes. Effectively have done, on a small scale. First time was an ice storm that took not only almost our entire county offline but large parts of neighboring counties. We just essentially camped out at home for a few weeks in zero degree (or sometimes a bit above) weather. We were pretty comfy. Meals were fine on a camp stove (sadly, we do not have a natgas range. . . still *heh*) or the charcoal grill outside. The freezers? Emptied either into coolers on the deck (freezing temps, were handy there) or cooked and eaten. Water was problematic, once we’d gotten a ways into stored supplies (poor infrastructure support in America’s Third World County™), but re-supply wasn’t a real problem. Relatives in areas with full utilities could do refills for us, but worse come to worst, we had filtration and treatment supplies, if needed, for open water (iced over creeks, snow, etc.) treatment. The pantry took a dent, but that’s what it’s for, anyway. We’re better-prepared now, but always tweaking our system and supplies. An EMP might have affected our communications (internet was down, but after a couple of days landline was back in service. . . and I had at the time a backup POTS modem service available, if we’d really needed it). All-in-all, those weeks w/o power were actually quite enjoyable, although I don’t know that I’d want to live that way for months and months after a major EMP strike (either engineered by humans or a “Carrington Event”).

    Other power outages have been of shorter duration (a few days, a week) since then, but being even minimally prepared for such things does make a difference.

  • Melanie says:

    I think our family could last for at least a few months. We live next to a large water source and have treatment supplies so we could use it. We have plenty of stored food. Communications would be iffy – but as far as life essentials, we’d be okay for awhile.

  • ALman says:

    A rule of thumb might be: there are always benefits that can be derived from making preparations, even if the primary purpose never happens. However, there’s little benefit to be had from non-preparation.

  • A massive and “serious” cyber attack on the U.S. homeland is coming, and a natural disaster — the likes of which the nation has never seen — is also likely on its way. So prepare, and bring “a large bottle of Advil.”

    Advil, eh? At least she did not suggest that we sue our attackers.

    Personally, I am more worried about the incompetence of progressives causing our infrastructure to slowly disintegrate than any potential damage caused by EMP or cyber attacks. FDR’s New Deal could at least point to roads and bridges built as tangible results of their policies (even if the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression instead of ending it). Even the comatose economy of the Soviet Union managed to get satellites and cosmonauts into orbit on occasion. By contrast Obama blew up the US economy, cost millions of people their access to health care, and can’t even get a simple web site to work properly.

    The problem with infrastructure is not primarily a shortage of money. The problem is that our present group of leaders lack the ability to successfully pick their noses, let alone make sound engineering decisions. With the bunch we have now spending more on infrastructure simply means even more costly and widespread failure than in the past.

  • Melanie says:

    The biggest downside to prepping is finding the space to store things and then remembering to use items before they get out of date and replenish them. It takes organization.

  • Xavier says:

    It’s funny, but I think we could survive almost indefinitely. We live in a small community and people already rely on each other. Our farm is nestled among several friend’s farms, and they’re all fairly large so there’s plenty of grazing land as well as timber. Everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, and everyone has a specialty. Most people have horses, and one guy raises cows and chickens. Another is the best mechanic I’ve ever known. Several of the wives are nurses. We bring a sawmill, woodworking, and home brew generators into the picture, plus a large heirloom garden that feeds several families already. We all have wood stoves that are either the main or a supplemental heat source, and most people keep at least 2 years wood split and stacked at all times. The woods are full of springs that are currently used to water livestock. Everyone has antique haying equipment laying around and we’d have to rebuild it so we could cut hay to feed the animals during the winter. There’s deer and turkey to the point of being a nuisance so that’s a food source too. I’ve helped set up battery operated silent alarms on houses and barns to warn of intruders, and we use solar powered battery rechargers that could keep these alarms active even during an extended power outage. ‘Course we have plenty of more persuasive protection too. I’ve recently invested in some non-lethal protection like pepper spray and stun guns. There may be times when they’re more appropriate and there’s no point in wasting ammo.

    Medicine is a concern. We keep at least a year’s worth of basic medical supplies on hand but antibiotics and prescription medications might be a problem. I’ve already arranged for a tetanus booster shot soon and we’re all up to date on flu, pneumonia, and shingles vaccines.

    We aren’t really preppers but country living teaches you to be prepared all the time; basically, we’d be reverting to a 1930s rural culture when people didn’t have electricity and the farm provided almost everything they needed to live.

    Something I’d like to mention is that water generally comes from those holding towers the kids like to paint their names on. If those can’t be replenished with an electric pump, as they usually are, you’ll have at most a few days water supply after a power failure. If the power goes out, immediately run a tub full of water for flushing toilets and fill some jugs for drinking water. For longer term water supply problems, there are various purification techniques and chemicals available but I really like this one:

    P.S. Granny says BUY DUCT TAPE! It’s good for everything from repairing shoes to holding a splint for a broken bone.

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