EMP or Power Outage? How to Tell the Difference

One of the most worrisome threats that the United States faces is an EMP. With just a single nuclear weapon, a hostile force could dismantle a majority of the nation’s electrical grid, rendering everything from major power plants all the way down to hand-held electronics inoperable.

Of course, an EMP detonation certainly isn’t the only thing that can cause the lights to go out. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to tell the difference between a simple power outage and an EMP.

What is an EMP?

Before we begin discussing how to tell the difference between an EMP and a power outage, it’s important to first define an EMP.

EMP stands for “electromagnetic pulse”. While localized EMP strikes can be conducted with small devices, the type of large-scale EMP attack that presents a real threat to our country would be carried out by detonating a nuclear weapon in the air high above us.

When a nuclear weapon is detonated at the right altitude, it sends out an electromagnetic pulse that is powerful enough to overload the circuits of all electronics and cover an area the size of the continental United States. Without power, society would be plunged into total chaos.

The fact that this extreme level of destruction can be achieved with just one detonation of a high-yield nuclear weapon is what makes an EMP attack so concerning.

How to Tell the Difference Between an EMP and a Power Outage

In the event of an EMP, the faster you are able to react, the better off you will be. However, this means that you will need to be able to quickly determine whether your loss of power is due to an EMP or a simple power outage.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to quickly tell the difference. Here are five:

1. Check Your Breakers

Any time you experience a power outage, your first step should be to check the breakers in your home to see if they have been thrown. In many cases, power outages are caused when a circuit in the home is overloaded, throwing the breakers in your breaker box and killing the power in your home.

In these instances, simply unplugging a few devices and turning your breakers back on will be all that it takes to restore power. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to think about other potential causes.

2. Listen for Explosions

A power outage is typically a rather quiet ordeal, but the same can’t be said for an EMP strike. If you live in a populated area, you will likely be able to hear the transformers and substations around you exploding loudly as the power surge created by the EMP destroys them.

If the power goes out and it sounds like a warzone outside, there’s a good chance than an EMP is to blame.

3. Check Your Electronics

A power outage won’t destroy electronics that are battery-powered such as a smartphone or a HAM radio, but an EMP might. If the lights go out and all of your electronics stop working at the same time, an EMP is almost certainly the source.

With that said, we don’t know for certain that an EMP would, in fact, fry all electronics as opposed to just destroying the power grid. It would depend on the location of the detonation, the yield of the nuclear weapon, and a number of other factors. In other words, you can’t eliminate the possibility of an EMP detonation based on the functionality of your battery-powered devices alone.

To keep your electronics safe from an EMP, you’ll want to keep them in a Faraday cage. Here’s how to build one.

4. Check for Fires

The explosions caused by an EMP don’t just make a lot of noise – they also start a lot of fires. Normal power outages, on the other hand, rarely lead to any fires.

If you are afraid an EMP strike has taken place, step outside your home and look to the horizon. In the daytime, you’ll be able to look for smoke, while in the nighttime you should be able to see the glow of fires across the horizon. If you notice these signs of widespread fire following a power outage, then you are likely dealing with an EMP.

5. Try to Start Your Vehicle

We don’t often think of our vehicles as being electronic devices, but modern vehicles are heavily reliant on various electronic components – components that can be destroyed by an EMP. If you experience a power outage and are concerned that it might be due to an EMP, try to start your vehicle. If it won’t start, there’s certainly cause for concern.

As with battery-powered electronics, though, there’s no guarantee that an EMP strike will destroy the electronics in your vehicle. However, having a vehicle that won’t start following a power outage is a surefire sign that an EMP has occurred.

What To Do if an EMP Strike Occurs

If after going through the above checklist you determine that an EMP is to blame for the power outage, you’ll need to act fast. A major EMP will throw the country into chaos in a matter of hours.

Within a matter of days, almost all of the available food in the country will have been raided, and panic due to the likelihood of mass starvation will ensue. Here is a list of actions you must take after an EMP attack.

The widespread devastation that an EMP strike would cause cannot be understated. It has been estimated that without electricity, up to 90% of the US population would be dead within a year.

It’s certainly a disaster scenario that must be taken very seriously and one that is much more dangerous than first meets the eye. This is especially true when you consider the fact that an EMP strike can be carried out by a group or country that has access to only one nuclear weapon.

Once an EMP has occurred, it’s too late to prepare. But with ample supplies
set aside and a thorough plan, an EMP strike is something that can be survived. Here is how to be one of the 10% who survive.

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