I do hesitate to write on this topic somewhat, as it's easy to go down a rabbit-hole of absolute fear-porn. This is also a topic that's riddled with very strongly-held opinions and the vast majority of the research is still highly classified. So with that said, I'll try to dive into the topic hopefully without going too nuts.
EMPs (ElectroMagnetic Pulses) along with CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections) are two potential life-altering events with very broad consequences. The net effect of both is largely the same, stuff with electronic circuits gets fried (maybe, there's a lot of contention over this, I'll post some links that seem more reputable later on). The consequence is obviously speculative, but the DoD think-tanks seem to indicate 70-90% of the US population could starve in the first year or two after an EMP. Seems very fear-monger-y but a preponderance of the evidence, i.e. Americans having to live without refrigeration, just-in-time food delivery from all over the globe, and an already shown to be highly fragile supply chain, maybe it's not as fear-monger-y as it seems.
Granted the likelihood of such an event appears low. An EMP would have to be generated by a nuclear weapon detonated high above its target (in our case, the continental US). Conceivably there would be two delivery mechanisms, one is an ICBM which would be detected and prompt a counter-strike, and the other is in a satellite already in orbit (a la GoldenEye, the James Bond movie). Granted that last one would be a major treaty violation on the abolition of nuclear weapons in space, but I really don't think that's going to stop someone bent on inflicting the potentially unprecedented humanitarian crisis that would be using an EMP on a nation as highly technology dependent as the United States. But regardless, risk is likelihood (low) times impact (extreme), which still leaves us medium risk.
I read a report from a US Congressional committee on studying EMP's risks and threats to the United States, and long story short is we're very much unprepared. If I can find the article again, I'll update this page with the link. Short version though is that the Ruskies did a WHOLE LOT of research with EMPs during the Cold War and their EMP weapon systems are far more advanced than our mitigation mechanisms. It didn't paint a very rosy picture of the situation.
I'm also currently working my way through A. American's The Survivalist Series, which is about an EMP-like event happening. While fiction, and nerdy as hell I must admit (gear nuts like me love the detail), it's also written by someone who's an expert on survivalism and he put a lot of thought into the series. Here's a neat interview with him where they peripherally discuss the topic. The books though detail a pretty bleak picture of what would happen in the wake of such an event.
Funnily enough though, probably the more optimistic of the views I've heard thus far is from a company named EMP Shield that makes devices that help shield whatever they're connected to from EMPs and CMEs (up to a certain size, more on that later). Apparently the company is currently working with the US DOE to ruggedize the electrical grid in America to be more resilient to this type of thing. The interview is pretty long, but very educational on a topic that's filled with so much mystique and speculation.
My rational for putting this together is the "just-in-case" situation. Isn't that the justification for every part of being a prepper? Sure the EMP kit isn't the first kit I'd recommend to a burgeoning prepper, but I was already working on my EDC bag and refreshing it, so why not take some things I already had around the house and throw them into a MOLLE compatible bag that's also water-resistant?
Truth be told, I bought a couple EMP Shields earlier this year and last, but I got to thinking more about it after that. Just throwing the EMP Shield on my car isn't going to fix the situation, what about my car keys? If they get fried, then it doesn't matter if the car still works, it won't start. I bought a supposed EMP-resistant hank from Superesse Straps, and I noticed that my keys still worked while inside that hank. Huh? That shouldn't be the case. I checked the website and they did say you needed to fold the hank in a certain manner for it to complete its seal, and once I did this, it did appear to cut off those signals.
But this got me thinking more and more about EMPs and what gear I'd like to protect. I bought a few more EMP resistant products, preferably ones with multiple functions (like being water resistant or fire resistant) so I'm not just being single-threat focused.
This load-out is an addendum to my EDC bag that I was putting together. It contained some things I was already going to keep in my EDC bag, just now it's in a water-resistant/EMP-resistant MOLLE bag. Here's what that bag contains and my rationale for each.
- A Geiger Counter – In the event of an EMP, it means nuclear weapons were used. It doesn't mean they were launched on cities, but if it's escalated to that level, it's possible the city-targeting ones could be on their way. If I survived that somehow, then a geiger counter could be prudent to track fallout and avoid Acute Radiation Syndrome. A dosimeter would likely be a better choice here, but I already owned the geiger counter.
- A Google Pixel 4a – I have GrapheneOS loaded on this device, along with my backup crypto wallet, some offline street and topo maps, and a solar tracker. This would've been in my EDC anyways (backup phone, get home kit, private crypto transactions, etc), so it just gets stuffed into the EMP bag.
- A AM/FM/SW Radio – Practically every preparedness guide ever lists having a radio as part of your kit. This would've been in my bag anyways, so it just gets stuffed into the EMP kit. Plus AM and SW are rather simple technologies, easily replicable in the event of mass destruction of higher-order technologies. And a lot of that AM/SW gear is probably still around in a closet and mostly vacuum tube based which will doubtfully be as sensitive to EMPs as transistors.
- A Samsung T7 External SSD – Contains a full, encrypted backup of my laptop. Again, was going to be in my EDC anyways, so it just moved compartments. Given a large-scale EMP attack or CME, the technology to decrypt and restore from this drive will likely go out with the lights, so it's of limited utility in this compartment, but I had the space so why not.
- Lithium batteries for the radio – Kept separate so the radio doesn't inadvertently get turned on in the bag and thus run down their charge.
- Charging cables for everything inside the kit – So many wires. I wish everything would convert to USB-C but ce la vis.
- A shortwave radio antenna – For the aforementioned radio, a compact way for receiving far off shortwave transmissions. Maybe if the US attacked, foreign news services will have broadcasts that can be received. Good intelligence tool. Why put it in the EMP kit? Well two things, first it keeps the kit more organized to keep it all together, and second in the interview above with the guy from EMP Shield, he discussed how EMPs kill electronics and part of it had to do with the amperage the blast caused inside the microelectronics causing major heat buildup. I don't know if this antenna would be affected, but it's a very thin-gauge wire. For safety's sake, it goes in. It's small and light.
- A power bank – Should be self-explanatory, these things are always welcome to any kit.
- A GoTenna – These are for off-grid communication between two parties, and they mesh up for relay. This technology might not survive an EMP, but I'd like to think that other GoTenna purchasers are also people who'd think about EMP preparedness and might put them somewhere safe. Plus my wife has one and I gave her an EMP bag as well for her purse to keep stuff like this in so at least us two can communicate.
All of this is kept in a Mission Darkness water-resistant faraday bag, alongside my IFAK and some extras.
That's it, that's my EMP Kit for EDC. I'm planning a larger one for my house using one of Mission Darkness' faraday duffel bags. That one will require more thought and may include some weird items.
This topic is contentious even among prepping circles, but again the majority of my kit was going to be in my EDC anyways, and the bag doubles in the water-resiliency part of my build. Maybe it's the whole Russia-Ukraine situation that's got me thinking more about it, with Russia-NATO relationships at an all time low. Regardless, I don't think this is too nuts of a preparation to make in my EDC. And like all preps, I hope I never have to use it.
Side note on CMEs:
Coronal Mass Ejections are ejection of material from the sun toward earth. They hit earth all the time and can create some very pretty auroras. However, there have been times when extremely large CMEs have hit the earth. One of note was the Carrington Event back in 1859. This is the largest geomagnetic storm on record, and fortunately for all of us, the only thing using electricity in 1859 was telegraphs so the damage was relatively contained.
However such an event today would be truly catastrophic, and even my preps here would likely not be enough. By the admission of the guy from EMP Shield in the interview above it "would take the device the size of a house to protect against [a Carrington Event type situation]".