Would an EMP Attack Affect Batteries?

Would an EMP Attack Effect Batteries Title

Most of my fears about end-of-the-world scenarios once revolved around nuclear war ala The Day After. But now I realize that there is a much more scary threat: an EMP attack. By now, most of us know that an EMP has the potential to destroy anything connected to the electrical grid. So can we just buy battery-powered versions of all our electrical devices? Well after many hours of research, I finally have an answer for you.

Would an EMP attack affect batteries? Most batteries can survive an EMP of any magnitude without suffering damage. This is true for all common types of batteries including lead-acid, lithium-ion, alkaline, and nickel metal hydride. Only complex battery modules with built-in charge controllers are likely to be affected.

What is an EMP?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a wave of energy that occurs naturally through lightning strikes and solar flares. It can also be induced as a secondary effect of nuclear war or weaponized and used as a military attack tactic. Very powerful solar flares called ‘coronal mass ejections’ (CMEs) could also cause an EMP-level catastrophic event if they hit Earth.

The force of such a blast wouldn’t kill people outright. An EMP attack would most likely be administered by a missile detonated high above our country, not a direct bomb blast. The magnetic energy it released would take out our electrical grid. That may sound like it’s just a giant power outage, but it would be an ongoing long-term catastrophe. According to a study conducted by the Congressional EMP Commission, up to two-thirds of the population could die within one year of a massive EMP event.

How Do EMPs Affect Electrical Systems?

Events caused by CMEs or a high-altitude EMP (HEMP) attack would occur in two phases.

In the first phase, a nuclear bomb blast high over the United States would send an electromagnetic pulse up to 1,450 miles from the center of detonation, immediately zapping every exposed electronic device. Then, a second wave would wash in to finish it.

In a secondary phase, the induced energy from the initial blast would find the extensive networks of electronic and telecommunications wiring that crisscrosses the countries. The wiring would act like an antenna that sucks the energy in and sends it winding along its paths, burning anything it meets along the way. That includes the electrical grids and power stations across North America, and there would be no feasible way to stop it.

Transmission lines, vulnerable to an EMP, criss cross our country.
Two years is a long time to go without electricity and will lead to foot shortages, gas shortages, and a general collapse of society.

The Aftermath of an EMP Attack

According to the Commission’s report, it would take 18 months or more to repair the grids, if it could be done at all. Nearly all of our public electric networks are already out of date and unprotected from an attack. It would be next to impossible to rebuild them continent-wide with no working systems in place to do it. People who rely on medical support equipment and treatments like life-support, oxygen, dialysis, or insulin would be the first to go. None of us would be able to go to work, go to school, or retrieve our money from the banks. We would lose:

  • Telecommunications
  • Banking
  • Transportation
  • Public utilities
  • Medical facilities
  • Police, fire, and emergency services
  • Grocery stores
  • Gas stations
  • Broadcasting and news services
  • Internet access

It wouldn’t even take a major air attack to destroy our infrastructure. A series of dirty bombs set off in the right places could have the same effects. If we’re lucky, the damage would be limited to a few areas.

According to U.S. Intelligence Services, we’ve already got hostile nations and groups that are working toward unleashing a devastating EMP attack. Fortunately, only one or two have the funding or technology to pull it off as of yet.

Think about how difficult it can be to lose power for a few days after a storm, and then imagine that chaotic inconvenience being extended to almost two years.

We’ll have company in our misery; Canada and Mexico would also be affected by our power loss.

The only ones prepared for the aftermath of an EMP attack are the U.S. Military, Air Force One, and a few fellow preppers. A Congressional committee formed to explore this topic believes that an attack could realistically occur within the next 15 years. If the government can’t or won’t take proactive measures, we’ll have to take on that responsibility ourselves.

Which Devices Would Survive Such an Attack?

Unlike a hurricane that you can watch on the weather channel for days or weeks before it hits- or a tornado with hit-and-miss, localized damage- an EMP attack will be sudden and without warning. The items that are most likely to survive an EMP are batteries and electronics that were hardened pre-attack or protected by barriers. There will be a few surprising items that will likely survive, including:

  • Non-digital appliances (such as older washing machines)
  • Vintage electronics (old-fashioned radios)
  • Cars built before 2002
  • Almost anything battery or solar-powered (this may include cell phones, tablets, and solar panels)

All of these items would have to be disconnected at the time of the EMP attack, and any vulnerable parts shielded from the first EMP wave. We know this, or can guess, because the government experimented in 1962 via the project “Starfish Prime”. They detonated a bomb over the Pacific Ocean to study the effects of the EMP wave on Hawaii.

How Would an EMP Affect Batteries?

Batteries should survive an EMP attack unaffected, without protective gear or other measures in place. However, it can’t hurt to take a few precautions to ensure their survival.

For the most part, batteries are their own little Faraday cages. The outer portion is metal, and there are no wires or circuits inside to fry. The problem is, that most of us have become so dependent on electronics that almost nothing is powered by conventional batteries anymore. Many of our devices that have battery backups also have circuit boards and microchips. Batteries alone should be fine, but modern devices with batteries inside them need protection. 

How to Store Battery-Powered Devices So That They Survive an EMP?

A Faraday cage is the safest place to keep your electronics and batteries. Though some ‘official’ Faraday cages can be costly, most sealed metal barriers make good cage substitutes. Even a metal shed or a cardboard box wrapped in tin foil (yes, really) will offer some protection. The exception is attached garages, warehouses, or storage sheds that are connected to an electric grid and have interior outlets, which can draw the electromagnetic pulse inside the structure.

EMP Protection Devices Price Buy
Faraday Fabric Military...image Faraday Fabric - EMP Protection Fabric (Military Grade) $35.99 See on Amazon
Faraday Defense 5pc...image Faraday Bags - EMP/Solar-Flare Protection Bags $49.99 See on Amazon
EMP Shield –...image EMP Shield - Vehicle EMP Protection for Car and Truck $399.99 See on Amazon

How to Create a Makeshift Faraday Cage to Protect Your Battery-Powered Devices

You can create a makeshift Faraday cage by purchasing a 10-gallon, lidded metal garbage can or two. Line the interior of the can and the lid with corrugated cardboard or bubble wrap to act as a barrier. The metal can serve as a conductor for the electric charge from the EMP, and the protective barrier will keep it from sapping the contents.

You can also purchase military-grade Faraday bags relatively inexpensively on Amazon. These are a good idea to buy anyway. They’re portable, and you can keep smaller items like batteries, portable radios, and even a spare cell phone in them if you don’t need a more significant barrier.

TIP: To test your makeshift Faraday cage, make a call on your cell phone, put it on speaker, and place it inside the cage. If that call continues without interruption, your Faraday cage isn’t safe from an EMP. It should immediately drop the call.

What to Store in Your Faraday Cage / EMP Bug-Out Bag

It’s time to drag those old appliances out of storage, if you still have them, or buy a few cheap ones at a thrift store. Put anything you want to keep safe in a metal barrier with a non-conductive interior, including extra batteries for cars, portable radios, and flashlights. Here’s a starting point for things to put in your Faraday cage.

  • Batteries of all sizes. I’m talking 9-volts, AAAs. AAs, Cs, and so on, as well as car batteries.
  • Spare electrical components for your car. The ignition switch is one part that will get damaged or destroyed. Consider buying a used main computer for your car from a wrecking yard and keeping it in the Faraday cage also.
  • An old laptop and battery backups. The internet may not work anymore, but you can store downloaded files containing survival instructions and other essential information. Download as many survival guides as possible and store them on that old laptop that you plan to place in your Faraday cage.
  • Spare cash. With no electricity, ATMs and banks will be out of commission.
  • Spare parts for your solar generator. Gas-powered generators will only last as long as the gas supply, and most pumps and storage tanks are run on electricity. Your solar power inverter is the most likely to be affected, so keep a spare in your Faraday cage. 
  • Extra chargers for any of your devices you want to keep. 
A cell phone, along with its battery, being kept safely in a Faraday bag.
Here’s an example of what a mini Faraday bag looks like.

Lithium vs. Alkaline Batteries: Which is More Resistant to an EMP?

Generally, all batteries would survive an attack or natural event like a solar burst. There is some argument over which types of batteries will fare better. Some say that wet cell batteries will last longer than dry cell batteries. This isn’t because one or the other is likely to be affected by the voltage of an EMP, but the construction and chemical composition inside the batteries.

Wet cell batteries contain lead acid, making them more stable. The conductive material inside stays put due to the larger plates used to keep the element in place. Dry cell batteries contain zinc powder, which can shift or migrate as the batteries age, causing them to fail. This is what’s inside most A, C, and D batteries. I’m not saying they won’t work anymore. They have a natural fail rate of 40% with or without a strong electromagnetic pulse to complicate things.

Solar battery chargers will likely also be okay after an attack. You can even pick up a portable, and fairly affordable, foldable solar charger on Amazon to store with your other survival gear. The batteries that are least likely to still work right are NiMh/NiCd/LiIon. They’re most common in laptops and mobile devices, but the interior construction is tiered foil. Some also contain charge controller ICs or microcontrollers that are installed to prevent overcharging your devices which are vulnerable to an EMP. 

Will your car survive an EMP? Check out some of the best research we have on this question in this article: Will Cars Still Run After an EMP? The Surprising Truth.

In Conclusion

There’s no such thing as being ‘over-prepared.’ Even if nothing ever happens (which we all hope is the case), it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also a good idea to get as many other people informed and prepared too. Talk to your friends and neighbors about becoming preppers themselves; you won’t want to be the only one providing for your entire neighborhood when SHTF. 

What are you doing to prepare for an EMP event? Share in the comments below!

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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