The deteriorating situation with North Korea has created a resurgence in interest in the chances of our country’s electrical grid being taken down by an EMP.
Sadly, the EMP Commission, the nation’s only true experts on the effect of such an attack, is being disbanded after 17 years. And this is occurring in the face of North Korea’s official news agency talking for the first time about using a high-altitude EMP against the United States.
Many people have said that if such a thing were to happen and we were to lose the electrical grid, it would put the nation back 150 years – and we’d be living as we did in the1800s. But there’s one major fallacy with that statement: We don’t know how to live like our ancestors lived 150 years ago.
A modern, industrialized society requires power. We get most of that from electricity, but we also depend heavily on internal combustion engines, both gasoline and diesel. While non-computerized internal combustion engines would survive an EMP without problem, the available fuel supply for them will be quickly exhausted and it will probably be years before refineries are running again.
This will leave us with a major problem. I seriously doubt that people will be satisfied with going back to living as if we were in the 1800s or even earlier. We, as a society, are accustomed to our comforts and we will want them back. But to get any of them, we will need some sort of power.
While some of this power will be used to provide for our comforts, the biggest portion of it will be needed to power industry, which will be relegated back to the cottage industry or at least local industry level. Even simple things, like grinding grain and plowing fields, require energy, more than what we can reasonably expect to have with human power. So much of our ability to survive and thrive will depend on our ability to find alternate sources of power.
1. Renewable electric
While the electrical grid will be destroyed by an EMP, that doesn’t mean that all means of electric power production will come to a complete standstill. I imagine that there are some power plants which are shielded from EMP, if for no other reason than they are in metal buildings.
But that power won’t do us much good, as the distribution network that we need to get that power from the power plants to our homes will be destroyed. Until that can be rebuilt, which will probably take years, it won’t matter if those power plants are working or not.
About the only dependable source of electric power that will survive the EMP will be that which we have in our homes — the solar panels and wind turbines that preppers like you and I have.
2. Animal power
Before internal combustion engines and electrical power took over, animal power was the main motive power used in the world. Horses and oxen were harnessed to wagons and carriages. But they were also harnessed to the windlass in order to provide mechanical power for industry. Grain mills, saw mills and even machine shops were powered by draft animals in this way. It was slower than an electric motor or internal combustion engine, but it worked.
Sadly, the number of draft animals in the United States is extremely low right now, as they are no longer used. The horse population, which was at a high of 25 million a century ago, is currently roughly 9 million, relegated to a few private owners, most of whom use them simply for recreation. That’s actually up about 6 million in the last 30 years.
If you have the land to do so, you might want to consider buying some horses to add to your prepping equipment. Of course, that means more than just having land; you’ll need a barn, feed for the horse, saddles, bridles, harnesses and a host of other horse-related gear, too.
3. Water power
The other major source of power used in the 1700s and 1800s was water power. Waterwheels, which are a quaint historic novelty today, were a major source of industrial power for centuries, right up into the early days of the industrial revolution. Like animal power, water power was used for running a host of different equipment.
The great advantage of water power is that it is free and renewable, assuming you have someplace where you have access to flowing water. That means having property on the edge of a river or stream somewhere — something that most of us don’t have. But if you do, you might want to look into how you could harness that power for your use.
Water wheels don’t work by the speed of the water flowing through them, but rather by the weight of the water in the buckets. This is amplified by leverage, with the wheel itself acting as a giant lever. The larger the wheel and the greater distance the water falls, the more the leverage.
4. Steam power
Other than the waterwheel, one of the earliest means of producing mechanical power was the steam engine. This may very well be one of the best means of power available to us in a post-EMP world. The big advantage that the steam engine has over other forms of power is that any fuel can be used to heat the water and generate the steam.
The U.S. Navy uses nuclear power for this, heating water in a nuclear reactor, which is then used to drive aircraft carriers and submarines through the water. While you and I won’t be able to use nuclear power, we can accomplish the same thing by burning wood. It may not produce as much power as a nuclear reactor can, but it has the distinct advantage of being a power source that doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment to harvest. Besides, it’s renewable energy, as well.
The trick, of course, will be in building the steam engine in a post-EMP world, with minimal power and equipment to work with. We will probably have to adapt existing equipment to do so. Nevertheless, the steam engine will be one of the best sources of mechanical power available to use in rebuilding industry.
What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below: