The Use and Dangers of EMP in Popular Culture: Movies and Books

Gil Keini, Head of Product, EIS Council

July 5, 2024

The effects of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) have captivated the imagination of storytellers for decades. Often depicted as a powerful, disruptive force, EMPs are a dramatic plot device in movies and books. These narratives not only entertain but also highlight the potential vulnerabilities of our technology-dependent civilization. This blog post explores the role of EMPs in popular culture, their effects on technology and society, and the importance of preparing for such events.

What is an EMP?

Solar flares

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that can disrupt or damage electronic equipment and power systems. EMPs can be natural, such as those caused by solar flares, or man-made, resulting from nuclear explosions or specialized weapons. When an EMP strikes, it induces electric currents in conductive materials, potentially frying circuits, disrupting communications, and causing widespread power outages. 

EMP Strikes in Popular Culture

EMP strikes are often depicted in movies and books as sudden catastrophic events that bring modern society to its knees. These narratives use EMPs to create tension, drama, and high-stakes scenarios where characters must navigate a world suddenly stripped of its technological conveniences.

One notable example is the short film Blade Runner Black Out 2022where a test nuclear missile is detonated over Los Angeles to cause an EMP. The EMP attack is used by the replicants (combined with a physical attack on the data centers) to erase digital records and cripple a technologically dependent city. The blackout plunges Los Angeles into chaos, highlighting the fragility of a society reliant on electronic systems.

In the TV series “Revolution,” the entire premise revolves around a global blackout caused by a mysterious event that functions much like an EMP. The show explores the collapse of civilization and the struggle for survival in a world without electricity, underscoring the profound impact of losing modern technology.

Societal collapse

Books such as “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen delve into the aftermath of an EMP attack on the United States. The novel paints a grim picture of societal collapse, with communities grappling with the loss of power, communication, and basic necessities. The story emphasizes the rapid descent into chaos and the desperate fight for survival.

There are many other books and book series (partial list provided below) dealing with the subject of infrastructure collapse due to an external event (mostly EMP).

Lights Out By HalfFast (by David Crawford) and many other books in the genre are mostly working from the same playbook. An EMP strike hits, and a few people who are prepared take charge as society collapses. Then, when their communities hit rock bottom the superhero survivalist protagonists, help everyone and teach them how to survive without modern conveniences. Sadly this means that most of the authors of these books turn their ‘works of fiction’ into survival manuals rather than novels.

Impact of EMP Strikes on Technology and Civilization

emp attack

In these fictional scenarios, the use of EMPs typically results in immediate and widespread technological failure. Power grids go down, communication networks fail, transportation systems grind to a halt, and essential services are disrupted. The loss of technology forces the characters to confront the fragility of their infrastructure and the precariousness of their reliance on electronic systems.

The societal impact of an EMP attack is equally dramatic. With the breakdown of modern conveniences, communities must adapt to a new reality where resources are scarce, and survival becomes the primary concern. The stories often explore themes of resilience, cooperation, and the struggle to maintain order in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Preparing for and Improving Resilience Against EMP Strikes

While the portrayal of EMP strikes in popular culture is often exaggerated for dramatic effect, the potential threat is real. Preparing for an EMP attack involves taking proactive measures to protect and strengthen critical infrastructure. Governments and organizations must invest in research and development to create EMP-resistant technologies and systems. This includes hardening power grids, shielding sensitive electronic equipment, and developing backup communication networks.

Emergency preparedness is also vital. Regular training and drills can ensure that response teams are ready to act swiftly in the aftermath of an EMP event. Public awareness campaigns can educate citizens about the steps they can take to protect themselves and their families.

International cooperation is essential to address the threat of EMPs. Sharing information, resources, and best practices can enhance global resilience and reduce the risk of large-scale disruptions.

In conclusion, the depiction of EMPs in popular culture serves as both entertainment and a cautionary tale. These stories remind us of the vulnerabilities inherent in our technology-dependent society and the importance of being prepared for potential threats. As we continue to advance technologically, it is imperative that we remain vigilant and resilient in the face of potential EMP attacks, ensuring that our critical infrastructure can withstand and recover from such disruptive events.

We’re all connected; we’re all vulnerable.

Join the EIS Council in shaping a resilient future.


Infrastructure Collapse (Nuclear EMP, Solar Flare, Cyber, Terrorist Attacks) – Partial List of Books

  • One Second After by William R. Forstchen (4-book series)
  • Lethal Code by Thomas Waite
  • Edge of Collapse by Kyla Stone (9 book series)
  • Lights Out By HalfFast by David Crawford 
  • Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick (3 book series)
  • EMP Lodge by Grace Hamilton (6 book series)
  • EMP Aftermath by Grace Hamilton (6-book series)
  • Surviving the End by Grace Hamilton (3 book series) – a Coronal Mass Ejection event wipes out power across the globe
  • EMP Catastrophe by Grace Hamilton (3 book series)
  • Small Town EMP by Grace Hamilton (3 book series)
  • Broken Lines by James Hunt (EMP Survival in a Powerless World – a 76-book series)
  • The End by G. Michael Hopf (The New World – a 7-book series) – North America, Europe, and the Far East have all suffered a devastating Super-EMP attack that has caused catastrophic damage to the power grids and all electrical devices. 
  • Going Home by A. American (The Survivalist Series comprised of 11 books)
  • 77 Days in September by Ray Gorham (2-book series)
  • Unexpected World by Chris Pike (EMP Survivor 6 book series)
  • EMP by Wilson Harp
  • Sanctioned Catastrophe by Thomas A. Watson (Dark Titan – a 4-book series) – A massive solar storm–the Coronal Mass Event that had been predicted for years–finally hit Earth, and the electromagnetic pulse it created instantaneously threw the world back to the Bronze Age.
  • Trackers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (4 book series)
  • Outage by Ellisa Barr (Powerless Nation series of 3 books)
  • Land by Theresa Shaver (Stranded series of 6 books)
  • Last Stand by William H. Weber (4 book series)
  • Turbulent by T.L. Payne (Days of Want series of 8 books)
  • 36 Hours by Bobby Akart (Blackout series of 6 books) – Solar flare
  • Getting Out by Ryan Westfield (The EMP series of 8 books)
  • The Borrowed World by Franklin Horton (12-book series) – ISIS operatives have unleashed a coordinated attack on America’s infrastructure.
  • State of Panic by Jack Hunt (Camp Zero, a 3-book series)
  • Dispatches by Steven Konkoly (Alex Fletcher series of 5 books)
  •  – “The Jakarta Pandemic” is about a highly lethal virus that appears in major cities around the globe. “The Perseid Collapse” is about an attack on US infrastructure. “Dispatches” is about an EMP attack against the United States, triggering a cataclysmic chain of events.
  • Half Past Midnight by Jeff Brackett (2 book series)
  • Into The Darkness by Doug Kelly – Coronal Mass Ejection event

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