Recent escalation of tensions with North Korea have once again given rise to a concern about the potential for a nuclear or EMP attack. Kim Jong Un has threatened the United States with nuclear war so many times, that it has led many to question his stability. Attacking a country with the massive nuclear arsenal that the USA has, when your own country’s nuclear arms are somewhere between 20 and 50 is not the action of any rational man.
Yet the question still rises about whether North Korea is truly able to make such an attack. The failure of recent missile tests shows that their technological expertise has not yet reached the point where such an attack is feasible, even if they do have working nuclear bombs which have been miniaturized to the point where they can be mounted on ICBMs.
Nevertheless, to ignore the possibility of a North Korean nuclear attack would be foolishness, going against everything that prepping stands for. Technological hurdles can be overcome with time and engineering manpower. Once they are, there really is nothing stopping North Korea from taking action, if America’s nuclear arsenal isn’t a deterrent to them.
The question then becomes, what sort of action they would take. While Kim’s rhetoric has all sounded like he would opt for a conventional nuclear attack, that doesn’t mean that he would follow through with that sort of attack. There have to be people in his military who are aware of the strategic value of using a high-altitude EMP, rather than just blowing up a few cities.
Such an attack would be devastating. Of all the potential disasters which we currently face, a high-altitude EMP is probably the worst. This would be a true TEOTWAWKI event. The world would still be here, but life as we currently enjoy it would be gone for the foreseeable future.
Granted, this isn’t the only potential TEOTWAWKI event on the horizon. Scientists tell us that the Yellowstone supervolcano is overdue for an eruption. Economists warn us regularly of a major financial collapse. We’ve even heard of the possibility of a major pandemic sweeping the globe and drastically reducing the population. But of all these, an EMP attack is the most likely.
Were such an attack to take place, the biggest sign of it would be that power would be out… everywhere. A nuclear weapon that explodes that high above the Earth wouldn’t look like fireworks in the sky, it wouldn’t look like anything. Most of us would spend the first few days questioning what happened, while trying to come to grips with living without electricity.
But eventually the realization would set in and then people would start wondering how they are going to survive. Those of us who are preppers would put our emergency plans into effect, whether that means bugging in or bugging out. Either way, we’d look at our stockpile and thank God that we weren’t in the same shape as the people “out there.”
Even so, no matter how much you have stockpiled, this is one scenario in which it wouldn’t be enough. We’re not talking about a situation where FEMA is going to be coming in with red tape and relief, but rather a life-changing event that will destroy our way of life.
Those supplies you and I have stockpiled aren’t enough for the aftermath of an EMP, regardless of how much you have stashed away. We’re looking at a situation where we’ll need to feed ourselves for the rest of our lives; not one in which we can expect life to return to normal after a few months of inconvenience.
Yet, it will be up to us to create whatever normal will exist after the EMP. At first, our main concern will be basic survival. But as time goes on, there will be a need to recreate some sort of society. What form that society will take will depend largely on the knowledge and skills of those who survive.
Defining After the After
Let me clarify what I’m talking about here. For most disasters, the bigger concern is surviving the aftermath, rather than surviving the disaster itself. Even the worst of natural disasters last mere days; but it can take months to get life back to normal once it has passed. Most of what we prepare for isn’t surviving the disaster itself, but rather surviving the time afterwards, until things return to normal.
That’s really what we build our stockpiles, survival retreats and survival equipment for. I seriously doubt that any of us are going to get into our food stockpile in the midst of a hurricane or flood. We’ll have more immediate needs to worry about… surviving the disaster itself. But once that’s over, life won’t return to normal quickly. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there were people without electricity and running water for as much as six weeks after the hurricane hit. That’s what that stockpile is for.
But a larger disaster, what we normally refer to as a TEOTWAWKI event, doesn’t include a recovery period of mere weeks. If there is any recovery at all, it’s going to take months to years to accomplish. On top of that, whatever recovery is made will take us to a “new normal” rather than back to the “old normal.”
That’s what I’m referring to here. The “after the after” isn’t referring to the time immediately after the disaster, when we’re all coming to grips with the damage done and trying to survive. What I’m talking about is the process of rebuilding. The work of raising American society up out of the ashes.
Our Very Own Brave New World
A number of fiction writers have tackled the question of what it will take to rebuild society after a major calamity like an EMP. Being fiction, it of course always works out, even if the protagonists in the various stories have setbacks along the way.
But what will it really take to restore some sense of our modern society to us? I think it’s safe to say that our major factories and the myriad of products they produce will be lost more or less permanently. It will be years before anyone is producing iPhones once again or even has a use for such a device. But there are many things which are part of our lives, which are much simpler and more necessary than smartphones and tablets.
So, what will it take for some semblance of “modern” society to be restored?
While there are many different elements that make up society, there are two basic things that sit at the foundation of any society, defining what it is. They are:
- Organization, we usually call it “government”
- Infrastructure, which is necessary to tie society and business together
Of the two, some sort of localized government will be put in place first, probably based upon the government that we have now. However, it will take time for state and federal government to be rebuilt and when it is, it will need to be much more internally focused, helping to rebuild the country.
The harder part will be rebuilding our extensive infrastructure. But without it, we can’t have the network of manufacturing facilities that produce all the things which we use every day. At the beginning, little more than localized cottage industry will exist. How well the country grows from there, will depend in a large part on how well and how quickly we can restore our infrastructure.
The term “infrastructure” actually refers to a lot of different things, ranging from the electric grid to our bridges and roadways. Not all of that will be restored at the same rate. The electrical grid, which we depend on for so many different things, will be the hardest thing to restore. Long before that happens, there will be a need to get the transportation of good goods back on the roads, especially the transportation of foodstuffs.
Rebuilding such things is going to challenge the technical and industrial might of our country in a way that it’s never been challenged before. Since we aren’t currently using the old methods of doing things, we have lost much of the art and science of how things were done in the past. So before we can even start rebuilding things like substation transformers and power plants, we’ll have to figure out how to extrude wire and make massive, precision balanced coils, without the benefit of modern manufacturing techniques.
One of the big questions that will face us in such a time is how quickly we can begin to restore the infrastructure. The EMP Commission has told us that 90% of the nation’s population will most likely die off in the first year. Considering that it normally takes a year to build the giant transformers used in electrical substations, it is clear that those transformers wont’ arrive in time to save society.
In fact, those transformers may never arrive. With the nation’s computers gone, it will be hard to prove the existence of the necessary funds to buy them. Only about two percent of our nation’s money is in actual paper and metal. The rest is purely electronic. When the computers go, that money goes too.
So if there is going to be any salvation for our country, it’s going to have to start on a grass roots level. Rebuilding will be more of a local effort, followed by communities tying themselves together by the old standard of phone lines and trade agreements. It will probably be years before we once again have a truly nationwide phone system, let alone most of the other nationwide things we are accustomed to.
What Will Be Needed to Rebuild?
It is going to take a lot of toil and sweat to rebuild after a major disaster of the type we’re talking about. Yet if there is one thing that can be said about Americans, it is that we are an ingenious, industrious people who will do whatever it takes to rebuild.
Surprisingly, material won’t be the issue at first, knowledge will be. While we are an extremely well educated country, we are not accustomed to doing things using the more primitive means of the past. We will have to relearn those skills, so that they can be put to work in helping us to utilize the materials available to us.
The reason why I say that materials won’t be the issue, at least at first, is that there will be scrap materials all around us that can be used. Cars, equipment and structures that no longer work will be able to be cannibalized and the raw materials converted to use. Steel, copper and even plastic from these no longer functional items can become the building blocks of our new society.
It’s considerably easier to smelt scrap metal back down for use, than it is to mine it out of the ground and refine it. In the process, we will be clearing our streets of the hulks of cars which re no longer running.
The real key here is people who know how to do thing the old way. I haven’t seen an old-fashioned blacksmith since my dad passed away. While I did learn a little from him about his craft, my own apprenticeship was cut short by his shoulder being broken. By the time he was healed well enough to swing a hammer again (several years later) I had grown up and was out of the house.
Yet the information on the old ways of doing things still exists, written down in some book, somewhere. The key is in finding the books and learning the skills that they contain.
What Sorts of Skills Will Be Needed?
The list of skills that will be needed to rebuild society are considerably different than the skills that will be needed to survive, although there are a few skills that might overlap a bit. Some of the skills that are talked about for bartering after a crisis, especially the repair related skills, will be the same sorts of skills that will give us the ability to rebuild.
But there are many more skills that will be needed as well. Skills such as:
- Blacksmithing – This will be one of the first needed, as the blacksmith will be making tools for the others to use
- Smelting metals
- Engineering of all sorts
- Linemen from electrical companies
- Doctors, nurses, EMTs and other medical professionals
- Chemistry, especially for making critical medicines
- Making bio-diesel, which will probably be the first sort of vehicle fuel made
- The building trades – Mostly for modifying existing buildings to turn them into workshops, but also for building small hydroelectric plants and other similar structures
- Repair skills of all types
- Auto mechanics
- Welding, especially gas welding
- Steam power – We may need steam driven tractors at first, until a petrochemical industry can be reborn
- Solar power
- Machining, especially machining with hydroelectric or animal power (what they did before electric motors)
- Spinning, weaving and sewing – Interestingly enough, the first cottage industry to arise in a culture is usually making clothing
- Cabinetmaking, using hand tools only
- Felling trees and converting them to lumber
- Animal husbandry – Animal power will once again become important
- Electric power generation – Specifically how power plants work and how to build them
- How to design build transformers
- Extruding metal and plastic – Mostly for making wire and cable
- Electronics – While pretty much all of our electronic devices will be fried, there are warehouse full of electronics across the country. Since most of those buildings are metal, they make perfect faraday cages. So there will be some electronics to use for rebuilding society.
- Molding plastics
I’m sure this list is not complete, but it should give you a pretty good starting point. Feel free to add anything to it, which you see as a useful skill in rebuilding society.
As I look at that list, I realize that even the modern-day skills refer to only a very small percentage of our society. Most of us work at professions that would have little use in rebuilding society, although they are in demand in our modern industrialized society. Bankers, accountants, marketing professionals and a host of other professions will be pretty much useless until society has rebuilt to the point where they are needed once again. That may not happen in those people’s lifetimes.
Preparing to Rebuild
Your ability to be part of rebuilding society may be your best ticket to survival. In the hit novel “One Second After,” by William R. Forstchen, food for their small community had to be strictly rationed. Most weren’t even eating at sustenance level, as the community tried to survive. But those who were directly involved in rebuilding were given a larger ration than the rest.
While this is merely fiction, it is a very realistic possibility. One of the greatest shortages after any TEOTWAWKI event is food. What food does exist has to be tightly controlled and rationed, so as to make it possible for the maximum number of people to survive the maximum time. This creates a crisis in determining how to distribute food.
One of the hardest decisions anyone could possibly have to make is that of allowing some people to die, so that others can live. Military commanders make this sort of decision regularly in combat and live with the difficulty of those decisions, and their consequences, for the rest of their lives.
In a community which has little to eat, it would not be surprising to see food allocations being made on the basis of an individual’s usefulness to the community. Those involved in food production would be highest on that list, along with medical professionals and other key individuals. Right after them would come those who are involved in rebuilding society; with others falling even lower on the scale.
So, learning the skills mentioned above, which would be useful in rebuilding society is not only necessary for helping out the community, it could also have a direct impact on one’s survival. People are usually much more willing to make personal sacrifices for someone who is helping them out, than they are for those who are considered nothing more than leeches, taking from the common good.
But learning these skills goes far beyond personal survival, it could also be the key to your community surviving. The more you know, which can be used in that reborn society, the more value you will be to the community. You might even find yourself in the position of training and supervising others, rather than doing the work yourself.
You want to learn those skills in both breadth and depth. Knowing a lot of skills is useful, but so is knowing one area extremely well. A superficial knowledge won’t be enough for those times, if you don’t know it well enough to really use it.
That means you need to do more than just read about it now or watch some YouTube videos. You need to actually set up shop and try doing the things you would need to be able to do in a grid-down situation. Of course, that means doing them without the advantage of power tools as well, just as you’ll need to do, when you have to do it for real.
Actually, learning these sorts of skills can work its way into becoming an enjoyable hobby. I’ve been wanting to set up an anvil and forge, so that I can relearn what my father taught me about blacksmithing. That would also give me the chance to make some handmade knives and decorative items for our home.
This brings up the next thing you’ll need; that is tools. The reason I don’t have a blacksmith shop set up in my backyard is that I don’t have the tools. Investing in them would be rather expensive, at a time when I have many other expenses to consider. Yet, if I don’t spend the money on them now, my knowledge won’t be of any use in rebuilding my community after a disaster. So if I’m going to use that skill to help my community, I’m going to have to find some way of investing in the necessary tools.
Of course, if you’re going to invest in tools, you may as well invest in materials as well. While there will be materials laying around that you can scavenge, you will need something to get started with. A small stock of the most useful materials is essential.
Keep in mind that if you’re planning on scavenging materials, you will need to know how to scavenge them as well, or where you can find them in nature. For my blacksmithing, I’m sure there will be plenty of abandoned cars that I can melt down for reuse, but what about coal? Charcoal really doesn’t work all that well for melting metal, as it doesn’t get hot enough. Coal burns considerably hotter. But where can I get coal?
The same can be said for many of the other skills I mentioned on the list. If you’re skill is making clothes, where are you going to get fabric from? At first, you’ll probably be able to scavenge a lot from clothing, sheets and blankets that people aren’t using. But what will you do when that runs out? Make your own cloth? Good idea; but where will you get the thread or yarn from?
I could do pretty much the same thing with any of the skills on the list. It’s important to think things through thoroughly, from beginning to end. You not only need to know how to make whatever it is you are going to make, but also how to come up with the materials. If things get bad enough that we’re trying to rebuild society, you won’t be able to count on going down to the corner to buy the materials you need.
In a Survival Team
Let me close with this thought; most survival teams require that each member of the team has at least one skill that will benefit the team in a survival situation. There’s usually one person with gardening skills and another who is a radio operator. At least one person will have military skills and there will be others who are hunters. Each will be required to have something to offer the team.
Why not expand on that idea and require the members of your team to each have skill which can be used to help rebuild your community as well. That way, your team can also be an asset to your community, reaching out to help others.
Failure to reach out and help in this manner would make your team a pariah, unwelcome in the community. Many people will look at us preppers with jealousy anyway, seeing that we have the skills and stockpile to survive. If we don’t reach out a hand to help them, they may look at us as enemies.
Granted, we all prepare for that eventuality, buying guns and ammunition to defend our homes. But that may not be enough. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to have to shoot a gang of my neighbors, as they storm my house trying to get at my food stockpile. I’d rather find a way to help them out, as long as I can do it without hurting my family’s survival prospects.Having skills that will help them will make me and my family part of the community, rather than enemies. While that may not eliminate the jealousy that some will feel, it will hopefully mitigate against any ideas of attacking our home. Some will have the foresight to see what they will lose by killing us, not just what they might gain.