If you grew up during the Cold War, the thought of a nuclear attack was probably one of your worse nightmares. Even though the conflict ended in the ‘90s increasing tensions with North Korea might have you wondering how to survive a nuclear attack. Likely, for the first time in decades.
Can it even be done? For years, scientists warned us about the impossibility of surviving such an ordeal. Radiation itself has become a favorite boogeyman in science fiction horror movies, turning mild-mannered laboratory assistants into mutated monstrosities.
The effects of radiation are very well known, and even mild radiation from the sun causes skin cancer deaths that measure over 16,000 every year. In light of even the smallest amounts of radiation doing so much damage, would we know how to survive a nuclear attack of any magnitude?
Being prepared for the worst case scenario is always the wise thing to do. Surviving the effects of a nuclear bomb and the resulting radiation may seem impossible, but smart planning can increase your chances of coming out alive on the other side.
Why Nuclear Attacks Are Lethal
Several components of any nuclear attack cause death and radiation poisoning. To make matters worse, the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) puts vital electrical and electronic devices out of order, making it impossible to contact emergency services or find medical care.
During an attack, victims can expect a bright flash that causes temporary blindness. The flash is followed by a blast wave, which will cause damage in a radius of several miles. This blast can topple buildings and trees, and cause death and severe injury to living creatures.
Fire from the explosion causes further damage, and the blast of radiation following will cause cell death in living organisms. After the blast, the fallout rains radioactive particles up to several miles away. This dirt, ash, and other particles are dangerous and cause radiation sickness.
Your distance from the blast improves your chances of survival. After detonation, the nuclear fallout radius is the most significant concern in regards to how to survive a nuclear attack. The plume may extend to a radius of hundreds of miles, depending on the local geography and weather.
How to Prepare for a Nuclear Attack
The best way to avoid a nuclear attack is not to be there when it happens. People who live in vital population hubs are most at risk. That said, there are things you can do to prepare ahead of time should this unlikely scenario play out.
Build emergency supply kits
A family emergency kit should have the basics, ranging from water and sealed, non-perishable food to a first aid kit. Add both a hand-crank and a battery-powered radio, along with extra batteries. You should also pack a can opener, flashlight, and fresh clothes.
You should also keep an emergency kit in your car. Along with natural disasters and travel emergencies that can hit while you’re on the road, if you receive warning of an imminent attack while commuting, you’ll only have seconds to respond.
Your emergency car supply kit will help if you need to seek shelter at your workplace or along your route. Include bottled water, energy bars, a hand-crank battery, and a flashlight. You may also want to have a spare set of comfortable clothing, as well as baby wipes on hand.
Prepare a family emergency plan
Developing a family emergency plan means identifying evacuation routes, nearby shelters, and a method for communicating with family members in the event of a nuclear attack.
Identify shelters near your home and commute
Ready.gov, the disaster planning service of the federal government, recommends finding the closest shelter. Identify potential shelters near your home, workplace, schools, and along the route of your usual commute. Note that public buildings with basements or large buildings with many stories as the best places to shelter in case of a blast. Although most public buildings will allow some radiation to penetrate, they can lessen exposure by a factor of 10.
Along with large public buildings, underground transportation platforms and tunnels are also ideal for shelter. The goal is to put as much concrete, brick, and earth between yourself and the air as possible. Underground shelters are your best choice when it comes to how to survive a nuclear attack.
Be sure to see if your community has a designated nuclear fallout shelter ahead of time. Even if it’s not accessible to you immediately after the blast, it will likely be a hub for any medical treatment for radiation poisoning, as well as updates from the authorities.
How to Survive a Nuclear Attack After the Blast
Depending on the missile’s launch site and the efficiency of the warning system, you may have a few moments to a half-hour to prepare for an attack. The following tips will improve your chances of survival.
Shield your eyes
The bright flash from the explosion can temporarily blind you, reducing your ability to survive in the aftermath. Shield your eyes and look away from the blast.
Seek shelter and remain there
The greater the distance between you and the blast, the better. The more dirt and concrete between you and outdoors, the better. If you’re beyond the immediate blast zone, at least 8 miles away, your chances of surviving the explosion are as high as 80 to 90 percent.
If you’re outside during the attack
The most lethal effect of a nuclear attack is the fallout, which is most dangerous in the first few hours afterward. After surviving the explosion, the threat of radiation poisoning is your first concern. If you’re outside and can’t get to a building fast, take cover under anything you can find. Lie on the ground; the lower, the better. Lie beneath anything that could protect you from the heat and blast wave. If you’re driving, pull over and duck down as low as you can go inside your vehicle.
After the blast, you have 10 to 20 minutes to get indoors and underground, as far away from the nuclear fallout radius as possible. If possible, choose brick or concrete buildings to avoid the most radiation.
Once you’ve sheltered
If you’re already inside, stay inside. Seek the depths of whatever building you’re sheltered in. Find the lowest possible level in the middle of the building. Find the basement, if there is one, or go to the center of the building. Avoid windows and exterior walls.
Once inside the shelter, remove contaminated outer clothing and wash off your skin, if possible. If you brought your emergency kit, you’ll have wipes and fresh clothing. Clean up as soon as you can, as any radioactive particles on your skin or clothing will continue to poison you. If possible, shower and wash off with lots of soap and water. You can use shampoo for your hair but stay away from conditioner; it causes radioactive material to stick to your hair. The Centers for Disease Control recommends you wipe your ears and your eyes, and blow your nose as well.
Discard any contaminated clothing by sealing it up in a plastic bag. Outerwear, like jackets and coats, can carry as much as much as 90 percent of the radioactive material on your body. Be careful when removing your clothing to ensure that no radioactive dust falls off and contaminates other items.
How to Survive a Nuclear Attack in the Aftermath
Radiation dissipates rapidly a few days after the explosion, and it won’t be long before you can leave the shelter. However, the first 24 to 48 hours are the most dangerous. Plan to remain in the shelter for at least one day, although the longer you can stay in, the better. By the 15th day, the radiation’s intensity will have dropped to 1 percent of the initial level. This dramatically increases the chances of how to survive a nuclear attack.
Keep calm and stay informed
Although you may worry, never leave your shelter to find family members or pets. That’s why it’s important to make a family plan ahead of time. Your cell phone, TV, and internet services may not work after a nuclear attack because of the EMP. It’s also possible that radio stations will be affected by the blast. Your hand-crank or battery operated radio should work perfectly, though. Use either to stay tuned for official announcements and safety instructions. You may also want to receive notification of open emergency services centers.
Listen to your emergency radio or, if accessible, a local television channel, for updates on the impact, any rescue efforts, and available assistance resources. The better informed you are, the easier it will be to keep calm and stay positive.
Now You Know How to Survive a Nuclear Attack
Preparing for a nuclear attack isn’t something we like to think about. The 20-year gap since the end of the Cold War has made it easy to forget such things were ever possible. However, times again are changing. International tensions may mean that we have to think about how to survive a nuclear attack as seriously as we did 50 years ago.
Also, new technology may redefine how people prepare and change the dangers we face. Along with attack, the threat of other nuclear disasters with nearby power plants and waste sites may require the same vigilance and similar safety measures. A nuclear blast is something none of us would ever want to experience. However, it’s better to know what to do than not knowing at all.
Featured Image: CC0, by lenzius, via Pixabay