Survival Update

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How to Survive a Nuclear Event

I am old enough to remember “duck and cover” drills in school, fallout shelters, and I had a father who was a “Civil Defense” Captain of our neighborhood. As I grew up, I came to realize that hiding under your desk was never going to help if there was ever a full-scale nuclear conflict between the US and the then Soviet Union.

However, while the threat of all out thermonuclear war may have been averted, the nuclear threat still exists. However, it is far more likely from a terrorist getting a hold of a low yield device, or a “dirty bomb,” and such an event, while horrific, can still be survivable.

The Department of Homeland Security identifies the following most likely targets of nuclear attack.

  • Strategic missile sites and military bases.
  • Centers of government such as Washington, DC, and state capitals.
  • Important transportation and communication centers.
  • Manufacturing, industrial, technology.
  • Petroleum refineries, nuclear and electrical power plants, and chemical plants.
  • Major ports and airfields.
  • Major cities and financial centers.

If you live near any of the above, your risk is greater than someone who does not.

Communications in the aftermath of a nuclear event may be difficult or totally non-existent, because of the effects of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical field that is the result of the blast. If you are separated from your family, you had better plan on some methods of communication other than cell phones.

A Note About EMP: Most modern vehicles with an electronic ignition will not start after an EMP release, and may never start again due to on-board computers and circuits being fried. One of your “survival skills” should be knowing how to drive a manual transmission, and you should consider that your Bug Out Vehicle be a reliable, yet older vehicle with a carburetor (as opposed to electronic fuel injection) and a clutch. Knowing how to drive a stick, and “roll start” a car by popping the clutch, could make all the difference between getting out of harms way, and being stuck in a dead zone.

Taking shelter during a nuclear blast is absolutely necessary. There are two kinds of shelters – blast and fallout. Most communities no longer have designated blast or fallout shelters. Look for buildings or facilities with large basements, such as hospitals. Not a pleasant prospect but hospital morgues make for great shelters, as they usually are in the lowest basement, and have heavy concrete walls. Other places to take shelter:

  • Boiler Rooms and Pipe Runs and Chases (a pipe run or chase is under large buildings such as schools, which are a series of catacombs housing pipes and electrical conduits, usually below the basement.)
  • Subways and Other Tunnels.
  • Underground Parking Garages.
  • Bank Vaults – a great shelter if you can get access, and not locked in if electronic or timed locks fail in the blast.
  • Caves – as long as you stay well back from the entrance.

If you should be caught outside when a blast occurs you should:

  • Not look at the flash or fireball – it can blind you.
  • Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
  • Lie face down on the ground and protect exposed skin (i.e., place hands under the body), and remain flat until the heat and shock waves have passed.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a cloth to filter particulates from the inhaled air.
  • Take shelter as soon as you can, even if you are many miles from ground zero where the attack occurred – radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles. Remember the three protective factors: Distance, shielding and time.
  • If you find a cloud of debris moving towards you, leave the area by a route perpendicular to the path of the fallout.
  • If a cloud is not visible or the direction of the fallout is unknown, seek shelter. A basement or center of a high-rise building away from windows or doors would be best.
  • If you believe you have been exposed to contaminated dust and debris, remove outer clothing very carefully as soon as is reasonable; if possible, shower, wash hair, and change clothes before entering a shelter. Do not scrub harshly or scratch skin.


Any protection, however temporary, is better than none at all, and the more shielding and distance from the blast or fallout area you can take advantage of, the better.

You do not have to be within the immediate vicinity of a nuclear blast to feel the effects of fallout. Once fallout is predicted to start, sleep in the basement, especially along the walls that are underground, to enhance the minimal protection offered by your house. Pile items on the floor above you – such as books and heavy or thick furniture, because everything between you and the fallout on your roof will offer you some degree of protection.

If you know something about basic first aid, then you know that we are usually trained to keep wounds uncovered to let them drain. In a radiation fallout area, that changes -you MUST cover any exposed wound to prevent radiation from entering your body.

In future posts we will discuss how to survive a biological attack, or a naturally occurring pandemic.


Mike F. Strong