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How to survive a nuclear attack in your area

Published Aug 9th, 2017 3:17PM EDT
survive nuclear attack
Image: Gaspard

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North Korea might have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles at its disposal, and the President of the United States is talking smack to its leader like some kid on Xbox Live. It’s a scary time, and as much as we’d all like to think that anti-missile defense systems could spring into action at the first hint of a launch, you should still probably brush up on your nuclear blast survival knowledge. Here’s how to protect yourself if the absolute worst does indeed happen.

It’s important to realize that if a nuclear missile were headed for the United States mainland from North Korea specifically, we’d likely know about it roughly a half hour to an hour before it actually struck thanks to the time it would take for the weapon to travel, and depending on the target. If a warning is issued, these are your top priorities:

  • Slap together some emergency supplies that includes as much sealed, non-perishable food and water as you can manage to gather.
  • Grab a battery-powered radio — hand-crank weather radios are also a great option — and enough backup power to keep it going for a minimum of two weeks.
  • Make sure you have a flashlight, first aid kit, can opener, and fresh clothes.
  • Decide where you’re going to ride out the aftermath. This could be a public or private fallout shelter or a well-constructed basement, preferably more than a single story below ground and made of concrete. The deeper the better.

When choosing your post-apocalyptic home it’s important to avoid primarily wooden structures and any rooms that include an outer wall. A conference room in the center of an office high-rise will provide multiple times more fallout protection than the corner office. Brick and/or concrete are a bonus.

When the bomb strikes, well, that’s when things will get interesting. If this happens, your to-do list is as follows:

  • Don’t look at it. If you’re within about 50 miles of the detonation you stand a huge risk of being blinded by the light of the explosion, so cast your gaze elsewhere or your survival prospects are going to go dark in a hurry.
  • Get inside immediately. Depending on how close you are to the impact, the heat of the blast could give you up to the third degree burns, so dive into whatever sturdy shelter is nearby to ride out the first wave of danger. Obviously, concrete and brick are good choices, but if you’re close enough to feel the heat you’ll need to make do with whatever is within sprinting distance.
  • If you’re caught somewhere with literally no structures nearby you should lay down flat and cover your head for at least a minute or two until the blast wave passes.

Obviously, if you’re within a mile or two of the impact point there’s very little that you can do to save your own life. Those already underground will stand the best chance of survival.

The immediate aftermath of the blast will be the most trying time for most survivors. Panic will set in and the instinct to flee will be strong, but staying put will give you the best chance of survival. Here’s how to handle the minutes, hours, and days to come:

  • If you ducked into a doorway or dove under an overpass to ride out the blast, your first order of business is to find suitable shelter. The rules outlined above still apply, so find a sturdy basement or building made of concrete or brick and take up residence in the center. Avoid outer walls and windows.
  • Remove all of your clothing and seal it in an airtight bag. The radioactive material you’ve already come in contact with will continue to do you harm if you let it, so seal it up and toss it out of the way.
  • If possible, shower. Rinse your entire body with water or wipe yourself off with a damp towel to remove residual material, but don’t scrub or scratch your skin, as that will do you more harm than good. Blow your nose and wipe your ears as well.
  • Listen to the emergency band on your radio or, if it’s working, tune a television to a local channel that is providing updates on the relief efforts. It could be several days before evacuation efforts reach you, but never leave your shelter unless prompted to do so by rescuers.
  • Be patient. Time is the greatest weapon against nuclear fallout, and while the moments immediately following a blast are incredibly dangerous, the level of radiation drops off dramatically over the following days. In two weeks, the fallout radiation will be roughly 1 percent of what it was initially, allowing you freedom to leave if you’ve not been rescued.

Nobody ever wants to have to use this kind of information, but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not already know it, right?