On January 2, President Trump posted a now infamous tweet asserting that his “nuclear button” was both “much bigger” and “more powerful” than Kim Jong Un’s. Just two days later, the CDC announced its plans for a live streamed teaching session for medical professionals entitled “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” to be held this Tuesday, January 16.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
While the CDC’s timing may just be coincidental, it also feels appropriate. Despite growing tensions with North Korea, some experts say that fears of the threat of nuclear war are overblown. But others warn that the U.S. may be sleepwalking toward a conflict that could lead to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and, possibly, nuclear weapons.
In November, North Korea announced that its missiles now put the entire U.S. within range. And just last month, news broke that the hermit regime is also testing anthrax loaded ICBMs. With news like that, it’s no wonder fears are mounting.
During the CDC’s teaching session, speakers from the agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other government agencies will deliver presentations with titles like “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness,” and “Public Health: Preparing for the Unthinkable.”
In the release for the session, the CDC warned “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness.”
So, while the agency says that threat of nuclear detonation is low, does it still make sense to prepare yourself?
Absolutely, yes. No matter what, basic readiness saves lives: “With some very simple public messaging, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives in a nuclear detonation,” Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said the NBC.
And for one reminder of the importance of preparedness, one need only look to what happened in Hawaii last Saturday when a false-alarm emergency alert was sent to residents cell phones. The message read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Though the message was sent in error, many residents of Hawaii spent 38 minutes in fear that a missile was on its way, with some regretting that they weren’t prepared with an emergency kit.
So what do you need to do to prepare yourself in the event of a nuclear detonation?
First, pinpoint emergency shelters. You don’t want to be googling “nuclear shelters near me” when you’ve only got minutes to find protection.
A nuclear missile from North Korea would have a flight time between 20 and 40 minutes, so you’ll likely only have a few minutes warning before an attack is underway. Having a plan ready for exactly where you would go is key. If you’re at home, a basement may be a good option, but it’s also a good idea to identify places along your commute or in your office in case you’re away from him and hear of an imminent attack.
Look for a durable shelter with a dense roof and walls. According to a guide shared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you’re best off deep underground, surrounded by brick, concrete, earth, or if you are at least in the centermost part of the structure away from any windows.
Second, prepare a survival kit that includes water, food, and other supplies. In the event of a nuclear blast in your area, assuming you survive the initial blast by finding adequate shelter, your next task will be to survive the nuclear fallout, which will likely mean sheltering in place.
According the the State Department, “After seven hours, fallout has lost about 90% of the strength it had one hour after the explosion. After two days, it has lost 99%; in two weeks 99.9%… Nevertheless, if the radiation at the beginning were high enough, the remaining 0.1% could be dangerous. Ideally, plan to stay in the shelter until radiation has been measured and the appropriate authorities have announced that it is safe to come out.”
So, since you’ll be sheltering in place for a while, you’ll need supplies. Bottled water—plan for a gallon per person per day,—nonperishable food, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, a flash light, extra batteries, medications, wet wipes, warm blankets, plastic bags for waste and contaminated clothing, pet supplies, etc. Anything you’d need to survive for up to two weeks.
It’ll also be important to have plastic sheeting and duct tape in your shelter so you can seal off any access points to outside the shelter: doors, windows, vents, etc.
It’s also a good idea to have a supply kit or go bag in your car in case you aren’t at home when a nuclear strike is imminent. A properly stocked supply kit can help you survive in the aftermath of an attack, and is also a good idea to have on hand in case of other emergencies like earthquakes.
For a comprehensive list of supplies, here’s a FEMA fact sheet with a good list to work from when putting together your emergency supplies.
Finally, learn the rules for sheltering and staying alive.
Beyond the immediate fireball and direct radiation caused by a nuclear detonation, winds can blow radioactive fallout hundreds of miles from the detonation site, according to ready.gov, which is why sheltering in place is so important after surviving the initial blast.
Once you enter your shelter, seal your space off with plastic sheeting and duct tape, and decontaminate yourself to minimize exposure to the fallout. Gently remove your outermost layer of clothing which the CDC says “can remove up to 90% of radioactive material.” “Be very careful in removing your clothing to prevent radioactive dust from shaking loose. Put the clothing in a plastic bag or other sealable container. Put the bag in an out-of-the way place, away from other people and pets.”
Then, cover any wounds and gently wash off using soap and shampoo, but not conditioner as it can bind radioactive particles to your hair.
What should you do if you can’t take a shower? The CDC recommends washing your hands, face, and any other part of your body that wasn’t covered by clothing at a sink or faucet, and use plenty of soap and water. “If you do not have access to a sink or faucet, use a moist wipe, clean wet cloth, or a damp paper towel to wipe the parts of your body that were uncovered. Pay special attention to your hands and face. Gently blow your nose, wipe your eyelids, eyelashes, and ears with a moist wipe, clean wet cloth, or a damp paper towel.”
Disposing of all of the contaminated items is of utmost importance, so place all clothing, wipes, cloths, or towels in a plastic bag or other sealable container, and then place it out of the way.
As you shelter in place, use a battery powered or hand crank emergency radio to stay tuned to local news.”Depending on the size and scope of the radiation emergency, it may be difficult to complete a phone call,” says the CDC, so “try to use text messages (SMS)” or “email, social media websites.” But whatever you do, don’t go outside to rest your breakers.
If you take these three steps—identifying shelters, having an emergency kit, and knowing what to do in the fallout—can help ensure you survive the initial blast and the aftermath.
And if you want to get a feel for how your city would fare in the event of a nuclear detonation, check out Alex Wellerstein’s interactive browser tool, NUKEMAP. NUKEMAP overlays hypothetical bombs on Google Maps, and will show you the different radiation zones depending on the type of bomb you select, and will show estimated fatalities and injuries.