The threat of a nuclear attack has been around since I was small. I remember discussing the cold war in grade school and while we didn’t practice hiding under our desks like the kids did in previous decades, it was nonetheless a known threat. While we will most likely not have any warning of a nuclear attack, there are things you can do to prepare and certainly in this situation knowledge can save your life.
If you’re within half a mile of the initial blast, depending on the surrounding architecture your percentages of survival are extremely low. If you somehow see the flash, or have some warning, take shelter immediately. The basement or middle floors of a building are best. Concrete, wood, earth, brick and books all can protect you from the blast. The farther away from the initial detonation you are, the higher your chances of survival.
Most of us will be mostly worried about radioactive fallout. The fallout can be carried hundreds of miles and cannot be seen or smelled by humans. You can purchase radiation monitoring devices, but most of us will rely on local radio broadcasts for drift information. Have a family plan in place that you will follow in the event of a nuclear blast. If you’re in a close proximity, you will need to evacuate immediately, but remember your car doesn’t provide much defense against radioactive particles. If you plan on sheltering at home, make sure your food and water supplies are available and your radio has fresh batteries at all times. You should keep a supply of thick plastic sheets and duct tape to seal up a safe room - which should be an interior room without windows if possible. Remember if it’s the bathroom to seal up all the vents and heating ducts.
If you become contaminated act quickly and find shelter, cut off your clothes so as to avoid pulling the contamination over your mouth, nose and eyes. Shower or wash gently and avoid rubbing your face, instead blotting with a wet, soapy cloth. If you wear contacts you’ll need to remove them and throw them away, glasses can be dipped in a bleach solution and rinsed. Thoroughly rinse your eyes. Throw your contaminated clothing in a trash bag and place outside of your shelter area. Regular soap and water is enough to decontaminate yourself and any clothing you have stored in your closets and drawers will most likely be safe.
Food and water that you have stored in plastic or metal containers should be safe. Watch for dirt and dust on surfaces and decontaminate with a bleach solution if you feel it’s necessary. Water from wells will generally be safe to drink and reverse-osmosis water filtration systems will remove the radioactive particles. Any fresh garden produce or animal products from live animals that may consume fallout should not be eaten. Stick with the food you have stored until authorities have determined it’s safe.
The danger of radioactive fallout will pass rather quickly, within a few days. Have a plan ahead of time to determine how long you will shelter and listen closely to any news reports and instructions. If you think you’re suffering from radiation sickness, seek medical help as soon as possible. Nausea and weakness are the initial effects, followed by problems with your central nervous system, immune and gastro-intestinal systems. There is no specific therapy for radiation sickness, other than general care of the victim. In an emergency situation medical facilities will most likely be understaffed and overcrowded with those seeking help.
More likely than a direct nuclear bomb attack is the possibility of an EMP or electromagnetic pulse. A nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth’s atmosphere will create an EMP. While it’s unlikely to have direct human casualties, it will in essence damage all electronic devices, including our grid systems. Most electrical equipment within 1000 miles of the detonation would be affected and have some major catastrophic results affecting everything from our water supplies to vehicles. Make sure you take precautions with your emergency electrical equipment, including battery-powered radios by keeping them grounded. If you have a pacemaker you may have difficulties and should consult your doctor about how to lower your risk.
Be prepared, have a plan and keep aware of the world around you and you can keep yourself and your family safe in the event of a nuclear disaster.