Do you know what to do when the bombs fall? When the Soviet planes fill the skies and create an endless rain of hellfire on the cities of America? If not, the Seattle Municipal Archives have you covered, because they have a pamphlet from 1950 that is here to save your life. Here’s how you can earn your “Atomic Warfare Survival Badge.”
(Seattle Municipal Archives)
(Library of Congress)
Try to get shielded
If you have time, get down in a basement or subway. Should you unexpectedly be caught out-of-doors, seek shelter alongside a building, or jump in any handy ditch or gutter.
We’ve previously talked about Civil Defense hearings in 1955 where the public found out that ditches along the interstate were the best the government could do for many people in the event of an attack. Yes, basements, subways, and even ditches can effectively cut down on the amount of radiation that hits your skin, and they can drastically reduce the amount of flying debris and other threats you are exposed to.
But, remember, you’re likely going to need to spend a lot of time in your shelter (more on that in number 4), and so “any handy ditch” is unlikely to have the water, food, and sanitation facilities you need to survive.
Drop flat on ground or floor
To keep from being tossed about and to lessen the chances of being struck by falling and flying objects, flatten out at the base of a wall, or at the bottom of a bank.
So, yeah, this is basically the same as the first entry, but it’s telling you to lay flat wherever you hide. Again, not bad advice. This could help protect you from debris and can reduce the chances that you’ll become flying debris. But, again, you’ll be highly exposed to radiation both during the initial blast and from the ensuing fallout.
Bury your face in your arms
When you drop flat, hide your eyes in the crook of your elbow. That will protect your face from flash burns, prevent temporary blindness and keep flying objects out of your eyes.
So, sure, this will reduce damage to your eyes and face, but no, it will not fully protect you. Your arm is likely not capable of fully covering your face. Whatever is left exposed will certainly be burned by the flash. There’s no way around this, but it does help if you quickly pivot away from the flash when you see the bomb go off and you’re dropping to the ground. But you’ll still be burned, probably quite badly, on whatever skin is facing the radiation.
Don’t rush outside right after a bombing
After an air burst, wait a few minutes then go help fight fires. After other kinds of bursts wait at least 1 hour to give lingering radiation some chance to die down.
This is likely the most overly optimistic of the tips here. Yes, radiation will die down over time after a bomb is dropped, but one hour is nowhere near enough time. Someone does have to fight the fires and give medical aid to the wounded, and if you want to do that, thank you for your sacrifice.
And it is a sacrifice, because every moment you spend outside, exposed to all the radiation, is dangerous. Radiation can stay at acutely poisonous levels for hours and can cause harm for days or weeks after the bomb drops. It’s not “lingering radiation” after one hour, it’s lethal radiation.
(Aarton Durán, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Don’t take chances with food or water in open containers
To prevent radioactive poisoning or disease, select your food and water with care. When there is reason to believe they may be contaminated, stick to canned and bottled things if possible.
Hahahaha, don’t eat anything after a blast. Any food or water that was buried at the time of the blast may still be safe, assuming you don’t get irradiated dust onto it while accessing it. But containers stored in a kitchen or almost anywhere above ground will become contaminated.
But, it’s the container that is almost guaranteed contaminated. If you absolutely have to eat food that was exposed, you can handle it carefully and wash the container before opening and get mostly safe food or water out of it. But cans and bottles do not make the contents safe on their own.
Don’t start rumors
In the confusion that follows a bombing, a single rumor might touch off a panic that could cost your life.
That’s legit. But go ahead and expect that everything you hear from others for a few weeks after the bomb drops is just a rumor. No one knows anything, and you’re all on your own for days, weeks, or even months after the explosions.