The chances of a nuclear attack on the U.S. became less likely with the end of the Cold War, but with nuclear-armed hypersonic weapons in development and terrorist organizations eyeing dirty bombs, it still remains a possibility. Here are 6 steps to surviving a nuclear attack according to federal emergency planners and military guidance, assuming you aren’t caught in the initial blast.
1. Don’t look at the blast but do duck, cover, and keep your mouth open.
The initial blast will blind just about everyone looking at it, so don’t. Opening your mouth will lower the pressure difference between your sinuses and the atmosphere and save your ear drums from bursting. Finally, those close to the epicenter need to duck and cover to avoid some of the falling debris and the force of the initial explosion.
2. If you were close to a nuclear blast, get away from the mushroom cloud as quickly as possible.
Within ten to 20 minutes, lethal amounts of radiation will begin falling to the earth from the mushroom cloud. Survivors should move as far from the epicenter as they can. If you can’t get away from the blast zone immediately, shelter in place under as much concrete and dirt as possible. Basements and underground parking structures are good.
3. Move perpendicular to the wind from the blast.
Once you’re away from the initial blast, you need to move perpendicular to the wind from the blast. Moving downwind would keep you in the path of falling radioactive dust, while moving upwind would put you back under the collapsing mushroom cloud.
4. Cover your skin and breathe through a filter.
Covering your skin reduces the amount of radiation that can reach your skin and breathing through a filter reduces how much can get into your lungs. You may have to improvise a filter from a shirt or other fabric. Cover your eyes to protect your sight if possible, but not if it stops or slows your evacuation.
5. Stick to shelter when you’re not moving, but get out of town.
The radiation cloud will continue to settle for the next few days, so getting out of the targeted city is best even if it takes a day or two. But you should always shelter when not in motion. Keep dirt and concrete between you and the atmosphere if at all possible.
6. Get to aid and immediately shower.
As soon as you’ve escaped the area — at least 8 miles for a 10-kiloton bomb — shed your clothes and shower. Your skin will have been covered in radioactive particles as you walked. Showering will remove some of them and reduce your exposure. If you are able to find an aid station, military specialists will generally begin your treatment by scrubbing you down.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, a disaster-preparedness activist and the author of “Americans at Risk: Why we are not prepared for megadisasters and what we can do,” gave a TED talk where he discussed these and other tips for surviving a nuclear attack, as well as the history of nuclear weapons. Skip to 17:20 for his plan to survive a nuclear terrorist attack.