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With the wide range of emergency experience of our team, we have put together this guide to help you find the right equipment to survive a fallout, and what to do now, during, and after, to survive a nuclear attack.
“There are two problems for our species’ survival – nuclear war and environmental catastrophe – and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly.”
- Noam Chomsky (Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe)
We are closer than ever to a nuclear attack. According to many leaders and critical thinkers, it is one of the biggest, and likely threats to humanity. We know this, and yet there are growing tensions in the world between countries capable of nuclear and chemical attacks. And there is also the threat of both urban and overseas-inspired terrorism which we are also familiar with.
If a nuclear attack was to occur, it would leave us with minutes, at best, to prepare. This is barely enough time to get to any shelter that is safe from contamination. In most cases, we will never be close to something as such. What we can control is utilizing the right protective equipment to get to safety after an attack has occurred and limit our exposure to life-threatening contamination.
Preparing for life’s events is simple. It involves just three things: knowledge, skills and the right equipment. This same rule applies to everything in life. If you are going for a long drive, you have your knowledge of direction and time, the skills of driving, being able to change a tire, or do simple repairs, and the right equipment of a vehicle, fuel, and a bit of food and water. Preparing to survive a nuclear attack is no different.
Knowing what you need for nuclear survival can be difficult, as it is a bit more technical than driving a car. So to help you prepare we have put this comprehensive nuclear attack survival guide together, with these necessities and commonly asked questions:
So what can you do right now to prepare for a nuclear attack? First, after reading this guide, identify the safest places that you would seek shelter in from a nuclear blast that are near your daily routines. For instance, the building you work in, your apartment or home, and any buildings you might drive past regularly.
The safest buildings for possible shelter – The larger the building, the better. So long as it is not made of glass. The best areas are basements and carparks below multi-story buildings, or in the central stairwell of a large building (if it is in the middle of the building).
Get a survival kit ready – A term common with preppers is a bug out bag. We have this specifically for events such as a nuclear attack. What should you have in it? Ideally, it is meant to be a bag you can grab and run out the door with which will last you for 24-72-hours and will include water, food, clothing, first-aid supplies, a flashlight and some other essentials. If you had to seek shelter in a basement during a nuclear blast, this bag would support you through that period. In this survival kit you will also need the most important things to deal with nuclear fallout: a gas mask and protective clothing.
So what equipment do you need to survive fallout radiation? You might have seen things such as DIY gas masks or people recommending cheap respirators – these will not work. Why? Because they are not approved to work in those environments. How can you tell what equipment you should use? Easy. For gas masks, there are several regulatory bodies (NIOSH being the largest) that certify, through a series of rigorous testing, whether or not equipment such as gas masks are deemed to be usable against nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) toxins to filter and provide safe oxygen.
What is NBC and CBRN? NBC is the rating those bodies give to approved equipment. It stands for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical, which are the substances NBC gas masks are able to filter and work in. A newer rating CBRN has been adopted in the industry to include exposure to radiological waste in the event of a dirty bomb (different to radiation from a nuclear bomb).
So let’s look at nuclear gas masks, and how to determine the best gas mask for what you need.
There are some important points to note when considering a gas mask and its use in a nuclear fallout. Having used gas masks in toxic gas situations before, I know that these will ensure that you are able to use your gas mask to provide clean, safe, oxygen in a nuclear, biological or chemically contaminated area. They are:
The gas masks to use in a nuclear fallout – The ideal NBC or CBRN gas mask you should consider is one that has good visibility, a comfortable fit and has widely available filters. After closely reviewing their operability, specifications, and benefit to the wearer, we have found the best CBRN gas masks are the Avon M50, Draeger 4500 and the SGE 400/3 BB. For the best NBC gas masks, we recommend the SGE 400/3 and the traditional Israeli Gas Mask.
Let’s take a look at those CBRN and NBC gas masks a little closer.
Avon M50 CBRN Gas Mask – The Avon M50 full-face CBRN gas mask is an effective, durable and comfortable CBRN gas mask. It is the service issue gas mask for the US Military, having improved on its predecessor and previous US military gas mask, the M40.
The M50 is designed to provide up to 24 hours of consistent wear in a CBRN environment and provides a great filtration that does not impede breathing. It is made of a butyl silicone rubber which does not cause sweating or fogging and creates a very airtight seal around the face (a crucial aspect for NBC and CBRN masks) and has an internal drinking component so that you do not have to remove the mask to drink. The Avon M50’s gas mask filters are unique to this mask and will not fit any other housing other than the M50. They are an M61 activated carbon particulate filter.
Avon have also developed a civilian version to the M50, as it is specifically a US military issue mask. The civilian version is the Avon C50 CBRN gas mask.
Some important features and specifications for the M50 CBRN gas mask are that it:
Draeger 4500 CBRN Gas Mask – The Draeger 4500 is an alternative CBRN option to the M50 and comes from a company responsible for providing masks to firefighters, mine rescue, and first responders. The Draeger 4500 has an almost completely unhindered visibility range with its large impenetrable face shield and is a very comfortable mask to wear, fitting any distinguishable facial features.
This mask has been specifically designed to be used in precision shooting, as many masks have high profile filters that block the ability for a shooter to take a well-placed aim. The free cheek-space declutters the working space allowing you to easily rest the side of the mask against the cheek of the rifle.
Some important features and specifications for the Draeger 4500 CBRN gas mask are that it:
SGE 400/3 BB CBRN Gas Mask – The SGE 400/3 BB CBRN gas mask has been a very popular option for many CBRN gas mask buyers, specifically a nuclear gas mask solution. Why has it been so popular? The SGE is very widely available as a gas mask you can buy online. It is also one of the more affordable CBRN gas masks on the market which makes it increasingly competitive.
As a good option to consider, this mask packs in a huge amount of features with the wide vision lens, internal drinking system, very comfortable medical-grade silicone nose cup, and a very good fit for any size of face. For my sizing, I take a large because of my big head whereas my partner would easily fit a medium. If you’ve got kids, the small size is suitable for teenagers just because of the fit to the face. Any younger and you’d be wanting to look at an NBC gas mask or suit for kids.
This mask is the CBRN version, which would definitely keep yourself and your family or friends safe in an attack as it has a butyl rubber lining around the mask making it an effective chemical and radiation mask complying with international CBRN regulations.
Here are some features and specifications for the SGE CBRN gas mask:
SGE 400/3 NBC Gas Mask – The SGE 400/3 is the predecessor to the SGE above. It is not classified as a CBRN mask as it uses a silicone face seal instead of a butyl rubber. This silicone face seal has been subject to corrosion in some CBRN environments, however, the SGE 400/3 retains its NBC rating. If you are in two minds as to whether to get a CBRN or NBC gas mask, you might consider this as it is a highly reliable NBC gas mask that works very well for much less than the CBRN options above.
Israeli Gas Mask – Also known as the 4A1 Gas Mask, this NBC mask was developed for civilians in Israel to have basic protection against dirty bombs generally full of chemical weapon compounds. That said, it goes to show that this gas mask actually does work and provides effective NBC protection for the face.
While the Israeli gas mask is the most affordable out of the range of other NBC and CBRN masks, you will find that with that comes less vision, and less comfort. However, the Israeli Gas Mask does what it is meant to do, which is protect you in a nuclear attack or chemical and biological hazardous situation. It provides a great face seal, and is able to fit varying face sizes including children sizes.
Some important features and specifications for the Israeli NBC Gas Mask are that it:
If you have children – If you have children in your family, an adult gas mask might not be appropriate as it might be too large to create a seal for their face. The SGE NBC gas mask recommended above does come in children’s sizes, however, another option is the Soviet PDF children’s gas mask which has threading to fit NATO 40mm standard filters.
If you have a baby – If you have an infant, there is infant NBC protection available in two main ways. The first is either an NBC baby capsule (Russian made) that provides NBC filtration to a small environment for a baby. The more modern option for babies is the children’s Israeli gas mask hood, which is suitable for children from 0 to 8-years-old and is a much more mobile infant gas mask.
Gas mask filters – As we have outlined, you need to ensure that when you use a gas mask, it is either NBC or CBRN-rated. The same applies to gas mask filters, which are attached on your gas mask to provide filtration and safe air. For almost all gas masks, the filter they will use will have a NATO 40mm threading. All of the CBRN and NBC gas masks we have recommended above use this type of filter, except for the Avon M50, which uses the M61 filter.
The best CBRN gas mask filter, which complies with many military regulations on filters, is from the brand Mestel Safety. Mestel’s CBRN 40mm gas mask filters have a shelf life of 5 years (after their manufacture date). These CBRN filters will last for up to 24 hours in light circumstances before they need replacing. However, their duration will be much shorter in use if they are filtering air with high counts of toxic particles. You will notice the drawing of breath through the gas mask will become gradually difficult which will signify when the gas mask filter needs to be replaced.
Avoid contamination – In a nuclear fallout, the biggest thing you should be concerned about is contamination. If you have a gas mask, you have stopped the chance of contamination through the airways, but you have not stopped your skin’s exposure to radiation. This is why a gas mask should be worn in conjunction with a hazmat suit (radiation suit) to keep your skin protected and to avoid contamination with your clothing.
A hazmat suit is a hazardous materials suit and is used regularly by firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, toxic spill response, military and law enforcement professionals. Hazmat suits do not only offer protection against nuclear agents and radiation, they also offer effective protection against chemical agents, biological agents and pathogens from sicknesses and disease outbreaks.
The ideal hazmat suit is made from materials such as Tyvek and Tychem. These suits will protect against contamination of radiation in a nuclear fallout, or for that matter, contamination against any possible chemicals or pathogens that may be released as a result of a dirty bomb. This type of suit will not protect against ionizing radiation which can cause irradiation. A shield of lead or other shielding material would be required for that purpose. Irradiation can be minimized by looking for the right shelter that we mentioned previously, and not going near the impact area where radiation would be at its strongest. Instead, the real risk from a nuclear fallout is from contamination of radiation, either through the skin or inside the body through breathing and digestion. A Tyvek or Tychem suit minimizes the risk of skin radiation contamination.
The best thing about hazmat Tyvek suits is that they are very affordable, with most high-quality brands available for less than USD$10. The best NBC suits we have used ourselves come from manufacturer DuPont. Both the TY122S Tyvek coverall suit (pictured below) and DuPont’s Tychem coveralls are affordable and will provide protection against radiation contamination in a nuclear fallout.
You should consider the weak points of a suit – Many coverall NBC suits are made for lab environments and have some possible flaws for the environment that you might be wearing it in. Consider that after the devastation of a nuclear bomb, if you are in the immediate blast area and managed to survive the blast, there may be rubble, debris, and scrap wherever you go. To solve this weak point of a hazmat suit, I would recommend keeping a roll of duct tape with your equipment. Duct tape has a lot of uses, but in this circumstance, it can repair any possible tears in your suit to ensure you are protected from contamination.
That duct tape should also be used to seal the joins between your hazmat suit and any gloves and boots you are wearing. You can see this being done in the image above. I would recommend gumboots or something similar that are easy to wash off, as the built-in shoes of a Tyvek suit will not withstand tears. The same applies to gloves, which should specifically be chemically resistant PVC work gloves. Tape the joins between the suit and these gloves.
There are some other items integral to nuclear fallout survival. They are radiation poisoning medication and an effective way to detect radiation levels in a nuclear fallout.
Radiation poison medication – Potassium Iodide tablets are popular in all emergency preparedness communities for one reason: they assist the body in a nuclear fallout by preventing the absorption of radioactive materials.
When exposed to radioactive iodides, your body has a high risk of developing thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodides are caused by nuclear reactor accidents and are also present in the fallout of a nuclear weapon. Potassium iodide tablets, more commonly referred to as iOSAT pills, are a preventative and will prevent the thyroid gland’s absorption of radiation.
iOSAT tablets have been used in all cases where radiation poisoning has been an issue for areas surrounding an event. For instance, these were administered to nearby residents of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in 1986, Fukushima nuclear plant leak in 2011, Germany in 2017 and more recently in 2018 to residents in Belgium over nuclear power plant failure concerns.
Geiger counter or radiation detector – We all know radiation, whether it be from nuclear fallout, or a nuclear power plant leak, is dangerous and toxic to our health. But what many fail to realize is that radiation, despite its strength, is not visible and cannot be smelt. Radiation is a very silent and undetectable killer. Therefore, one device that will aid you in your protection against radiation is a radiation detector, to detect levels of radiation and ensure that you are moving away from the blast of a bomb, and away from concentrated radiation pockets that can cover wide areas.
Geiger counters, for the most part, are expensive, however, one item that has been issued by numerous government agencies to residents in areas that might be at risk of radiation levels, such as near an unstable nuclear reactor, is the RADEX RD1503 radiation detector. The Radex gives highly accurate radiation readings and is your ears and eyes when it comes to the dangerous levels of radiation. This item was given to civilians in areas nearby Fukushima and Chernobyl. It is widely used and provides an easy-to-use interface for detecting radiation counts.
Now that we have the basic preparedness of what you need to survive a nuclear attack (a nuclear survival kit), let’s take a look at the important things you need to know to survive during a nuclear attack.
According to the Center for Disease, Control, and Prevention (CDC), a nuclear detonation would have “devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps”.
“Most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation.”
CDC – Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness
A nuclear bomb has a number of devastating effects which make it an incredible weapon. Once a bomb or device is detonated, there will be a flash of light which can cause blinding, next will be a wave of energy which can cause thermal burns, a pulse of nuclear radiation, an explosive pulse, an air blast and finally the radioactive fallout, which will have a lasting effect on any life in the area.
How far can a nuclear bomb reach? Areas surrounding nuclear strike zones can be affected by a weapon’s characteristics and various other factors. The strength of an attack will be determined by how close you are to the blast, weather factors such as wind and precipitation, the size of a bomb, and height at which it was detonated.
The safest place in a nuclear attack – The safest shelter in the event of a nuclear blast is underground in the basement of a building that is constructed of thick brick or concrete. Vehicles will not offer any protection from radiation. If you are driving, pull over, get out and run to your nearest building. In any given building, the most optimal shelter from a nuclear blast is in the deepest part of the building that you can get to, either being the basement, or in the middle of the building, away from glass that will become a projectile from the blast, and possible thermal burns.
Finding this sort of shelter in the event of a nuclear attack will greatly improve your survival, as the barrier will limit the effect of the fireball effect of a nuclear blast and thermal burns. Put simply, try to get as much steel, brick, concrete and any other shielding between you and the blast. Of course, if you are lucky and a truly prepared you may have an underground bunker either in your home or nearby that you can sit out the blast and survive the fallout. All you need to do is make sure you reach it in time.
Due to the small nature of fallout particles and the power of the weapon that caused the nuclear blast, radioactive fallout material can be carried by atmospheric winds across the earth’s surface. This is referred to as global fallout and a risk that comes with nuclear weapons. The more immediate concern to anyone in a nuclear blast is the fallout in that area.
If you have a secure shelter after a nuclear attack – Stay inside and don’t leave until emergency services tell you to do so. You may suffer the risk of being caught in a possible second strike, or you may suffer contamination poisoning from the nuclear fallout. In this circumstance, pay attention to any phones (if an EMP has not already wiped it out) and listen out for any alerts over the radio frequency of any radios you can find. Emergency services will provide instruction as part of their nuclear response protocol.
If you know of a more safe shelter nearby– If you have survived the blast, but know of a better shelter that is less than 10 minutes away and is better than the one you survived the blast in, a report on optimal fallout shelter times states that you can make your way after a nuclear blast if it is less than 10 minutes away. This gives you enough time to get there before radiation from fallout sets in. However, having the protective equipment we have mentioned (NBC/CBRN gas mask and protective NBC clothing) will significantly increase your chances of survival after a nuclear blast. If you are away from the blast, ensure you find shelter that is upwind of the blast site, as less fallout will be carried in your direction.
If you are in an area where you are not able to find optimal shelter from a nuclear fallout, use plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off all airway entry points to your a room in the deepest point of the building. After a nuclear blast, most glass will have been shattered by the powerful waves of energy and debris so a window could turn into an access point for contamination. Sealing these entry points off will create a decontamination zone from which you can wait for emergency services. Having the NBC gear as mentioned above would give you a chance to move after a nuclear fallout has occurred and find a community shelter, or one that emergency services have set up in response to the incident.
If you reach shelter and have possible radioactive fallout on you – You should remove your outer layers of clothing as this will be contaminated. Place that clothing in a bag and keep it away from others. You should then go through a decontamination process by washing your skin and hair with soap and water, or if you cannot wash, at the very least use a wet cloth to wipe exposed areas of skin. It is important to note that you should not use conditioner agents when washing, as this will bond radioactive particles to the hair. Keeping the shelter you are in a decontaminated zone is highly important, ensure that any others follow the same protocols.
This guide is designed to ensure you are prepared with the right knowledge, skills, and equipment to survive a nuclear attack or a radiation leak. Just a bit of preparedness now, can be magnified and will utterly determine the chances of your survival.
The guide we have designed here not only applies to nuclear doomsday scenarios, but also to other NBC situations, such as a chemical weapon or detonation that has been made in a first-strike by another country, or as a weapon used in a terror attack. Something equally as frightening could be the circumstance of a biological weapon or deadly pathogen that has contaminated the air and ground.
All of these events will require the same protective equipment as what a nuclear attack requires, which is an NBC or CBRN gas mask and gear, a hazmat suit with protective equipment. This means that if you prepare yourself early, with the right equipment, you are ready for all three of these worst-case scenarios that pose a very dangerous threat to life.