With the increase of concern over the likelihood of an attack from another country, or a nuclear detonation carried out by a radical group, western governments to be more open about nuclear preparedness and they want you to understand the importance of what to do in a nuclear attack.
There is nothing worse than the concept of a nuclear device. They are the most dangerous weapons with an enormously destructive capacity and devestating aftermath, the likes of which we have seen rarely in the past, but which have never been forgotten.
Those strikes in the past, such as those in Nagasaki or Hiroshima, were made as a result of a world war, but this day and age, the theatre of war, both political and terror-related, is much different. It’s a sledging match between world powers struggling to find their own independence in a world where, simply put, he who holds the biggest stick wins. And there’s also the smaller cells of radicalist groups able to move under the radar.
While those world powers contend in their own arms race, radicalist groups are also plotting their own strikes in major populated cities. With that new wave of ideologies, the world’s governments respond with increase in security systems and services, the encouragement of residents to be more aware of their surroundings, as well as implementing physical structures such as the now normal-looking traffic barricades to stop car attacks in populated areas.
Now the governments of the world are pushing a new agenda, it’s one that has been forever in existence, serving more educational purposes through Hollywood than in reality, that is nuclear survival and what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
Nuclear preparedness grows as the talk of nuclear threats grows at an alarming rate. This tweet by one of the world’s most powerful leaders is just a reminder that 2018 is a year when nuclear threats are at a consistent high.
Despite the actions of world leaders, the United States is the first in a succession of other western world followers, to start encouraging its citizens to ‘get serious’ about the threat of a nuclear war. As far as the Government is concerned, it’s time to get serious about nuclear weapons, their effects, and what to do before and after a nuclear attack. They’re doing this by opening their channels, plans and strategies of how they would respond to a nuclear attack, and they’re encouraging you to know what to do as well.
A nuclear attack “would have devastating results”: US Govt.
America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, otherwise known as the CDC, is starting the public awareness campaign with a workshop called “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation“. This workshop is designed for doctors, government officials, first responders and other stakeholders who would have a direct role in the responsibility of addressing the after-effect, should a nuclear attack ever happen.
But this isn’t just for professionals working in the preparedness industry, the CDC encourage everyone to “Learn how planning and preparation efforts for a nuclear detonation are similar and different from other emergency response planning efforts”.
In the workshop, one of the presentations to be given is on the “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness”, delivered by a specialist from a Health Protection Division worker.
A woman walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je
Their reason for launching this new look into preparing for a nuclear attack is simple. They state that “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. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”
This workshop isn’t only a sign of the serious attitude health agencies are taking toward nuclear preparedness, it’s also an invitation to the public as the CDC and other agencies are making a trend towards being more public with their nuclear preparedness strategies in a bid to ease residents into an understanding of what nuclear preparedness is.
The workshop will be aired on January 16, 2018, and will be live streamed to the public. You will be able to find more details on the livestream on the CDC page closer to the date.
What problems do governments face in promoting nuclear preparedness?
Overcoming the hurdle of encouraging nuclear preparedness is no easy feat, even for some of the world’s biggest government powers. For them, promoting simple awareness campaigns on issues of preparedness is difficult enough, such as how to limit the spread of a disease, and preparing for storms and wildfires.
Sure, disasters and wildfires do happen, and we all know how quick the common cold can spread from bus handles to confined public spaces, but how do you encourage people to start looking at the real hard facts of nuclear attacks and what to do in the event of a nuclear detonation?
This just adds to the soiree of preparedness issues we face this day and age, and will eventually be as common as what high school shooter drills and traffic barricades to stop driving attacks have since become.
There are a few other issues that are prevalent for nuclear attacks and preparedness though.
Encouraging citizens to undertake simple preparedness steps
Schoolchildren and their teacher in a 1952 air-raid test
For many people, when you ask about the topic of nuclear survival, or surviving a nuclear detonation, their response is going to be something along the lines of “either I am lucky, or I’m not”. That’s the easy way to think about it. The rest involves the complex world of nuclear bomb detonations, blast radius’, protective equipment, nuclear bomb yield, EMP, and of course, the radiation left in a fallout.
This is the first step to nuclear preparedness, which is already a difficult task. The next step is convincing people to be prepared, when in fact, most have never been affected by a disaster, so they have no reason to believe they need to prepare. That, and for a lot of unprepared individuals, preparedness is someone else’s responsibility, believing that first responders and emergency workers will “take care of me”. So for the CDC, the first battle of trying to minimise casualties in a possible nuclear detonation, and ensuring survival, is to encourage more people to undertake some basic preparations and be more informed of the real dangers.
Identifying that a nuclear detonation is a risk in any area
Nuclear attacks are not always just aimed at big cities, in fact, there are other establishments that might have a greater influence on the damage to a nation and its residents.
So where could a nuclear attack or nuclear detonation be made? One way it has been addressed by agencies in the past is to consider the strategic assets a specific location may have. These would be things such as:
- Military Installations
- Ammunitions depots
- Industrial centers that, if destroyed, could cripple a nation’s supply economy
- Foodbowl areas that would damage the food supply to a nation or its trade supply
- Key infrastructure such as power plants, dams and water reservoirs
- Large populated areas
According to the US Government’s nuclear response website, Ready.gov, potential targets can also include: centers of governments and major ports and airfields.
This means that even if you are not in a built-up or metropolitan area, that you are deemed safe from a nuclear detonation, as there may be these assets nearby that are a considerable target for an attack.
The following is a 2017 map of potential nuclear targets based on government installations.
2017 USA map of potential nuclear targets. Source: Reddit.
North Korea is not the only nuclear threat against countries
First, let me just clarify the difference between war and detonation and why I choose to use both. A nuclear war involves recognized bodies such as another country or political power. I chose to use the term detonation as well as a detonation is more akin to that of a homemade item, or something that has not been manufactured in a weapons factory, and is instead carried and detonated by a person, or group of people, with an agenda.
In the event of a nuclear war, there is going to be more notice or time, as it would most likely be in the shape of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system or via plane. If, and this is debatable, it was to get past any airspace defense systems established for this very purpose, there would be a warning with a window of time before impact or detonation.
For many around the world, the impending threat at the moment is imposed by intimidating powers such as North Korea, this is largely due to media speculation. A launch from North Korea of a nuclear bomb would be detected immediately, giving a window of time. In this window of time, news agencies would alert people to ensure that they seek appropriate shelter while the relevant defense department utilizes missile defense and air defense systems to halt the nuclear missile.
However, some investigators and independent scientists believe the US may not be able to shoot down enemy ICBMs. According to a past report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, the agency that runs the missile defense system “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland”.
For the time being, the most prominent threat played out in the media is that of North Korea’s, and there have been some possible close calls, with areas such as Guam even sending out emergency alerts to residents on what to do for an imminent nuclear attack
This differs from the event of a nuclear detonation, where a smaller group, or an individual, with an agenda, are able to move under the cloak of a population. These events are either foiled by domestic agencies, or they are successful, which means there is no real window or warning for these attacks.
In my opinion, this is the most likely attack to ever happen, much more likely than a power such as North Korea ever successfully attacking the United States. In the case of the smaller group, it runs the much easier task of being a smaller, untraceable group.
One nuclear weapon is not like the other
Nuclear devices come in all shapes and sizes, but they all leave an incredible scar and impact upon the area, population and nation that they affect.
As noted above, their arrival time can be incredibly difficult to predict, as they are a human-operated device, but as such, they are hazards defined by a set of characteristics which can range and with those characteristics, an assessment of the danger they possess can be more clearly estimated.
Those characteristics, defined by the Federal Emergency Management Authority, are:
- Size of the device. A more powerful bomb will produce more distant effects.
- Height above the ground the device was detonated. This will determine the extent of blast effects.
- Nature of the surface beneath the explosion. Some materials are more likely to become radioactive and airborne than others. Flat areas are more susceptible to blast effects.
- Existing meteorological conditions. Wind speed and direction will affect arrival time of fallout; precipitation may wash fallout from the atmosphere
Nuclear weapons have multiple destructive characteristics
The majority of people believe that a nuclear bomb is going to make an initial blast that will be it. Unfortunately, there are more circumstances than that which make nuclear devices terrifying creations.
Nuclear devices have three main destructive characteristics:
- The nuclear blast itself, is defined as “an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around.”
- The radioactive fallout causing nuclear radiation. The fallout from a nuclear explosion can be spread by winds for hundreds of miles in the right conditions. Effects from even a small portable device exploded at ground level can be potentially deadly.
This Radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by normal senses and radiation monitoring devices need to be used. The limitation to exposure to radiation is by using radiation protective equipment.
- The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) occurs when a nuclear weapon is detonated in, or above, the earth’s atmosphere, creating a high electromagnetic field, and similar to lightning, will damage electronic devices rendering them unusable. An EMP is capable of destroying communication systems, computers, electrical appliances, and automobile or aircraft ignition systems and has a very wide range of reachable distance. Electrical devices can be shielded using Faraday technology.
To give an illustration of the possible reach of an EMP, the image below shows that if detonated at a height of 294 miles, an EMP wave would cover almost the entire continent.
What is the current approach to a nuclear attack?
The US Government’s Ready.gov page is the forefront of government national emergency response efforts. As a joint effort from Homeland Security and emergency response agencies, the site addresses nuclear survival and nuclear preparedness.
What would most likely be in an imminent-attack alert message advising residents to do
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s factsheet on nuclear preparedness, there are some ‘practical steps’ that should be followed. They are as follows:
Guam issued these same steps when a nuclear attack was imminent
People outside when a nuclear blast occurs should:
- Lie face down on the ground and protect exposed skin (i.e., place hands under the body), and remain flat until the heat and shock waves have passed.
- Cover the mouth and nose with a cloth to filter particulates from the inhaled air.
- Evacuate or find shelter: a. Evacuation: If a cloud of debris is moving toward them, leave the area by a route perpendicular to the path of the fallout. b. If a cloud is not visible or the direction of the fallout is unknown, seek shelter. A basement or center of a high-rise building away from windows or doors would be best.
- If possibly exposed to contaminated dust and debris, remove outer clothing as soon as is reasonable; if possible, shower, wash hair, and change clothes before entering a shelter. Do not scrub harshly or scratch skin.
- Listen for information from emergency responders and authorities.
And if you are sheltering-in-place, you should:
- Go as far below ground as possible. Shut off ventilation systems and seal doors or windows until the fallout cloud has passed, generally a matter of hours.
- Stay inside until authorities say it is safe to come out.
- Use stored food and drinking water.
- Listen to the local radio or television for official information. Broadcasts may be disrupted for some time as a result of power outages.
This is what citizens should know, and should be understood as a go-to response should a nuclear attack warning be issued, or a detonation carried out. If there is a national telecast or Facebook warning service carried out as an emergency notification to residents, this is what it will tell them to do in a nuclear attack emergency.
What would emergency services do?
The other planning and preparation side is what the first response would be post-nuclear attack and what priority concerns would be addressed first.
Department of Homeland Security identifies those priorities as:
- First, to provide medical treatment to the burns and injuries sustained as a result of the blast and to those suffering from radiation sickness.
- Treatment would be given to those that are suffering acute radiation syndrome including the prevention and treatment of infections, psychological support, transfusions.
- Provide diluting or mobilizing agents to assist the body in removing radioactive elements.
These are the immediate priorities, but while first responders and medical staff manage that recovery, there is a greater taskforce to address the long-term consequences of a nuclear war, or nuclear attack, such as:
- Monitoring the clean-up of the affected area
- Control of contaminated food supplies
- Monitoring and limiting the financial impact caused by deaths, illness, loss of jobs, destruction of homes and workplaces causing severe displacement, increased government spending in the cleanup, rebuilding of infrastructure and services, assistance and relief expenses and the potential loss of important economic infrastructures depending on the geographic area of the affected zone.
- Monitoring the psychological impact that comes with the widespread suffering and crippling of an area and its residents.
A more local approach to nuclear preparedness
While the US’ Homeland Services and FEMA are pushing the nuclear agenda as a national preparedness issue, some local government systems are adopting the approach and using their own methods to promote the essentials of a nuclear attack response.
Southern California’s Ventura County launched a campaign in 2013 using pamphlets, a school training program, community meetings and four Youtube videos on nuclear education. Their message is simple, “Get inside, stay inside, stay tuned” and the community response has been thankful for a simple community-driven preparedness approach.
Here is Ventura County’s video:
Expect to see more nuclear attack preparedness campaigns
As governments answer to the concerns over whether nations are ready for a nuclear attack or detonation, there seems to be a new level of transparency with governments opening up their preparedness strategies with the public.
A risk assessment and public health expert, David Ropeik, said the majority of public information campaigns about nuclear preparedness have been “too passive” and “not adequate.”
The ongoing threats from North Korea “create a huge opportunity to get this on our radar screen.” and “the information is out there, most people just need to be alerted that it is there.”
National Center for Disaster Preparedness Director Irwin Redlener said informing the public has been slowed by concerns about creating undue alarm. And that a more worse failing by the Government would be to leave people in the dark about simple precautions that could save lives.
“The public should be treated as adults,” Redlener said. “We live in a complicated world and we want people to be prepared.”