If a nuclear bomb is dropped in your city, here’s what you need to do

In Politics & Society
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I think we can all agree that nuclear war is one of the most serious threats facing humanity.

The current geopolitical climate doesn’t inspire much confidence in continued peace. President Trump has egged on an arms race. Russia has violated weapons treaties and upgraded its nuclear arsenal. North Korea continues to develop long range missiles and is increasingly belligerent for war.

Meanwhile, nuclear terrorism remains an ever persistent threat.

While each of these situations in isolation probably won’t cause a global nuclear war, collectively they cause significant concern to citizens all over the world.

It makes sense to wonder, “if a nuclear bomb is dropped in my city, what should I do?”

Michael Dillon, a researcher from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has prepared a research paper analyzing exactly what you need to do to survive the radioactive fallout from a nuclear attack. We summarize his findings along with those from numerous government agencies below.

What happens when a nuclear bomb is dropped

The most likely scenario is that a low yield nuclear bomb between 0.1 and 10 kilotons is dropped in your city. This would be much less than the 15 kiloton bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, but a likely scenario given the current capabilities of modern tactical nuclear weapons.

The key task if a bomb is dropped is to avoid nuclear radiation from the fallout as much as possible. If you can manage this, you may be able to save yourself.

Avoiding fallout radiation

Fallout is the radioactive particles that fall to earth as a result of a nuclear explosion. It consists of weapon debris, fission products, and, in the case of a ground burst, radiated soil. Nuclear fallout is spread by the prevailing winds.

Therefore the best thing you can do is to hide inside a building, away from the wind. The denser the building the better. Shut all of the windows and doors immediately.

The US government even recommends hiding inside a building in the event of nuclear radiation. The problem is that many buildings are poorly made and won’t offer sufficient protection. The best buildings to hide in don’t have doors or windows. A bomb shelter is ideal.

The infographic below explains the kind of protection you get from different buildings.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/FEMA

It shows that hiding in the basement of a 5 story high building would expose you to 1/200th of the radiation outside.

On the other hand, staying inside your wooden 1 story house will expose you to one-half or one-third of the radiation outside.

It brings up the important question: if you find yourself in a building without adequate protection, should you stay there or risk venturing outside to find better shelter?

Stay inside of find better shelter elsewhere?

M.B. Dillon/Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences

In his study, Dillon developed a number of models helping to figure out whether you should stay where you are or venture outside to find better shelter.

Here are some of his key findings:

  • If you are immediately next to or in a strong shelter when the bomb goes off, stay there until rescuers come to evacuate you.
  • If you aren’t at a bomb shelter but can see one or know of one 5 minutes away, go there.
  • But if a nice, thick walled and protective shelter is 15 minutes or more away, it’s better to stay in a flimsy shelter for the first hour after the blast has hit. After the hour has passed, you should try and find a better shelter.

The key point is that the strongest radiation is in the first hour after the blast, so you need to be in the strongest shelter possible during this time.

More fallout advice

So now you know what to do in the event of a nuclear attack in your city, based on the level of protection of the building you manage to hide in.

What other advice do you have for protecting yourself in the event of a nuclear attack in your city? Share your tips in the comments so we can all get prepared together.