It’s here. The coming apocalypse. Or that is what I was told.
I was a young 6-year-old kid who was told to grab his teddy bear and get ready to move. We only had minutes before we were to leave with whatever we could carry. Luckily we had been preparing for this moment for years. The rural remote mountains apparently were not enough to protect us from Armageddon. Instead, we had to hunker down in one of the dozen community bomb shelters that lay hidden in some miles from our already middle-of-nowhere trailer deep in the mountains of the Rockies.
Dozens of other families came together to purchase, build and fill a complex web of shelters enough for several families each to last 3-5 years, or until the nuclear fallout cleared and it was safe enough to go out. We had been preparing for the coming apocalypse for years. Which means prepping years’ worth of dehydrated goods, canned beans, flour rice, and generators.
Not only was our house mostly off-grid, with a steady supply of wind and solar energy, but we also had a garden, greenhouse, chickens, and a cache of guns and ammo to ward off anyone wanting to steal our rations. We had a massive container buried underground packed with everything we would need in the coming months of horror.
The apocalypse is here
Our house, however, as prepped as it was, was no place to stay in case of nuclear war.
And finally, the apocalypse was here. Nuclear war was imminent. Or so said the leaders of the community.
High up in the mountains where we lived we had a bomb shelter where that spent years’ worth of savings to construct.
Camouflaged into the landscape you would hardly notice there was anything other than the mound that was coming out of the ground. The only way in was through the hatch and down the ladder.
There were several families already there, grim faces aplenty all moving gear, arranging beds, getting sheets on, prepping water, making food each in their own little pod.
Several hundred other families that lived in the area were all underground. They too had been preparing themselves for years, investing tens of thousands of dollars into these fortified shelters.
This was sometime in the early 1990s. The exact dates are not clear, but what still remains in my memory are the 3 days we spent hunkered down underground. Unable to confront the reality of possible total annihilation, I played hopscotch – as you do.
What can a kid do but play in the face of nuclear war. And that’s exactly what we did. For me and the few kids whose families were in the same position as us, this was an adventure. It’s not every day you get to live in a bunker.
We bathed slept and ate underground for three nights. We ate dehydrated soups, drank distilled water, and slept in bunks. Had it not been for the whole nuclear war thing it would have felt like summer camp.
We did have a communication system that allowed us to check the status of what was happening above ground.
And then one morning we heard through or radio that the coast was clear that nuclear war was averted. Dang I thought, it was just getting fun.
Is Nuclear War a Possibility?
While what I faced was some fun and games underground, facing a nuclear war is one of the worst things imaginable. A single strike can affect hundreds of thousands of people and take into account the nuclear fallout those numbers only go up from there. While such an event is unlikely (in our collective imagination then it was a very real possibility) – it is always good to be prepared for the very worst – even if the very worst is something that is hard to predict.
With that said is it worth spending considerable time and energy, tens of thousands of dollars, and your life savings to build a bomb shelter as we did? Probably not. In such a situation it’s difficult to be prepared without going to the same lengths that we did.
We had a bomb shelter different from a fallout shelter. Somehow it was thought that the rural mountainside where we lived was a target for a direct nuclear strike. Because of this fear our shelters went deep underground and had years’ worth of supplies.
(Survival Under Atomic Attack by U.S. Office of Civil Defense. A old but good short doco of Atomic war.)
What is a Nuclear Blast Fallout?
When a nuclear bomb hits, the blast shoots up a fireball into the atmosphere and carry massive amounts of radioactive dirt and debris. This residual radioactive material would then “fall out” of the sky after the initial explosion has passed and cause widespread devastation.
This nuclear fallout can be even more dangerous than the blast of the bomb itself, in that it can spread long distances from the initial explosion.
Just how far depends on many factors, such as the size and type of the nuclear blast. Wind, rain, and other climatic factors can result in “delayed fallout” in other parts of the world. Exposure to radioactive fallout can be immediately deadly or have serious longer term health effects like cancer and other diseases like was witnessed for decades around Chornobyl when the nuclear power plant failed.
To avoid getting poisoned by nuclear fallout, you would need to find a safe fallout shelter near you as soon as possible.
What Is a Fallout Shelter?
A fallout shelter is a specially constructed enclosed space that shields occupants from nuclear fallout caused by a nuclear bomb. A fallout shelter is not the same thing as a bomb shelter, as its primary purpose is not to protect you from the direct impact of a nuclear blast (which would completely vaporise everything within a 0.5 km radius of the point of explosion).
Its purpose is rather to protect you from the radioactive waste falling from the sky in the form of dust, debris, and even black rain (as what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945).
Why do You need to Prepare?
Armageddon or some biblical war to end all wars might not happen tomorrow, however, there is a long list of things that could happen. Some of these nuclear radiation emergencies include…
- Nuclear power plant accidents (e.g. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima)
- Accidents at nuclear materials processing plants (e.g. Tokaimura, Japan)
- Mishaps at nuclear waste storage or processing facilities
- Accidents involving transport of nuclear waste or materials
- Improper storage of radioactive materials at any point in their life cycle
- Lost or stolen radioactive sources
- Nuclear terrorism
- Attack or sabotage of a nuclear power plant
- Use of conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials (dirty bomb)
- Contamination of food or water supplies
- Placement of a strong radioactive source in a public area
- Detonation of a terrorist atomic bomb
- Limited nuclear war overseas with fallout carried to the US
- Direct attack on the US by traditional foes or rogue nations
So if the possibility is there, what can you do besides building your own bomb shelter? Luckily there are tons of locations across America some created in 1960s by the federal government (which most are dilapidated after funding ran out) and others that can serve as a good alternative.
How Can You Identify a Good Fallout Shelter?
The best fallout shelters are those which are made from dense materials like thick concrete, stone, or layers of earth. It is best to choose a place that is underground, as the dense earth between you and the open air provides strong protection against the fallout.
Common places used for fallout shelters include home basements, abandoned mines, public fallout shelters, caves, subway tunnels, and underground parking garages.
The level of protection a shelter offers is measured as Protective Factor (PF). If a shelter has a PF of 100, you would be exposed to 1/100th of the quantity of radioactive fallout as you would out in the open air.
Find your nearest fallout shelter
Let’s explore some of the various options you can use as a fallout shelter should the need arise:
Federal Fallout Shelters
Back in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of nuclear war fears, the U.S. federal defence constructed and stockpiled numerous public fallout shelters throughout the country.
Some of these were in the form of specially constructed shelters, but others were just basements of buildings like apartment blocks, movie theatres, banks etc. that were deemed to be suitable for use as a fallout shelter. To this day, you can still see the fallout shelter signs on some old apartment blocks.
Fallout Shelter Lists in the USA
If you are looking for a good map of fallout shelters across the USA here are a few that I found.
Although this is not comprehensive a comprehensive list there are likely many more still. Many similar maps have been created for most major cities in the U.S., so you can do your own google search to find more information.
While some of these shelters still exist today, many were neglected, repurposed, or shut down completely, so don’t just assume that you can use any of them.
The best way to be sure is to identify a few fallout shelters on the map near you, and physically go there yourself to check if they are still in usable condition. You might find that the basement of your own house or a nearby building provides just as good or even better shelter.
Downsides of Public Fallout Shelters
There are other issues with public/federal fallout shelters, such as:
- Anyone can enter the fallout shelter at any time. You may have moved quickly and found your way to the shelter within 10-15 minutes, but then others could arrive an hour later. Opening the door to let them in already exposes you to radiation, and the person themselves may be carrying fallout on their clothes and body.
- Government bunkers may be difficult to access with limited capacity. You could waste your time trying to find one of these shelters, only to be turned down at the door. It may be that only the elite few are allowed in.
- There is likely to be a lot of fear, panic, and chaos in a public bunker, especially after a few days of hiding out in one. If food and water supplies start diminishing, you could find yourself in a very bad situation with violence breaking out among those in hiding.
How Quickly Do You Need to Get Inside a Fallout Shelter?
You need to find your way to a fallout shelter within 10 to 15 minutes of a nuclear blast in your area to avoid the worst of the toxic fallout. This doesn’t leave you with much flexibility about where you go. Just remember that the sooner you can find adequate shelter, the more chance you have of saving yourself from radioactive poisoning or long-term health damage like cancer.
It is better to make do with whatever adequate shelter you have in your immediate vicinity than trying to venture out to find better shelter, as the time it takes you to move somewhere else could be exactly when you get exposed to a lethal dose of fallout.
Anything that has a PF of at least 10 is considered adequate and can protect you from the worst of the radiation if you have taken cover immediately.
This could be a home basement, an interior room of a large office building, or a shop inside a mall. If your house is made of brick or concrete, then even that is enough. The only time you should search for shelter elsewhere is if you have inadequate protection in your home (e.g., you live in a house made of wood or a mobile home) or you are caught outside at the time of the blast.
How Long Do You Need to Stay Inside a Fallout Shelter?
Fortunately, radiation from fallout doesn’t last long periods. The risk of radiation exposure decreases by 55% an hour after the explosion, which again shows how critical it is to find shelter early on.
After 24 hours, it would have reduced by 80%. However, it can remain a threat anywhere from a few days to two weeks after the explosion. The above graph illustrates the point well.
This means that if you are trapped somewhere without food or water, try to stay for at least the first 24 hours, but if you are in better conditions, then remaining put for longer is preferable. Ideally, if you are adequately prepared with food supplies and your survival bug out bag if away from home, you should be able to survive in a fallout shelter for a full two weeks.
Best options for finding a Fallout Shelter
It might not be possible to find a federal fallout shelter near you that is still intact, it is good to start thinking about other safe places that you could use in the event of a nuclear fallout. Remember, the principle is to look for places with thick and dense materials separating them from the outside air. Some ideal choices include:
1. Your Home Basement
Going into the basement of your home is most probably going to be your best option if you are at home when a nuclear bomb goes off. We spoke about why it is better to prioritise finding adequate shelter quickly over trying to locate the best shelter that is too far away.
Most home basements will provide some level of protection, which can be reinforced if you have planned ahead. You can thicken your basement walls or use sandbags as walls if you are pressed for time, which will also absorb some of the radiation.
2. Underground Parking Garages
Underground parking garages can provide excellent protection from nuclear fallout, due to them being well below ground and made of thick concrete that protects you from the radiation.
If you are in a mall with such an underground garage, or one is very near to your home, you can try to make your way down as quickly as possible. Go to the lowest level and to the furthermost inward part of the garage, as it can offer significantly higher protection the further down you go.
3. Subway Tunnels
Subway tunnels can also offer good protection against nuclear fallout of more than 100 PF. They are not as protective as underground parking garages because there is ventilation and entrance points throughout the subway system.
Try to go further into the subway system, as far as possible from entrances and new people entering, who may themselves be contaminated with fallout on their skin and clothes.
4. Abandoned Mines
Abandoned underground mines can provide very high levels of protection against nuclear fallout, but there are many risks involved. The air in the mine may be toxic or there may be insufficient oxygen, meaning you could die of asphyxiation in just a few hours underground. Entering abandoned/unused mines can be especially dangerous because they could be at risk of collapsing from the impact of the explosion.
Still, in the unlikely event that you happen to find yourself near to an underground mine and you know it is safe to enter, the PF level it provides is one of the highest. Of course, don’t go looking for a mine if it will take too much time to reach. Rather settle for the best option in your immediate vicinity.
5. Large Buildings
Large buildings need to be reinforced with lots of concrete and steel, which makes them good for fallout shelters.
If there is a basement or underground floor, that would be the ideal choice, but any room located towards the interior can provide good protection. Potential options to keep a look out for are office buildings, shopping malls, and large apartment blocks.
Homemade Fallout Shelters
The best fallout shelter is really one that you can reach within 10-15 minutes. While we can think about all the ideal locations mentioned above (underground tunnels, caves, subways, and the rest), the fact is in most cases you probably won’t be able to get to these places safely and quickly. Therefore, ensuring that you have your own fallout shelter at home is really the best option available.
This will require a bit of an investment, but there are methods you can use to create your own fallout shelter which aren’t too costly. If you already have a basement, consider making it fallout ready by reinforcing the walls, or building barriers out of sandbags. If you don’t have a basement, you can build an entirely new fallout shelter deep underground in your backyard. These should be built from concrete or storage containers, sealed properly and with sufficient filtered airflow.
How much blast is too much to survive?
Good question. According to one particularly helpful website Radshelters4u.com
“From a 500 KT blast, 2.2 miles away, it’ll be arriving about 8 seconds after the detonation flash. (An even larger 1 MT blast, but 5 miles away, would give you about 20 seconds.) Like surviving an imminent tornado, utilizing those essential seconds after the initial flash to ‘duck & cover’ could be the difference between life & death for many. Both the overpressure in the blast shock wave and the blast wind are important causes of casualties and damage.”
The below pictures illustrate the effects of a 500Kiloton warhead.
In the “lethal zone” around a 500-kiloton nuclear explosion, there would probably not be many people left alive because of the intense overpressure, blast, thermal pulse, and initial radiation. This area would be about 2.2 miles away from where the bomb went off. But even people who are farther away from the explosion but are still drawn to check it out could be seriously hurt or killed.
Possible effects include
- death up to 4 miles away
- skull fractures and glass wounds up to 5 miles away
- injuries and a 50% chance of severe burns up to 6 miles away
- skin lacerations from glass fragments
- 50% chance of minor burns up to almost 9 miles away.
Nuclear Blast map
To better understand the impact that a nuclear blast would have check out this map of the impact that a nuclear detonation would have. It is an interactive map that allows you to measure the effects of a blast in different cities across the USA according to the size of the bomb.
Tips for Surviving a Nuclear Blast
The first thing that you want to question is whether or not you should stay or go. This will depend on the level of information that is present and what the immediate local area looks like. If you are looking to evacuate you should really know the risk that you are taking and already have a plan that is mapped out. As once you go there will not be much of any way to get back.
Without the necessary supplies at the place that you hope to get to, you may not have enough resources to tide you over. So survival of a nuclear blast requires a lot of preparation and is not something that can be easily answered with covering volumes.
But like any survival situation getting the basics is where you want to start which is ensuring shelter, water and food.
About Fallout (1963) by U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense. Another old but informative doco on all things nuclear.
Now the below tips are very rudimentary and behind the scope of this article to go really into. Here are some of the key points to remember if you are ever faced with a situation that has gone nuclear:
- Find Shelter before the Blast
If you receive a warning that a nuclear explosion may happen soon, find suitable shelter immediately. Assess how much time you have, and if it is not enough to search for a dedicated bomb shelter, find the strongest and closest shelter you can use to protect you from the blast and the fallout which will follow soon after.
- Do Not Look at the Explosion
The light which emanates from a nuclear blast is extreme and is enough to blind you. Don’t ever look towards the explosion to avoid such a fate.
- Lie Flat if You Are in the Open
Nuclear explosions also cause extremely high wind speeds from the initial blast, enough to rip through human flesh. If you didn’t have time to find suitable shelter before the blast, lie as flat as possible. This could be just enough to save you from the high-velocity blast, so you can get up and search for shelter before the deadly fallout comes.
Now if the blast didn’t kill you, don’t think that you are fine just yet. Depending on where the blast occurred, strength of the blast and the type of bomb that was used would determine what coulld be either a disastrous (or not so bad) nuclear fallout.
If you have survived the blast, or live in an area that is not directly affected by the initial blast, you still might be susceptible to the fallout.
Why should you be concerned with nuclear fallout you ask?
You know what they say, a picture is worth 1000 words.
The below gif illustrates the spread of radiation from Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the spread of those particles across the globe.
If that wasn’t enough to prove the movement of contaminated radioactive particles then have a look at the graph below.
This shows the movement of the air currents from Japan after the Fukushima disaster. As you can seen it made it out to the Western Seaboard.
Now another question that might come up would be, “well that might just be a small amount of raidiation, so it prbobly won’t have any effect on me.“
The problem with this type of thinking is that we do not realize that nuclear fallout doesn’t just happen in far away countries on the other side of the world, as we mentioned above in the list of possible ways nuclear disaster might happen there are literally dozens of possible ways whereby this could hit much close to home that you would find comfortable.
Not only that but the effects of nucealr containation can reach us in indrect ways through out water and food supply. Crops and cattle, rain and lakes can all be affected, for many weeks and months after a blast even if it is 1000 miles away.
Potential threats of radioactive fallout
When it comes to understanding the potential threat of radioactive fallout, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the factors that determine the risk level for a given location. These factors include
|+ the type and quantity of radioactive isotopes released|
+ the altitude and wind direction and speed of the resulting plume or mushroom cloud
+ the distance and time before the fallout reaches a specific location, and
+ the ultimate type and quantity of isotopes that fall out at that location.
It is important to note that in the event of a nuclear incident originating from a foreign country, such as Iran, North Korea, or Japan, the United States would not be immune to the potential threat of fallout. The type of radioactive isotopes released, the altitude and wind direction of the plume, and the distance and time before the fallout reaches the US will all play a crucial role in determining the risk level for specific locations within the country.
Additionally, it is important to understand that the risk level for fallout can vary depending on the type of nuclear incident that occurs. For example, a nuclear fission bomb and a nuclear power plant accident would have different types and quantities of radioactive isotopes released, and thus would pose different levels of risk.
Therefore, it is important to stay informed and follow the guidance of local authorities during and after a nuclear incident, as they will have the most up-to-date information on the specific fallout risk for a given area.
Nuclear fallout survival tips
To go into detail would require another article. Brifly here are some fallout tips
- Be protective if you are downwind of a nuclear event, such as evacuation or sheltering.
- Use a prophylactic Potassium Iodide (KI) as a means of protecting against radioactive iodine exposure (though if it the blast is in a far away country you likely will not need this).
- The need for prompt action in order to minimize exposure to radioactive fallout and radiation contamination.
- Understand the different types of nuclear incidents (e.g. reactor accidents, nuclear bomb) and corresponding protective actions (there is no one size fits all strategy here, as these types of events can be very complex involving many different moving factors.
- The importance of having a plan in place and being prepared before an incident occurs.
- Stay informed and follow the guidance of local authorities during and after a nuclear incident.
Survival during a nuclear fallout has to do with exposure to radiation.
Whats wrong with radiation?
Dangers of radioactive dust
Radioactive fallout is the name for the small pieces of matter made by a nuclear explosion. The mushroom cloud carries the radioactive fallout high into the air, where it drifts with the wind. Most of it falls back to earth downwind of the explosion, with the heaviest and most dangerous pieces landing closer to ground zero.
Minutes after an explosion, fallout can start to arrive. Smaller pieces can arrive hours later and drift for hundreds of miles. When it starts to fall, it usually covers everything in about an hour. Rain, on the other hand, can concentrate the fallout into hot spots of intense radiation that can’t be seen. The radioactive dust is dangerous because it gives off radiation that can go through walls, roofs, windows, and clothing. Even short exposure to this radiation can kill you. Even so, the radioactive fallout gets less powerful quickly as it gives off energy. For example, gamma ray radiation with an initial rate of over 500 R/hr can weaken to only 1/10th as strong in 7 hours and 1/100th as strong in two days.
|Simply increasing the amount of space and mass that exists between your family and the source of radiation will result in a reduction in the amount of radiation that is transmitted to them. Radiation can be stopped (absorbed) by mass, similar to how police body armor can stop gunshots.|
Nuclear Fallout Survival Gear List
Without going into too much details here is a rough list of things that you may want to have prepped.
- Enough drinking water (stored in sealed containers to prevent contamination)
- MREs or canned food (meals ready to eat)
- Heat source (such as propane, kerosene, or candle heaters)
- A first-aid kit with prescription drugs
- Things to protect you from radiation (such as Potassium Iodide tablets and masks)
- Heavy-duty trash bags made of plastic for dirty things
- Non-prescription drugs (such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, laxatives, antacid, and rubbing oil)
- hydrogen peroxide dilution (to wash your eyes and use for sterlizatiom)
- Activated charcoal (for use only if advised by a poison control center)
- Source of light (such as candles, flashlights, and extra batteries)
- Tools (such as a can opener and folding knife)
Store all of your supplies in a dry place that is easy to get to, and check on them often to make sure nothing has gone bad.
So what does all this mean? Planing essentisls
If there is anything that you can takeaway from this article if you are in the position of being exposed to a nucealr fallout or blast is to simply take cover. Whether that is in a basement or shelter. Take cover.
All prior preperations aside – immediate survival is what you are looking at. In the days that come your continued survival will depend on your prior planning and preparation. The continued risk is 48 – 72 hrs after the explosion. After that chances of exposure drops considerably. While long term exposure is another story ( ie. exposure in the food and water).
So the top things to prepare (at a minimum)
- Shelter in your basement for 48-72 hours (or someplace similar)
- Water for 3 days (x the number of people)
- Food for 1 week either canned or dried that is properly stored
If you are near the blast the use of N95 respirator masks and some light protective outwear as well as Potassium Iodide (KI) might be considered. We have not yet talked about it, but thryoid cancer is a real effect of radioactive exposure. Just ask people in Nevada.
Everything else is “extra”.
For further reading and research into making a plan you can use this great resource.
Thats it from us. Take care out there. Be Safe. And lets see if we can make it out of this next few decades without a major calamity.