Nuclear Holocaust How-To

In the movie Blast from the Past, the Webbers, a family living in L.A. in the 1960s, believe nuclear war has broken out and therefore take refuge in their well-stocked bomb shelter. Uncertain of the state of the post-apocalyptic world above ground, the family doesn’t surface for 35 years.

If only the Webbers had had access to a new article in the journal Health Physics. In the paper, Carnegie Mellon researchers outline practical steps that anyone can follow when faced with a nuclear attack—including how long one should remain sheltered.

According to a university press release:

Specifically, the two scientists address the following questions: whether it is worth citizens' time to stock supplies needed for a home shelter, how urgently should one seek shelter following a nearby nuclear detonation, and how long should survivors remain in a shelter after the radioactive dust settles.

Apparently, this information isn’t readily available.

“Government websites such as recommend that people take shelter or evacuate following a nuclear blast, but provide no information that might help people determine how much time they have to react before a fallout cloud arrives,” said lead researcher Keith Florig. “We advocate a more nuanced message with simple rules for minimizing risk based on how far people are from the blast. If you are within several miles of the blast, there will be no time to flee and you will have only minutes to seek shelter. If you are 10 miles from the blast, you will have 15 to 60 minutes to find shelter, but not enough time to reliably flee the area before the fallout arrives.”

Good to know. Who would’ve guessed that the U.S. government hasn’t got a clear roadmap for what to do in case of emergency? (Ahem, the FEMA fiasco following Hurricane Katrina and the levees breaking, anyone?)


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