Archive for the ‘Preparation’ category

Mapping an explosion: blast map calculators

June 16, 2008

I found some interactive blast map calculators that were mildly entertaining to my inner-geek. Unfortunately, I couldn’t achieve 100% functionality, which might be because I’m on a Mac (I’ve not tried them on a PC yet). Nonetheless, they’re link-worthy:

Fallout Calculator – from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). You can choose from a selection of major international cites (New York City is noticeably absent), wind speed, wind direction and bomb yield. On my Mac I could not adjust the bomb yield (I tried using both Safari and Firefox). The results, a series of concentric ovals, “depict calculated radiation doses of 300, 25, and 1 REM at 96 hours after detonation.” Clicking anywhere on the map will move the location of detonation to that point. FAS, an organization endorsed by 69 Noble Laureates, was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. A main focus of the group is to reduce nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Weapon Effects Calculator – also from the FAS. This tool is “to give an idea of the devastating blast effects of ground-level, shallow subsurface, and low-altitude nuclear weapon detonations.” Choose a city (New York again is absent) and a bomb yield. Clicking anywhere on the map will move the location of detonation to that point. The results are three concentric circles, which are not explained.

The High-Yield Detonation Effects Simulator (HYDESim) – an experiment in AJAX and Google Maps programming by Eric A. Meyer. Based on public data (from the classic book, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons), it shows “overpressure,” which is the destructive air pressure or shock wave created by the bomb measured in pounds per square inch (psi). You pick the bomb yield and four concentric circles show the overpressure created at four distances from the point of detonation. I had difficulty moving the point of detonation around the google map. You can find additional coordinates (latitude and longitude) for cities by clicking here. It’s interesting to note that a 10 kiloton bomb creates 0.25 psi at 4.01 mile and “most glass surfaces, such as windows, will shatter within this ring, some with enough force to cause injury.” Note to self: if the U.S. is ever threatened with an imminent attack, move desk away from window.

Blast Maps – from the website for the book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, by Graham Allison of the Belfar Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Internet Explorer and a PC are required so I’ve not messed with this one yet

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer – online retro edition – Wow, this is cool. During the Cold War you could purchase a circular slide rule from the U.S. Government Printing Office based on information from the classic book, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (same source for the HYDESim above). John Walker has recreated this calculator online in a unique way: for blast affects you input the variables of bomb yield and distance, and for radiation affects you input time and dose rate. The output is an image of the original slide rule showing the results. Click here for the instructions.

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Three miles from a 10 kiloton nuke – will I live or die?

April 6, 2008

In the prior post I explained why I’m planning for a bomb size of 10 kilotons. Now I’ll look at the risks from the blast and radiation.

While I believe I have a chance of sustaining no injuries or only minor scathing from the affects of the blast, there are many variables to consider and I’ll return to those risks—from shock, heat, fires and flying debris—at a later time. Ultimately, it may be too difficult to determine risk because of unknown variables. For example, will I be standing next to a window that gets blown out or will I be in an interior room? (The U.S. Dept. of Energy website on the Manhattan Project discusses Hiroshima: “…and the blast wave shattered glass in suburbs twelve miles away.”) In any case, I feel blast affects are secondary to radiation risk, where there is a calculable risk of death.

It’s impossible to know the full risk of radiation without knowing wind direction. If I’m upwind of the blast, the best-case scenario, the risk is from immediate radiation or what’s call “ionizing radiation” (the RAND Corporation report cited below calls it “flash radiation”). I’m having difficulty calculating the precise dose of immediate radiation from 10 kilotons at three miles so, for now, I’ll quote a RAND study, which says the zone of 100% mortality is about a radius of three quarters of a mile: “For a 10-kiloton airburst, everyone will be killed by lethal doses of flash radiation to a distance of 0.7 miles.” This is from the RAND Corporation’s Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy, page four of a report titled, “Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack.”

So, beyond three-quarters of a mile, some live and some die. Even if certain death is unlikely from immediate radiation at three miles, there will be some low level of radiation exposure, which could eventually manifest in health problems. But, at the moment, I feel immediate radiation affects are secondary to “residual radiation,” aka, nuclear fallout. On a bad wind day and sans a fallout shelter, I could be fatally zapped.

Quoting from page six of a report by The Preventive Defense Project, a joint Stanford-Harvard program, titled, “The Day After: Action in the 24 Hours Following a Nuclear Blast in an American City” (the link is a pdf file):

“Further downwind from the detonation point, a plume of radioactive debris would spread. Its shape and size would depend on wind and rain conditions, but the area over which people who did not shelter themselves or flee within hours would receive lethal radiation doses within a day would range from five to ten square miles: the area of Brooklyn for New York, northwest Washington for Washington, DC, or the upper peninsula for San Francisco – but the direction from ground zero depending on the wind.”

(Note: I thought fallout begins to hit the ground within 15 minutes so I’m confused about the above phrase, “flee within hours.” I’ll return to the topic of evacuating versus sheltering in place with better information on how quickly I need to evacuate.)

While immediate radiation creates a circular pattern of radiation exposure, fallout creates an oval pattern that moves downwind from the blast. The Preventive Defense Project’s “The Day After” report has a map of Washington, D.C., with two overlapping ovals placed on top of the map to show the approximate fallout patterns. The smaller, dark oval is the 50% fatality zone, and the longer, lighter oval is the 10% fatality zone. The visual isn’t that important to see (on page eight if you want to follow the link above to the study) but the caption to the illustration tells me what I need to know:

“Over 50% of the population within the dark red oval (approximately 5 miles long) would incur fatal radiation in the course of the first day if they stayed unsheltered in that area. Absent elaborate shelters people should leave as soon as possible.

“Over 10% of the population in the lighter oval (about 8 miles long) would incur severe radiation injury, sometimes fatal, in the first day if they stayed unsheltered in that area. Light shelters could offer significant protection. There and nearby, sheltering offers the better option.”

The bottom line for me is that there’s a 50% mortality risk in an area five miles downwind of the blast. I’m three miles from my target so, depending upon conditions, my location has a high risk of death and, short of death, a high risk of severe radiation exposure. I don’t have access to an “elaborate shelter” so, if my target is nuked, I’ll need to jump into action.

Fortunately, I’m upwind from my target so, on most days, I’m at low risk. I could dig up historical weather information to better define my risk, and I may do that in the future; but I’m not sure if calculating risk based on the weather, reliably unpredictable, is a good use of my time. Also, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to convincingly monitor wind direction in the immediate hours after a blast.

I’m beginning to wonder, what if I’m over-reacting? What if the probability of a nuke attack is infinitesimally small?

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Will I survive a nuke? Estimating what size nuke to plan for

April 5, 2008

I want to know if I’ll survive a nuclear blast just three miles from ground zero. The first step is to estimate the size of the bomb that would most likely be used in an attack.

Disclaimer to Self: If I’m wrong about my conclusion, i.e., if a larger bomb is used, well, I could unexpectedly get nuked.

Nuclear bombs range in size from .25 kilotons to 100,000 kilotons (100 megatons). Hiroshima was 12.5 kilotons and Nagasaki was 22 kilotons. A suitcase nuke is about 1 to 3 kilotons. Given a particular size bomb, there are variables that affect the extent and type of damage such as weather, terrain (including tall buildings) and where, in relation to the ground, the bomb is detonated. A groundburst causes less blast damage to the surroundings but it creates more debris so nuclear fallout is worse. An airburst causes more blast damage but less fallout.

During the Cold War the possibility of state-sponsored nuclear war gave a legitimate fear of large bombs, in the megaton range. Today, with terrorism a greater risk, I think the smaller the bomb, the greater the risk (if anyone can correct me on that, please do). While very small bombs can be hard to make as you need a minimum amount of fissile material for a bomb to work, larger bombs need more enriched uranium, which is hard to get. Also, terrorists would likely deploy a nuke tactically, so the smaller the bomb the easier it is to sneak into place.

I believe 10 kilotons is the size to plan for. A bomb of this size is small and simple so it could be “homemade” and snuck into place. A couple of important studies, one from the Preventive Defense Project, a joint Stanford-Harvard program, and one from the RAND Corporation, a non-profit think tank, both chose 10 kilotons as a likely size. It’s also roughly the size of Hiroshima so we have firsthand information about the actual damage caused by that load. While Hiroshima was an airburst (about 1900 feet), the Preventive Defense Project modeled their results on a bomb at ground level or in a tall building, hundreds of feet in the air.

Planning for 10 kilotons provides a margin of safety because I think there’s a greater probability of something smaller than 10 kilotons, like a suitcase nuke (I keep wondering, where are all the Russian suitcase nukes?). Also, an untested, homemade 10 kiloton bomb by a non-state group may “fizzle” and produce a lower yield, which is what happened to the North Korean underground test in 2006. And bomb much larger than 10 kilotons could fizzle and yield 10 kilotons or less.

The target I live near is on the water so it would not make sense to use a large bomb as half the blast would be wasted over the water. You hear that, you would-be-bombers? Don’t waste your money on big bombs near the water.

Bet on surviving a nuclear bomb and have a plan

December 3, 2007

When I tell people that I’ve started a blog on how to survive a nuclear attack, the reception is stone cold. People think death is certain—they’re going to melt or fry or vaporize. People hope they die so they don’t have to deal with the day after; or, perhaps worse, a slow, hideous death from radiation poisoning. One friend said to me, “You know what my survival strategy is? Run for the light!”

While the Cold War created visions of cities bombarded by many large nukes, the greater risk today is from one, small bomb. Probably 99 percent of the people in the vicinity of a small nuclear explosion will survive. If you live or work near a possible target, I think a fatalistic, stick-your-head-in-the-sand attitude is…how can I say this…a bit irrational. A few hours of planning and preparing could vastly improve the quality of life immediately after an attack—and for the rest of your life. Plan a little, avoid contamination and decrease the risk of cancer. Get it?

Even if you think nuclear terrorism is remote, radioactive contamination is not limited to bombs. There can be problems at nuclear power plants as well as nuclear waste transportation accidents. Come on, from fires to floods to earthquakes to hurricanes to mudslides, from tornadoes and trunamis to all forms of terrorism, from epidemics to blackouts to…enough already. There’s a lot of commonality planning for any disaster and it’s the smart thing to do.

I’m not a survival nut (yet). I’ve not spent weeks and weeks and thousands of dollars preparing for Armageddon. Not me. But I doubled up on candles, canned goods, batteries and bottled water. I moved my camping gear from a distant location to a large, interior closet in my home. I bought a battery operated crank radio for $48, which will also charge a cell phone by cranking (I’ll talk about emergency radios in a future post). I bought some dust masks (potentially handy for fires and epidemics). I did a few more things that take little effort, which I’ll go into at another time.

But putting together survival gear is easy and commonsensical. What I felt was missing, and what motivated me to do this blog, was information. Things like: What’s a safe distance to live and work from a possible nuclear target? What do I need to know to help me decide whether to seek shelter or evacuate? How do I best avoid contamination from radioactive fallout?

Beyond the gear and information there’s something else. I wonder—remember, I live and work just three miles, in direct sight, from a known target—if I hear a loud blast and the ground shakes, will my instinct be to run to the window to look at the blast or will it be to duck and cover?

The stakes are high: If I look at the blast and it’s a nuclear explosion, I risk burning my retina and going blind.

Nuclear survival information at ki4u.com

November 6, 2007

When you google for “survive nuclear attack,” the first hit is ki4u.com. Run by civil defense expert Shane Connor, it has very good information and I’ve placed the link in the blogroll. Here’s a six-minute CNN interview of Shane Conner (now on youtube) talking about the likely 99% survival rate of a 10-kiloton bomb (about two-thirds the size of Hiroshima). He smartly says that surviving the blast is not the problem; it’s surviving the next two weeks.

The “ki” part of the ki4u.com web address stands for potassium iodine. It comes from “KI,” which is the chemical symbol for potassium iodine, the substance used to iodize table salt. KI pills, which ki4u.com sells, are a common item in a nuke survival kit—they’re taken to saturate your thyroid gland with good iodine, thus preventing the absorption of radioactive iodine—and the homepage of ki4u.com is mostly about taking KI.

There are several other pages at ki4u.com that I find more interesting:

There’s a guide to “what to do if a nuclear disaster is imminent.” On one long web page, which is packed with about five pages of information, it has topics including the decision to evacuate (stay or go), things to do immediately after the blast, making shelters and contamination.

There’s a “nuclear blast & fallout shelters FAQ” in three parts. I was overwhelmed, both technically and imaginatively, with the amount of information on these three pages:

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part I is about the affects, and survivability, of the actual blast.

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part II is about radiation and the affects, and survivability, of nuclear fallout.

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part III is about taking shelter from nuclear fallout.

There’s the classic book, Nuclear War Survival Skills, which is free online, courtesy of ki4u.com. It’s written by Cresson H. Kearny of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Originally published in 1979, it’s a Cold War era book on how laypeople can improve their chances of surviving a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. While the geopolitics are outdated, a lot of the survival information is still relevant. There are a dozen glowing (pun unintended, I hate puns), five-star reader-reviews of this book for the two printed editions at amazon.com, the Nuclear War Survival Skills 1982 updated edition and the Nuclear War Survival Skills 1987 updated and expanded edition (they’re both out of print). At this moment, the best price for the 1991 edition is at ki4u.com.

Speaking of stuff for sale, in addition to the KI pills and the book above, ki4u.com sells a variety of radiation monitoring devices and nuclear survival manuals and DVDs. Here’s the ki4u.com order from and product page.

ki4u.com is a worthy site. In future posts I’ll dive further into the site and pull some pearls of surviveanukeattack-wisdom.

In general, most of the information I’ve seen on the web for surviving a nuclear bomb is technical and tedious (not to mention depressing). I’ll be sifting through this stuff and, in future posts, I’ll repackage the most important material and pump some life into it.

After the Bomb

September 12, 2007

Click here for an interesting New York Times op-ed piece from 6/12/07, ”After the Bomb”, by three retired bigshots, a former defense secretary, a former assistant defense secretary, and a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

These gentlemen say the probability of a nuclear attack “is larger than it was five years ago.” They suggest the formation of a contingency plan for the inevitable chaos on the day after: “Sadly, it is time to consider such contingency planning. First and foremost, the scale of disaster would quickly overwhelm even the most prepared city and state governments.”

If a former secretary of defense and his colleagues are requesting the formation of a contingency plan, it makes me wonder, do we currently have a plan? Or maybe they think we have an inadequate plan. Or, maybe, because they think you can’t plan the day after, they feel a new plan should be devised to plan that the day after is unplannable. I’m getting the warm, radioactive fuzzies all over.

They give good survival info if you survive the blast. They bring up an important point, which is to know which way the wind is blowing to determine if you’re in the path of the fallout:

“Those lucky enough to be upwind could remain in their homes if they knew which way the fallout plume was blowing. (The federal government has the ability to determine that and to quickly broadcast the information.) But for those downwind and more than a few miles from ground zero, the best move would be to shelter in a basement for three days or so and only then leave the area. This is a hard truth to absorb, since we all would have a strong instinct to flee. But walking toward the suburbs or sitting in long traffic jams would directly expose people to radiation, which would be the most intense on the day after the bomb went off.”

More about determining wind direction in my next post.

They state there will be choices for individuals regarding what to do, which should take into consideration radiation exposure and the chance of long term health risks, specifically cancer:

“The choices would be determined by the dose of radiation they were willing to absorb. Except in the hot zone around the blast and a few miles downwind, even unsheltered people would not be exposed to enough radiation to make them die or even become sick. It would be enough only to raise their statistical chance of getting cancer later in life from 20 percent (the average chance we all have) to something greater — 21 percent, 22 percent, up to 30 percent at the maximum survivable exposure.”

Finally, they bring up a very interesting point. A nuclear attack in one city could inflict fear of more bombs in other cities and could incite the mass or partial evacuation of our major cities:

“Next comes the unpleasant fact that the first nuclear bomb may well not be the last. If terrorists manage to obtain a weapon, or the fissile material to make one (which fits into a small suitcase), who’s to say they wouldn’t have two or three more? And even if they had no more weapons, the terrorists would most likely claim that they did. So people in other cities would want to evacuate on the day after, or at least move their children to the countryside, as happened in England during World War II.”

I think this concept is a biggie in putting together a survival strategy: Everybody should be prepared to stay in their homes for an extended period of time without emerging; and everybody should be prepared to evacuate their homes immediately.

For some grim, depressing comments on this New York Times piece and what the day after would be like, click here for a column by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Although I agree that survivors in the immediate area will be too traumatized to act rational in the ensuing chaos, there will be a distance from the blast where people will not be as traumatized and will need to make immediate decisions. Common sense says that those who are prepared will fare best.

What’s a safe distance from a nuclear bomb? That will be the subject of numerous futures posts.

A Run on a Bank!

August 18, 2007

This is a little off topic, but I was stunned to read this headline from The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Californians rush to pull money from Countrywide Bank.” The first sentence reads, “Anxious customers jammed the phone lines and Web site of Countrywide Bank and crowded its branch offices to pull out their savings because of concerns about the financial problems of the mortgage lender that owns the bank.” Click here for the full article.

Is this 1929 or 2007? How messed up is the financial system? How would the markets react to a nuke attack? Are your assets safe? At a later time I’ll talk about what I’ve done to disaster-proof my finances.