Archive for the ‘Survival’ 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.

Surviving a nuclear terrorist attack on New York City (video: 7 min., 20 sec.)

February 20, 2008

[blip.tv ?posts_id=675537&dest=-1]

I do this blog largely because nuclear terrorism gets little coverage in the mainstream press. I taped this ABC News piece, which aired in Sept. 2005 as part of a post-Katrina program on disasters, and find it informative and well-balanced. It speculates on the fate of New Yorkers after a 10 kiloton bomb explodes in Times Square.

I captured it on VHS and I want to get it in the archives of this blog before the tape disintegrates (I crudely converted it to digital so, bear with me, the quality is poor). The segment is from ABC Primetime and is reported by Chris Cuomo. (Here’s a link to the transcript, which is titled, “Experts’ Keys to Surviving a Nuclear Terror Attack.”)

Here are some important points:

  1. There will be several hundred thousand immediate deaths. Most people will survive and most buildings will remain intact.
  2. Radioactive nuclear fallout will begin within 15 minutes and the fallout will drift with the wind. Nuclear fallout could be dangerous for as long as two weeks.
  3. The government will be tracking the deadly plume with sophisticated software. “Officials should be able to tell you which direction is safe and that is the direction to go…. First responders will use available communication to inform you where the danger is and then evacuate people out of the path of the fallout.” (See my comment below.)
  4. Your initial instincts of what to do could be wrong. Instead of evacuating your best bet may be to shelter in place.
  5. Duct tape and plastic can be helpful in sealing your shelter from radioactive dust. (I’m reminiscing about the Duct Tape and Plastic Panic of 2003…)
  6. While decontamination centers will be operational, no city is prepared for the hundreds of thousands of people who will need decontamination and medical care.
  7. You can decontaminate yourself by quickly shedding contaminated clothing and taking a shower with soap.
  8. A recent survey, reports BusinessWeek magazine, found that “just 57% of healthcare workers in the region would report for work during a radiological event.” (Wow.)
  9. “And so far the government doesn’t seem to have educated citizens about what they can do to protect themselves if a bomb goes off in the city.” (Yup.)

As I speculated in my post of 9/27/07 (Nuclear Fallout: Which Way is the Wind Blowing?), I think point #3 above could be a serious problem—and deadly if anybody screws-up. First, note that points #3 and #4 are contradictory. It means that, depending upon the situation, you may have to either shelter in place or evacuate. If you’re close to the blast I think that decision will have to be made in less than 15 minutes.

Second, the quote in point #3 above is vague (“available communication”) in describing how you’ll get evacuation information. By what method should you try first (TV, radio, email, telephone, cell phone, text-messaging, loudspeaker, talking to a first responder, etc.) and in what form will you get the information (i.e., will you understand it)? Will you get the information within 15 minutes of the blast or should you have a back-up plan?

I’d like to know now so I can do some prep, plan a response and not be prone to panic.

What it means to survive a nuclear bomb

January 2, 2008

I’ve been thinking about the word “survive.” For me, it means maintaining both my health and my quality of life.

If I’m close enough or downwind, physical health may be elusive. It’s one thing to cover my eyes (to avoid blindness) and hit the ground (to avoid the shock waves) and be able to wake up the next morning, but it’s another thing to avoid radiation poisoning.

Some unsettling words from the Centers for Disease Control website: “While severe burns would appear in minutes, other health effects might take days or weeks to appear. These effects range from mild, such as skin reddening, to severe effects such as cancer and death, depending on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation, the route of exposure, and the length of time of the exposure.”

Hiroshima was a small bomb, a size that could be tactically detonated in the U.S. today. Estimates of 70,000 died the day of the blast and tens of thousands more died in the months that followed. The U.S. Dept. of Energy website states: “The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold.” The wikipedia notes that about nine percent of cancer and leukemia deaths from 1950 to 1990 have been attributed to the bomb.

While the biological effects of radiation are known, my actual exposure and the consequences are less clear. The two questions that will be on my mind the day after, which are bugging me today, are:

  1. Besides theoretical estimates based on bomb size and distance from ground zero, without a geiger counter around my neck is it possible to know the amount of radiation I was exposed to?
  2. Is it possible to know how sensitive my body is to radiation exposure (to determine my susceptibility to long term health problems)?

While radiation poisoning is a worst-case scenario, the other end of the spectrum—surviving in perfect health—is nagging me too.

Let’s say I’m in a city that gets nuked and I live. I not only live but I luck out with fallout and I get zero-exposure. And let’s say I followed most of my own advice and have survival gear and a month or more of food and water. What will life be like? What routine necessities and comforts will I still have to struggle for? Unlike Japan who was able to surrender, would we live in fear of future attacks?

How long will it be before life is normal again?

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.

Nuclear Fallout: Which Way is the Wind Blowing?

September 27, 2007

The vast majority of inhabitants of a city will likely survive a nuclear attack. If a one kiloton suitcase nuclear bomb exploded in my area and I was a “safe” five or 10 or 20 miles away, one of the big questions on my mind would be: which way is the fallout blowing?

Fallout information will come from official broadcasts and from personal observations. I’ll get more into firsthand observation in future posts, but here’s some practical advice from the FEMA website: “Monitoring can project the fallout arrival times, which will be announced through official warning channels. However, any increase in surface build-up of gritty dust and dirt should be a warning for taking protective measures.” This makes sense as a bomb digs a creator in the ground and the soil gets sucked into the atmosphere by the blast. Thus, if the environment around you is becoming dirtier and grittier, there’s a chance you’re in the path of the fallout.

After FEMA’s hurricane Katrina performance, and because I may not have a working electronic device, I don’t want a survival strategy that relies 100 percent on broadcasts. But, for now, I’m curious how fallout information will be broadcast. Keep in mind that even if my TV is working, if I was only five miles from the blast I’m not sure if kicking back to watch TV will be my first impulse, but there will be some distance from the blast where getting information from TV and radio should be helpful.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS), jointly operated by FEMA, the FCC and the National Weather Service, is designed to broadcast emergency information. The FEMA website says to “Keep listening to the radio and television for news about what to do, where to go, and places to avoid.” I have a few questions:

  1. There may be an abundance of emergency information that needs broadcasting. Will fallout be at the top of the list, ie, how long will I have to listen before I get the information? Will the information make sense to me? I suspect time may be of the essence as I may be faced, depending on the direction of the fallout, with the choice of seeking shelter immediately or moving to a safer area.
  2. Can I get this information from my cell phone, which is the most likely device I’ll have on me? This assumes the cellular system is still working and is not jammed.
  3. If I’m a “comfortable” 50 or 100 miles away, is there a website that will track the fallout plume?
  4. If I live 500 or 1000 miles away, how concerned should I be? Given that winds tend to travel west to east, if a bomb goes off on the West Coast and I live on the East Coast, am I at risk?
  5. What shape is FEMA in? A nuke will put a lot more stress on them than hurricane Katrina, an event for which they had warning. What if more than one nuclear bomb goes off? What if a bomb takes out part of our intelligence network?
  6. The EAS was not activated during the 9/11 attack. One explanation is that the media coverage was pervasive and served as an adequate warning. If that’s true, do I really want survival information in the hands of the press and, if so, which network will be the most reliable? If that’s not true, ie, the EAS failed, is it now ready to handle the chaos of a NA?

As I try to imagine the immediate post-nuclear attack environment, I wonder about the nature of the fallout information that I’ll receive. If I’m told the fallout is moving, say, southwesterly, will I know which way is southwest? Something like a weather map would be a good presentation but what if I only have a radio? Maybe I’ll be told to avoid certain neighborhoods and towns but, even after living in my city for years, I still don’t know half the areas mentioned in traffic reports. Wind direction can change—will wind patterns be squirrely after a nuclear bomb and how often do I need updated information?

It would be nice to get cell phone alerts after a nuclear atack. (Again, even if I can receive emergency alerts via cell phone, I don’t know if the alerts will give fallout information and, if so, if the information will make sense.) The EAS entry in the Wikipedia mentions a couple of options that offer cell and email delivery: “A private website called the Emergency Email Network offers to send an email or SMS text message to registered users in the event of an EAS activation. Some desktop weather monitoring programs, such as WeatherBug, offer a computer alert during emergencies. Currently under development is new infrastructure called the Digital Emergency Alert System. This system would allow the transmission of emergency alerts directly to citizens and responders without the need for a special receiver. These alerts would be sent to users of computers, mobile phones, pagers, and other devices.”

I signed up for the Emergency Email Network (EEN), a private venture of Enotem (I googled for Enotem and came up with this link with more information). You sign up with your zip code and it would be great to receive zip code-specific fallout information. After all, what if you tune into the EAS after a nuclear attack and all you get is the President, in a national broadcast, telling us not to panic? I’ll ask the EEN if and how they intend to give fallout information.

I poked around the WeatherBug website and found no reference to them giving out non-weather emergency information. They have a variety of consumer products for computer and cell phone so I will contact them for clarification. Weather bureaus handle disaster warnings (hurricanes, tsunamis, etc), fallout is directly related to wind direction and weather maps seem to be a good way to display the fallout plume, so it makes sense that a weather service would be a good source for this information.

I’ve been clicking around the Internet but I’ve yet to find any websites claiming that they’ll provide real-time fallout information. I’d rather not have to google for a website in the middle of a nuclear disaster so I’ll keep searching. As I gather more information on any service that’ll dispense real-time fallout information, I’ll let you know and put important links in the blogroll. If any readers know of other sources for this information, please contact me or post a comment.

Question #4 above affects a lot of people so I’ll look into it. I think the gist of questions #5 and #6 are unanswerable as the only acceptable proof will be in the pudding of how well FEMA and the EAS handle the next disaster. The news networks are aggressive in putting reporters in the “eye of the storm” so I’ll look into it and let you know if any networks have been stocking hazmat suits and Geiger counters.

I hope I get fallout warnings and that they make sense but, unfortunately, hope is not a good survival strategy. I’m coming to the conclusion that individuals close to the blast will need to take a good deal of responsibility on their own in determining the direction of the fallout and how to react. In future posts I’ll look at issues like whether to stay put or evacuate, which direction to move if you’re evacuating a fallout area, what type of shelter to seek from fallout and what to do if you’re contaminated.

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.