North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile test demonstrated a significant leap forward in the country’s strike capabilities, with many experts agreeing that the missile’s trajectory indicates a possible range that could easily reach as far as Alaska. The United States has long worried about a nuclear North Korea with ballistic missile platforms capable of reaching the mainland, and in recent weeks, that possibility has become more likely than ever – begging the question, what should you do if nukes ever do start falling out of the sky?
Fortunately, here in the United States, the possibility of a horrific nuclear death isn’t a new fear, and our government has already devoted a fair amount of time and resources to figuring out just that. Thanks to decades of worrying about Soviet ICBMs, the federal government already has a pretty strong idea of what you can and can’t survive in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear strike – right down to what kinds of beverages are expected to hold their taste in the fridges of what’s left of your local 7-11. For the record, beer and soda are both said to hold up rather well.
Unfortunately, if you find yourself caught up in the initial blast of a nuclear strike, no amount of statistical research is going to save you from turning into a Kentucky-fried version of yourself, but if you’re one of the (un)lucky few to find yourself intact amidst the rubble that was once your town, there are some quick decisions you can make that will dramatically improve your chances at survival: particularly in terms of avoiding the nuclear fallout.
While the phrase “nuclear fallout” is pretty commonly known, what exactly fallout is tends to be misunderstood. In effect, the fallout you need to worry about after a nuclear strike is a loose mixture of bomb material, ash, soil, debris, and anything else that was vaporized and irradiated by the blast. This snow-like mess combines with the missile’s released radiation to make the perfect cocktail for an awful death – that is – unless you know how to avoid it.
Believe it or not, if your house is still standing, it may actually be a suitable location to wait out the worst of the radiation before moving to a better spot or, hopefully, getting rescued. There are, however, some better options if they’re available to you. The Environmental Protection Agency has released guidelines that grade different forms of shelter on their ability to protect you from nuclear fallout. The grades, which range from 0 (no protection) to higher than 200 (maximum protection), are based on the materials used as well as other variables; like the floor you’re on and if there are any windows.
To gain a perspective of what each grade means in terms of radiation absorbed, simply add a “1/” in front of each. A regular one-story wood house would subject you to 1/2-1/3 the nuclear fallout you’d experience outside, a deep basement beneath an office building would leave you with only 1/200th of the exposure.
Your average wood-frame house offers only a grade 2-3 level of protection from nuclear fallout, while a concrete basement below it would offer something close to a grade 10. If your house is more than one story, the additional levels will increase the protection offered in your basement, meaning a basement beneath a two-story brick veneered house would actually offer upwards of grade 20 protection.
Sub-basements, or multiple level concrete basements beneath larger structures offer even more protection, reaching as high as 200 beneath a five-story building with an additional floor of basement above you. Likewise, the first level of a basement beneath a large office building would likely provide a similar level of protection.
Of course, you can’t stay hidden in these shelters forever, but you may not have to. If you find yourself stuck in a regular, wood frame house, you may actually be better off waiting for an hour or so after the blast to seek better shelter. After that initial hour, the worst of the fallout will have come down, and you can try to take a short trip to better shelter. If you can get to a more secure location within 5 minutes (like a building you can see on your block) you may want to make a break for it immediately, but if it will take upwards of 15 minutes to get there, you’re better off staying put.
In any event, your best hope from there is to wait for rescue. If rescue isn’t coming, you can at least prolong your survival by getting out of the worst of the fallout while you form a plan for your next steps.
Feature and additional images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons