Today, I’m addressing a subject that I suppose should have had more emphasis earlier in SurvivalBlog: The risk of nuclear war, and how families can plan and prepare to survive it.
The risk of nuclear war is now actually greater than during the bad old Cold War. Back then, there were just a handful of nuclear powers that were divided into two or three camps. But today, there are umpteen factions and even terrorist groups with potential access to nukes. Face the facts: We live in a dangerous world. Someday, one or more of hose nukes is going to go boom.
If at all possible, i recommend relocating to a lightly-populated region, soon. Ideally, that would be one that is not down-wind of major nuclear targets. But at least move out beyond the expected blast, thermal, and overpressure radii!
It makes sense for every family to have a shelter. A lot of your preps to survive fallout will also double for being prepared for the ash fall from a major volcanic eruption. And the storage food in your shelter can of course be used in other disasters–or even just surviving an extended period of unemployment. The general advice that I’ve given my consulting clients is: For an existing house: Buy a house with a full dry basement and then retrofit half or all of it into a walk-in gun vault/fallout shelter with a vault door that opens inward. If you are going to the expense of adding a walk-in vault, then it it worth spending a bit more to have it double as a fallout shelter! For new construction, I suggest that you have a cased well drilled in one corner of the planned footprint of your shelter, before you excavate your basement.
Once the missile re-entry vehicles (RVs) start to drop, unless you are within the blast radius you will likely have an hour or more to get you family safely into your fallout shelter. But once the fallout from ground bursts begins to settle, you need to have your sheltered buttoned up, and you need to be breathing filtered air. So, obviously, the better that you have your sheltered built, stocked, and ready, then the less time you will waste, after any nuclear detonations. Those first critical couple of hours should not be spent in a frantic rush to get most of your food and water into your shelter. It should already be there! Rather, your should be spent going though a very short prepared checklist, to shift perishable food, batteries, medicines, and crucial “one of” items down to your shelter.
First and foremost, you need to put a lot of mass between your family and the fallout. Concrete and soil thickness are your friends. Study up on gamma-stopping “halving thicknesses.” A shelter with two halving thickness is good. But three or four halving thicknesses is better. Rather than reiterate it all here, I will simply refer you to a great SurvivalBlog article: Protection from Radioactive Fallout by Tennessean, posted in 2013.
Yes, you can build yourself a dandy fallout shelter with beaucoup mass between you and the gamma emitters. But without proper air filtration, you face the risk of having irradiated fallout dust enter your shelter! You will then be breathing beta and gamma emitters into your lungs, in contact with your skin, or taking them into your digestive tract. True HEPA filters and commercially-made hand, treadle, or electric-powered pumps are best, but they are expensive. Home-made substitutes can be fabricated. Tose are detailed in the book Nuclear War Survival Skills.
One important design consideration for your shelter is that you need to provide an Airlock/Foyer/Vestibule. This is your decontamination and clothing-shedding room, for anyone who is coming in from the fallout dust-contaminated outdoors. And, needless to say, that this space must be outside of your shielding wall and outside of your filtered air space. And it would be best for this vestibule to have a shower for decontamination. You’d also need some empty trash barrels with trash bag liners to hold contaminated clothing.
Ideally, a shelter should be constructed in a basement that is served by either gravity-fed spring water, or a hand-pumped well. But I recognize that less than 1% of you reading this have a shallow well casing inside your basement! So, for most of us, comes the daunting task of storing enough water to provide a scant one gallon of water per person, per day for three months. That is a lot of water–both in terms of weight and volume. For a family of four, that equates to 365 gallons. If stored in seven gallon food grade super pails, that means you would need 53 pails of lightly-chlorinated water. Assuming that they are stacked three pails high, that equates to about 3,100 pounds in a 25 square foot footprint. Using the more commonly available 5 gallon pails, that would take up even more space.
For anyone who will be occupying your shelter, it is important to lay in a supply of Potassium Iodate, to prevent thyroid damage after a nuclear attack. This is a Thyroid blocker for radiological emergencies only. It is not to be used at any other time. Potassium Iodate (KIO3) is available from Ready Made Resources and several other SurvivalBlog advertisers. Note: One recent scientific paper suggested that KI or KIO3 is best for people under age 50. Apparently for those over 50, the risks outweigh the reward.
Provisions, In Depth
A deep larder of stored foods will be crucial. If you don’t have a sufficient food stockpile, then you will be forced to emerge from your shelter early. An early emergence will both increase the gamma dose of those who exit and also increase the risk of contaminating your shelter–with the requisite in and out traffic.)
Food storage is also crucial for another reason; Every calorie of food that you have stored represents one less calorie that must be purchased, grown, raised, fished, or hunted after you emerge from your shelter. That equates to more time in your shelter and less time outdoors kicking up fallout dust (and possibly inhaled on ingested), as well as that much less time having your body penetrated by hard gamma rays. It also means that your family will be one less family that is putting a demand on the retail food supply. With extra food stored, you will thus be part of the solution instead of contributing to the (food shortage) problem. And yes, it will be a big problem. A famine following a nuclear war could kill as many people as the preceding nuclear weapons effects.
Don’t overlook the importance of sanitation. At the very minimum buy several big bundles of toilet paper rolls, diaper wipes, and a couple of rolls of heavy duty black plastic trash bags. (All of those are available via mailorder from Walgreens, one of our affiliate advertisers.)
It is noteworthy that as each 5 gallon bucket of stored food and water is consumed, it can can be re-used as commode bucket–with black plastic trash bags as liners. Also be sure to get a couple of snap-on toilet seats. (These fit standard 5 gallon and 7 gallon food grade pails.)
I recommend white LEDs powered by a deep cycle battery bank for lights inside your shelter. This is because they draw less tan 1/0th the current of traditional filament light bulbs. Even though the spectrum that they throw is not the most healthy, living with that for three months certainly beats living in pitch darkness. To provide minimal lighting for three months without any charging, you should plan on a bank for four to six golf cart/marine deep cycle 6 volt batteries. They should be wired in a series/parallel, so that the output voltage is 12 volts.
Communications And Monitoring
Don’t overlook having a few Faraday-enclosure protected radios in your shelter. Being cooped up in a shelter is bad enough, but to be cooped up and cut off from news of the outside world would be terrifying. Test them first, to see if you need an external antenna. After you have rigged that, be sure to leave your radio disconnected, until needed–both from power and from the antenna–since both can couple EMP to your equipment.
I would recommend a “DC to daylight” multi-band scanner as a critical radio to have on hand for monitoring. Store it in a Faraday can inside your shelter, at all times. To reiterate a recommendation that I coincidentally posted just last week: The Icom R6 Sport Wide Band Handheld Communications Receiver is a really good value for the money. They operate on standard AA batteries, or with a wall outlet AC-to-DC power cube. For some reason the model with the red case presently sells for $30 less than the model with the black case. Go figure… Note that these will not demodulate trunked police dispatch transmissions. But that is an issue mostly in big cities. (If you do live in a major metro area with trunked traffic, then get a more expensive Uniden Trunk Tracker scanner.) And of course no commercially-made scanner can demodulate military frequency hopping/spread spectrum or various forms of encryption. All in all, the Icom R6 handheld is a great way to have a very portable scanner than covers AM and FM broadcast, police, fire, weather, air traffic control, shortwave broadcast, various amateur bands, MURS, commercial, CB, Marine Band, and much more. One further suggestion: Invest in a good pair of folding headphones to use with your scanner.
Radiation dose, rate, and survey metering (three distinct measurements) is a fairly complex subject that would take a feature-length article to discuss fully. In this piece I’ll just suffice by summarizing:
- A dosimeter measures your total dose of radiation received, from the being of an event, when you zero the meter.
- A rate meter measures the level of radiation that you are receiving per hour.
- A survey meter (aka “Geiger Counter”) measures the amount of radiation emitted by a contaminated item or other discrete/point source.
My advice is to buy the best modern equipment you can find, starting with a Nuk-Alert. Also get some redundancy by getting a surplus set of “pen” type dosimeter, rate meter, and charger. Those are available from several of our advertisers, most notably Ready Made Resources. Of all of the instruments, a rate meter is the most important. (If you keep a daily log book of radiation readings, then just a regularly-recalibrated rate meter can also let you know your total dose.The book Nuclear War Survival Skills describes how to make an improvised fallout ratemeter. But that is a poor substitute for a good set of modern instruments!
Just last week, I heard that the USAF has surplussed their Canberra combination survey/rate/dose meters, because they were standardizing with meters that use size AA batteries. These are the slightly older model that use 9 VDC batteries. At eBay, use the search phrase “Canberra NRC ADM-300”. They originally cost the taxpayers around $3,000 each. At less than $200 each, they are a tremendous bargain. They should all still be within calibration specifications.
Having a family and perhaps a pet or two all cooped up in a 200 square foot shelter for three months (or more) is undoubtedly going to cause a lot of stress and frayed nerves. To prevent mental breakdowns, I suggest storing a Bible, some Bible study books (a concordance and commentaries), lots of paperback novels, numerous board games, a chess and checkers set, a chess strategy book, musical instruments, an iPod (pre-loaded with the family’s favorite hymns, songs, and classical music), several new decks of playing cards, a cribbage board, and a book of card game rules
I suggest that you hunker in your bunker even longer than authorities will recommend. Here is some Ground Truth to ponder: Government officials have more of a vested interest in re-establishing a functional economy than they do in assuring your health and longevity. I should mention that I’ve already been lied to once, this way. I was stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany with the 2nd M.I. Battalion in the spring of 1986. I was then partially down-wind of the Chernobyl reactor melt-down. The European and USSR governments lied about the risks, as they later admitted, because they wanted to prevent any panic and dislocation. We were falsely told that it was safe to be outdoors. They did issue a warning on milk, but otherwise there were no warnings or special precautions taken, for fresh foods in the FRG (West Germany). They also didn’t issue an advisory about wearing dust masks, because there were insufficient supplies of them on hand for the entire population. So again, they compromised public health to prevent panic. More recently, the government of Japan also intentionally downplayed risks, following the Fukushima meltdown. To expect genuine altruism and sincerity by government officials in any radiological emergency is naive.
Your family’s emergence from your shelter should be gradual. Plan on sleeping every night in your shelter for the next six months. (This dubbed “partial emergence”.) Remember: Radiation damage is cumulative. So if you can spend half of your time in the shelter after the announced “safe emergence” date, then you will cut your exposure to residual radiation nearly in half.
During the first year of emergence it will be important to wear at least a paper mask–but preferably an N95 mask–as much as possible. Footwear must be removed and hands washed in a vestibule whenever returning from outdoors. And any un-packaged foods that are purchased, grown, or gathered must be washed before bringing them indoors.
A Shattered World
In the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear exchange, life will never be the same as it was before. There will surely be massive depopulation of the northern hemisphere. The global economy might take a century or more to fully recover. Cancer rates will be higher for at least for several decades. Average life expectancy will probably drop down into the mid-50s and possibly even lower for both men and women for a few decades. But the bottom line is that nuclear war is indeed survivable!
For Further Study
This article is just introductory to the topic.There is obviously a lot more to consider in fully stocking a shelter that I haven’t discussed here. That is largely common sense: First aid, sleeping bags, privacy screens, fire extinguishers, intruder security measures, cooking implements, spill clean-up, pet care, et cetera. Just one important note on first aid that differs from preparing for many other disasters: If you are close to a nuclear target, then expect to have to treat lots of lacerations and flash burns. And if anyone gets a blast of gamma through their body before entering your shelter, then also expect to have to treat both vomiting and diarrhea.
For more in-depth study, I strongly recommend that every American family get a hard copy of Dr. Cresson Kearney (et al)’s book Nuclear War Survival Skills. It is a truly crucial reference book! – JWR