Friday, January 14, 2011

The Return of Duck and Cover

“If you asked me to name the three scariest threats facing the human race, I would give the same answer that most people would: nuclear war, global warming and [Microsoft] Windows.”
- comedian Dave Barry
Last month the New York Times published a Science article on the US strategy for surviving a nuclear attack.
Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.
What amazes me is that a NYT science writer should consider this "surprising" and "new". There is no mention in the article of the Duck and Cover campaign of the 1950's where school children (and adults) were taught to get under cover immediately. Fortunately the layout editors have longer memories. The media accompanying the story include a 1950's photo of office workers heading for a basement shelter, a family in the 1960's running to there backyard fallout shelter, and a graphic that is labeled "Duck and Cover".
The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show, would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a basement would be better by far.
Again this is old news. There are many ways to die in a nuclear blast and sheltering helps protect against each:
- Poisoned by Radiation
- Burned by the Heat Flash
- Pierced by shrapnel in the explosive wind of the blast
- Struck by falling objects as buildings collapse

A serious but non-lethal danger is blindness - DO NOT look at the blast!
Administration officials argue that the cold war created an unrealistic sense of fatalism about a terrorist nuclear attack. “It’s more survivable than most people think,” said an official deeply involved in the planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The key is avoiding nuclear fallout.”
The important thing is to be informed and not panic. The Instapundit notes that, "Even back in the 1960s there were Civil Defense debates on whether [or not] to give warning in case of an attack, based on studies that showed more people would be sheltered by where they happened to be than would benefit from a warning, since many people would immediately either try to flee, or to return to their homes, winding up in more exposed positions when the bomb went off."

Bottom Line

Again from the Instapundit, "I find that my law students — effectively post-Cold War generation — know next to nothing about nuclear weapons, fallout, and basic civil-defense stuff that most people knew back when I was a kid. So education is warranted."

Here's a 2 page summary by Homeland Security, Planning for a Nuclear Detonation

And a new 135 page report called Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation

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