When a nuclear weapon detonates, dust and ash from the explosion and shockwave are propelled into the upper atmosphere, carrying high levels of radiation. As it falls from the sky it becomes "Black Rain" or more commonly known as Nuclear Fallout.
When the S-H-I-T Hits the Fan ("SHTF" for short, a common buzzword nowadays to describe America falling into chaos following a catastrophic disaster like a nuclear terrorist attack), all Hell is Going to Break Loose -- a buzz phrase making it's own rounds.
Radioactive dust from both a dirty bomb and nuclear weapon is dangerous to life on earth, including humans. High doses can kill, lower doses can result in internal injuries and cancers. Think of this nuclear fallout as poison -- poison from the sky, ground, vegetation and other objects in your environment. Everything that comes in contact with radiation becomes toxic to life -- and can remain toxic for several years.
Dangers of Radioactive Dust from a Nuclear Terrorist Strike
When radioactive dust hits the earth it lands everywhere: Forests, fields, crops, lakes, rivers, reservoirs and even aquifers (underground lakes and rivers that supply drinking water to cities and towns and sometimes entire regions).
As it makes it's way through the ground soil and into aquifers these can now be contaminated for several years, wrecking havoc on the local ecosystem.
Nuclear fallout isn't limited to the detonation of a nuclear weapon or meltdown of a nuclear power plant -- it also results from the detonation of a "dirty bomb".
A dirty bomb is an explosive device packed with radioactive material; when it explodes, it propels radioactive dust across an area. The bigger the bomb and the more radioactive material used in the bomb, the worse it becomes for people in the area.
What's alarming about dirty bombs is that they're relatively easy to make. The fact that we haven't seen any detonated yet in America (at the time of this writing) is a miracle.
But that time may be quickly heading our way.
Dirty Bombs Will Turn Shopping Areas and Financial Districts into Ghost Towns
A dirty bomb detonated in a major city can turn several buildings and streets into ghost towns. People simply won't be able to return to work, or to shop, or even their homes downtown, for quite some time, possibly several years, due to contamination by dangerously high levels of radiation.
Terrorists could shut down Wall Street indefinitely with just one dirty bomb. That's one reason why New York City has added several thousand radiation detectors throughout the city. It's not a perfect system though and we can be certain that a motivated terrorist organization will do anything it can to find a way to strike.
Shoulder Fired Missiles, Iran Covert Ops
In this scenario terrorists are likely to use a shoulder fired missile. Current advances in technology may even turn a shoulder fired missile into a missile-guided system; this means that a shoulder fired missile could be launched from several miles away and simply "guided" by remote control to the heart of Wall Street. Terrorists already have a history of using shoulder fired missiles (to launch attacks in the Middle East, including Israel). To date a chief fear is that in America they'll use these to take down commercial planes.
How easy would it be for terrorists to get their hands on shoulder fired missiles? Consider that Russia sold 1800 shoulder fired missiles to Venezuela, as reported in this 2010 article: Washington Post: Venezuela acquires 1,800 antiaircraft missiles from Russia
That's just one instance. Arms sales between Russia and Iran and Venezeula are common place. Why should Americans be alarmed by this? Because Iran is deeply entrenched in Venezuela, with regular flights between Iran and Venezuela. Iran we already know is suspected to be connected to 80% of the terrorist activity in the world. Cartels move drugs, people and weapons -- we can bet they can also move shoulder fired missiles.
Shoulder Fired Missiles and Dirty Bombs
Nowadays we don't just have to worry about shoulder fired missiles -- add to this dirty bombs -- or even the means to deliver a low-yield nuclear weapon on a shoulder fired missile.
We're Giving Terrorists Lots of Time
No matter how you look at it, the longer terrorists and governments have to plot attacks, the more severe and on-target these attacks are likely to be.
With shoulder fired missiles, terrorists have the means to deliver multiple strikes on key cities -- even from several miles away.
Local military bases where troops would be dispatched should we suffer attacks on the homeland could be wiped out by low-yield nuclear weapons, before the alarm was even sounded that we were under attack.
Terrorists Target Wall Street with Dirty Bombs
Terrorists could easily rain down multiple dirty bombs on Wall Street from the sky -- or simply from an office space (or office spaces) that had been rented several months before. Others might fire these missiles from small airplanes, a few miles from a city. A missile-guidance system and even a "beacon" planted by terrorists in the middle of a downtown area could ensure that any fired missile (that was guided remotely) hits it's intended target.
What Happens When a Dirty Bomb Detonates?
What will happen when these bombs hit? They don't have to be very big -- the job of a dirty bomb is to disperse radiation. The most effective dirty bombs may be those that are detonated in the air, over a populated area, rather than down on the ground.
People closest to the blasts are likely to die shortly after receiving high doses of radiation. People further out from the blasts, but still close enough to be reached by radiation, will start developing cancers in the coming months. Radiation is breathed down throats and into lungs; radiation lands on exposed skin and is absorbed into the body, settling into bones and tissue.
Washington D.C. Taking Steps to Protect from Dirty Bomb / Nuclear Attack
Authorities in Washington D.C. are taking the threat seriously; CNN reports on 1/8/2013 that a campaign to record every area of radioactivity (such as what occurs in hospitals and laboratories) in D.C. is right now taking place. See: CNN: Washington D.C. Prepares for Dirty Bomb. They are mapping out places like x-ray labs in hospitals, clinics, and even dental offices where radiation is a common occurrence. By having each of these places recorded, they'll know (in theory anyway) when a new radiation source appears in the city -- this could be either a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb before it's had a chance to be detonated.
Nuclear Danger at America's Ports
Currently America's ports scan containers coming off cargo ships from overseas for radiation, in the hopes of detecting nuclear material before it reaches a major city.
What they're doing now in both NYC and Washington D.C. is taking these scans for radiation a step further.
In New York City the police have been outfitted with thousands of radiation detectors as well as their own high-tech radiation detecting helicopter. This helicopter adds a second layer of detection as it can pick up radiation signatures by flying 200 feet over cargo. See: CBS: Radiation-spotting chopper is newest NYPD anti-terror weapon
These are costly moves and you can bet that Homeland Security wouldn't be taking these steps if there wasn't a real threat from terrorists striking with dirty bombs and even nuclear weapons.
Biggest Nuclear Threat to NYC is by Sea
In NYC, according to the CBS News article at the link above, the biggest threat is a nuclear attack by sea. What that means for NYC anti-terrorism units is that they have to keep an eye on incoming cargo ships as well as small boats, as a small boat can be loaded with a nuclear weapon and driven right up to the NYC shoreline and detonated.
Extensive Preparations by U.S. for Nuclear Attack
The NY Times lays out the extensive steps being taken by the U.S. in preparation for a nuclear strike by terrorists. I've followed reports on the U.S. nuclear threat in the past and have to say that this article in the NY Times surprised me at just how serious the U.S. is treating the threat of nukes being detonated in cities like NYC, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. See: NY Times: U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable
President George W. Bush, just one month after the 9-1-1 attacks had been told by the CIA director that Al Qaeda was reported to have an atom bomb in New York City. That report turned out to be false -- but for a moment there you can imagine the fear that several people in government must have shared. The Times writes:
In late 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the director of central intelligence told President George W. Bush of a secret warning that Al Qaeda had hidden an atom bomb in New York City. The report turned out to be false. But atomic jitters soared.
How to Survive A Dirty Bomb / Nuclear Attack
So, what do you do to survive a dirty bomb attack? How do you survive an attack with an actual nuclear weapon?
Considering that terrorists have so many different ways that they could potentially deliver a dirty bomb or low yield nuclear weapon, we should bet that it's simply going to happen at some point, and then prepare to survive the aftermath.
If Terrorists Strike With a Nuclear Weapon ...
You're a goner -- that is, unless you're far enough away from the blast (for example 3 - 5 miles, depending on the size of the nuke) to take cover before the shockwave hits.
The only warning will be an incredibly bright white light -- a light that will blind you if you look directly at it -- then moments later the shockwave from the blast is going to hit.
Light travels faster than both sound and the shockwave from the explosion. And so you have only a second to notice the blinding white light outside and scramble for the nearest fixed location you can duck behind, covering your head and lying flat on the ground, advised by FEMA.
Avoid Ruptured Lungs from Shockwave
In any bomb explosion, a pulse of air (a shockwave) is emitted, which can rupture lungs. Experts say to keep your lungs from being ruptured, when you dive to the ground to take cover and lay flat, keep your mouth open, and breath out, so there's no air in your lungs when the shockwave hits. Of course the natural reaction is going to be to hold your breath; you will have to instinctively do the opposite. Most people near a blast who lose their lives die from massive internal injury from lungs bursting; shrapnel and debris are of course other killers; but it's the bursting of lungs that is the usual culprit.
The explosion will be deafening. Some survivors will be permanently deaf, eardrums ruptured by the blast. If you're too close to the vicinity of the blast, even covering your ears with your hands won't help. Experts say to lie flat on the ground, head tilted sideways with one ear toward the ground and one of your arms covering your exposed eye.
Most Survivors will Be in the Outside Radius of a Shockwave
In a major city, most survivors will be in the outside radius of a shockwave. The people that are closest to it, buildings, vehicles, roads, traffic lights, anything in the initial blast radius will be completely destroyed -- "vaporized" it might seem.
If You Live or Work Downtown, Be Ready to Duck and Cover
If you live or work downtown, especially in a major city, there's a chance that your city might be targeted in a widespread string of terrorist attacks.
FEMA's experts on nukes advise people in the general area of a nuclear attack to head inside immediately, to the center most areas of buildings, and deep into basements when possible, to try and put as many walls as possible between you and the nuclear radiation coming down as fallout and carried by the shockwave.
Radiation Levels Following a Blast
Radiation levels are extremely dangerous after a nuclear blast but diminish quickly in a short period of time. Authorities advise you to stay inside for at least the first 24 hours and to listen to the radio (if you have a working radio) for official information regarding the danger level and for evacuation instructions.
There's a chance though that you may not have a working radio. That's because a nuclear detonation creates an "electro magnetic pulse" which fries anything it comes in contact with that has electrical circuits.
Small-Scale EMP May Fry Electronics
The much feared "EMP attack" is a nuclear detonation high in the atmosphere over earth; that's a different monster than this one. This EMP that occurs down near the ground from a nuclear blast isn't going to have the reach that a nuclear detonation high in the atmosphere is going to have. There will still be an EMP but it's effects are going to be limited and much closer to the area of the actual blast.
Look Away from the Blinding Flash of Light
If you're outside when the initial detonation occurs, do not look at the initial white flash of light in the sky which will signify a nuclear weapon being detonated -- it can blind you.
Find something fixed to the ground and hide behind it quickly, such as a wall on the backside of a concrete building.
Lie flat on the ground and cover your head and continue to lay there for the next 30 seconds or so -- if a blast is far enough away it can take up to 30 seconds for the shockwave to reach your area.
Once that shockwave has reached your area, now it's time to seek shelter deep inside a building or basement as soon as possible. Know that even if you're hundreds of miles from the blast that prevailing winds can carry nuclear fallout and you are still in danger.
So even if you're a hundred or more miles from the blast, you'll still want to head inside and seek shelter.
Do you live within 50 - 100 miles from a major city like Los Angeles, NYC, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, or San Francisco? Study the prevailing winds in your area -- that will give you a good idea of just how far nuclear fallout can be carried and in what direction.
Prevailing Winds and Nuclear Fallout
For people concerned about life after the attack, if you live in an area that prevailing winds are likely to carry nuclear fallout, it would be a good idea to plan an evacuation route perpendicular to the prevailing winds, getting you out of that zone as soon as possible.
In the initial minutes though you are going to want to take shelter deep inside a building or your home, preferably in a basement, which you can immediately take steps to seal up, blocking outside air, which may be carrying nuclear dust in the next few minutes and hours.
In the coming days, when you emerge from your shelter, now it's time to evacuate the area -- as stated before, should you live in an area where prevailing winds will carry nuclear fallout from an attack on a nearby city.
Nuclear Fallout and Evacuation
You will run the risk of coming in contact with radiation that has fallen out of the sky no matter what direction you evacuate. That's because radioactive dust may still be in the air; it likely has settled on lawns, vehicles, trees, porches, roof tops, streets, side walks, shops, schools, hospitals, and farms in the area.
In the initial evacuation, there are ways to protect yourself from radiation -- the cheapest way (with the most risk) is to layer yourself in clothing that you can shed once you're far from the area and past the fallout zone created by prevailing winds. Shed these clothes and simply dispose of them. Wear gloves as well, and layer towels, sheets, and even bandannas over your face. Finally, put on goggles, goggles that fit snugly on your face. Wrap your head in cellophane if you have to -- use strips of duct tape to seal any exposed seams between goggles and bandannas and gloves and sleeves.
Dispose of Protective Layers
Once out of the area, experts advise you to dispose of each of these protective layers you've put on, including clothing, placing in a plastic garbage bag and putting it somewhere far away from other people, to protect others from contamination.
Once out of these clothes, take a shower as soon as possible, using plenty of soap, to wash off any contamination that's on the skin.
Don't use conditioner -- conditioner can bind contamination to your hair.
You can also buy a Hazmat ("hazardous materials") suit -- which is a suit for protecting from radiation as well as dangerous viruses and chemical weapons. These are recommended for first responders (fire departments and paramedics) as well as military personnel, counter-terrorism, police, and Homeland Security responding to the attack. Suits come in various strengths and sizes. A Hazmat suit made of Demron, a radiation blocking fabric, can cost $2800. On the opposite end of the scale a less expensive Hazmat suit made of weaker materials can be had for a much cheaper cost.
You can build a make-shift suit using a much less expensive Hazmat suit made by companies like Dupont, but it will call for using duct tape to seal cracks between gloves and sleeves, boots and pants, hood and mask. See: Nuclear War Survival Skills (this is an ebook sold by OISM.org).
Note: These suits won't protect you if you're in a hot zone, where the most dangerous levels of radiation exist after a blast or meltdown. They do protect you from breathing in radioactive particles as well as from getting particles in your eyes or even in cuts in the skin.
Whatever step you take, you can purchase potassium iodide pills, which help protect the body from the effects of radiation. These pills are not a gimmick -- they're recommended by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thankfully they are not expensive; cheap in fact considering that they can protect you from lasting effects.
When you take potassium iodide pills shortly after a nuclear attack, you reduce the risk of contracting an assortment of cancers from the high levels of radiation carried into the air, descending on distant cities and towns as nuclear fallout, even communities several hundreds of miles away, in the direction of prevailing winds. See: NRC.Gov / United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Facts about Potassium Iodide.
(Here's a link to several product choices for potassium iodide).
An effective gas mask with a proven filter for protecting from radioactive contamination is this one: Israeli Civilian Gas Mask with a NATO Filter. In Israel, cities live under a constant threat of attack by both nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. Increasingly, that threat is growing in America also.
What kind of steps should you take to prepare yourself and your family for a nuclear terrorist strike? That depends on where exactly you live and work, in relation to likely terrorist targets, such as America's largest cities.
Unfortunately though a terrorist strategy may include a few unlikely cities (like Kansas City, Missouri, Denver, Colorado, and even Omaha, Nebraska or Billings, Montana -- or other cities representing the American heartland). Remember, the goal of terrorists is to bring terror to America -- not just death and evacuations to major cities.
If they can strike us in the heartland, they're going to bring terror to a lot more places than just the East Coast and West Coast.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
How safe is your city from a terrorist strike? That's a hard prediction to make. Better safe than sorry might be the best approach to deciding just how much preparation is called for.
Final Layer of Protection
If you're caught outside when a nuclear weapon is detonated, dive into a ditch or shallow depression in the ground, if you happen to be near one. The shockwave -- when it hits a few seconds later -- will travel right over the top of you. If there's a shallow depression that's just a bit to shallow, dig hastily with your hands -- making it a little bit deeper -- and lay down flat.
If you're an employer and your office faces the direction of a possible detonation, build an additional concrete wall on the inside or outside (if you're located on the ground floor) of the building. If a nuclear event ever takes place, instruct your employees to take shelter behind the wall, even if it's only 2-3 feet off the ground.
Build a radiation-proof room deep inside the center and even the basement of your building. If you have multiple floors, ensure that everyone has a way down to this center room. Store food, water, a radio, blankets, and other essentials to surviving for a few days (at the minimum 24 hours) while you wait for radiation levels to drop around the region. If your radio is working, and if there are news broadcasts, listen for instructions on evacuations.
Have extra clothing on hand, gloves, bandannas, goggles, duct tape so that as many of your employees as possible can have protective layering to wear during the evacuation -- with the instructions to dispose of their clothing in a sealed garbage bag once out of the area.
After a blast has taken place, seal basement windows in your building with bricks, plywood, newspaper, duct tape, and even a final layer of cellophane with edges taped around the perimeter of each window.
Finally, spend those first few hours encouraging your employees and/or co-workers that they can survive this. Discuss survival: Food, Water, Fire, Shelter, Evacuation, Re-building.
Have a Plan for Reconnecting with Loved Ones
Before a disaster of this magnitude ever strikes, have a plan for reconnecting with other family members. Discuss probable scenarios and secondary locations for meeting up -- should fleeing to your home not be an option.
If you and your spouse work on opposite ends of a metropolitan area and your home is in a location that is likely to be contaminated by nuclear fallout, determine a distant town that the two of you can reconnect at -- knowing that cell phones and email may be a thing of the past (go over this with children also -- you may be able to go after a son while your spouse goes after a daughter -- after you've each rounded up children, then begin evacuation to that location you've chosen; it could be a relative's house in the suburbs for example).
Should that relative's house not work out, have a second and even third location (or town) in mind should the first one or two be unsafe. It's possible that soldiers acting on martial law will direct evacuations from the first location on your list and possibly even the second.
Consequences of Martial Law: Road Blocks and Detours
Your hopes of reconnecting with family may lie in a third town. Make sure everyone is on the same page and set time-lines for changing locations -- should things get really bad in America and you still have not found one another. What I mean is you can instruct your spouse to be in "Location A" within two weeks of the disaster, and then to wait there for ten days.
After those ten days have passed at Location A to then evacuate to Location B and wait an additional ten days. Or if Location A is unreachable (due to road blocks) to go straight to Location B.
Finally, if you fail to arrive at Location B, your spouse could then move on to Location C -- and once there wait as long as possible. Your spouse could write a note and put it in a jar or Zip-Loc bag and bury it in a relative's yard at a marked location on a map.
When you arrive finally, you could go that spot and dig up any note that had been left for you, telling you the condition of your spouse, children, and where they were going to next.
Two Way Radios
Today, you can help avoid losing communication with loved ones and purchase two way radios with extra batteries -- and bury these two way radios at a pre-determined location, or even two locations.
This way, if your spouse arrives at one of these locations before you, he or she can dig up a two way radio and leave the other two-way radio behind, re-buried and waiting for your arrival.
Have a specific channel (or channels) for communicating on and you greatly increase the chances of the two of you finding one another again -- should you live and work near a major metropolitan area that may be the target of a nuclear terrorist strike.
You can also give your children two way radios and extra batteries -- even your elderly parents could be outfitted with two-way radios.
** Last word of caution: A series of terrorist nuclear strikes could be timed to occur at the same time as an "electro magnetic pulse" -- I'm talking about the big one, the attack by "EMP" that so many people fear nowadays -- one that could shut down the nation's entire power grid, frying circuits in most vehicles, televisions, communications networks, and even two-way radios.
Learn how to construct a simple, inexpensive "Faraday Cage" so that you can protect your two-way radios from the effects of an EMP. See: Communications After an EMP - Two Way Radios
Burying this cage 2 - 3 feet underground offers even more protection.