What to do if Nuclear War breaks Out

The world is probably closer to the use of nuclear arms in an aggressive manner today than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There’s the possibility of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons, the likelihood that Iran has nuclear weapons, North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, conflicts with Russia in Eastern Europe and China in the South China Sea, and the deteriorating position of the U.S. on the world stage.

So let’s say the worst happens and you hear on the radio that one or more nuclear devices have been used in anger somewhere in the world. Here are Captain Dave’s suggestions for what to do:

Don't Panic

    1. Don’t Panic. Those of us who grew up during the cold war have a grave fear of nuclear war and many are likely to assume that because one or more nuclear warheads or device has exploded, the world as we know it will end. This could result in all sorts of panic, especially since it will take some time for real facts and figures to be known. (We’ll cover the effects of panic more extensively below.) So your first step is to separate yourself from the masses by not panicking. Take a deep breath and remember that if you are not in the blast radius or down wind from it, you are in no immediate danger form the blast. So calm down and don’t do anything foolish. Instead of acting out of panic, take a few minutes to make a plan or to activate an existing plan (which we can help you develop). Remember, just because those around you are losing their heads does not mean you need to do so also.
    2. Keep Informed. Turn on the news and try to learn as much as you can about the attack as well as local events. This will affect how your plan. Later, you will need to monitor reports of fallout (see below.) The location, number and size of the detonations are important, as are the wind currents and weather patterns. How people around the world and around your neighborhood react is also something you should monitor, as it may effect your immediate well being more than the actual explosions.
    3. Gather Your Family. During any period of unrest, it’s best to have your immediate family around you. People who are traveling should return home on the first available flight or should rent cars and drive home if flights are booked or grounded. Everyone will perform better knowing that their loved ones are safe. If your kids are in school or day care, there is probably no reason to get them immediately. They should return home safely through regular means, such as the school bus or carpool. Remember Rule One (don’t panic) and do nothing to panic your children. This will be a stressful time for everyone, and getting young children panicky or upset will not help the situation. You will have to decide whether or not to send them back to school the following days based on your plan and what you have learned from Step 2. If your children are at an away camp or boarding school, you will have to determine if they are possibly safer there than at your residence. Cancel extracurricular activities and plans outside the home until you can be sure (by monitoring the news) that the situation is stabilized and there is no danger or unrest locally and that you are not in the immediate path of fallout.
    4. Lock Your Doors and Batten Down the Hatches. Once you have all gathered at home, lock your doors and secure your perimeter as best as possible. Then try to go about life as you normally would. Have a good dinner and play a game with the kids. Watch a video. Try to seek normalcy and be reassuring so that the kids can sleep well. Don’t bombard them or yourself with repeated images of death and destruction on TV, as this is not healthy. Don’t do anything dangerous or risky as police, fire and ambulance services may be responding to other emergencies. But remember, unless civil unrest develops as a result of panic, a nuclear detonation in the Middle East or Asia will cause no immediate danger to people in North America. A detonation in the U.S. could have much more serious effects, but this really depends on the target and your location. The closer you are to the blast radius, the more immediate the danger. You may think it is foolish to watch TV and take it easy, but if you have planned and prepared and have ample supplies of food and survival goods, there is no reason to act otherwise. If you have not prepared, then going out to buy up supplies at the last minute will only add to the panic and endanger you. So take advantage of what may be your last day of calm and family togetherness.
    5. Understand What Panic May Do. If a large number of people learn of the nuclear exchange at the same time several things may be expected to happen at once:
      • Telephone lines and cell towers may be clogged as people immediately call loved ones to reassure themselves and discuss what to do.  You could have difficulty getting a call through.  If you have a good plan, you won’t need to call anyone because everyone will know what to do.
      • The Internet will also grow much busier and response times will slow, especially at news sites, as people look for breaking information.  Mobile browsing may be slow due to constrained cellular bandwidth, so surfing on a desktop or laptop at work or that uses DSL or cable at home may be faster.
      • A nuclear exchange will create tremendous economic disruption, and this will be reflected in the markets. The stock market may  crash until trading is suspended. And even when trading resumes, prices can be expected to continue to fall.    If there are bank runs, the government could declare a bank holiday.  It is also important to have some cash available if the ATMs are empty and the credit card machines go down.  Have some goods for barter if economic disruptions lasts due to global issues that go beyond the U.S. banking system.
      • Major roads may be jammed as people leave work and return home, creating a super rush hour. Other people will leave their homes for “safer” locations, such as friends in the country, vacation homes or even campgrounds. Clogged highways will be especially bad in cities and in areas with a limited numbers of bridges and tunnels, such as New York and Washington, D.C. This is a situation where violence could break out.  If you need to drive, try to use side streets and back roads.  In your planning, you should have identified the best route home and several alternates.
      • There may be lines or delays at gas stations as everyone decides to fill their tanks before it is “too late.” Some stations could run out of gas. Others may rise prices or ask for cash only. This is another situation where civil violence could break out.
      • People will shop for food and supplies, causing lines and shortages of everything from bread and milk to bottled water, batteries and toilet paper. Most grocery stores rotate their stock so quickly they have only a two to three day supply of key items in stock. Thanks to just-in-time production and distribution methods, if everyone panics and shops at one time, we could well see empty shelves very quickly.  (We recognize that this is not a natural disaster like a hurricane or a blizzard, but people may react like it is simply because that is what they have done in other emergencies.)  If you have planned appropriately, you won’t need to be part of this crowd because you will have ample supplies at home.
      • There may be civil unrest as people panic, especially if there are shortages at the grocery stores or if banks close due to a stock market crash. If local police forces are overwhelmed, this could escalate to riots and looting, especially in densely populated urban areas.  Avoid these areas and if unrest is present in your neighborhood, arm yourself and prepare to defend your home, your family and yourself.
      • Riots and civil unrest could cause general lawlessness, as law enforcement is overwhelmed and unable to respond to calls. Depending on where you live, you could be in danger form fires (arson), or you could be targeted for home invasion robberies and other acts of violence as the rule of law evaporates. You must guard against getting caught up in a riot or random acts of violence. Again, proper planning for this possibility will help you be prepared. Remember that the Korean merchants in South Central demonstrated the value of firearm ownership in this type of situation.

Having a plan can save you from getting caught up in the worst panic. Know where to go and what to do once you are there.

Once all family members are at home and you know whether or not there is local civil unrest, you can plan for the next few days or, better yet, implement your existing plan. Your key concerns will be protecting yourself and your loved ones from possible radiation dangers, making sure you are safe from local unrest, and ensuring that you have enough supplies to live through the next few weeks or even months.

We recommend you read the article on fallout for more information.