- Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Hawaii ballistic-missile false alarm. Today’s post looks at what safety measures residents should take if an alert were sounded in Illinois.
The question on most people’s minds in the wake of the Jan. 13 ballistic-missile false alarm in Hawaii probably is: “What would I do if it happened here?”
As reported in yesterday’s article, the chances of a similar false alarm here in Illinois are extremely slim. That said, as unthinkable as it might be, there are recommended protocols and ways to prepare for and survive a nuclear-missile attack, and it’s only common sense for you to know what they are.
Distance, Shielding, Time
Ready.Gov, the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, says there are three factors for protecting yourself from radiation and fallout: distance, shielding and time.
According to a Business Insider report, a missile launched from North Korea, for example, would take 39 minutes and 30 seconds to reach Chicago. Clearly, that’s not a lot of time.
Obviously, the more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. Since there would not be enough time to go far, the best course of action is to look for a nearby shelter.
An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. (See graphic below.) For shielding, the heavier and denser the materials — thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth — between you and the fallout particles, the better.
After a nuclear blast, Ready.Gov says fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly.
“In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter,” the website says. “Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1 percent of its initial radiation level.”
What To Do In Case of a Ballistic Missile Alert
If you are at ground zero, there isn’t much you can do to prepare for a nuclear attack, but Kane County Office of Emergency Director Don Bryant says there are actions residents can take to survive in the aftermath.
“You’ve got two issues: the actual blast itself and the fallout,” Bryant said. “For the fallout issue, stay inside. Even in a home, you can seal off the home so you’re not drawing in air from the outside.”
The following are Ready.Gov preparedness actions and advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion.
Before a Nuclear Blast
Here are actions you can take to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of a nuclear blast.
- Build an Emergency Supply Kit.
- Make a Family Emergency Plan.
- Find out from officials in your city or village if any public buildings in your community have been designated as fallout shelters.
- If your community has no designated fallout shelters, make a list of potential shelters near your home, workplace and school, such as basements, subways, tunnels, or the windowless center area of middle floors in a high-rise building.
- During periods of heightened threat, increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.
During a Nuclear Blast
The following are guidelines for what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion.
- Listen for official information and follow the instructions provided by emergency response personnel.
- If an attack warning is issued, take cover as quickly as you can, below ground if possible, and stay there until instructed to do otherwise.
- Find the nearest building, preferably built of brick or concrete, and go inside to avoid any radioactive material outside.
- If better shelter, such as a multi-story building or basement can be reached within a few minutes, go there immediately.
- Go as far below ground as possible or in the center of a tall building.
- During the time with the highest radiation levels it is safest to stay inside, sheltered away from the radioactive material outside.
- Radiation levels are extremely dangerous after a nuclear detonation but the levels reduce rapidly.
- Expect to stay inside for at least 24 hours unless told otherwise by authorities.
- When evacuating is in your best interest, you will be instructed to do so. All available methods of communication will be used to provide news and / or instructions.
If You Are Caught Outside
- Do not look at the flash or fireball — it can blind you.
- Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
- Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.
- Take shelter as soon as you can, even if you are many miles from ground zero where the attack occurred — radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles.
- If you were outside during or after the blast, get clean as soon as possible, to remove radioactive material that may have settled on your body.
- Remove your clothing to keep radioactive material from spreading. Removing the outer layer of clothing can remove up to 90 percent of radioactive material.
- If practical, place your contaminated clothing in a plastic bag and seal or tie the bag. Place the bag as far away as possible from humans and animals so that the radiation it gives off does not affect others.
- When possible, take a shower with lots of soap and water to help remove radioactive contamination. Do not scrub or scratch the skin.
- Wash your hair with shampoo or soap and water. Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair, keeping it from rinsing out easily.
- Gently blow your nose and wipe your eyelids and eyelashes with a clean wet cloth. Gently wipe your ears.
- If you cannot shower, use a wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe your skin that was not covered by clothing.
- Nuclear Attack (link)
- Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation (link)
- American Red Cross (link)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Radiation Emergencies (link)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (link)
- Different Types of Emergency Alerts (link)