Nuclear and Radiological Attack
For Home and Work
Nuclear explosions can cause deadly
effects—blinding light, intense
heat (thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, blast, fires started by the
heat pulse, and secondary fires caused by the
destruction. They also produce radioactive
particles called fallout that can be carried by wind for hundreds of miles.
Terrorist use of a radiological dispersion device (RDD)—often called ”dirty
nuke” or “dirty bomb”—is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear
device. These radiological weapons are a combination
conventional explosives and radioactive
material designed to scatter dangerous
and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive
material over a general area. Such radiological weapons appeal to terrorists
because they require very little technical knowledge to build and deploy
compared to that of a nuclear device. Also, these
radioactive materials, used widely in
medicine, agriculture, industry and research, are much more readily available
and easy to obtain compared to weapons grade uranium or plutonium.
Terrorist use of a nuclear device would probably be limited to a single smaller
“suitcase” weapon. The strength of such
weapon would be in the range of the bombs used during World War II. The
nature of the effects would be the same as a weapon delivered by an
missile, but the area and severity of the
effects would be significantly more limited.
There is no way of knowing how much warning time there would be before an attack
by a terrorist using a nuclear or radiological weapon. A surprise attack
remains a possibility.
The danger of a massive strategic nuclear attack on the United States involving
many weapons receded with the end of the Cold War. However, some terrorists
have been supported by nations that have nuclear weapons programs.
there were a threat of an attack from a hostile nation, people living near
potential targets could be advised to evacuate or they could decide on their own
to evacuate to an area not considered a likely target. Protection from
radioactive fallout would require taking shelter in an underground area, or in
the middle of a large building.
general, potential targets include:
Strategic missile sites and military bases
Centers of government, such as Washington, D.C.
or state capitals
Important transportation and communication
Manufacturing, industrial, technology and
Petroleum refineries, electrical power plants
and chemical plants
Major airfields and shipping ports
Taking shelter during a nuclear attack is absolutely necessary. There are two
kinds of shelters—blast and fallout.
Blast shelters offer some protection against blast pressure, initial radiation,
heat and fire, but even a blast shelter could not withstand a direct hit from a
Fallout shelters do not need to be specially constructed for that purpose. They
can be any protected space, provided that the walls and roof are thick and dense
enough to absorb the radiation given off by fallout particles. The three
protective factors of a fallout shelter are shielding, distance, and time.
Shielding.The heavier, dense materials—thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and
earth—between you and the fallout particles the better.
The more distance between you and the fallout particles the better. An
underground area, such as a home or office building basement, offers more
protection than the first floor of a building. A floor near the middle of a
high-rise may be better, depending on what is nearby at that level on which
significant fallout particles would collect. Flat roofs collect fallout
particles so the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a
neighboring flat roof.
Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able
to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to
people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1% of
its initial radiation level.
Remember that any protection, however temporary, is better than none at all, and
the more shielding, distance and time you can take advantage of, the better.
addition to other effects, a nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth’s
atmosphere can create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical
field. EMP acts like a stroke of lightning but is stronger, faster and briefer.
EMP can seriously damage electronic devices connected to power sources or
antennas. This includes communication systems, computers, electrical
appliances, and automobile or aircraft ignition systems. The damage could range
from a minor interruption to actual burnout of components. Most electronic
equipment within 1,000 miles of a high-altitude nuclear detonation could be
affected. Battery powered radios with short antennas generally would not be
Although EMP is unlikely to harm most people, it could harm those with
pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices.
What to do before a nuclear or radiological attack
Be alert and listen to your local news and radio stations.
Assemble and maintain a disaster supply kit with food, water,
medications, fuel and personal items adequate for up to 2
weeks—the more the better.
Find out what public buildings in your community may have been
designated as fallout shelters. It may have been years
ago, but start there, and learn which buildings are still in use and could be
designated as shelters
Call your local emergency management office.
Look for yellow and black fallout shelter signs on public buildings. Note: With
the end of the Cold War, many of the signs have been removed from the buildings
no noticeable or official designations have been made, make your own list of
potential shelters near your home, workplace and school: basements, or the
windowless center area of middle floors in high-rise buildings, as well as
subways and tunnels.
Give your household clear instructions about where fallout shelters are located
and what actions to take in case of attack.
The City of Santa
Clarita has designated all high school gymnasiums, the College of the Canyons
gymnasium, the Community Center in Newhall and the Sports Complex in Canyon
Country as emergency shelters.
If you live in an apartment building or high-rise, talk to the manager
about the safest place in the building for sheltering, and about providing for
building occupants until it is safe to go out.
There are few public shelters in many suburban and rural areas. If you are
considering building a fallout shelter at home, keep the following in mind:
basement, or any underground area, is the best place to shelter from fallout.
Often, few major changes are needed, especially if the structure has two or more
stories and its basement—or one corner of it—is below ground.
Fallout shelters can be used for storage during non-emergency periods, but only
store things there that can be very quickly removed. (When they are removed,
dense, heavy items may be used to add to the shielding.)
All the items you will need for your stay need not be stocked inside the shelter
itself but can be stored elsewhere, as long as you can move them quickly to the
Learn about your community’s evacuation plans. Such plans may include
evacuation routes, relocation sites, how the public will be notified and
transportation options for people who do not own cars and those who have special
What to do
during a nuclear or radiological attack:
Do not look at the flash or fireball—it can blind you
If you hear an attack warning:
Take cover as quickly as you can (if you are alone and outside, HEAD TO THE
GYMNASIUM or, if you are outside with students, ESCORT YOUR STUDENTS TO THE
GYMNASIUM, and stay there until instructed to do otherwise. You must hurry.
After receiving a warning, you have very little time to find shelter.
you are caught outside, unable to get inside immediately, take cover behind
anything that might offer protection. Lie flat on the ground and cover your
If you are inside,
STAY INSIDE. Move as far away from windows as possible and get under as much
cover as possible, e.g., desks, tables, etc. Remain in that location until you
receive other instructions.
the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the
blast wave to hit.
Protect yourself from radioactive fallout. If you are close enough to
see the brilliant flash of a nuclear explosion, the fallout will arrive in about
20 minutes. Take shelter, even if you are many miles from ground
zero—radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles.
Remember the three protective factors: shielding, distance and time.
Keep a battery-powered radio with you, and listen for official
information. Follow the instructions given. Local instructions
should always take precedence: officials on the ground know the local situation
What to do after a nuclear or radiological attack:
Do not leave the shelter until officials say it is safe. Follow their
instructions when leaving.
If in a fallout shelter, stay in your shelter until local authorities
tell you it is permissible or advisable to leave. The length of
your stay can range from a day or two to four weeks.
Contamination from a radiological dispersion device could affect a wide area,
depending on the amount of conventional explosives used, the quantity of
radioactive material and atmospheric conditions.
“suitcase” terrorist nuclear device detonated at or near ground level would
produce heavy fallout from the dirt and debris sucked up into the mushroom cloud.
missile-delivered nuclear weapon from a hostile nation would probably cause an
explosion many times more powerful than a suitcase bomb, and provide a
greater cloud of radioactive fallout.
The decay rate of the radioactive fallout would be the same, making it necessary
for those in the areas with highest radiation levels to remain in shelter for
up to a month.
The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the
explosion, and 80% of the fallout would occur during the first 24 hours.
Because of these facts and the very limited number of weapons terrorists could
detonate, most of the country would not be affected by fallout.
People in most of the areas that would be affected could be allowed to come out
of shelter and, if necessary, evacuate to unaffected areas within a few days.
Although it may be difficult, make every effort to maintain sanitary
conditions in your shelter space.
Water and food may be scarce. Use them prudently but do not impose
severe rationing, especially for children, the ill or
Cooperate with shelter managers. Living with many people in confined
space can be difficult and unpleasant.
Returning to your home:
Keep listening to the radio for news about what to do, where to go, and
places to avoid.
If your home was within the range of a bomb’s shock wave, or you live in a
high-rise or other apartment building that experienced a non-nuclear explosion, check first
for any sign of collapse or damage, such as:
Toppling chimneys, falling bricks, collapsing walls, plaster falling from
Fallen light fixtures, pictures and mirrors;
Broken glass from windows;
Overturned bookcases, wall units or other fixtures;
Fires from broken chimneys; and
Ruptured gas and electric lines.
Immediately clean up
spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids, and other potentially hazardous
Listen to your
battery-powered radio for instructions and information about community services.
Monitor the radio and
your television for information on assistance that may be provided. Local,
state and federal governments and other organizations will help meet emergency
needs and help you recover from damage and losses.
Broken water mains and
fallen power lines may aggravate the danger at hand.
If you turned gas,
water and electricity off at the main valves and switch before you went to
Do not turn the gas
back on. The gas company will turn it back on for you or you will receive other
Turn the water back
on at the main valve only after you know the water system is working and water
is not contaminated.
back on at the main switch only after the gas company has checked your home for
gas leaks, you know the wiring is undamaged in your home and the
community electrical system is functioning.
Check to see that
sewage lines are intact before using sanitary facilities.