December 15, 2010

NUCLEAR SURVIVAL: Get Indoors And Stay There:

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.

But a problem for the Obama administration is how to spread the word without seeming alarmist about a subject that few politicians care to consider, let alone discuss. So officials are proceeding gingerly in a campaign to educate the public.

“We have to get past the mental block that says it’s too terrible to think about,” W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview. “We have to be ready to deal with it” and help people learn how to “best protect themselves.”

Officials say they are moving aggressively to conduct drills, prepare communication guides and raise awareness among emergency planners of how to educate the public.

They told me if I voted Republican, we’d be plunged deep into a scary 1950s-style pre-nuclear-war “duck and cover” posture. And they were right!

This is old news, though. Even back in the 1960s there were Civil Defense debates on whether 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. And although heavily mocked by antinuclear activists in the 1980s, the duck-and-cover advice from the 1950s was pretty good, considering, and would have saved many lives if it had been followed in the event of a nuclear attack.

But I love this:

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.” . . . White House officials say they are aware of the issue’s political delicacy but are nonetheless moving ahead briskly.

Entirely true, and I applaud them for pursuing this policy. 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. But is this the kind of change that Obama voters were expecting?

I doubt it, but once again InstaPundit was ahead of the curve. And so was Stanley Kurtz, who wrote back in 2006 that “We’ll be back to duck and cover if we don’t stop Iran first…” And here we are!

UPDATE: Rushing anti-radiation drugs to market? “Judging by the timeline for the anti-radiation drug program, U.S. officials see a rapidly escalating CBRN threat against the homeland over the next five years.” You’ll also want some iodine pills. And there’s some evidence that very large doses of Vitamin E have a protective effect, as I recall.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader C.J. Burch emails: “We’ve elected LBJ.” That’s silly. For that analogy to hold, we’d have to be involved in a foreign war that we’re not willing to win, but not willing to give up in, while dumping huge amounts of money into social programs that will wind up costing vastly more than predicted. And there’d have to be some sort of daisy-girl ad raising the nuclear threat but blaming some poor innocent small-government Republican.

MORE: A cogent objection from Rand Simberg: “Nonsense. LBJ knew how to wrangle Congress. He wasn’t led around by the nose by the Speaker and Majority Leader.”

And Jim Bennett writes:

Mocking duck and cover drills was always a display of ignorance. Duck and cover was taken from a straightforward analysis of casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the big conventional explosions like the Halifax harbor explosions. Of course if you’re at ground zero they are useless, but a great many people on the periphery were killed or blinded by glass shards or other splinters driven by the blast waves. Many of them would have been avoided by simple duck-and-cover procedures.

Well, yes. But the Venn diagram for “antinuclear activist” and “deep ignorance” always featured near-100% overlap. . . .

MORE STILL: “Did Obama and his people get a burst of Lileksian nostalgia? . . . It’s all of a piece with ‘we could absorb a terrorist attack’. What they’re telling you is that you’re going to get nuked, there’s nothing they can do about it, they have no intention of trying to do anything substantive about it, and the best thing for you to do is to learn to be a contortionist — it’s hard to bend over far enough to kiss your ass goodbye. . . . A strong America might well absorb a terrorist hit with little damage, even a nuclear one. A weak America, especially an America with weaklings in its highest offices, might very well feel it had something to prove, and that could be very dangerous to miscalculators — and more so to their innocent bystanders.”

STILL MORE: Reader D.K. Kittel writes:

Regarding your post on government recommendations for nuclear survival:

I am quite impressed to see anyone on the left actually studying and contemplating how best to handle a disaster and how best to release this valuable information.

It wasn’t too many years ago the newly formed Department of Homeland Security under then Secretary Ridge released a memo that stated how best to handle a disaster. That memo had numerous items listed included important things like keeping water and food supplies sufficient for at least 72 hours since that was the earliest you should expect help from the Federal Government.

Unfortunately that memo also included the, very accurate and potentially life saving I might add, information about keeping duct tape and plastic on hand (which online also referenced nuclear fallout I think)

It was pilloried by those on the left and it became the joke of the year. Everyone from Senator Reid to most liberal Congressmen and The Daily Show on down to Letterman and Leno ripped into this recommendation for days if not weeks. Oh they had some fun.

Unfortunately instead of helping to improve and support public safety and responsibility they chose to make political points.

A year and a half later Katrina hit. Hardly anyone in the primarily liberal districts hardest hit had ever heard the first 10 or so items on that list (if I recall it was 15 or so). They certainly didn’t have food or water stocks and how were they to know help would take at least 72 hours! If only the Government had let them know!!! Wait, they did but the left chose politics rather then reinforce the factual information in that memo. Lives could have been saved.

So to see Democrats putting public safety over scoring political points is quite a pleasant (if not a little tardy and a bit hypocritical) surprise.

Indeed. Meanwhile, Joe Hultquist writes:

I was in Switzerland in October, and we stayed in a downstairs apartment in a very nice Swiss couple’s home. We had access to their basement and laundry room, and to get there required walking by a room that had two doors for one opening. The inner door was pretty standard, but the outer door was approximately six inches thick, and made of solid concrete and steel. The same type of closure was mounted as an inside shutter for the only window, and there was a hand-cranked blower with a high-efficiency air filter in line. The room had reinforced concrete walls and ceiling. The owner told me that, in that canton, all new homes were required to have such a room until around 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Some cantons still require them, and even inspect them on an annual basis. We encountered an example of that while visiting some friends in Uster.

One only needs to spend a little time in Switzerland to realize just how well prepared they are for invasion, military threats and even nuclear attack. No wonder they haven’t been successfully invaded since the Romans occupied their land. And that, of course, predated the Confederation Helvetica. The message is clear: don’t mess with the Swiss.

Yes, the Swiss are off their game a bit these days, but they’re still way ahead of us. And another reader writes about fire dangers:

Incredibly, the word “fire” does not appear a single time in the NYT article. Color me skeptical of the “survivability” of a nuclear attack, at least in Southern California. . . . My guess is that if even a single “small” nuclear bomb went off just about anywhere in coastal Southern California, there’s a decent chance that *every* forest, city, town, and man made structure from Ensenada to Santa Barbara would burn to the ground in the following days, weeks, and months. Hundreds of thousands dead *by fire*, not blast or fallout, with many millions more displaced. Our “plan” for survival = GTFO.

Well, a terrorist bomb will likely be a surface-burst (or in a port, a water-burst if it’s smuggled on a ship, a plausible scenario) which will reduce the fire-setting role of the flash. But, yeah, if you read the report (and I skimmed it last night) they seem to be thinking mostly about NY or DC. Note, too, that sheltering for even a few hours can make a big difference. Following the old “rule of 7” the radiation is 1/10 its peak 7 hours later. (And 1/10 again — that is 1/100 at 7 x 7 hours — two days, basically). Also, of course, sometimes you’re just screwed, which is why nuclear attacks on one’s town are to be avoided if at all possible.

Here, by the way, are the shelter-in-place FAQs from

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