The following guidance is based on research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA)The following guidance is based on research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA)
Nuclear Explosion- An explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave and widespread dispersion of radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a large weapon carried by a missile to a small portable nuclear device transported by an individual.
Nuclear Fallout - Minute particles of radioactive debris that descend slowly from the atmosphere after a nuclear explosion.1
Radiation - Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels at the speed of light. This energy has an electric field and a magnetic field associated with it, and has wave-like properties.
How to Survive Nuclear Fallout
Three factors for protecting yourself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding and time:
Distance - 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.
Shielding - The heavier and denser the materials - thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth - between you and the fallout particles, the better.
Time - 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 percent of its initial radiation level.
Before a Nuclear Explosion
The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of a nuclear blast:
Find out from officials 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. Potential shelters can be places such as basements, subways, tunnels, or the windowless center area of middle floors in a high-rise building.
There are multiple options in which the public will receive a notification about a Nuclear or Radiation Emergency. It is crucial that the public seek out and obtain beforehand the best means for immediate notification in their community.
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 unless directed otherwise by authorities.
Find the nearest building, preferably built of brick or concrete, and go inside to avoid any radioactive material outside.
Go as far below ground as possible or, if that is not possible, to the center of a tall building.
If possible, turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring air in from the outside. Close fireplace dampers.2
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. In some circumstances, you may need to shelter in place for as long as one month.
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 and unable to get inside immediately:
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.
If you must be outside and cannot get inside immediately, cover your mouth and nose with a mask, cloth, or towel. This can help reduce the amount of potentially harmful particles you breathe.3
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.
Radiation Recovery - After a Nuclear Explosion
People in most of the areas that would be affected could be allowed to come out of shelter within a few days and, if necessary, evacuate to unaffected areas. The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the explosion. It might be necessary for those in the areas with highest radiation levels to shelter for up to a month.
Getting inside a building and staying there is called "sheltering in place." Once you get in a building, there are things you can do to stay safe inside. Staying inside for at least 24 hours can protect you and your family until it is safe to leave the area, but based on your location, the source of the radiation and other factors, local officials may advise to shelter in place for as long as a month Always listen for additional instructions from emergency officials which will clarify any concerns regarding health and security.
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% 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.
Coping with Sheltering-in-Place
You can take actions that will help protect emotional well-being during a shelter-in-place emergency.
Remain informed, if possible, by checking in with local news sources. Take care to ensure that reports are from credible sources.
Excessive or repeated exposure to media can increase feelings of stress, uncertainty and fear, especially in children.
Pay attention to your emotional health while sheltering in place, remembering that many different feelings are common.
Know that others are also experiencing emotional reactions and may need your time and patience to put their feelings and thoughts in order. Try to recognize when you or those around you may need extra support.
Monitor your physical health needs. When sheltering in place for more than a few hours remember to eat, rest and take regularly prescribed medications.
Focus on positive actions you can take right away, such as taking an inventory of emergency supplies, obtaining accurate information and providing support to others.
This guidance was reviewed by the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. The Council is a panel of nationally recognized experts drawn from a wide variety of scientific, medical and academic disciplines. For more information on the Scientific Advisory Council, visit redcross.org/science.