Today, I got a call from a client wanting to update their Business Contingency Plan to address fallout from a nuclear attack. This is not entirely surprising, given the escalation of North Korea’s threats against Guam and the United States.

The Millennials have long enjoyed a “peace dividend”, courtesy of President Ronald Reagan’s peace-through-strength policies, that have now been entirely spent. Perhaps realizing this, internet searches on surviving a nuclear attack have exploded in the last 48 hours.

Baby boomers, such as myself, are trying to remember our duck-and-cover lessons.

To seriously address my client’s query, I did some research and located some guides from the Ventura County Health Department that were both informative and potentially useful. Out of concerns for a “dirty bomb”, this California department launched a PSA campaign in 2013 called “Ready” that aimed to educate Americans how to survive a nuclear attack.

The accompanying brochure emphasizes, “Get inside. Stay Inside”. Stay Tuned.” The new information negates “Duck and Cover” entirely.

While the Ventura County information may prove useful for a “dirty bomb”, what are the chances for survival if a thermonuclear warhead is detonated? A recent analysis of a nuclear incident over the Bay Area paints a grim picture:

…First, there would be an explosion — a fireball roughly a third of a mile wide with temperatures equal to the surface of the sun. A blast wave would knock down most buildings within a half-mile of the explosion. A flash of thermal energy would burn exposed people within a mile of the detonation and temporarily blind those looking toward it. Up to several miles away from the detonation, there would be less severe damage, like shattered windows.

Then, there would be deadly radiation. Debris from the explosion would be sucked upwards into a giant mushroom cloud and then carried downwind. This would be the threat that concerns most of us: Falling particles the size of grains of sands sprinkling down across the Bay Area would emit gamma rays that could give people severe radiation poisoning.

The most dangerous zone would be 10 to 20 miles downwind of the explosion, while some fallout could occur 100 miles away or farther, depending on the magnitude of the explosion.

Of course, dealing with radiation sickness is a major focus. Since the first nuclear weapons were used in Japan to end World War II, various medical treatments have been developed to treat the effects of radiation. Interestingly, some companies are developing innovative cell therapy countermeasures as potential options.

I suspect many contingency plans across the nation will receive an update shortly, as many state and local officials realize that the old civil defense plans need to be dusted off and revised.

The American Civil Defense Association was organized in 1962 in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It offers information on how to prepare for an array of emergencies, noting:

Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions among Americans is that if a major wide-scale nuclear, biological or chemical disaster strikes, chances of survival would be extremely low.

In reality, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many will survive, and most will not be prepared.

I hope we don’t need to respond to a nuclear attack. I would suggest that it would be wise if we take some time this week to do an assessment of emergency preparedness for the types of emergencies we are most apt to experience (e.g., earthquakes), and perhaps keep a few of the tips from the Ventura County brochure in mind (like making sure you have an emergency radio and spare batteries). That may be a reasonable place to start.

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