The threat of nuclear war has never gone away, but it’s definitely become more top-of-mind in recent days with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and after President Vladimir Putin put Russian nuclear forces on high alert.
The U.S. government has long urged people to be prepared for any disaster with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov campaign — including the event of a nuclear explosion.
Fallout from a nuclear explosion is the most dangerous for the first few hours following a detonation, according to the site. That’s when the highest levels of radiation occur.
“It takes time for fallout to arrive back to ground level, often more than 15 minutes for areas outside of the immediate blast damage zones. This is enough time for you to be able to prevent significant radiation exposure,” the site states.
Tips from Ready.gov for a nuclear explosion include:
- Get inside the nearest building to avoid radiation. Brick or concrete buildings are best.
- Remove contaminated clothing and wipe off or wash unprotected skin if you were outside after the fallout arrived.
- Go to the basement or middle of the building. Stay away from the outer walls and roof.
- Stay inside for 24 hours unless local authorities provide other instructions.
- Family should stay where they are inside. Reunite later to avoid exposure to dangerous radiation.
- Keep your pets inside.
- Tune into any media available for official information such as when it is safe to exit and where you should go.
“Nuclear explosions can cause significant damage and casualties from blast, heat, and radiation but you can keep your family safe by knowing what to do and being prepared if it occurs,” Ready.gov states. “A nuclear explosion may occur with or without a few minutes warning.”
The website states that battery-operated and hand-crank radios will function after a nuclear detonation but cell phones, text messaging, internet and television services might be disrupted or completely unavailable.
Ready.gov suggests removing all clothing that might be contaminated from radiation and taking a shower using soap and water. If you’re unable to shower, use a clean cloth to wipe skin and hair that was not covered during exposure.
“Hand sanitizer does not protect against fall out. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. Do not use disinfectant wipes on your skin,” the site states.
Other emergencies and disasters Ready.gov covers include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, power outages, tornadoes, wildfires and more.
Regarding Putin’s threat, Alexander Lanoszka, an assistant professor at the department of political science at the University of Waterloo, told Al Jazeera the Russian president’s announcement was a strategic mistake, of sorts.
“It seemed that it was an inevitable tactic played too early,” said Lanoszka. “For Putin, this might be problematic because future threats might not be believed. The United States, NATO, and the EU do not appear to be too fazed by it because we have observed no changes in the US, French, or British nuclear operations.”