Gimme shelter

Illustrations by Andrew Roberts
Date:1 May 2011 Tags:

The demand for well-stocked fallout shelters has receded since the end of the Cold War. Today, another nuclear risk looms – a terrorist cell detonating a single nuclear weapon in a major city – and it requires different preparedness. In 2010, the US government released a 130-page publication designed to help local officials plan for the explosion of a 10-kiloton weapon. The publication instructs survivors (anyone outside the blast radius) to shelter where they are, preferably in a basement or other underground space.

It recommends waiting at least 12 hours before emerging; fallout drops by 90 per cent within seven hours of detonation. However, not all experts agree with the shelter-in-place campaign. Joseph Cirincione, the author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, says firestorms could turn such shelters into coffins. “The only true defence against a nuclear attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he says. – Sharon Weinberger

Livingroom to fallout shelter

A basement or underground area is the best location to hide from nuclear fallout, but what if you're stuck above ground? Janet Liebsch of Fedhealth, a Tucson-based publisher of disaster guides, says people in that situation should build an "expedient shelter". Here's how:

Step one:
Find a solid table, desk or workbench that is tall enough to fit survivors and supplies.

Step two:
Surround it with shielding, such as books, mattresses or furniture. A few centimetres of protection is enough to block radiation.

Step three:
Gather your supplies in the shelter. Don’t go overboard – you may need only 12 hours’ worth.

Step four:
Block the entrance, but include two small vents for air.

Hand-cranked radio: listen for updates on fire and radiation risks.
Bucket: use for personal sanitation.
Medicine: fill prescriptions so that you always have a few days’ worth.
Food: opt for snacks and bottled water.
Dosimeter: emerge when the pen-sized device detects low ionising radiation; a safe level depends on how long it will take to find new shelter. Paranoid? We have no idea what you mean.

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