William Broad’s article, “U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable,” which appeared in today’s New York Times, relays the Obama administration’s push for increased public awareness of what to do in the event of a nuclear blast.
Administration officials claim that the survivability from the fallout is greater than one might typically imagine. The key is getting to adequate shelter and staying put, rather than fleeing as most people might do in such a situation.
Even remaining sheltered for just a few hours would significantly reduced the number of fatalities from radioactive fallout, concludes a report from a multiagency modeling effort led by Lawrence Livermore Labs in California. The results from this model found that there would be approximately 285,000 casualties due to fallout a mile from ground zero if people did not seek shelter. Minimal protection (e.g. a car) would reduce this to 125,000 casualties, and shelters such as a basement would further reduce the number of casualties 45,000.
The report concluded that the best shelter is in a large office building or an underground garage.
What is problematic, however, is figuring out how to educate the public without causing undue fear or panic. Upon arriving in office, President Obama attempted to initiate a planning for disaster response, but was impeded by political roadblocks. Cities such as Las Vegas did not want to participate in mock disasters, claiming that it would reduce tourism.
The fact remains that public awareness and education is crucial. Broad notes that there was insufficient disaster planning for Hurricane Katrina, which, as we all know, led to a very uncomfortable moment between Kayne West and Mike Myers.
If we want to avoid future uncomfortable moments, it might make sense to pursue a disaster management program which educates the public about how to minimize the risks from fallout.
This would be a much better use of our time and resources than, say, preparing for the very unlikely event of thousands of incoming Russian ICBMs from which escape is almost impossible.