Friday, June 22, 2007

"The Day After - Action in the 24 Hours Following a Nuclear Blast in an American City"

Remember this from last month? ...

Government Initializing Emergency Survival Program for Nuclear Terror--New Civil Defense Fallout Shelters?

It was an initial report about a high-level government plan to prevent chaos in the wake of a nuclear terror attack on a US city or cities.

Now, a thank you to Michael who forwarded the link to the actual pdf report coming out of that government/academic workshop entitled "The Day After, Action in the 24 Hours Following a Nuclear Blast in an American City"

It's well worth reading the report for the group's insights and recommendations, and a view into the future US position on nuclear preparedness for the population of the country.

One of the recomendations as summarized in the report follows:

SHORT-TERM SHELTERING VERSUS PROMPT EVACUATION. Fallout shelters deserve a comeback. Radioactivity, and in particular radioactive fallout, poses a problem peculiar to nuclear terrorism. For most people in the city struck, their best bet to avoid serious radiation exposure would be to shelter below ground for three or so days until radiation levels had subsided and only then to evacuate the area. The alternative – mass and chaotic evacuation during the time when radiation dose rates are greatest – would result in large and unnecessary additional loss of life over and above the fatalities due to immediate blast, fire, and close-in fallout. But while sheltering in place is the plan that would be optimal for most people, it would run counter to their strong impulse to flee the area. For a comparatively few people just downwind of the detonation, moreover, sheltering would not in fact offer enough protection, and their only chance would be to leave as soon as possible, as fallout takes a finite time to reach the ground .

Two distinct fallout regions can be expected. In the smaller, close-in “hot” fallout region the dose over time will be so high that most sheltering will not be effective and evacuation, dangerous as it is, should be attempted. That area is limited, however, to a few square miles in addition to the area affected by blast and fire. People in the hot zone should be advised to leave as soon as possible, preferably during the time before most of the fallout settles. But the great majority of the people will be outside the hot zone, and for them sheltering in place will be the safest course of action.

In view of these facts, a new type of fallout shelter program – very different and much more practical than the 1950s-style civil defense program – should be promoted by the federal government as a cheap and effective way to minimize the radiation exposure of most people downwind of a nuclear terrorist attack. The Cold War “civil defense” shelter program was mocked because it could not offer realistic protection against an attack of thousands of warheads from the Soviet Union. But against one or a few terrorist nuclear weapons, sheltering in place is the best way for most people to protect themselves. The rate at which people are exposed to radiation (the dose rate) subsides in inverse proportion to the time after the blast. People outside the immediate downwind hot zone will receive a smaller dose of radiation if they shelter themselves for a period of three days or so (the recommended sheltering period can be determined and communicated by federal authorities at the time). If they try to leave on the first day when the radiation is strongest, they will receive a larger dose because they will be exposed to intense radiation as they walk or wait in traffic on clogged roads to evacuate. Shelters that will only be occupied for a few days do not need to be equipped with large stocks of food, water, and other supplies.

The absence of the sheltering population from the highways will have another benefit: it will permit emergency workers and those who need to evacuate from the hot zone to move freely. A mass and confused exodus from the city will expose the fleeing population to unnecessarily high doses of radiation and impede the movement of emergency personnel. To avoid this, federal and state officials and first responders should work out ahead of time plans for determining which roads in the affected area should be closed to the public for three days and which should remain open and for how long.

One way to persuade people to stay in shelters and off the roads would be to ascertain the direction of the fallout “plume” from the blast so citizens can be informed whether they are truly in the hot zone or not. Models at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, coupled with the daily weather forecast from the National Weather Service, can predict where the plume will drift and settle. A federal shelter in place program therefore should be accompanied by a rapid plume prediction capability. It should also be accompanied by a program of education for emergency workers and, to the extent possible the press, on the effects of radiation (for example, the fact that the dose rate subsides in proportion to the passage of time after the blast, see Recommendation 4 below). Even given better plans than now exist, putting those plans into practice will clearly be difficult and will require constantly updated communications to the public and all media as well as to first responders. Large-scale panic could lead to subsequent loss of life on a par with that in the detonation zone itself. Experience with previous wartime catastrophes shows that, with leadership and training, this unnecessary additional loss of life can be avoided.


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