A Survivor’s Guide to Nuclear War
With all the talk about World War 3, can we survive if nuclear war does come? Will civilization end? The short answer is, No, life will go on! This primer will arm you with the information you need to survive and, over time, thrive in a post-nuclear world.
This blog to follow up on a series of questions readers had from my recent blog, “Nuclear war, what’s in it for you?” which is a primer on nuclear weapons systems, nuclear war strategy, the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and the impact of radiation on the human body—everything you need to know now that Cold War 2.0 is in full swing.
This blog posting, “A Survivor’s Guide to Nuclear War,” will look at what an average person (not a doomsday prepper – no offense to the well prepared) can do to improve their chance of survival and stand a very good chance of thriving in what would become a brave new world. Here is what we’ll cover:
Basic Survival Steps. If Nothing Else, Do This!
Fallout – the Invisible Killer: fallout, fallout patterns, and the effects of radiation exposure on humans
EMP - Electromagnetic Pulse and what to do about it.
Extended Supplies for Survival
A Brave New World: Long Term Survival and Reconstruction
There’s a lot to unpack, so here we go …
Basic Survival Steps: If Nothing Else, Do This!
Human survival depends on having a hierarchy of our physical needs being met. Our survival depends on a very simple rule known as “The Rule of Threes.” Three minutes without air, we fall unconscious and die. Three days without water, our organs start failing, and we die. Three weeks without food, we have organ failure and, in some cases, infection resulting in death.
In the case of nuclear war, we have to add a new rule: Radiation exposure. We need to limit our radiation exposure to 100 REM to avoid ARS, Acute Radiation Syndrome (i.e., radiation sickness). Beyond 100 REM, we increase our percentage chance of death by ARS until our exposure reaches 1000 REM, certain death (i.e., 100%).
In the event of a nuclear attack, you’ll have a very short warning period before the warheads begin to strike. Depending on your location, the warning can be as little as 10 minutes for an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) attack in Europe to no more than 30 minutes for an intercontinental ballistic missile attack from Russia or China on the United States. What do you do?
Rule 1 – Gather your Survival Supplies and Take Shelter IMMEDIATELY
Ideally, you will shelter in a basement or an interior room in your home without windows. This tends to be a bathroom. Live in an apartment? Get to the basement or an enclosed stairwell near the ground floor. Assuming you’re not in the nuclear blasts vaporization or major damage zone, there’s a large light damage zone (blast pressure ~1 psi) where buildings are intact, but almost every window will shatter. Keep in mind that the force of the blast will drive shattered glass like shrapnel from a grenade. A severe injury will result.
If the best shelter location does have a window, you have two choices:
Have a precut piece of plywood in your survival kit and screw or nail it over the window.
Cover the entire window with duct tape to minimize the glass shatter effect. Stay low and out of the line where shattered glass will likely fly.
Gather your family and pets in your shelter area and wait for the blast. Nuclear attacks happen in waves, and you may have to take shelter and stay sheltered for several days and up to two weeks. So be prepared.
Also, never look at a blast! Depending on the location, you have a good chance of being blinded or possible 2nd or 3rd-degree burns. If you are sheltered, you eliminate this risk!
Rule 2 Store Critical Electronics in a Makeshift Faraday Cage
Nuclear weapons detonations create both a shock wave and an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can destroy most electronics. Both blast and EMP effects fall off the further you are from the blast center until they have no appreciable effect, with one exception, which we’ll discuss later.
It only takes 30 seconds to save your iPhone/smartphone, iPad/PC, portable radio, and other small electronics from EMP. Your electronics must be protected in a makeshift Faraday cage. A Faraday cage is a protective enclosure that prevents electromagnetic radiation from entering or exiting. All you need is an insulator around your device and place it in a sealed metal container. You can use a plastic bag, plastic food wrap, or paper for the insulator. Folded aluminum foil can serve as a metal container. Yes, it’s that simple - a plastic bag and foil!
Place your device in a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic or paper to insulate it. Seal the insulated device in aluminum foil, carefully folding every seam making sure the device is completely sealed.
Loose lead-acid, alkaline, or lithium-ion batteries don’t need protection and are unaffected by EMP. That is not true of portable battery/charger packs or battery chargers themselves. Anything with electronics like chargers or battery packs must go in a temporary faraday cage.
Rule 3 Remain In Your Shelter – under no circumstance go outside or open any windows
Fallout can travel 10s even 100s of miles. For example, the fallout from a strike on San Antonio, TX, will blanket Austin, TX, and be more hazardous than direct fallout from a nuclear strike on Austin. Radiation is a silent and unseen killer. Unless you have a Geiger counter, you have no idea about the local radiation level. Assume the worse. Assume you are in a heavy fallout zone with radiation of 100s, even 1000s of RADs an hour. Your goal is to keep as much mass and distance (i.e., walls, floors, ceilings, etc.) as possible between you and the outside world. Subways and underground fallout shelters are always preferred if available. Unfortunately, deep underground shelters are NOT available for most of us.
There are lite damage and heavy damage zones associated with a nuclear detonation. Structures in the lite damage zone will have minor structural damage except for shattered windows. Shattered windows allow fallout to penetrate deeper into your home or apartment, degrading the effectiveness of your shelter. After the initial shock wave, a handful of minutes exists to limit fallout contamination through shattered windows before fallout descends around the immediate blast area.
While precut plywood would be ideal, heavy-duty plastic tarp material will suffice to cover broken windows or sliding glass door openings.
Select part or all of the home or apartment to cover, cover off a hallway if necessary.
Breakoff and clear any remaining glass in the window opening
Cut the plastic tarp, allowing an extra 2” along each dimension (Note: having plastic precut and marked would be a tremendous help)
Staple (the recommended method) the plastic starting at the top, moving to the sides and bottom
Run duct tape along all the edges and the floor for sliding glass doors to seal the barrier
Glass will be in short supply or unobtainable for quite some time when “the dust settles.” Having kit available to cover all your windows is an inexpensive insurance policy for tornados, severe thunder/hail storms, hurricanes, or nuclear war.
Rule 4 Have Supplies to Remain in Shelter a Minimum of 2 Days, and Ideally 2 Weeks
Some good news, as we’ll discuss in greater depth later in this blog - the immediate radiation hazard of fallout dissipates quickly.
Radiation levels fall by a factor of 100 in 48 hours - brief outdoor exposure possible
Radiation levels fall by a factor of 1000 in 2 weeks - outdoor exposure is marginally safe
Now that we've established the need to shelter for up to two weeks, here is a quick rundown of the supplies you'll need.
Water is the most critical item. You can live without food for three weeks but only 3 days without water
Adults need 1 gallon of water per day, 14 gallons for 2 weeks, half for drinking and half for cooking and cleaning
For your pets, 1 ounce of water per pound of weight per day
Use a bathtub as water reserve – a typical bathtub holds over 40 gallons of water. Fill your bathtub and shut the door to the bathroom before you shelter. After a minimum of 48 hours of shelter, you can return and use this as a water refill cache.
Food: An adult needs 2000 calories a day. Emergency food needs to be ready to eat. Cooking will be prohibited or even hazardous in a cramped emergency shelter-in-place situation. Dried rice, beans, and other dried food are great as long-term food supplements but require cooking in boiling water to be edible. Expensive freeze-dried meals or military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are not required.
Staples: canned beans, canned meat, stew, granola bars, protein bars, trail mix, and dried nuts will suffice.
Fruits and vegetables: V8 or tomato juice is all you need. Supplement with canned fruit and vegetables if desired. Eat any fresh fruits and vegetables on hand first.
Pet food as appropriate.
Don’t forget a can opener and some utensils!
Optional: Vitamins and freeze-dried fruit and vegetable supplements (Balance of Nature, Texas superfood, etc.)
Sanitation in a confined shelter space is critical. Even if a toilet is available, sewage lines will back up. Water must be saved for drinking, not flushing toilets. Adults create between one and two quarts of urine and excrement a day. Bathing will not be possible due to water conservation, but efficient hand, face, and body sponge baths are possible. Here’s a short sanitation supply list:
Use 5 gallon sealed lid buckets as a temporary latrine. One bucket holds ten days of one adult’s waste along with pet waste. By day nine or so, a short excursion outside can be used to empty and reuse. Your “latrine buckets” are handy to carry your supplies to your shelter.
Toilet paper - one roll per person per week
Paper towels to clean up pet waste and general usage- one roll per person per week, one role per pet per week
Liquid or bar soap
Trash bags for all other garbage
Optional: Several changes of clothes (see Dry Decontamination)
Optional: toothbrush, toothpaste, etc
Finally, we have a few other items that will come in handy:
First aid kits
Disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide, etc.
Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife
Flashlights, lanterns, and the backup batteries to run them – the shelter will have no windows
Old school AM/FM battery-powered radio and the backup batteries run it
Optional: Geiger counter. ~$500+ for a quality unit, must be EMP protected in a Faraday bag
Here is a useful link to the FEMA recommended Emergency Check List- Fema Checklist
Rule 5 Use Dry Decontamination Procedures for Out of Shelter Excursions
Contamination is likely for any excursion outside the shelter during the first two weeks as radiation levels fall to a moderately safe level. Anyone venturing out is exposed to blowing dirt and fallout debris, especially on their shoes. Decontamination procedures are necessary to minimize fallout contaminates entering the shelter creating a further hazard to the sheltered group members.
When water is available, the standard decontamination procedure is to hose down the individual, remove all clothes and shoes, hose down again, and finally dress in fresh clothes and shoes. The old wet clothes are washed twice for reuse.
No running water? Use dry decontamination procedure during two weeks of shelter period to conserve water. All clothes and shoes are removed and placed in a trash bag. Sponge bath all exposed skin and hair with wet paper towels. Dry with paper towels and place all paper towels in the contaminated trash bag. The individual dresses in a fresh set of clothes to return to the group. Once the water and other services are restored, the clothes can be washed (twice) and reclaimed.
Lacking a change of clothes, individuals that venture outside should segregate from the group, especially children. Do not let your pets outside for any reason. Pets must be washed down for decontamination.
Rule 6 Situational Awareness. Get informed, First by Wireless, then by Foot Reconnaissance
Information is critical. If you experienced a strong damaging shock wave, cellular and/or wifi hotspots are likely destroyed or damaged. AM/FM radio will be your best option to get information. Everyone is sheltering in place for at least 48 hours, so don’t be surprised that you can’t find a signal during that period. Keep trying periodically and conserve your batteries.
One-way broadcast satellite (DVB in Europe, Direct TV, Dish, etc.) and two-way satellite data services (Hughes Net, SpaceX Starlink, Eutelsat. Etc.) will be invaluable. Assuming you have a power source and your equipment was undamaged by EMP (or you protected it in a faraday cage), the satellites in these systems will be untouched. Ground stations that feed these satellite networks could be damaged or destroyed in the nuclear exchange. However, backup satellite ground stations will come online and restore some level of communications. That’s the plan, at least.
Regardless of the state of wireless communications, it’s only natural to conduct short reconnaissance trips outside of your shelter to check on neighbors, contact authorities, and survey the damage. Remember to limit your exposure time to a few hours in the first week and no more than twice that during the second week.
Now that we’ve covered the 6 basic rules for survival, let’s take a deep dive into fallout.
Fallout – The Invisible Killer
Understanding fallout, fallout patterns, and the effects of radiation exposure on humans is critical to survival. This section will provide the basics. We’ll start with a rather sad hypothetical scenario to make a point. Here is a brief scenario to make my point:
Jorge Laurent, his wife Cheri, ten-year-old son Hugo, and five-year-old daughter, Annette, were sitting down to breakfast at their home on Rue Georges Magneir in the Paris suburb of Saint- Dennis when the air raid sirens started. Unaware of what could have raised the alarm, Cheri turned on the TV to find warnings of an imminent nuclear attack and take immediate shelter. Jorge and Cheri grabbed Hugo and Annette and quickly made their way to their small root cellar basement. Jorge, realizing in their panic that he’d taken no supplies, promptly ran back to the kitchen pantry and brought a few bottles of water and some snacks. Their pantry was bare, and the family planned to go grocery shopping at the nearby Carrefour grocery after breakfast.
Jorge had barely gotten back in the cellar when the first of two Russian intermediate-range ballistic missiles struck the center of Paris and a military communications facility west of the city. Within minutes the shockwave from central Paris created the roar of a jet engine and shook their house like an earthquake. The children screamed and cried, and Jorge and Cheri did their best to calm them down. A second less intense shock wave arrived a few minutes later, then silence.
The family sat in stunned silence for twenty minutes. With their cell phones dead from EMP and no food in the house, the Laurents emerged from their shelter to find their house intact, and every window shattered (i.e., Lite Damage Zone). A lite grey dust blew through the windows covering the interior rooms of the Laurent’s home in highly radioactive fallout. Jorge checked his car - it was dead. Jorge and Cheri agreed on a plan. Jorge would walk to Carrefour to get emergency supplies while Cheri stayed with Hugo and Annette.
Jorge and Cheri had never seriously thought about nuclear war in their entire lives. After all, nuclear war was an “American problem,” not one for the French. They had no idea that the lite grey dust in their home and on the streets was the fallout from two nuclear detonations. They had no idea that Saint-Denis was in the path of maximum fallout intensity, over 3000 rads, per hour. In less than an hour, both Jorge and his family lay unconscious, stricken with Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), dying an hour later. Sadly, if the Laurents had remained in shelter for 48 hours, they would have survived.
As stated earlier, radiation from fallout is a silent killer. More importantly, fallout radiation will be widespread in a large-scale nuclear war. These example fallout maps from military target strikes of the US and the UK make a clear point - just after the onset of hostilities, fallout will blanket most of both countries. These maps are just an example. Fallout coverage could be much worse. The point is… No matter where you live, you must shelter in place as a precaution.
Radioactive fallout and radiation impact on humans
Fallout consists of weapon debris, fission products, and in the case of a ground burst weapon, radiated soil. Fallout particles vary in size from thousandths of a millimeter to several millimeters. Much of the fallout material falls directly back down close to ground zero within several minutes of the detonation, but some travel high into the atmosphere. Fallout’s radiation hazard comes from radioactive fission fragments with half-lives of seconds to a few months. Areas that experience surface weapons strikes will have fallout radiation levels of 1000 rads per hour close to blast center, falling to levels of 10 rad per hour, 100s of km away. In these areas, fallout exposure is more dangerous than the blast itself. For the survivors of a nuclear war, contamination from long-lived radioactive isotopes like strontium 90, iodine 131, or cesium 137 could represent a longer-term but manageable health risk
Based on open-air nuclear tests performed by the US in the 1940s and 1950s, the primary hazard arises from external exposure to penetrating gamma rays released from the decaying fallout particles rather than from breathing or ingestion. Early fallout particles tend to be large particles, the size of salt and sand, and they are not easily inhaled. Internal exposure (eating or drink particles) is generally orders of magnitude below external exposure as a relative hazard. In fact, one study puts the ratio of external to internal radiation exposure a better than 100 to 1. Crops exposed to fallout are edible and moderately safe after several weeks of fallout decay.
Turning to the impacts of longer-lasting fallout elements, Potassium iodide (KI) tablets help protect the body from iodine-131 isotopes that are naturally absorbed by the human thyroid gland. Strontium-90 behaves like calcium in the human body and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Thus, strontium 90 is referred to as a “bone seeker,” and exposure will increase the risk for several diseases, including bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. Cesium 137 can cause burns, acute radiation sickness, and even death. Internal exposure to Cs-137, through ingestion or inhalation, allows the radioactive material to be distributed in the soft tissues, especially muscle tissue, exposing these tissues to beta particles and gamma radiation and increasing cancer risk.
Except for strontium 90, iodine 131, or cesium 137, most of the fallout radioactive elements have half-lives of seconds to minutes. Within 48 hours of a nuclear blast, the radioactive hazard of fallout decreases by a factor of 100. It is critical to shelter in place and minimize fallout exposure for two days minimum, with two weeks recommended if at all possible. Get to the lowest possible floor and the center of any building to maximize protection.
Survivors must limit their radiation exposure to avoid ARS, Acute Radiation Syndrome (aka. radiation sickness). Human radiation exposure is measured in REM (roentgen equivalent man), the body’s exposure of 1 rad of radiation. The onset ARS begins within two days of exposure and usually presents with nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, and even loss of consciousness at higher doses. Doses over 1000 REM quickly lead to unconsciousness and death in hours, not days. Here is a summary of REM exposure and expected health impacts from the CDC:
0.62 REM – normal dose of radiation a typical person receives in a year
1.0 REM - Dose received during a typical CT (Computerized Tomography) scan
50 REM - Dose that causes damage to blood cells
100 REM – The lowest dose that could cause ARS - acute radiation syndrome.Risk for getting cancer moves from 22% to 27%
400 REM - Dose that results in death for 50% of those who receive it
1000 REM - Dose that results in death for 100% of those who receive it
Radiation is invisible. Unless you have a Geiger counter, you have no way of knowing what the rad levels are in your area. If, for any reason, after the blast, you lived in an area with 100 rad per hour fallout radiation, 4 hours in the open would result in 400 REM exposure, giving you a 50% chance of getting ARS. Two days later, the radiation level would fall to ~ 1 rad, and the same 4 hours would be a tolerable 4 REM.
The logic behind sheltering in place rather than evacuation is simple. Evacuation would leave you exposed during the fallout period. Better to take your chances in shelter than face certain death by ARS from radiation exposure. While a Geiger counter would be invaluable early in sheltering and recovery, it is not a necessity. Assume you are in a heavy fallout area and shelter patiently – better safe than DEAD!
EMP - Electromagnetic Pulse and What to do about it
If you have experienced electronic damage from a nearby lightning strike or power/communications outages from solar flare activity, you’ve experienced EMP. EMP is a short-duration energy pulse across a broad spectrum of radio frequencies. EMP can be powerful enough to melt wire and “fry” the electronics in the circuit boards of any electronic device. At lower levels, EMP will cause “UPSETS” - blow breakers and fuses, reset of electronics, and recoverable power and communications outages. EMP is generally harmless to humans – unless they have a heart pacemaker other electric health devices.
The EMP from nuclear weapons is more intense and of slightly longer duration than natural sources, and hence it is more destructive. There are two types of EMP we need to be concerned with:
Source Region EMP (SREMP), created by nuclear weapons detonated at lower altitudes or near the earth’s surface. Any city or installation targeted by a nuclear weapon will experience SREMP
High-altitude EMP (HEMP), from a nuclear detonation at 15 or more miles above the earth’s surface.
Source Region EMP (SREM) is a by-product of any nuclear weapon detonated at low altitude. In the first tenth of a second, the blast creates an intense burst of gamma rays, producing SREMP fields of a few kV/m (thousand volts per meter) that can penetrate up to 1Km into the earth. The SREMP fields couple with burried cables, ariel cables, building and communications wires (Ethernet cable), creating destructive energy roughly 10 times larger than severe lighting. Unconnected electronics like cellphones, tablets, cordless phones, and laptops couple to these EMP fields and are likewise damaged.
Fortunately, the effects of SREMP are limited to a few kilometers (km) for unconnected electronics. For communications and power cables emanating from ground zero, the damage can extend over 100Km. Here are a few examples of damage and upset radius for a 100 kilotons nuclear weapon:
Cellphone handset: damage 1.72 Km, upset: 2.5 Km (~ same distance as detonation major damage zone)
Celluar micro-cell antenna pickup: damage 0.57 Km, upset: 0.95 Km
200-foot cell tower antenna pickup: damage 2.99 Km, upset: 16.25Km
100-foot FM radio station tower pickup: damage 5.49Km, upset: 44.60 Km
100-foot ethernet cable (home) connected equipment: damage: 26.40 Km, Upset: 95.84 Km
Wired POTS – Plain Old Telephone System: damage: damage: 87.90 Km, Upset: 149.6 Km
Overhead AC power line: damage: 74 Km, Upset: 135 Km
Power distribution, cable TV Coax, Ethernet-connected equipment, and old-fashioned wired telephone will have a much wider area of possible EMP damage than physical blast damage.
Note: The extended ranges of SREMP damage to power distribution and wired communications cables are worse case and apply under specific conditions – in most cases, the damage radius will be far less
High altitude EMP (HEMP) results from the detonation of a nuclear weapon at a high altitude, typically 30 to 400 Km (15 to 50 miles) above the earth. HEMP nuclear detonations create EMP destruction and interference (upset) over an extensive area without destroying structures or causing human loss of life. HEMP has three specific phases, E1 (Early-time), E2 (Intermediate-time), and E3 (Late-time). Rather than bog down in technicalities, E1 and E2 are similar to a massive lightning strike, while the effects of E3 are very widespread and similar to intense solar flare/geostorm solar activity.
As the diagram shows, HEMP causes outages over nearly 1000 km and damage over 100 Km or more. The higher the HEMP nuclear detonation, the more widespread the outage area but, the more limited the damage area. In a nuclear war, the first strike would likely include one of more HEMP detonations to bring down the national power grid (for a brief period - upset) and cause major EMP damage to disrupt communications and cause widespread general confusion.
In 1962, the US conducted “Starfish Prime,” a live HEMP attack over Johnston Island about 900 miles away from Hawaii. A 1.4 Megaton Device was detonated at an altitude of 250 miles (~400 Km). In Hawaii, the microwave link between Kawai and the other islands was interrupted, taking interisland communications offline. Hundreds of street light fuses were blown, and the starters of hundreds of cars were fused. HEMP is a very real thing. In fact, in 2017, a Department of Homeland Security study noted that “A burst similar to Starfish Prime today over the central USA today would likely shut down commercial power and communications in large regions for months or longer.”
Damage from Nuclear detonations will be limited to military and population targets
Damage from EMP could be almost everywhere!
Extended Supplies for Survival
Between direct physical destruction from nuclear weapons, associated EMP, and the radiation hazard of fallout, we are looking at months of work to get basic services back online over much of the US or Europe after emerging from two weeks of shelter. The most critical extended supplies for many will be access to clean water and food. We’ll touch on those and several other supplies to assist in recovery.
Many of these supplies are identical to what you would have on hand for a hurricane or other major natural disaster. There is a simple rule of thumb:
“It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
Water is your most critical resource for survival and decontamination. City water supplies may take months to get back online.
Alternative water sources: Well water is ideal. Pool, lake, river/stream water can be filtered and sanitized as an alternative.
Purification: use Chlorine Bleach to purify water – 2/3 teaspoon per 8 gallons -have several gallons of bleach on hand.
Optional water filtering - Osmosis water filters would be ideal. Coffee paper filters will work
Supply chain disruptions are likely, and the availability of many items will be non-existent for weeks or months. Two weeks of emergency food supplies will get you through the shelter/fallout period; however, it would be wise to have at least a three-month food supply. Early in the recovery, food will likely be more valuable than gold, and having six months or even a year’s supply would be helpful to barter for goods or help neighbors.
Rather than spending $1000s on freeze-dried supplies, build up an extended pantry with storable food supplies that you would use in your normal diet. Dried rice, dried beans, pasta, spices, canned meat and vegetables, powdered milk, condiments, salt (don’t forget the salt!), etc., have shelf lives of 2 to 25 years. Expand your pantry, use it for your normal meals, and simply restock any foods you use in your normal cooking and meals. Just follow this simple rule: “first in, first out.”
The situation will be akin to living “off the grid”. Here is a useful link with more specific details to plan extended food storage and meals and some helpful tips.
Finally, you’ll need some practical supplies for repair and recovery
Extended first aid kit -link to Mayo Clinic recommendations
The cloud and much of the internet will be offline for some time – you’ll need books: First Aid, basic emergency medicine, electrical repair, plumbing repair, pump/electric motor repair, general how too, and reading for entertainment
Tools – you can never have enough. You can create a pool of available tools with your neighbors. Note: you need hand saws and hand drills till power returns and your EMP undamaged power tools are replaced.
Spare parts – plumbing parts, electrical wire, circuit breakers (not ideal, but you can jumper over a dead breaker), Faraday protected backup pumps or manual pumps for water/septic system
Plastic tarps, staple gun, staples, and duct tape to cover roof damage and broken windows
Have a septic system? Lucky you! City sewer may take an extended time to repair – you need to dig and use an old fashioned latrine -here’s a link to the CDC guide for emergency sanitation
Propane gas for cooking and a camp stove if you don’t have propane appliances - natural gas pumps may take time to repair. In the short term, you can’t rely on natural gas.
You can never have enough backup supplies in an extended emergency. So far, I’ve left off medicine, especially medicine with short shelf lives (e.g., insulin ), or medical treatment for chronic conditions (e.g., kidney dialysis). It is a sad but real fact that the survival of individuals with chronic conditions will depend on the speed of recovery in their local area.
I have also refrained from any discussion on weapons and ammunition. There will be civil unrest and lawlessness, so be forewarned.
A Brave New World: Long Term Survival and Reconstruction
“No man is an island.” Your security and safety depend on working and helping others. The road to normal begins by pooling resources, helping, and protecting your neighbors, then your city or city borough, county, state, and country. In times of natural disaster, church congregations have repeatedly shown their value in assisting the community and working with authorities in recovery. Regardless of your faith, including no faith at all, you can look to the church for help and work with the church to help others.
Numerous studies of people who survive massive disasters, extended time in prison camps or gulags, or extended hardships, like the great depression, point to three critical traits of the survivors:
Attitude: You need to believe you can and will not just survive. You will thrive. Remain positive despite myriad setbacks. Take things day by day. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed.
Aptitude: Plumbing, electrical, appliance repair, electrical motor repair, engine repair, carpentry, masonry, engineering, chemistry, and medical training of any type – these skills that power a recovery. That and hard work by everyone skilled or not.
Team Work: the cloud, the internet, the metaverse, and the virtual friends you had will be gone. Human-to-human bonds will be the only bonds that count. Teamwork will be everything. As a team member, your character, forthrightness, honesty, and grit will be valued above all else.
Rebuilding will be difficult and take a generation or more to complete. Much of the world will return, at least briefly, to an age without electricity and technology over 100 years ago. Recall, the Allies bombed Japan and Germany to rubble, yet one generation later (~20 years), both countries had almost fully recovered. The US, Europe, and the world will recover.
I'll closethis b og with an anecdotal senario:
Maria de la Garza walked past her high school toward Bulldog Stadium in Bandara, TX, the self-declared “Cowboy Capital of the World,” roughly 50 miles west of San Antonio. Today was Remembrance Day, and the entire town would mark the moment fours years earlier when the town’s emergency sirens went off. Emergency alerts erupted across every smartphone, TV, and radio station. The Russians had launched a full-scale nuclear attack. TAKE SHELTER!
Maria recalled that day when she, her mother, father, and old brother gathered in the family’s tornado shelter. Within minutes they heard the rumbling and felt the force of the first of two nuclear detonation shockwaves from San Antonio some 50 miles away.
After a day of unnerving silence, the family unwrapped their AM, FM, HF radio and searched for any news from the outside world. For the first two days, there was nothing. On the third day, much to their relief, they received an FM station out of Rock Springs, TX. The Russians launched a first strike against both the US and Europe, and China entered the war siding with the Russians. Israel and Iran traded nuclear salvos, and India traded nuclear strikes with China and Pakistan. EMP attacks blanketed most of the world. Only South America and the southern half of Africa were left untouched. A few days later, news came that both the provisional governments of China and Russia had surrendered. Their leaders were killed in the first of three devastating American, French, and British counterstrikes.
For the first time in her life, Maira saw a look of worry on her father’s face. “Is it bad, Papa?” Maria asked her father nervously.
“It’s not great, kiddo, “ her father answered. “It’ll be a lot of work, but we’ll be OK!” he stated with a little more confidence.
Her father was right. They would get by, but that first year would be more difficult than any could imagine. The fallout was light in West Texas, and while there was significant EMP damage, after a few months, the wind farms of West Texas began supplying several hours of electricity a day. As Bandera and the surrounding areas labored to recover, they experienced the first attacks by “marauders.” Bands of survivors from the destruction zones using armed force to steal supplies and working technology. The Marauders killed 20 townspeople, including her mother, before the entire town subdued their attackers. Maria would have joined her mother if she hadn’t pulled out the 9mm Glock her father gave her and killed two of the Marauders attempting to break into her father’s auto repair shop. She still had nightmares about that day.
Maria grew up fast that year. She had no choice. A week after her mother’s death, Maria’s best friend Debbie died. Debbie had diabetes, and with no insulin supplies available, she suffered terribly as hyperglycemia set in. Maria said her tearful goodbyes to her friend. Later that day, Doc Johnson gave Debbie a “concoction” to end her suffering. She passed with her mother and father at her side.
Over the next few months, the towns and counties around Bandera created a force of Rangers to enforce a curfew and keep the peace. Her brother Juan was one of the first to join up. The Rangers rounded up survivor groups, disarmed them, and brought them in for refugee support. Justice in this brave new world was swift and sure. Murder, rape, theft of food, damage to property and infrastructure were punished by death. Minor infractions resulted in assignment to work party for up to a month of hard labor. The law of the old west had returned. The country faced decades of reconstruction and wasting resources on jails, or an extensive criminal justice system simply couldn’t be justified.
Month by month, people pulled together and reconstituted city, county, state, and the national government. Oklahoma City, unscathed by war, became the new US capital.
Near the end of that first year thet entire world faced one great challange - “The Hunger.” The winter was bitter cold, and spring was late, the growing season exceptionally cool, wet, and dreary. Crop yields were half of normal that year. Despite a well-planned and executed rationing system, another 4 million US citizens died of hunger or the violence of urban food riots. 100s of millions starved worldwide. Maria couldn’t remember a day without the pangs of hunger dominating her thoughts for eight months. This, too, would pass.
Maria’s thoughts turned to the present. As she entered Bulldog stadium, she spied her father, the newly elected mayor of Bandera, waving her over to sit upfront in the VIP seats reserved for his family. Her brother Juan, now a Marine, had just returned from Russia on a “Nuclear Security Tour,” securing and removing their defeated enemies’ nuclear weapons systems.
Juan hugged Maria. “You look no worse for wear,” Maria teased. “So, how was Russia?”
A serious look crossed her brother’s face, “Let’s just say, there’s no place like home, and you sure as hell don’t want to be Russian.” He quickly changed the subject. “You ready for your four-year tour of national service? Have you picked a specialty yet?
National service, a combination of military service and relief and reconstruction work, was mandatory starting after high school at age 18. No exceptions. Maria’s thoughts drifted back to the early radiation sickness victims, her diabetic friend Debbie, and her mom bleeding out and dying of her wounds due to lack of proper medical care. A bittersweet smile crossed her face as she answered her brother. “I’m going to be medic,” Maria announced..
“I knew you’d pass the entrance test,” her brother exclaimed! “It’s damn near impossible to get in the medic program. Dad must be ecstatic.”
“I only wish mom were here,” Maria sighed mournfully. Her brother didn’t say a word. He just nodded his head in agreement.
It was Remembrance Day in Bandera, Texas, and in every town and city worldwide. Everyone had lost someone in this brave new world and strove every day to make the world a better place in their memory.
Here is a useful link to the FEMA recommended Emergency Check List- Fema Check list
Nuclear Detonation Fallout: Key Considerations for Internal Exposure and Population Monitoring – Lawrence Livermore national labs
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Protection and Resilience guidelines for Critical Infrastructure and Equipment
Short description of HEMP mitigation for network facilities and backup power generation
Storable food for long term emergency supplies and other “off the grid” food and tips
Building a Faraday cage when your backup generator is installed