How to Prepare for a Nuclear Attack

For what must have surely seemed like the longest 38 minutes of their lives, people in Hawaii frantically prepared for a nuclear attack last month. Hotel guests were herded into basements. In a viral video, a man helped his young daughter climb down into a storm drain. Many people hunkered down in their bathrooms, filling the tubs with water.

We all now know it was a false alarm — but what if the next warning isn’t? With North Korea testing long-range missiles and the Doomsday Clock ticking ever closer to midnight, it doesn’t seem all that paranoid to want to be prepared for the worst.

But is it futile to make preparations for something that may not be survivable? One expert doesn’t think so.

“There is a lot of fatalism on this subject, the feeling that there will be untold death and destruction and there is nothing to be done,” Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told NBC News. “But the thing that is frustrating for me is that, with some very simple public messaging, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives in a nuclear detonation.”

Hopefully it will never happen, but just in case, here are some tips for preparing for a nuclear attack.

Duck and Cover (Yes, Really)

Back when some of us were in elementary school, we’d have to crawl under our desks during duck-and-cover drills, as if the thin metal above our heads would somehow spare us from nuclear annihilation. Ridiculous, right? Well, not so much, according to Suzet McKinney of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“I would honestly say the duck-and-cover response from the Cold War era is really the best protection that we as individual citizens would have after a nuclear bomb or improvised nuclear device was detonated,” McKinney told the Washington Post.

Of course, it’s only effective if the nuke isn’t detonated anywhere close to where you happen to be at the time. At a farther distance, ducking and covering can help protect you from breaking glass and flying debris.

It’s also safer to duck and cover indoors than to go running for your life outside, because you’d be exposing yourself to flying debris and radiation.

Have Emergency Kits Ready

While McKinney doesn’t recommend stocking up on radiation suits and anti-radiation medications, she does advise having survival kits ready for every member of your family (including pets, of course).

“There’s nothing special that people can buy or should be buying in the threat of a nuclear attack,” she told the Washington Post. “It is the simple, common-sense things that we should all have on hand in the event of an emergency.”

According to, a website created by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to educate Americans about preparing for emergencies, each kit should include these items:

  • One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • At least a three-day supply of food that’s non-perishable

If there’s a heightened threat of attack, you should have two weeks’ worth of water and food ready.

These are some of the other items that are good to have in your emergency kit (you can download the complete supply list):

  • A battery-operated or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio with a tone alert
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air

Be Prepared to Shelter-in-Place

Your survival after a nuclear attack may depend on your ability to stay indoors and create a barrier against the contaminated air.

In case you’re not at home, you should find out in advance if there are any designated fallout shelters near your workplace or school.

What’s most important at the moment you hear of a possible nuclear attack anywhere nearby is to “get inside, stay inside, stay tuned,” according to Dr. Robert Levin, chief health officer of Ventura County, Calif.

Before a disaster strikes, be prepared by doing the following:

  • Decide which room in your house would be the safest for sheltering in place — typically the basement or the room with the fewest windows.
  • Cut 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting several inches wider than each of the doors, windows and air vents in that room, and label each sheet.

If the time comes when it’s necessary to shelter in place, do the following:

  • Lock all the other doors in your home, and close all windows, air vents and fireplace dampers. Turn off fans as well as heating and air-conditioning units.
  • Take your emergency kit with you into the safe room.
  • Place the plastic sheeting over the doors, windows and air vents. Use duct tape to secure the corners first, then tape down the edges.
  • Since local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do, advises that you should watch TV, listen to the radio or check the internet often for official news as it becomes available.

Should You Buy a Bomb Shelter?

The sales of underground bunkers have skyrocketed ever since Donald Trump became president. Most of them come with air and water filtration systems, a sink and toilet, and storage space for at least a two-year supply of food. Prices range from about $45,000 for an 8-by-12 mini bunker to millions of dollars for large, custom models with gyms, lap pools and other fancy amenities.

But are bomb shelters a good investment? McKinney told the Washington Post it’s generally not worth the cost since there’s the risk of being caught outside during a nuclear attack instead of being in the safe confines of the shelter.

If you’re considering getting a bomb shelter, “first vet it carefully with someone knowledgeable about exposure to nuclear fallout,” Dr. Levin advised.

Are bomb shelters – or any of these other tips – truly effective for surviving a nuclear attack? Here’s hoping that’s something we never have to find out.

Photo credit: Just a Prairie Boy


KS Goh
KS Goh2 days ago

Thanks very much

Deborah W
Deborah W4 days ago

NOT TO WORRY. All that are alive will wish they were dead ... and those left may finally learn to help each other.

Pietro Maiorana
Pietro Maiorana4 days ago

Tranquilli che non ci sarà

Angela J
Angela J13 days ago


Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A16 days ago

It will certainly not end a one nuke and by the time they are done we might have a few cockroaches and the odd ant alive that will be it.

Stephanie s
Stephanie s17 days ago

Thank you

Janis K
Janis K18 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Karen H
Karen H19 days ago

This presumes there would be one nuke dropped. Get real. If there's a nuclear war, there'll be plenty of bombs going in every direction. Life expectance of every living thing on the planet is...oh...nil. Nobody would survive.

Colin C
Colin Clauscen19 days ago

A nuclear war is probably not going to be survivable and if you did manage to survive would you want to. Any so called expert that tells you that it is survivable is giving encouragement to those people who have their finger on the button.

M. M
M. M20 days ago

I gotta agree with KimJ M comment:
"Ban all nuclear! We spend billions of dollars looking for life on other planets, and spend trillions of dollars killing life on this one. INSANITY!!"