One of the recent phrases the media has used almost to exhaustion is,
"dirty" bomb. A dirty bomb, or radiological dispersion
device (RDD) is basically an explosive device with some element of
radioactivity attached, or
some other means of distributing radioactive particulate matter. When
detonated, it releases radiation in the form of dust or debris, which
is harmful mostly when inhaled, or introduced into the body by other
means, (eyes, open cuts, etc.). The main terror use of such a weapon
would be to contaminate emergency services workers responding to the
initial blast. In the 1990s, Chechen rebels reportedly placed such
a device in a park in Moscow, They used no explosive or other means
it's presence; they just let it sit there and expose passers by to
radiation until it suited their needs to tell the Russians it was there.
They could just as well have spread the material on the ground and
let people track contamination wherever they went.
What if you live near a nuclear reactor/facility? First off, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission controls all nuclear facilities in the United States. The NRC strictly controls and governs safety and security of all nuclear facilities. They mandate a "layered" approach to security systems, with redundant perimeter controls, and a dedicated, heavily armed reactive force of trained professionals. The chances of a successful attack on a facility by terrorists is slim and none, and "slim" just left town. In addition, the safety systems are layered to provide backups to backups, especially the critical cooling systems. In the event of a release of radiation, the public would be notified, and given instructions to follow, such as whether to evacuate, or to stay in their homes.
Contrary to popular belief, a detonation/release of either type would not be a "death ray, heat wave" type situation. In both situations, the radiation would come in the form of particulate matter, and affect the population according to proximity and winds at the time. For example, in both situations, depending on the direction of the wind, you could be five feet away from the release and not be affected, or be a half-mile away and receive a dose. This is why winds are important, and are taken into account by emergency officials when evaluating nuclear events. This is why having both a "bug out" (which we will call, dramatically, an 'egress' plan), and a plan to stay at home are equally important. For example, have several routes planned for several different areas in at least two opposite directions. This takes into account wind direction, as well as other naturally occurring situations, (flood, fire, riots, etc.)
I'm sure some of us remember the "duck and cover" days (no, not me, I'm not that old), of the evil Soviet empire, launching missiles at our cities, envisioning Hiroshima-like mushroom clouds. There is an important lesson in the philosophy of those times, be prepared. Have a plan to deal with emergencies at home, while keeping yourself and your family safe, and one to leave your home, and go to a safe area.
Here, we'll discuss two strategies, the egress plan, and the stay at home plan.
Egress or "Bug Out" Plan.
In the event of a radiological release due to an incident at a nuclear facility or a terror detonation of a RDD type device. (This plan will also apply to natural disasters, rioting or other scenarios). Your best option may be to evacuate, leaving your home or workplace for a safer area as prompted by authorities. You'll notice I mentioned home and workplace. What would you do if you and your spouse are at work and the kids are at school? Do you have the means to contact them or retrieve them? What kind of emergency procedures do the schools have in place? Find out. You need to have contact numbers and be sure that everyone knows the plan. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are leaving, everyone around you also has the same idea. This is why evacuation is to only be carried out if danger is imminent, and planning of at least two different routes to your safe area is critical. Picture rush hour with a "chicken little the sky is falling" mentality, that's what roads exiting a disaster area could resemble. A good idea is to have at least one of your routes on secondary roads, staying away from highways, as they could be generally congested. Your vehicle is critical. Keep it maintained. Think of your car as you would your duty weapon if you were a police officer. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. This means a spare tire, keeping gas in your tank and changing the oil, as well as regular maintenance. Keep road maps in your vehicle as well as a spare quart of oil, and spare antifreeze/coolant. A small emergency/bug out kit should be kept in all of your vehicles, and contain the following:
Non-perishable food items, MREs/canned meats.
At least 2 quarts of clean drinking water.
Matches or a fire source
Multi-tool or "Swiss army" type knife.
40' of rope capable of supporting 200 Lbs.
Duct tape, string, nails, etc.
Survival or thermal blanket.
Small first aid kit (bandages, antiseptics, bug repellent, pain medications)
This is a small compact kit, which can be assembled with around $25.00. You probably already have most of the items you will need in your garage. There are many different sources for MREs and survival foods on the Internet and in various publications, or you can pick up "SPAM" type canned meats at your local grocery store for around $1.00 a can. They have a shelf life of several years, and provide critical fats and calories when you need them most. The rope can be obtained at a local shopping center or sporting goods store. I picked up mine at a boating supply store. All of these items can be placed in a small backpack or duffel bag, or a great idea is a USGI surplus ammo can, also available on the Internet or a local army surplus store for around $5 each, They're airtight, waterproof, and strong. I use the ". 50 cal" can in my cars, and all of the items listed fit with room to spare. The idea here is to keep it compact, as it's going to stay in the vehicle. Also keep in mind that temperatures in a car trunk can soar into the triple digits in the summer and well below freezing in the winter. Checking the contents at least once a month is a good idea, and if you are using conventional tap water in containers, change the water at least once a year, cleaning out the containers before putting the fresh water in. I also carry a pair of good quality GMRS/FRS radios for communication with extra batteries if needed for communication.
A large "bug out bag" should be prepared for each family member and be stored in your home, or in cases of extreme heightened awareness, kept in your vehicle, some items to be considered for that:
Non perishable food for three days
Portable water for three days
Matches or other fire source.
Flashlight, spare batteries and spare bulbs.
Portable AM/FM radio with spare batteries
Survival type or thermal blanket.
Multi-tool or "Swiss army" type knife.
Portable pocket saw.
Small first aid kit, including insect repellent, and needed prescription medications
Small backpacking type, "pup tent" for shelter.
3 strong plastic garbage bags.
"Isolation" or particle/dust protective masks.
These items should be packed into a portable waterproof backpack, and need to be checked and maintained at least once every few months. (Author uses a frame type hiking pack) The Isolation masks can be purchased at a medical supply store and will provide inhalation protection against particulate matter; "Dust Masks" will also work for this application, and can be purchased at a hardware store. While these do not provide the level of protection as "Gas Masks", and Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, they will work for particulate matter. And, besides, personnel that wear this equipment are trained and individually fit tested for the equipment. Improper use of such masks can be more harmful than helpful. The author also recommends the use of chemical light sticks. Available from surplus, camping supply, and sporting goods stores for around $1.00 each. They are portable, bright, safe, and last for up to 12 hours. They can provide a good source of light for an area or can be used as a marker. Keep in mind that these should not be used to replace a flashlight and spare batteries.
Stay at home plan.
In some scenarios, leaving home may not be the best thing for you or your family. In those situations, you need to be prepared to stay in your home and be self sufficient for up to a week. A good idea is to have precut plastic sheeting cut and labeled for the windows and doors of your home. These can be affixed with duct tape and will prevent particulate matter that may contain harmful radiation from entering your home. Precutting the sheets and labeling them with marker will speed up the application process. It may be necessary to isolate your water supply from the outside, to prevent the introduction of harmful elements, know where your shut off valves are. Also keep in mind that you probably already have a 40-gallon fresh water supply in your house, your hot water tank. Most hot water tanks are equipped with a drain valve in the bottom and an intake shut off valve. Know where these are. In the event of a possible contamination of the water supply, you may need to turn off the flow of incoming water, and be able to use the water in the tank. A good idea if you are going to do this, however, is to purge you tank regularly. Sediments will build up in the bottom of the tank, and can be drained by the valve in the bottom. Just keep draining the water until it comes out clear. I have a couple of "camping style" 10 gallon blue [plastic] containers that are made for water that I keep filled in the event they are needed. These have handles for ease of transport and do not affect the taste of the water during prolonged storage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends at least one gallon of water, per person, per day, for at least three days. I feel that this is a good guideline, as studies have shown that three days is the average time it takes for outside aid to reach disaster areas and begin distribution to the public.
Food is also crucial. Again, you will need enough food for each family member for at least three days. It's a good idea to keep a supply of non-perishable food items for all family members in portable plastic storage bins; these can also be purchased at a local department store for a few dollars. This will provide ease of transportation in the event relocation is required. You will need to check and rotate food stocks to keep them fresh and current.
One of the most important tools you can have during an emergency situation is communication. Local authorities already have contingency plans in place, and will pass the info on to you. However, you need a means of getting that information. A battery-powered radio is one of the most important ways of getting this information. Power supplies may be interrupted by disaster situations, accidents, or terrorist activity which makes self powered devices important.
All communities around nuclear power facilities as well as most major population centers have an emergency broadcast system, which may consist of sirens, public address (PA) speakers, television and radio broadcasts, and activation of local authorities. It's up to you to know what the audible sirens represent, and when to take action. Remember the words of George Santayana "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Words to live by.
JWR Adds: In my opinion, having just a three day supply of food is overly optimistic. FEMA is not likely to come cahrging to the rescue in every neighborhood in just three days. So a three month supply of food with a three week supply of water (and the means to filter additional water that is gathered later) is more realistic. Also, it is important to consider charity for your neighbors. A five year supply of storage food for one family can also be a three month supply for 20 families, or a three day supply for 200 families.
Brian mentions sheet plastic and duct tape. Completely sealing a room (which of course he is not suggesting) would be suicidal. Commercially-made shelter air pumps and HEPA filter systems are sold by a number of Internet vendors including Ready Made Resources and Survival Logistics. (Please mention SurvivalBlog when you order.) Instructions on how to build improvised air pumps and filters can be found in the book Nuclear War Survival Skills, which is available for free download, courtesy of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Keep in mind that your air filter box must be isolated and/or shielded from the occupied portion of your shelter, since it will accumulate radioactive particulates.