Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

How to survive a nuclear attack using only one’s wits and a pillowcase

with 8 comments

Today, a post topic that’s near and dear to me. Having watched every post apocalypse movie ever made, read most of the books, and extensively studied survivalist literature…am I overqualified for this or what? Granted I haven’t had any experience surviving a nuclear attack, but few people have. This is simply logical advice based on my readings about nuclear weapons and their effects. And no, the title isn’t a joke. Well, OK, it is a joke, but it’s true nonetheless. And NO, am not going to recommend riding out the attack a la Indiana Jones in a lead lined fridge. That was just silly.

First, a few codicils and asides. I know a lot of people may be thinking “Survive a nuclear attack? Not possible.” Well, actually, it is. Depending on the size and nature of the attack. For our purposes I am assuming a limited nuclear attack, IE an attack with modest bombs designed to destroy a nation’s infrastructure and military capability. Or even a small attack, say by a terrorist or freedom fighter. The fallout portion of this advice also applies to nuclear plant meltdowns. However, if someone sets off a doomsday device, or the US and Russia fire thousands of warheads at each other, my advice here might be of somewhat limited utility. In fact one might not even want to survive, to borrow from Hobbes, the survivor’s lives after such an event would likely be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And for simplicity’s sake, I am assuming that the attack is occurring with little or no warning. If one has a strong suspicion a nuclear war is going to break out, head for the hills at the earliest possible opportunity.

OK, so there you are, bopping along the street one day, and a nuclear weapon goes off nearby. It’s going to be unmistakable, the first thing you will see is an incredibly bright flash, “brighter than a thousand suns” as it has been described. People close to the epicentre (the point where the bomb exploded) are going to burst into flame or be incinerated as this fellow was. Presumably the gentle reader survives this part of the explosion, and here’s where it gets tricky. Do you whip out your laptop and frantically look up this blog post you only skimmed? No. (And if you do, right about now I’m sorry to inform you that it’s now too late, you’re probably going to be dead in moments.) Time is of the essence here, after the flash you have seconds to as much as a minute or longer to get to shelter…because the flash is going to be followed by a very big blast. It’s also possible that you will be temporarily blinded by the flash. The good news is that it likely will only last a few minutes. The bad news is that even if temporarily blinded, you still need to seek shelter, so the next step will be even trickier for you.

What do I mean by shelter? Well, preferably underground. A subway or basement is good, construction trench, sewer, anything below ground level works. If such is not within a quick sprint, then get down behind the closest solid object nearby that stands between you and the direction of the flash. A building foundation, a stone wall, a retaining wall, under a car, whatever. Just get as low and flat and protected as you can as fast as you can. Lay down, protect your eyes and ears, and wait for it. Count, pray, whatever. The good news here is that the longer it takes for the blast to arrive, the more survivable it will be. The bast will consist of two simultaneous things, a pressure wave and a powerful wind. Give it at least five minutes. If there is no blast, then likely it was a neutron bomb, and you are already dying of radiation exposure. Of course even if you survive the blast, it’s still possible you received a fatal dose of radiation in the flash, but it’s best not to dwell on such things.

The film clip at this link shows this sequence clearly. Note how the buildings etc. literally burst into flame at first from the intense flash of light, followed a moment later by the blast and overpressure which destroys the structures. Um, this close to ground zero, survival is unlikely.

OK, there you are climbing out of the subway station. You’re thinking, “Dear God I am so glad I am a regular reader of Doug’s Darkworld,” unlike the people who you left standing on the sidewalk in your mad rush to get below ground. They aren’t thinking anything anymore, hopefully you didn’t know any of them. Now what? Well, you whip out your pillow case, which by now you realize it would be prudent to carry at all times. You survived a nuclear blast, surviving the fallout is going to be easy.

Unless of course the attack happens before I publish part two. Wouldn’t that be annoying? Have a great weekend everyone.

(Welcome new and old readers. I hope you enjoyed this post. As of January 2018 I have resumed regular blogging on my new Patreon version of Doug’s Darkworld. Science, history, current events, and posts about a certain president who can hardly go a day without inspiring a blog post.)

(The above image is from a US civil defence pamphlet and is thus public domain under US copyright law. It shows the areas of the USA that might be potential targets for nuclear attack. A quick glance shows that this includes just about every urban area in the USA, and likely about 99% of the US population. Well, that’s helpful! What a wonderful informative document provided at taxpayer expense! Sheesh.)


Written by unitedcats

August 1, 2008 at 7:02 am

Posted in Health, History, Science, War

8 Responses

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  1. Amazing post. Can’t wait for part 2!!!

    I think you’ve seen this video before:

    (Duck & Cover)

    Awesome old civil defense video… my favorite part is where the children in the school building all duck under either desks (as the bomb blasts a mile or two away)… I think it was you who once said, “that’s a good idea, that way they’ll be nice orderly piles of dust… much easier to clean up that way.”


    August 1, 2008 at 9:04 am

  2. So, now I’m always supposed to carry a pillow case AND a towel?

    good to know.

    Not Fainthearted

    August 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm

  3. Oh, you tease.


    August 1, 2008 at 1:55 pm

  4. Not an expert in map reading but the missile attacks seems to be contained within the U.S..

    It seems that if you cross the border to Canada or Mexico you will be safe.


    August 6, 2008 at 6:20 am

  5. […] nuclear war” series. Well, turns out that the first part of the series was easy: “See the flash jump into a hole.” How to cope with invisible highly toxic dust falling from the sky has proved a bit trickier […]

  6. Considering what has happened in the past few days, I’m wondering if your car is gassed and ready to head for the hills if we force the issue with Russia.


    August 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

  7. […] in a previous post we have escaped being incinerated by a nuclear weapon’s initial flash through dumb luck, and […]

  8. […] I realize there’s lots of books and websites about how to survive a nuclear war, I’ve even written some myself. These are of no help for people whose goal is non survival. So as a public service in these […]

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