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What would you do if there was a nuclear bomb blast? Ventura County launches education campaign

An atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert in the 1950's.
National Archives
An atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert in the 1950's.

Key elements include getting inside of a building ASAP, and staying inside until authorities say radioactive fallout has dissipated.

You hear about earthquake and brush fire preparedness regularly. But, would you know what to do if there was a nuclear explosion?

"A nuclear detonation is another disaster that could happen," said Dr. Robert Levin, who's Ventura County’s Public Health Officer.

The county has launched a public awareness campaign intended to give everyone the basic information we need to react, and protect ourselves and our families from the impacts of a nuclear blast.

"I don't think that there's any imminent threat, but it's so easy to be prepared," said Dr. Levin. "It's as simple as get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned."

It means get inside of your home, or other shelter, do not go outside, and stay there until you hear from authorities on the radio that it's once again safe to be outside.

Dr. Levin says the main concern in the event of an attack in our region probably wouldn’t be the blast. Bigger cities would likely be targeted. He said the issue would likely be fallout, radioactive particles from the blast which could potentially rain down for hundreds of miles like ash from a wildfire. It would depend on the size of the blast, as well as the wind conditions.

Experts say what is key things to do, after word of a blast, is to get inside a building, and to stay inside. If you are caught outside when fallout starts to come down, you should take off your clothes before entering a building, comb or brush the fallout out of your hair, and take a shower to get any remaining radioactive flakes off of your body.

"Go inside of the building, to the lowest point, because there is dangerous radiation outside. We want to put as many walls between you and the outside as possible," said Jessica Wieder, who is Deputy Director of Communications for FEMA’s Office of External Affairs.

"We want you to stay inside for 24 hours. During the 24 hours, the dangerous levels of radiation are going to decrease rapidly," said Wieder.
"And, staying tuned is going to give you the best information on when you can safely leave the area."

She said if you’re in a car when a blast happens, you need to stop, and get into a building as soon as possible. And, she says just like for wildfires, and earthquakes, you should have a family emergency plan.

It's likely power will be out, and cell phones may not work. Wieder said make sure you have an emergency hand-crank radio which doesn't need batteries. She notes you should have that anyway, so you are prepared for earthquakes and wildfires.

Wieder said getting, and staying inside until it’s safe may be hard. She thinks for first responders, it runs counter to their instincts, because they want to help. But, it's essential that they, as well as you, avoid exposure to the fallout, which can make you seriously ill, or be fatal.

Dr. Levin admits the subject of the impacts of a nuclear blast is hard to talk about. He credits Ventura County leaders with being willing to talk about it, when many local government agencies are afraid to broach it.

In the 1950's and 1960's, the concern was about the potential for a nuclear war.

There's another threat now, with the potential for what's known as a "dirty bomb" which would be a smaller blast perhaps triggered by terrorists. "Dirty bombs" are not atomic bombs, but conventional explosive used to spread radioactive materials.

Dr. Levin said knowing the simple, easy steps to take following a blast could save your life and the lives of family members.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.