BE PREPARED: Dealing with explosions and nuclear attacks

| 3/20/2003

To inform citizens in case of terrorist activity, Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge has issued a series of information bulletins through a new Web site located at

Land Line will share the information with readers in the following weeks. Today's installment: What to do if there's an explosion or nuclear attack.

If there is an explosion:

Take shelter against your desk or a sturdy table.
  • Exit the building ASAP.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Check for fire and other hazards.
  • Take your emergency supply kit if time allows.

If there is a fire:

  • Exit the building ASAP.
  • Crawl low if there is smoke
  • Use a wet cloth, if possible, to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Use the back of your hand to feel the upper, lower and middle parts of closed doors.
  • If the door is not hot, brace yourself against it and open slowly.
  • If the door is hot, do not open it. Look for another way out.
  • Do not use elevators
  • If you catch fire, do not run. Stop, drop and roll to put out the fire.
  • If you are at home, go to a previously designated meeting place.
  • Account for your family members and carefully supervise small children.
  • Never go back into a burning building. 

If you are trapped in debris:

  • If possible, use a flashlight to signal your location to rescuers.
  • Avoid unnecessary movement so that you don't kick up dust.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. (Dense-weave cotton material can act as a good filter. Try to breathe through the material.)
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are.
  • If possible, use a whistle to signal rescuers.
  • Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

A nuclear blast

A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water and ground surfaces for miles around. While experts predict a nuclear attack is less likely than other types, terrorism by its nature is unpredictable.

If there is a nuclear blast:

  • Take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave.
  • Quickly assess the situation.
  • Consider if you can get out of the area or if it would be better to go inside a building and follow your plan to "shelter-in-place."
In order to limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding, distance and time.
  • Shielding: If you have a thick shield between yourself and the radioactive materials more of the radiation will be absorbed, and you will be exposed to less.
  • Distance: The farther away you are from the blast and the fallout, the lower your exposure.
  • Time: Minimizing time spent exposed will also reduce your risk. 
Use available information to assess the situation. If there is a significant radiation threat, health care authorities may or may not advise you to take potassium iodide. Potassium iodide is the same stuff added to your table salt to make it iodized. It may or may not protect your thyroid gland, which is particularly vulnerable, from radioactive iodine exposure. Consider keeping potassium iodide in your emergency kit and learn what the appropriate doses are for each of your family members. Plan to speak with your health care provider in advance about what makes sense for your family.