Coffee heat rising

Duck & Cover?

So the Koreans have the bomb. And they hope to drop it on D.C. Interesting.

We have sick men in charge of two nuclear powers: Korea and the U.S. What does that mean for you ’n’ me?

Not very much, probably, other than that we’d better stock in several Costco-size rolls of heavy-duty tinfoil, the better to line our cowboy hats.

As a practical matter, even if a Korean missile does manage to get through America’s defense system — which is far from infallible — it would not wipe out all life in the city it struck. Go on over to Nukemap, enter your city and, under “yield,” select the most recent year for a bomb tested by North Korea. While a hit on an American city would not be good for its residents, nevertheless most American cities would not be wiped from the map. Far from it. Because of the vast sprawl characteristic of US cities, large parts of any metropolitan area would remain standing and inhabitable, particularly if residents had already taken some precautions or knew what to do in the event of a strike.

In Phoenix, for example, if a bomb the size of those available to North Korea hit at Central Avenue and Van Buren (conventionally regarded as the city’s central point, even though demographically it is not), the fireball would level most but not all of downtown. It would not extend as far north as Fillmore or as far south as Washington (these are within walking distance of each other). To the west, it would not quite reach First Avenue, but it would probably reach east to Second Street.

The radiation radius — the area in which you would receive a dose of radiation strong enough to kill you if you did not get medical treatment fairly soon — would extend north to the I-10 freeway and south to Lincoln: again: these borders are within walking distance of each other and certainly within walking distance of the theoretical detonation site.

The thermal radius — in which unprotected people would sustain third-degree burns — would go north to McDowell, south almost to Buckeye, not quite to 15th Avenue on the west, and over to 12th Street on the east.

The air blast radius — where buildings would collapse from the force of the blast — is .06 mile (1.53 km.)

This is not a very large area. Damage to the city’s small downtown would be catastrophic. Obviously, damage to closer-in central areas beyond the downtown district would be substantial. However, throughout most of the Valley, structures would remain standing. People who were indoors would be stunned, possibly injured by stuff flying around and windows breaking, but they would not be killed outright. Nor would they be in much danger of dying soon. People in the suburbs — the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area is larger than Los Angeles — could be unharmed. Even people within the city itself, which extends a VERY long way in all directions from Central and Van Buren, would be able to seek shelter and could, if adequately supplied, survive until help arrived from the outside.

This of course presumes a) that the Koreans would aim for the heart of the city and b) that their aim was accurate. Neither of those is reasonable. More likely they’d try to hit Luke Air Force Base, which is on the far west side of the Valley, almost to the mountain range bordering the western edge of the developed area. This would disable any jet fighters that were still on the ground (which is to say, all it would do is blow up the runway) and kill a lot of suburbanites. But otherwise, it would come nowhere near exterminating the population of Maricopa County. Or taking out the US Air Force.

The chance that they would hit their bull’s-eye is probably also slim. So for an individual who happened to be in the Valley when the Koreans decided to blow us up, what it means is…it depends. One’s survival would (as always, day in and day out…) depend on the luck of the draw.

But the larger portion of the population would survive, and a substantial number of those survivors would be relatively unscathed. So, we’re left with the question of how does one think about this?

What does one consider, as a practical matter and without lining one’s cowboy hat with tinfoil (which would be very hot in the summer), in terms of preparation? What should one have around the house to tide one over the initial period of chaos and danger?

First, if you live in a large city, you would have to assume that you would need to shelter in place for a long time. Getting out of the city could be impossible, with highways damaged and aggressive, panicked residents swarming what few roads remained open. Trying to drive out could be more dangerous than remaining in your home, school, or office building.

Thus it might be good to have some sheets of plywood or other product that could be used to cover broken windows — you can bet the glass would blow out if you were anywhere near the detonation. Duct tape to seal around the plywood would be useful, too.

Then you will have to figure out how to stay alive for a week or more, in the absence of electricity, natural gas, and police.

This will require the obvious prepper gear:

Carboys of water (very cheap to acquire: just remember to pour your water onto your garden every week or so and replace it with clean tap water)
Several weeks’ worth of food that can be preserved without refrigeration (dried or canned)
An ample supply of food for your animals
Propane fuel and devices that operate on it.
A battery-operated radio and stash of batteries to keep it running
A substantial first-aid kit
Whatever medications you take
A camp lantern and batteries or propane to operate it
A small propane-operated camp stove (you may not be able to go outdoors to cook on a propane grill; a one-burner stove can be used safely for a limited period indoors, though it’s not something you’d want running for any length of time)
Cash money
Items that can be bartered, such as cigarettes, alcohol, grass, baby food, diapers, feminine supplies
A weapon and stash of ammunition
Extra gasoline for your vehicle

Leaving the city would be highly problematic. First, there’s the question of whether your vehicle would run at all. Some people imagine that all recent models of cars and trucks will be rendered nonfunctional by the EMP (a nuclear bomb releases an “electro-magnetic pulse” that can disable electronic gear and shut down an electric grid system). This, it develops, ain’t necessarily so. Your car might display some nuisance malfunctions but probably would run. The bigger problems would be getting out on gridlocked urban freeways and surface roads, and obtaining enough gasoline to drive to safety a long distance from a metropolitan area.

And, for that matter, finding safety. I’m old enough to remember those air raid sirens and bomb drills in San Francisco — we had a siren on top of our building, which went off every Saturday at noon. 😀 That’ll lift you out of your chair!

Back in the day, the city of Whittier, which stood astride what was then the main highway out of Southern California, announced that it would not allow itself to be overrun by hordes of unwashed Los Angelenos. To prevent that, they would block the road and man it with armed men. Anyone trying to get past the roadblocks would be shot and killed. And they weren’t kidding.

People do not act nobly during a disaster. You may be safer to remain in place.

But if you must take to the road, you will have to assume that you’re not going to be bedding down in some resort thrown open by the friendly proprietors. This means you will need a full set of camping gear, and it will need to be stored in such a way as to be ready to go on short notice. That is, you can’t be running around the house, the garage, and the attic to assemble your “go” package. So, you will need all of the above plus your “go” box of important papers, such as your birth certificate, passport, insurance policies, evidence of humans’ and pets’ immunizations, car registration, and the like. And cash.

I figure you’ll need, at a minimum, the following:

Hard-copy maps of your area, your state, and surrounding states (assume your cell phone will not work)
Prevailing winds map (download and print that now, not later)
Cell phone charger that operates off your car battery, just in case you find a place where cell service is intact
First aid kit (make your own; most of the ones you buy are inadequate; remember to include a supply of your prescriptions)
Fire starter, butane
Camp light
Flashlight (one of those small lights you wear on your head can be handy)
Light sticks
Battery-operated radio
Extra batteries for lights and radio
Pocket knife (one per adult or near-adult would be ideal)
Hunting knife
Camp shovel
Duct tape
Zip ties
Bungee cords
Water filter
Backup water treatment (i.e., iodine pills or Clorox)
Camp stove
Camp cookset (large lightweight aluminum stewpot, at least one nonstick skillet, probably a few other small pots & pans)
Camping dishes, eating utensils, and Sierra cups for each person
Pet dishes and water bowls
Dish detergent (can be used as shampoo)
Scrub brush
Bag(s) for waste
Box of Ziplock bags
Clothing for each person, including T-shirt, underwear, quick-dry pants or shorts, long-sleeved shirt, rain jacket or poncho, hat, bandanna, socks(!), jacket & warm pants,
Hiking boots
Hiking sandals
Toilet paper
Hand sanitizer wipes
Bug repellent
Toiletry kit with small metal mirror
Towels (one per person, plus one for the camp “kitchen”)
Shampoo if you’re too picky to use dish detergent on your hair
For dogs: leashes; collars with tags
Camp food (dry packaged meals, canned goods)
Can opener
Pet food
Tent (if you’re not sleeping in your vehicle), ground cloth, stakes
Sleeping bag
Camper’s hammock
Dog leashes and collars with ID
Day pack
Gun and ammunition

Commercially available first-aid kits are questionable. Better than nothing, but not good enough (look up the customer reviews on Amazon). You probably are better off to get a large workman’s lunch box or small briefcase and assemble your own. At a bare minimum, you’ll need this stuff:

Antibiotic ointment
Antiseptic cleanser such as Hibiclens
Bug bite stuff (cortisone or, more effective, Itch-X gel)
Rash cream
Contact lens supplies
Spare pair of glasses
Spare pairs of contact lenses
Allergy pills
Sterile dressings
Bandage tape
Elastic tape (the self-sticking type is best)
Face mask
Thermal blanket or poncho
Body warmer
Light sticks
Disposable gloves
Waste bags
Saline solution for contact lenses, which can be used to wash out eyes
Your prescriptions
Any drugs your pets might need

See what I mean about not wanting to rustle up this stuff at the last minute? Gather the loot and keep it in a plastic bin, a backpack, or suitcase, so that you can grab it, throw it in the car, and get out fast.

Assuming the getting’s good…


3 thoughts on “Duck & Cover?”

  1. That’s a lot of stuff to assemble and keep packed into a tote. The conundrum I always have with the standard disaster preparedness advice is this: where do I store this stuff? If I’m prepping for something like a nuclear bomb, I could keep it in the garage. If I was prepping for a fire, I should keep my “go bag” near the door from which I’m most likely to exit (my front door). If I’m prepping for an earthquake, I have no idea where to stash the stuff so it wouldn’t get potentially buried under items that have been tossed around (in the middle of the living room??). For each scenario, I need to stash the same stuff in a different location. You see my issue? Maybe I’m overthinking it. Practically speaking, the only place I could store a tote full of gear is in the garage, but I’m not confident I could retrieve it from there. (I park in the driveway, not the garage, because my garage is a tiny one-car structure that also contains the washer, dryer, and hot water heater, and is my only place to store stuff like tools, the ladder, seasonal stuff, etc.)

    • Yes, it really is. I would think you’d need to put most of the outdoor stuff in a hiker’s backpack — I like the type with a frame, but whatever is your preference will do the job. You’d probably need a daypack, too, where you could stash stuff that you don’t want to have to search around for. Another option would be to have a soft-sided suitcase large enough to hold a fair amount of gear, and then stash whatever else would be needed in a daypack. Heavy stuff like bottles of water and cans of food would have to reside in the garage; but a preloaded pack or suitcase could probably be kept in a closet.

      My friend who lived in Salinas during the last major earthquake in that area — some years ago, now — was the only person on his street equipped to cope with the days-long utility outage that followed. Roads had collapsed, and so routes in and out of town were mostly blocked. The reason he was equipped? He had a camper. And he was a hunter who liked to spend days at a time in the boondocks, so the camper was stocked.

      The camper had a propane refrigerator and stove, and he had a propane backyard grill and a generous supply of water and camping style food. He was able to feed his neighbors and provide them with enough water until services were restored.

      Obviously, we can’t all own a camper, for hevvinsake. But we can get our hands on a small one-burner hiker’s stove (these gadgets are very packable) with a 16-ounce cylinder of propane, a couple carboys of water (cheaply available at any water store), some dried and canned foods, lightweight pans and dishes to eat from, enough dry dog food to tide the hound over for a week or two, a sleeping bag, a first-aid kit, a camper’s toiletry bag supplied with toothbrush and stuff, a flashlight, batteries, and a few tools. Some of the loot, such as the flashlight and extra batteries and the first-aid kit, could reside in the car at all times — these items might come in handy anytime. Other stuff: in the garage or in the back of a closet.

      You have a house, right? One solution might be an outdoor storage shed or small storage container that could stand a distance away from any collapsible walls.

      In California, building codes require a degree of earthquake-proofing — have for years — and so it’s likely your house’s structure would not collapse. What is likely to fall over: bookcases, tall cabinets, certain kinds of junk hung on walls, lamps. Junk piled high on closet shelves could fall off and dishes may tumble out of kitchen cabinets, if the earthquake shakes hard enough. But if you were strong enough to lift it up there, you probably will be strong enough to pull it out of your way. If you do have bookcases and tall cabinets, you should bolt these to the walls (to the studs, if you live in a stick-built home) — if you don’t know how, have a handyman do it.

      I was in the 1957 San Francisco earthquake, which was 5.7 magnitude. As long as you were not in the Marina (where the ground is unstable), there was surprisingly little damage to habitations. A road skirting Lake Merced partially collapsed. I was in school: in our room, a filing cabinet almost fell over but then did not, some plaster fell off the ceiling in crumbs, but otherwise we were fine. My mother was on the 6th floor of a high-rise: we had exactly zero damage to our apartment. Up the road, our friends were in the Stonestown towers: all the windows broke out, but otherwise there was no structural damage to the buildings or injuries to the inhabitants.

      Speaking of propane and earthquakes: you do know where the gas service comes into your house, right? And you do know how to turn it off? First thing to do in a severe earthquake is to determine whether there may be a gas leak. If (and only if) you suspect a leak, trot outdoors and turn off the gas valve. If you don’t know how to do that, call the gas company and ask them to show you. They will know how to advise. And this is useful:

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