How to Survive a Nuclear Bomb; Your Questions Answered

How to Survive a Nuclear Bomb; Your Questions Answered

Hawaii’s false ballistic missile alarm on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at 8:07 am struck fear into the hearts of many.  For 38 minutes, residents across the state of Hawaii feared the worst.  Even my children and I said goodbye to my husband and told him how much we loved him, as he was at work and separated from us at the time.  The fear and then the following anger has been so great that there have been death threats issued to key public officials, like Governor David Ige and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.  Despite any fear, anger, or even apathy about the false warning, the most important thing that happened is people in Hawaii and across America are getting educated about how they can survive a nuclear bomb.

This post is dedicated to all the questions and concerns the I’ve received since my original blog post about nuclear bomb preparedness.  I will answer all the most commonly asked questions and hopefully make everyone feel more prepared should the next ballistic missile warning be a real one.  I encourage everyone to get proactive and prepared!  Please feel free to contact me with any more specific questions.


Won’t a nuclear bomb just decimate Hawaii?

Many people mistakenly think that a nuclear bomb in Hawaii or their areas would kill everyone and therefore it is not something that they would have any control over should it ever happen.  This belief is false because the North Korean nuclear weapons are not as strong as those seen in the Cold War.  Their nuclear bombs are relatively small when compared to those previously tested by the Soviet Union, China, the US, and France.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union tested a 50 megaton (50,000 kiloton) nuclear weapon the Tsar bomb

  • 3,333 times the force of Hiroshima
  • Blast radius 5 miles, and thermal radius 37.3 miles (third degree burns on most people)
  • 4.5 times the height of Mt Everest
  • The bomb was detonated over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean
  • Windows were shattered in Norway and Finland
  • Shockwaves travelled around the entire globe 3 times
  • The Russian Tsar bomb would definitely decimate all of Hawaii

The largest North Korean nuclear weapon tested in 2017 estimated to be 100 kilotons

  • 1,000 times the force of Hiroshima
  • Thermal radius 4.2 miles
  • Capable of traveling 13,000 km putting the whole world, except Latin America and Antarctica within range

China’s largest nuclear weapon test 4,000 kilotons

  • Thermal radius 15.5 miles
  • 4,000

It is estimated that 90% of Hawaii’s population would survive a nuclear bomb from North Korea.  If you are in that 90% then you will need to minimize your radiation exposure and maximize your chances of survival.

What about Anti-missile systems?

The US, South Korea, and Japan are equipped with anti-missile systems that are designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles.  Residents on Oahu often see the big white floating ball in Pearl Harbor that is a part of the anti-missile defense system.  However, missile intercept failures are common.  The US anti-missile system was completed in 2004 and since then many missile intercept tests have failed.


How did the false alarm happen?

If you were like my husband, then you believed the system got hacked or already assumed that the warning was a mistake.  I was surprised by how many people did not take the alarm at face value, and they were all proven right when the second text stating False Alarm came in.  The concern is that many people will not take any alerts seriously if the real deal happens.

The following is a tweet that demonstrates the absolutely awful user interface without checks and balances that caused the false warning.

Mistakes definitely happen, and this was proven 3 days later when Japan experienced it’s own missile warning false alarm.


How much warning will we have?

The nuclear missile will be traveling at an incredibly fast speed.  You cannot outrun a ballistic missile.  Best estimates put Hawaii’s warning time at about 15 minutes.  People do not have time to drive around or walk around in a daze as many were doing on Saturday.  Hence, why the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency stance has been to shelter in place.  There will be very little time.  An essential emergency plan and preparedness kit should already be in place.


Where should I go?

As previously stated, due to the short notice and warning time the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency advises sheltering in place.  Get to the middle of the lowest level of the building you are in.  Try to stay away from doors and windows.  Glass especially will be blown inward by the blast and will act as dangerous sharp flying projectile objects.  The worst place you can be is outside during a detonation, followed closely by an automobile.  The auto glass will fly inward and due to the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) the vehicle will stop working.  If driving, get out of your car as soon as safely possible.

Better shelter

That being said, if you are close to a better shelter, like across the street from a concrete building or better yet a basement or actual bomb shelter, then get to it QUICKLY before detonation.


What are the Best Bomb Shelters?

The more dense material between you and the outside world, the better.  Poor shelters, which include about 20% of houses, are constructed of lightweight materials and lack basements. The best shelters are thick brick or concrete and lack windows. Like a bomb shelter.

Bomb Shelters
Levels of protection from radiation that various buildings and locations offer.Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/FEMA


Do I move after the bomb goes off?

After the initial blast you also have about 15 minutes until the radioactive fallout begins to fall back down to earth (assuming there is only 1 nuclear bomb), so at that time if you are in a poor wooden structure with only one floor then you may want to QUICKLY get to a more solid structure.  Remember you will likely need to walk there, because the EMP may short out all vehicles.  Also, there will still be radioactivity from the initial blast so you will be exposing yourself to radiation, it just may be less in the long run if you can get to a more solid structure before the fallout falls back to earth with even more radioactivity.  Do NOT attempt a move if the new shelter is more than 5 minutes away, it will likely not be worth the risk and exposure.


How long will I need to shelter in place?

Most estimates put the highest risk for radiation exposure up to 72 hours after an explosion.  With Hawaii’s trade winds the fallout should dissipate relatively quickly.  If you are on an outer island then the fallout may be coming your way, so stay sheltered until the all clear!  The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency states they recommend sheltering in place up to 14 days or waiting for the all clear, but the 14 days is longer than what they state on the mainland because of how long they anticipate Hawaii ports to be closed.

My personal opinion is that if a nuclear bomb were to hit a major city it would probably take 14 days to get help into the area and notify people of the all clear without good communication systems, as opposed to it really being radioactively dangerous for that long.  That being said, the epicenter of the blast (radius up to 3.3 miles) where all life, buildings, etc. is decimated, could be radioactive for decades.

Once sheltered properly DO NOT leave your shelter.  You cannot see, smell, or touch radiation.  You will only know you have been exposed when you start getting symptoms.  Depending on your radiation dose you could manifest symptoms decades later, as is the case with cancers caused by radiation exposure.


What are the symptoms of radiation exposure and radiation poisoning?

Within the thermal radius as described above most people will get third degree burns.

Radiation exposure is measured in units called grays (Gy).  The radiation from an x-ray is much less than 0.1 Gy. Signs and symptoms of radiation sickness usually appear when the entire body receives an absorbed dose of at least 1 Gy. The initial symptoms of radiation sickness that is treatable is nausea and vomiting. Doses greater than 10 Gy to the whole body are generally not treatable and usually lead to death within two days to two weeks, depending on the dose and duration of the exposure.


How to Treat Radiation Exposure and Radiation Sickness


  • Remove as much external radioactive particles as possible by removing clothing and shoes (eliminates about 90 percent of external contamination) and gently washing with water and soap to remove additional radiation particles from the skin.
  • Decontamination is essential to prevent spread of radioactive materials and lowers the risk of internal contamination from inhalation, ingestion or open wounds.

Commercially Available Radiation Poisoning Treatment

  • I do NOT recommend radiation exposure treatments because these treatments are only good if you’ve been exposed to a specific type of radiation
  • A nuclear bomb would produce hundreds of types of radioactive materials
  • Save the hundreds of dollars that these treatments cost
  • Iodine treatments to prevent thyroid cancer are the most common available and would account for less than 0.01% of radioactive nuclear bomb material
  • It would cost less money to buy lead sheets for radiation protection (I’m of course kidding about buying sheets of lead, I don’t actually recommend that, cause that definitely goes into the realm of crazy overkill)

Supportive treatment

Treat individual symptoms as able

  • Bacterial infections
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Burns

End-of-life care

Absorbing large doses of radiation (10 Gy or greater) usually causes death. Depending on the severity of illness, death can occur within two days or two weeks.  Treat the pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Psychological or pastoral care would be beneficial, if available.


Why should I NOT look at the flash of light?

The light produced by a nuclear bomb is brighter than the sun and it will burn your retinas and possibly permanently harm your vision.


What is Fallout?

Fallout is a mess of bomb material, soil, and debris that is vaporized, made radioactive, and sprinkled as dust and ash across the landscape by prevailing winds.


Will food and water be radioactively contaminated?

All covered food and water should be safe.  Most of our food supplies would be usable after a nuclear attack. Radiation passing through food does not contaminate it.  Fallout might be on the can or package containing the food, but these could be wiped or washed off.  Water stored in covered containers and water in covered wells would not be contaminated after an attack, because the fallout particles could not get into the water. Even if the containers were not covered (such as buckets or bathtubs filled with emergency supplies of water), as long as they were indoors it is highly unlikely that fallout particles would get into them.


What Should I have in my Emergency Kit?

Per the Department of Emergency Management, City and County of Honolulu; supplies for 14 days recommended.

  1. Water: One gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation use.
    • Consider filing up a bathtub or large trashcanbathtub
  2. Food: Nonperishable food that does not require cooking. Also survival snacks such as peanut butter, protein shakes, dried fruits and nuts.
    • Our emergency food bucket was portable and ready to go, I lugged that thing all over UH!
  3. Eating utensils: Plates, mess kits, forks and chopsticks. Nonelectrical can opener.
    • Save a handful of utensils and napkins for FREE from restaurants when you get take out
    • I recommend an emergency toolkit or a multitool knife for the can opener
  4. Radio: Battery-powered or hand-crank.
    • Hand-crank would be optimal so you wouldn’t have to worry about batteries
  5. Light: Flashlight or portable fluorescent light.
    • Our hand-crank radio is also a combination flashlight, see above.
  6. Batteries: Have plenty and check them annually.
    • Here are some variety battery packs from Amazon with FREE shipping for Prime members
  7. First-aid kit: Get a well-stocked kit. Consider enrolling in a first-aid certification course.
    • I stock medical supplies and keep a first aid kit for the kids.  I even have a staple gun, sutures, and derma bond.  Below are some affordable options.
  8. Whistle: for signaling for help because the sound carries much farther than the human voice.
    • Some of the multitool and first aid kits have whistles
  9. Dust mask: Helps filter contaminated air.
    • We all remember that huge cloud of dust after 9-11, I’m sure a bomb will create an even bigger dust cloud
  10. Sanitation items: Including moist towelettes, heavy-duty garbage bags, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, baking soda or kitty litter to absorb odors, gloves and plastic ties.
    • Most people have extras of these supplies
  11. Maps: Local area maps.
    • Remember there may not be any phone access for google maps
    • FREE maps can be found in the phone book
  12. Tools: Including a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, and duct tape.
    • See the emergency or multi tool kit options as above
  13. Prescriptions: Including special medications, glasses and medical devices.
    • Consider a pill box
  14. Pet supplies: Food, extra water and medication.
  15. Miscellaneous items: Including infant formula, diapers, incontinence supplies and feminine products.

Have this kit prepared, along with a plan, which should include knowing where the nearest optimal shelters for radiation protection are.

Extra optional emergency kit items:

  1. EMP protection bags
    • Protect your electronics, below are some EMP protection options
  2. Chlorine bleach
    • For cleaning and water disinfection
  3. Change of Clothes
  4. Blankets


I heard that Was-Mart and Sam’s Club were kicking people out during the warning, is that legal?

Technically it is probably not illegal for anyone kicking people out of private property, but it was really irresponsible the to community to which these stores serve. Many businesses welcomed people in for shelter as the fear was real and if the missile threat had also been real, then many people would only have had minutes to find shelter.

After the incident there were apologies made, as really Was-mart and Sam’s Club would have been ideal locations to hunker down and ride out any nuclear fall-out if those particular buildings had survived any bombing.


Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Nuclear Detonation Guidance Summary

Hawaii Emergency Management Guidance



  1. The Washington Post. North Korea tested another nuke.  How big was it?
  2. BBC News.  North Korea’s nuclear program: How advanced is it?
  3. Popular Mechanics.  After Harrowing Missile False Alarms, What Comes Next?
  4. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency
  5. The Merck Manual.  Radiation Sickness.
  6. The Mayo Clinic.  Radiation Sickness.
  7. Science Magazine.  How to survive a nuclear bomb/explosion.
  8. Business Insider.  If a nuclear bomb is dropped on your city, here’s where you should run and hide.

This post contains links to associated helpful products for your convenience.  I am an Amazon affiliate and may make a small commission if you should choose to use the links provided to purchase.


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