“You know, I really shouldn’t have to write this…” I say to myself as I write this.
It’s 2018 and we’ve recently had a bomb scare. My home, the archipelago of Hawai’i, an occupied kingdom with some of the richest and rarest biodiversity in the world was sent careening into a human panic this past Saturday as people went on lock down, sped down highways, and kissed loved ones goodbye.
I was not amongst them. I waved good-morning to security on my way to work ten minutes before the alert, then spent the early morning in an office solo with an android model that apparently only gets some emergency messages.
I just got this one:
So, I clicked “ok” –laughing. I got to skip the rest. I learned of store and school lock-downs from arriving coworkers and colleagues an hour later.
Later I’d read posts from friends and acquaintances about how scary it was for them, and would see the panic and sadness in interviews on the news. It’s funny how things sink in days and hours later: anger that a lack of diplomacy outside our control can threaten our lives and sanity like this, paranoia on Reddit sub-threads of dumb hacker and psyops conspiracy theories, and my family, who debated calling me to come over because “well, we should at least die together!”
As a kid, whenever I got onto an airplane, I always felt a mixture of excitement and wonder, and I suppose, as the flight attendants ran through emergency briefings, also an occasional dim fear. My coping strategy for the thought of a crashing plane was to memorize the emergency instructions. I’ve flown dozens of times since and still usually watch briefings with some level of respect— later learning a flight attendants actual role is in some cases primarily emergency personnel, (they are not really there just to serve you peanuts).
The truth is later I learn as a jaded adult most people avoid thinking about emergency plans because if a plane is going to crash you’re probably going to die. And similarly if a bomb is going to land you probably won’t live either.
This article comes with that preface, because in the grand scheme of things while ballistic missiles and plane crashes are usually and thankfully rare occurrences, we’re terrified of them because they’re mostly fatal. So, I’m not really writing this article as a solution, the solution is organizing, being politically active, protesting war and international escalations, and a myriad of other options besides these last resorts.
Like engineers and sober pilots, we should operate in our world to do everything in our power to prevent disaster, to design against it and to control for it. But in case we face another day with another freaking text message like that, here is my survival instruction list. Some of these items apply also to other natural disaster preparedness, and overall, its good to consider these as backups –share knowledge and information– and build communities that are well connected, trustworthy and resilient.
With that, here are some tips if you are a human surviving a post-nuclear attack
1) Stay calm
During the false alarm this weekend, there were reports of people speeding on the highway in excess of 100mph and one individual who had a heart attack (he is now in stable condition). It is important to understand that most people survive difficult situations when they are able to think clearly and make rational decisions. In a panic, the human brain simply doesn’t work that well, and indeed those speeding down the highway could have lost their lives from that factor alone. People with prior experience in emergency situations may be good allies to have in the event of any disaster situation, because they can remain calm, and thus are safer to be around and often provide a better “guiding compass” for rational decision making. Those who can be calm under pressure fair better, and likely will make better survival-based decisions.
One way to prepare yourself to remain calm, effective, and levelheaded in an emergency situation is by taking care of your body through nutrition and exercise daily, and to develop a mindfulness meditation practice. (For best results, I’d recommend doing daily, starting at ten minutes a day and working up to forty or more). Your brain will thank you, and you’ll also receive added benefits of improved relationships, cognition, and immuno-health function. In the event of any emergency, a person who meditates is better equip to process and cope with stress.
2) Be well stocked
All of us in Hawaii [and other places] face a gambit of potential natural and man-made emergency situations. Depending on where you live, you’ll want to keep a food supply of one to six months on hand in storage, plenty of water, as well as basic medical/first aid supply, well stocked amount of any prescription medication you are taking, flashlights, and a crank or battery operated radio (with additional power supplies). There are also solar cellphone chargers and “camping” batter storage for small devices. In the event of a nuclear attack, it is likely power and communications could be knocked out. Again, expect this, remain calm, and do not prematurely venture outside.
One piece of advise is to build up a supply over time, each time you go grocery shopping, pick up a few extra things that can serve in an emergency hurricane, tsunami, nuclear or volcanic situation. Keep in one location (like a large bin) that you can easily load into a car—also try to always keep a full or near-full tank of gas (the Feds do it, why shouldn’t you?). Remember with food to get things you actually like to eat that are non-perishable and practical –stock a can opener– and eat/replace food periodically before it expires. Batteries leech over time so be sure to test every six months and keep additional sets.
Basic Supply List:
Non-perishable food (14-90+ days recommended)
Water (as much as possible, 3 days minimum 1 gallon per person per day recommended)
Standard First Aid Kit
Crank or battery radio
Cellphone charger or solar charger
First aid kit/well stocked medications
Be sure to appropriately ration food and water to last as long as possible in the event you are ever in a rough situation. Consider also occasionally fasting and “doing without” during non-emergency times.
3) Seek shelter in a concrete -ideally underground- area, if possible do not move from it for 48+ hours
Radiation dissipates over time, and nuclear blasts can destroy most building materials aside from concrete. In Hawaii especially it is disconcerting to consider a nuclear attack where many of us live in beach houses and homes with slatted windows due to typical warm and humid climates. Spend time considering where you live, work, and play, and consider what more formidable buildings are in those vicinities. ASK your employers, state representatives, school and other organizations where and if they have safe spaces, and be aware of your surroundings.
Unfortunately, most people in Hawaii –and frankly, the world– do not have access to concrete bunkers or storage areas that would protect from fallout. If this bothers you, activate in your communities to develop infrastructure that can protect larger amounts of people. –or, better yet, organize in your communities against international war games and advocate for international diplomacy and deescalation. Consider your leaders when you vote and support political parties, and how these smaller actions affect long term and international diplomacy –which intern affect our environments at home.
In the event of an emergency, it could be tempting to remain outdoors and/or to seek out friends or family. Do not do this if it can be avoided, if you have access to a concrete walled area that is ideally sealed off remain there for 48+ hours or as long as you can. Radiation dissipates considerably during these critical early periods, and you may be safest during an initial fallout period by staying put.
4) Listen for radio and reports of news
This may bring peace of mind, keep you in the know about rescue and aid operations. Do not expect radio to work and do not expect to necessarily be rescued. Try to remain calm. One individual expressed deeper anxiety when a radio she used was “fuzzy” with communications but a still unclear/inaudible discussion. If the channel you are listening to gives you more anxiety than hope, turn it off.
Perhaps not all information is good information…
No 1950s PSA would be complete without some crazy exaggerations and misinformation (note: hiding under a school desk will not do sh*t).
5) Play a game / Stay busy
Do not waste time seeking these (keep them on your person or in an emergency supply kit), but it does not hurt to have a pack of crayons, playing cards, or novel in your emergency supply to pass time if need be. Other social games and stories may help comfort anxious persons in a group or children. Hours or days in a confined space during stressful times may be soothed by a simple item or play activities like this, and may help prevent panic with others and alleviate anxiety.
6) Consider anti-anxiety supplements in your emergency kit
Consider keeping in your emergency kit a natural supplement like Valerian (a sleep and anxiety herb) or a stiff drink (be responsible and do not become inebriated, be weary of mixing with other medications or exposing those with allergies or addictions). It is likely even if you don’t want or need it, if you are with others, it could benefit someone suffering from a panic attack or aid some in sleeping. Do not overdo it, but realize a state of panic is also not effective either. Practice mindfulness and deep breathing techniques to support yourself and/or those who are with you.
7) Take iodine
Iodine supplements help block receptors that would otherwise bind to some of the most radioactive material. It can support in the protection of thyroid cancer– one of the most common post-effects of radiation poisoning. A dose should be taken every 24 hours there is exposure. Iodine can also be useful for water purification. (Be extremely careful not to exceed recommended doses as too much can be toxic.)
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set recommended dosages for individuals based on age.
Less than 1 month old – 16 mg
1 month to 3 years – 32 mg
3 to 18 years – 65 mg
Over 18 years or 150 lbs – 130 mg
According to The Survival Medicine Handbook:
Take the KI tablet once a day for 7-10 days, or longer if prolonged or multiple exposures are expected. Children should take 1/2 doses. It is also recommended to consider 1/2 tablets for large dogs and 1/4 tablet for small dogs and cats.
(per 130 mg tablet. 1/2 = 65 mg.)
These are sold over the counter or online for approx $10 per 14 doses.
There is some evidence to suggest other supplements like activated charcoal, bentonite clay, antioxidants, b12, potassium and other vitamins and minerals may also aid in prevention effects of some toxins. Maintain a healthy diet and look into some of these as supplements if desired.
8) Wait for help, or venture out
Estimates for how long you should stay indoors are 48 hours to several days or weeks. I assume this would be based on what supplies you have and what rescue crews are around. Be smart, don’t get antsy and don’t leave if you don’t have to. Have a family emergency plan so loved ones are on the same page/have some general idea of each others whereabouts and when and where you could reconnect safely.
9) Plan for the worst
There are no guarantees in life, no one gets out alive, and the future is unknowable. As I said in my introduction, this post isn’t meant to really save you, but to give you the tools and the mindset to consider upping your odds in an uncertain world. Many of these tips (especially supply kits, what to expect for some communications) are really relevant to other kinds of natural disasters one might face in a lifetime. I think it’s good when sketchy things happen to count your blessings and develop an attitude of preparedness in general when you can. Humans are resilient, and we’re designed to survive. If this Saturday freaked you out at all, may as well channel that energy.
(Art by Akira Kurosawa)
10) Hope for the best
Life is about experiences and connections, one of the most beautiful, silver lining things I see in my community after all this is just how loving and family oriented Hawaii’s people are. While some panicked most of my loved ones just shared stories of being with one another, hanging with families, and the relationships that brought them closer. Many shrugged “what can you do? We were fine.” another coworker told me in at her age she is just really grateful: grateful for her life, for her family, for the time she’s had. Why spend the last moments –or any moments– of your life in anxiety? Parts of life have it sure, we are meant to protect ourselves after all, so let’s do that with what we’ve learned, and spend the rest of our energy appreciating who and what we have in our lives now.
Stay firm Hawai’i
cover image credit: Alex Antropov