What to Do if Nuclear War Breaks Out

What to Do if Nuclear War Breaks Out

The world is probably closer to the use of nuclear arms in an aggressive manner today than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There’s the possibility of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons, the possibility that Iran has nuclear weapons, North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and the sorry state of security for old Soviet Union weapons.

NOTE: When I was a young and impressionable prepper, I hung out at the website where the following was originally published. The site is long gone, but some of their content lives on. For example, I had this saved on my hard drive.

As near as I can tell, this was written at some point between 1999 and 2004 and it focused on war in the Middle East, not an attack on our homeland. Don’t expect it to be 100 percent up to date or to pertain to a nuclear war started by Russia. Still, the content may prove useful.


So let’s say the worst happens and you hear on the radio that a nuclear device has exploded somewhere in the world. Here are suggestions for what to do:

Don’t Panic

Those of us who grew up during the cold war have a grave fear of nuclear war and many are likely to assume that because one or more nuclear warheads or device has exploded, the world as we know it will end. This could result in all sorts of panic, especially since it will take some time for real facts and figures to be known. (We’ll cover the effects of panic more extensively below.) So your first step is to separate yourself from the masses by not panicking. Take a deep breath and remember that if you are not in the blast radius or down wind from it, you are in no immediate danger form the blast. So calm down and don’t do anything foolish. Instead of acting out of panic, take a few minutes to make a plan or to activate an existing plan (which we can help you develop). Remember, just because those around you are losing their heads does not mean you need to do so also.

Keep Informed

Turn on the news and try to learn as much as you can about the attack as well as local events. This will affect how your plan. Later, you will need to monitor reports of fallout (see below.) The location, number and size of the detonations are important, as are the wind currents and weather patterns. How people around the world and around your neighborhood react is also something you should monitor, as it will effect your immediate well being more than the actual explosions will.

Gather Your Family

During any period of unrest, it’s best to have your immediate family around you. People who are traveling should return home on the first available flight or should rent cars and drive home if flights are booked or grounded. Everyone will perform better knowing that their loved ones are safe.

If your kids are in school or day care, there is probably no reason to get them immediately. They should return home safely through regular means, such as the school bus or carpool. Remember Rule One (don’t panic) and do nothing to panic your children. This will be a stressful time for everyone, and getting young children panicky or upset will not help the situation. You will have to decided whether or not to send them back to school the following days based on your plan and what you have learned from Step 2. If your children are at an away camp or boarding school, you will have to determine if they are possibly safer there than at your residence.

Cancel extracurricular activities and plans outside the home until you can be sure (by monitoring the news) that the situation is stabilized and there is no danger or unrest locally.

Lock Your Doors

Once you have all gathered at home, lock your doors and secure your perimeter as best as possible. Then try to go about life as you normally would. Have a good dinner and play a game with the kids. Watch a video. Try to seek normalcy and be reassuring so that the kids can sleep well. Don’t bombard them or yourself with repeated images of death and destruction on TV, as this is not healthy. Don’t do anything dangerous or risky as police, fire and ambulance services may be responding to other emergencies. But remember, unless civil unrest develops as a result of panic, a nuclear detonation in the Middle East or Asia will cause no immediate danger to people in North America. A detonation in the U.S. could have much more serious effects, but this really depends on the target and your location. The closed you are to the blast radius, the more immediate the danger.

Now, you may think it is foolish to watch TV and take it easy, but if you have planned and prepared and have ample supplies of food and survival gods, there is no reason to act otherwise. If you have not prepared, then going out to buy up supplies at the last minute will only add to the panic and endanger you. So take advantage of what may be your last day of calm and family togetherness.

Understand What Panic May Do

If a large number of people learn of the nuclear exchange at the same time several things may be expected to happen at once:

  • Telephone lines will be clogged as people immediately call loved ones and decide what to do. The Internet will also grow much busier, especially news sites, as people at work look for breaking information.
  • The stock market will crash until trading is suspended. And even when trading resumes, prices will continue to fall. A nuclear exchange will create tremendous economic disruption, and this will be reflected in the markets. Have some money available if the ATMs are empty and the credit card machines go down, and have some liquid wealth outside the market.
  • Major roads will be jammed as people leave work and return home, creating a super rush hour. Other people will leave their homes for “safer” locations, such as friends in the country, vacation homes or even campgrounds. Clogged highways will be especially bad in cities and in areas with a limited numbers of bridges and tunnels, such as New York and Washington, D.C. This is a situation where civil violence could break out.
  • There may be lines or delays at gas stations as everyone decides to fill their tanks before it is “too late.” Some stations could run out of gas. Others may rise prices or ask for cash only. This is another situation where civil violence could break out.
  • People will shop for food and supplies, causing lines and shortages of everything from bread and milk to bottled water, batteries and toilet paper. Most grocery stores rotate their stock so quickly they have only a two to three day supply of key items in stock. Thanks to just-in-time production and distribution methods, if everyone panics and shops at one time, we could well see empty shelves very quickly.
  • There may be civil unrest as people panic, especially if there are shortages at the grocery store. If local police forces are overwhelmed, this could escalate to riots and looting, especially in densely populated urban areas.
  • Riots and civil unrest could cause general lawlessness, as law enforcement is overwhelmed and unable to respond to calls. Depending on where you live, you could be in danger form fires (arson), or you could be targeted for home invasion robberies and other acts of violence. You could also get caught up in a riot or random acts of violence. Again, proper planning for this possibility will help you be prepared. Remember that the Korean merchants in South Central demonstrated the value of firearm ownership in this type of situation.

Having a plan can save you from getting caught up in the worst panic. Know where to go and what to do once you are there.

Once all family members are at home and you know whether or not there is local civil unrest, you can plan for the next few days or, better yet, implement your existing plan. Your key concerns will be protecting yourself and your loved ones from possible radiation dangers, making sure you are safe from local unrest and ensuring that you have enough supplies to live through the next few weeks or even months.

Continue to Part 2, Protecting Yourself from Fallout or Part 3, Nuclear War: Planning and Preparing for the Worst.