What Hawaii's Civil Defense Error Can Teach Us

January 15, 2018

What Hawaii's Civil Defense Error Can Teach Us

By now most people have read about Hawaii's errant Ballistic Missile alert on the 13th of January, 2018, which sent people scrambling for cover before State Civil Defense officials declared that there was no threat nearly an hour later.  What this event made apparent was how ill prepared the vast majority of people were had this been a real incident.  Resulting videos and interviews reflected that people simply did not know what to do, where to go, or how to protect themselves and their families.  The key lesson here is to make an Emergency Plan before you receive an alert like this one.  If you don't have a plan, there's no better time than now to do it.  We offer several free resources that outline how to make an emergency preparedness plan for whatever situation confronts you.

It takes less than 40 minutes from launch for a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to travel from East Asia to the continental United States, but the effective time to alert the public and react is cut down by perhaps 10 minutes to give time for authorities to confirm the launch and trajectory and issue proper warning to State and Federal civil defense authorities.  This leaves 20-30 minutes for you to enact your plan -- but not enough time to try and come up with a plan on the fly.  Submarine launched ballistic missiles (SRBMs), or ship-launched ballistic missiles cut that time even shorter.  So, what should you do if you received this alert?

Step 1:   Don't panic.  Ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are a big deal, but they are survivable.  Current North Korean nuclear weapons have a relatively limited explosive blast radius and U.S. missile defenses are actively monitoring and defending against this threat, meaning that unless you live in the very center of a major metropolitan area, you are not likely to be in the blast radius.  We're much more concerned about the possibility of a high altitude nuclear detonation and ensuing Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), which North Korean State-run Media has said it would utilize.  We carry a full line of off grid power equipment that will keep your lights on even if everyone else is in the dark.

Ready.gov offers the following instructions in the case of a nuclear blast:

The three factors for protecting oneself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding and time.

  • Distance - the more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. Shielding - the heavier and denser the materials - thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth - between you and the fallout particles, the better.
  • Time - fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1 percent of its initial radiation level.

Taking shelter during a nuclear blast is absolutely necessary. There are two kinds of shelters:

  • Blast shelters are specifically constructed to offer some protection against blast pressure, initial radiation, heat and fire. But even a blast shelter cannot withstand a direct hit from a nuclear explosion.
  • Fallout shelters do not need to be specially constructed for protecting against fallout. They can be any protected space, provided that the walls and roof are thick and dense enough to absorb the radiation given off by fallout particles.

Remember that any protection, however temporary, is better than none at all, and the more shielding, distance and time you can take advantage of, the better.

Before a Nuclear Blast

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of a nuclear blast.

  • Build an Emergency Supply Kit
  • Make a Family Emergency Plan.
  • Find out from officials if any public buildings in your community have been designated as fallout shelters.
  • If your community has no designated fallout shelters, make a list of potential shelters near your home, workplace and school, such as basements, subways, tunnels, or the windowless center area of middle floors in a high-rise building.
  • During periods of heightened threat increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.

During a Nuclear Blast

The following are guidelines for what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion.

  • Listen for official information and follow the instructions provided by emergency response personnel.
  • If an attack warning is issued, take cover as quickly as you can, below ground if possible, and stay there until instructed to do otherwise.
  • Find the nearest building, preferably built of brick or concrete, and go inside to avoid any radioactive material outside.
  • If better shelter, such as a multi-story building or basement can be reached within a few minutes, go there immediately.
  • Go as far below ground as possible or in the center of a tall building.
  • During the time with the highest radiation levels it is safest to stay inside, sheltered away from the radioactive material outside.
  • Radiation levels are extremely dangerous after a nuclear detonation but the levels reduce rapidly.
  • Expect to stay inside for at least 24 hours unless told otherwise by authorities.
  • When evacuating is in your best interest, you will be instructed to do so. All available methods of communication will be used to provide news and / or instructions.

If you are caught outside and unable to get inside immediately:

  • Do not look at the flash or fireball - it can blind you.
  • Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
  • Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.
  • Take shelter as soon as you can, even if you are many miles from ground zero where the attack occurred - radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles.
  • If you were outside during or after the blast, get clean as soon as possible, to remove radioactive material that may have settled on your body.
  • Remove your clothing to keep radioactive material from spreading. Removing the outer layer of clothing can remove up to 90% of radioactive material.
  • If practical, place your contaminated clothing in a plastic bag and seal or tie the bag. Place the bag as far away as possible from humans and animals so that the radiation it gives off does not affect others.
  • When possible, take a shower with lots of soap and water to help remove radioactive contamination. Do not scrub or scratch the skin.
  • Wash your hair with shampoo or soap and water. Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair, keeping it from rinsing out easily.
  • Gently blow your nose and wipe your eyelids and eyelashes with a clean wet cloth. Gently wipe your ears.
  • If you cannot shower, use a wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe your skin that was not covered by clothing.

After a Nuclear Blast

People in most of the areas that would be affected could be allowed to come out of shelter within a few days and, if necessary, evacuate to unaffected areas. The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the explosion. It might be necessary for those in the areas with highest radiation levels to shelter for up to a month.

Returning to Your Home

Remember the following when returning home:

  • Keep listening to the radio and television for news about what to do, where to go and places to avoid.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away from areas marked “radiation hazard” or “HAZMAT.”


Ready Nation offers several products to assist in your preparedness for a Nuclear Emergency:

Fine Particulate Mask to prevent breathing radioactive dust

Fire and Smoke Emergency Escape Mask

Tyvek Style White Coveralls

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