I found myself googling ‘bomb shelters near me’ this week. The results were not particularly comforting.
Never in a million years did I ever think I would be sitting down to write about the threat of nuclear war. Call it optimism, call it education – I genuinely thought our species had learned that lesson.
And yet, here we are.
The night Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States, I sat down and cried. As an Australian living in the US, I am painfully aware of the shortcomings of the US system – healthcare and immigration come to mind pretty prominently here. But, it seemed glaringly obvious to me what a poor choice Donald Trump was (and is!) for President.
Listen to our latest episode of Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK, from nuclear wars to neo-Nazis. (Post continues after audio.)
That night on my lounge room floor, I cried for my family, for women, for minorities, for the sick and disabled, for the disenfranchised, for immigrants, for America, for Australia and for the world.
It only took seven months (yep, efficient!) for Trump to bring us to the brink of nuclear war. Admittedly, the regime in North Korea has been testing the limits of the world’s patience for decades. But even I know you probably do not want to THREATEN A DICTATOR ON SOCIAL MEDIA, and I am not the leader of the free world.
When I was 16 years old, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan. The image of a man’s shadow seared onto a section of a bank’s outer wall still haunts me. I remember recoiling in horror at the pictures of destruction and the display cases of melted flesh and glass and tile. The idea that we could do this to each other again terrifies me.
Every time I turn on the ‘fake news’ it seems like there is something even worse to be concerned about every. Single. Day.
As a parent, this is *yugely* concerning.
It is widely reported that any North Korean target in the US would most likely be Hawaii, Alaska or California. I live in Los Angeles. Yay for me! Whilst there are contradictory assessments as to whether North Korea has such long-range missile capabilities or not, many Californian mums (such as myself) are incredibly anxious about this tense situation. Most of us are just trying to be rationally prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Lately, I have seen a surprising amount of questions posted about how to deal with a nuclear attack in LA based mummy groups on Facebook. Surprising, because this is not generally a common topic of discussion for mums looking for advice online.
‘Can I still breastfeed after a nuclear bomb?’
‘Asking for a friend – how do you deal with it when your 6-year-old comes home from school sobbing and says the other kids told him we are going to war and North Korea is going to blow us up?’
Is this even real life? Why couldn’t Obama be President forever?
How DO you tell your six-year-old that North Korea isn’t going to nuke us into oblivion? How can we even be sure that North Korea isn’t going to nuke us into oblivion?
I spoke to the mum, Wendy*, who posted this question for her friend. Wendy works in the entertainment industry and her friend isn’t a member of the online mum community. Like any political discussion online, things got a little heated on both sides. Responses ranged from, ‘don’t be ridiculous’ to genuinely helpful advice from other mums and therapists. Many mums also pointed out that in a way, the situation is not so different from kids having to learn earthquake or active shooter drills in school. Eventually, Wendy says, her friend “just told him that scary stuff happens and we have to just preach that peace and love prevail and if others don’t feel that way we need to help them see that. We can’t live in fear and if we are always scared then they win and we don’t want them to win.”
After eight years in Los Angeles, I have seriously only just put together my emergency earthquake kit in preparation for the ‘big one’ and now I have to know how to survive a nuclear attack? According to media reports, residents of California would have about 15 minutes warning if North Korea launched a missile in our direction. So, it’s essential that us mums here know what to do to protect our families.
Ready.gov provides the following advice for people in the event of a nuclear blast:
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.
Don't look at the flash or the fireball - it could blind you.
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.
Here's a fun fact: it takes two weeks for the radiation level of nuclear fallout to decrease to 1%, which means that could be how long we need to shelter with enough food to get by. Can you imagine being stuck in a basement with a toddler for two weeks? Holy hell.
As an expat, I am thankful that my family has an emergency ripcord – as long as we get enough warning to pull it. Many Australians I know that are living in California have a plan to return home in the event that the current political climate escalates to the point that staying would pose a risk to us and our families.
For now – I lie safe in the knowledge that I am well informed enough to know that I cannot use conditioner on my hair after a nuclear attack. Phew. Crisis averted.
*Names have been changed for privacy.