THE NATION – No Worries: What to do if North Korea nukes Washington, D.C., seriously


October 24, 2017
Matt Axel
News Writer
The Nation

Ever since North Korea tested its first atomic bomb over a decade ago, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) media has continually threatened to nuke the United States. Only recently have these threats become credible. American analysts now believe the DPRK is technologically capable of hitting the United States coast and a far inland as Chicago with a nuclear weapon.

Fortunately, Pyongyang probably isn’t capable of annihilating Washington, D.C. like they often claim. Although Kim Jong-un’s regime recently shocked the world by testing their first hydrogen bomb—a significant stride, undoubtedly—they’re still far behind their enemy nations when it comes to deploying such weapons and bypassing enemy defenses. Without an adequate air or submarine force, their only real hope is missiles. Thus far, experts are barely convinced that North Korea is capable of hitting us with a traditional nuclear warhead—the kind we used against Japan Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Even a single strike would be a major upset for their 60s era technology.

Theoretically, thanks to technology and protocol not available back then, almost everyone outside the half-mile blast radius could survive such an attack.

Take Cover!

Americans today have the blessing of being constantly connected to outside information sources. Should Pyongyang launch a missile toward the U.S., our intelligence would pick it up immediately, and the whole country would be informed within minutes via cell phone alerts, radio broadcasts, street sirens, police activity, and word of mouth. Citizens would have ten to fifteen minutes to prepare themselves, but they have to know how.

  • Firstly, resist the urge to run. There’s no telling precisely where a missile might strike, but you can be certain the entire surrounding area will be deadly. Even if you live in the heart of the city, your odds of dying in the blast are low, but if you’re unsheltered, you’re in serious danger of contracting radiation poisoning—no matter where, exactly, you happen to be standing.
  • Believe it or not, most city structures immediately outside a blast zone will remain standing. Furthermore, bricks and wood are highly effective at blocking radiation. Daycares, schools, offices, and nursing homes are already ideal places for your loved ones to reside—whether you’re together or not.
  • A car is better than open air, but not by much. A wooden structure is better, but also likely to catch fire.
  • Abandoning either of these for a concrete basement is ideal, and worth exposing yourself temporarily.

The Blast

Once you’re settled and ready, don’t peak through the window to look out for the fireball.  Avoid it as much as possible. Follow the old “duck and cover” protocol you’ve seen on Cold-War era educational PSA videos. Lie underneath anything that might offer protection, except glass.  Cover your head and wait. Once the blast happens, stay hidden a little longer. Depending on the location of the explosion, your shelter may not get hit by shockwaves for up to 30 seconds.

Remain sheltered for at least 24 hours, unless advised otherwise by rescue or military personnel. If you do venture outside, look out for areas marked “hazard” or “HAZMAT” and stay away.

I’m Exposed!

If your shelter failed miserably, and you feel exposed, don’t give up. Radiation takes time to build up in the body. Tests conducted in 2010 showed, you can still decontaminate yourself up to 90 percent by just stripping down and washing the dust of your skin. In Washington,D.C., mass decontamination is the responsibility of the fire department. If your presence is made known to rescuers, you’ll likely be whisked away to a makeshift tent, a school, or some other decontamination location. If these services are not yet in effect, don’t wait around. Wash yourself with any water and cleaning materials available.

Are You Ready?

It’s hard to know how emergency responders would handle a nuclear crisis like this, since it’s never happened before. Depending on the nature of the attack, responders may either evacuate certain areas or instruct residents to residents to stay put. Contrary to what you’ve seen in movies, it’s unlikely that all communication channels would totally crumble. The American Red Cross recommends keeping the following materials inside either your vehicle or the shelter itself:

  • a handheld radio
  • several gallons of water (for both sanitation and drinking)
  • food (non-perishable)
  • extra batteries
  • flashlight
  • first-aid kit
  • whistle
  • duct tape (for keeping dust and debris out of seems and gaps)
  • sanitation wipes
  • local maps

Information on fallout shelters can be found online. You can also find and mark your own shelters, shelters nearby your work, your children’s school, etc.

Should I Be Worried?

Keep in mind, the likelihood of a North Korea attack on the United States is astronomically low. No one knows exactly why Kim Jong-un pursues nuclear weapons with such veracity, but we can be fairly certain it’s not out of desire to attack to the United States. More likely, Kim wants to deter his enemies from intervening in whatever  action he has planned.

Kim Jong-un’s ultimate goal in this chess game may actually be to invade and take back South Korea, the land which his grandfather, Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung, lost in the Korean War many years ago. Should Kim Jong-un gamble on this and lose, he may attempt to take one or more of his enemies down with him.

Until that hypothetical conflict begins, there’s little reason to worry.


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