The Corner

National Security & Defense

If a Missile Alert Sounds, Prepare to Live

You get an alert on your phone that a missile is inbound. You flip on the television to confirm, and it’s repeating the same message. What do you do? Do you prepare to die, or do you prepare to live?

Prepare to live. As tempting as it may be, don’t spend the precious minutes between missile alert and missile impact texting family, sending tearful goodbyes on Snapchat, or attempting to reconcile old grudges. Don’t do it.

First, you have to understand that the odds are overwhelming that you’ll survive an initial blast. Nuclear weapons are devastating, but it’s a Hollywood myth that any individual strike will vaporize an entire American city, much less the suburbs and countryside. You can go to sites like nuclearsecrecy.com to see the blast radius of direct nuclear strikes at various yields.

The bottom line, even if a nuclear weapon as big as the largest North Korea has ever tested were to impact squarely on Manhattan, the vast majority of New Yorkers would survive the initial blast. A strike would devastate central Honolulu but leave many suburbs intact. If the missile misses a city center even by a small amount, the number of initial casualties plunges dramatically.

Second, you also need to understand that you have far more control over your survival than you might think. Time and isolation are your friends. The more walls you can put between yourself and not just the blast but also the fallout, the better. Get in a basement. If you don’t have a basement, get in an interior room. Gather as much food and water as you possibly can and hunker down. Every single hour, every single day you can stay indoors and protected from the elements brings you closer to survival. The radiation threat tends to diminish rapidly.

Resist the urge to be an apocalypse tourist. There is no need to try to record the nuclear blast on your phone, and running outside after the boom is a really, really bad idea — unless it’s the only way to escape a fire. Otherwise the reward for your curiosity could be an agonizing, unnecessary death due to radiation sickness. Stay put. Be patient. Eat your canned food and drink your water.

Unless we’re dealing with a massive nuclear exchange with Russia — or, say, a serious attack from China — help will come. The closer you are to the blast, the more time it will take to safely transport serious aid, but your survival is far more in your hands than you think.

Yesterday’s warning presents an opportunity to take stock. Do you have an emergency plan? Do you have a basic stock of emergency supplies? Do you know exactly where you’d go in your house? Have you gone to websites like ready.gov to understand the basics? There’s nothing weird or strange about being a basic “prepper.” The odds of facing a nuclear strike are very, very small, but there’s nothing wrong with preparing for the far-more-likely hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, or ice storm. When you live in the South and Midwest, it’s hardly unusual for the power to go out, the emergency alerts to sound, and for families to hunker down in their safe spaces. Why not be ready?

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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