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By Jay Whimpey, PE, TACDA Board Member
Fire Safety and Survival
There are over 360,000 house fires in the United States every year with a substantial number of injuries and deaths. Eighty percent of the deaths and injuries occur in residential structures, with most of those fatalities occurring while those people are asleep. We can reduce the risk of death or injuries by fire through understanding how and where fires start and how to prevent the fires and ensure prompt notification if a fire occurs.
Studies of fires during emergency situations show a substantial increased risk because of the frequency and severity of fires when individuals and families are using cooking and heating methods that are less familiar and more hazardous than they normally use. The principles and methods for preventing fires and protecting ourselves apply both in our everyday lives and emergency situations.
Asphyxiation, or lack of oxygen, causes most fatalities in fires. A fire is dangerous because of the direct exposure to heat and flames that can burn us, super-heated air that can damage the lungs and breathing passages, inhalation of toxic smoke and gases, and simple lack of oxygen. Calculations show that a typical house with 2000 square feet of living space with 8-foot ceilings has 16,000 cubic feet of air and 20.8% of that air by weight is oxygen. At normal conditions, there is roughly one pound of air in 13 cubic feet. So, there are about 1,230 pounds of total air and about 260 pounds of oxygen in the house. If a fire starts and begins to use that oxygen to support the combustion, it only has to use about half of the oxygen before a human would be largely incapacitated and incapable of escape due to lack of oxygen. A human will lose consciousness and die when an additional 5% of the oxygen is gone. When most materials or fuels burn, they use roughly two pounds of oxygen for each pound of fuel. This includes most carpets, plastics, and wood furniture. So, a fire only has to burn 65 pounds of fuel before it is impossible for people in the house to save themselves from the advancing fire. That corresponds to the weight of a single piece of relatively small furniture or a moderate section of carpet.
In an underground shelter that is 10-feet in diameter and 50-feet long there is only 4000 cubic feet of air and it would only take 16 pounds of fuel burning to make the entire shelter deadly to any occupants.
Studies have indicated the average house today can overwhelm the inhabitants by asphyxiation in roughly two minutes once a fire starts because of the fast burning nature of many of the materials that we use for making carpets, furniture, and electrical appliances. The cotton, wood, and wool that we formerly used to make carpet and furniture have been replaced by nylons, polyesters, and other plastics that burn much more readily. The solid wood that was formerly used in furniture has been replaced by plywood and particle board which contain a substantial amount of highly combustible glue or resins. Prompt notification of a fire, especially when we are asleep, is critical to survival.
Fire Prevention and Elimination
The most common type of fire in the home is caused by cooking on a stove top. Of course, most of the fires are small and can be contained quite easily. The fire inside a pan can be snuffed immediately but we should remember to keep a pan lid within easy reach while cooking. A small fire blanket is another option for fires that have spread beyond the pan but are still contained on the cook top. The use of salt or baking soda is also useful but we should be careful not to spread the flaming materials while applying the salt or baking soda. Other combustible powders such as wheat flour or sugar will feed and spread the fire. A fire extinguisher is also useful but can possibly spread the fire if not used properly. The cook top should always be attended to prevent small fires from growing.
Electrical appliances can also be the source of a fire. A loose electrical connection where the resistance at a connection can generate heat and start a fire on the wiring insulation and surrounding combustibles. A short in the power supply or transformer can also create heat and start a fire. The fires that may have been largely contained in the steel case of the appliances in the past are now able to spread to the plastic on circuit boards and electrical leads and then on to the plastic housing. It reduces risk to unplug appliances when not in use and reducing the overall number of appliances that we use. For example, we should carefully consider whether we need an electric can opener. Such appliances have started fires before.
The use of candles, lanterns, and heaters with a live flame should be minimized and such devices should never be left unattended. Fuel should be stored in a separate area and the fuel should not be added to the devices when they are hot. Fueling should preferably be done outside.
Electrical outlets should not be overloaded and the connections on power strips and other electrical distribution equipment should be cleaned regularly. The dust buildup behind cabinets and entertainment centers where there are electrical connections should be cleaned to control dust buildup. Inspect electrical connectors for signs of heat or poor connections.
The storage of fuels and other chemicals in the garage or utility areas of the house should be minimized. The dryer vent and dryer itself should be cleaned regularly to clear lint and other combustibles. The storage of combustible materials in the laundry and utility areas of the house should be minimized.
Bathroom fans should periodically be cleaned and inspected.
It should be emphasized that the primary responsibility of everyone in the house is to get out of the house as quickly as possible if there is a fire. To that end, an escape plan should be prepared that includes designating multiple escape routes for every room in the house, a single meeting area outside the home, and plan to notify the emergency response personnel. It is important to discuss and demonstrate the plan for younger members of the family and make sure they can actually open windows and exit the window openings if that is part of the plan.
Proper equipment should be stationed at appropriate areas such as fire extinguishers near the doors. Fire blankets should be provided near the kitchen for smothering kitchen fires and other fires where appropriate. A wooden bat or similar tool should be provided to help open windows where appropriate. A fire can create a significant vacuum draft in a home when it finds a place to vent and that can put a negative pressure on widows, making them difficult to open. Thus, a wooden bat for breaking the windows, if necessary, should be stationed near the windows designated for escape. A step stool near the window can help to egress the window and a flexible ladder for the outside of the window, if the window is on the second story of the structure, are also advisable. Special locator stickers should be placed on bedroom windows to notify emergency responders or even neighbors where people in the house normally sleep. The stickers can save time in rescuing the people in the house by directing the response to the right rooms.
Fire Alarm Equipment
The most important pieces of fire equipment for protecting the people in the house are the smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide detectors. The people in the house must rely almost entirely on the detectors while they sleep. As stated earlier in this article, the lack of oxygen kills or incapacitates most victims in their sleep and they die in their beds with no chance to escape.
The most disturbing information about the common smoke detectors in most homes is that they do not work in a timely fashion in many actual fires. The documentation that accompanies most ionizing smoke detectors indicate that they will not work in up to 35% of all fires. There is also a substantial amount of information enumerating the situations and types of fires where the detectors would not be expected to work that seem designed to limit the amount of liability for the manufacturers.
Actual studies have found that the ionizing smoke detectors do not work in roughly 55% of actual fires. They do work many times when the toaster burns a piece of toast or when food is broiled leading to a false sense of security, but when it comes to a real fire burning the actual furnishings or carpets in a house that produce fewer larger particles than when the toast burns, they do not warn the occupants in the structure in time to allow them to escape. Please refer to a short video on YouTube called “When Seconds Count” for some additional information and accounts of testing and actual fires where the smoke detectors failed to provide adequate warning.
To corroborate the findings of several other studies, I conducted some testing on available fire alarms from three different manufacturers. Two ionizing smoke detectors and one combination ionizing smoke detector and CO detector were subjected to some informal testing. Fires with various fuels such as wood, particle board, carpet, and electrical cords with vinyl insulation were established in a portable fire pit about 30 inches in diameter. All three detectors were placed in the smoke plume about 36” above the fire for a period of up to two minutes. The results varied but there were several instances where the detectors failed to trigger when placed directly in the smoke plumes. Even the newest smoke and CO detector failed to trigger after a full two minutes in the electrical cord fire that had the most noticeable black smoke. All the detectors triggered in at least some of the tests after being in the smoke for only 10 seconds which added some validity to the test method, but the findings confirmed that the results were varied and the smoke detectors were not entirely reliable.
There are optical smoke detectors on the market today that are substantially more reliable than the ionizing smoke detectors in most homes. They have been manufactured since the 1970’s and there has never been a fatality from a fire where they have been employed. Applied Fire Technologies of Coppell, Texas manufactures a line of smoke, carbon monoxide, and heat sensors that network together so that every alarm on the local network sounds when one alarm is triggered, thus alerting everywhere in the home. The units have permanent batteries that last for up to 20 years and they run internal diagnostics continuously to ensure that they are operating correctly. They are normally installed by a company representative after an on-site review of each home. You can contact the company and find your local dealer by going to http://www.crossfirealarms.com and going to the “contact us” tab.
Fire extinguishers can be very useful once you have been alerted to a fire but they must be kept in good working order. They are normally fitted with a pressure gauge but they should also be checked to ensure that the powdered fire-retardant material has not solidified. The condition of the fire retardant can be checked by testing the weight balance when the fire extinguisher is gently turned on the side and most of the retardant should be at the bottom. Then the extinguisher can be pushed on its side from a vertical position on a soft carpeted surface. If the horizontal weight balance changes substantially after the “fall” on its side then it can be assumed that the retardant is still loose inside and the fire extinguisher has a high probability of working appropriately when required.
The images we see on television and in the movies with bright flames of a house on fire with people moving around inside the house and trying to rescue someone are very misleading. Most actual house fires create an environment with thick smoke so that you cannot see anything and acrid and toxic smoke, where an individual cannot maintain consciousness for more than a few seconds. We need to prepare to survive by minimizing the risk of a fire starting with installing the appropriate alarm equipment in place to ensure that we can escape during the early stages while it is possible.
A John Farnam “Quip” – July 7, 2017
“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance, when the
need for illusion is deep.”
It represents enormous conceit to believe that police can do anything
to stop crime, particularly violent crime. What we do is deter/displace it.
We discourage it at a particular moment, and thus move it to other places.
That’s about it!
There is nothing we can do to “make people obey the law.” All we can
do is make them wish they had. In most of Western Civilization, our
tools for accomplishing the latter are extremely limited and largely
ineffective, and becoming less effective all the time!
As individual Operators, we can make ourselves, our routine, and our
personal environment, as invisible and unattractive as we are able, to both
conventional criminals and violent leftist political ideologues. There is
little we can do to influence world events, which are currently more
than a little frightening and ominous.
Something every Infantry Officer learns early in his career:
“Any position can be taken, when the attacker is willing to pay the price.”
Thus, sufficient determination and commitment will overcome all
“access controls.” When VCAs must be physically stopped, you will have
no choice but to personally, decisively effect the “stopping”. You’ll
get dirty, maybe wet!
“Proactive security” is mostly myth. Some still insist that people with
evil, violent intent can somehow be “detected” shortly before they
carry out their terrible crimes. Mostly wishful thinking, and “false positives”
create all kinds of civil-rights issues!
The only reliable predictor of individual future behavior is
individual past behavior. Best advice is to have nothing to do with
people who have displayed toxic behavior in the past. Get away from
them, and get them out of your life!
1) The only authentic “first responders” to precipitous, violent
criminal acts, are prospective victims directly at the scene, at the
critical moment. Even then, they are effective in preventing/limiting
carnage only when armed, trained, alert, and pivotally decisive.
2) Imagining that it is possible to predict/prevent spasmodic, violent
criminal acts through “scientific preemptive measures” represents a
fatal fantasy. Don’t bet your life on it.
3) Imagining that “access control,” no matter how sophisticated nor
formidable, will suffice to protect you from harm, represents another
4) Imagining that police/security personnel will arrive “in the nick
of time” represents yet another fatal fantasy.
5) Imagining that it is somehow “immoral” to effectively defend oneself,
including the precise application of deadly force, is a foolish concession to
naive liberals/leftists. Liberals are only too anxious to “sacrifice”
the lives of others (but never their own), in order to “preserve their
6) Only the well-armed, well-trained, aware, and otherwise
well-prepared have any chance of living through a violent attack by
traditional VCAs, or as we’re seeing in increasing numbers, violent leftist ideologues.
“There are only two kinds of men in this world: Honest men and
dishonest men. Any man who says the world owes him a living is
dishonest. The same God who made you and me made this Earth. And, He
planned it so that it would yield every single thing that people on it
need. But, He was careful to plan it so that it would yield up its wealth only in exchange
for honest labor.
Who insist on sharing that wealth, while contributing nothing, are dishonest.”
John S. Farnam, president of Defensive Training International, is one of the top handgun instructors in the world. He has personally trained thousands of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel, as well as non-police, in the serious use of firearms. In addition, he has authored four books on the subject — “The Farnam Method of Defensive Handgunning,” “The Farnam Method of Defensive Shotgun and Rifle Shooting,” “The Street Smart Gun Book,” and “Guns & Warriors – DTI Quips Volume 1.” (For all book orders, contact Vicki at email@example.com)
From the “Journal Archives” ….. Journal of Civil Defense, Jan-Feb 1978
Reports and repercussions of the 1977 American “Civil Defense Debate” are appearing in foreign publications. In Great Britain, The Journal of the Institute of Civil Defense digs into Congressional hearings and says: One Republican, Congressman William Whitehurst, also argued that it would be criminal to give up hope of defending against a nuclear attack when civil shelters could reduce casualties “down to 20 million.” But the new director of the Pentagon’s Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Mr. Bardyl Tirana, said there was no question of building blast shelters for the civil population, which would cost far more than the sums being voted. “Frankly, we do not seek an increase,” he said. “All we would do with the funds is accelerate our program. We’re not going to build shelters or do any industrial hardening, as some people have suggested.”
Russians carefully monitored the hearings, and General of the Army A. I. Radziyevskiy in an interview with V. Aleksandrov printed in the Canadian Emergency Planning Digest for September-October 1977 has praise for “sober minded” Americans who play down civil defense. In answer to a question about claims of a stepped-up Russian civil defense made by the American press, American generals and Boeing Aerospace Company Radziyevskiy says:
“They are totally baseless. Soviet civil defense has never threatened anyone and has always pursued humane aims.
“As in the past, the main tasks of civil defense are: to protect the population during war; to increase the stability of the functioning of the national economy in wartime and to eliminate the consequences of an aggressor’s attack on peaceful cities and villages . . .
“Naturally, the civil defense organization and its methods of protecting the population and national economy from an aggressor’s air attacks and natural catastrophes are constantly being improved. However, this fact, which was recognized during the conclusion of the ABM Treaty, was no obstacle to its signing and alarmed no one until 1976, when the struggle over the US military budget for the next few years broke out.
“Seeking an increase in the military budget, American ‘hawks’ are now trying to belittle US civil defense potential as much as possible. Yet in the past, when the military-industrial complex had to convince American public opinion that the vast sums being spent at the taxpayer’s expense to implement extensive civil defense programs were being used most effectively, they enthusiastically praised the achievements of US civil defense . . .
“While knowing of the United States’ extensive civil defense programs, the Soviet Union has never called these measures a threat to the peace and security of other peoples, and has never tried to depict them as an obstacle to ending the arms race or to general disarmament. Indeed, it is not hard to understand that with the ending of the arms race and the total elimination of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, the need for civil defense measures will also recede of its own accord. Therefore, the attempt to present civil defense measures as an insurmountable obstacle to further progress at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks is just as ridiculous as an attempt to lead a jackass backwards along a road . . .
Closer to home, Soviet Scientist M. A. Markov writes a persuasive article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (November 1977) which is meant to refute Richard Pipes’ statement in the July 1977 Commentary. Pipes said:
“Since the mid-1960s, the proposition that thermonuclear war would be suicidal for both parties has been used by the Russians largely as a commodity for export. Its chief proponents include staff members of the Moscow Institute of the USA and Canada, and Soviet participants at Pugwash, Dartmouth and similar international conferences, who are assigned the task of strengthening the hand of anti-military intellectual circles in the West.”
Markov tackles his mission pretty well and he tries to reemphasize the title of his article, which is “Have We Learned to Think in a New Way?” He quotes the Pugwash Manifesto in saying that “There can be no winners in a third world war.” A familiar goblin, and he points out:
“With the appearance of the nuclear weapon, and with the threat of global destruction of life on earth, arose the realization that the use of this weapon was tantamount to self-destruction . . .
“The duty of scientists is to warn the world about this god of war donning the mask of a pacifist, and to warn about the military strategists’ temptation to unleash a preventive war for ‘humanistic’ ends. . .
“The genie has been released from the bottle, and it only remains for us to search for different forms of limiting its spread and preventing its aggressiveness. The danger is that an accumulation of plutonium can take place in reactors designed for generating nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
” . . . The disappearance of an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and fear in favor of an atmosphere of security will lead to a new economic order and to the peaceful cooperation among people in solving tasks common to all mankind.”
Prominent among those whom the Soviets would like to discredit is Major General George Keegan, who retired a year ago as Chief of Air Force Intelligence . Following are excerpts of an interview published in Human Events of September 24, 1977:
“ . . . The Soviets have taken extraordinary steps to harden, protect and shelter their military, leadership, industrial and population resources from nuclear attack . While Soviet cities would be destroyed, they would probably suffer no more than four or five million fatalities to our 160 million.
“ . . . Future catastrophe can be averted – just as World War II could have been prevented.
“All the United States has to do is continue making a prudent, objective assessment of what the Soviet Union is doing and assuring that we don’t let it happen. Prudent and adequate investment in security and defense is basically what is required. In my opinion, we are not doing that today . . .
“Altunin [Soviet Chief of Civil Defense] has over 200 general officers on active duty from the several services, serving directly on his staff, or in command of civil defense in all the major cities of the Soviet Union. He is known to have many dozens of regiments of civil defense troops that are assigned principally to supervising city defense throughout the Soviet Union. His organization includes several large military academies like the Air Force Academy or West Point exclusively devoted to training civil defense officers.
“After four years of the most intensive training in civil defense, they graduate with the equivalent of a college degree, are commissioned second lieutenants, and spend their entire 35- to 50-year career in civil defense. Ultimately, these young officers become the commanders of civil defense detachments throughout the cities of the Soviet Union.
“ . . . There is no longer any mystery about the matter of Soviet civil defense . The difficulty is that you cannot get senior officials of the U. S. government to believe, because to believe would simply be to put detente, SALT and the ABM treaty of 1972 in an extremely adverse light.”
We here at the American Civil Defense Association felt this was important to share;
Statement for the Record
Dr. William R. Graham, Chairman
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, Chief of Staff
Commission to assess the threat to the United States from
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency Hearing
October 17, 2017
North Korea Nuclear EMP Attack:
An Existential Threat
During the Cold War, major efforts were undertaken by the Department of Defense to assure that the U.S. national command authority and U.S. strategic forces could survive and operate after an EMP attack. However, no major efforts were then thought necessary to protect critical national infrastructures, relying on nuclear deterrence to protect them. With the development of small nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles by new, radical U.S. adversaries, beginning with North Korea, the threat of a nuclear EMP attack against the U.S. becomes one of the few ways that such a country could inflict devastating damage to the United States. It is critical, therefore, that the U.S. national leadership address the EMP threat as a critical and existential issue, and give a high priority to assuring the leadership is engaged and the necessary steps are taken to protect the country from EMP. (Read entire address here.)
When putting together a disaster plan, it’s important to prioritize human needs in the way that you prepare. To put together a solid short-term survival plan, you need only to address the most basic of human necessities: water, shelter, food, and security, but as short-term survival transitions into “well I guess this is what’s left of the world now,” it’s important to have a plan in place that can help you get by a bit longer than just the first few days after a disaster.
While ensuring you have adequate food and water will prevent death from hunger or dehydration, it’s important to remember that those are often the very easiest forms of death to avoid. We worry about supply lines drying up after the collapse of our infrastructure for good reason, but humans have been surviving without grocery stores and running faucets for millennia… what tends to kill us in such situations often isn’t a lack of food, but rather a lack of hygiene.
Enter my favorite survival item: hydrogen peroxide. Most of us are familiar with the brown bottle of bubbling goodness from our childhoods, when our mothers would pour a bit of the elixir onto our scraped knees to disinfect it before armoring the wound with a Batman band-aid and providing an emergency booboo-kiss for pain relief. While wound care is certainly one of the things hydrogen peroxide is good to have around for, it’s far from the only thing.
In order to discuss some of the other important uses for the magic brown bottle, I’m going to have to delve into some of the health issues that may impact a person in an extended survival scenario; some of which are likely to sound gross, but it’s important to plan for potential health hazards other than gunshot wounds and zombie bites, because dying of an infection all by yourself will leave you just as dead as the sexier alternatives we see on TV.
Hydrogen Peroxide for Mouth Care
I’m not normally one to close my eyes during a rough scene in a movie – but watching Tom Hanks remove an infected tooth with an ice skate in “Cast Away” was tough for me. I don’t like going to the dentist, let alone the idea of serving as my own using bits of trash I found on a beach, but I have to credit the movie for including an element of survival that is often ignored in movies and television: dental hygiene.
An infected tooth is a serious issue. If left unchecked, and infection can spread throughout your body, possibly even killing you without antibiotic treatment. Beyond that, an infected tooth can make eating an excruciating endeavor and can serve as a serious distraction when you need to keep your wits about you. If at all possible, one should avoid having to do their own oral surgery, and hydrogen peroxide can help.
That same brown bottle you use on cuts and scrapes is also a FDA approved mouth wash. Pouring a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water into your mouth and swishing it around once in a while may not give you the same fresh breath you’d get from a tooth-brush and a new tube of Crest Whitening, but it could keep the bacteria in your mouth from going rogue and rotting you from the inside out. Keeping your teeth intact will keep you eating, and hydrogen peroxide can help stave off infections and even cavities.
Hydrogen Peroxide to Fight Fungus
Athlete’s foot and other fungal infections of the hands and feet can be serious trouble for the long-term survivor. The reduction in available means of hygiene that may come after a disaster could leave you more vulnerable to this sort of ailment, and yet again, hydrogen peroxide can help kill the fungus causing itching and burning on your extremities.
Perhaps more important though, is hydrogen peroxide’s ability to combat yeast infections. While we tend to think of such things as a uniquely female issue, and in today’s world, we even see it as more of an inconvenience than a matter of life and death, developing a yeast infection in a survival setting is bad news and must be addressed.
Hydrogen Peroxide is safe to be used as a douche for women suffering from a yeast infection after the stores have long stopped stocking Monistat, and can be used externally for men suffering from the same ailment. Didn’t know men could get yeast infections? They absolutely can – and the resulting itching, burning and open sores could lead to any number of further infections, or simply leave you too distracted to handle your day-to-day survival needs with the level of focus they require. Hydrogen peroxide will not work as well as traditional anti-fungal medications, but as a multi-use tool, it’s good to know that you can keep the swamp-rot off your fingers and toes as well as out of your underoos with the same bottle you keep around for wound care and oral hygiene. I’d just recommend cleaning the spout before switching between uses (just kidding, do not put the spout inside any part of you, use a different means of application).
Hydrogen Peroxide for Cleaning (everything)
If you wear contact lenses, hydrogen peroxide and water can be used to clean them between uses – extending the life of your contacts and possibly your ability to see if you don’t have access to your glasses. It can also be used to clean food containers and utensils, water carriers, or even cooking surfaces to kill things like salmonella.
You can also use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water to clean and disinfect your clothes. A clean pair of undies may not sound like the most important thing after the end of the world, but remember, we haven’t evolved to prefer the smell and touch of clean things for no reason. Cleaning your clothes will help prevent skin irritations and even infections. In fact, using hydrogen peroxide to clean your underwear could prevent you from having to using hydrogen peroxide to treat a yeast infection in the first place.
Hydrogen Peroxide for Farming
In a long-term survival situation, cultivating your own food may be a necessity, but if you weren’t blessed with a green thumb, you’ll likely need all the help you can get in order to turn your little garden into something that’ll feed your family. Believe it or not, hydrogen peroxide can also help you start to grow your own food.
Adding a small bit of hydrogen peroxide to the water you pour on your plants can help fertilize the soil, prevent mold and mildew from developing, and even help an ailing plant regain its health. Soaking seeds in water that contains a small amount of hydrogen peroxide will even make them germinate faster. It’s important to use the correct amount of hydrogen peroxide however, otherwise it could kill your plants before they have a chance to grow. Check out this chart to help you determine how much peroxide you should mix with water for various agricultural needs.
These handy uses for the old brown bottle in your medicine cabinet are far from all of the ways hydrogen peroxide can benefit a disaster victim attempting to transition from short-term to long-term survival. I highly recommend doing some research and attempting to use hydrogen peroxide for things like oral hygiene once or twice before the world comes crashing down on you.
And maybe grab an extra bottle or two of the stuff the next time you go shopping. Just in case.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Hollings served as an active duty Marine for six and a half years before being medically retired from service. As an athlete, Hollings has raced exotic cars, played Marine Corps football and college rugby, fought in cages, and even wrestled alligators. As a scholar, he has earned a master’s degree in Communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as undergraduate degrees in Corporate and Organizational Communications and Business Management.
By W. E. Manry, Jr., M.D .
Published in the Journal of Civil Defense; October 1987
(Dr. W. E. “Bill” Manry looks at American civil defense without the soporific “benefits” of apathy, wishful thinking and procrastination. This leads him to some shocking conclusions about the fate of his fellowman when the nuclear chips are down. Here he prescribes bitter but best available action in the absence of timely and meaningful citizen survival measures by government or utilization of self-help shelter measures.)
It is obvious that no significant civil defense protection for the population of the United States is in prospect any time soon. Perhaps we don’t need it soon, but I’m reminded of a Labor Day conversation that I had with several people in 1939. Up until then we had been hearing more and more bluster about militarism in Germany, and my friends admitted that Germany was certainly getting strong militarily, but insisted that Hitler could not possibly be ready yet to undertake a major war. In other words, we didn’t have to worry yet. That was the day Hitler’s troops moved into Poland.
Maybe Russia is not ready yet – but how will we know?
Clearly, in the next few years we are not going to have public shelters to any worthwhile degree. Further, no matter how hard we try, we apparently are not even able to get significant numbers of people to pay attention to the possibility of nuclear attack, let alone make some basic plans for it.
What can we do with the very negligible amount of money now being allowed for the Civil Defense Program? If we do nothing we can predict very emphatically that without any warning, or even with a day or two warning, that the entire population of the country will panic completely.
During this interval, immediately after blast, those who have not been killed or seriously injured have that one major danger: gamma radiation from fallout. Those in an area where all structures have been demolished must move as rapidly as possible outside of that circumference to large buildings and go to the lowest middle portions of these structures. Those outside the blast zone must still worry about fallout and they too should go to the middle of their homes and struggle through as best they can. They will always be much safer there than running around outdoors in the initial high radiation interval, trying to find a better place of protection. Time permitting, expedient shelter is a good alternative.
A house with no advance preparation at all can provide protection simply by keeping fallout deposits at the greatest possible distance from the inhabitants. Radiation diminishes as the square of the distance from the source, so that the safest place for anybody will be at the furthest distance he can get from the radioactive dust. Intervening insulating materials (building a “shelter inside a . . . A WAY TO TAKE THE BLINDFOLDS OFF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP. shelter”) can be of great help – books on tables, heavy appliances and materials to reduce radiation, etc. There will be some areas in which the radiation is so intense that even with it diminishing by the square of the distance, the inhabitants at the central portion of the building will still get lethal doses. On the other hand, in a very large percentage of homes the radioactive dust that settles will be of lesser intensity.
There are very reliable estimates that even in quite heavily radioactive areas, the radiation danger will have essentially subsided by two weeks after the blast.
Accordingly, survivors must have a minimum amount of potable water for a total of two weeks’ time. It would also be good to have food during that time but almost nobody will starve to death for lack of food over a two-week period.
So, there are two things that we can try for with limited government finances:
- Convey to the people the importance of staying indoors for possibly 2 weeks. Advance educational promotion of this idea is worthwhile – if we can get people’s attention. (Regardless of any success in this education effort, there should be provided to every radio and TV station, detailed material to be announced when needed that is consistent with the principles we are talking about.)
- Promote storage of water in homes. These are simple and basic. All other considerations become quickly more complicated -worthwhile but expensive. These are high priority items to give attention to while we try to find a way to take the blindfolds off our political leadership.