Let’s make one thing clear: Nuclear events are the big ones.

Even on a small scale, they affect things in a big way. Nuclear destruction can happen in a number of ways, but are easily classified as localized or widespread. Yes, I know it seems weird to say localized when referring to nuclear destruction, but there is a reason for using this term. As with any disaster, there is planning to be done, and the type of plan you create will greatly depend on the type of disaster and your situation. Let’s look at what we are dealing with as well as some basic steps to get started on the right foot for prepping.


In actuality, there is no such thing as localized when talking about nuclear disasters. If anything, I use the terms localized and widespread to refer to the onset of the actual incident. As we will see, even a localized event  eventually becomes widespread. Localized events would refer to things such as nuclear plant meltdowns due to accidents or natural disasters. Other localized events would be bombs or perhaps transportation accidents with radioactive waste material. The reason why they are localized is that the initial event happens in a specific location.

Widespread almost always refers to nuclear warfare with multiple missiles carrying multiple warheads going off around the globe. In the end, the results of either the localized or widespread event lead to contamination of the environment we live in.


Obviously planning for a localized event depends on many factors. Do you live near a nuclear power plant?

If so, do you live directly in the wind path of the plant? Are you close enough that the initial event will affect you?  Other events such as terrorist attacks should be considered. Heavily populated areas are prime targets for such dirty bomb attacks. To start planning, we first need to identify the most likely threat.


If you do not live near a nuclear plant or even downwind of one, then planning for such an event would prove futile. One of the best ways to deal with localized disasters is to be mobile. Becoming mobile requires a lot of planning and monitoring.

Part of any plan in a nuclear disaster is knowing the local weather patterns. Not knowing them could mean the act of being mobile leads you deeper into trouble.

Once we have a full analysis of our situation, then we should also be able to gauge when we need to start initiating any emergency plans. For instance, if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, and in the same region you know there are nuclear power facilities, then you are not waiting for the power plant to become compromised. If you get advanced warning of a natural disaster that could compromise the power plant, your plan should be to get on the move. If something does happen without giving you enough opportunity to be mobile, then you should have plans in place to get mobile as quickly as possible, or bunker down until it is safe for you to be rescued or get mobile. In the end, you need to get out of the area that poses a threat.

“If you are lucky enough to not be at ground zero, the resulting effort to survive will be tremendous.”


When we refer to widespread, we refer to nuclear war. In this case, there is some certainty as to where the major targets are. On the other hand, we cannot say with exact certainty what all of the targets will be or how many will be successfully hit. Unless you plan to live out in the middle of nowhere, you stand a chance of being affected by the initial attack. I say this with no humor intended at all. If you are lucky enough to not be at ground zero, the resulting effort to survive will be tremendous.

The fear of terrorist attacks with dirty bombs is thought to be more likely an event than full-scale nuclear warfare.

First and foremost, preparing to survive the initial blast simply put means building a bunker. However, having a bunker does not automatically ensure survival. We have to be lucky enough to have advance warning or be close enough to be able to use the bunker. In planning a bunker, we have to consider water supply, food and, most important, air.

A get-home bag/bug-out bag should be created for every member of the family. Each bag should be tailored to the individual’s situation.

After the initial blast, the major threat is contamination and exposure. The air will be filled with radioactive  particles, so each bunker will have to have an air filtration system capable of filtering out contaminated particles that could be airborne and inhaled leading to contamination. In the short term, a well could supply water, but after a while, the radioactive contamination will make its way into the ground water.

Well water will initially be contamination-free until the contamination seeps into the water table. Plans should be made to store large amounts of water and have a filtration plan.



There are three methods to protect ourselves from radiation exposure and contamination.

1. Time.

Whenever we are in a contaminated area, we must do our best to limit the amount of time spent around the radioactive material. I know that seems obvious, but in cases when it can’t be helped it is best to do it in short intervals. For example, have multiple people do what needs to be done by taking turns.

2. Distance. 

The further away from the contamination you are, the better your chances of survival.

Distance has to do with  moving out of the area or at least being able to identify hot spots and keep as much distance as possible.

3. Shielding.

It is in the initial stages of a blast when the greatest amount of shielding will be needed to protect us from  gamma radiation. Gamma radiation has the greatest penetrating power, so the most amount of shielding is needed. To protect ourselves from Gamma radiation, we need to utilize dense materials such as lead and concrete.

Dense materials force the Gamma radiation to have more interaction with it as it passes through, therefore using up more energy. When the energy is exhausted, the Gamma radiation disappears (keep in mind this is a very simplified explanation). Alpha and beta particles have less ability to penetrate. A sheet of paper can block alpha particles and beta can be blocked by as little as a .250-inch thick sheet of aluminum.

Mobility will depend greatly upon the gear we have available to shield ourselves form the radiation and contamination. For the long term, we would have to distance ourselves from as much of it as possible.


Keep in mind that planning is key to success and having a good plan means everyone has it. It is not enough to make a plan and spoon feed it to everyone as you go along. It is important that everyone involved knows the  plan to the best of their ability. Keeping multiple copies of the plan helps protect everyone.

If I am the only one who knows about the plan and then something happens to me, everyone is lost or at least lacking any advantage of preparation. Writing out the plan is important. By this I mean every detail of the plan along with contingencies. One thing I like to say is always start with a list of lists. That’s right, a list of lists. There should be one master list that details the rest of the lists and sections in your plan like an index. It will help you update your plan and help everyone reference your plan when needed.

Learning to hunt with traditional weapons is a useful pursuit. Firearms will run out of ammo. A bow will always have arrows as long as there
are trees.



In a nuclear disaster, there is no time to practice. You must be familiar with all the gear that you use and you must thoroughly test it. Using a Geiger counter takes practice. Geiger counters also break down. We cannot protect ourselves from contamination or exposure if we are not aware of the presence of a threat, therefore a Geiger counter is a key piece of gear.

Someone, if not everyone, should learn how to use one. It is important to remember that a Geiger counter also does not specify what type of contamination, just that it is present. Protective gear such as hazmat suits and masks also require practice and a plan on how to use them. Many people do not see why they should practice taking on and off a hazmat suit; it seems simple enough. Try going to the hardware store for starters and getting a Tyvek suit for painting.

Then, put it on with a respirator and have someone sprinkle baby powder, or “radioactive particles,” over the suit. Next try and get the gear off without getting baby powder on you—you’ll quickly see why practice is necessary.


Preparing for such a disaster takes on many aspects. You will need to do the regular preps like laying in food, but a solid communication plan will also have to be set up. There is so much to learn about radiation and shielding. It is best to start sooner than later. No matter how well prepared we are though, one has to wonder when it comes to widespread nuclear war how well can we possibly prepare. The results of such a catastrophe are lasting and widespread.

Surviving wide-scale contamination is not a short-term ordeal, but a hardship lasting generations. If you have  done the proper planning and preparation, if you have a protective shelter and the necessary supplies, there’s only one thing left to do: pray.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Doomsday 2016 print issue of American Survival Guide.