Skip to Content

12 Things to Do Immediately if a Nuclear War Breaks Out

When we hear about the possibility of a nuclear war breaking out, we can’t help but feel a shiver down our spine, knowing this could be a high possibility because of today’s rising global issues and how it can escalate to mass destruction with a single “button.” Our entire worlds can be changed in a matter of seconds, so it is essential to be prepared for the absolute worst. I have consulted with emergency preparedness professionals to give you the best advice on preparing for a nuclear war.

You can do many things now to help you be prepared for a nuclear war. There are also many things you need to do right after the bomb goes off to protect yourself that you need to be aware of. Overall, if a nuclear war does break out, there are 12 main actions that people should take to protect themselves and others.

Hand creating checklist with danger nuclear war written next to it in red

1. Assess How Prepared You Are

The first thing a person should do is assess how prepared they are for a nuclear war. This idea might seem alarming and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important things to gather include food, water, clothes, funds, and other needs. I come from a family that placed a lot of effort and money into this and made different kits to grab in case of such an emergency. We called them 72-hour kits.

Usually, the goal was to have enough food, water, clothing, blankets/sleeping bags, and other items that you would need to survive three days outside your home. Other essential things to pack include prescriptions, pet food, and battery-operated radios. Hopefully, a person has some emergency funds and supplies stored away for emergencies in general, but especially for moments like this. But if not, at least you now understand this and can take care of this lack.

2. Gather Your Supplies

This is a requirement for people, regardless of how prepared they are. When nuclear war occurs, the likelihood that radiation impacts some resources like food and water is incredibly high. So, it would be recommended that people go to a grocery store or market and buy bottled water and any foods that are long-lasting and don’t require refrigeration.

Medical supplies are also strongly encouraged, as supply might drop drastically. The news of a nuclear war could easily cause a social calamity, so be cautious and respectful in public.

3. Protect Yourself if You are in the Blast Zone

Two people with gas masks and dramatic sky behind

When nuclear war breaks out, the country would initiate its emergency plan, and citizens should act accordingly. Coming directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a nuclear attack occurs and one is near the blast radius of a nuclear detonation, one must:

  • Turn from the blast to avoid damage to eyes and face: Nothing is worse than going blind due to failure to follow proper procedures. If we know anything about bright lights and sunlight, it’s to never look directly at them. Considering that a nuclear blast is significantly larger and more intense than a light bulb, for example, it’s safe to say that turning away should be anyone’s first instinct, but in the face of such a shocking event, this can easily be forgotten, so you should always keep this in mind.
  • Drop and cover with face down and hands underneath body: Much like what we have learned from grade school, we must stop what we are doing and get down. If possible, find a cover under a chair or table and hold onto one of the legs to prevent the cover from displacing, which would expose the body to falling objects. If no cover is available, keep arms and legs underneath the body to minimize injury and your face down to protect your face. You should be curled up into a ball or a sitting fetal position.
  • Remain flat throughout the entire nuclear heat and shockwave process: Again, much like what grade school has taught us during emergency drills, never remove oneself from the safety of a chair or table until signaled to do so, or, in this case, when the coast is clear, and there are no more shock waves. In addition, if no cover was involved, stay in a “ball” position faced down as best as possible. A nuclear explosion usually emits a heat wave followed by two shock waves. These will vary in timing, so it’s best to wait longer than usual just to be safe or as safe as one can be in such a situation.

4. Avoid Breathing Toxic Chemicals

For procedures that involve one who is outside the blast radius when it occurs, CDC recommends one must:

  • Use items to cover both mouth and nose: Much like what was mentioned as the first step in the previous actions, protecting the face is vital. In this case, we are concerned with not inhaling the aftermath of the nuclear explosion. Any items can be used if the mouth and nose are secured reliably. A cloth, a handkerchief, or a scarf make excellent masks.
  • Remove dust from all worn clothing: It’s recommended to remove as much dust as possible from the clothes worn during the blast by shaking, brushing, and wiping off the clothing. The CDC also recommends that one does this in a ventilated area. During the entire dust removal process, continue to cover the mouth and nose to avoid breathing in the toxic particles.
  • Go indoors and/or underground: When a nuclear explosion occurs, the best option is to go indoors immediately. This means entering any shelter, basement, or underground area. It is highly recommended to enter indoors at a place that does not pick up the wind direction of the nuclear explosion.
  • Remove potentially contaminated clothing: For safety precautions, it is best to remove any exposed clothes that could be subject to contamination. The outer layer of clothing would most likely be contaminated and needs to be removed. Some occasions would also warrant some inner layered clothing to be removed as well. Overall, all clothing worn during the nuclear explosion should be removed as soon as possible. If possible, wash your body thoroughly, find clean clothes to change into, and then wash the clothing worn during the blast with soap and water.

5. Protect your Shelter

Family in home basement bunker or survival shelter safe room food supplies

Here’s the procedure for those who want to protect their home or shelter after a nuclear blast, according to the CDC:

  • Cover mouth and nose: this is your first step. You must try covering the mouth and nose before attempting anything else in this procedure.
  • Turn off any ventilation and seal doors, windows, and all other crevices: To prevent any cloud remnants of the nuclear blast from continuously entering your shelter, sealing off anywhere the toxic particles can enter through is vital. These clouds are called fallout clouds, meaning the clouds are radioactive particles, and one must not have these enter any building they intend to take shelter in as best as possible.
  • Remain indoors until further notice: As it is self-explanatory, remain inside until it is safe to go outside. The signal to go outside will come from local and national authorities, provided they have a procedure in place and follow it.

6. Keep Up to Date on the News

During the procedure to stay indoors, make sure one has access to anything that can relay updating news and information. I suggest buying a radio with a hand crank so that if the power goes out, you still have access to news sources. The news will tell you what areas are safe and what areas are in danger. It should also tell you what rescue services are coming to help you. If we enter a nuclear war, we can still rely on organizations such as the Red Cross to help victims of nuclear explosions, given any limited resources.

7. Evacuate

For the procedure on how one should evacuate once permitted to do so, one should follow these steps:

  • Keep track of authorized evacuation routes and procedures: Proper authorities will notify when and where to evacuate and what routes to take. Follow these directions, as these are considered the most optimal routes to minimize injuries and exposure to toxic particles.
  • Turn off and close all existing ventilation, doors, and windows: When leaving, ensure the building being left behind is secured and sealed to prevent any further flow of fallout clouds and other harmful particles.
  • Bring disaster supplies: When leaving, remember to bring the authorized disaster supplies for further use, if available. One may already own such supplies or have access to them, whether that be at a local market, nuclear threat preparedness organizations, or a neighbor who has extra supplies.
  • Help others with the evacuation process: Finally, always be willing to help those who cannot help themselves such as the handicapped, the elderly, and children. This includes helping them get from point A to point B, as well as providing them with the necessary supplies to survive.

8. Create a Nuclear War Survival Guide

One can plan for the first and later nuclear attacks in many ways. Ways to mitigate damage from a nuclear war outbreak, if prepared ahead of time (or after the first attack), include:

  • Nuclear war survival plan: Perhaps the most obvious and generalized step for preparation is to formulate a survival plan. This plan revolves around the initial attack of a nuclear war, sustaining subsequent nuclear attacks, and surviving the aftermath. Each family may have their own unique plans on what to do immediately when tensions are high among nuclear-powered nations. Despite this, the fundamentals should be consistent across all types of plans.
  • Communication plans: This can mean setting an effective communication plan with family and authorities. This can include using handheld radios for immediate communication, especially since phone lines and other modes of communication will likely disconnect from each other. Keeping up to date with news and information and making sure loved ones are safe and within communication reach is vital.
  • Secure important documents: Lastly, another thing to prepare in case of a nuclear war is to have personal documents secured from nuclear blasts. This includes retrieving physical copies of all legal and financial documents and keeping them in a metal safe or file cabinet. Losing any vital document attached to yourself can be a devastating event as they can either confirm your identity or serve other purposes like something finance-related, and these can be difficult to replace after such a disaster.

9. Food Storage

Bins of Potatoes and Jars of Various Canned Foods in a Cellar or Root Cellar

Another way to prepare in the case of a Nuclear war is to have a good amount of food storage. Even if you are nowhere near the explosion, you can be sure that mass panic will follow a nuclear explosion. In the 2020 global pandemic, we saw that food items on grocery store shelves disappeared drastically just from public panic, so imagine the panic a nuclear bomb is going to bring.

You will not want to leave your home because of the after-effects of nuclear blasts and the threat of future explosions, at least until evacuation orders are issued. So having food storage at all times helps you be prepared for the worst situations. You’ll want to store enough food to last three months and feed a large family or community. This way, you can help not only yourself but your neighbors as well.

10. Water Storage

After a nuclear attack, you likely will not have access to water, especially as essential utilities will probably be shut off. If that is the case, you will wish you had a supply of water stored away and a large amount of it. The best way to store water is by retrieving large plastic barrels, filling them up with water, and keeping them in a cool room.

This will help you stay prepared for all your water needs after a nuclear blast, and though water will be scarce, the barrel will serve as a refillable container for when clean water becomes more available to the public. Because of the scarcity of water, you should only use the previously stored water for drinking or food preparation if necessary and very little for bathing and cleaning purposes.

11. Know how to Live without Technology

All electrical power is likely going to go down after a nuclear bomb, and therefore there will be no way to power or recharge your technological devices. This means you need to know how to navigate to the closest emergency stations. You will also need to know how to care for yourself without the support of your phone. Preparing yourself for navigating a world without Google would be a great way to prepare yourself for a nuclear war, and figuring out how you would get to your loved ones who live away from you will be helpful because of the lack of communication devices.

12. Emotional Preparedness

Illustration of a nuclear explosion in a city

Nuclear war is bound to happen in the later future, and regardless of when it will start, we all need to be ready for it when it does occur. Remember that there is only so much you can do to prepare, and understanding that you have no control over the outcome can help you prepare emotionally.

Though steps have been listed to act immediately, in all honesty, no one can be fully prepared, and improvements to that preparation will need to be made along the way. We also cannot predict precisely when a nuclear attack will happen. We may predict when an official declaration of nuclear war will be, but the first initial attack will come at a moment’s notice.

Everything will be unexpected, and we should not blame anyone for not acting immediately. “Immediately,” in this article’s case, means to act as soon as reasonably possible. This also means that when the blasts occur unexpectedly, one should not finish cleaning the dishes but instead put down the dishes and as quickly and safely as possible, begin the emergency survival plan, trying not to succumb to utter panic.

In addition, always expect the worse when dealing with a nuclear conflict. Never assume that whatever steps are taken will ensure a hundred percent safety and security. Also, never take nuclear war lightly, as it affects everyone equally. Be patient and willing to adjust plans accordingly when necessary.

Overall, make sure you and your loved ones are safe and secure during such trying times, doing your best to cope using positive affirmations about the situation. Try your best to do all you can in this situation to deal with the attack’s physical and emotional effects, grasping that we cannot completely control the direction of a global nuclear conflict.

Be safe, make necessary preparation measures, and take the immediate steps shared in this article to help you through such a dire situation as a nuclear war.

For more, check out US Nuclear Target Map: Most Safe and Unsafe Areas.