August 28, 2006

MY EARLIER POST linking to Stanley Kurtz’s “Fallout Shelter Future” article generated a lot of emails like this one from reader James Ivers:

Dean Ing, in the 1970s published a series of articles called “Gimme Shelter” in a series of paperbacks edited by Jerry Pournelle in which he listed a largish number of things an individual could do independently to survive attacks by what we now call WMD. I think I possibly still have copies of many of them.

He lists simple things like having a bicycle generator and a bike to charge up low-power radios and such, and how to radiation-proof (at least a little usefully) your basement for the 3-4 days of maximum danger from fallout, etc. How to use rolls of toilet paper and other stuff to build a servicable air filter quickly.

Anyhow, it looks like someone should look into updating this sort of stuff. Many people I knew at the time were convinced that in case of nuclear attack we’d all die. Ing said, “not so,” and explained how those even a little distance from the blast effects could increase their chances of survival. Same for CBW attacks.

I think we’re a long way (er, well, at least a medium way) from needing to prepare in Cold War fashion. But I remember the Dean Ing articles, and I believe they’re collected in Pulling Through, which is still available.

Something that we did in the 1950s and 1960s that would be worth redoing now, though, is stocking public buildings (as the designated “fallout shelters” were) with water, food, and emergency supplies, which would be useful against all sorts of disasters, natural or manmade. As we learned in Katrina, evacuations don’t get everyone out, and the people who remain are often those least able to take care of themselves or prepare for emergencies.

UPDATE: Reader John Lynch emails:

The king of the DIY nuclear survival books is Cresson Kearny’s Nuclear War Survival Skills. On Amazon, but NOT copyrighted (intentionally) and available for download legally. For obvious reasons, I’d rather have a bound copy around than one on my hard- drive.

The book is full of exact instructions on how to build a fallout shelter, how to store food, how to build your own geiger counter from a coffee can ( really ) and it has all been tested by the Oak Ridge lab. They even had some families test it out. Very readable and very useful.

Yes, I believe Kearny’s work was the basis for Dean Ing’s articles, but I’d forgotten this book if I ever knew about it. I’m not sure that this stuff is really called for, though I suspect that most of what passed for even basic nuclear-survival knowledge in the Cold War has been forgotten by nearly everyone. A basic public-education effort on duck-and-cover lines would do some good at relatively low cost.