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How to Survive a Nuclear Attack In New York City or Another Metropolitan Area

The unfortunate situation going on with Russia invading Ukraine got me fired up. Russia’s invasion seemed pointless, Ukraine seemed to have done nothing to deserve the attacks other than just EXISTING. 

But then that got me thinking. What if Russia, China, or any other nuclear-armed entity got the same thoughts in their head about the United States and decided to attack us, just for existing? In my opinion, you can’t exactly attack us on foot, which would mean a nuclear strike would probably be the best option. 

Never thought I’d say the words “nuclear strike is the best option”.

How to Survive a Nuclear Attack In New York City 

According to the Doomsday clock, as of January 20th, 2022, we are currently 100 seconds from midnight. This clock “has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains”, according to the site. It basically counts down how close we are to world destruction (not in real-time).

So this Doomsday clock seems to think world destruction is right around the corner. In all honesty, unless there is something highly classified I don’t know, no one is going to be targeting Wichita, Kansas in their first attacks for world destruction. 

So how would I, an NYC citizen, survive a nuclear war?

According to ready.gov getting inside, staying inside, and removing all contaminated clothing/items is the first step.

There should be enough of a warning before a strike so you can find a shelter, so keep up with your news/fake news/ Reddit threads, but basically, the goal is to get as far down into the ground and away from the outside world as possible. Think basements, middle of the building, bathrooms, closets, NOT right at the window to snoop on what the neighbors are doing. Don’t look at the blast, just like you wouldn’t stare at the sun. 

Where to find shelter for a Nuclear Attack on NYC

According to UntappedCities, the agency that oversaw fallout structures in NYC was terminated in 1979. There are still lingering signs marking “Fallout Shelter” throughout the city, but none have been publicly maintained. Of course, there could always be private shelters out there. Time to make friends!

However, UntappedCities also mentions that most shelters wouldn’t do much to protect New Yorkers, nor would they do anything to help one’s mental health. Plus there’s the issue of the rats…

Essentially, you want to look for a brick or concrete structure and get as deeply buried as possible. I’m imagining basements, subway tunnels, alleys, etc. Plan ahead for where to go if you’re at home or at work and know that vehicles, mobile homes, and outdoor areas do not provide adequate shelter

Be on the lookout for signs like these throughout NYC

It also may be best to decide with your loved ones where to reunite 24 hours after the blast so no one encounters radiation. Stay inside! This includes pets. 

But sheltering in place immediately might not be the best option. According to Science.org, you have a little time after the moment of impact to seek shelter, and if the transit makes sense and your shelter isn’t ideal, you should run to the best shelter. The report statesIf your current shelter is poor and higher quality shelter is less than 5 minutes away, the model suggests that you should run there as soon as you can. If you have poor shelter but higher quality shelter is available farther away, you should get to that high-quality shelter no later than 30 minutes after detonation” 

Although some of you aren’t fans of “science” these days, maybe take this Reddit thread that talks about running after the detonation or burying down in place.

No matter what you choose, it seems like survival is only possible if you seek shelter quickly. I’m no scientist, but I don’t think you’ll survive an attack if you head to Central Park for a nice radiation tan.

It may just be me, but if the world is annihilated by a nuclear attack, I don’t really know if I’d want to survive. With the number of nasty comments I see on social media or entitled people I interacted with when I worked in retail, it doesn’t give me a lot of hope for our world. God forbid I get trapped in a Grand Central Station Tunnel with someone who’s personally offended that the ceiling bits that fell and trapped us aren’t the pretty blue constellation ones. That gives me major Joy Behar soundbite vibes (whether or not that’s what she intended to say).

But maybe the way to survive a nuclear bomb is the only thing Conservatives and Liberals can agree on? Seems like everywhere I search, the advice is pretty much the same. I guess there is hope for society after all.

Should I Run From A Nuclear Blast?

You could try, however, if you’re in the city, you’re probably not going to be able to outrun the radiation or fireball from a Tsar Bomba (the largest USSR bomb detonated), according to outrider.org Maybe once the dust settles?

Screen Grab from Outrider simulation of a Tsar Bomba being detonated in New York.

Will I Survive A Nuclear Attack in Manhattan?

According to Outrider,  “the fireball forms immediately from the burning bomb residue, and it emits an enormous amount of energy as x-rays, light, and heat, expanding out as it cools. Anything—or anyone—inside the fireball would be vaporized in an instant.”

Since Manhattan is so close, you probably won’t survive. But you can always try to get far out of the city before it hits.

What Should I Have On Hand For A Nuclear Attack?

Based on ready.gov, Business Insider, and many other articles on this topic, I compiled a list of things to have on hand or at the ready in case of a nuclear attack.

  • Change of clothes and weather-appropriate layers.
  • Plastic bags to dispose of contaminated clothing.
  • Soap and water or wet cloths to clean skin, hair, and pets contaminated by fallout. (CDC recommends not using conditioner as it may glue radioactive material to your head)
  • Packaged foods that are shelf-stable. Curious what’s in a Russian MRE? We looked into that for you.
  • Drinking water
  • Reusable charges for devices.
  • Hand crank radio and flashlight.
  • Pet supplies (food, water, medicine).
  • Prescription medicine and a first aid kit. 
  • Mask or something to cover your face and eyes. The more protection the better. Ironically this has caused quite a lot of tension over the years. 
  • Any other comfort supplies such as blankets, pillows, books, photos. Whatever you need to make it through.

But the last thing I’ll leave you with is to consider what would happen if there was a nuclear detonation tomorrow.

Do you really want to go out knowing that you were rude to the person at the coffee place? That you made fun of the way someone looked or acted? Maybe we’re all being too sensitive, or maybe we’re not sensitive enough, but deep down I know that you know when you’re being a jerk. And that brought my Mom-voice out, don’t make me put you in time out.


Read more on Doomsday bunkers, Russian MREs, and other survival matters on CitySignal.

Alda is a mom, Brooklynite, and real estate lover. In her free time, she cruises real estate listings to dream of a perfectly attainable several million-dollar brownstone, much to her husband's annoyance. Alda is also convinced she knows everything there is to know about New York City, based solely on consistent people-watching and eavesdropping. Mrs. Burrows would be an amazing trivia partner but instead chooses to write about all the random stuff she knows.

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