In the light of recent tragedy in Japan, the topic of how to survive a radiological event is crossing the minds of more than a few people. Not that you needed one more reason to keep one ear on the news, but Japan's compound disasters serve as a dire warning that natural disasters can wreak havoc when they collide with modern technology. The tragic events also give us a reminder that a radiation event could occur anywhere, anytime. Here's how to survive if one happens near you. Photo: Navy Imagery.
Don’t panic
Panic leads to poor choices and unclear thinking. In a radiological emergency, as in any emergency, you should stay calm. You should also stay put – unless an evacuation order has been given. Photo: Fox News Insider
Know your local hazards
You should take the time to learn about your local threats for radiological disaster. Find out where your local nuclear power plants are located. Figure out if the prevailing winds blow from the plant, toward your workplace or home. Learn about the cities that have a high threat of receiving a radiological attack from terrorists, like the dreaded Dirty Bomb. Photo:
Be aware of emergency situations as they happen
The first step in dealing with a radiological emergency is to simply be aware that you are in danger. Television, radio and Internet news form the three major avenues of emergency news broadcast. You should always shelter in place at the first word of a radiological emergency, unless you are directed to evacuate by the authorities. Photo: emrank
Know if a fallout shelter is near you
A curious leftover from the Cold War, fallout shelters could be valuable in the event of a radiological emergency. Know where your local ones are located. This will give you a back-up shelter while you are out and about. Photo: mypoorbrain
Stay put
Remain inside your home or work, keep the windows closed, and minimize the opening of doors to the outside. If you are traveling in a vehicle or are outside and you find out there has been a radiological event, you should find shelter in the nearest building unless directed to evacuate. Photo: eyeliam
Make the most of your shelter
Stay in the basement if you have one. In big buildings, stay on the lower floors, and near the center of the building so that the structure provides you more of a buffer against radiation. Photo: crazytales562
Protect your air
Turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring in fresh air into your building from the outside. Use these systems only to circulate indoor air. Dust in the air from any radiological event can enter your building through the ventilation system, if it brings in new air. It may make sense to cover your windows and vents with tape and plastic, if you can do so without getting further exposed. This will keep out more radioactive dust, but it will not help against all forms of radiation. Photo: Muffet
Keep batteries, a flashlight and a radio
Don’t expect the electricity to stay on. In the event of a disaster, keep batteries, a flashlight and a battery-powered radio on hand so that you can listen for official information during an emergency. It would be optimal if the same batteries fit both devices. Again, follow the instructions given by local officials on emergency radio broadcasts. Photo: scalespeeder
If you have to go out…
If your life depends on going outside, cover your nose and mouth to avoid breathing as much dust as possible. Use a high quality dust mask, or the best available cloth to breathe through. Cover as much skin as possible with clothing that can be thrown away as soon as you get back to shelter. Keep your children and pets indoors through the entire emergency. Photo: unc-cfc
Have a plan
Have a plan in place for sheltering in place for a few days at your home and at your workplace in the event of any disaster. Also have a plan to evacuate from your home or workplace to some other location. Your plan should include contingencies for phones and other communications being down. Photo: wrote
Have a rendezvous point
In the event that you have to evacuate your home or workplace, you should have a rendezvous point for your friends and family. This should be decided and agreed upon by all persons involved in the rendezvous site. It could be somebody’s house in the ‘burbs or the country, or even a cabin in the woods. Keeping some food, water, clothes, first aid and other supplies stashed there could save lives. Photo: vastateparstaff
Different paths
You should plan several different routes and modes of transport to reach your rendezvous point. Expect that major highways and roads would be gridlocked in a major emergency. Determine the back roads to reach your goal, and bring a map in case you have to change your plan in mid-evacuation. Motorcycles, dirt bikes and four wheelers can get where other vehicles cannot travel. Bicycles work as does walking. Photo: normanb
Don’t run the gauntlet
If your rendezvous point is upwind – toward the radiological event – don’t travel toward danger to reach anything on the other side. If you have to travel, take a very broad, route that circles the dangerous area. Photo: compujeramey
Your 72-hour kit
Having a 72-hour kit in your car, at your workplace and at your home can be a great source of comfort during the good times and a lifeline in an emergency. Each kit should contain enough food, water and other supplies to last you 3 days. Check out FEMA’s instructions for a basic emergency kit at Photo: mdid
The B.O.B.
You can upgrade your 72 hour kit into a full-fledged bug-out bag. The B.O.B. is a backpack or duffle bag that has shelter, water, food, clothes, first aid and many other supplies similar to the things you would bring on a backpacking trip. The B.O.B. is perfect for those who expect to take shelter in a remote area for an uncertain period of time.
Suit up
A high quality dust mask and a disposable set of painter’s cover-alls can be added to your equipment to offer a little more protection during radiological and other disasters. Cover as much skin as possible. Goggles and a mask will help your eyes and lungs to be better protected during an emergency. Photo: dylanindustries
Consider a radiation badge
Many companies sell small, card-like badges that are disposable radiation detectors. These are similar to the badges worn on radiation suits, to alert the user of radiation levels in their environment. This small, inexpensive item could offer some peace of mind, to those surviving or travelling through on irradiated area. These can be ordered at
Have the necessary medicine for radiation
The drug of choice for radiation poisoning is Potassium Iodide. At the time of writing this, all three of the major US producers are out of stock in the liquid and tablet forms of this drug. The Iosat™ Potassium Iodide tablet and ThyroShield™ Potassium Iodide liquid are both FDA Approved for adults and children. This drug blocks some of the radiation from being absorbed by the thyroid gland which would later cause thyroid cancer. However, these drugs are not proven to prevent other forms of cancer caused by radiation.
Safe food, water and supplies
Whether you are stuck at home, at work, or some random place – make the most of the food supplies, clean water and any other necessities that you have available. If you run out of water, remember that water filters and purification tablets will not make radioactive water safe. Nothing you can rig up in the field will decontaminate nuked water. Photo: klearchos kapoutsis
No nukes?
You may not live downwind of a reactor, but if you are in a major city, a Dirty Bomb could still be a dangerous event. A Dirty Bomb, or radiological dispersion device (RDD), is a bomb that combines common explosives, like dynamite, with radioactive materials. When the RDD explodes, radioactive material is blasted into the area around the explosion. Specks of this material might float in the air, which could then be breathed in. The dust could also fall on outdoor surfaces or people. This could cause those surfaces and people to be exposed to radioactive material.
In case of meltdown
Understand what would happen if your local power plant went into meltdown. Be aware of the sirens and early warning systems of your local nuclear facilities. Learn the predetermined evacuation routes away from your local nuclear power plant. Get educated. Photo: Paul J Everett

As Japan struggles to save its nuclear power plants, now is the time to consider how you would survive if there was a radiological disaster near you.

If nuclear fallout from Japan’s power plants were to make its way to you, would you know how to survive potential radiation exposure?