NYC releases video on what to do in event of nuclear attack


NEW YORK (NewsNation) — The city of New York released a video Monday instructing residents via YouTube on what they should do in the event of a nuclear attack.

The short public service announcement, or PSA, produced by the New York City Emergency Management Department, said that while the “likelihood of a nuclear weapon incident occurring in/near New York City is very low,” they want New Yorkers to have a plan.

The PSA offers only three short bits of advice:

  • Get inside
  • Stay inside
  • Stay tuned

It also advises residents to move to the center of their building if a basement is not available for shelter and strikes a more serious tone than relics of our preparedness past.

“As the threat landscape continues to evolve, it is important that New Yorkers know we are preparing for any imminent threats and are providing them with the resources they need to stay safe and informed,” said a news release from NYC Emergency Management that accompanied the video.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation” offers more specifics.

“Everyone inside the Dangerous Radiation Zone (DRZ) should seek immediate shelter. Even beyond the DRZ, sheltering may be warranted to minimize acute radiation exposure to the population and minimize cancer risk. Until the magnitude and direction of fallout is established, those not involved in response efforts within 50 miles of a nuclear detonation should seek adequate shelter.”

The DRZ, according to FEMA, is characterized by radiation levels of 10 R/hr and above and the potential for acute radiation injury.

The DRZ could potentially extend tens of miles downwind, but the zone will begin to shrink within a few hours due to radiation decay.

So why now? NewsNation reached out to NYC emergency management, which couldn’t offer someone to speak on camera, but replied with a statement that read in part:

“The likelihood of a nuclear weapon incident occurring in/near New York City is very low. However, it’s important New Yorkers know the steps to stay safe … There is no direct threat to the city but we felt it was important that we addressed this topic.”  

NYC Emergency Management

Alex Wellerstein, a professor at Stevens Institute who is a historian on nuclear weapons, spoke with NewsNation correspondent Paul Gerke by phone Tuesday. He said the PSA’s instructions are solid and backed by years of research by national labs and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The idea, Wellerstein says, is to give people the minimum amount of information necessary to avoid what they call “preventable casualties” and to make efforts easiest for first responders

Wellerstein’s major problem with the PSA is that it fails to acknowledge what he calls the “hopeless zone.” He says they’re not saying the quiet part out loud that we all know to be true — that, in the event of a nuclear attack, many people will die instantly or in short order. 

Many more will be far away from the theoretical attack and this advice won’t apply. The PSA’s advice applies only to those in a very specific zone in a very specific window.

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