Disaster Prep and What to Do in the Event of Nuclear Emergencies

Advice from FAO on what to do in the event of a nuclear emergency

What general advice can be given to food consumers and producers in the event of a nuclear
• The response to an emergency involving radioactivity should be the same as the response to any emergency involving any hazardous material contaminating food. In the early stages of an emergency, and if it is safe to do so, it is possible to take immediate actions to prevent or minimize the contamination of food by radiological materials. For example, it is possible to do the following:
  • protect food and animal fodder which is stored in the open; cover with plastic sheets or impermeable tarpaulins;
  • close the ventilation of greenhouses to protect growing vegetables;
  • bring livestock in from pastures and move animals into a shed or barn;
  • harvest any ripe crops and place under cover before any fallout has been
  • recorded; and
  • don’t harvest after fallout – wait for further instructions after contamination has been recorded.
Many other short-, medium- and long-term actions need to be considered in areas confirmed to
be seriously contaminated, such as:
  • avoid consumption of locally produced milk or vegetables;
  • avoid slaughtering animals;
  • avoid consumption and harvesting of aquatic animals and plants (including fish,
  • shellfish, and algae); and
  • avoid hunting or gathering mushrooms or other wild or collected foods.

The urgency with which this next article is written may have you hyperventilating … it’s probably close to what was circulated on the internet to Japanese people in recent times that had them running to buy bottled water in the stores … but still good reading:

While there are many things to plan for, your response to all of them is one of two things: stay at home or evacuate. For blizzards, earthquakes, cyber-attacks, nuclear fallout, quarantine after biological attacks, and collapse of the infrastructure, you will want to stay at home. For floods, hurricanes, or with some advance notice of NBC attacks, evacuation may be your course of action.

Whenever possible, staying at home in your own environment and with your own emergency supplies is the best choice. When you evacuate, you are essentially a refugee at the mercy of government evacuation centers or the compassion of the local population. In a major disaster, don’t expect to be welcomed by the locals who are struggling with their own survival.

In all situations, you will need to be able to think for yourself. Confusion always accompanies a major disaster and initial information and instructions may be conflicting and incorrect. Some caught in the World Trade Center were initially advised that everything was fine and they should stay at their desks. Those who took matters into their own hands immediately evacuated the building. So, monitor the radio and television for official instructions on what to do, such as whether to evacuate or not, but don’t assume they are correct. Make your own decisions based on your plans and preparation.

Nuclear attack/accident

A nuclear disaster could result from an accident at a nuclear power plant, a detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists or a rogue nation, or an explosion of a “dirty” bomb, an explosive surrounded by radioactive material. Individuals at “ground zero” will have little chance of survival. The risk for others is the exposure to radiation.

Radiation is dangerous because of harmful effects on the body. In large amounts, radiation can cause radiation sickness, thyroid and other cancers, and death. These effects are greater the longer a person is exposed to the radiation and the closer the person is to the source. If radiation is released into the atmosphere, it can travel for thousands of miles, contaminating the ground and living organisms as it settles back to earth on dust or rain. This is called fallout radiation.

Time, distance, and shielding are the factors that minimize exposure to nuclear radiation. Most radiation loses its strength fairly rapidly, but it is important to limit the amount of time spent near the radiation source. The farther away an individual is from the radiation source, the less exposure. Shielding is a barrier between an individual and the radiation. Concrete, earth, and structures are good shields. Depending on the distance from the source, the best protection from radiation fallout may be to remain indoors.

After a nuclear disaster you may be advised to evacuate. If so, remain calm, pack your evacuation survival kit in your vehicle, and follow the evacuation routes out of the area. If there is time before leaving, close and lock windows of your house, close fireplace dampers, turn off air conditioning, vents, fans, and furnace. Doing these things will make your house safer when you return by minimizing exposure to the inside of your house to fallout.

If you are advised to remain at home, bring pets inside, secure your house from fallout by closing and locking doors and windows, closing fireplace dampers, turning off air conditioning, vents, fan, and the furnace. If your emergency supplies are stored in a garage or barn, bring them inside and, if there is time, store additional water in tubs, sinks, and available containers. Inside the house, the safest area is a basement or underground area, followed by an interior room with no windows. Stay inside until authorities say it is safe to go outside. When coming in from the outdoors after exposure to fallout, shower and change clothes and shoes. Put the contaminated items that were worn outside in a plastic bag and seal it. Open water sources (streams, creeks, lakes), fruits and vegetables from outdoor gardens, and livestock will all be contaminated. Do not eat or drink products from these until you know it is safe.

Earthquakes. If you are indoors, stay there and take cover under a heavy table or desk while keeping away from windows. Do not use elevators. If you are outdoors, stay outdoors and watch for falling debris, trees, or power lines. After the earthquake, check for injuries or fires, check for damage including gas, water, and electrical lines. If you smell gas or there is a fire, turn off the gas at the main gas valve and switch off the main circuit breaker. Do not enter damaged building

Source: Disaster Prep

Riding it out at home

Key to your survival is preparing a disaster supplies kit, essentially the stockpiling of all materials that you would need to live on if you are cut off from outside utilities, water, and supplies. Once a disaster occurs, there won’t be time and materials may not be available.

How long you will need to be self-sufficient is hard to say. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises everyone to store enough food, water, and supplies to take care of their family for three days. Preparing a “72-hour kit” is a good idea. It can be used for immediate evacuation and part of your overall disaster supply kit. Place items in a portable, easy-to-carry container, such as a large plastic box or duffel bag, ready to grab at a moment’s notice.

But, is it enough? A blizzard, earthquake, quarantine, or nuclear fallout could confine you for much longer. You need to be able to take care of all the needs for your family for a period of at least two weeks and possibly longer. Having supplies for one to three months is not all that unreasonable or hard to accomplish.

There are six basics that should be part of your home disaster supplies kit: water, food, first aid supplies, tools and emergency supplies, clothing and bedding, and special needs items.

Water. An individual must drink at least two quarts of water per day to avoid dehydration, and as much as four to five in hot weather or if they are exercising or working hard. Store at least a gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking and two for food preparation and sanitation) in food-grade plastic containers, such as water containers or empty two-liter soda bottles. Thirty to fifty-gallon containers are also available and can be stored in a garage or shed. Rotate water supplies every six months so they stay fresh.

For extended disasters, additional water may need to be obtained. Rain is pure water and can be used without further purification. Water from lakes, streams, or reservoirs should be purified by boiling, using a portable water filter, or by adding a water purification chemical, such as Polar Pure or Potable Aqua.

Food. Non-perishable foods that require no refrigeration or cooking and which use little or no water to prepare are the best for your disaster kit. Ready-to-eat canned foods including meats, stews, beans, fruits, and vegetables are the mainstay of the food supply, along with canned juices, milk, and soups. Include high energy foods, such as peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, energy bars, or trail mix and some comfort foods, such as cookies, hard candy, coffee, or tea.

For foods that must be cooked, be sure to have a camping-type cook stove and fuel, Dutch oven and briquettes, or other cooking source. This will allow you to prepare more types of food, such as rice, dehydrated foods, flour biscuits, and cornbread.

Consider shelf life of stored foods. Rotate regular canned goods and food every six months. Eat the stored food as part of your regular meals, replacing it with newly purchased food. (Read Backwoods Home Magazine’s Emergency Preparedness and Survival Guide advertised on page 19 of this issue.)

Numerous companies sell emergency foods that are packaged to last for 5 to 10 years and are good to have around since you don’t have to worry about rotating food as often. Military MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) are also available and have a long shelf-life, although they are bulky and expensive. They are convenient to have in your vehicle disaster kit, however.

First aid supplies. First aid kits should be available in your house and vehicles. Your local American Red Cross chapter can supply you with a basic first aid manual and list of first aid supplies. Your home kit should include items to treat injuries such as lacerations, sprains, and burns, as well as medicines, such as aspirin or non-aspirin pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medicine, laxatives, and antacids.

Tools and emergency supplies. Tools and emergency supplies should include such things as battery-operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries, cups/plates/utensils, non-electric can opener, matches, lantern, fire extinguisher, hand tools for repairs and to turn off household water and gas, a whistle, and plastic sheeting. For sanitation, include toilet paper, towelettes, soap, toothpaste, personal hygiene items, disinfectant, and household chlorine bleach. Many more items can be added. Think through the things you use on a daily basis.

Clothing and bedding. Clothing and bedding would include a change of clothing and footwear for everyone in the household, rain gear, cold weather clothes, hat and gloves, and blankets or sleeping bags. Remember, a house or car can get very cold without heat. Prepare for the worst weather that you might encounter.

Special needs items. Special needs items may include formula and diapers for infants, prescription medications, contact lenses and supplies, extra glasses, and other supplies or equipment for infant, elderly, or disabled individuals. Ample pet food should also be stored. Confinement in the house during a disaster can be boring, especially for children, so remember books, games, and other entertainment.

Store your disaster supply kit in a convenient place that is known to all family members and make sure they know your family’s disaster plan. Evaluate your kit once a year and update it according to family needs.


You may not have much time to prepare when you need to evacuate. A hazardous materials spill could mean instant evacuation, so always have a smaller version of your home disaster supply kit in the trunk of your car.

When you have advance warning of an evacuation, bring your portable “72-hour” disaster supply kit, along with additional food, water, and clothing. Keep important family documents in a waterproof, portable container, ready to bring with you in an evacuation. These may include your will, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds, passports, social security card, bank and credit account numbers, family documents (birth, marriage, and death certificates), inventory of valuable household items, and important telephone numbers. It would be a good idea to always keep some cash in this container, so you have it for an emergency. If there is time, valuable family heirlooms or photographs can be added.

Keeping a checklist of what to bring in an evacuation is a good idea. In the stress of the moment, it is easy to forget an important item.


Once you have a basic plan for any emergency, consider some plans for some specific risks – earthquakes: typhoons, nuclear disaster, bioterrorism, deadly virus outbreaks, volcanic eruptions.

If you are involved in some school counseling capacity, the following will be useful resources:

The Psychological Interventions in Times of Crisis  (alternatively, at this link)
Laura Barbanel, Robert J. Sternberg

When Disaster StrikesDisaster Action members have written a number of leaflets for distribution to survivors of major disasters and the friends and relatives of those who may be killed or seriously injured. Their aim is to offer the benefit of past experience to others and to enable those affected to understand what may happen in the hours and days after the disaster. Although each disaster is unique, they all have common features. Disaster Action was founded in 1991, a charity that was set up by survivors and the bereaved in response to a series of major disasters.


TELL | Tokyo English Life Line


Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) is a non-profit community service organization dedicated to helping foreigners with advice and counseling on the wide variety of problems them may run into living in Japan. This page describes the services TELL provides, online resources and FAQ Facebook.com service includes counseling and anonymous phone counseling.


Work out what to do – a family crisis plan – collection of children from school, protective gear, contact plan, etc.

Precautionary measures for children:

Paper and small plastic bag as much as needed.  Write with permanent ink information on a piece of paper.  Fold this paper, wrap this paper in plastic.  Attach this onto your child or even yourself (adult), around his wrist, ankle, inside his llittle knapsack/backpack, inside his pocket of trousers, shirts. Information may include: written in both or more languages Japanese and English/other language:
My name is (full name, nickname)
Born on (full birth dates, name of place, Japan to father (name of father) and mother (name of mother.
My diet is (healthful vegetarian, etc….., allergic to……)
Contacts my parents know (list of contacts such as church in Japan, relatives, friends……)
If you expect structural damage to the housing, disruption to water supplies, remember to stock up on toilet paper, kitty litter which will get rid of smells and hygiene problems when you have a temporary waste disposal situation. Some people prepare camping tents (miniature fishing tent and portable toilet that serve as outdoor emergency toilets). Spare disposal bags are always useful. During disruptions of water supply, wet wipes are very useful because you don’t want to use precious drinking water supplies to soap down yourself.

Q&A: Take proper steps to avoid exposure to fallout (Japan Times, Mar 16 2011)

Previously blogged on our website:

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