By Jane M. Orient, M.D.
All the presidential candidates have opined about the military, or about war—over there. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria—and now Paris and Brussels.
But none have dared mention the subject of defense of American citizens in the event of war—over here. Not a terrorist attack or mass shooting that causes dozens or even hundreds of casualties, but war that causes thousands or millions of casualties and levels vast expanses of infrastructure.
This time, it was suicide nail bombs at the Brussels airport. However, terrorists have the “means, knowledge and information” to create a nuclear bomb,” according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano. North Korea threatens a nuclear attack, and Russia is upgrading its arsenal.
Instead of assuming that that can’t happen here, politicians and opinion leaders should start with the following message:
- If you see a flash or a very bright light, drop and cover.
- Stay down two full minutes with your eyes closed. Breathe through your mouth.
- Nuclear fallout looks like sand, ash, or grit. If you see it, take shelter.
Does that get your attention?
Telling people what to do means that you take the threat seriously. And if it does happen, you will probably be alive afterward. Your chance of surviving uninjured and remaining healthy depend very much on what you do. FEMA and the Marines will not be there to save you.
These simple principles used to be taught to every schoolchild. But now the prevailing belief is that nobody would dare attack because we would “wipe them off the map.” And anyway we’d all be dead, or wish that we were.
The truth is this:
- Nuclear weapons have proliferated all over the world.
- Advanced delivery systems have also proliferated, but a suitcase would do.
- We might not be able to identify the attacker.
- Even if we have no moral problem with wiping out a whole nation, we couldn’t do it. For one thing, other countries have defenses.
If you’ve had any military training, you know that to drop and cover protects you in the event of an explosion: conventional bombs, gunshots, falling meteors, or even nukes—unless you are too close to the “X.” No policemen died at Nagasaki because some survivors from totally unprepared Hiroshima told them what had happened. (Trains were running soon after the bomb hit.)
Radiation may be invisible, but fallout particles are easily seen. Radiation is easily measured, even with a simple instrument you can make with materials found around your house. (The federal government got rid of its civil defense radiation detection meters in the 1990s.)
The U.S. also discontinued the program to identify, mark, and stock public shelters. But putting distance or mass between you and the radiation source still works. You need less thickness if you use lead, but concrete, earth, buckets of water, or cans of beans also work. You can improvise shelter in your house.
One reason Americans don’t demand defenses is the Big Lie that the tiniest dose of radiation is deadly, so protection is pointless. Because of this pernicious disinformation, thousands died near Fukushima because of the forced evacuation, when they would have been fine at home. Because of unwarranted panic, a “dirty” bomb might destroy the economy of an area where radiation doses are less than the natural background levels found in some parts of the world. Rescue and recovery would be thwarted by standards based on politicized fearmongering.
Today’s candidates and elected officials can’t conjure up nonexistent defenses. But they can do these things immediately:
- Recognize reality: Americans are, by design, totally vulnerable to attack. But millions could still be saved by the basic knowledge outlined above.
- Refrain from provocative foreign adventures.
- Harden America’s electrical grid: destruction of the power grid by an electromagnetic pulse from a single high-altitude nuclear explosion could spell death for the vast majority of Americans over the next few months.
- Start revamping military priorities to stress defense of America against attack by land, sea, air, or space.
Meanwhile, Americans need to remember that in a disaster, we are all first responders. Our own survival, and that of our families and our nation depends on us. If you see a very bright light, drop and cover—and tell others to do so as well.
Dr. Jane M. Orient, M.D., has appeared on major television and radio networks in the U.S. speaking about issues related to Healthcare Reform.
Dr. Jane Orient is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a voice for patients’ and physicians’ independence since 1943.
She is currently president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness and has been the chairman of the Public Health Committee of the Pima County (Arizona) Medical Society since 1988.
Dr. Jane Orient has been in solo practice of general internal medicine in Tucson since 1981 and is a clinical lecturer in medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Her op-eds have been published in hundreds of local and national newspapers, magazines, internet, followed on major blogs and covered in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Dr. Jane Orient authored YOUR Doctor Is Not In: Healthy Skepticism about National Health Care, published by Crown; the second through fourth editions of Sapira’s Art and Science of Bedside Diagnosis, published by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; and Sutton’s Law, a novel about where the money is in medicine today.
Dr. Orient’s position on healthcare reform:
“The Healthcare plan will increase individual health insurance costs, and if the federal government puts price controls on the premiums, the companies will simply have to go out of business. Promises are made, but the Plan will deliver higher costs, more hassles, fewer choices, less innovation, and less patient care.”