November 2005 (vol. 22, #1)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716
c 2005 Physicians for Civil Defense

Fear Itself

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was partly right. There are many hazards to fear, but the worst one, the one that could destroy the United States, is indeed fear itself.

Fear leads to paralysis and denial–or to irrational and destructive action.

A riveting episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “The Shelter,” now available on DVD, shows what might have happened in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack.

First, friends at a birthday party ridicule the doctor, whom they all profess to love, for building a shelter for his family. But then the emergency broadcasting system cuts in with a warning that the unthinkable is about to happen.

The doctor's wife voices the thought so often heard: “What's the use? We're all going to die anyway.”

But the doctor responds that they have to think of their son, so they repair to the shelter. And friends and neighbors, who don't want to die after all but don't know what to do to protect themselves, display human nature at its worst.

Things have changed since the Cold War. While the prospect of an overwhelming Soviet first strike seems to have vanished, and an attack would probably involve one or only a few weapons, there would probably be no warning.

U.S. Policy of Terror
We are constantly said to be at war against terrorism, and the main purpose of terrorists is, of course, to cause terror. A prepared, knowledgable, alert, and determined citizenry is the best–ultimately the only–defense: one that U.S. policy has specifically renounced, especially for nuclear weapons. Instead, official policy fans fears of any dose of radiation, implying that efforts to reduce a large dose are useless.

To put it bluntly, U.S. policy magnifies the effect of nuclear terror: it assures maximum casualties and could make recovery from a nuclear attack impossible.

Robert Jastrow recently said that the very existence of the United States as a nation is therefore at stake.

Sheltering in Place
Once a mainstay of FEMA planning, evacuation is now seen as applying only to a few situations, such as flooding or very intense storms. “Deciding to stay or go” is, appropriately, a major discussion point on

Unfortunately, the sheltering instructions only tell how to tape plastic sheeting over all openings to the building. This will not keep out chemicals or gamma rays; it will keep out air.

It is essential to keep particulates out of the shelter–fallout particles and carriers for biological agents. Thus, all air should, if possible, enter the sheltered area through a filter. The air itself is not radioactive; and it is essential for life.

Cresson Kearny points out in Nuclear War Survival Skills that if outside air enters through a gooseneck pipe or other opening that causes all but tiny particles to be deposited before they reach the shelter occupants, there will be no short-term radiation casualties from breathing the air. An appropriate filter could prevent the small number of cancers that might occur years later. Furnace or air-conditioner dust filters will remove all but the smallest particles. Two thicknesses of bath towel remove 85% of particles as small as 1 to 5 microns, the size of most aerosols used in biological warfare.

Keeping fallout outside the shelter is only the first step. One must put as much distance and mass as possible between the occupants and the fallout outside. As most Americans will not have access to a proper shelter, they will need to make the best of where they are. The core shelter demonstrated by Kearny in the NWSS DVD series, available for $150 from DDP or, could save many lives.

Get the DVD and watch it. Briefly: choose a corner of a basement, or the center of a building, as far from outside walls, ground, and roof as possible. Cover and surround a sturdy table with massive items: 5-inches of water or 3.5 inches of dirt will halve the dose of radiation. Twice that depth cuts the dose in half again (to 25%). Cardboard boxes lined with two trash bags, one inside the other, can serve as water containers. Items like canned goods, books, or bricks can also be used.

Ventilation is vital. Leave two air openings, one near the floor for intake, and one near the top for outflow. Kearny's fanning method, using a small square frame covered with cloth, can move enough air to maintain a tolerable temperature.

Inside this core shelter, the radiation dose would be only one-fourth as high as outside it. Within 7 hours, the dose should have decayed to one-tenth the initial level.

Two women and one boy demonstrated the shelter. People have survived worse crowding for days, Kearny observed.

If occupants had some kind of dose-rate meter, such as a NukAlert, they could judge how much radiation they would be exposed to in leaving the shelter briefly for essential purposes. We don't know of any other survey meter that you can conveniently have with you at all times.

Attack Without Warning
The first sign of an attack could be a blinding flash. Those who immediately take cover can avoid injury from flying glass and debris. The old “duck and cover” drill needs to be taught to every man, woman, and child. It's good for tornados also. The 1950s Bert the Turtle video can be accessed at the Trinity Atomic website,, along with invaluable information on nuclear weapons effects. (A recent spoof called “Duct Tape and Cover” shows what happens if you seal the shelter against all air entry.)

If you have the presence of mind to count seconds between the flash and the arrival of the blast wave, you can get a rough idea of how far you are from Ground Zero. An idealized shock wave travels approximately at the speed of sound (1,116 ft/sec) at long ranges, but up to several times faster at short ranges (see Glasstone and Dolan §3.10, available at the Trinity Atomic website).

Every person to whom you teach these simple facts is a defense against paralyzing fear, and a possible life saved. And every survivor could be a national resource.


Wisdom from Homeland Security

Recent hurricanes showed the folly of the public's sole reliance on government to come to their rescue in a disaster. Stockpiling supplies and developing family disaster plans are a “matter of civic virtue,” said Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) Director Michael Chertoff in an Associated Press interview in October.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush complained about the cavalier attitude of people who had a week's notice of Hurricane Wilma yet failed to evacuate or prepare. “It isn't that hard to get 72 hours worth of food and water,” he said.

The failure of people to accept responsibility for themselves has a “cascading effect,” said Chertoff.

The government suggests using school children to carry the preparedness message to their parents.

Fire departments are also urged to carry a message that “healthy, competent people should prepare in advance to weather disasters, so that emergency responders can devote more time in a crisis to helping those who most need help.”


Bureaucratic Paralysis

Asked about communications problems among local, state, and federal officials that plagued the hurricane response, Chertoff said “you can't have interoperability if nothing operates.” Other problems included “panic,” “anxiety,” and “misinformation” among responders and the public (Global Security Newswire 11/4/05). Firing FEMA Director Michael Brown will not solve the problems. DHS at its inception combined 22 agencies and 170,000 workers. More flexible work rules might help it function, but a federal judge is “concerned” that proposed changes could force federal workers' unions to bargain collectively “on quicksand.”

The bureaucracy also paralyzes the private sector through stultifying rules; 4,100 new final rules were issued in 2004 alone. Compliance costs: about $840 billion.

“If it's only choking the economy and destroying jobs, well, life goes on.” But with 9/11 and Katrina it is evident that the government's ability to perform its one undisputed function–providing national security–is also eroded (Daniel Henninger, “Leviathan 101,” Wall St J 9/30/05).


Is the Nuclear Taboo Still in Effect?

Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, architect of the bombing strategy in the Vietnam War, believes that advertising continued U.S. dependence on nuclear weapons, and our need for new nuclear capabilities, will erode the taboo that has apparently helped keep the peace for 60 years. “Influence”–the ability to keep a major nation at bay–is what nuclear weapons have primarily been used for, he writes (Wall St J 10/24/05).

The “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” drafted by the U.S. Defense Dept. this year suggested the possibility of preemptive use of U.S. nuclear weapons in the face of imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) such as biologic agents (Reuters 9/11/05).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned that Iran may be planning a preemptive nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States that would turn a third or more of the country “back to a 19th century level of development.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is not complying with its treaty obligations. Iran has test fired a ballistic missile from a merchant vessel and detonated warheads in midair over the Caspian Sea.

Most of the U.S. civilian population, military bases, and weapons assembly plants are within range of missile attacks launched from merchant vessels (WorldNetDaily 11/20/05).


Is “Civil Defense” Coming Back?

At a Nov 16 conference of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness (NCORP), chaired by former Governor Gilmore, nearly 700 people showed up. Only 200 had been expected. Attendees included first responders, local elected officials, and business leaders. NukAlert inventor Philip Smith had an opportunity to speak on the need for radiologic monitoring and reports that he frequently heard the term “civil defense.”

“Yes, civil defense–that's why we're here,” Gov. Gilmore said as Smith gave him a “civil defense tool” (a NukAlert). The website is Help reinforce the message. Let PCD know of officials who would make good use of a donated NukAlert.


Lessons from Charity Hospital

A physician reports that in the aftermath of Katrina, physicians had to fall back on clinical diagnostic skills. Survival and sanity in the crisis depended critically on simple commodities and codes of behavior. These included good shoes, flashlights and D batteries, provisions for sleep, and morale-boosting activities (N Engl J Med 2005;353:1551-1553).

For sanitation, a nurse created two restrooms. She scoured a clean toilet with bleach and designated it for urine only. In an adjoining room she placed a bedpan on a chair protected with disposable pads, along with a roll of biohazard bags. Staff were instructed to insert the bedpan into a bag, invert the bag over the bedpan after use, knot the bag and place it into a covered biohazardous waste bin (ibid.).

Kearny suggests tying the waste bags loosely, to permit escape of gas, and tossing them outside daily. They will attract swarms of flies, but the flies will not be able to get into the bag to lay eggs or contaminate their feet. Sprinkling a little fly bait on the plastic will kill thousands of flies (NWSS).


Recognizing Suicide Bombers

The Mackenzie Institute suggests the following indicators: a shaved head or short haircut, especially if recent, as indicated by a different skin complexion than on the face; a smell of herbal or flower water, as they may have perfumed themselves in anticipation of paradise; fervent praying as if whispering to someone; an agitated appearance; behavior inappropriate for the setting; bulky clothing not suitable for the temperature; an odd fit to the pants as from wearing a cup and multiple sets of underwear to protect the genitals for the anticipated 72 virgins (John Thompson, 10/21/05,

Thompson also gives tips for recognizing mail bombs, vehicle bombs, or activity that could be the precursor to an attack. He discourages any action other than immediately reporting to an authority in as much detail as possible.

In airport lounges or other public places, be alert. If a person makes you feel uncomfortable, one attorney suggests asking some casual questions: Are you traveling to Pittsburgh today? Do you know any good places to stay there? An odd reaction might make you decide not to board the flight, and to report concerns to an authority.