September 2005 (vol. 21, #6)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716
c 2005 Physicians for Civil Defense

Civil Defense Debacle

The Gulf Coast of the United States has been hit with the destructive equivalent of dozens of hydrogen bombs.

Hurricanes are the most powerful physical phenomenon on earth. The heat energy released by even a small hurricane is the equivalent of exploding a 10-megaton H-bomb every 20 minutes. Many commented that parts of the Gulf Coast look like Hiroshima just after the Bomb.

As would be true with a nuclear attack, the initial casualties from the storm itself were but a small part of the problem. The aftermath was even more deadly, largely as a result of governmental incompetence at all levels.

Early Warnings
In the 1979 book The Effects of Nuclear War, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) wrote: “No one at all thinks that the United States has an effective civil defense.... Federal plans have been marked by vacillation, shifts in direction, and endless reorganization.”

Over the last 30 years, the civil defense system that took 30 years to build has been systematically dismantled. Former FEMA official George Haddow complained that the post-9/11 focus on terrorism marginalized preparedness for natural disasters (Chicago Tribune 9/2/05). Yet the requirements for human survival are basically the same, whatever the threat.

The danger to Louisiana has long been recognized. In the September 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics, Jim Wilson wrote: “The surge of a Category 5 storm could put New Orleans under 18 ft of water.” All streets in and out of the city could be blocked for days, he noted, leaving people stranded without electricity or clean water.

In a five-part series published June 23-27, 2002, Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid wrote in the Times-Picayune that “flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands.” Officials of local, state, and national governments were said to be devising plans to alleviate the aftermath of a disaster that could leave the city uninhabitable for six months or more. It was estimated that some 200,000 people would be left behind in an evacuation. The Superdome was the designated shelter for people too sick or infirm to leave the city.

As the shoreline has been eroding, the need to constantly reinforce the levees with higher walls was well known; however, this has not been done since 1965. Proposed funding for flood control had been slashed by both the Clinton and the Bush Administrations (WND 9/3/05). Apparently, there was no system to warn of a breach in the levees, and there is dispute about the time that this occurred. But 12 hours passed between the passage of the hurricane and the rush of water into the streets. The Army Corps of Engineers apparently had no viable plan to make repairs. The needed barges and cranes could not be brought in because bridges were down or could not be opened without electricity ( 9/2/05).

Only 13 months before Katrina hit, FEMA had conducted a “very good exercise” of a New Orleans hurricane scenario with widespread flooding (Chicago Tribune op. cit.).

During the real disaster, communications were so poor that FEMA director Michael Brown said he was shocked to learn of the plight of the 25,000 people at the New Orleans convention center, some of whom were dying, long after the story made national news (Dallas Morning News 9/2/05).

Basic Shelter Requirements
As people were corralled into the Superdome, essentially under house arrest, the basic needs recognized by FEMA in the 1980s were forgotten: “a water supply is an absolutely indispensable component of any shelter.” Without water, people begin to die in about 4 days, or suffer irreversible harm. People need a minimum of one quart per day, but at temperatures above 82 deg. F the need increases rapidly.

While waiting for someone to bring them little plastic bottles of water, people apparently made no effort to purify the water that surrounded them, as by sedimentation, filtration, and adding chlorine bleach. Forward-osmosis technology that can turn mud or even urine into drinkable water (see DDP Newsletter, March 2005 or )–used by troops in Iraq and sent to tsunami victims–is on backorder. The state-of-the-art for human waste disposal in American public shelters in 1986 was the dual-use 17.5 gal water container. After the water was consumed, the bucket could be fitted with a toilet seat and used, with the addition of chemicals to prevent bacterial action, until nearly full. Then it could be sealed and stored, either inside or outside the shelter (Civil Defense Shelters: a State-of-the-Art Assessment–1986, ORNL-6252, available at

Even the most primitive provision for sanitation was lacking at the Superdome. Toilets overflowed, and people used a box or the floor. The stench was overpowering.

Shelter habitability tests have shown that 85 F is the threshold of intolerance. In the hot humid conditions of the Gulf Coast, the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency calculated a need for forced ventilation of 40 cu ft of air per sheltered person. In New Orleans, there were no manually operated blowers–and no Kearny directional fans made from bedsheets.

Anarchy was perhaps the most serious problem. As FEMA stated in bold print on the cover of its 1984 Shelter Management Handbook: “The safety and well-being of people in this shelter depend on capable leadership. If a civil defense shelter manager is not present, anyone seeing this handbook who has leadership experience can and should TAKE CHARGE IMMEDIATELY.” Leaders were to encourage shelterees to assist each other; to insist on observance of sanitation rules; to distribute supplies; and to make work assignments.

From Defense to “Management”
The name change from civil defense to emergency management was very significant. FEMA is staffed with managers. It writes paper plans and doles out taxpayers' money, but it no longer provides supplies or even reliable instructions. At the same time that government policy has created a vast subculture of government dependents who demand to be cared for, self reliance has never been more critical.


Check Your Supplies

Katrina reminds us of the hazards of “just in time” management when it comes to emergency supplies - it can mean too little, too late. When disaster strikes, you will be competing with the federal government if you try to place an order. Lack of steady demand result in limited production capacity and small reserves. As a matter of policy, the federal government does not allow supplies to be stockpiled in potential shelters, and New Orleans Mayor Nagin announced that the stadium to shelter the infirm would have no food, water, or cots (much less medications).

The Department of Transportation states that it is moving 13.4 million liters of water, 3.4 million pounds of ice, 5.4 million military meals ready-to-eat, 135,000 blankets (for heat stroke?), 11,000 cots, 144 generators, 10 mobile homes, and a team of more than 70 transportation experts to Louisiana. The Department of Health and Human Services is “accelerating” the opening of 40 emergency medical shelters, of which only one was open, in Baton Rouge, after 5 days (Wall St J 9/2/05).


Radiologic Monitoring Nets

“Between 1955-74, the federal government had procured about 1.4 million rate meters, 3.4 million dose meters, and related equipment. Effective radiological defense would require an estimated 2.4 million people to be trained as radiological monitors in a crisis” (OTA, op. cit.) At the time, FEMA considered scenarios for an all-out Soviet missile attack.

Had the Gulf Coast been hit with a nuclear weapon, FEMA could have supplied zero high-dose survey meters and virtually no trained radiologic monitors.

With a small group of civil defense activists headed by Steve Jones of Salt Lake City, Physicians for Civil Defense is making progress toward establishing a skeleton net of radiologic monitors. The NukAlert requires virtually no training. Fire districts surrounding Tucson now have vehicles and key personnel equipped with NukAlerts, and standard operating guidelines are in effect. Although we do not have enough NukAlerts to equip all 500 vehicles owned by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, the instruments are being dispersed to cover much of southern Arizona, including border areas. Additionally, all police chiefs in the State of Massachusetts should be equipped with NukAlerts by mid-September.

For press coverage, a photo gallery of first responders with their NukAlerts, a demonstration of the device, letters from agencies participating in the net, and a link to a technical description of “how it works,” see

On a minimal budget funded by a loan from a private individual, research on improving production methods is in progress. However, $500,000 still needs to be raised–in gifts, investments, or advance orders–before another production run is feasible. NukAlerts are still available for retail purchase, but PCD is attempting to get as much of the limited inventory as possible into the hands of first responders, in order to maximize the number of lives that could be saved in a crisis.

PCD not only needs donors, but volunteers to identify officials interested in participating in the project. Once firefighters and law enforcement officers learn about this radiation monitor/alarm, they are delighted to have one. It protects their own personal safety as well as helping them to protect the public. We can think of no other project with a greater potential to save our communities and our nation in the event of a nuclear detonation or use of a “dirty bomb”.

To test your NukAlert, ask your dentist to position it as if it were a molar bite wing film, with the beam entering the key loop end. Set the machine for a typical molar bite wing exposure. The unit should respond in about 35 seconds with a 4, 5, or 6-chirp sequence that requires at least several minutes to cycle down to zero. Check your KFM also!


The Indispensable Kearny Fallout Meter

The most reliable device, the KFM is needed for back-up, no matter what type of electronic instrument you purchase, and its readings are more accurate that a NukAlert's. Remember to store your KFM in a sealed paint can with at least 2 oz of color-indicator silica gel to keep the dessicant dry. The microwave or oven may not be working. (Heat the gel, not the KFM, for 30 seconds at a time, if necessary.)

The KFM kit, with everything you need for rapid assembly, is distributed with a radiation source from a smoke detector and a newspaper insert from the July 22-23, 2002, Deseret News. Along with the instructions for making a KFM from scratch, this includes a method for using it as a radon detector and a description of classroom projects designed by science teacher Paul Lombardi. An added bonus is an illustration of a crude fallout shelter you can construct in 15 minutes.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory at one time prepared KFM instructions to distribute to every American newspaper, but the federal government apparently decided it was too politically dangerous to suggest that Americans needed fallout meters.

You can order a ready-to-use KFM or a KFM kit from, along with the “Civil Defense Ultimate CD,” which contains a large number of documents otherwise very difficult to obtain, such as the government references cited on p. 1 ($35 or free with $100 or more in orders).


Radiation Doses

Here are the dose ranges of various instruments:

Surplus meters from defunct U.S. civil defense: CD V-715, CD V-171, and CD V-720: 0.1-500 Roentgen/hr. Geiger counters: 0.01-50 mR/hr. This is for peace-time use. At levels of >1,000 mR/hr (1 R/hr), the instrument may give readings that are falsely low. KFM: 0.03 R/hr (30 mR/hr)-43 R/hr. NukAlert: 0.1-50+ R/hr. Model 951 nukeALERT ($1,500, not to be confused with the $160 NukAlert): said to be able to detect “extremely low levels behind shielding,” from 0.035 mrem/hr to a maximum dose-rate of 13 mrem/hr in a “hot zone”–just above the minimum for the Geiger counter.

A dose of 70-150 R accumulated over a week is expected to cause mild transient nausea and vomiting in 5 to 30% of persons exposed and a moderate drop in white blood cell and platelet counts. The LD50 is between 300-500 R acute exposure. Children are about twice as sensitive as adults.


“All Hazards” Equipment for CD Stockpiles

For places like NOLA: breath-inflatable boats or expedient flotation devices designed by Cresson Kearny. For the latter, see archives of the Fighting Chance Newsletter in DVD library available for $149 from For large public shelters: bedsheets attached to boards or sticks. Five pairs of fanners produced an airflow of 100,000 cu ft/min in a large mine with only two small portals (NWSS, p. 60). Instructions for making solar devices to boil or distill water or cook (Sunshine to Dollars,