person in gas mask and nuclear fallout suit
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
March 11, 2022 ·  5 min read

Minutes to hours after a nuclear blast are critical for survival. Disaster experts explain how to protect yourself in a worst-case scenario.

Nuclear weapons are probably one of the, if not the most deadly inventions man has ever made. Today, a nuclear attack feels more threatening than it has in many years. It is important that we are informed and prepared so we know what to do if one occurs. This is how to protect yourself in case of a nuclear attack.

How To Protect Yourself In A Nuclear Attack

launch of a ballistic missile from under water

If a nuclear bomb was headed for the United States, citizens would have at most 30 minutes to find shelter. Depending on where you live and where the bomb is coming from, it could be even less. It is of critical importance that we educate ourselves on what to do in case of an attack. If a nuclear bomb comes our way, every minute is critical.

The first few minutes to the first 24 hours are a highly critical window in a nuclear attack. Within one hour after the blast, the risk of radiation exposure drops by 55%. This then decreases by 80% within 24 hours. In those first minutes and hours, there are several things you need to do to protect your life and long-term health. (1)

The First 30 Minutes

nuclear blast in city

One of the most important aspects of safety in a nuclear attack is informing the population. Unfortunately, most countries don’t have adequate warning systems or at least ones that everyone would understand right away. This is problematic because by the time you may have figured out that your country is under nuclear attack, it might be too late to seek adequate shelter.

Avert Your Eyes

The first thing you need to do is avert your eyes. Atomic bombs let off a giant orange fireball and flash of light that can, at least temporarily, blind you. The CDC recommends dropping to the ground with your face down and hands tucked under your body. It may be tempting to cover your face with your hands, but unless you are wearing gloves, your hands will be exposed to flying debris and the intense heat of the bomb. If you happen to be wearing a scarf or have some kind of handkerchief, use it to cover your nose and mouth. (2)

You also may be tempted to clasp your mouth shut as you are bracing yourself for whatever is coming. This, however, is the incorrect move. Keep your mouth open (again, if you can cover it with some kind of material, better). Nuclear bombs will also release a lot of pressure. If your mouth is closed, that pressure may cause your eardrums to burst.

Read: Stephen Hawking: Humans Only Have About 1,000 Years Left

The First 45 Minutes

nuclear fallout shelter sign

If you were unable to seek shelter before the bomb hit, the next step after the initial blast is to seek shelter. As we know, for anyone too close to the blast, it will result in immediate death. This is why it is crucial to find shelter if you can before the bomb arrives.

However, If you can’t, and you survive the initial blast, it is then crucial that you seek shelter immediately. After the bomb goes off, you have about 15 minutes before something called nuclear fallout arrives. These are sand-like particles that are released into the air that will then float down to the ground. Exposure to these particles can cause radiation poisoning. This can severely damage the body’s cells and result in death.

First, you want to seek shelter in the opposite direction of the wind. In those first 10 to 15 minutes, get as far away as you can from the blast site in the opposite direction of the wind. You will also want to look for shelter in the opposite direction of fallen buildings. (3)

Basements, schools, and offices that have few if any windows are the safest bet. If there are none of these nearby, you are still better off inside a building than outside. In a multi-story building, take cover in a central location, avoiding the top and bottom floors. If there are plenty of windows, stand in the center of the room to distance yourself from shattering glass.

Read: Doomsday Clock Declares We Are 100 Seconds Away From Destruction

The First 24 Hours

geiger counter and radioactive sign

The name of the game in the first 24 hours is to reduce radiation exposure. If you were outside during the blast, you need to rinse off in the shower in case you have any radioactive dust that may be on your skin. Use soap, warm water, and scrub gently. Scrubbing too hard could break your skin. If you have any cuts or abrasions, cover them well before rinsing off so that no radiation will run into the open wounds. 

Avoid using conditioner, body lotions, or face creams after radiation exposure. There are ingredients in these products that can bind to the radiation particles. These particles will then get trapped in your skin and hair, exposing you even further.

Be sure to wipe your ears and eyelids, as well as blow your nose. The particles can easily get stuck in these places. Seal all clothes you were wearing in a plastic bag. This includes towels, clothes, or tissues you used to clean yourself. Do not throw them in the trash or put them in the washing machine. This will allow radiation to make its way into our soil and water systems.

Finally, unless otherwise told by health and security officials, stay inside for at least 24 hours. Remember, radiation is still reducing. Going outside increases your risk of exposure.

What Foods Are Safe?

emergency foods and dry goods

Anything that was sealed in an airtight container, can, or bag will be safe to eat. You can also eat items in the pantry or refrigerator. Be sure to wipe off all containers, handles, doors, and cookware before using. Anything that was outside or exposed to radiation, such as produce from your garden, should not be consumed.

Even in today’s current crisis with Russia, experts still say a nuclear attack on the United States is unlikely. Still, it is important for everyone to be prepared. Know what you should do should an event such as this take place, and share this information with your friends and family. It could save lives.

Keep Reading: Take a look inside a $3 million doomsday condo that can sustain 75 people for 5 years


  1.  Minutes to hours after a nuclear blast are critical for survival. Disaster experts explain how to protect yourself in a worst-case scenario.Business Insider. Aria Bendix. March 4, 2022.
  2. Frequently Asked Questions About a Nuclear Blast.” CDC.
  3. Rad Resilient City Initiative.” Center for Health Security.