Emergency Management Leaders Must Plan For The Russian Use of Nuclear Weapons emergency management network podcast

I am the child of the cold war. Our movies were Red Dawn, War Games, Spies Like Us, and Stripes, just to name a few.  We practiced duck and cover, and we had fallout shelters in the basements of our schools. The threat of nuclear war was always there, and the fear was real. 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, nuclear war has become a conversation only old people talked about.  Russia and China became friends with the United States, and we worked together to end the talk of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). 

At a White House Press Conference this week, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre nonchalantly said, “we continue to call out Putin with what he is doing with the nuclear strikes”  She then moved to other questions without a second thought. 

NATO defense ministers will gather this week. One topic of discussion is the risk that Russian President Vladimir Putin might use nuclear weapons in Europe. Putin and the Russian military launched missile attacks against Ukraine’s civilian population center in response to the truck bombing of the Kerch Bridge, reinforcing the notion that the Kremlin remains unpredictable.

The world is starting to forget the realities of nuclear weapons.

Since the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula in  2014, the region has seen an exodus of ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars and an influx of Russians, including a military buildup.

Putin perceives Crimea as closer to the core of Russian vital interests than the Kharkiv region, which was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces. If and when Ukrainian conventional military forces approach Crimea in hopes of liberating it, According to military pundits and foreign affairs experts Putin may feel more tempted to use a nuclear weapon.

In North America, the threat may not be direct. However, The potential Russian use of nuclear weapons demands at least thinking through possible responses. The American military began to study this threat shortly after Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. Now is the time to discuss the impacts on the civilian population rather than waiting until a crisis moment.

The other consideration we need to explore is how a Russian Nuclear strike would push NATO into war. Although the current US administration has been vague on how they would react, it is likely to bring the full force of the Alliance down upon the beleaguered Russian military.  This could prompt the involvement of China, Iran, and Syria into action, with support from Venezuela and Cuba. 

What Are the Next Steps? 

What might the menu of the next steps include? This summer New York City’s Office of Emergency Management produced a public service announcement advising residents how to survive a nuclear attack. And after some questioned the advisory’s timing, The City administration defended its action. According to OEM officials, the campaign’s goal is to inform the public on ways to stay safe if nuclear weapons were pointed in New York’s direction. 

This harkened to the Duck and Cover days of the 1950s Civil Defense Burt the Turtle campaign. I must admit that I wondered what the Adams administration knew that the rest of the United States did not. I don’t think they were wrong to produce such a PSA today.  

FEMA’s Ready.gov site does have a page dedicated to a nuclear explosion, offering solid advice on what to do if you’re in the vicinity of one. This is not an archive page or old information and has been updated, and it notes the pandemic could cause some problems when finding shelter. The page suggests bringing items to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, such as masks and hand sanitizer if you are evacuated.

As of the writing of this piece, only New York City has taken any measures to prepare its population for a nuclear strike. We are a profession that has come from Civil Defense, and I wrote a piece about “Should We Revisit Civil Defense?” I was asking if we should use programs that the CD used for community preparedness. Maybe I was on to something bigger? 

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