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Where to go in a radiation emergency
Where to go in a radiation emergency
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This message was shared with UH students, faculty and staff of all 10 campuses on January 22, 2018.


It is clear from the response to the ballistic missile false alarm on Saturday, January 13, that there was confusion by some regarding where to go and what to do upon and after an alert. Although experts all agree that the chances of an actual nuclear missile attack on Hawaiʻi are extremely remote, it is important that everyone understand how to prepare and how to react.

According to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Defense, there are no public shelters (blast or fallout) designated in the State of Hawaiʻi because of the short warning time for such an event. The Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency further states there are no plans to designate specific spaces as nuclear attack shelters.

As University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner stated in his January 16 message to the entire UH community, university emergency personnel across our campuses are actively updating and developing plans and instructions to be provided in advance and during an event that will include the best locations for initial places of safety on each campus. The process had already begun in the fall semester shortly after the new threat emerged for the entire state.

Here is information that can be utilized no matter where you are in the event of an unlikely nuclear missile attack and resulting radiation emergency. Immediate action is necessary due to the short warning period, an estimated 12 to 15 minutes. Federal and state emergency agencies advise the following:

GET INSIDE: graphic of a person running in through a doorway

Get inside

  • Shelter in place. If you are indoors, stay indoors. Go to the middle or core of a building, in hallways, offices, restrooms or a basement if possible, away from entrances, exits, exterior walls and windows. Avoid stairways in order to maximize access and mobility for all.
  • Close all windows and doors, and turn off individual fans and air conditioners that bring air in from the outside.
  • Radioactive material settles on the outside of buildings. Stay as far away as possible from outside walls and the roof of the building in which you have sheltered.
  • If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a nearby building, preferably a concrete structure. Getting inside immediately is paramount.
  • If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and stop. If a shelter is very close, shelter in that structure. If not, remain in your vehicle and lie on the floor.
  • DO NOT look at the flash of light.

STAY INSIDE: graphic of a person and pet in a house

Stay inside

  • Radiation from nuclear detonation in the form of fallout decays very rapidly, 24 hours to weeks in most situations, so remaining indoors is critical.
  • Stay inside. While food and supplies may not be initially available at your immediate place of shelter, you should stay there until directed otherwise by authorities.
  • You may be advised that it is safe to leave your shelter for short periods of time to locate food, water and medical care.

STAY TUNED: graphic of a person sitting on a chair and listening to the radio

Stay tuned

  • Listen to local AM-FM radio stations for official information as other communications technologies are likely to be severely disrupted or unavailable.

Preparing for an event

Given the short time frame between a warning and the event, there are preparations that residents should make in advance. These are the same recommendations that apply to preparing for a hurricane or other natural disasters.

  • Maintain at least a 14-day supply of food, water and medical needs due to the probable disruption on local resources.
  • Obtain a battery or crank-powered AM-FM. Local radio may be the most survivable communication technology.

Radiation emergency

A nuclear missile attack is also a radiation emergency, and radioactive material can settle on clothing and the body, like dust or mud. If exposed, the recommended guidance for after the blast from federal authorities is to carefully remove the outer layer of clothing before entering a building. Once inside, wash the parts of your body that were uncovered when you were outside and put on clean clothing. This will help limit radiation exposure and keep radioactive material from spreading.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has more information on radiation emergencies.

Best advice available

This is the best advice available from experts at this time considering the nature of this type of event and limited amount of warning time. It is important to remember that a nuclear missile attack in Hawaiʻi is extremely unlikely. But everyone still needs to be aware, informed and prepared. UH encourages students, faculty and staff to stay informed through government agencies and news outlets, and to sign up for government alerts including UH Alert.

(Icon images from the CDC)

Emergency Preparedness guide
Emergency Preparedness guide from the UH Mānoa Department of Public Safety. Link to larger, screen reader accessible (PDF).
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