In what serves as a very sad commentary on the current state of geopolitical affairs, the US Centers for Disease Control will hold a special session later this month to discuss ways in which American citizens should plan and prepare for nuclear war.
The event, which the agency says it has been planning for months, is called “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” and will be held at the CDC’s Roybal Campus in Atlanta, Georgia on January 16th. The Ground Rounds session will explore what federal, state, and local governments are planning to do in the event of nuclear detonation, particularly in regards to public health programs. In grossly understated tones, the CDC says that “planning and preparation efforts for a nuclear detonation are similar and different from other emergency response planning efforts.”
If by “different” the CDC means preparing for injuries sustained by 1,000 km/hr winds, along with treating severe burns, flash blindness, and radiation sickness, then the CDC is spot on. Indeed, the demands placed on healthcare workers and the health infrastructure would be an order of magnitude greater than most disasters. In stoic manner, the CDC describes the challenges thusly:
While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.
Ah, it’s the Cold War all over again. Perhaps we’ll start teaching our kids how to hide under their desks again, and regularly suffer through programming interruptions as our TV calmly assures us it’s just performing a test of the emergency broadcast system. And maybe we’ll even start to litter our parks with nuclear warning sirens—oh, wait, they’ve already started doing that in Hawaii.
In all fairness, it’s obviously better to plan for a nuclear disaster than not. In this case, the CDC is holding a teaching session that will bring together doctors, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians, health education specialists, lab scientists, and others. As a CDC spokesperson told STAT, “CDC participants felt it would be a good way to discuss public health preparedness and share resources with states and other partners. State and local partners also have expressed interest in this topic over time.” Topics to be discussed include “Preparing for the Unthinkable,” “Public Health Resources to Meet Critical Components of Preparedness,” and “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness.”
The CDC held a similar event back in 2010, so it’s something the agency does on occasion. But given the escalating rhetoric between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, the event seems eerily timely. And necessary.