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SKYWATCH NOTE: This limited series is partly derived (by permission) from Zeitgeist 2025 and How to Overcome the Most Frightening Issues You Will Face This Century

Now it’s time to accomplish your second goal: placing sufficient mass between your family and the fallout to absorb the deadly radiation. To do this, pile any available materials on and around the table; you can use books, wood, cordwood, bricks, sandbags, sacks of cement or feed, heavy appliances, full file cabinets, full water containers, food stocks, and boxes and pillowcases full of anything heavy, like dirt. This pile of material will help absorb and stop radiation from penetrating, so the thicker the layer of materials, the better. (By the way, lead is nothing special for stopping radiation, it’s the same as anything else pound for pound; it just takes fewer inches compared to less weighty materials.) Be sure to reinforce your table and supports so you do not overload it and cause it to collapse.

You might not have enough steel, but any materials you use have mass and can enhance your shielding; it just takes more thickness of lighter wood, for example, than heavier earth, to absorb and stop the same amount of radiation.

Also, adding mass to the floor above your chosen basement corner and outside against the walls opposite your shelter can dramatically increase your shielding protection. Every inch of thickness adds up to more effective life-saving radiation shielding.

Livability: Making Living in Your Shelter Tolerable

Finally, you’ll want to turn your attention to the practical aspects of spending time in the shelter. For example, you’ll need to be able to get into and out of it, so create a small crawl-through entrance to the space underneath the table. Near that entrance, place more mass that you can easily pull in after you to seal the opening.

You’ll also need to ensure adequate ventilation. Leave at least two four- to six-inch square air spaces in the protective layer of material—one high at one end and one low at the other end. Create more air spaces if you’re crowded and/or in a hot climate. Use a small piece of cardboard to fan fresh air in if the naturally rising warmer air convection current needs assistance in moving the air along. This incoming air won’t need to be filtered if the basement has been reasonably sealed up; however, any windows or other openings in the basement will require solid mass coverage to assure glass does not break, and to provide additional shielding protection for the basement. (More details on that in No. 7.)

Of course, with more time, materials, and carpentry or masonry skills, you could even construct a more professional fallout shelter.

What Results You Can Expect?

As cramped as that crawlspace fallout shelter might seem, the vital shielding provided by simply moving some mass into place can mean the difference between exposure to a lethal dose of radiation and the survival of your family.

An effective fallout shelter constructed in a basement can reduce your radiation exposure by one hundred to two hundred times or more. Thus, if the initial radiation intensity outside were 500 R/hr (fatal in one hour), the basement shelter occupants might only experience 2-5 R/hr or even less, which is survivable, especially with the radiation intensity decreasing by the hour.

The majority of people requiring any sheltering at all will be many miles downwind, and they will not need to stay sheltered for weeks on end. In fact, most people will only need to shelter full-time for a few days before they can start coming out briefly to attend to quick essential chores. Later, they can begin spending even more time out of the shelter daily, only returning to sleep. As miserable as it might seem now, you and your family can easily endure that, especially compared to the alternative.

  1. Basic Supply List for Family Member(s) Tasked with Store Run

If stores are still stocked and it’s safe to go, try to buy as many of the following items as possible immediately. No quantities are listed for food items because family sizes vary and because, as the emergency and panic widens, many items will quickly become sold out or quantities will be restricted. At a minimum, try to gather enough provisions for two weeks; at best, aim for collecting enough to last two months or longer.

It’s important to remember that if and when we are attacked, it will be a very long time before anything about our communities returns to normal again. Hurricane victims can attest to the prolonged misery and disruptions from even a localized disaster (and that’s with the rest of the country being able to help out). Nobody can imagine how bad the suffering and disorder will be, or how long they will continue, once nuclear weapons have gone off—especially if they do so in multiple locations.

The first few items on the list below are primarily for use during the time spent in the shelter. They are mostly ready-to-eat items that require no cooking or preparation, just a can opener at most. (Note: The iodine solution is included here because of its importance for its thyroid-blocking topical use detailed above, but it’s never to be ingested or swallowed.) The foods listed below the first grouping are additional staples for use during the extended recovery period. After that is a list of general non-food supplies, tools, and equipment.

The important thing to remember is: Acquire it all now—act quickly! It’s much better to risk being a little early rather than a few hours too late when securing your family’s essential food and supplies.

For Use in the Shelter


—Canned goods (pasta, soups, chili, vegetables, fruit, tuna, meats, beans, peanut butter, etc.)

—Drink mix flavorings (Since you won’t have cold drinks and will have only water, kids will appreciate these.)

—Fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, etc.)

—Iodine solution such as Betadine (16 ounces) Note: Not to be ingested or swallowed!

—Ready-to-eat foods (toaster pastries, raisins, cheese, granola/energy/protein bars, puddings, etc.)

—Vitamins (multi-vitamins, vitamin C, etc.)

For Use during the Extended Recovery Period

Note: Purchase the largest boxes, bags, or jars of the following supplies you can find, and purchase enough to last your family a minimum of two weeks but preferably two months.

—Additional large stock of canned and ready-to-eat food.

—Baking powder

—Baking soda


—Bottled water (especially if home supplies are not secured yet)

—Cooking oil (2 gallons or more)

—Dried milk (can be used inside shelter, too)



—Macaroni and other pasta

—Pancake and biscuit mix


—Quick oats and other grains and cereals


—Spice assortment



Non-Food Items

Ammunition (if you have weapons)

—Baby wipes (for personal hygiene)

—Batteries (at least three sets for each battery-operated device)

—Bleach (5.25%, without fragrance or soap additives)

—Bucket (5-gallon) and corresponding liner bags (for use as toilet)

—Camping supplies such as a cook stove, fuel, water filters, and portable toilet


—Duct tape

—Feminine hygiene products

—Fire extinguishers

—First aid kits

—Flashlights (ideally LED)

—Garbage cans and liner bags (for water storage and waste storage)

—Kitchen matches and disposable lighters

—Manual can opener (2)

—Medications: Over-the-counter medications and first-aid supplies (aspirin/acetaminophen/ibuprofen, stomach relief medications, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide) as well as prescription drugs (as recently filled as possible, and with as much extra as possible)

—N95 dust filter mask respirators (These are inexpensive; buy a large supply.)

—Paper or plastic plates/bowls/cups/utensils

—Plastic hooded rain ponchos (These are also inexpensive; purchase plenty for everyone.)

—Plastic sheeting

—Radio (portable, and preferably more than one)

—Staple guns and staples

—Toilet paper

—Toilet seat (or use one from your house) if no portable toilet is available

  1. Essential Details

If you’ve secured your supplies, stored water, and built your family fallout shelter, congratulations! You have improved the odds of your family’s survival by a hundred times or more. Now, you need to expand your knowledge and fine-tune the tactics that will make the most of your family survival strategy. Following is a round-up of information for quick reference.



What to Expect from the Government

Government information and guidance are vital resources as you respond to a nuclear crisis, but for many reasons that information might be late, incomplete, misleading, or simply incorrect. While evacuation might be prudent for individuals who act quickly in response to a threat, governments will be slow to call for mass evacuations because of their potential to create panic and gridlock. As the recent government calls for people to gather duct tape and plastic sheeting caused stores to run out of those items, ignited public anxiety, and touched off derision by the press, the government will be greatly reluctant to issue similar alarms again. If you want to assure successful evacuation or shelter, with adequate food and supplies for your family, you must act before the panic and without first waiting for government instructions that might never come or that might not come as urgently as warranted. You alone are ultimately responsible for your family survival.

Ensuring Air Quality

Filtering the air coming into your basement inner shelter from the basement itself won’t be required. Air does not become radioactive, and if your basement is reasonably snug, there won’t be any wind blowing through it to carry the radioactive fallout dust inside. Simply sealing any basement windows and other openings will prevent significant fallout accumulation within. To improve the radiation shielding inside the basement and to protect the windows from being broken and letting fallout blow in later, cover them with wood. Then, if possible, also cover them with sandbags, solid masonry blocks, or earth on the outside and/or inside. If the basement air becomes oppressively stale, you can re-open a door into the upper floors of the still-closed house. It’s also important to know that a common furnace air filter is effective in filtering radioactive fallout; therefore, you can later cover an outside air opening (such as a window) with one of those to safely improve air circulation.

Contamination of Food and Clothing

Any food or water stored in sealed containers will be safe to use after brushing or rinsing off any fallout dust that has accumulated on the surface of the container. As long as the dust does not get inside the container, whatever radiation penetrated the container from the outside will not harm the contents.

If you suspect that your clothes have fallout dust on them, remove your outer clothing before you go inside—and leave the contaminated clothing outside. An inexpensive plastic hooded rain poncho that can be easily rinsed off or left outside is a worthwhile investment. Also, keep a supply of water and baby shampoo near the entrance so late-arriving family members can wash and thoroughly rinse any exposed skin and hair before entering the house. (Baby shampoo is easier on the eyes for both children and adults, especially if limited rinse water is available.) Exposure to fallout radiation does not make one radioactive, but you need to ensure that you don’t bring any of the fallout dust inside. (The indication of radiation sickness, which is not contagious, is typically temporary nausea. When it’s a mild case, you can expect a full recovery.)

Protecting Outdoor Items

Before fallout arrives, cover with plastic tarp any outdoor items or vegetable gardens to make it easier to rinse off the fallout dust once it’s safe to come out and do so.


If you haven’t had enough time to acquire radiological instruments such as Geiger counters (which measure intensity of ionizing radiation) and dosimeters (which measure dose absorption of radiation), you’ll need to be certain that portable radios function properly from inside your shelter, and that you have plenty of fresh batteries in stock. Without radiological instruments, listening for official guidance about the radiation threat levels in your area will be the only way you can learn when it will be safe to venture out. It might also be the only way you’ll know when you need to take your initial maximum protective action. When not in use, radios should not be attached to any outside antenna, nor should their own antenna be extended. Further, wrap the radios in any non-conducting insulation, like layers of paper, cloth, or bubble wrap plastic, then store them in a metal container or wrap them in aluminum foil to minimize the potential of electromagnetic pulses ruining the electronics.

Having back-up radios is very prudent. Keep one additional radio tuned to a station in the closest likely target city. If that station suddenly goes off the air, you will know an attack might have occurred.

UP NEXT: What Happens First

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