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Center for Biosecurity Launches Rad Resilient City Initiative

On September 27, 2011, the Center for Biosecurity launched the Rad Resilient City Initiative and released the Rad Resilient City Preparedness Checklist, a tool that converts the latest federal guidance and technical reports into clear, actionable steps for communities to take to protect residents from fallout exposure following a nuclear detonation. The checklist reflects the shared judgment of members of the Nuclear Resilience Expert Advisory Group, led by the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC. This interdisciplinary panel includes government decision makers, scientific experts, emergency responders, and leaders from business, volunteer, and community sectors.

Nuclear terrorism is a real and urgent threat, according to assessments by the U.S. and other governments and by independent nongovernment experts.1-3 Detonation of a crude nuclear bomb in a thriving city could kill tens of thousands of people, dislocate millions, and inflict immense economic and social damage.4 Even if prevention fails, U.S. cities need not be resigned to a worst-case toll of injuries and deaths.

Casualties due to exposure to radioactive dust and debris, ie, fallout, could be minimized if the public immediately sought adequate shelter and awaited further information before evacuating.5,6 Federal modeling of a 10-kiloton groundburst in Los Angeles suggests that if everyone at risk of exposure to dangerous fallout quickly went into a shallow basement or an equally protective place, then 280,000 lives could be saved.7

The terrorist scenario of a low-yield explosion in a modern urban setting does not, by any means, approach the wholesale destruction imagined in an all-out nuclear war.

  • Not all casualties due to a nuclear detonation are predetermined; those from exposure to fallout can be prevented.
  • Quickly sheltering in the right place—not fleeing the area—is the safest thing to do after a nuclear attack.
  • People can protect themselves immediately following a detonation and should not wait for emergency professionals to help them.

The Rad Resilient City Preparedness Checklist describes in detail the following 7 actions that be taken now to prepare for nuclear terrorism:

  1. Obtain broad community backing for nuclear incident preparedness.
  2. Conduct ongoing public education to inform members of the public about the effects of a nuclear detonation and how they can protect themselves.
  3. Enable building owners and operators—from individual householders to skyscraper managers—to assess shelter attributes and to teach others.
  4. Hone the ability to deliver public warnings post-incident.
  5. Establish a rapid system for mapping and monitoring the dangerous fallout zone.
  6. Develop capabilities to support a large-scale, phased evacuation.
  7. Integrate, test, and conduct training on the above elements of a comprehensive fallout preparedness and public warning system.

A number of community benefits may follow after cities begin to adopt the Rad Resilient City Preparedness Checklist.  Improvements in cross-sector collaboration and the public warning protocols essential for nuclear terrorism readiness can have spillover effects on planning for other complex disasters.  Fallout preparedness can extend an all-hazard framework so that it becomes truly comprehensive, with the ability to address nuclear terrorism.  Steady implementation of the checklist can create momentum for tackling other nuclear response and recovery issues, such as the surge in demand for medical services and the sheltering of mass, displaced populations. Ultimately, implementation of the Rad Resilient City Preparedness Checklist could save tens of thousands of lives in the event of a nuclear detonation.


  1. Bunn M, Morozov Y, Mowatt-Larrsen R, et al. The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment of Nuclear Terrorism. Cambridge, MA: Report for Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies; June 6, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2011.
  2. The White House. National Security Strategy. May 2010. Accessed March 15, 2011.
  3. Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The Clock Is Ticking: A Progress Report on America’s Preparedness to Prevent Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. October 21, 2009. Accessed March 23, 2011.
  4. Meade C, Molander RC. Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy; 2006. Accessed March 28, 2011.
  5. National Security Staff Interagency Policy Coordination Subcommittee for Preparedness and Response to Radiological and Nuclear Threats. Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation. 2d ed; 2010. Accessed August 5, 2011.
  6. Buddemeier BR, Dillon MB. Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism. 2009. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Document prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed August 5, 2011.
  7. Buddemeier B, Wood-Zika A, Doshi P. Training Document: Shelter and Evacuation Strategies (LA). Department of Homeland Security. June 25, 2010.