If a nuclear detonation occurred in an American city, it would be one of the most catastrophic incidents the United States (US) has ever experienced. Responders must be prepared to address the unique challenges of a nuclear incident response. With careful planning, many lives can be saved and injuries mitigated. Additionally, preparing and planning for nuclear detonations better equips your community for other natural and man-made hazards/disasters, such as fire-spread, hurricanes, earthquakes, and radiological incidents.
While the fallout hazard is unique, most aspects of multi-hazard or all-hazard planning and response are applicable to nuclear detonation response and planning. Planners and responders bring a wealth of experience and expertise relevant to nuclear detonation response. This guidance provides nuclear detonation information and context to enable planners, responders, and their leaders to leverage their existing capabilities.
Specifically, this document describes the considerations, planning factors, and available resources to craft a successful nuclear detonation response plan. This document focuses on the first 24 to 72 hours after a detonation, when early actions can save many lives.
The primary audiences for this planning guidance are federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial (FSLTT) emergency response planners at all levels and their leadership. The target audiences for this document include, but are not limited to:
- Emergency managers
- Law enforcement authority planners
- Fire response planners
- Emergency medical service planners
- Hazardous material (HAZMAT) response planners
- Utility service and public works emergency planners
- Transportation planners
- Public health planners
- Medical provider planners (e.g., hospitals)
- Mass care providers (e.g., American Red Cross)
- Public information officers (PIOs)
- Local and regional private sector industries capable of providing logistical support for the immediate response—either by voluntary actions or by requisition of resources.
- Other emergency planners, planning organizations, and professional organizations that represent disciplines that conduct emergency response activities.
This guidance was developed by a federal interagency writing team led by the FEMA CBRN Office. The guidance could not have been completed without the technical assistance provided by agencies and organizations summarized in the Acknowledgements section. This planning guidance underwent extensive stakeholder review, including federal interagency and national laboratory subject matter experts (SMEs); emergency response community representatives from police, fire, emergency medical services; medical providers; and professional organizations, such as the Health Physics Society and the Interagency Board.
This guidance also reflects evolving nuclear threats. The 2010 Planning Guidance focused on 10 kiloton (kT) and smaller-yield detonations consistent with the threat of nuclear terrorism, all occurring at the Earth’s surface. This 2021 Planning Guidance update addresses an expanded range of threat scenarios, including nation-state threats2 with much larger explosive yields. This guidance also considers nuclear devices delivered by ballistic missile or aircraft that can deliver detonations elevated above the surface. Low-altitude air bursts can increase the scale of the blast and thermal damage inflicted but may also significantly reduce local fallout impacts. Urban emergency planners should focus on surface and low-altitude detonations because these detonations will have the greatest effect on an urban environment.
The technical community that developed Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of this guidance was tasked to address how these expanded threat factors shape the resulting guidance for emergency response planning.
The Third Edition (2022) has been updated and expanded to provide guidance for a wider range of nuclear detonations, including larger detonations and air bursts. It also incorporates new research, best practices, and response resources. Additionally, this edition includes a new chapter on the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), which enables state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) officials to send warnings and key messages during the response.