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The possibility of an improvised nuclear attack scenario is worrying the American defense agencies. The US Department of Homeland Security published a new guide to assist in the protection of first responders in the event of an improvised nuclear device (IND) explosion. The intent of the guide was helping ensure the immediate health and safety of first responders for the first 24-72 hours following a blast.

According to, the guide published in December 2016 offers assistance to response planners, safety officers, and supervisors regarding potential issues that first responders will encounter if an IND occurs. To provide a reference point, the guide is based on a 10 kiloton IND explosion scenario, assuming that the device is detonated on the ground.

The guide breaks down the explosion according to what will occur in mere moments after the explosion, denoting damage zones that range from severe to light, the fallout zones that are based on wind (upper level wind awareness is critical) and weather, and the survival rates of individuals within those zones. Emergency response capabilities are most likely to be negatively impacted by the severity of damage within the zones, requiring first responders from outside the blast zones, so proper preparedness is key.

Information from the guide denotes the various damage zones and the approximate radius for each while indicating the types of damage likely to found within each zone, the type and extent of casualties and injuries, and the expected levels of radiation.

Some of the effects that a first responder may encounter following the blast and during the early phase (emergency) response include:

  • Tens or hundreds of thousands of initial casualties, depending on where the blast occurred
  • Capabilities will be exceeded immediately, requiring a Unified Command
  • Lack of situational awareness
  • Lack of staff/Personal safety concerns
  • Loss of communications
  • Loss of critical infrastructure inside the severe damage zone
  • Victims injury and death

The planning guide cautions that field measurement data for radiation levels is not likely to be immediately available and advises against first responders rushing into contaminated zones without the proper personal protective equipment (PPEs). It also reminds first responders that radiation cannot be felt or seen – it must be measured with the appropriate equipment.