Nuclear Friday: The Roof is On Fire

This week The Board recommends kickin’ it Old School with Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three. Some younger folks might instead have thought of this song, but The Board is as much about nostalgia as that Bloodhound Gang song is, so I recommend finding inspiration in the original, just like they did. Almost no one would have even heard of Rock Master Scott if “The Roof is On Fire” had not seemed to eerily predict the MOVE bombing that happened a year after it came out.

All this brings up an important question: Is it possible to protect your home from fire damage in case of a nuclear attack? The Board was never intended to be a survivalist site, but I think this question has become relevant in today’s political climate. As it turns out there are a few small steps you can take to make your home and neighborhood more resistant to the thermal effects of nuclear weapons. If this seems implausible to you I recommend bombing your community with NUKEMAP simulator. That outermost yellow ring is the area where small measures can begin to improve chances of saving lives and preserving property.

If you are completely exposed in the yellow zone, you will almost certainly die from thermal effects, but modest shelter or even being outdoors in the shadow of a structure will protect you. But remember to duck and cover. No point surviving the flash if you are killed by flying debris or a collapsing structure. After the blast, the biggest risk is fire. The structure you are in may catch on fire. We need to know how to harden homes against ignition in the flash zone.

This was the subject of thorough study under both controlled and uncontrolled conditions. The uncontrolled conditions were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The controlled tests were to figure out why Hiroshima burned so badly while Nagasaki just had isolated fires, and to learn how to harden structures against the effects of atomic weapons.

It turns out sometimes the difference between loss and preservation is simply paint. Not the expensive Anti-Flash aircraft paint from last week, just normal light colored paint and good home maintenance.

It sounds almost too good to be true, but this frequently disparaged 1954 film makes a compelling case:

Please note that though the film makes it look like there were three different detonations, all these tests were done during one shot in the Upshot-Knothole series. You can see the fences from the first example in the film in the background of the interior test at 4:15. Sadly, not even The Library of Congress was able to determine which specific test from Upshot this footage came from, but they do have some information about the differences between this snazzy updated version and the previous 1953 version from the Civil Defense Administration.

The National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix up Bureau (not a government agency) and the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association kicked in a few bucks to edit and distribute this extended color version. Both groups seem to have disappeared in the 70s. The National Clean Up Bureau was formed sometime before 1910 or so, and was quite active in Philadelphia (queue X-Files music). The Paint Association had an obvious commercial interest in the distribution of this film, but it did not stop them from disbanding sometime in the early seventies.

It’s easy to make fun of films like this because of their 1950s “public hygiene” language and its possible racial implications, but please give them credit, they didn’t actually show any black people next to those houses in the bad part of town. The Civil Defense Administration was hip to this sort of thing even back in the 1950s. The Duck and Cover film was rejected by some school districts because it depicted racially integrated classrooms.

But most articles on The House in the Middle disparage it by saying 1950s Civil Defense was pointless. This Gizmodo article and its comments are good example. I strongly disagree. These measures could have made a strategically relevant difference between 1949 and 1968. It is important to remember that the US gave up on Civil Defense in the late sixties NOT because it was judged to be unable to save millions of lives, but because it was (sadly, correctly) judged that the 30-80 million lives that could be saved even in a late 70s early 80s confrontation were no longer strategically relevant. Sure, Jimmy Carter and Harold Brown cooked up the original FEMA relocation plan, but I think that was mostly about using civilian population relocation as a “commitment signal” to show that we had the will to deter Soviet threats.

Even in the direst circumstances, it’s never wrong to give people the chance to survive. This is useful information. While there are many conditions where it would not make a difference, there are many who might escape loss of life and property with just a modest effort.

Since the Cheeto in Chief seems to be into appointing completely unqualified people it is still my hope that Rick Perry will read The Board and put me in charge of our national laboratories. If Herr Trumplir wants fear, I can give it to him. I would promote White Roofs as a defense against nuclear terrorism, though my secret motive would be to fight global warming.

I hope all readers of The Board will agree that I should have a black budget Department of Energy appointment. Make it happen if you have the influence. BTW, I’d rather live in Oak Ridge than out west, though I’m willing to travel.


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