It's been decades since Americans have really thought about a nuclear attack. Preparation for a nuclear attack in the United States was at its height during the Kennedy Administration, at the peak of the Cold War.
At that time there were about 18,000 fallout shelters scattered across New York City, that's according to Jeff Schlegelmilch, the Deputy Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.
The nuclear fallout shelters were built to protect people who survived the blast from the subsequent radioactive debris. Within these concrete shelters were enough food supplies to support people for up to a few weeks. When the threat of imminent nuclear destruction subsided with the end of the Cold War, these shelters were repurposed for other functions. The fallout shelters from the past are now mostly used for storage or as laundry rooms.
But recent nuclear threats from North Korea has a lot of Americans asking what should you do if there was ever a nuclear attack? Schlegelmilch said, "In a nuclear situation, you are looking to either shelter in place for a long period of time to avoid fallout or having to evacuate quickly to avoid fallout."
Schlegelmilch said that in anticipation of any sort of catastrophic event, you need to have a plan beforehand. To be prepared, he recommends that you have plenty of food and water in your home in case you have to stay there for awhile, and also to have a "go bag" ready in case of an emergency. He said you also have to think about how you would get access to the outside world if you were cut off for several days? Do you have a radio? with extra batteries?
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the United States has made plans for how to most effectively handle a nuclear situation and keep the most amount of people safe. Their research has found that it may be safer for people to shelter in place instead of evacuating.
Today, the best thing to do is to stock food and water in your home, and in the case of an actual attack, follow the instructions of officials to keep your family safe. But it's true of any emergency situation.