Warnings and Nuclear War

Last night, for the first time, I watched most of “Miracle Mile”, an old Anthony Edwards movie about a man who gets a phone call that may or may not be about an impending nuclear attack. One notable thing about the movie was that there was never an “official” warning or denial, even on the news near the end of the movie.

That got me to thinking about the whole idea of warnings and nuclear war. If there was a slow build up to war with a known nuclear power (ie Russia or China) presumably most people would know and be able to evacuate the cities if they felt the need. But what about if the made-up nation of Kraplakistan suddenly, without warning or buildup, launchs its warheads at the US?

Presumably, the military would know very quickly, perhaps within seconds, that the missles are coming. The President is likely to be told moments later. Since the end of the cold war, though, is there a plan to let the citizens of the US know that there are missles on the way? Does the Govt contact the major media outlets in an EBS broadcast and that’s it until we start picking up the pieces, or do the cities get special warning to make sure they’ve heard the EBS?

As a side question, I’ve heard of some people suggest that no warning at all is actually best, since given an hour some people might leave areas of relative safty and get stuck on jammed highways. Is there actually a thought that the governement may not bother to warn in even of a surprise attack, and who would give that order?

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, the CONELRAD system (the fore-runner of today’s EBS) was set up to do just that. THE CONELRAD alert would sound, the sirens would go off and we would all have about 3 minutes to get to our backyard or basement shelters or duck and cover.

I believe your estimate of an hour is too generous. If I recall, any ICBM launched from anywhere on earth should be able to hit anywhere else on earth in about 15 minutes or less.

An hour is definitely way too much time but 15 minutes is too little (maybe). The usual figure given for an ICBM launched from Russia to the US is about 30 minutes (give or take depending on targets…Chicago will get nailed before Miami for instance from an ICBM coming over the north pole).

If it is a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) there is about 8 minutes. Of course this again depends on the target. I assume a SLBM launched at Los Angeles from 100 miles off shore will get there very quickly indeed.

Of course if Kraplakistan is in Central America or worse, replaces Cuba, then the flight times are so low as to be almost useless to warn the public.

The old ‘duck and cover’ bit is known to be laughably ridiculous these days…I wonder if anyone seriously thought they’d do any good back in the 50s. Considering the power of modern nukes meant to take out cities (strategic nuked as opposed to tactical nukes), their high degree of accuracy and precious little time to respond it is hard to see how a warning to the public would help.

Still, I suppose the US would issue the warning anyway. If the attack is not an all-out assault on the US (i.e. hundreds of warheads launched at once) people would have time to get to safety. The big cities are toast as they are primary targets but cities further down the list wouldn’t get targeted till later with follow-on attacks.

Of course that warning will buy you all of 10-15 minutes lead time at best (by the time the missile is detected and the process goes through the chain of command to the President and a decision is made and sent back down and implemented you’ll burn 10-15 minutes of the 30 alloted to you) so its not as if you lose out much if the warning doesn’t come.

Come to think of it I’d still want those 15 minutes if I could have them. If I am at home I’d try to drive downtown Chicago in the hopes of being under the bomb when it landed. Better to be vaporized in a millisecond than have my house fall on me or worse…survive just to get nailed by the radiation afterwards. Failing that I’d seek out the nearest moderately attractive woman and see if I could convince her to have sex (I know…I’m a dog).

This assumes the warhead is aimed at downtown Chicago (which at least one certainly is). During the height of the Cold War it was believed the Soviets had as many as 5 warheads targeted on individual major cities. Partly because major cities are too big to be taken out by one warhead but mostly just to ensure some warheads made it. I don’t know if all those warheads had a single aim point or if they were set to different aim points a dozen or so miles apart to get a blanket effect.

I’ll second that. It’s the being shredded by flying glass that I’m really averse to.

I’ll look for the cite, but it was my understanding that at least one nuke would be aimed at Lake Michigan. This would cause a massive tidal wave and flooding to finish off what the land hits and aireal bursts didn’t finish off.

Fascinating. I had a dream about that exact scenario maybe a year and a half ago. I wonder: how close to the surface does detonation have to occur in order to cause tidal waves?

Such a scary topic, anyway - I hate to thing about nuclear weapons being aimed at my city right now. Especially after watching The Day After.