NYC nuclear war PSA

"You've got this," the narrator of a New York City Emergency Management public service announcement assures residents facing a hypothetical nuclear attack. (Photo: YouTube screen grab)

NYC: Slightly Less Silly Than California

But both think you can survive a nuclear explosion by closing the windows.

New York City has a new video brimming with can-do optimism about how the public can keep it together after the city is hit with a nuclear weapon.

"So there's been a nuclear attack," says the narrator. "Don't ask me how or why, just know that the big one has hit. OK? So, what do we do? There are three important steps..."

The video is getting a surprising amount of skeptical attention--surprising to me anyway, because as a long-time connoisseur of this particular genre of lunacy, I've seen worse.

Consider "Noah's Ark," a public service announcement with arty pretensions issued a few years ago by Ventura County, California. (You may ask: Why does a PSA need an artistic title? To which I can only answer: California, my friend. Ventura is the county next to Los Angeles; probably everyone there is a director).

This horrendously silly video has mostly been scrubbed from the Internet. I found versions posted by people from other nations, but YouTube primly cited "copyright concerns" in declining to let me view them. (None of us can ever again see a government-produced message paid for by American taxpayers because it's copyrighted? C'mon, YouTube, we know you're blocking this video because it's embarrassing. Once again, YouTube provides cover for the authorities.)

Luckily, I saved a copy of this jaw-dropping video a few years ago, so I was able to load it right back up. (Skip the first one-minute prologue. Also, while this video is quite safe for work, your IQ could drop by 10 points simply for viewing it).

Yes, that really is a man who is initially startled by a nuclear explosion in the distance--the flash of light, the screams, and all of the car alarms going off at once are a nice touch--who then immediately recovers his poise, and a guitar, and starts singing:

Oh no! It's blown!
The cloud is in the sky!
Don't run, no fun!
You've got to get inside!
You don't need to be scared,
You don't need to be loud,
'Cause you can survive
Even a mushroom cloud.

You will never see a happier crowd of people than the crew that assembles behind this man in the red T-shirt, jeans, and red canvass high top sneakers, who explains to them that because of the massive nuclear explosion they just witnessed in the distance, they all just have to get inside now. Business people in suits, little girls with hula hoops, joggers, cheerleaders performing cartwheels, bicyclists, a school marching band, stoner-types in ski hats on skate boards --i you look carefully, there's even a mariachi band. All fall cheerfully in line behind the singer, who leads them indoors where they hunker down before the television, to learn... what exactly?

Maybe they will learn that the television doesn't work after a nuclear explosion.

The video winds down with a three-part message intoned by a narrator, and also thrown on screen in huge block capital letters:


Perhaps the best part of the entire video is a fleeting glimpse, behind these block letters, of a young woman quickly pulling the house window shut just as the air rapidly fills with a thick cloud of debris--radioactive fallout? Ashes from the neighboring town's vaporized cheerleaders and mariachi singers?

"For more information about how you can survive a nuclear explosion, visit [our website]," concludes the narrator. For final guffaws, we see a cow moo into the face of the video's heroic singer, who is also holding a dog and now crammed into a room with dozens of others before the television. Our hero's uncertain, almost queasy-looking facial expression in response to this mooing cow seems to be unintentional and thus priceless comedy--almost as if he's thinking, "Oh wait... maybe surviving a nuclear attack isn't as simple as I thought."

There's no explanation provided about the title, "Noah's Ark." Incredibly, I must conclude it refers to this house, which unlike Noah's Ark isn't going anywhere. It also isn't provisioned with supplies, is rapidly being covered with radioactive ash, and instead of two of every animal has one cow, one dog, and a smattering of cultural stereotypes (businessman in suit, stoner with skateboard, cheerleader, etc.)

The folks out in the Los Angeles suburbs thus set the idiocy bar quite high.

Prior to that, my favorite moronic civil defense video dated back to 1954. It, too, has an artistic title: "The House in the Middle." If you've got 12 minutes to kill, this is truly an "only-in-America" production:

"The House in the Middle" is not so much a public service announcement as it is an advertisement for high-quality house paint. The video bills itself as produced by something called "The National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau", but that apparently is a cut-out front organization for the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association. (I agree, why bother?) It's produced in cooperation with the federal government's civil defense administration. It's essentially a morality play: "buy our paint--or die in the flames of your own sloth!" It quite explicitly argues that bad housekeeping will be remembered on judgment day, when immoral, squalid homes to the right and left will be consumed by fire--even as your neighbor, who lives in the tidy and well-painted House in the Middle, can be sitting safely inside, obediently watching television and awaiting further instruction.

New York City's unnamed video comes more than 70 years after "The House in the Middle," but it's just as inane and also if anything has worse production values. Inexplicably it uses a CGI representation of a New York City street, instead of just filming outside.

"Don't ask me how or why, but just know that the big one has hit," says the narrator. "OK?"

(I'm going to stop you right there ma'am. How did this happen? And why did it happen? Gee, could we have done anything to prevent this?)

The narrator's not having that discussion though. Step One is get inside--you, your friends, your family, the mariachi band, the little girls with the hula hoops, everyone.

"And no," she adds, with a half-laugh at your foolish naivete, "staying in the car is not an option. You need to get into a building," and then "shut all doors and windows."

Apparently she's never seen "World War Z", or she'd know that movimento es vida.

Seriously--I'm well aware that I've now crossed a line, and gone too far by even hinting at contradicting the expert advice of New York City, Ventura County, and the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association. But I have some expert credentials myself, as a medical director for police, fire, and EMS, a former chair of disaster preparedness for a large hospital system, and years of studying and publishing about nuclear war and weapons. And I can say with confidence this is a pointless discussion.

The New York and California videos here seem to muddle two different things: A regular bomb mixed with some radioactive garbage, which is designed to frighten everyone by setting off Geiger counters, and a nuclear weapon.

If some unhinged person decides to arrange some cobalt 60 rods from a discarded X-ray machine around some dynamite and blow it up in a downtown area then, yes, it might make sense to get inside, take off and bag exposed clothes, take a quick shower, and see what the authorities advise. Property values are going to plummet for a time, so also use the day to think about your real estate goals.

But a nuclear explosion over a city? C'mon.

A few years ago, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientistsexplained in detail what happens if an 800 kiloton nuclear bomb--so, on the larger side, but still five times smaller than the largest weapons tested--were to be detonated a mile over midtown Manhattan. Here's a sampling:

At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick's Cathedral... light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets... and melt metal surfaces... Roughly one second later, the blast wave and 750-mile-per-hour winds would arrive, flattening buildings and tossing burning cars into the air like leaves in a windstorm.

The surfaces of the bronze statues in front of the U.N. would melt ... the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with all its magnificent historical treasures, would be obliterated... Within tens of minutes, everything within approximately five to seven miles of Midtown Manhattan would be engulfed by a gigantic firestorm.... Air temperatures in the fire zone would likely average 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit... the street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days....

Those who tried to escape through the streets would have been incinerated by the hurricane-force winds filled with... flames. Even those able to find shelter in the lower-level sub-basements of massive buildings would likely suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive as their shelters heated to oven-like conditions.

But, you know, just be sure to close the window.

The perky New York narrator says: "You've got this!"

But you really don't. Trust me, you don't got this!

You need to be scared, and you need to be loud, if you want to avoid a mushroom cloud.

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