How would you evacuate Los Angeles after a nuclear attack?

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

**If you suffer from anxiety, consider this your trigger warning…**

As both a SoCal native, and son of a Jewish mother, I often think about where I live and I worry. For example, I blog about the California drought because I can’t stop thinking about it. It makes me anxious. It’s one of the first disasters in a while that affects the whole city of Los Angeles (indeed the whole state of California), so I pay attention. The drought got me thinking of other potential disaster scenarios I might face as a Californian. Heat? Sure. Fires? Regularly. Earthquakes? More often than most.

But then this thought stuck out: Have you ever wondered what a major terrorist attack might look like in Los Angeles? How would *you* evacuate in a city of 21 million people? Do you even think an evacuation would be possible when traffic is already this bad?

Well, the RAND Corporation published a report with a detailed war games scenario of what might happen if “terrorists conceal a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb in a shipping container and ship it to the Port of Long Beach”.

Brb, I have to bite my nails, pace the room, give myself an ulcer.

This is terrifying stuff, and I obviously hope none of it ever happens. It’s also cooooool to read about. RAND’s report is designed to predict in advance exactly how screwed Los Angelenos are (spoiler: very) during the realities of a nuclear catastrophe. The report was published in 2005 and was written to get civic leaders thinking about possible answers to tough questions before they were forced to during a disaster.

After all, a civic leader’s job during an emergency is to lead. That said, imagine showing up to your job and someone telling you to brainstorm your way out of this:

[sic] “Within the first 72 hours, the attack would devastate a vast portion of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Because ground-burst explosions generate particularly large amounts of highly radioactive debris, fallout from the blast would cause much of the destruction. In some of the most dramatic possible outcomes:

  • Sixty thousand people might die instantly from the blast itself or quickly thereafter from radiation poisoning.
  • One-hundred-fifty thousand more might be exposed to hazardous levels of radioactive water and sediment from the port, requiring emergency medical treatment.
  • The blast and subsequent fires might completely destroy the entire infrastructure and all
    ships in the Port of Long Beach and the adjoining Port of Los Angeles.
  • Six million people might try to evacuate the Los Angeles region.
  • Two to three million people might need relocation because fallout will have contaminated a 500-km2 area.
  • Gasoline supplies might run critically short across the entire region because of the loss of
    Long Beach’s refineries—responsible for one-third of the gas west of the Rockies.”


Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

Here’s the Port of Long Beach, where RAND Corporation says the scariest thing I’ve ever thought about could happen.

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

The first damage from a nuclear explosion comes from the blast of pressure that shatters everything in it’s path. It gets there before the heat does. This is a map of projected injuries from the pressure blast compared to distance from the epicenter at Port of Long Beach.

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

Besides the blast itself, nuclear explosions are HOT. Here’s a map burn injuries compared to distance from epicenter.

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

A nuclear explosion at the Port of Long Beach would be at ground level, which means there would be a LOT of radioactive debris up to 20,000 feet in the air. After the first 24 hours, the nuclear fallout in the air would spread over Los Angeles with the wind.

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles

Here are longer term projections of radioactive fallout exposure.



While all that sinks in, don’t forget about the economic chaos that a nuclear disaster would unleash:

[sic] “The early costs of the Long Beach scenario could exceed $1 trillion, driven by outlay for medical care, insurance claims, workers’ compensation, evacuation, and construction. The $50 billion to $100 billion for 9/11 puts this figure into perspective. In general, consequences would far outstrip the resources available to cope with them.”


So now you’re probably sitting there, thinking, “I could get out.”

Guess what, Rambo: no you can’t. A minimum of six million people would be desperately leaving the city at the same time, and none of them will politely let you merge into the lane. You could be that one prepper guy with a dirt bike escaping through the San Gabriel Mountains or whatever, but more likely than not if you try to evacuate, your vehicle will become useless and you’ll be camping on the side of the road, or in a park, for the first 24 hours at least. In fact, you’ll most likely be here specifically:

Nuclear Attack Los Angeles


Seriously, read the report. Sweet dreams.

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  1. Pingback: How to Prepare for and Survive a Big Earthquake in Los Angeles - Max Goldberg | Max Goldberg

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