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When Bad Things Happen

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Indian Point Explosion
What the city would do: Hope that winds are headed north, as the 35 miles between the nuclear-power plant and midtown is a short commute southward for a radioactive plume, which could kill thousands in a few days, cause radiation sickness and eventual cancer for tens of thousands more, and taint the city’s water supply.
Worst-case scenario: The city could be uninhabitable for years.
What you can do: Hoard water and canned food and make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of prescriptions. Stock up on potassium iodide tablets—taking them within hours of exposure can help protect children and pregnant women who have growing thyroids that absorb radiation. In the event of a terrorist attack or other mishap, get inside, remove clothing, close fireplace dampers, and shut off all ventilation and heat systems. Get to an interior room, seal it off, and stay put with the radio on.


Avian-Flu Pandemic
What the city would do: Isolate suspected patients and set up flu-shot centers to deliver any available vaccinations, the first going to health workers and their families, the elderly, and young children. Schools would likely close in a pandemic, and large public gatherings like sports events and concerts could be canceled.
Worst-case scenario: Though only 2 percent of avian-flu patients die, hospitals are overwhelmed by up to 200,000 patients over a six-month period. People across the city stop leaving their homes out of fear.
What you can do: Wash your hands often and wear a disposable surgical mask. If you can get enough of it, take Tamiflu every day until the outbreak is over—while it might not protect you, it can’t hurt. Stay away from crowded spaces, like subways and buses. Don’t handle pay phones, railings, or door handles and don’t touch your mouth or eyes afterward if you do. Don’t kiss any Chinese chickens.


Hurricane
What the city would do: Issue evacuation orders 48 hours before the storm hits, urging people in vulnerable zones (see map) to flee those areas by public transportation or catch an MTA bus to Madison Square Garden or one of 22 other intake centers.
Worst-case scenario: A storm closes in on the city faster than expected. Evacuees are stuck in cars on closed roads; the subways and Hudson River tunnels flood. Though a death toll would likely be low, damage could be extensive.
What you can do: Keep three days’ worth of food, water, diapers, medication, and other supplies in a safe place. If you’re in a hurricane zone, buy flood insurance and snap photos of your house for future reference. Keep a prescription stash handy and pack a bag with copies of important documents, extra keys, rain gear and shoes, nonperishable foods, and at least $100.
As the storm approaches, nail plywood over windows and bring balcony furniture and garbage cans inside. If you’re evacuating, unplug appliances, turn off pilot lights and water, and put valuables you can’t take along in watertight containers. Fill your tank, grab a map, and get out of town—with your pets.


Nuclear Bomb
What the city would do: Pray for help from the Feds because city hospitals, police precincts, and firehouses could be destroyed. If the prospect of a fema-managed catastrophe isn’t scary enough, a nuclear bomb would kill millions, and the lucky ones would get vaporized instantly. Others would be burned, blinded, or poisoned by radiation sickness in subsequent weeks and months. Bodies would litter the streets, and the water supply would be contaminated. The city would be too radioactive for outside emergency workers to enter, so those left alive would have to improvise.
Worst-case scenario: A bomb in the center of midtown. It doesn’t get worse than this.
What you can do: You could try to get your hands on some potassium iodide tablets in case you survive. Or, you might consider investing $200,000 in a “safe room”—a sealed, gamma-radiation-proof space with positive pressure, oxygen, food, necessary medicine, and other supplies—preferably underground. If you’re in a tall building, there’s no harm in heading for the center of the middle floors, which will put more mass between you and the radiation outside. But really: Kiss your ass good-bye.

See also
Remain Calm
The strategies and tactics of survival.
Bird Watching
How New Yorkers are coping with the Avian flu scare.
Geography of Disaster
The City's fault lines, flood zones, escape routes, and trauma centers.


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