Nightly News   |  December 16, 2010

New nuclear attack guide causes fallout flashback

Reports in both the New York Times and USA Today about new federal guidelines for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack prompted a lot of anxiety--as well as a lot of distant memories. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: One story this week seemingly came out of nowhere, reminding all of us, shall we say of a certain age, of another era of air raid drills under our desks in school. The news here is that the federal government has advice for the public on how best to survive a nuclear attack . You couldn't blame people for wondering where this story suddenly came from, and it turns out it wasn't all that sudden after all. Our report tonight from NBC 's Pete Williams .

PETE WILLIAMS reporting: In the darkest days of the Cold War , it was part of the national psyche.

P. WILLIAMS: Educational films warned schoolchildren about what to do if the bombs fell.

P. WILLIAMS: People built backyard fallout shelters. Those fears dissolved as the Soviet Union fell apart. But for the past several months, the federal government has been quietly advising local emergency response planners to give the unthinkable a fresh look. It's a response to new research showing that many more people could survive a nuclear attack if they respond the right way.

Mr. DANIEL KANIEWSKI (Security Expert): What we need to do is make sure that the American public is sensitized to these various threats -- not overly concerned, but sensitized -- and take the actions necessary to prepare themselves.

P. WILLIAMS: Alarmed by the lack of disaster planning revealed by Hurricane Katrina , Congress ordered new studies on what cities could do after a nuclear attack . The result, this guide to response planners, with a surprising

finding. The best advice: Resist the urge to flee, and instead seek shelter to avoid exposure to radioactive dust outdoors. In fact, new research shows rates of survival climb dramatically if people stay in place, even for a few hours, though the longer and deeper underground the better. The report even analyzes what kind of protection different structures provide, finding the best shielding in basements or in the middle floors of tall buildings. Some security experts say disaster planners should forget trying to evacuate large cities and instead urge people to shelter in place. It's worth emphasizing that this is not based on any new threat or new fears about a nuclear bomb attack, and the Obama administration is now considering how to better get the word out about these new findings, Brian .

B. WILLIAMS: Or as a friend of mine put it today, turns out duck and cover wasn't that bad advice after all. Pete Williams in our Washington newsroom tonight. Pete , thanks.