Calif. School District Prepares for Nuclear Terrorists, Traffic Jams, Federal Grant

Readers — Are you and your children ready for a nuclear explosion set off by terrorists during the school day when the highways are so jammed you’d get stuck in traffic trying to reach them and die of radiation poisoning?

That is the pressing question posed by California’s Ventura County Health Department, as you’ll see bifehzestk
in the memo below.

There is something bizarrely fatalistic about telling folks to stay inside so their kids “will have healthy parents to come home to.” They WILL? Not, “If this happens, this could happen and then this COULD happen…” Just, they “WILL”? And does it seem coincidental that this warning comes to us from the same neck of the woods that’s brought us everything from Independence Day to Wall-E? “What would happen to students if terrorists attacked WHILE they were at school and their parents got caught stuck in traffic?” It’s an elevator pitch for a disaster movie!

Er…plan. Look, I think the idea of reminding people not to go outside in fallout is possibly valid, but do we need a whole big program, concentrating on parents of school kids?

And speaking of terrorism “planning,” check out this amazing piece in by David Wong about our excessive and extravagant response to 9/11. Also see security guru Bruce Schneier’s work on what he calls “Movie Plot Threats,” which, he explains, are threats “that would make a great movie plot, but  [are] much too specific to build security policy around.”  Hmmm. -L.

Dear Parents and Guardians:

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, Ventura County will commence an educational public health campaign that is the first of its kind in our nation. The topic: Teaching county residents how to stay safe and help others if there were ever a nuclear explosion set off by terrorists in nearby Los Angeles. Just as we prepare for all sorts of public health challenges, from earthquake safety to annual flu vaccinations, it’s important that we also prepare for an unlikely man-made event. Why now? Good question. We have absolutely zero knowledge of any terrorist threat to Ventura County or any other county in the country. However, it’s the responsibility of public health departments to protect and care for the residents they serve. And nuclear safety is just another one of the public health topics we think is important for residents to learn.

To give a little background, we have been developing a nuclear safety plan in Ventura County since 2006. While some people along the way have asked, “Why are you doing this? You’re going to scare my family,” most have said, “Thank you for taking this seriously.” Ventura County’s Emergency Planning Council has determined that it is our responsibility to prepare the residents of our county. We have been provided federal funding to support our efforts. This program will run for the next 12 months and will ultimately be incorporated into our ongoing education efforts.

The name of our public health program is “Get Inside. Stay Inside. Stay Tuned.” Why? Because in the event of a nuclear explosion, the safest way to avoid dangerous radioactive fallout is to immediately get inside a building — and to stay inside that building — until public health officials say it’s safe to come out.

So, why are we giving you an early heads up? As a parent myself, I recognize that if a nuclear explosion were to occur during school hours, there would be a natural tendency for me and other parents like me to rush to their children’s school to pick them up.  “Get Inside. Stay Inside. Stay Tuned”  is the safest plan to follow. No matter where you are, the safest place to be is inside a building, away from the radioactive fallout. A car is not a safe place to “shelter” — and would likely put you and your children at further risk. You may, in fact, get stuck in traffic and develop serious health problems from radiation exposure.

My request for you today: Be comfortable that our schools are one of the safest places to be in an emergency, and your children will be cared for as long as necessary in the event of a nuclear explosion so that you can stay off the road and they will have healthy parents to come home to. As as of September 18, 2013, please visit us on the Web at or email me directly at to ask any questions you may have about nuclear safety. – Ventura County Public Health Officer

Dear Parents: Please don't be alarmed...

Dear Parents: Please don’t be alarmed…


38 Responses to Calif. School District Prepares for Nuclear Terrorists, Traffic Jams, Federal Grant

  1. Donna September 17, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    To be fair, it is the LA area. The roads are ALWAYS jammed and you are ALWAYS stuck in traffic so “stay off the roads” (so emergency personnel can actually use them) is good advice for any emergency.

    Beyond that REALLY?!?!?!?!?!?

    I do give them some kudos. At least they specified that the nuclear explosion is going to happen in LA, apparently realizing that terrorists are not going target the great suburban sprawl that is Ventura County unlike the people in small-towns throughout America that somehow think they are personally at risk from middle eastern terrorists in their town of 1000 that half the people in their own state don’t know exists.

  2. Dirge September 17, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Sounds like someone watched too many episodes of 24.

  3. WinchesterMoon September 17, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Ugh. No. Just … no.

  4. Robin from Israel September 17, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    It boggles the mind…

  5. Linda Wightman September 17, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Oh, does this take me back! In my elementary school days, in addition to fire drills, we had “air raid drills”: Go to the hall where the lockers were, put your head down against the locker and cover yourself with your jacket.

    How that was supposed to protect us from a nuclear attack I have no idea. Some people of that era have said that such drills instilled a life-long fear in them. Me? I just classed it with a long list of crazy things adults asked us to do.

  6. Warren September 17, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    Well this settles it. From the fear of extra large soft drinks in New York, to pocket knives in car consoles, to terrorist nuclear attacks in LA…………the vast majority of people is the US are insane. They have lost it.

    They forgot to add to the memo, that is the terrorists after setting off the nuke, take your child hostage not to worry, because Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, and Govenor Terminator will save them. Or Sam, G Callen, Kensi, Dekes and Heddy will save them, since it is LA. Maybe Ironman will come to the rescue.

    And they got federal funding for this?

  7. Wendy September 17, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Um…”stay tuned”? Maybe I’ve confused the details through the years, but I thought nuclear fallout would also disrupt all the electronics? What are people supposed to “stay tuned” TO and WITH? Or am I wrong? Maybe I’m getting my disasters mixed up.

  8. Captain America September 17, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    California is such a weird place, and California government is even weirder.

    The BEST thing the state has going for it is that so many of her citizens are inveterate boosters of the state; they’re kind of like Texas in this respect.

    I’m in the midwest. (Note how we authentic midwesterners NEVER capitalize the word “midwest”; this was an innovation popularized by Microsoft Word’s fascistic ‘spell check’ stuff).

  9. brian September 17, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    It took 5 years to develop advice that was plentiful in the 1950s and 1960s. If a nuke goes off stay inside and listen for advice from the government. Wow. Only 5 years of funding to develop that very helpful information for a risk that is infinitesimal.

    Imagine if we used this time and energy to deal with real problems like global warming which will actually kill millions of people across to globe if we do not do something to stop it.

  10. Powers September 17, 2013 at 10:40 am #


    Nuclear fallout doesn’t have any deleterious effect on electronics, at least no more than it has on any other substance in the radius.

    Nuclear bombs do generate an EMP pulse that would knock out electronics, but if you’re close enough to ground zero to worry about that, you’ve got bigger problems than a non-functioning cell phone.

    Powers &8^]

  11. gap.runner September 17, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    That reminds me of the duck and cover nuclear bomb drills we had to do in the late ’60s in elementary school. In the middle of a lesson, the teacher would suddenly say, “Drop!” and everyone had to get under their desks and cover their heads. By the time we were in 6th grade, we realize that ducking and covering would not protect us from being vaporized by a nuclear bomb.

    A friend of mine grew up in the Soviet Union and they had a similar drill, but everyone had to run down to the school’s basement. They would be timed and the teachers would compare the students’ times to previous ones. If the kids were too slow, the teachers would say that if the Americans really set off a nuclear bomb everyone would be dead and they must be faster next time.

  12. Ravana September 17, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    When I was in 1st grade we were told that the safest place to be in case of nuclear attack was curled up in a ball under our desks. Things haven’t changed much, have they?

    P.S. I was the kid who decided then and there that if there ever WAS a nuclear attack I was going to break and run so I could die outside in the explosion rather than possibly wind up having to live in a post nuclear war world.

  13. Lark September 17, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Is this part of a perverse funding incentive? One thing I’ve noticed in education in another part of the country is that as truly discretionary funds have declined (the kind you can spend on crayons or computers or a secretary or electric bills or whatever need really faces the school district) there’s a scramble for grant funding and other targeted funds. This is in part because these targeted funds generally come with money for “facilities and administration” – not a lot of money, but money that can be used to support the general operations of an entity. There are other funding aspects to this too.

    Basically, I bet we’d have a lot fewer trivial projects – oddly enough – if we made it easier for schools to access all-purpose funding. That doesn’t mean “funding that is never audited and can be spent without a budget”; it just means “whoa, now we can afford to have a school nurse again” funding.

  14. Alex R. September 17, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    I sent them an email telling them they were idiots who were teaching their kids to be afraid of something which will never happen. It was the least I could do for the children of Ventura.

  15. Papilio September 17, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Lenore! You should have posted this last Friday, on the thirteenth!!! (This is soooooo funny when you’re not actually in the middle of it that I’m still giggling.)

    So, what if all that happens, AND the school building is on fire? THEN what, huh, huh?

  16. Susan H September 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Wow, I guess I’m alone in thinking maybe this isn’t so farfetched! I mean, they had nuclear fears in the 50’s (so this kind of thing is not a new hysteria), but really, Russia would’ve never been dumb enough to bomb us. I think we’re more at risk from some terrorists with a dirty bomb smuggled in a shipping container (yes, I believe that was a 24 plot line). 🙂

    It’s actually interesting advice to me to stay indoors for a while. My first instinct would be to get to my kids’ schools as quickly as possible in any emergency scenario. But this would make me think twice.

  17. Michelle September 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    I was under the impression that all the school districts in CA were bankrupt. It’s a good thing their services and textbooks and class sizes are so good then.

  18. Laura September 17, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    This sort of think isn’t new. Look at what they did during the 50’s with ‘duck and cover’ program in school against the threat of nuclear attack. Also, here it’s the whole county not just the school district.

  19. Gary September 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    an awesome drill would be one where the detonation was 50mt, this way the drill would proceed as follows:

    1) blinding flash as device is detonated 4km above surface of target area.

    2) heat and shock wave emanates out rapidly, incinerating EVERYTHING within 15mi from Ground Zero, third degree burns noted as far away as 62mi. from Ground Zero.

    3) Drill over ‘erryone dead.

  20. marie September 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Lark said, I bet we’d have a lot fewer trivial projects – oddly enough – if we made it easier for schools to access all-purpose funding.

    We’d have far fewer idiotic projects if we gave the schools LESS MONEY altogether.

    That’s one of the problems I have with people who want the gov to stop spending money on, for example, the TSA or the EPA. They will say, “Think of what schools could do with that money!” And I always think, “Imagine what WE could do with that money if it were left in our pockets to begin with.”

    I started to apologize for veering off topic, but it really isn’t OT. Crazy ideas are given legs when there is money for them. Less money means more focus on what we want schools to do. I doubt anyone would prioritize the nuclear explosion drills over math…except for when the money is available.

  21. Papilio September 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Re: spending money on something better: I suggest building sidewalks and decent cycling infrastructure. You know, to ease those traffic jams that also exist without terrorists nuking the place…
    (Wasn’t LA also that city where people had to drive to cross the street?)

  22. Andy September 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    @marie “Less money means more focus on what we want schools to do. I doubt anyone would prioritize the nuclear explosion drills over math.”

    I doubt so. School will prioritize things that will get them necessary funds for supplies and hole on the roof over anything. School with less money for basics will spend more time and effort trying to get money.

    If you structure the money in a way that requires them to do all kinds of additional activities to get them, the school will spend more time on additional activities in expense of basics.

    Basically, if you feel like the system costs too much and returns little value, you have to look at how money are structured, whether there is a waste. Note: non profits are often in similar situations, they sometimes have funds for extras and no money for basics.

    Second, if there is a regulation or law system that requires the school to go through disaster drill, the school will prioritize drill over math. The same happen even if there is an expectation that administration will do those things.

  23. J.T. Wenting September 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    airco units are perfect for sucking fallout out of the air and concentrating it inside your home.
    And Californians love their aircos more than almost anything.

  24. Warren September 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    It is like anything else, once you have an issue covered, you no longer need money for it. This was an awesome scam on the part of the school district.
    Take all their former EARTHQUAKE emergency procedures, change the title to whatever, substitute nuclear detonation, for earthquake, change a couple of dates AND you get more money, mo money, mo money.

    Easy grant they ever applied for.

  25. Donna September 17, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    @Marie –

    Clearly you have no idea about school funding or how grants work.

    Schools get woefully inadequate general funds from the government to run the basics. They also get grant money targeted to specific programs, in this case public safety or public health or anti-terrorism likely. To get that money, the school has to provide a proposal that meets the requirements of the grant purpose and must actually use the money for that stated proposal.

    Why would schools apply for such a grant?? Well, it could be that the district leaders are insane and truly believe that a terrorist nuclear explosion in LA is something to be concerned about. More likely is that they needed additional funds for something valid and are bringing them in under the umbrella of this grant so will do this stupid program to get access to money needed for something else. It happens all the time in the grant process.

  26. Reziac September 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    When I was a kid, the air raid sirens were still tested every Sunday at noon. The Cold War was a fact of life, and no one worried unduly about it. Cripes, I grew up in the town that hosted the #2 nuclear target in North America, and none of us were neurotic about it.

    I swear all today’s worrying about disasters is more of a disaster than when/if it really happens. Sure, have a clue and a plan if you live in an earthquake or tornado zone, but don’t let it run your whole life.

  27. baby-paramedic September 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    I do recall learning somewhere along the way what to do in case of a nuclear accident (not overly likely in my little part of the Outback).

    I suspect, though, it is just a bunch of people trying to justify their jobs. You get them in any government department when the axe starts falling. People get edgy, and start to justify their jobs. Plainly someone in charge of emergency responsiveness needs to exist, but upper management tends to forget that if they cannot see them DOING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW. Just sitting around waiting is considered a poor use of time.
    Guess there are some benefits to living in Queensland – we offer plenty of emergency practice each year, in between the floods, bushfires, cyclones and storm season. We even do the occasional tsunami scare. We are a bit light on for earthquakes though.

  28. bmjj2k September 18, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    This is great planning on Ventura County’s part, assuming that the nuclear bomb goes off with the power and fury of a couple of firecrackers stuck together.

    Meanwhile, the plan (1- Stay inside. 2- Don’t go outside) has been in development since 2006???? No wonder California is in economic trouble.

  29. Kenny Felder September 18, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    This sounds strangely like an Onion article. The punch line would be an exciting new safety program called “Stop, Duck, and Cover.”

  30. Per September 18, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    What they are doing here is not as stupid as it may seem. Of course they know that a nuclear explosion is a very remote possibility, but (like the zombie apocalypse) it gets people’s attention.
    Their actual message is the same as that of this blog: “Don’t worry. Your kids will be safe even if you’re not there.”
    So when a pile of tires catches fire at the municipal dump, at least a few parents will know that it is better to stay indoors (and trust the teachers to keep their children safe) rather driving into traffic jams and exposing themselves to toxic fumes.

  31. lollipoplover September 18, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    I don’t understand how government grants work, but as a taxpayer, I’d rather see money go to building tornado shelters in tornado alley schools vs. nuclear zombie apocalypse preparedness. Areas prone to natural disasters vs. human disasters.

  32. J.T. Wenting September 18, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    “I don’t understand how government grants work, but as a taxpayer, I’d rather see money go to building tornado shelters in tornado alley schools vs. nuclear zombie apocalypse preparedness. ”

    It’s simple: it goes to where your best bet is of it generating votes, or as a reward to loyal servants (oops, voters).
    Most people in tornado alley wouldn’t vote democrat if it were the only option on the ballot, most people in California wouldn’t vote anything else.

    So guess where the leftists in charge of handing out government grants (and that’s a constant, those are career bureaucrats, who have been overall leftists for generations) send their grants?

  33. Donna September 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    “Most people in tornado alley wouldn’t vote democrat if it were the only option on the ballot, most people in California wouldn’t vote anything else.”

    Actually that isn’t even remotely true. California falls democratic in presidential elections but much of the state is republican (more socially liberal republican, but republican nonetheless). Like every other major city in the US, including those in tornado alley, LA and San Fran are overwhelmingly democratic and contain enough population to pull the entire state democratic in state-wide elections, but there are plenty of republican-controlled areas outside of those areas (San Diego and Orange County to name 2 very populous ones). I could be wrong, but my guess is that Ventura County is more republican than democrat.

  34. Donna September 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    “I don’t understand how government grants work, but as a taxpayer, I’d rather see money go to building tornado shelters in tornado alley schools vs. nuclear zombie apocalypse preparedness.”

    I agree but that is comparing apples and oranges. It is unlikely that tornado shelters and nuclear zombie apocalypse preparedness would qualify for the same grants.

    Further, it is likely that the Ventura County school district cares about no more about nuclear zombie apocalypse preparedness than we do. They are willing to prepare for the nuclear zombie apocalypse so that they can get the 50 white boards, 3 science teachers and new chemistry lab (or whatever it was that motivated them to apply) that they could justify under the grant. Grant funding is all screwed up.

  35. J.D. September 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Personal experience with drills:

    Well, in one of my old schools, during a fire drill, we used to stand outside in the basketball court, with our backs to the school, which is good *in theory*…

    Only the basketball court is RIGHT NEXT TO the school…. which was supposedly safe because “We’re in the far end of the basketball court & the court’s fenced in… So we’re perfectly safe. [somehow]” (Our response: “What happens to us if the school explodes?”)

    OK, so the school exploding (which pretty much everyone was convinced would happen if it caught on fire) is probably a dramatization on our part — but don’t adults nowadays WANT kids to loose their shit thinking what dangers could kill them at school? After all, when kids loose their shit, they’ll be cautious & safe….

    Anyway, during the fire drills we’d talk about how dumb standing in the basketball court really was, because if the school were really on fire, we’d have booked it out of the schoolyard, then gone across the street & refuse to be anywhere near the school…. & we’d probably have even went home, since there’d be no use sticking around. [So why couldn’t we just practice doing that? :-)]

    But, in all fairness to my school’s fire drill technique — some of my teachers did tell me they would lead us somewhere much safer if they needed to, without hesitation.

    Yes, adults have some crazy ideas! (I wonder if they realize that kids have minds of their own, & if there really was a nuclear explosion, they would probably end up thinking for themselves & doing whatever they thought was right [if they’re old enough to know sometimes it’s *safest* to go against protocol & listen to your own judgement when necessary.])

  36. Rachel September 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    For a while after Columbine, my high school had all kinds of drills and instead of easy to understand alarms there were codes over the intercom that the teachers had to decode using a booklet because no one could possibly memorize them all. There were lockdowns in case of a shooter inside the school. Evacuations in case of a bomb threat. (Regular old fire drills were largely forgotten of course.)

    After a few of these, I pointed out that someone who wanted to shoot students would just have to get up onto the roof and call in a bomb threat and snipe as many students as they wanted. Funny how imagination scares people…

  37. Papilio September 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    I only remember two fire drills when I was in school – both in secondary school (the 4 tone school bell jingle would go 5x). We actually quite enjoyed ourselves imagining the calmest teachers to run across the schoolyard screaming hysterically 😛

  38. Staceyjw September 19, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    All this, when schools are cutting programs, charging for sports/extra curriculars, not giving raises, cutting pay, and trying to kill benefits and ensigns. But there’s plenty of cash for this…..