Huffpost DC
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Grass Headshot

It Might Just Be Better to Die Downtown Than Evacuate

Posted: Updated:

D.C. may not be wiped off the earth in a nuclear attack, but for those of us who work or live near downtown, it might just be easier to die quickly in the nuclear explosion than live through the aftermath. That's one of my take-aways from a government report game-playing the what-ifs of a theoretical 10-kiloton bomb detonated at 16th and K streets NW, right around where P.J. Clarke's and the St. Regis Hotel are located.

"It's not the end of the world," retired Air Force Col. Randy Larsen, told the Associated Press. "It's not a Cold War scenario," which would involve obliterating pretty much the entire city.

This smaller 10-kiloton event would be bad for sure, but limited to a just half-mile of complete destruction, the report says.

Are you breathing easier? The 16th and K scenario isn't even as powerful as what happened to Valencia, Calif., in Season 6 of 24, where everything was obliterated within a full mile of the detonation in the Los Angeles suburb.

But the 16th & K scenario would easily destroy the White House, much of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, the offices of the Washington Post, Examiner, the New York Times' D.C. bureau, the Huffington Post's D.C. bureau, countless food trucks and the remaining Occupy DC tents at McPherson Square.

Those of us who survive are supposed to hunker down for a few hours to let the worst of the radioactive fallout decrease. But our natural tendency will be to evacuate, which is something D.C. does not do very well.

The problem has been documented time and time again. Relatively minor weather events can cause chaos. Our city is not well equipped to deal with a large-scale disaster, regardless of whether people leave en masse or in an orderly fashion.

Just look at our evacuation signs, if you can call them that. In 2008, the city began attaching blue signs to existing street signs along primary evacuation routes. They simply read "Evacuation Route."

But there are no arrows. The signs don't tell you where to go.

At the time, D.C. officials were criticized for this oversight. "If there are some changes that still need to be made, we'll make them," then-Mayor Adrian Fenty said, according to WTOP.

Those changes were never made.

Envisioning a nuclear detonation in the nation's capital is scary. It's something that we hopefully we'll never see. And if it does happen, you might just be better off being one of the 45,000 people who are estimated to be killed in the explosion.

Those who survive are in for a rough time.

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post notes that although the AP report seems to downplay the impact with the headline "Gov't report: DC nuke blast wouldn't destroy city," the impact would be no doubt gigantic: "Make no mistake, a nuclear blast of any size would destroy D.C. as we know it."

At least a third of the municipal tax base would disintegrate in an eye-blink. In the immediate aftermath of the blast, commercial activity in the city would grind to a halt; many federal government functions would be immediately relocated outside of the city. Maybe Congress, on the outer edge of the blast area, could remain -- most likely not.

And that wouldn't make D.C. a very nice place to live.