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National

Preparing For A Nuclear Attack (Seriously)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Get inside. Stay inside. Stay tuned. That's the advice some cities and counties encourage as threats of nuclear attack from North Korea seem to grow more real. North Korea claims it'll soon be able to launch a nuclear missile into the United States. Some sources say it could reach California or Illinois. So what are some communities doing to prepare for a possible nuclear strike? Dr. Robert Levin is the chief health officer of Ventura County, Calif. Dr. Levin, thanks so much for being with us.

ROBERT LEVIN: You're welcome. Thank you.

SIMON: And you take this seriously, I gather.

LEVIN: I do take it seriously, and I have for probably a decade or more.

SIMON: Well, what do you tell people?

LEVIN: All they really need to know at the moment that they're hearing of a possible nuclear detonation anywhere nearby is to get inside, stay inside, stay tuned. Get inside the biggest structure they can find as centrally located as they can. They should stay inside. And the moment they get inside, they should stay tuned to a reputable station. Like, an emergency broadcasting system will tell them if it's a false alarm, will tell them if they should stay inside because, indeed, there is a threat from fallout.

SIMON: I think a lot of people might be hearing us and think, oh, my gosh, I thought those years were over.

LEVIN: Well, it's comparable to what initiated our concerns. My concern was that a terrorist - Osama bin Laden was saying 10, 12 years ago, you know, we're going to kill as many Americans as we can. We're going to terrify Americans. And we're going to do everything we can to break their economy. And it occurred to me at the time that if he takes out three West Coast cities, he would take out 55 percent of our economy and do some of those other things, as well. So that's what initiated this in our county, Ventura County.

SIMON: And I have to ask, Dr. Levin, are you concerned that even just by sharing this information, some - it might shut off some anxieties in people that will cause them to live in a way that's unwise or do something silly?

LEVIN: I am not in the least bit concerned, and I'll tell you why. I've learned over the years, over the decades as a health officer that when the public comes to you, whether it's about Zika or HIV or tuberculosis or a contaminated restaurant - that what they want is information that they can use to protect themselves and the ones they love. We are providing information for people who have some anxiety - and at some times in history, it's better deserved than others - about a possible nuclear detonation in America. We've met with countless groups in our county. We've met with focus groups. We've met with citizens groups. And I honestly have never heard anybody in any of those audiences say, you're scaring people. Instead, what I hear over and over again is, thank God somebody is doing something about this.

SIMON: Dr. Robert Levin of Ventura County, Calif. - thanks so much for being with us, doctor.

LEVIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.