Special Report

Worst Places to Be If There’s a Nuclear Attack on America

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10. Ogden-Clearfield, UT
> Proximity to: Ogden center is 7 miles from Hill AFB
> Population density, city proper: 3,170 per sq. mile – #10 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #9 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 87,140 deaths, 157,570 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Utah’s Nuclear/Radiological Incident

Hill Air Force Base is an Air Force Materiel Command base located between Ogden and Clearfield. It is the Air Force’s second largest base by population and geographical size and provides installation support for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, headquartered in Kirtland AFB (No. 11), including storing and transporting nuclear weapons.

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9. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA
> Proximity to: 9 miles from Offutt AFB
> Population density, city proper: 3,411 per sq. mile – #9 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #13 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 34,480 deaths, 140,790 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Emergency Preparedness and Response

Offutt Air Force Base, just south of Omaha, is the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command, which coordinates the necessary command and control capability to provide support for the president, the secretary of defense, other national leadership and combatant commanders.

In the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush, who was in Florida at the time they struck, was first flown to Barksdale AFB (No. 15), then to Offutt, where he was taken into an underground command center bunker designed to withstand a nuclear blast and as a place from which a presidential order to go to nuclear war could be issued. There he held an hours-long teleconference with his senior cabinet staff, the CIA, Pentagon, and FBI, among others.

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8. Urban Honolulu, HI
> Proximity to: 30 miles from VLF Array Lualualei
> Population density, city proper: 5,797 per sq. mile – #7 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #1 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 20,920 deaths, 56,710 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Nuclear preparedness

The U.S. Navy’s VLF transmitter Lualualei is a facility that transmits orders to submerged submarines in the very low frequency range. Such capability would be needed if the U.S. wanted to launch a submarine attack. Another such submarine communication site is in Cutler, Maine, which is too far from major urban centers to be included on this list. Though a direct hit over the transmitter might not reach Honolulu, evacuation possibilities from the island are limited. O’ahu is home to several other military bases, including Pearl Harbor, which was infamously attacked by the Japanese in 1941.

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7. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
> Proximity to: 30 miles from Naval Base Kitsap, 46 miles from Naval Radio Station Jim Creek
> Population density, city proper: 8,787 per sq. mile – #5 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #8 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over each target): 53,840 deaths, 106,020 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Seattle’s Emergency Management

Though not situated too close to any one strategic target, Seattle is located between two highly likely targets, and given its geography and population density, evacuation may not be easy.

Naval Base Kitsap, a strategic nuclear weapons facility, is home to all types of submarines, including the UGM-133A Trident II-armed submarines (Trident II is a submarine-launched ballistic missile) and two Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The somewhat remote Naval Radio Station Jim Creek is another VLF transmitter for the Pacific submarine fleet. In 2019, Russian state television listed it among U.S. military facilities that would be likely targets in the event of a nuclear strike.

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6. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
> Population density, city proper: 3,598 per sq. mile – #8 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #7 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 330,850 deaths, 693,340 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Houston’s Health Department’s Preparedness Plans

Houston is one of the six cities evaluated as likely civilian targets in the event of a nuclear attack on America. Of the six, it has the lowest population density. The city’s health department specifically mentions radiological incidents in its emergency preparedness plan. The closest nuclear power plant, South Texas Project Nuclear Generating Station, is about 65 miles away from the metro area’s outskirts.

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