New York City defends ad on how to survive nuclear attack

New York City officials defended the advertisement, saying the timing is not related to heightened tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine.

A protestor holds a sign and a banner to rally against nuclear weapons in Australia in February 2018.
A protester rallies against nuclear weapons in Australia in 2018. Fears over the possibility of nuclear war have increased as tensions rise between the US and Russia over the war in Ukraine [File: Peter Parks / AFP]

New York City’s emergency management office has come under scrutiny for a decision to air a public service announcement offering residents of the city advice on how to survive a nuclear weapons attack.

The office defended its decision on Wednesday, stating that the advertisement was meant to spread awareness of how to survive a nuclear attack in the event that a nuclear weapon was aimed at New York.

“There is no direct threat to the city but we felt it was important that we addressed this topic,” said Allison Pennisi, head of public information for NYC Emergency Management.

The 90-second advertisement, released online by the department on Monday, opens with a person saying: “So there’s been a nuclear attack. Don’t ask me how or why, just know that the big one has hit.”

The startling announcement is followed by three pieces of advice: Get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned for more information.

City residents are also told to avoid hiding near windows, advised to look to officials for updates, and discard all outer clothing “to keep radioactive dust or ash away from your body”.

The information video ends with the host offering words of encouragement that some may find inadequate for navigating the aftermath of a nuclear attack: “All right? You’ve got this.”

The website, which also offers tips for surviving a nuclear attack and features a menacing image of a nuclear blast as its background, echoes many of those suggestions.

Residents of New York City offered mixed opinions on the advertisement.

“I think this message is a little alarming,” said Lauren Hurwitz, a New York realtor.

“Quite frankly, there’s so many other things going on to worry about.”

Officials have played down suggestions that the timing of the advertisement was related to heightened concerns about the potential for a nuclear war between the United States and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the federal government was not involved in the launching of the advertisement.

New York Council member Joann Ariola told the Reuters news agency that the public service announcement was simply one of many ads that seek to address the concerns of residents.

The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, also defended the decision at a press conference on Tuesday, denying that the advertisement was “alarmist”.

As Russia and the US spar over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a debate has ensued about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two superpowers and how much that possibility should influence US thinking about its support for Ukraine.

Given the destructive capabilities of such weapons, even a slight chance of such a conflict breaking out is seen by some as a reason for serious restraint and caution.

Nuclear-armed states spent more than $82bn on such weapons in 2021, more than half of which was spent by the US.

Other nuclear-armed states include the United Kingdom, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea, and watchdog groups warn that the global stockpile of nuclear weapons is expected to rise.

The US dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, making it the only country to have used nuclear arms against another nation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies