- The Washington Times
Thursday, February 1, 2018

With reports about North Korea’s improved rocket capabilities, verbal jabs between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and a false incoming-missile alert in Hawaii, surviving a nuclear attack has become a real consideration for some Americans.

U.S. companies that provide survivalist gear and services have noted an uptick in sales and interest in their goods as Americans consider their level of preparedness and government agencies encourage people to educate themselves on disaster response.

Meanwhile, a team of Israeli researchers is racing to develop an antidote to radiation poisoning amid heightened concern over atomic warfare.

Arik Eisenkraft, director of homeland defense projects at the Israeli biotechnology firm Pluristem, said his team’s work is urgent because the potential use of nuclear or chemical weapons appears more imminent.

“In most of the countries, all the talks about nonconventional threats are theoretical,” Dr. Eisenkraft told The Washington Times. “When you see all these terrible videos from Syria, nearby, remember that all these compounds were originally made and manufactured against Israel …

“We are really preparing something to protect our family members. When you have this sense of urgency and need, you can see the big difference,” he said.

Pluristem’s antidote, PLXR18, aims to increase production of the three main blood components that would be compromised by acute radiation syndrome, a high-dose of radiation poisoning that usually occurs with in a few minutes, most likely following a nuclear attack.

Dr. Eisenkraft said the antidote, packaged as an intramuscular shot, could be mass-stockpiled and administered quickly to victims without having to first test tissue-matching or blood-typing.

U.S. guidelines on treating victims of acute radiation syndrome include a combination of white blood cell boosting drugs, antibiotics, anti-viral, anti-fungals and fluids.

“This is a very complex event, especially if we’re talking about a lot of casualties,” Dr. Eisenkraft said. “So the main challenge is to have medical countermeasures that will be able to help in as many of these concerns as possible; otherwise, you have to give them a lot of different medications and it becomes complicated.”

Federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely test nuclear emergency preparedness with state and local actors.

Bellicose rhetoric between Mr. Trump and North Korea’s leader have put the public on edge over possible nuclear confrontation.

Keith Bansemer, vice president of marketing for My Patriot Supply, a company that develops and packages survivalist kits and products, said North Korean missile tests had an immediate impact on sales.

In late August, North Korea conducted a successful missile test of a possible midrange rocket — flying over Japan in one of its more brazen shows of force on the world stage.

“Within a couple of hours, our sales quadrupled, with customers mostly from the Pacific Northwest and California getting preparedness items,” Mr. Bansemer said.

In November, when the North Koreans test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile — believed to have nuclear-bomb-carrying capabilities — Mr. Bansemer said, customer orders started coming in from all over the country.

“At that point, it didn’t matter by geography who was purchasing. People in cities, in Florida, in Seattle, people — wherever they were — were purchasing three items in volume,” he said.

This includes My Patriot Supply’s emergency food storage, which can last up to 25 years; water purification systems; and potassium iodate (KI), which helps block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland.

Health and nuclear radiation specialists are cautious about the use of KI, which is meant as a preemptive measure to flood the body’s iodine receptors and prevent the absorption of nuclear iodine in the air. While survivalist stores sell KI, health specialists warn that it should be taken only at the insistence of a medical professional.

‘End of days’

In the event of a nuclear attack, public health officials urge the motto “Get inside. Stay Inside. Stay Tuned.” That is the message from the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, the emergency education arm of the CDC.

“It’s basically the public health guidance for such an event,” said Dr. Robert Whitcomb, chief of the radiation studies branch at the National Center for Environmental Health. “In a radiation emergency, people would be asked to go inside for a period of time. Generally, that’s 24 hours.”

In a number of emergency scenarios, the CDC recommends having enough food and water to last up to three days and a pack with health supplies, personal care items, and electronics such as flashlights and radios.

A number of survival companies advertise premade survival kits that retail from $100 to $500.

Fabian Illanes, founder of Ready To Go Survival, said his company works with customers to individualize their survival kits and provides gas masks, first-aid kits for animals, and suits for adults and children that protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear dangers.

“We really don’t want to seem that we’re pushing it or selling fear; we’re trying to accommodate the customer,” he said. “If that’s truly what makes them sleep better at night, then it’s our responsibility to provide them with those options.”

There is a difference between practical people wanting to be prepared in case of an emergency and “doomsday preppers,” Mr. Illanes said.

“That’s all they think about. That’s all they want to talk about. They have bunkers. … They are pretty much obsessed, and it takes over their lives,” he said. “We have a couple of those, but more than not, 70 percent or somewhere in that, are just regular families, regular practical people, practical preppers.”

Well-educated, middle-class, family oriented — that’s how Robert Vicino describes people who have bought into his bunker communities.

Since 2008, his company, Vivos, has bought military and government bunkers built to withstand nuclear attacks and has leased them to the public.

In 2016, he secured ownership of more than 800 bunkers built by the Army in 1942 on 18 square miles in South Dakota. In less than two years, dozens of people have secured space with a 99-year-lease, which requires a $25,000 down payment and a $1,000 annual payment, Mr. Vicino said.

For an additional cost, Vivos can outfit the space to four- or five-star-level living accommodations.

“The reason we do that kind of quality, by the way, you’ve got to be able to survive psychologically. These are not battleship-grade, World War II, Cold War bunkers,” he said. “To survive in a closed environment, you need space, you need color, you need comfort.”

In South Korea, his company has started developing a 250,000-square-foot, multilevel bunker with its own indoor ecosystem.

“It’s actually going to have an indoor park with real trees and real grass — a place where you can walk your dog within this massive, multilevel facility,” Mr. Vicino said.

The necessity for his company came about 30 years ago, when he was overcome with the purpose to prepare for the “end of days.”

“All of a sudden, I got this: Boom, inspiration in my head,” Mr. Vicino said. “It was like a voice — it was vivid and it was distinct — and it said I needed to build shelters for thousands of people for an extinction-level event that was coming our way.”

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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