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'Jericho,' 'Heroes' Hit TV shows renew interest in fallout shelters, surviving nuke attack

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11/21/2006 01:00 PM
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'Jericho,' 'Heroes' Hit TV shows renew interest in fallout shelters, surviving nuke attack
'Jericho,' 'Heroes' spark concern with civil defense Hit network TV shows renew interest in fallout shelters, surviving nuke attack

WASHINGTON Americans are not only eating up the fall's only two hit network TV shows both dealing with nuclear attacks, they are also showing more interest in preparing for the disasters U.S. officials have characterized as inevitable in the future.

'Jericho' on CBS depicts how Americans deal with aftermath of nuclear detonation

In NBC's "Heroes," the main characters are trying to prevent a global calamity that would strike first in Manhattan, while in CBS' "Jericho," the cast is dealing with the fallout from a widespread nuclear attack that has destroyed much of the country and isolated a small Kansas town.

"Jericho" has been averaging 11.3 million viewers on Wednesdays, while "Heroes" draws an average 14.3 million viewers on Mondays, making it the No. 1 new series in the nation.

Whether is the popularity of these shows, warnings from political leaders or the real-life threat of nuclear terror posed by enemies in North Korea, Iran or other rogues states or groups like al-Qaida, which has threatened the U.S. with an "American Hiroshima," citizens from coast to coast are taking steps to get themselves ready for possible disaster.

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Brian Camden, president of harden Structures/Harden Shelters in Virginia Beach, Va., said he has witnessed a significant uptick in business particularly following North Korea's first nuclear weapons test last month.

"I can tell you it's picked up since the test," Camden told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "It's not just across the country but around the region. Their nerves are rattled."

Sharon Packer of Utah Shelter Systems reports getting as many telephone calls as just after Sept. 11. Brian Duvaul of American Safe Homes of Oregon, who sells $10,000 prefabricated do-it-yourself concrete shelter kits, expects sales to reach $1 million this year.

The shelter business was big business during the Cold War. There were some 800,000 fallout shelters in American homes at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. But, beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials either downplayed the threat or suggested there was no point in trying to survive a nuclear war causing many Americans to cast their fates to the nuclear winds.

Coupled with that were a series of government decisions effectively abandoning what was a fairly sophisticated and widespread civil defense system throughout the country including public fallout shelters and stockpiles of basic supplies.

Interest in shelters and radiation detectors was renewed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Now what you design for is terrorists attacks dirty bombs, chemical and biological agents being released," Camden said.

But Physicians for Civil Defense believes the threat is more serious than that.

"The CBS series 'Jericho' is forcing Americans to imagine mushroom clouds over many American cities," said the group's September newsletter. "Perhaps they will contemplate how this could really happen: a religion with a billion adherents worldwide has powerful leaders who openly advocate killing as many infidels as possible and promise an American Hiroshima. Then there are the secular ambitions of tyrants in North Korea, China, South America and Russia."

While the group finds the show "painful to watch" because of the producers' inattention to simple facts about dealing with radiation, the doctors are hopeful "Jericho" could help to alert some Americans to do some research for themselves.

The physicians recommend starting with an eight-page guide on "What to Do Of a Nuclear Attack is Imminent" distributed free on the Internet. They also recommend the portable radiation monitors distributed by the same company called Nukalerts.

"Most people naturally don't want to think about such things, if given the choice, but events like the North Korean nuke tests have forced it back front and center," says Shane Connor of Nukalert. "We've seen about a tenfold increase in downloads of our free nuke prep guide and about half that increase in sales, too."

In addition to growing interest in radiation in the U.S., fallout shelters have become a booming business in Japan, South Korea and Israel. And Connor has seen increased sales to those markets as well.

"Our Japanese and Korean sales for the NukAlert have been very strong," he said.

Connor, like the doctors group, believes most Americans just don't understand how easily survivable nuclear detonations are under the right circumstances.

"The most important thing Americans need to grasp first is the truly good news that if nukes go off here the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor that they will survive those initial blasts and still be here," he says. "However, without proper training and even minimally inexpensive preparations, many will not survive the following two days, two weeks and two months. First from the fallout and then later from the lengthy disruption of services we all take for granted.

Connor recently prepared a brief introduction to the topic called "The Good News About Nuclear Destruction."

He, too, thinks "Jericho" has had an impact on the American psyche bringing home the real possibility of a nuclear catastrophe.

"The Jericho show, even with all its inaccuracies, has been a good catalyst in getting people thinking and talking about what they might do if/when it happens here for-real," said Connor.

In response to the success of "Jericho," CBS has announced the show will run without repeats the rest of this month, with a cliffhanger finale Nov. 29, returning with an all-new season beginning Feb. 21. Because of the serial nature of the show, CBS will air a special recap episode Feb. 14 for viewers who missed the first 11 programs this fall.