What would it look like if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on your hometown? It’s a chilling question, but the answer is: It all depends. You have to consider the type of bomb and whether it’s a surface hit or mid-air blast, all of which affect the spread of the initial fireball, heat blast, shockwave, and cloud of radiation.
All that can be a lot for people to wrap their head around without being numbed by existential dread. So in March 2018, anti-proliferation and climate change organization Outrider Foundation debuted a way to show them. The nonprofit, whose mission is to educate and empower people against global threats like nuclear war and climate change, teamed with experiential design agency Bluecadet to create Bomb Blast, a mobile-friendly data visualization that allows users to enter their location, choose from a list of known warheads, and specify blast type. It’s the winner of Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards in the Creativity category.
Once you’ve selected your variables, the results are plotted on a black-and-white overhead map, with the white, red, yellow, and green ripples fanning outward to represent the projected burn, heat, concussion, and contamination, respectively. There’s a death and injury toll calculation. It’s all very clinical, scientific, and yet utterly horrific.
The release coincided with President Trump’s announcement of his plans to meet with the often volatile, nuclear-capable North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. As tension around the visit built, so did visits to the site. In the first week it went live, Bomb Blast had 1.2 million visits from 207 countries. Since then, the site has averaged 40,000 users per month, with 3 million total page views. It all marks a larger shift for the foundation, which had virtually no previous web presence but has gone from making grants to also driving conversation.
Here’s a bit more about how it works: There are four warhead options, whose specs range from the 15 kiloton Little Boy that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, to the 50,000 kiloton Tsar Bomba once tested by the USSR. In the middle, there’s the U.S.’s 300 Kiloton W-87 and North Korea’s 240 kiloton H-Bomb.
Now, for argument’s sake, let’s say someone dropped a North Korean H-Bomb in the center of a New York. According to Bomb Blast, an initial surface hit vaporizes midtown, sends hurricane level winds through Central Park, and then incinerates nearly everything within 40 miles, even crossing the river to destroy Long Island. All that’s before the 5-mile radius of radiation settles in to create an uninhabitable dead zone. The final death toll: roughly 905,200 people, with about 828,500 additional injuries.
To render carnage at such a granular level, the Bluecadet team used existing data from Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear history professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology. As Fast Company has written, he designed his own web-based simulator called NukeMap. The new map expands on that, letting users can click on each disaster effect to learn more, share the results on social media, or press a button to learn more about how to take action against nuclear proliferation. The site’s drop-down menu offers related news, historical timelines, and additional educational resources.
All told, the entire project took about a year to build. It now lives on as a piece of interactive journalism. “We wanted to give people a way to very quickly see what would happen if one of these warheads was dropped where they live and to create something that was very personal,” says Bluecadet CEO Josh Goldblum, who makes clear that once people visit the site, many dive into the additional materials. “The idea was not just to terrify people, but to give them a good outlet for that provocation.”