Do You Have a Geiger Counter? Here’s Why You Need It

I remember back in the day at school we used to have emergency disaster drills. We were all marched out into the hallway and lined up against the wall.

a Geiger counter
a Geiger counter

We were then instructed to sit down facing the wall, put our heads between our knees, and our hands over our heads.

I guess this was so our mouths would be closer to our butts so we could kiss them goodbye when the nukes hit. That’s what the drills were for, during the cold war era when I was in school we used to practice disaster drills for nuclear war.

I’m not quite sure what good lining up in the hall would do us, other than keeping us all calm before we became ash.

But what happens we actually survived such an incident? How can you live and survive in an environment full of a deadly radioactive threat you cannot see or feel? Should you buy a Geiger counter?

Yes, you should definitely buy a Geiger counter or a modern radiation detector as part of your nuclear readiness kit. Either can alert you to the presence of potentially dangerous amounts of radiation in the area. Of the two, a radiation detector can pinpoint the source.

One of the most terrifying and most plausible doomsday scenarios for preppers is that of a nuclear war or some other hideous atomic catastrophe.

Believe it or not, like anything else, it is possible to survive and mitigate such an event with the right tools and training- namely a Geiger counter or PRD! We’ll tell you everything you need to know in the rest of this article.

Changing Times

Since the late 1980’s ideology such as this faded away along with the Berlin wall and the former Soviet Union. The 1990’s and the early 2000’s saw a lack of concern for any event like this occurring.

Unfortunately, this type of thing has become even more of a possibility today due to rampant worldwide terrorism, lost Soviet era nukes, and a crazy, pudgy little dictator in North Korea.

As preppers, we all try to be prepared for just about anything that might cause our society to change and leave us to our own means. However, with concerns such as these, what are we to do? One thing I always wanted, but never got, is a Geiger counter.

As recently as a mere decade ago, a military surplus Geiger counter could cost as much as 400-500 dollars. The price of such devices has dropped considerably since then due to advancements in smart phone technology.

This drop in price for the device, along with modern technologies, have made Geiger counters more accessible today than ever before.

Geiger Counters Only Tell You There is Radiation Nearby

A Geiger counter is a simple instrument for detecting radiation in the immediate vicinity. They are one of the most cost-effective ways to detect radiation.

A Geiger counter has two primary components consisting of a chamber filled with gas and an info readout, as well as a speaker or clicker that can be turned on or off at will.

The Geiger counter indicates radioactivity through the detection of electrons in the air. Electrons are attracted through the wire running through the center of the gas chamber which in turn transmits an electric current via the wire.

Quick science lesson: A process called ionization results in the formation of a negatively charged electron and a positively charged atom as a consequence of free electrons entering or exiting the atomic structure.

Because ionization occurs when an electron in an atom absorbs energy from radiation and is ejected from its orbit, the number of ion pairs present is what will inform the reading on the counter.

Anyway, when the wire energizes the information display this moves a needle and displays a number accordingly.

The counts per minute, or the number of ion pairs produced every minute, is the reading indicated.

If the device’s speaker is switched on, it produces a tinny click or scratchy popping, with the count indicator, letting the user know that higher levels of radiation are present!

It is this ominous sound that is so burned into the brains of a generation of Cold War babies thanks to popular media portrayals.

Geiger Counters Cannot Tell You the Source or Strength of the Radiation

Unfortunately, a Geiger counter only tells you that there is radiation around you; it cannot tell you anything else that may be critical, life-saving information that can help you formulate a response to the circumstances.

It cannot tell you what kind of radiation it is or how energetic it is. All you get is the counts per minute reading.

If you don’t know whether you’re dealing with light counts or strong counts you won’t know exactly how much danger you are in, or how long you have in the “hot” zone until you are in danger.

Geiger counters, as a consequence, are useful in a very general way. If they’re going off frequently and strongly, there’s probably something wrong; but you may not be able to pinpoint exactly where the problem is coming from.

Your Geiger counter could be detecting radiation from the “background”: the sun, soil-based radioactive elements, radon gas inside your home or even from nearby individuals.

These rudimentary readings make interpreting the situation a guessing game.

A Personal Radiation Detector (PRD) Is More Capable Than a Geiger Counter

The development of portable personal radiation detectors may be seen as a technological leap beyond legacy Geiger counters.

These devices are worn on the body and are capable of detecting and localizing the source of radiation in an area, including radioactivity emitted by dirty bombs or radioactive material dispersion tools, to mention nothing of nuclear weapon explosions.

Personal radiation detectors, in a nutshell, combine all of the features of older Geiger counters with greater functionality for the user.

Though these devices must be tested and recalibrated semi-regularly, they are capable of detecting all major types of radiation including the dreaded gamma and x-rays but also alpha and beta particle.

While doing so, they also make this information readily available to the user in a meaningful way.

These PRD’s are also expandable or upgradeable using additional components to provide the user greater functionality, which may just save a life. In the following section, we’ll discuss that in further detail.

PRD’s Can Tell You So Much More about the Threat

Depending on the type of PRD, it might be able to detect radiation in the immediate vicinity of the wearer or provide a heading on the origin of the radiation.

Trained uses will be able to determine precisely where the radiation is coming from- good to know when you want to get well away from something you cannot see or sense otherwise!

PRDs’ most important and useful ability for preppers is that they can calculate dose rates and accumulated dosage for a user, and even provide a precise time limit for remaining in a “warm” or hot area that is radioactive.

This might make the difference between a calculated move through a mildly radioactive area and blundering into a decidedly hot zone for lack of info! In an environment with a constant level of radiation are among the most important features for skilled civilians and professionals working in radioactive environments alike.

High-end PRD’s will also sniff out radioactive contamination levels and analyze specific types of radiation while on the move and without any fiddling, button-pushing or other input from the wielder.

Professionals will find this sort of capability to be most useful, but a civilian who knows a little bit about the behavior of radiation and other characteristics of a nuclear incident may be able to utilize such information to devise a better personal response.

Finally, regardless of the price, any sort of PRD is typically a better choice for nuclear safety and nuclear preparedness than an antique Geiger counter.

an older Geiger counter
an older Geiger counter

A Geiger-Counter may not be Optimal for Nuclear Disaster Readiness

If you’re only going to purchase one type of nuclear monitoring equipment, go for a personal radiation detector.

You lose nothing by choosing one over a classic Geiger counter but you gain a lot in return for a small overall increase in price.

Keep in mind you probably don’t need an expensive or specialized PRD if you just want to keep you and your family safe from deadly fallout; don’t let the monumental prices of these specialty tools dissuade you!

In any scenario, having the knowledge and training to interpret that information correctly is essential because this information can be utilized in other situations.

A typical Geiger counter only tells you that radiation is present around you; it cannot tell you how much radiation there is or what type of radiation it is. They are certainly beneficial, but they fall far short of current PRD capabilities.

You Might Know Radioactivity is Present, But You Still Have to Deal With It

It doesn’t matter where the radiation comes from, whether North Korea succeeds in nuking America like it wants to, or another nuclear disaster like Fukushima happens.

It could be from a terror cell that manages to get their hands on some radioactive material, and then build a dirty bomb to set off in some unfortunate city somewhere in the world.

Here is a video from the 1950’s about surviving fallout. Back then they recommended everyone have a fallout shelter in their backyard:

How to Protect Yourself from Nuclear Fallout and Survive an Atomic Attack - 1950s Educational Film

That ideology lasted through the 1960’s but faded in the 1970’s. I imagine they realized the futility of it with a world war where 1000’s of nukes went off compared to the earlier days when there were only a few.

Beyond Mushroom Clouds

The fact remains that there are scenarios that could cause our food and water supplies (or even the air), to become contaminated with radiation.

In case this was to happen, what would you do? Getting a Geiger counter to put up with your other supplies is a start, but what then?

Just having a Geiger counter telling you something is “hot” (radioactive) isn’t enough. We also need methods of cleaning the radiation from the water to make it potable again.

Unfortunately, if the food becomes radioactive there isn’t really any way to get rid of it. That’s why it is so important to have your stockpile of food stuffs as well as a means of creating your own food.

Having chickens, goats, cows, pigs, etc. is one thing, but if they are outside and become exposed, then what do you do?

To be honest, this scenario sounds pretty hopeless to me. Like if the planet took a large dose of radiation poisoning from multiple nuke strikes or multiple Fukushima-esque events, we would all be pretty much boned.

SevereNuclear Accidents Have Already Happened

There were events at Chernobyl and Fukushima that left large cities emptied because the radiation levels were too high for human habitation.

If that’s the case then there can be no doubt that the wildlife in those areas are also practically glowing. This is where your Geiger counter comes into play.

Just say you are hunting and you take some game. A quick scan with your Geiger counter can tell you whether or not the animal is still fit to eat.

Effects of Radioactivity on Drinking Water

In times of distress water is always a valuable commodity. Being able to provide water for yourself and your loved ones will be a vital part of your survival.

One way to provide safe drinking water will be by knowing that it isn’t radioactive. You can’t see radiation, you can’t taste it, and you can’t feel it. You won’t know it was in the water until you start having symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Symptoms of radiation poisoning:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Spontaneous bleeding
  • The sloughing of your skin (it falls off)
  • Severe fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness and disorientation

The onset and severity of symptoms depend on the type and level of exposure.

Treatment is possible for many types of exposure to radiation, but the availability of medications in SHTF / TEOTWAWKI situations will be unlikely. You can stockpile these along with your other medications and medical supplies as well.

However, having them, and knowing how to use them are two entirely different things. As with any other subject, becoming aware of it is the first step. That’s what this article is for, to make you aware.

Last Blast

Like the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Once that you know there is radiation contamination in the food, water, or air, what can you do about it?

Well, if you have immediate need for drinking water and it is contaminated it will take about 50-55 hours before you will be able to drink it.

Below are several methods, both small and large scale, that have been tested and proven to remove radiation from drinking water supplies:

Hopefully, none of us will ever need to try this. But if you ever need to, these methods supposedly proved effective in Chernobyl.

Having a Geiger counter can tell you if you need to bother with this at all. If you don’t have a Geiger counter and there is a possibility that the water could be contaminated then it might be a good idea to filter it as described.

You won’t die having to wait two days plus to be able to drink the water, as long as you haven’t been without for awhile prior to finding it.

That would be a terrible thought, dying of thirst only to find contaminated water then succumbing to the thirst before the water was fit to drink. Sounds about right.


The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken for or be a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your physician before trying any of the advice presented on this page. Always seek the help of a professional before employing any of the advice give here. We do not recommend you drink radiated water under any circumstances, this content is for information purposes only. Neither the author nor or the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article.

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