I am convinced that the single most effective tool you can have on hand for an ABC disaster (Atomic, Biological, or Chemical) is a good face mask. The danger of nuclear radiation is primarily from fallout, which drifts as air-born particles. Same for many chemical spills; their poison also drifts on microscopic airborne droplets. And the biological toxins we most fear also travel in the air as particles. A face mask covering nose and mouth can reduce (not eliminate) the risk of inhaling these particles.
But face masks are useless unless worn, and are not worn (for long) if uncomfortable. I’ve been trying out various inexpensive masks that I could wear for many hours without going crazy. I found the Cool Max to be the only respirator I could keep on for long periods. The Cool Max are cheap N95 units (workshop, not surgical quality) that fold out and fit on the face with two elastic straps. The enlarged surface area eases breathing, and removes that suffocating sensation I usually get from wearing respirators. I could talk, drive, and work outside in the garden for hours without much discomfort. These masks are cheap enough that I have stocked a supply for our household (you’ll need more than one).
Recently I attended a meeting for the world’s avian flu experts and asked them how effective a face mask like Cool Max would be in an avian flu epidemic. (I had already learned that touching hands transmits more viruses between people than does sneezing; so it makes no sense to wear a mask without wearing gloves.) About half of the flu researchers believed a mask would not do anything at all (viruses are smaller than the filter pores), and the other half said that of course it would help since the viruses ride along on larger particles. When I asked them how many of them would personally have their families wear one in a flu pandemic, they almost all said they would. Although the efficacy of masks with viruses is unproven, there is no harm in using them, as long as you don’t believe it guarantees anything.
My research came down to this: Better than hoarding Tamiflu, sequestering some face masks and disposable gloves is the cheapest, easiest and most productive thing you can do to prepare for a flu epidemic beforehand. Fancier, more sophisticated face masks would probably be more effective if you kept them clean and were willing to wear them. But I find it cumbersome to walk around with a gas mask. These Cool Max respirators will at least be worn for the durations needed, and will reduce your risk of inhaling ABC particles.
And, oh, they work really great keeping dust out, too!