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Planning For 'The Unthinkable:' Washington Legislators Discuss Nuclear Attack Prep

The Washington Senate State Government Committee met Wednesday at the  King County Emergency Coordination Center in Renton to discuss disaster preparedness issues.
Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
The Washington Senate State Government Committee met Wednesday at the King County Emergency Coordination Center in Renton to discuss disaster preparedness issues.

Intelligence experts say North Korea is several years or more away from having the capability to threaten the U.S. West Coast with a nuclear missile. But recent sabre rattling was enough to make Washington state senators hold a hearing Wednesday about preparedness.

One point of discussion was an anachronism of state law. Back in 1984, nuclear disarmament was a hot political topic. That year the Washington Legislature made it against state policy for emergency managers to prepare for evacuation or relocation in case of nuclear attack. The thinking led by anti-nuke activists was citizens shouldn’t get comfortable with the idea that nuclear war could be survivable. 

Now Senate State Government Committee Chair Mark Milosica, a Republican, says that policy was a mistake.

“An ounce of prevention—of planning, I think—will help us do better,” he said Wednesday. “Who knows, maybe we’ll have a peaceful transition of power in North Korea and we won’t even have to worry about this anymore. But we obviously do have holes right now in our system.”

Miloscia and other senators have proposed to do away with the prohibition on nuclear attack planning. Washington state’s emergency management director Robert Ezelle testified that a “nuclear event” would cause many of the same effects as a big earthquake of the sort the Northwest is preparing for.

"You have the additional consideration of radiation," Ezelle noted. "Our plans could be adapted."

"There's no question that the first priority of the state has to be earthquake preparedness and I don't think anything we're talking about with respect to nuclear should take away from that," said Democratic State Senator David Frockt.

Frockt was the lead sponsor of the 2017 state Senate bill to remove the prohibition on nuclear attack planning. That measure did not pass and would need to be reintroduced in the 2018 session.

Frockt said a "dirty bomb" or other type of radiological terrorist attack are contingencies that major cities such as New York City regrettably have to plan for. He guessed that such threats probably did not cross the minds of the Seattle-area nuclear freeze activists who pushed through the current state emergency management policy prescriptions during the time of the Reagan administration.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.