A sign from an earlier era at the Seattle Fire Department headquarters. Photo by Alex Garland

A sign from an earlier era at the Seattle Fire Department headquarters. Photo by Alex Garland

Washington lawmakers seek to increase nuclear attack preparations

Bipartisan bills in the House and Senate could remove Cold War-era emergency planning restrictions.

For the first time in more than 30 years, emergency planning in Washington state could include preparations for potential nuclear attacks thanks to bipartisan bills entering both the House and Senate.

In 1983, the Legislature voted to ban nuclear war preparations from emergency planning procedures. The prohibition specifically applies to planning for evacuation and relocation of citizens. The move was made as a result of increasing tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union. With former President Ronald Reagan taking an aggressive stance against what he called the “evil empire,” lawmakers in Washington state were concerned that preparing for a nuclear war would draw the ire of Russian leaders.

Rep. Dick Muri (R-Steilacoom) said that such fears have been extinguished with the fall of the Soviet Union and the United States’ status as the world’s sole superpower. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Muri stated that a routine part of his job during the Cold War involved surveying air fields in case of nuclear attacks. He believes the biggest threat of nuclear war today comes from “rogue” nations like North Korea and Iran. Muri is the primary sponsor of House Bill 2214, which would remove the prohibition on preparing for a nuclear attack.

“The idea is that we would hopefully have some plans in place that would mitigate any potential attack,” Muri said at the bill’s public hearing Jan. 22. “It’s unthinkable, but we should plan.”

President Donald Trump said in August 2017 that North Korea would face “fire and fury” should they continue nuclear testing. The comment was made in response to a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report that suggested the communist regime had developed nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

HB 2214 passed the House Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday afternoon and now heads to the House floor for debate. A companion piece of legislation, Senate Bill 5936, will be heard in committee Friday morning.

Seattle resident James Thomas testified in opposition to the bill, citing the same concerns that brought about the ban in the first place. Thomas said he has been studying nuclear policy since 1981.

“Relocation of people in anticipation of an attack could be perceived by our adversaries as a step leading to a first nuclear first strike and would increase international tensions,” Thomas said. “Washington state should not do anything to add fuel to the fire.”

Another concerned citizen, Glen Anderson, argued against the bill, but focused his criticisms on the logistics of preparing for nuclear war.

“I believe in honesty and practicality,” said Anderson, a previously honoree of the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County. “Public policy should help people recognize truth and not deceive people.”

Anderson believes a bill like this would create an “illusion” that nuclear war is survivable, a notion which he said has been discredited. Anderson said there is no feasible response to a nuclear attack, and that the effort would be better spent on reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons.

But Muri expressed an opinion to the contrary. The bill sponsor said that in the event of a nuclear attack it would be necessary to assist survivors. He said this would include developing shelters and ensuring that enough supplies are on hand to deal with the effects of radiation and fallout.

“Everybody thinks that a nuclear weapon hitting a part of our state would be the end of the world,” Muri said. “It would not.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

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