OPINION-EDITORIAL: Removing the state prohibition on nuclear attack planning

Could Washington someday be the target of a nuclear attack? Many of us have watched with growing concern as tensions continue to grow between the United States and North Korea. Because of our proximity to the Korean peninsula, the media often reports that Seattle tops the list of potential targets.

Despite this potential threat (however small), a provision approved by lawmakers in 1984 prevents the state from planning emergency response services in the “anticipation of a nuclear attack.” State law does allow for the comprehensive emergency planning for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other disasters. Nevertheless, RCW 38.52.010 specifically prohibits state emergency responders from constructing a plan in the case of a surprise nuclear attack.

While the possibility of this happening is remote, we should have a plan ready. It is simply ridiculous our state does not have contingency plans available if the unthinkable were to happen.

My proposal, House Bill 2214, along with the Senate companion bill 5936, sponsored by Sens. David Frockt, D-Kenmore, and Mark Milocsia, R-Federal Way, will remove some of the language inserted into our emergency planning laws from 1984. This necessary change would allow for the preparation of emergency evacuation or relocation of residents in anticipation of a nuclear attack.

For many of us who lived through the “cold war” era, bomb shelters, air raid sirens, and nuclear drills in which school children were taught to “duck and cover,” were common occurrences. Inundated with threats of possible nuclear retaliation by the (then) Soviet Union, many Washingtonians grew to believe the constant nuclear drills and disaster planning efforts created a culture of fear. Anti-nuke activists, centered mainly in the Seattle area, thought our only safety was in forcing the dismantling of all nuclear weapons. Because of this, they looked upon civil defense preparations as a waste of time and resources.

A few anti-nuke activists took their fight to the state Capitol. One of them was Former Democratic state lawmaker Dick Nelson. In a recent article on this subject, he shared that the nuclear weapons issue was what inspired him to get involved in politics. In 1984, Senate Bill 4561 made several changes to the state’s emergency management system. Nelson proposed amending the bill to exclude preparation “for the emergency evacuation or relocation of residents in anticipation of nuclear attack.”

Another section of language, later vetoed by the then-Governor Spellman, stated, “…planning for an emergency response in the event of a nuclear attack instills a false sense of security in our citizens that they will be protected if a nuclear attack occurs.”

Now 80-years old, Nelson has since indicated a change in his position on this issue. Unfortunately, the 1984 language inserted in our state’s emergency preparation laws left state agencies without the authority, or resources, to design plans to help residents if there is a nuclear attack.

I’m working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to see this is changed. The state of Washington is responsible for the protection of the lives and property of its citizens. In the case of any type of catastrophic disaster, our residents are entitled to the protections and services of the state. We should be prepared for every eventuality.

Because our time during the current special legislative session focuses on education funding issues, it is unlikely this legislation will move forward this year. I’ve introduced the bill in the House now to ensure the necessary work begins prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions and concerns. Please feel free to reach out to me in my district office in Steilacoom (253) 301-2278 or by email at dick.muri@leg.wa.gov.

State Representative Dick Muri, 28th Legislative District
424 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7890 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000