Despite growing concerns about a nuclear strike on the U.S. by North Korea, emergency management officials in Washington state say they are prevented from forming an evacuation plan in the event of a nuclear attack. An effort is underway to change that.
Multiple reports on Tuesday indicated U.S. intelligence believed North Korea had reached the capability of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to make it small enough to load onto a missile. That development comes years earlier than previously thought.
President Donald Trump responded with a warning.
“North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said Tuesday. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The President followed that up Wednesday with tweets touting the capability of America's nuclear arsenal, adding that he hopes it never has to be used.
"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," he said. "Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!"
My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2017
...Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2017
But if there is an imminent threat of attack on Washington state, there is no plan on how to evacuate. State law prevents it.
RCW 38.52.030, passed in 1983, says "The comprehensive, all-hazard emergency plan authorized under this subsection may not include preparation for emergency evacuation or relocation of residents in anticipation of nuclear attack.”
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, who has been outspoken about the need to pay serious attention to North Korea, calls the law "goofy."
"Certainly it’s a goofy thing to not tell people to think about a major real threat," he said in April. "What we're trying to achieve is deterrence, which means ballistic missile defense."
A bipartisan bill to remove that section of the law was introduced in the state senate this year, but it never made it out of committee before the third special session ended.
"Because of paranoia and scare that preparing for war would lead to war, legislators back in the early 80s set up this silly system where we’re prohibited from planning for relocation or evacuation in the event of a nuclear war," said Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way), who co-sponsored the bill.
"Since the state government committee was already planning to update our emergency planning for a large earthquake in the Puget Sound, it makes sense to update this statue at the same time. So, we can improve our planning for both earthquakes and for nuclear strikes," said Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle), who sponsored the bill with Miloscia.
The author of the state law preventing a nuclear attack plan, former Democratic state lawmaker Dick Nelson, says at the time, Washington state was inundated with nuclear threats, and the idea was to create an example of peace.
"It was about finding a middle ground we could all agree on," he said in April.
Nelson also felt that if Seattle were to be attacked, the chances of survival would be so low that a preparation plan would have been moot anyway.
But Nelson says the law does provide an "out" so cities can create their own plan. He says the law doesn't necessarily prevent a plan from being put into place, but rather offers the option of not creating a plan. Regardless, the state says it has no evacuation plan.
Nelson still says he has no regrets.
"I haven't abandoned my basic belief that we need to find peaceful ways of dealing with the nuclear threat," he said. "But I also believe we have a crazy dictator who could do anything."