1980s state law banning nuclear disaster planning could soon be overturned

SEATTLE — A 34-year old Washington State law banning any preparation for nuclear attack could be overturned within the next few weeks, according to one of the sponsors of the bill.

Sen. Mark Miloscia (R) Federal Way told KIRO-7 Saturday's false alarm in Hawaii -- where text messages were sent by the state, falsely warning of a missile attack -- should convince lawmakers that a plan and a warning system should be a matter of urgency which should not be constrained by state law.

"It can be changed in two weeks. but, the governor and the Democrats need to move this bill forward," said Miloscia, who has been trying to overturn the law for a year. Miloscia said North Korea is on pace to develop a missile which could reach the Pacific Northwest coast within five years.

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​In 1984, the Legislature's vote was a symbolic way of putting Cold War-era nuclear disaster preparation in the rear-view mirror. The language that became law was a direct rebuke to the old fears of a Soviet threat to the U.S. -- which lawmakers figured -- was over.

The law states emergency planning for natural disasters shall "not include preparation for emergency evacuation or relocation of residents in anticipation of nuclear attack."

Dom Felix grew up in the Cold War era, and he says Saturday's false alarm alert in Hawaii should serve as a real warning to the people of Western Washington to have a real plan in case we ever face a real nuclear attack.

"We should have a plan," he said. "I mean that seems like a no-brainer to me. I sat through classes when I was in school and we had nuclear readiness classes and part of being able to react well is you've got to know it's coming."

In the 1950s and 60s most parts of Washington State had a clear plan and places to shelter -- even bunkers built inside of Seattle bridges in case of nuclear disaster.

A shelter in North Seattle under the southbound lanes of I-5 on the Ravenna bridge -- which is now used by WSDOT for storage -- was a state of the art prototype for the country in the early 1960s with a capacity of 200, outfitted with decontamination showers lined with layers of concrete.

"The language in statute prohibits us now from planning for evacuations," said Robert Ezelle, with
Washington State Emergency Management.

"What happens if all the sudden we hear it over the TV, and your news broadcasts it?" asked Miloscia. "What happens there? Panic in the streets? People jumping into sewers? That's unconscionable that we're not prepared in Hawaii and it'll be unconscionable if it happens here."