One morning in 2018, somewhere over the Pacific, North Korea will have exploded a hydrogen bomb. The era that will have ended began on Aug. 5, 1963, when the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater or in the atmosphere. Because we live in the Bay Area, we will have become a target.
We cannot know the probability of attack, but Kim Jong Un may conclude that he has nothing to lose, believing that we will try to kill him anyway, or he may be motivated by revenge for our Korean War bombing. The probability is more than zero.
We will have to take responsibility for our civil defense because the disruption from an attack may be so great that our towns and county will be low on the priority for rescue. The capability for rescue may be distant and damaged. The three types of survivable attacks are a nuclear near-miss, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a high-altitude explosion widely disabling the electrical grid, and a biological weapons attack delivered by a terrorist infected with, say, smallpox. These three have the potential to isolate us from needed resources for up to several months.
Though earthquake recovery plans may already contain the elements of attack recovery, they need to be expanded to address substantially increased lengths of time to access needed resources and to provide for residual radioactivity protection, disease, loss of communications infrastructure and the absence of government authority. We must prepare for both family and community-level actions. For instance, how many days of food, water, medical supplies and fuel should be provided for a given geographic area? How should these be divided between public and private supplies? What are the rationing parameters for public resources and how will they be enforced? Where can resources be securely stored?
Our area may be physically isolated from government and be subject to civil disorder, possibly armed. Provisions should be made for the rapid reconstitution of civic authority, including the ability to raise a “well-ordered” militia, to address any ad hoc militias. The county should authorize it to protect and control the distribution of fuel and public resources and to settle disputes. This authority could be comprised of people in the area who have previously been elected to public office.
Cell phone towers and land lines may be nonfunctional, especially after an electromagnetic pulse. Short-wave radio may be the only means of distance communication. Modern short-wave based on semiconductor equipment is also vulnerable; vacuum tube equipment may be more robust. Provisions should be made to recruit short-wave operators and to train and equip new operators where supply is inadequate. Equipment and power supplies need to be protected by Faraday cages, as should be any other vital equipment, such as pumps. We also need to understand what phone and cable companies have done to protect their equipment from an EMP, and what protections and fuel supplies have been provided for refrigeration equipment and the length of time we can expect it to be operative.
People must also avoid fallout. They should remain indoors with windows and doors shut, but a large number of people should have disposable bunny suits and N99 or better masks, which can also provide short-term, inexpensive protection against aerosol-vectored biological weapons. Emergency personnel should have military-grade protection. Radiation detectors should be widely distributed.
Additionally, we need to investigate and act on current recommendations from government agencies. I have recently discussed these matters with Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who recommended that I make this information known to the public.
Chet Seligman was educated as a chemist and has worked in finance, information technology and, most recently, as a bioinformatics scientist at The Buck Institute. He has lived in the Point Reyes area since 1971.