Vernuccio’s View: Civil Defense Neglected

The utter confusion and ill-preparedness that was evident in the aftermath of Hawaii’s mistaken alert about an incoming North Korean missile highlighted the irresponsible and dangerous abandonment of civil defense preparedness throughout the nation.

Americans who grew up during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s recall civil defense drills that were geared towards protecting citizens from a nuclear assault. Today, despite increased danger from the combined threats from Russia, China and North Korea, those and other preparations have been largely ignored. Much of the federal literature on the topic speaks about dealing with the threat of a terrorist atomic weapon rather than an assault by another nation-state.

The educational and public informational foundations on how to survive an atomic assault have largely been neglected. A New York Post article notes that “Relics from the Cold War, the aging shelters that once numbered in the thousands in schools, courthouses and churches haven’t been maintained.”  It would seem that more Americans have considered what to do about a mythical Zombie Apocalypse than the very real prospect of nuclear war.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Centers for Disease Control have begun to reemphasize some aspects of civil defense, but on a scale that is inadequate to the growing threat. One former DHS staffer told the New York Analysis of Policy and Government that over the years, FEMA, which is the umbrella organization for disasters, just didn’t concentrate enough on nuclear war-related civil defense.

Compared to America’s adversaries, our preparations are almost absurdly inadequate. Bill Gertz, writing in the Free Beacon  in 2013, stated that “China recently upgraded its subway system in Beijing and revealed that its mass transit was hardened to withstand nuclear blasts or chemical gas attacks in a future war…, the subway can ‘withstand a nuclear or poison gas attack.’A U.S. official said the disclosure of the subway’s capabilities to withstand attack is unusual since it highlights Beijing’s strategic nuclear modernization program, something normally kept secret from state-controlled media. The strategic nuclear buildup includes the expansion of offensive nuclear forces, missile defenses, and anti-satellite arms…”

In 2016, reports the Russian news source RT, Russian authorities conducted a massive civil defense training involving 40 million people nationwide. The four-day exercise included 200,000 rescue professionals and 50, 000 vehicles. Five years ago,  Free Beacon notes,  that “Moscow announced it is also constructing some 5,000 underground bomb shelters in Russia’s capital in anticipation of a possible future nuclear conflict. By contrast, the U.S. government has done little to bolster civil defense measures, preferring the largely outdated concept of mutual assured destruction that leaves populations vulnerable to attack and building only limited missile defenses that the Obama administration has said are not designed to counter Chinese or Russian nuclear strikes.”

Some nongovernmental sources, reviving interest largely lost after the cold war, have begun to suggest preparations. Jim Benson, writing in Backwoodshomes,  states that “The consequences of continued denial of the dangers facing us could be catastrophic. Except for a period of about 25 years during and following World War II, Americans have never had a significant Civil Defense program… Efforts to protect the US civilian population from large-scale nuclear attack …began to decline, until by the late1990s, federal, state and local government efforts toward this end had all but ceased to exist, with most of the government disaster management activities becoming oriented toward protecting the US civilian population from more localized natural and human-caused disruptions… During eight years of the Clinton administration, wrote Joseph Farah in a recent article titled, “Bring Back Civil Defense” in, ‘FEMA’s meager efforts to maintain equipment needed for saving lives in a future nuclear war were cut from the budget. The equipment was destroyed, lost, sold or abandoned.”

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