State lawmakers are moving to make sure you know what to have on hand when electronic Armageddon strikes.
Legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Public Safety Committee would require the state Division of Emergency Management to come up with recommendations about what kinds of things Arizonans should buy now and store in the garage, basement or storage room just in case some enemy detonates a nuclear or other bomb that wipes out power and communications in the state – and possibly nationwide.
That recommendation also would spell out exactly how much food, water and medical supplies should be available to last for weeks or months. The state agency would have to update that list every five years.
SB 1476 is being pushed by Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, amid concerns about an electromagnetic pulse that can be caused by certain types of explosion.
According to a briefing prepared for legislators, a nuclear blast on or near the ground can damage electrical systems and communications for 70 miles or more from the site. But an explosion high in the air – 15 miles or more above the surface – could damage electrical grids nationwide for weeks, if not or longer.
That possibility concerns Farnsworth.
He said people have an understanding that disasters can happen, but he said folks are working under the assumption that the problem is local.
“Really, all we have to do is be prepared enough to hang on until outside help comes,” he told colleagues. But this kind of disaster, Farnsworth said, could be nationwide.
“In essence, there's no help coming,” he said. “We need to be locally prepared for a long-term struggle.”
Farnsworth said that means individual preparedness.
“As a society, we've become so dependent on the government and on our society the way it is,” he explained. “Going to the grocery store, there's always food there.”
Having the state prepare a list of what people should have in case of such an emergency, he said, would in essence be a wake-up call.
“Hopefully this will start the discussion and the awareness that we as a government cannot feed all these people,” Farnsworth said. “As responsible citizens, we need to do our part to make our own private preparations.”
Lawmakers were given no indication of what it would cost the state agency to come up with that list of necessary supplies, but they were unanimous in their approval. In fact, some suggested the legislation does not go far enough.
Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said it isn't simply a matter of individual survival.
“There's a lot of different organizations we have in the state that actually work for the public safety,” he said, including agencies like the Department of Public Safety or even utilities that need to provide power for everything down to the plant that purifies and pumps water. He said maybe state emergency officials need to be figuring out – and telling them – what they need to have on hand.
“If we're looking at a nationwide, or at least a statewide catastrophic (situation), all the power goes out, trucks stop running, this whole thing, how are they going to then carry out their duties and responsibilities for public safety?” Crandell asked.
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said she understands in a small way what can happen when unexpected disaster strikes, having lived in New Jersey.
“Sometimes we would have regional blackouts for several days,” she said.
“It was absolutely debilitating,” Dalessandro explained. “Gas pumps are electric. You can't use credit cards.”