May 1992: The Soviet Red Army moves into Finland. Norway, fearing invasion, requests NATO assistance. Tensions mount. U.S. warships respond. Missiles are fired. Over the course of several weeks, casualties on both sides mount. Stateside, governors order entire metropolitan populations evacuated from nuclear target areas.
While the above scenario is fictitious, the U.S. response to the threat of nuclear confrontation is not.There was once a time when the United States' civilian response to a nuclear attack was to move the civilian population to fallout shelters after a nuclear attack had begun.
Today, however, the U.S. plan to protect its civilian population is based entirely upon its ability to evacuate and relocate civilians in the event of a threat of nuclear confrontation. Emergency plans call for a 48-hour response - 48 hours for voluntary evacuation to rural, non-strategic areas.
"If a nuclear attack were to come suddenly with no warning at all, people would take shelter in their basements," said Bob Halloran, senior population protection planner for the Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management. "But we're not taking that approach in our state planning."
The reason? Basements and fallout shelters were never built to withstand the high-intensity nuclear blasts of today's modern weaponry. Consequently, casualties would be extremely high if fallout shelters were the only civilian protection. Maybe 20 percent of the metropolitan population would survive.
The only other response, then, is to remove people from those areas believed targeted by the Soviets.
Nuclear attack, if it ever happens, will most likely be the result of building international tensions between nuclear superpowers, Halloran said. According to U.S. response plans, evacuation orders will be given at least two days before nuclear missiles strike American soil.
Critics say it is impossible to evacuate metropolitan areas, and that U.S. civil defense plans are misdirected.
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"But they don't know what they're talking about," said Lorayne M. Frank, director of Comprehensive Emergency Management. "Look how many people leave the Wasatch Front during the deer hunt and that's all within six hours. We can move a lot of people in a short amount of time. It's done in other places, like along the coasts, all the time."
Experts predict Utah has been targeted for two ground blasts, which causes lethal fallout when radiation mixes with dust, pollution and other particles. Hill Air Force Base would likely receive both ground blasts, which makes Weber and Morgan counties highly vulnerable to lethal fallout, and Davis and Salt Lake counties subject to medium levels of fallout.
Most of the warheads directed at Utah will be aimed at the Wasatch Front. In addition to the two blasts at Hill Air Force Base, experts predict air blasts at the Salt Lake International Airport (2 blasts), Morton Thiokol, the Tooele Army Depot, Dugway Proving Ground, the Intermountain Power Plant, the Hunter Power Plant and Glen Canyon Dam.
Though not listed in the official report, additional blasts would likely be directed at Geneva Steel in Orem (which was shut down at the time of the report) and PEPCON, a rocket fuel manufacturer that recently moved to the Cedar City area.
"We have a good idea of what the targets are likely to be, and we base our evacuation plans on that knowledge," Halloran said.
With the exception of the Wasatch Front, Utah would survive a nuclear attack relatively unscathed, as would the neighboring states of Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.
Nearby states that would be devastated would include Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. "With all the ICBM silos in the Dakotas, you won't stand an ice cube's chance in hell of surviving the fallout," Halloran said.
Every state has its own evacuation plan, which calls for citizens in target areas to be relocated to places not threatened by nuclear attack. Each county or community in the state also has corresponding emergency response plans to deal with evacuees.
According to Utah's emergency plan, 80 percent of the Utah population would survive a nuclear attack if they are evacuated to outlying rural communities before the warheads exploded. Only 20 percent would survive without such an evacuation.
The Utah evacuation plan is based on how many people can be relocated to rural communities, based on a 40-square-foot per person formula. In areas threatened by high levels of radioactive fallout, the formula is 10 square feet per person.
"We are developing a plan that will ensure survival, nothing more," Halloran said. "No one will enjoy the same standard of living, and it may be rough for awhile. But they will be alive."
Utah's evacuation plan is entirely voluntary. In fact, the state hopes that most people will have their own evacuation plans in place and will leave prior to any official recommendation by the governor.
"Some people will want to stay with relatives, others have second homes or cabins," said Halloran. "The state will not prohibit those. The state isn't going to force anyone to evacuate who doesn't want to go. Our plan is for those without alternatives."
Once people are relocated, supermarkets and food warehouses will be emptied and distributed to feed refugees ("We're hoping for the cooperation of all involved," said Halloran). There is enough food on Utah store shelves to last 30 days, and enough food in the U.S. warehouses to last three years.
Any evacuation of the Wasatch Front will be an inevitable logistical nightmare. But Utah's emergency management experts have tried to incorporate all scenarios and contingencies into their planning.
"If you live in Sandy and want to go north, forget it," Halloran said. "All six lanes will be going south. We'll have fuel points along the way to keep cars going, mechanics and tow trucks to help with stalled vehicles, traffic control points. It's all very detailed and specific."
But one scenario they did not count on was PEPCON - a rocket fuel maker - moving to the Cedar City area. The Utah plan had called for the governor, his staff and legislative leaders to set up state government in Cedar City. With PEPCON moving to Cedar City, that community will likely become a target.
Because of factors unrelated to the PEPCON move, the state is now looking at other locations in the state to establish a governmental command center.
Utah's response plan, as well as those of all other states, is based on military analysis of current Soviet strategies. The 1986 plan greatly modifies a U.S. response plan that has been in place since the early 1970s.
That 1970s plan was based upon the Soviets launching every warhead in their possession, resulting in some 8,000 ground bursts. The new 1987 U.S. response plan, based on a computer analysis of Soviet attack strategy, estimates the Soviets will launch far fewer missiles - perhaps only 2,500 warheads - which will include a combination of ground and surface blasts.
"The thinking is the Soviets will want to cripple the United States, not totally devastate it, so they can take it over," he said.
Utah's response to a nuclear attack is part of an overall national plan administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While FEMA assists states in all emergency responses, the primary focus of the organization is preparation for nuclear attack.
"Congress passed the Civil Defense Act in 1950 that mandates states develop survival plans to protect the citizenry," Halloran said. "Earthquakes and hazardous spills make the headlines, but the primary focus (of FEMA) is nuclear attack survival."
Not all states are thrilled about the prospect of even preparing for nuclear attack. During a recent interstate test of communications equipment, Washington and Oregon - taking a stand that nuclear war is non-survivable - refused to participate.
"The residents of Utah should know that while we are no longer stocking fallout shelters, the state continues to have a very active nuclear attack preparedness planning program," Halloran said.