If the likelihood of a nuclear attack is hard to judge, what’s beyond dispute is that we are in many ways much less prepared to deal with one than we used to be. Fallout shelters in public buildings are no longer marked and stocked, and public knowledge about nuclear weapons and their effects isn’t what it was during the Cold War era. In the course of teaching nuclear-related cases in my Administrative Law and National Security Law courses, I’ve observed that most of my students (military veterans and a few emergency-services types excepted) know next to nothing about A-bomb related things that were common knowledge a couple of decades ago. Replenishing that popular knowledge base seems worthwhile, as long as there are nuclear weapons on the planet.
There’s something else worthy of praise in the Obama Administration’s approach, something that goes well beyond the terrorist-nukes field. The Times article mentioned above includes this quote from Brian Kamoie of the National Security Council: “We’re working hard to involve individuals in the effort so they become part of the team in terms of emergency management.”
The feds’ estimate is that it will be at least a couple of days before significant outside aid arrives at the scene of a terrorist nuclear attack. But as experience from disasters like Katrina demonstrates, outside aid always takes longer to arrive than you expect. A philosophy of empowering individuals, and encouraging preparedness on the part of ordinary citizens, will pay dividends in the event of all sorts of disasters, whether natural or “man-caused.”