The Cuban Missile Crisis — which ended on Oct. 28, 1962, — brought the world as close as it had ever come to a full-scale nuclear war.
Less than two weeks later on Nov. 6, 1962, 64 percent of Washington voters passed a constitutional amendment mapping out a response to an armed attack so devastating that government would have to reinvent itself.
l The line of succession runs from the governor to the lieutentant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction and commissioner of public lands. What if none survived or was able to serve?
l Before the seat of government can be moved from Olympia, two-thirds of voters must agree. What good does that do if the capital has been destroyed and there’s no time to wait for a vote?
l Passing any laws requires a quorum — or a majority — of the 49 state senators and 98 House members. Assume for the moment that fewer than half of Washington’s lawmakers survived or were unavailable?
l Assume vacanices occur at county courthouses and among the ranks of appointed officials in state government. How would those be filled?
This is grim stuff, but the argument for the 1962 amendment called upon remaining lawmakers to provide “a method of temporary succession to elected and appointive office,” enact laws in the absence of a quorum and organize government.
Here’s the good news: Nuclear war is not imminent.
Here’s the bad news: In 1962, nobody knew about the Cascadia subduction zone.
So the people who built and developed the Pacific Coast were lulled into a false sense of security. They believed seismic activity was somebody else’s problem.
Turns out the Cascadia fault last triggered an earthquake in 1700. When the next one hits, the region will be woefully unprepared for what would be a 9.0 or 9.1 level earthquake accompanied by a massive tsuanmi.
By contrast, the earthquake that struck San Francisco 30 years ago measured 6.9 on the Richter scale.
By the law of averages, the Cascadia fault earthquake is 76 years overdue.
Said one FEMA official a few years back: “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
FEMA’s estimates for Washington — 13,000 dead, 27,000 injured, 1 million displaced — is based on the optimistic notion that an earthquake hits at 9:41 a.m. on Feb. 6. Should it come at night or during the summer when the coastline is filled with tourists, you can expect much worse.
In any event, it could be three months before electricity is restored. Getting the water and sewer systems back on line could take a year. Major highways won’t be rebuilt for six months. And getting health care back on track may take 18 months.
So Washington lawmakers decided to update the 1962 constitutional amendment by expanding the definition of a catastrophe as “any natural or human-caused incident ... that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy or government functions.”
Both houses cleared the operating bill by huge margins — 90-to-8 in the House, where Reps. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, and Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, voted yes — and 48-to-1 in the Senate, where Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, also voted yes.
Now it’s up to voters to approve the Senate Joint Resolution 8200 to amend Washington’s state constitution.
Even if you never contemplate moving to the other side of the Cascades, consider this amendment as an insurance policy.
Vote yes. — M.T.