Arizona lawmakers prepare for the apocalypse

Ben Giles//February 17, 2014

Arizona lawmakers prepare for the apocalypse

Ben Giles//February 17, 2014

If a disaster of Armageddon-like proportions strikes Arizona, state lawmakers want residents to be prepared, and they want the government to dole out advice on the best way to be ready.

A Senate panel advanced SB1476, a bill that would require the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs to develop and issue recommendations for how to survive if an electromagnetic pulse hits Arizona or the entire United States. The theory is that a nuclear blast over the United States could generate the pulse, quickly sending the country into a dark age.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, the bill’s sponsor, said he learned of the seriousness of the topic while reading a novel about a post-apocalyptic world brought to its knees by an electromagnetic pulse, also known as an EMP. Although the book was fictional, it included a letter from former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, written in 2005 while Kyl represented Arizona in Congress, declaring the country unready for the attack.

“This threat may sound straight out of Hollywood, but it is very real,” Kyl wrote then.

Some congressman are still pushing the issue in Washington, D.C. U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., heads the EMP caucus, which has been unsuccessfully pushing for passage of the SHIELD Act — the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure from Lethal Damage Act.

Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said that threat remains today, and because Congress has done little to address it, he at least wants Arizona to be at the ready for a threat that may be even greater now than when Kyl wrote about it nearly a decade ago.

“It’s interesting to see the pattern of disasters that have happened in the past, and it seems like each one that happens is larger than the last,” Farnsworth told the Arizona Capitol Times. “With the Twin Towers of course being the huge attack, and I would hope that nothing like this would ever occur. But as a state senator, I’ve got to ask myself what is my responsibility if I feel a great concern.”

Farnsworth likened his EMP legislation to another bill he has sponsored this session — an effort to allow Arizona residents to raise chickens and other fowl in their own backyards. It’s all a matter of individual preparedness and self-sufficiency.

In the event of an EMP attack, Farnsworth warns that the entire electrical grid could be down for days, if not weeks or months, cutting off Arizonans from food and water supplies. If such a disaster were more widespread, there won’t be anyone coming to save you, he warned.

“As a people, we have come to believe the government can fix anything, it seems,” he said. “That gives us a false sense of security.”

Farnsworth already practices what he’s preaching. The senator said he uses an old children’s playhouse in his backyard to store food and supplies, and has been doing so for 40 years. The senator keeps, among other things, powdered milk, beans and rice in storage, as well as wheat in No. 10 metal cans.

“They say they’ve found wheat in the tombs of Egypt that’s over a thousand years old but still edible,” Farnsworth said. “And I have wheat that’s over 30 years old but is still very edible.”

The practice of stockpiling is in line with Farnsworth’s religious beliefs — it’s a principle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have basic supplies ready for short-term and long-term hardships.

It’s a concept spawned by the Great Depression, Farnsworth said.

“Intelligent, thinking people will look at a certain circumstance and say, ‘We don’t ever want this to happen again. What can we do to prepare for the future?’” he said.

As approved unanimously by the Senate’s Public Safety Committee, the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs would be responsible for issuing and updating a preparedness list at least every five years.

The list would include the type and quantity of provisions needed, such as food, water and medical supplies, and would be posted on the agency’s website.

While casting their votes in favor of the proposal, some senators had their own ideas for ways to prepare for the apocalypse. Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, wondered if there were enough guidelines for how vital services such as water, electricity and public safety would be restored in the event of such a long disaster. And Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrooke, worried that communication networks would be needed to help keep order.

“Has anyone ever talked about the role that ham [radio] operators can play when everything else goes to hell in a hand basket?” Melvin said in committee.

Farnsworth said he hopes that the bill will at least raise awareness and encourage some to take steps to prepare, even as simple as purchasing a few extra canned goods during their next trip to the grocery store.

“It’s unlikely that people will do what they need to do, but at some point they’ll wish they had,” said Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma.