PHOENIX — Arizonans will soon learn what they need to do to survive electromagnetic Armageddon — assuming they survive the blast that causes it in the first place.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Friday to require the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs to prepare materials spelling out what people need to have on hand should someone explode a high-altitude nuclear device over the state. Such a blast would send out high-level energy pulses that could fry all electronic equipment using computers, from cell phones to the computers that run power plants.
And if the power goes out, then everything it runs also is affected.
Brewer also signed measures to:
- Delay the ability of some people to get unemployment insurance based on severance pay;
- Set up and operate a “Silver Alert” system to help notify the public of missing seniors;
- Fix a mistake made by lawmakers last year in laws governing the campaign finances of candidates;
- Allow people as young as 16 to be licensed as cosmetologists.
The governor also gave her blessing to legislation designed to help former legislators deal with subpoenas they got in connection with the ongoing legal battle over SB 1070.
Challengers of the 2010 law aimed at illegal immigration contend racial animosity was at least partly the motive of some lawmakers in crafting and approving the measure. And they have subpoenaed personal emails going back for years, with words like “alien,” “illegals,” “Mexican,” “wetback,” and “undocumented.” Among the targets is former state Senate President Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican, later recalled, who sponsored the legislation.
Victor Viramontes, senior counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said comments lawmakers were making around the time they adopted SB 1070 are relevant.
Some sections of the law already have been declared illegal by federal courts. But the U.S. Supreme Court refused to void a provision that requires police to question people stopped about their immigration status if the police have reason to believe those stopped are in the country illegally.
The justices, however, left the door open for future challenges based on new evidence.
This new law allows the state Attorney General’s Office to provide legal representation to these former lawmakers who want to battle the subpoenas. Current legislators already are entitled to state-paid legal help.
Surviving with no help
The measure on emergency preparation was crafted by Rep. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa.
A briefing paper prepared for legislators said 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.
It is that possibility in particular that Farnsworth said concerns him.
He said Americans are familiar with dealing with local disasters. But in those cases, he said, the main need is to be “prepared enough until outside help comes.”
That scenario changes, Farnsworth said, if a nuclear blast affects the whole country.
“So, in essence, there’s not help coming,” he said. “Thereby, the need to be prepared for a long-term struggle.”
The new law requires the state agency to develop recommendations for the public about “the type and quantity of supplies, including food, water and medical supplies, that each person in the state should possess” if there’s an electromagnetic pulse that occurs over the country. Those recommendations would be posted on the agency’s web site and updated at least every five years.
Farnsworth’s original concern was a nuclear blast. But lawmakers expanded the legislation to also include any solar flares and any other man-made electromechanical device that could damage computers.
Jobless benefit change
The change in law on jobless benefits was sought by the business community.
Benefits are available to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Former workers are entitled to half their salary, though the cap on payments is $240 a week.
Lump-sum severance payments generally are considered salary. So if someone got severance pay equal to 10 weeks of salary, that person would not be eligible for jobless benefits for the first 10 weeks.
The state Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that money paid as part of a deal to keep an ousted worker from suing does not count. This measure, pushed through by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, overrules that decision.
The silver alert measure is modeled after the existing Amber alert, named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was kidnapped and murdered. It is designed to provide fast notification of the public through radio broadcasts, electronic road signs and even cell phone alerts, to be on the lookout for a suspect.
Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said in this case the idea is putting the public to work finding elderly people who may be in danger, particularly those who may have dementia and wandered away.
She cited the case of an 88-year-old woman in Cochise County who got the keys to the car and drove off.
Griffin said an alert system might have resulted in motorists who saw her vehicle on Interstate 10 calling police within hours. Instead, she abandoned the car and her body was not found until two weeks later.