In Los Angeles, an official has proposed a sort of Darwinian theory of evacuation in the event of nuclear attack: the healthy go first, the less fit stay behind.
In Baltimore, a plan to move hundreds of residents to West Virginia got laughs in the City Council. In Memphis, where the plan says key city officials should get priority, there's a passionate debate over who's a key official. In Boulder, Colo., city fathers threw in the towel after citizens derided the whole exercise.
So it goes in dozens of city councils throughout the country this month, as civil defense chiefs are unveiling their newest schemes for defense against nuclear attack: "crisis relocation."
The plan to evacuate U.S. cities when a major war threatens has produced many questions and some bizarre counterproposals, all demonstrating the difficulties of winning public support for the evacuation proposal.
Boulder decided not to participate in the federal scheme at all, after public hearings in which citizens called such evacuation planning worthless.
Federal officials want to practice evacuating key officials in Memphis this November, but Civil Defense Director Billy Ray Schilling said it will be ticklish to determine who is a key official and who is not.
Baltimore City Council member Kweisi Mfume labeled as "laughable" the federal proposal to evacuate 776 residents to West Virginia. California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. called plans to evacuate cities in his state "utterly unworkable."
"Los Angeles cannot even evacuate itself on a Friday afternoon with no smog alerts in effect," he said.
But one Los Angeles County official has proposed a solution to this dilemma: a "Noah's Ark" plan, whereby only the young and the healthy would hit the highways and the old and sick would stay behind.
Military and Veteran Affairs Department Director Robert L. Kingsbury said that, while his plan "may appear cool . . . , our overriding concern must be to continue life and national survival following the nuclear strike."
"As unpalatable as it may be," said Kingsbury in a letter to Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, "it is my opinion that the pre-selection of priority evacuees according to their value to the society that would survive the nuclear strike is absolutely essential."
High-priority evacuees would include the young and physically fit, skilled specialists of all sciences, trades and occupations and a well-balanced labor force. On the low end of priorities would be the elderly, the infirm, the unskilled, the unessential and those whose presence in the relocation area would serve only to place a burden on the survivors.
Kingsbury, a retired Army major, also suggested enlisting retired military personnel in the area into a state militia to help provide law and order. His letter said some evacuation might be effected by commandeering pleasure boats.
In response to Kingsbury's suggestion, a Los Angeles Times editorial said, "Nuclear war is no laughing matter, but public officials go on inadvertently making bad jokes about it anyway."
Once the young and sick priority evacuees had left, the editorial said, "The rest . . . would apparently be expected to stand by stoically waving bye-bye to the elect and maybe doing a little last-minute shopping for bon-voyage gifts."
Los Angeles County Public Social Services Department Director Eddy S. Tanaka told Supervisor Hahn simply that, "The voluntary relocation of the 7.3 million Los Angeles residents to host areas in the north and southeast could not be successfully accomplished." He suggested reviving a public shelter program instead.
In Gary, Ind., Lake County Civil Defense Director Bob Webb said he considered suggestions like Kingsbury's "distasteful," but said he felt that some evacuation planning was necessary in the face of Soviet efforts to arrange the orderly evacuation of their cities in times of international crisis.
In Memphis, local civil defense planning has suffered from the efforts of the U.S. Defense Civil Preparedness Agency to compile separate state evacuation plans.
Residents of suburbs south of Memphis "would probably head across the border into Mississippi instead of going north through Memphis to designated areas in Tennessee," Schilling said. "But I don't know what they'd do if they got to the Mississippi host areas and nobody wanted them."
Schilling said his deputy director, Jim Gurley, was on a talk show when a caller remarked on the Noah's Ark proposal in Los Angeles.
"If anybody tries to stop me from taking out my 80-year-old aunt in her wheelchair," the caller said, "I'll run over them."