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For most of us who call the nation’s capital our home, it’s easier to joke about the end of the world than to actually contemplate it, especially in dark times like the present (first the end of daylight saving; now…um…Iran). But professional disaster planners say a meltdown of one form or another is coming eventually. What’s ahead for us? Who’s prepping? A guide for Washingtonians who fall somewhere between peripherally paranoid and doomsday-curious.
How Will Things End?
A best-guess continuum of the threats that keep our disaster-preparedness planners in business, from most likely to least likely.
A slow-moving Category 3 hurricane from the Southeast.
Closest call: 1954’s Hurricane Hazel hit us with 98-mph wind gusts, while 1972’s Agnes dumped 13-plus inches of rain.
The damage: 100-mph-plus winds would down power lines for a week or more and cause tidal surge along the Potomac and the Anacostia. Flooding and rapids would blanket some areas, especially Rock Creek Park, Sligo Creek Park, and low-lying areas, says Chris Strong, an NWS warning-coordination meteorologist for the area.
Likelihood: Tick tock, tick tock.
The threat: An airborne influenza pandemic.
Closest call: The 1918 pandemic flu. In DC, 33,000 of roughly 418,000 total residents were infected, and 2,800 of them died.
The damage: Temporary economic crisis and strain on the public-health system. (UMD predicts a hospital-bed shortage, e.g.) Day-to-day functions would stall as workers fought illness, and government officials would try to reduce contagion by cur-tailing public gatherings (school closures, possible Metro dysfunction).
Likelihood: Probably gonna happen in your lifetime, sorry.
The threat: A “dirty bomb” or chemical weapon in a public place.
Closest call: None locally, but on Tokyo’s subway in 1995, Aum Shinrikyo cult members released a nerve agent, killing 13 and sickening 6,000.
The damage: A slow burn, figuratively speaking. DHS says the number of people with acute radiation syndrome would be slim, but victims would be more likely to get cancer later in life. Profound immediate psychological and economic impacts, such as decreased transit use (if it happened on Metro) and closed businesses due to cleanup.
Likelihood: Don’t ditch your SmarTrip card just yet.
The threat: A cyberattack launched by a political enemy.
Closest call: US firms, many with government contracts, suffered nine-figure losses when, in 2017, Russian hackers targeted Ukraine with the “NotPetya” virus and ripple effects landed here. Servers and computers were wiped, hospitals lost access to electronic records.
The damage: Exponentially worse than NotPetya, which was the most destructive cyberattack in history.
Likelihood: Fortunately or unfortunately, capable countries are more interested in thwarting our elections than in devastating the world economy.
The threat: We get nuked.
Closest call: The Cold War.
The damage: If China, Russia, or maybe North Korea were the bad guy…dasvidaniya, DC. China’s inter-continental ballistic missile has 250 times the power of the biggest nuke we used on Nagasaki. In other words, no one from Reston to Bowie would go unscathed. According to the “Nukemap” kept by historian Alex Wellerstein, that’s over a million dead and 1.4 million injured. Iran, experts tell us, doesn’t have that firepower…yet…
Likelihood: Metro will end single-tracking before this ever happens. (Hopefully?)
The threat: Financial collapse.
Closest call: You probably remember something called the 2008 recession.
The damage: Catastrophic. Jobs lost, savings and investments wiped out, the works. In the worst possible scenario, food, electricity, and water would become scarce and civil unrest would erupt.
Likelihood: Do you really even want to imagine this?
The threat: Zombies!
Closest call: Well, there was that one time in “Call of Duty” when JFK and Nixon teamed up to fight brain-feasting Nazi fiends when they attacked the Pentagon.
The damage: Brains, blood, and guts everywhere.
Likelihood: The first day of never. 😂
Where Would You Go?
One bloc of local preppers bet strength in numbers will be key. So they’ve reserved doomsday bunkers at a “survival camp” called Fortitude Ranch.
The ten-by-ten-foot doomsday bunkers are built to withstand marauders…or worse.
Watchtowers dot the compound, near Lost River, West Virginia.
There’s an outdoor stove and a smoker for cooking up the livestock that roam the grounds.
The camp has backup power and a burn pit, in case of poisoning during a pandemic.
Also: a shooting range for target practice.
Members, half of whom are from the Washington area, furnish their own (bare-bones) bunkers.
Shelf-stable food (potato flakes, pinto beans, hard red wheat) is designed to last four months.
Members pay $1,000 per person per year to belong. Founder Drew Miller, a retired Air Force officer, says 100 people have joined.
Jorge, a member who works for a national-security agency and lives in Fairfax County, says without the ranch’s institutional knowledge, “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”