After the nuclear attack on the United States by China, federal and state governments struggled with the scale of the disaster, both in terms of physical damage and the massive loss of life. Initial attempts to survey strike locations both failed to communicate the devastation and were too specific to be useful to recovery planners. It was recognized that another tool was needed.
On January 24, 2013, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Defense and the National Recovery Group, produced the first list of areas identified as Declared Destroyed Zones (DDZ). While most DDZs had been the target of the Chinese nuclear assault on the United States, later additions were added as a result of civil unrest, disease outbreak, and natural disaster. The primary requirements to be identified as a DDZ are:
An estimated 90% or greater mortality among all inhabitants of the area, or
Destruction of more than 90% of the habitations and structures of the area, or
Existence of a hazard that is lethal to human life (such as radioactive fallout) in more than 90% of the area.
The new DDZs were not identified by geographic description or previous place names (many of which no longer applied or were not recognizable) but by their previous zip codes as assigned by the US Post Office on August 10, 2012. As a result, the term “dead zip” entered the common post-nuclear vocabulary.
Most dead zips were identified by regional FEMA and DHS offices rather than the national entities (as they existed). Some dead zip notices were reprinted in the few remaining newspapers or flyers, but most were distributed by hand or read over shortwave radio broadcasts. For many survivors, this was their only notification and/or confirmation of the deaths of family and friends.