Resources: Why Emergency Managers need to answer the call to be Terror Ready

The Christmas Day, 2009 terrorist attempt to bring down another airliner refreshes our collective recognition that terrorist organizations are still at war with the United States and still devoted to killing innocent citizens.  Once again, we see how difficult it is to identify a person as a threat before an event, even though we have had years to refine watch lists and no-fly lists. Below is a discussion of some of the forces at work that prevent us from developing a true Readiness culture.

Refusal to accept reality. Even after the horror of September 11th 2001, we are determined to refuse the reality that we are at war with Islamic extremists groups.  Many in positions of leadership hold on to the belief that this terrorism phenomenon is limited in both size and scope. The 9-11 Commission found that the terrorists were at war and America was not. We have once again returned to a “law enforcement model” of how we will proceed against terrorism. There seems to be a general refusal to accept the possibility that catastrophic events may be successfully carried out again.  Catastrophic events are listed in the Federal Planning Scenarios for planning activities at the state, local and federal levels, but there is little evidence that there could be an effective response and recovery for any catastrophic event.  There seems to be good progress in the prevention of large scale disasters, but almost no capabilities for “consequence management.”  A National Healthcare Capabilities Plan to manage hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of affected human beings has yet to be developed. Our eggs are all in the Law Enforcement and Prevention basket.

Prejudice.  As a people, we have made a prejudgment that the people engaged in terrorism are thugs, bad actors, mainly poor and exist in a small criminal subset of any population.  As such, America has once again treated terrorism as a criminal enterprise. As such, we have reverted to the pre 9-11 mentality; the very mentality that resulted in the loss of nearly 3,000 innocent lives on September 11th, 2001.   The fact that a highly trained Army Psychiatrist killed 13 innocent people and ruined the lives of their families, along with  scores of wounded people and their families was simply inconceivable prior to recent events at Fort Hood. The only real reason for something so horrible must be a mental defect and not a sane and well thought through attack on folks who represent a bad society.  The Christmas attack on a plane to Detroit by a man from a wealthy family was again, an anomaly created when an otherwise decent person was radicalized and indoctrinated by thugs. Many believe there is no possibility that Universities around the world have faculty who are current day drill sergeants turning out thoroughly trained and prepared officers and soldiers.

I lump the overused term Political Correctness in the category of prejudice. We have pre-judged that terrorists are criminals and not soldiers in a war against us. Just like any prejudice, it doesn’t make sense in the “real world,” but we cling to the prejudice just the same. That’s why we frisk little old ladies and gentlemen at airports and train stations. This is why real security professionals laugh at the practice. They know it’s wrong, it’s stupid, but it does allow DHS to show it’s doing something to protect us. We are also taking precautions based on what has happened in the last terrorist act as opposed to taking steps which will thwart the next attempt to attack the United States.  We are doing little more than closing the door after the horse has left the barn and the bad guys know this and must be amused at what they can make those in free societies do.

Need for normalcy.  A while back, I wrote an article for Big Medicine called “From Hysteria to Complacency” where I discussed how society shifts from a very high level of anxiety about security and wellbeing, and before long, shifts right back to complacency.  It’s not that we are stupid people, we just really crave normalcy, where things work the way they are supposed to work and people behave the way they should behave. I have been advocating we adopt a calm but determined Readiness mentality.  In order for this to occur, federal and state agencies need to use “Risk Communicators” by way of public service advertisements (PSA) who discuss terrorism in an open and honest manner.

I have always admired how the Israeli People go about their daily lives in a normal manner, yet remaining vigilant to events which seem suspicious or things that appear out of place.  They have found a way to live with danger in a very dignified manner.  Their transportation infrastructure is both robust and accessible.  Other free societies will need to adopt that national paradigm if they are to survive in the future.

Optimistic Bias.  Citizens should be free to go about the business of living their everyday lives with freedom of movement with only reasonable caution and vigilance.  Planners and Readiness professionals are not afforded that luxury. Firefighters enter burning buildings to save lives. Policemen and women put their lives in danger to protect those they are sworn to protect. EMS professionals go places and do things that no ordinary person is expected to go or do.  Is it sometimes horrific?  Yes it is.  All the emergency jobs mentioned above have very hard, very unpleasant and often deadly aspects of their jobs. These are not professions for the faint of heart. These people are wonderful examples of mankind and they take on risks that are above and beyond the normal responsibilities of the citizen.  This is also true for elected officials, emergency managers and disaster responders.

Sadly, too many of the aforementioned professionals who have sworn to make their communities ready, choose to live with a lack of vigilance.  They believe deep somewhere in their psyche that if the Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) depicts catastrophic events, the planning for those events is optional.  If the health and medical consequences of a certain planning scenario are too sad to think about, they focus on less daunting scenarios for drills and exercises. Imagine a police officer or firefighter saying, “I’m not going in there …it’s just too dangerous.” Would they be guilty of dereliction of duty?

Imagine an EMS person saying “That person is dying and I can’t handle that.”  Would that EMS person be guilty of dereliction of duty?

Then imagine a Federal disaster planner or emergency manager saying, “This HVA planning scenario is so horrific I’m going to just ignore it.”  Would this planner or emergency manager be guilty of dereliction of duty?  Do we have to wait for a catastrophe to occur before we define dereliction of duty?

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