An Involved Public is a Safer Public

With a budget of $47 billion to be spent on homeland security this year, I hope we will develop newer and better ways to prevent terrorism within our borders. Since 9/11, the ability of our communities to respond to an act of terrorism has been undergoing a needed tune-up. First responders and volunteers are undergoing training in techniques for limiting injuries from explosions and the release of toxic gas and biological agents; they are also being trained to handle radioactive materials in the aftermath of a dirty bomb detonation. We must continue to develop these and other skills for responding to both man-made calamities and natural disasters — terrorism is not the only source of injury that communities are called upon to respond to.

In all likelihood, we will be subjected to future acts of terrorism at home. Information technology has enabled misfits (ranging from organized terrorists to ordinary thugs) to:

  • develop inexpensive weapons of mass destruction (ammonium nitrate fertilizer bombs, for example)
  • locate and secure surplus military hardware
  • arm themselves with high-powered precision firearms
  • locate targets against which attacks can be launched with alarming precision

We are taunted with suggestions that so called “soft targets” such as schools, theatres, shopping malls, and restaurants, could be chosen by terrorists to send their next message about our vulnerability.

 

Because criminals have demonstrated in the past just how vulnerable these targets can be, many of these “soft targets” have been hardened, employing crime prevention techniques that range from the installation of sophisticated early-warning electronics to new architectural designs that make crimes more difficult. Because we take terrorism more seriously than we took our more traditional crime issues, we are better prepared than ever to keep both terrorists and more familiar criminals under control.

Hi-Tech Tools
The installation of outdoor closed-circuit television is being employed to assist in the enforcement of traffic violations as well as to keep an eye on street activity. As a result, law enforcement personnel have been able to expand their coverage without increasing numbers of personnel or increasing patrols. American families are installing home security systems which utilize cameras and alarms to protect people and property at a dramatic rate. Many of these systems both offer intrusion notification and interface with local law enforcement, thus serving as a deterrence to burglary and assisting with evidence for prosecuting criminals. Some homeowners have installed enunciator systems on the perimeter of their property, which alert them to the presence of anyone entering or leaving the premises. This serves as yet another deterrent to trespassers who might otherwise commit a larceny or abduct a child playing in a backyard.

Utilizing existing technologies, vulnerable areas associated with the risk of terrorism — such as airport perimeters, marine facilities, rail yards, and bus and train stations — can be reinforced. The utilization of crime prevention technology and techniques can help deter or prevent a terrorist attack, a criminal event, or even alert us to a natural calamity before too many lives and property are put at risk. With many of these hi-tech solutions already available for use or currently in use in potential terrorist targets, expanding their capabilities would serve to both lessen existing crime threats and enhance the nation’s ability to prevent (or limit the effectiveness of) terrorist acts by providing early detection and intervention.

Public Preparedness
A number of natural calamities, such as power outages, floods, earthquakes, and similar events, have caught U.S. communities unprepared to care for the needs of a public that finds itself stranded without the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. When disaster strikes, regardless of the cause, the ability to provide for the needs of stranded travelers, children at school, or workers in the workplace becomes an overriding priority usually left to the private sector to cope with.

In communities across America, neighborhood-watch groups volunteer their time to patrol communities to report on suspicious situations and to generally serve as the eyes and ears of the police. Some of these volunteers become deputized auxiliaries of law enforcement. Many others serve as firefighters, para-medics, or school aides. Expanding the training and responsibilities of such groups and individuals to provide security information and perform immediate response services in the event of threatened and actual emergencies can make a tremendously positive impact in their home communities. It is hoped that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making use of these resources in terrorism planning and budgeting.

America’s corporate infrastructure can serve the community in times of crises by providing basic shelter for stranded or injured people. Outfitted with auxiliary power systems, office buildings across the country can provide heat, light, lavatory facilities, food services, and assembly points for their workers and others who find themselves stranded and unable to return home during an emergency. By calling upon the training and skills of America’s civilian workforce to provided additional police, fire, and medical support, the impact of any mass tragedy can be dramatically lessened by a planned, organized response from a trained public.

Organization and Funding
To organize and activate a volunteer effort to keep America functioning in time of crisis takes planning and money. The Homeland Security budget is the subject of heated competition among worthy governmental jurisdictions, each seeking to expand its ability to deal with the threat of terrorism. While some of the dollars appropriated for the domestic war on terrorism will likely go for the purpose of purchasing new technologies, the amount set aside for crime prevention programs is worthy of a careful review. Given the public use to which private-sector crime prevention programs can serve in times of crisis, grants and special tax consideration might be offered to increase their use and to encourage the private sector to participate in public terrorism-defense programs.

The purchase of auxiliary power generators, cots and beds, blankets and pillows, and prepared food and water for on-site facilities serving stranded people could similarly be supported through tax abatement programs. Organizing, training, assigning, and outfitting skilled volunteer crisis workers in cities, suburbs, and rural communities is a formidable task, but utilizing existing charitable and volunteer organizations certainly makes it manageable. Calling upon America’s college and university students on campuses in every region of the country to offer their youthful enthusiasm, their limitless imagination, and their boundless energy to serve in time of crisis is still another resource that can help provide a safer nation. The dollars invested and saved in such programs can pay broad dividends in providing a much more security-aware citizenry better able to keep our communities safer, our institutions operating, and our commerce flowing. Security awareness is a key element in crime prevention

Conclusion
Today, Americans are expressing their concern over the ability of our nation to prevent acts of terrorism from spreading from battle zones abroad to our communities at home. Government has continued to debate the best way to deal with terrorism threats against our infrastructure, with the greatest emphasis on both our transportation systems and our response to an attack. We have placed little emphasis on the technologies already developed for crime prevention in use against terrorist threats. We have similarly neglected developing a greater role for the public to play in providing both an early warning of crime and terrorism threats, and in preventing and responding to actual disruptions to our daily routines.

In planning for our homeland security, it would be wise to invest in the development and organization of private-sector corporate and individual volunteers to utilize their skills and abilities in detecting threats, participating in the neutralization of those threats, and responding to the needs of the public in the event of a disaster. With tax and other incentives, we can expand our current capacities to deal with the threats against the homeland, whether from abroad or at home, and whether originating with foreign interests bent on terrorizing our citizens and disrupting our way of live, or from criminal elements who daily engage in warfare against law-abiding citizens.

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