Individual Security Planning Under the Threat of Terrorism

The West in general and the United States in particular has received another audio tape from Osama bin Laden warning of a future attack by al Qaeda on American soil. The news was received with the usual flurry of excitement by the media; we have since heard many opinions from experts on the significance of yet another warning against America from our leading terrorist enemy. Some attribute little significance to yet another threat against us, feeling comfortable with the preparations we have made against such attacks and the fact that we have not felt another sting from al Qaeda at home since 9/11. President Bush on the other hand advises we take the warning seriously and has called for support of his program to continue monitoring telephone calls made abroad by Americans to suspected terrorist organizations and individuals as essential to our defense. We believe that all threats of terrorism against Americans at home or abroad must be taken seriously because deadly terrorist activity continues around the world often threatening the United States and our allies, and that the public has a role to play in our defense.

Americans cannot afford to observe civil defense from the sidelines.
For many Americans, speculating over the political ramifications of terrorism threats and how they relate to possible motives behind playing the “terrorism card” in supporting or opposing Administration policy is the extent of their personal involvement in terrorism planning which they consider an academic exercise. Some of us however have taken the plea to become more proactive about our security in the face of terrorism seriously and have undertaken concrete actions to better secure ourselves and our families. In some communities, families have begun developing plans for caring for one another in the face of an attack installing better communications systems and protocols, storing essential food stuffs, bottled water, first-aide supplies and the like. But too many Americans just continue to believe that this threat will pass into history as threats to our nation’s security have passed before. If we are attacked they think our government will be prepared to protect, care for and rehabilitate us restoring the peace, security and prosperity that too many consider a birth right. For the more cynical among us, they have convinced themselves there is little they can do to prevent or even survive terrorist violence but that the odds are it’s the next guy’s family that will be the victims.

We believe that the magnitude of the threat of terrorism against America and Americans is significant, and that we have a duty to prepare to survive it by not becoming passive victims. At the very least, we need to learn to lessen the impact of such an attack on ourselves, our loved ones and communities through preparedness and response training. The first obstacle to achieving this however seems to be overcoming a malaise that has set in which allows us to turn off our attention to threats of terrorism either out of despair over not knowing how to respond on an the individual level or because of a willingness to surrender to the a belief in the inevitability that when an attack comes fate alone will determine the outcome for each of us. At a law school lecture on aviation law I recently gave, the class was unanimous in their view that both future terrorist attacks against American commercial aviation would occur and that they had no fear of flying despite it. When asked why they were so fearless, their answers ranged from the law of averages being on their side to not worrying over the inevitable when there is no way to prevent it.

Terrorist violence continues unabated around the world.
For those who say the threat of terrorism is behind us because there have been no follow-ups in the U.S. since 9/11, we suggest that a brief scan of world news each day serves as a reminder that terrorist groups are very active around the world and that America remains their target of choice no matter where they are acting out their anger at the moment. U.S. State Department reports available to the public daily identify terrorist violence and it implications beyond the news from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the threat of nuclear violence from Iran and North Korea is real and a present danger.

Those who would play down the significance of violence abroad on unrest at home are being unrealistic. It is impossible to avoid the news of the civil unrest brought about by bombings in Pakistan, Northern India, and even Kathmandu and their reverberations in American communities in which their citizens reside. How do we discount the significance of the election of the violent terrorism prone Hamas organization that is pledged to the destruction of their neighbor Israel to the leadership of the new independent Palestinian state? Is it logical to assume that the emotions touched off by this sudden turn of events presents no foreseeable risks of violence on our shores? Even the most richly tinted rose colored glasses cannot disguise the fact that the level of the threat against America from terrorists at home and abroad continues to heighten and that we each day become more likely than not to be called upon to defend ourselves at home against another terrorist attack.

Politicizing anti-terrorism efforts at home does not serve our best interests.
It neither serves our best security interests to undermine the seriousness need to gain as much intelligence information as possible by limiting the Administration’s efforts to follow through on wiretapping where there is reasonable need to do so; nor does it aid those interests by unnecessarily provoking legal debate by the use of extraordinary presidential authority when the circumstances are not extraordinary. Prolonged political debates of this kind only serve to distract the public from the seriousness of the terrorist threats around us and our solemn duty to make headway in reinforcing our civil defense.

It is because of the constant political divisions that we have been unable to forge a competent national emergency relief program even though the survival of untold numbers of Americans will be left to such programs in then next man-made or natural disaster. It is because of endless debates over who gets how much in homeland security funding that vital communications equipment goes wanting in some communities while we air-condition garbage truck in others. It is because security issues are heard responded to more by politics than need that our airports still cannot competently screen passengers and workers or screen the cargo placed on-board commercial passenger flights. We continue to react to the foreseeable and even likely risks of terrorism as though they aren’t there.

Playing a role in the nation’s homeland security.
In the final analysis, those of us who survive acts of terrorism and acts of God will likely do so not because of statistics, luck or because government was there to protect and assist us. It will happen because we fulfilled our duty to our nation and ourselves by planning and action. In a free society, the people are the ultimate arbiter of the kind of government they are subjected to and whether that freedom will survive when it is attacked. If we continue to deceive ourselves into believing the threat to America has passed, that foreign conflicts have no direct impact on us at home or that civil defense is government’s job alone, we may be putting more at risk than we realize. In this new “flat world” in which we live, many of America’s basic services are often provided in the very places in the world where unrest is spreading and bombs are being heard. In a world where our airliner maintenance is outsourced to countries such as China where we cannot monitor the work nor check their workers backgrounds we have reason to feel uneasy. When so much of the clothes that we wear, the electronics that we use, the steel that we build with, the automobiles we rely on and even our tax returns are prepared by foreign labor in countries whose stability and reliability are always being challenged, can we afford not to be prepared at home? At a time when our borders are as porous to penetration as our seaports are to biological weapons and our airport perimeters are to missiles, can we afford not to take an active role in our own security? Of course the answer must be a unanimous “no.”

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