Preparing for Possible Terrorism
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MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines on how ordinary Americans should prepare for a possible terrorist strike with chemical, biological, or radiological weapons.
Among the preparations people should make: assemble a disaster supply kit, including first aid and personal items; obtain a battery-powered radio with extra batteries; designate a room in the home to take shelter; obtain duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal windows, doors, and vents; maintain a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water.
To discuss how cities and individuals should, and are, responding to the higher threat level issued late last week, we turn to two mayors — Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C., and Patrick McCrory of Charlotte, North Carolina, the president of the International Association of Firefighters, Harold Schaitberger; and Randall Larsen, director of the Institute for Homeland Security at the ANSER Corporation. We invited the Department of Homeland Security to send a representative, but none was available.
Welcome to you all. Randy Larsen, beginning with you. In general, how useful is guidance like the one… like the guidance issued yesterday for ordinary Americans?
RANDALL LARSEN: I think it’s very important. There are several places you can find this information. Frankly the one I like best is on the Red Cross Web site. Everyone can go see redcross.org. I like their priorities: create an emergency communications plan for your family. It’s so important.
If you think back to 9/11, trying to get in touch — remember, Condi Rice, the national security advisor, one of the first things she did was call her aunt and uncle to say she was okay. It’s so important. Establish a meeting place. Most important that kit you were talking about and other than the things that you mentioned, medicines — you know I’m a terrible one about getting down to the last two or three pills before I go to the pharmacy. You should keep a month’s supply of medicine, diapers, baby formula. Some of those things you need to have on hand — very important.
MARGARET WARNER: What’s the experience in terms of other disaster preparedness? Do guidelines like this make people feel more secure or does it frighten them?
RANDALL LARSEN: No. I think psychologically it’s very good to be better prepared. If you look at the Israeli model — and they have a lot of experience at this — their five step plan, psychological preparation of the public is very important. That’s what we’re doing right now.
MARGARET WARNER: Why is that?
RANDALL LARSEN: Do you remember how it was on the evening of 9/11, or the next morning when you woke up? I’m a combat veteran. I was in shock. I was not prepared for this now. I think we’re all going to be better prepared whether you’re a mayor, a fire chief or an average citizen, being prepared, thinking about this. I have an idea of what my children are going to do, what my wife is going to do if something happens. We have back up plans and communication plans. That will make it less stressful.
MARGARET WARNER: Mayor Williams, how did your city respond to the higher threat level when it was raised last Friday?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Well, one of the first things I think you do in your city is you check your… the fancy word you hear is connectivity. In other words, check all your communications — connections with all of your partners, whether they’re other states, Maryland and Virginia in my case, other counties, the private sector, the federal government — very importantly your own team. We had a drill on Sunday just a part of a series of drills that we’ve had just to see how we do in an emergency. Clearly we’ve learned a lot of lessons from Sept. 11. We’re a much better prepared city than we were before then.
MARGARET WARNER: When you say we had a drill, what do you mean?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: We had a drill. We had a no-notice drill around 11:00 simulating a disaster in the city. Everybody had to move to the Emergency Management Agency. If an agency head weren’t there, they heard from me.
MARGARET WARNER: Mayor McCrory, how did you, how did Charlotte respond?
PATRICK McCRORY: Well, we’re mainly responding in such a way where we’re contacting our partners who are the most potential targets, whether those financial institutions and we’re a major banking center, the power plants, we have two major nuclear facilities right next to Charlotte — our government buildings. So we have an immediate communication like Mayor Williams has to tie in and make sure we’re all together on the same line and we know exactly how to respond together in partnership, not only among our governmental agency but also with private sector security firms.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying though that security at those particular installations was stepped up?
PATRICK McCRORY: We did step up particular security at specific areas like our power plants and especially around our financial and government buildings. We did not actually go to the next level of threat. We’re kind of in an in-between stage based upon the information or discussions with our local FBI to target those facilities for additional protection which are most likely targets during this stepped-up phase.
MARGARET WARNER: Mayor Williams, in Washington was security actually stepped up?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Police departments certainly have stepped up security in certain installations, in certain venues. Clearly the tension in the homeland, in cities like Washington, New York and other cities is to maintain your presence in these select designated areas while at the same time keeping your coverage back in the neighborhoods.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Harold Schaitberger, if we think now about the connection between ordinary citizens and the city government, it is of course the first responders, firefighters like the ones you represent. How much better prepared are firefighters and other first responders than they were say pre-9/11 to deal with attacks of this kind?
HAROLD SCHAITBERGER: Well, although I admire the work that the leadership in our cities are doing and I acknowledge that the communications and much of the planning has improved, as I see it, the nation’s firefighters and the overwhelming majority of our communities have not been provided with any additional training. They don’t have the equipment that’s been promised. And in over two-thirds of our cities we are understaffed particularly and according to international standards.
The simple fact is for the last 16 months, we have been receiving notable praise, a lot of prayers, a lot of recognition, but the federal government has really failed to date to provide our cities and communities, the leadership that are responsible for that protection with the resources we need.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Just tell me briefly when you say equipment, for example, what kind of equipment.
HAROLD SCHAITBERGER: Most fire departments don’t have the chem suits that firefighters need. Most of the sophisticated equipment in most of our cities are with special operations units, with many of our military installations — but the firefighters who are going to be on the scene of an incident in those first four minutes do not have the Geiger counters, do not have the chem suits, do not the sophisticated equipment and more importantly the training to be able to be aware, to identify and to operationally know exactly how to handle these new threats that we’re faced with.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that true, Mayor Williams?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Well, in our city we’ve actually because of our relationship with the federal government had an infusion of funds for the kind of spending that we’re talking about here with firefighters. But across the country, even though the administration has put forward a proposal for appropriations for dollars to get out there to local areas, those dollars haven’t yet gone out. And areas need to see it as quickly as possible.
MARGARET WARNER: Mayor McCrory, is Mr. Schaitberger correct?
PATRICK McCRORY: Well, in Charlotte we are fortunate like Washington D.C. We actually accepted a federal grant over four years ago in preparation for terrorism. They had identified I think about 60 cities that would be a potential target. Even on 9/11 in 2001, we were going through a simulated attack at our basketball arena at 9:00 that morning so we have been having a joint period, a joint group working between our FBI our SBI, our fire and police and medic all working together, but we’re constantly retraining and, yes, we will need new equipment and more equipment in the future.
MARGARET WARNER: So he’s right about perhaps lacking at least the technical equipment you might need to detect, say… I mean World Trade Center was obvious. It was an explosion — obvious to television cameras and all of America. But if we’re talking about chemical, biological, radiological — those are all invisible. Are you saying you do or don’t have the equipment you need to be able to detect that?
PATRICK McCRORY: We have the basic equipment needed in our emergency response team to detect most of those. Our biggest issue right now and I think all of us is communications systems. And that’s something we’re working very closely with the new director of homeland security is making sure all of our communications equipment is tied in because usually if there’s something that goes wrong it’s not in the equipment or training, it’s in a breakdown in communication. I think they even learned that on 9/11. So I think that’s both the short-term and long-term goal that we all need to work in is tie in our communications lines so we’re all talking to each other in the same language.
MARGARET WARNER: Weigh in on this Randy Larsen.
RANDALL LARSEN: There’s good news and bad news out there Margaret. John Thompson, former coach at Georgetown Hoyas asked me 17 months ago today are we ready for homeland security? I said we don’t have a coach, we don’t have a game plan, we’re not practicing. Today 17 months later we have a coach his name is Sec. Ridge. We have a strategy.
The president released that on the 22 of July 2002 and we’re practicing, we’re doing a lot more of those exercises. We shouldn’t be exchanging business cards on the first day of a crisis. October 2001 and the anthrax incident we were. Law enforcement were not used to working with public health. We’re doing a better job but I agree with the chief. We’re operating on continuing resolutions now since Oct. 1. That’s a spending plan designed before 9/11. We need to get those appropriation bills passed so we can provide equipment to the front line soldiers in homeland security.
MARGARET WARNER: One of the….
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: I think it is important that as the dollars are going out there to local areas we understand that the response has got to be a network response. Whoever it is providing this funding has got to see to it that — presumably it’s going to be the states — see to it that state, county, local, government, private sector, federal government are all working and networking together and leveraging resources — so support the firefighters, absolutely. But don’t duplicate efforts at the same time.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get you all to end on this. I’ll start with you, Mr. Schaitberger. Underlying all these proposals from the Department of Homeland Security, all this guidance, have that battery- operated radio because then you’ll be able to sit at home or wherever you are and be told what to do. Do you think, Mr. Schaitberger, that local authorities yet have the ability to communicate that — to detect it and communicate it?
HAROLD SCHAITBERGER: Well, I think they have the ability to communicate it. I am not convinced, in fact I know from the thousands of locals that I represent and thousands of communities that they don’t have the ability to really detect, to be aware, and have the sophisticated training that you need to know when it’s biological, chemical or a radioactive event. That’s the difference.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mayor McCrory, how confident are you or how confident should people living in Charlotte, that if they were home with this battery-operated radio pretty quickly they would be told what had happened and what they should do?
PATRICK McCRORY: Well, there can’t be only one line of communication. In fact in the next several weeks we’re announcing a major citizens corps program that being integrated with our neighborhood watch programs. So we’re going to have to have set up communication lines between our existing neighborhood watch programs, having people get radios and also working for the faith institutions to make sure that there are many, many different communication lines open to get the accurate and good information out to the people during a time of not only a homeland security crisis but any type of emergency crisis. Communications is vital. You can’t depend upon only one type of system.
MARGARET WARNER: You raise this communications issue, Mayor. But what else would you add?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Communications is vitally important. We’re one of the first cities. We put out something called a family preparedness guide. Over a million copies have been produced to go out there and tell citizens what, you know, you’re expected to do — understanding that in a crisis often the first responders are going to be citizens. So everything that Mayor McCrory has talked about is absolutely important: This connection, this vigilance, this perseverance if need be is absolutely vital.
RANDALL LARSEN: I want to pick up on something that Mayor Williams said that’s so important. We don’t have enough money for every city to have every piece of equipment. It’s got to be a regional approach. This is not the Cold War where there’s going to be 10,000 nuclear weapons; it’ll be an attack on one city here and maybe on the other coast. So the surrounding communities have to know how to work together and communicate. That is going to be the key in the proper spending.
HAROLD SCHAITBERGER: But the equipment will only be of use if we have our first responders who will be there in those first four minutes that are properly trained and staffed.
MARGARET WARNER: If we have just a nanosecond left, Randy. Larsen, the one item in the list yesterday that I don’t think is in Red Cross guidelines has to do with the duct tape and the plastic sheeting.
RANDALL LARSEN: I don’t have it. My mother asked if she should get it. I said no. There’s too many other things that people have to do first. Do all of these other things first. Then if you have time, do that. There’s not enough guidelines out there about how to do the plastic tape and duct tape. So many things here citizens haven’t done, higher priority. Do this first.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all four very much.