Communication, coordination, and complacency.
These three themes repeatedly surfaced in comments by morning panel members for The Press Club of Cleveland’s: Behind the Scenes of a Crisis, September 11 10 Years Later program. The September 7th program’s morning panel included representatives from the FBI, Red Cross, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Cleveland Police, Regional Transit Authority, and other regional leaders.
Common Themes: Communication, Coordination, and Complacency
The message from local public safety experts reinforced those we have heard nationally over the past decade:
- Communication – The importance of agencies communicating effectively and efficiently with one another to prevent and prepare for terrorism and other disasters, and the need to communicate in an honest, effective, and timely manner with the public;
- Coordination – Having layers of security and preparedness measures designed through the coordination and partnership of public safety agencies, their community partners, and the public; and
- Complacency – Concerns that with decreasing budgets and distance in time from 9/11, the general public and others are increasingly complacent about terrorist threats and homeland security issues compared to their levels of interest in the time following 9/11.
Another repeated theme: The shifting emphasis on domestic terrorist threats and radicalization of those from within our nation.
Schools, Terrorism, and Preparedness
Tom Kelley, director of the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security, shared that one thing that surprised him the most on 9/11 was parents rushing to take their children out of school.
Tom’s comments made me think: “How would most schools respond today?” While many schools are much better prepared today than they were a decade ago, I also know many schools are still marginally prepared, at best, to effectively manage such a situation.
Rick DeChant, a former TSA administrator at Cleveland Hopkins Airport whose background includes service with the U.S. Coast Guard and current head of a veteran’s program for Cuyahoga Community College, raised another important point:
There are a lot of detailed emergency plans, but are we doing enough of the drilling and exercising of these plans to make them meaningful?
Speaking from my school observations nationally, I can easily say the answer is, “No!,” and the urgency to do so has stalled in many school districts.
Shifting the Mission to Prevention While Protecting Individual Liberties
Stephen Anthony, Special Agent In-Charge of the Cleveland FBI Office, shared how the FBI was tasked to address terrorism post-9/11:
The FBI’s job is to not only investigate incidents and leads, but to prevent the next attack while also protecting the civil liberties of Americans.
School administrators face a similar challenge:
Not only investigate incidents but focus on preventing school shootings, violence, terrorist attacks, bullying, and other threats while at the same time creating a supportive and welcoming climate for students, staff, and other members of their school community.
These are easy things to demand, but very challenging to do.
The Next Decade
No one knows exactly how terrorist and other security threats will evolve over the next decade. In the months ahead, anticipate a ramped up focus on domestic terrorism, radicalization of individuals already within our country, and the “lone wolf” actor who perpetrates terrorist attacks.
As if this alone is not a challenge, our public safety, school, and other front-line guardians need to tackle these threats with rapidly decreasing budgetary resources and steadily increasing apathy.
One thing is clear: The first and best line of defense will be those on the front lines. Not just our front line first responders, but more so our students, teachers, and public in general.
What is your state of awareness and preparedness?
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