Disaster Dozen: 12 Myths of Disaster Preparedness


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(Reprinted with Permission)

Hurricane Katrina and other disasters have given us a series of emergency preparedness wake-up calls. Do we pay attention now or continue to hit the snooze button?

Let’s look at the most important part of a comprehensive emergency readiness plan: the preparedness levels of individuals and families.

The biggest obstacles to comprehensive family emergency readiness education are the misconceptions surrounding the true nature of preparedness. So to set the stage for better education, and ultimately better public safety, let’s take a look at some of these myths.


1. If something happens all I have to do is call 911.
Help can only go so far or be there so quickly. Security, like charity, begins at home and the responsibility for your family’s safety rests on your shoulders. This isn’t to say that families shouldn’t call for help when it’s truly needed, it’s to remind them that they may be on their own for a while, especially if the situation is expansive or severe.

2. All I need is a 72-hour kit with a flashlight, first aid kit, some food and water, and a radio.

We’re not sure where the 72-hour figure came from but it’s an extremely minimal amount of time and not very realistic. A more practical goal is to be self-sufficient for a minimum of two weeks (preferably four weeks). Why two weeks? As bad as Katrina was there are numerous disaster and terrorism scenarios that could yield substantially more damage and a disruption of local services for three weeks or more. Also many biological scenarios may cause a two-week quarantine. Avoid the one-size-fits-all simpleton lists and customize yours to your family’s unique threats, needs and assets.

3. My insurance policy will take care of everything.
SWAT teams of insurance agents aren’t going to instantly rebuild your life like on TV. Insurance companies will be far more concerned about their own bottom line than yours. In fact, many insurance companies are rewriting policies to redefine some rather common terrorism or disaster-related incidents as being excluded and not coverable. Check your policies closely.

4. Good preparedness is too expensive and complicated.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem is we haven’t made preparedness part of our overall education. We get more preparedness information on an airline flight than we get as citizens. Most citizens aren’t taught that there are literally thousands of subtle, simple and economical things we can do to drastically improve our emergency readiness. The notion that it might be expensive or complicated has come from companies that aggressively market high-priced unnecessary gear.

5. We can only form a neighborhood group through FEMA, the Red Cross or local law enforcement.
Neighbor helping neighbor is one of our highest civic duties. No one regulates this, and you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to coordinate your safety with others. Working with these groups is rather advantageous but not required.

6. In a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorist attack, we’re all dead anyway.
WMDs might kill larger numbers of people, but that doesn’t mean widespread destruction is guaranteed. In fact, for widespread destruction a top-grade WMD must be expertly and precisely applied under ideal conditions. This does not mean that WMDs are to be ignored or that they’re nothing to fear, it’s just that mass destruction does not mean total destruction.

7. Nothing like that could ever happen here.
Though some areas are more prone to certain types of disasters, say earthquakes in California or terror attacks in New York, no area is completely immune. Travelers might travel somewhere and wind up in a disaster they never thought about.

8. All I have to worry about is my own family.
Technically yes but the more you’re able to care for your own family, the more you can and should help others.

9. If preparedness were really important it would be taught in school.

Preparedness really is that important but schools only have so much time and budget to teach the topics they already do. This is one of the many things we’re trying to change.

10. I can get free preparedness information on the Internet.
Many free sources contain really good information. However, many of them are nothing more than a rehash of 72-hour kit ideas and contain nothing new or comprehensive. Also it takes time and experience to filter the trash from the treasure. And some of these free sites have information that could actually cause more problems than they solve. Start with www.ready.gov, but don’t stop there, continue your education as best you can.

11. Full preparedness means I have to get a lot of guns and be a survivalist.
While personal security and family safety are valid concerns, the vast majority of people around you will not be a threat. In fact, though looters gained a lot of media attention after Hurricane Katrina, there were far more stories of heroism and of people making new friends through shared adversity. We suggest a balance between personal security needs with the desire to help others.

12. If something really bad happens, no one will help.
There’s no such thing as “no one helping.” However, the best thing people can do to is to prepare their families so they need as little outside help as possible. There’s always someone needier than you and the more prepared you are, the more you free up assistance resources so they can help those less fortunate.

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September 27, 2012   No Comments

The Persistent Threat to Soft Targets


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(Reprinted with Permission – STRATFOR)

In the early hours of July 20, a gunman entered a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire on the audience that had gathered to watch the premiere of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. The gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 others. Though police are looking for potential accomplices, the attack appears to have been conducted by James Holmes, a lone gunman who, according to some police reports, may have had a delusional fixation on the Joker, a violent villain from an earlier Batman movie.

On July 18, just two days before the Colorado attack, a man reportedly disguised in a wig and posing as an American tourist in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, Bulgaria, detonated an improvised explosive device hidden in his backpack as a group of Israeli tourists boarded a bus bound for their hotel. The blast killed five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounded dozens more. It is unclear if the incident was an intentional suicide attack; the device could have detonated prematurely as the man placed it on the bus. In any case, the tourists clearly were the intended targets.

The Burgas attacker has not yet been identified. Based on his profile, there is some speculation that he could have been a grassroots jihadist. However, it is also possible that he was acting on behalf of Iran and that this attack was merely the latest installment in the ongoing covert war between Iran and Israel.

While these two attacks occurred on different continents and were committed by people with different motivations and objectives, they nonetheless have one thing in common: They were directed against what are referred to in security parlance as “soft” targets, or targets that do not have much security. Soft targets are much easier to attack than hard targets, which deter attacks by maintaining a comparatively strong security presence.

Evolution of Targets and Tactics

In the 1960s, the beginning of the modern terrorism era, there were few hard targets. In the 1970s, the American radical leftist Weather Underground Organization was able to conduct successful bombing attacks against the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the State Department buildings — the very heart of the U.S. government. At the same time commercial airliners were easy targets for political dissidents, terrorists and criminal hijackers.

Nongovernmental organizations were also seen as soft targets. The Black September Organization conducted an operation targeting Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games, and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, and his compatriots seized the OPEC headquarters in Vienna in December 1975.

Embassies did not fare much better. During the 1970s, militant groups seized control of embassies in several cities, including Stockholm, The Hague, Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur. The 1970s concluded with the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the storming and destruction of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. The 1980s saw major attacks against U.S. diplomatic posts in Beirut (twice) and Kuwait.

Just as the Weather Underground Organization attacks prompted security improvements at the U.S. government buildings they had targeted, the attacks against U.S. and other embassies prompted increased security at their diplomatic missions. However, this turned into a long process. The cost of providing security for diplomatic posts strained already meager foreign affairs budgets. For most countries, including the United States, security was not increased at all diplomatic missions. Rather, security was improved in accordance with a threat matrix that assessed the risk levels at various missions. Those deemed more at risk received funding before those deemed less at risk.

In some cases, this approach has worked well for the United States. For example, despite the persistent jihadist threat in Yemen, the new embassy compound in Sanaa, which was completed in the early 1990s and constructed to the strict security specifications laid out by the Inman Commission in 1985, has proved to be a very difficult target to attack. However, as embassies became more difficult to attack, militants turned to easier targets. Often this has involved targeting diplomats outside the secure embassy compound, as was the case in the 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan, and the April 2010 failed suicide bombing attack against the motorcade carrying the British ambassador to Yemen.

Transnational groups also changed regions to find softer embassy targets. This shift was evident in August 1998, when al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Similarly, during the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi agents attempted to conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities in Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Beijing — far from the Middle East. The February 2012 attack against an Israeli Embassy employee in New Delhi is an example of both changing the region and targeting an employee away from the security of the embassy.

There was a similar trend with airliners, which initially were very vulnerable to attack. After many high-profile hijackings, such as that of TWA Flight 847, airliner security, particularly in the West, was increased. But as security was increased in one place, hijackers began to shift operations to places where security was less robust, such as Bangkok or Karachi. And as security was improved globally and hijackings became more difficult in the 1980s, attackers shifted their tactics and began using improvised explosive devices against airliners.

In response to security measures implemented after bombing attacks in the 1980s, attackers underwent yet another paradigm shift. In December 1994, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 was attacked with an improvised explosive device that had been carried onto the aircraft in separate components, assembled in the plane’s restroom and left on board when the attacker left at an intermediate stop on a multiple city flight. This attack was a dry run for a plan against multiple airlines called Operation Bojinka. The operational mastermind of Bojinka, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would later plan the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

When security measures were put in place to protect against Bojinka-style attacks in the 1990s, jihadists adapted again and conducted the 9/11 attacks using a different method of attack. When security measures were put in place to counter 9/11-style attacks, jihadists quickly responded by shifting to onboard suicide attacks with concealed improvised explosive devices inside shoes. When that tactic was discovered and shoes began to be screened, jihadists changed to camouflaged containers filled with liquid explosives. Security measures were adjusted to restrict the quantity of liquids that people could take aboard aircraft, and jihadists altered the paradigm once more and attempted underwear bombing using a device with no metal components. When security measures were taken to increase passenger screening in response to the underwear bombing, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula decided to attack cargo aircraft with improvised explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges. Currently, there is a concern that the next evolutionary step will be to hide non-metallic improvised explosive devices in body cavities or to surgically implant them in suicide bombers.

While some jihadists have remained fixated on hardened airline targets, other attackers — especially grassroot and lone wolf attackers who do not possess the ability to attack hardened targets — have sought other, softer airline targets to attack. After Israeli airline El Al beefed up security on its airliners in the 1980s, the Abu Nidal Organization compensated by attacking crowds of El Al customers at ticket counters outside of airport security in Rome and Vienna in 1985. Then in November 2002, jihadists attempted to attack an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, Kenya, with SA-7 surface-to-air missiles. More recently, a dual suicide bombing in the arrival lounge of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in January 2011 killed 35 and injured more than 160, proving that areas outside an airport’s security measures are vulnerable to attack. Further illustrating this vulnerability was an attack at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, in March 2011. In that attack, a jihadist killed two U.S. airmen and wounded two others at the airport’s bus departure area.

Other Targets

As embassies and other government installations have become more difficult to attack, we have noted a discernable trend toward the targeting of hotels, which are similarly symbolic of Western influence and are often described in jihadist literature as spy dens and brothels. In many cities of the developing world, major hotels are frequented by foreign tourists, journalists, visiting officials and military officers, and local government and business leaders. In addition, high-profile restaurants have been attacked in places such as Bali, IndonesiaMumbai, India, and Marrakech, Morocco. There have also been attacks on theaters in Moscow and Mogadishu, on schools in Beslan, Russia, and Toulouse, France, and on marketplaces all over the world.

As long as there are groups or individuals bent on conducting attacks — whatever their motivation — they will be able to find vulnerable soft targets to attack. It is impossible to protect every potential target. In fact, it is often said that when you try to protect everything, you end up protecting nothing. Not even the vast manpower of the Chinese government or the advanced security technology employed by the U.S. government can cover every potential target.

While attacks against soft targets are an unfortunate prospect in the contemporary world — if not throughout all human history — people are not helpless in defending against them. Terrorism is a continuing concern, but it is one that can be understood. Once understood, measures can be taken to thwart terrorist plots and mitigate the effects of attacks.

Perhaps the most important and fundamental point to understand about terrorism is that attacks do not appear out of nowhere. Individuals planning a terrorist attack follow a discernible cycle, and that cycle and the behaviors associated with it can be detected. The places where terrorism-related behavior can be most readily observed are referred to as vulnerabilities in the terrorist attack cycle.

As the attacks in Aurora and Burgas are investigated, authorities very likely will uncover behaviors in the perpetrators that could have prevented the attacks if they were properly investigated. Every attacker — even a lone wolf assailant — leaves evidence of a pending attack. This fact was brought up by the recent release of a report by the William H. Webster Commission into the investigation of 2009 Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. The report highlighted the mistakes made in the investigation of Hasan, who was brought to the FBI’s attention prior to the attack.

But since it is impossible for any government to prevent all attacks, people have to assume responsibility for their own security. This means citizens need to report possible planning activity when it is spotted. Such reporting helped avert an attack in July 2011 against a restaurant outside of Ft. Hood, Texas.

The threat against soft targets necessitates practicing common sense security measures. It also involves practicing an appropriate degree of situational awareness of the environment a person is in, as well as establishing appropriate contingency plans for families and businesses.

 

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July 31, 2012   No Comments

A President’s Inspiring Words Commemorate the 4th of July


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Editor’s note: President Ronald Reagan wrote the following address for July 4th, 1981. His then aide Michael Deaver later wrote: “This 4th of July message is the President’s own words and written initially in his own hand.”  It says it all far better than we ever could.  From the staff here at ICE PACK Emergency Preparedness Systems – Have a Safe & Enjoyable 4th of July Holiday!

For one who was born and grew up in the small towns of the Midwest, there is a special kind of nostalgia about the Fourth of July.

I remember it as a day almost as long-anticipated as Christmas. This was helped along by the appearance in store windows of all kinds of fireworks and colorful posters advertising them with vivid pictures.

No later than the third of July – sometimes earlier – Dad would bring home what he felt he could afford to see go up in smoke and flame. We’d count and recount the number of firecrackers, display pieces and other things and go to bed determined to be up with the sun so as to offer the first, thunderous notice of the Fourth of July.

I’m afraid we didn’t give too much thought to the meaning of the day. And, yes, there were tragic accidents to mar it, resulting from careless handling of the fireworks. I’m sure we’re better off today with fireworks largely handled by professionals. Yet there was a thrill never to be forgotten in seeing a tin can blown 30 feet in the air by a giant “cracker” – giant meaning it was about 4 inches long. But enough of nostalgia.

Somewhere in our growing up we began to be aware of the meaning of days and with that awareness came the birth of patriotism. July Fourth is the birthday of our nation. I believed as a boy, and believe even more today, that it is the birthday of the greatest nation on earth.

There is a legend about the day of our nation’s birth in the little hall in Philadelphia, a day on which debate had raged for hours. The men gathered there were honorable men hard-pressed by a king who had flouted the very laws they were willing to obey. Even so, to sign the Declaration of Independence was such an irretrievable act that the walls resounded with the words “treason, the gallows, the headsman’s axe,” and the issue remained in doubt.

The legend says that at that point a man rose and spoke. He is described as not a young man, but one who had to summon all his energy for an impassioned plea. He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment and finally, his voice falling, he said, “They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the Bible of the rights of man forever.”

He fell back exhausted. The 56 delegates, swept up by his eloquence, rushed forward and signed that document destined to be as immortal as a work of man can be. When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.

Well, that is the legend. But we do know for certain that 56 men, a little band so unique we have never seen their like since, had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Some gave their lives in the war that followed, most gave their fortunes, and all preserved their sacred honor.

What manner of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants and tradesmen, and nine were farmers. They were soft-spoken men of means and education; they were not an unwashed rabble. They had achieved security but valued freedom more. Their stories have not been told nearly enough.

John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. For more than a year he lived in the forest and in caves before he returned to find his wife dead, his children vanished, his property destroyed. He died of exhaustion and a broken heart.

Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships, sold his home to pay his debts, and died in rags. And so it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston and Middleton. Nelson personally urged Washington to fire on his home and destroy it when it became the headquarters for General Cornwallis. Nelson died bankrupt.

But they sired a nation that grew from sea to shining sea. Five million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep, 3 million square miles of forest, field, mountain and desert, 227 million people with a pedigree that includes the bloodlines of all the world. In recent years, however, I’ve come to think of that day as more than just the birthday of a nation.

It also commemorates the only true philosophical revolution in all history.

Oh, there have been revolutions before and since ours. But those revolutions simply exchanged one set of rules for another. Ours was a revolution that changed the very concept of government.

Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people.

We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.

Happy Fourth of July.

Ronald Reagan President of the United States

(Reprinted with permission)

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July 3, 2012   No Comments