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From the Publisher's Desk...

IS DC BETTER PREPARED TO THWART TERRORISM THAN IT WAS THIS MONTH EIGHT YEARS AGO?

As we have previously commented, while city government can’t assume the role of the military or other branches of the federal government, it certainly can do a far better job in preparing citizens to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. The question eight years later is not only whether we are better prepared but are we also safer in terms of preventative efforts?

We are not especially confident about that.

What seems to us to be the strategy of the District’s emergency preparedness agency is to have mandated that any and all outgoing emails to citizens from government department and agency personnel bear the message at the bottom of the emails that reads as follows: “Preventing terrorism is everybody’s business. If you SEE something, SAY something. Call the Metropolitan Police Department at (202) 727-9099 or email at SAR@DC.GOV to report suspicious activity or behavior that has already occurred. Call 911 to report in-progress threats or emergencies.”

In our view, this does not convey much confidence that there are any real plans in place to root out danger before it becomes a reality; this bland message seems no more useful than the Metro’s random bag checks inside stations which won’t do anything to prevent a suicide bomber from activating a device in front of the bag checker and all the people filing by — although it might spare a moving train.

As for the emergency management agency’s alert messaging system that citizens can sign up for, what we have found over time is that it is constantly overused — often several times during the day — with unimportant messages, mostly traffic stuff as far as we can recall, that have nothing to do with true emergencies. This system should not be activated for anything except true emergencies that could endanger life and limb. As it is, these have become so all-pervasive that we and many others we know simply ignore the alerts.

But, as we have written in prior commentaries in this space, what is most worrisome is that the government has done almost nothing to develop a program to provide practical guidance and even training that would be available to individuals and neighborhood and block groups so that we citizens would actually be prepared to help ourselves and to know exactly what to do and what not to do.

As for escape routes, there appear to be but a half-dozen main avenues publicly identified — although with small signs that bear a bland message that suggests guidance for tourists rather than for escape; the reason for the non-scary wording was apparently to avoid upsetting residents! Worse still, is the absence of any guidance as to how to get to those routes from various neighborhoods not immediately abutting those roadways such as Dupont, Logan, Shaw, Adams Morgan — there are no designated emergency connector routs to the principal evacuation arteries.

Even more egregious, we have yet to learn of any logistical planning for evacuating the thousands of residents who don’t have access to private cars or for moving the infirm.

As for cars and other private vehicles, maybe it doesn’t really matter that there is no useful guidance about what routes to use to get to the main evacuation arteries; the reality is that if everyone who has a private vehicle — even if they carry more than themselves — tries to drive to safety they will all be dead in their tracks. There is no way that a successful evacuation could be undertaken if people are in their own vehicles. So, what has the emergency management agency come up with to handle that reality? We do not know and if there is a plan, why hasn’t it been made widely known by means of direct contact to each and every household and apartment building?

Our guess is that there really is no plan, unless it is for staying put at home; many experts consider this to be a safer option under most circumstances. But if we are to be prepared to hunker down at home we need to have the proper supplies and tools on hand; government can do much to help us prepare by informing us of the basics that we would need. Unfortunately, we have seen nothing of that sort of DC.

Again, as we wrote in the past, what would be most useful would be for the emergency management agency to implement suggestions for direct, hands-on coordination, which years ago had been offered at some public meetings, to assist the ANCs throughout the city serve as key neighborhood coordinating entities that would be able to effectively manage block captain efforts by which all residents might coalesce into teams to aid each other in case of emergency. At the time, Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Bob Meehan had pointed out that just knowing which immediate neighbors have ladders and shovels and first aid kits and cell phones, who is home in the daytime, who has what kind of vehicle at the ready, who might be identified to assist neighbors who are infirm or bedridden — all those small details could make the difference between life and death.

As we have asked previously and again ask, why are we not preparing as was done so effectively in this very city during World War II?