Download the full issue.The overarching theme of this issue of Homeland Security Affairs is response – to public health emergencies, natural and man-made disasters, threats of nuclear attack, and the messages of terrorists.
One essay and one short-form article offer suggestions for improving response to public health emergencies. Christine Bradshaw and Thomas Bartenfeld contend that the ultimate test of our proficiency in responding to disasters is how responders and systems operate in actual disasters, which (fortunately) happen rarely. In lieu of the real thing, emergency responders must rely on exercises to perfect response skills. However, few standardized instruments exist to guide the process of exercise evaluation. To address this shortage, Bradshaw and Bartenfeld have developed “Exercise Evaluation Guides for Public Health Emergency Preparedness” in the areas of epidemiologic surveillance and investigation and isolation and quarantine.
Also addressing the issue of public health response is Valerie Yeager’s “Emergency Response, Public Health, and Poison Control: Logical Linkages for Successful Risk Communication and Improved Disaster and Mass Incident Response,” the winning entry of the 2009 CHDS Essay Contest. All-hazards response planning is, Ms. Yeager argues, too often conducted in the silos of individual agencies and organizations. She suggests bridging these silos through collaboration between public health and poison control, utilizing the existing poison control network as an efficient means of providing public health information to the public during emergencies. This would have multiple benefits: mitigating public anxiety, preventing avoidable surges in demand for medical services, ensuring greater consistency and continuity in response operations, and providing much-needed financial stability to the poison control system.
The three research articles published in this issue also look at response – to disasters, the threat of nuclear attack, and the messages of terrorists. Disaster relief often rests on the assumption that first responders will report for assignment. Research has found family preparedness and safety are determinants in the decision of responders to report. “Beyond the Plan: Individual Responder and Family Preparedness in the Resilient Organization,” by Mark Landahl and Cynthia Cox, presents the results of a survey of homeland security professionals and analyzes gaps in national preparedness guidance and individual agency planning and training for responder family preparedness. The authors explore possible solutions at three levels of organizational responsibility for responder and family preparedness and suggest directions for future research that will assist in developing best practices to improve responder ability and willingness to report for assignment, an essential element in developing realistic response plans.
Legislation and response plans are often based on predictions of nuclear weapons effects, many of which appear to derive from “Cold War” military effects analyses. In “Inaccurate Predictions of Nuclear Weapons Effects and Possible Adverse Influences on Nuclear Terrorism Preparedness” Robert Harney argues that these analyses dramatically overestimate the damage a terrorist nuclear weapon is likely to produce in a metropolitan area. The models presented in this article suggest that planning for terrorist attacks and other government actions may be based on seriously erroneous assumptions and should be revisited. Given Harney’s scenarios, consequence management in the event of nuclear attack is not only essential but practicably achievable.
Like nuclear weapons effects, the effect of terrorist messages may also be overestimated. John Tures poses the question, “Do Terrorists Win Elections?” This myth, he argues, is largely based on results at the ballot box in Spain and America in 2004. Most Spanish voters had made up their minds long before the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004. For those undecided prior to Election Day the government’s decision to blame the wrong group may have affected their votes more than the terrorist attack itself. In the case of the 2004 U.S. presidential race, many in the media attributed the reelection of George W. Bush to the bin Laden videotape released in October of that year. Yet multiple polls showed John Kerry narrowing the gap in the final days before the election. Through detailed analysis of poll results, this article reveals problems with the argument that democracies and election outcomes can be manipulated by terrorists.
We hope you find this issue of Homeland Security Affairs informative and thought-provoking. As always, we welcome your contribution to the ongoing debate at www.hsaj.org.