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Terrorism Readiness

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New York Emergency Response an Invaluable Drill

August 20th 2007

World Citizens - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

New York recently went on high alert after an Internet prediction of an Islamic terror attack. Traffic was a mess. Trucks and vans were scrutinized. Bridges, tunnels and highways were moving along at a steady crawl. One of the most fast paced and vibrant cities in the whole wide world was forced to move slowly, deliberately and cautiously.

And then it was over.

And now we must ask – what was that all about? What really is the purpose of putting a city, a population, a nation on high alert? One would think that between the Office of Homeland Security, local police and law enforcement, informants and counter terrorism wonks, the “people in the know” would know how to tell which threats are real and credible and which are hype and improbable.

Well, they do know.

Counter terrorism is an art, it is also a science, and it is also a precise, exacting military-like series of maneuvers. And elevated alerts are an important tool in the arsenal of the counter terrorist. What happened in New York on that specific Saturday was an exercise well worth the time, effort, discipline and the discomfort of the citizens and visitors who happened to have been in town on that warm summer morning.

Elevated alerts are rushed into action following a credible threat emanating from credible Intel. The goal is to prevent a terrorist attack from happening.

A terror attack is like a jigsaw puzzle. It requires many pieces and all the pieces must interlock properly or it will not succeed. Take away one piece and an entire operation is either aborted – or doomed to fail.

With elevated alerts comes heightened security. And one of the best ways to achieve heightened security is through the use of roadblocks. Roadblocks are an attempt to prevent one or more pieces of the terrorist puzzle from coming into the arena. Roadblocks are used to force the planners to halt their operation.

Heightened or elevated alerts send out messages. The message to the public is that we are on top of things, we are not letting terrorist sneak in or slide by, we are maintaining a serious defense system. More important is the message that is sent out to terrorists. An alert says “we know something, we have information.” And then it is up to the terrorists to determine just what and how much really is known – about their plan, about their players, about their general operation. The message is used to instill the fear of failure, the fear of being caught, in the terrorist operatives.

An alert - like the one in New York - is better than an exercise. No drill can adequately reproduce the intensity or the urgency of the real thing, the real danger, the real and imminent threat. No drill will ever point out the weaknesses in the system, the gaps in the lines of defense, the flaws in the lines of communication that become evident in a real alert. A real elevated alert shows where the system needs to be bolstered and where it is strong and stable.

There is no shortage of terrorist threats. Most of them are not significant enough to bottle up the cultural and financial epicenter of the United States. And yet, it just happened. And yet, no terrorist plot was uncovered – or was it?

The source of the intel, a web site, was credible enough to warrant an elevated alert. In today’s online world the web is another essential tool in the counter terrorism arsenal. It provides much information, it also provides much dis-information. The problem with certain web sites is that they have no edit function – information comes in, is re-formatted and is sent right out. Finding the truth is left to the counter terrorism experts.

Cutting Edge contributor Micah Halpern is the author of THUGS (Thomas Nelson 2007) and editor of the Micah Report.com. He can be found at www.MicahHalpern.com


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