Emergency Response: Learning from the Mistakes of Others

By | January 20, 2014

Winning Plays…

As I read through the article “Winning Plays: Essential Guidance from the Terrorism Line of Scimmage” (Beering, Maniscalco, Christen, Storment and Vickery, 2002) it was clear to me that there are two major flaws in our current terrorism response strategy. First of all we are ill prepared to handle known threats, and secondly we are not taking steps to identify and deal with new threats.

The first problem, we are ill prepared to handle known threats, can clearly be illustrated by our under-funded local health departments, by our failure to implement modern protective devices around sensitive facilities like nuclear power plants, water supplies and waste treatment plants, and by our failure to communicate effectively between local, state and federal government agencies. (Beering, Maniscalco, Storment and Vickery, 2002). The last failure is a real concern, especially when dealing with intelligence. The FBI (Beering, Maniscalco, Storment and Vickery, 2002, pg. 7) has the capability to gather and analyze intelligence on possible terror attacks, yet their reluctance to share this information with local police forces, who are responsible for dealing with local attacks, is hindering their ability to do their jobs. In order to overcome this communication problem the local police force and the local media need to be trained on how to properly handle sensitive information relating to terrorism plots, and the FBI needs to create working relationships with local police forces to allow for a smoother more liberal flow of information between these agencies.

The second problem, we are not taking steps to identify and deal with new threats, can clearly be illustrated by the recent outbreaks of tainted pet food and agricultural products. While these incidents may have been accidental, the failure to identify tainted foods caused the death and suffering of thousands of pets and also put human life in jeopardy. This raises the concern that if a terrorist wanted to inflict a wide spread strike against the American people all they would have to do is taint our food supply. With few checkpoints between food manufacturing and food consumption, this type of attack could be executed easily from inside or outside of the U.S.

Consequence Management…

The terror attacks outlined in the article “Consequence Management in the 1995 Sarin Attacks on the Japanese Subway System” highlighted several central problems of the Japanese Emergency Response System. Their main problems included: fractured intelligence gathering systems (Pangi, 2002, pg. 4), cultural philosophies against intervening with religious groups’ activities (pg. 6), bureaucratic red tape (pg. 11), in-experienced first responders (pg. 12), ineffective threat identification (pg. 12), no civilian contingency plans to handle WMD attacks (pg. 14), inter-agency and inter-state coordination problems (pg. 17), and there were no established relationships between various governmental agencies and emergency response personnel (pg. 17). These problems lead to a mis-handled emergency situation that killed, injured and terrorized thousands of Japanese civilians. Many of the damages caused by these attacks could have been avoided or at least minimized had a more effective and integrated emergency response plan been in place prior to the attack.

The real concern that this case study created for me was not for the ineffectiveness of the Japanese Emergency Response System, but for the potential ineffectiveness of the emergency response system developed here in the U.S. As I read through this article and noted the reasons why the Sarin attacks created so much terror for Japanese civilians, I soon realized that many of the problems experienced by Japanese emergency responders are problems that the United States’ Emergency Response System has. For example, one of the biggest problems with the United States’ current strategies to deal with terrorism deals with a general lack of civilian focused response plans, even though first responses to a terror attack are going to be handled by local governments, local emergency first responders and local civilians.

The Preparedness of My Hometown

My hometown, Missoula, Montana, is relatively unique when it comes to disaster preparedness in the state of Montana. Because we are the second largest city in the state, because we are the county seat, because we have several federal buildings situated in town, because we have most of the states biological and pathological testing facilities and because we have the University of Montana, our emergency management system is well developed. Public education is on-going and thorough. Schools receive training and run drills for terror attacks, bomb threats and natural disasters. Public meetings and employer training seminars are held periodically throughout the year, and information on emergency response is readily available online.


In order for our communities to be safe, businesses, non-profit organizations and private citizens need to step up and work together to prepare for emergencies and disasters. While it may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Disaster planning and mitigation are not difficult to do if they are handled ahead of time. All they take is team work and a little creativity.


Beering, Peter S., Maniscalco, Paul M., Christen, Hank, Storment, Steven B. and Vickery, A.D. (2002, February). “Winning Plays: Essential Guidance from the Terrorism Line of Scrimage.” Downloaded 08.18.07 from

Pangi, Robyn. (2002, February). “Consequence Management in the 1995 Sarin Attacks on the Japanese Subway System.” Downloaded 08.18.07 from