ability of almost all local governments to deal with terrorist
attacks or other incidents is limited. They can handle the daily
menu of routine incidents that can be addressed and settled within
a few hours, but they cannot alone manage major or catastrophic
John Powers, who has studied this matter, says that once casualties
from a single incident reach 50, the local governments start to
have trouble, and when mass casualties exceed 500, they cannot
handle it. Some of the public safety agencies in the major
metropolitan areas can handle large incidents, but they are the
exception. Even major metropolitan areas would find it hard to deal
alone with several thousand casualties.
it is clear that, in a catastrophic incident or even several
simultaneous major incidents, the emergency responders are going to
Defining the Terms
me define those terms.
- A routine incident is one that a local
jurisdiction can manage with its own resources.
- A major incident is one for which help is
needed from several jurisdictions, including perhaps some state
- A catastrophic incident is one for which
federal resources will be needed immediately. (This, by the way, is
the definition from the Catastrophic Incident Supplement to the
National Response Plan.)
thesis in general is that the way that the United States is
approaching the problem of managing the consequences of attacks can
be improved a great deal. This means not just for catastrophic
attacks, but also for major ones and some of the routine ones.
us examine some of the ways that these emergency responders will
get help. One way is lateral reinforcement from other localities.
Another is to use volunteers from within the jurisdiction. The
third is state resources. The fourth is the federal government.
Lateral reinforcement occurs when
neighboring fire or police departments send people and equipment to
help one jurisdiction deal with a major incident. This can occur ad
hoc or it can be prearranged.
is a pretty good idea for small incidents. It makes best use of
scarce and expensive equipment. Four or five counties, for example,
can agree that one of them will buy an expensive capability and
they will share it when an incident occurs. This is economical and
works well enough as long as there are no catastrophic incidents or
multiple simultaneous major incidents, but it will not work for a
catastrophic incident or several simultaneous major incidents.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was justifying the Lend Lease Act of 1940,
which allowed the United States to "loan" war material to the
British, he used a homely analogy that went like this:
Well you know it's like you have a
neighbor whose house is on fire. And the neighbor comes running to
you and shouts over the garden fence, "Neighbor, neighbor, my house
is on fire, help me out, lend me your garden hose." Well of course
you're a good neighbor, you lend the garden hose to your neighbor
and he puts out the fire and then he gives you the hose
holds true only if your own house is not on fire also. There is
also an old Italian proverb that goes like this: "If your
neighbor's house is on fire, carry water to your own." I assert
that even the best neighbor will not loan you a garden hose if it
is needed for his own house.
is the fallacy of lateral reinforcement. When a catastrophic
incident occurs, lateral reinforcement will not work because every
responder will be needed in his or her own jurisdiction. These
mutual aid compacts and multi-county agreements will work only when
they are not needed. They provide an excuse for not buying
everything or having enough people to deal with the greater than
don't count on lateral reinforcement. It works only when it is not
let's talk about volunteers. I want to distinguish between two
kinds of volunteers: unsolicited and organized.
Unsolicited volunteers are the stuff of
American legend. People like to hear about the fire fighter from
Wisconsin or some place like that who hopped in his truck and drove
to New York City to help with the Trade Towers attack.
overall effect of these unsolicited volunteers is to be more
trouble than they are worth. I had a long talk with a police
officer from the Port Authority who told me his own officers were
blocked by officers from a strange jurisdiction that arrived
unasked and just took charge of a part of the perimeter. We don't
want that. The policy has to be changed so that only trained and
equipped responders who have been requested to come and have a
place in the plan are used.
Another factor is that, in an age of
terrorism, each incident has to be considered a source of
contamination by radiation, disease agents, or chemicals until it
is declared safe from these threats. Just think about responding in
a radioactive environment. Gamma radiation from a nuclear
detonation or release can be detected only by meters designed for
that purpose. Only properly trained and equipped responders can be
allowed into the hot zones. We don't want unsolicited volunteers
rushing enthusiastically to their deaths.
Organized local volunteers, on the other
hand, have or can have real value. There is merit in getting
citizens involved in the response operation, doing things that they
can do and helping the emergency responders in that way. But local
volunteers have to be organized; they have to be disciplined to an
extent; they have to be trained; and they have to be willing to
work when there is trouble. This not only gets some necessary work
done, but also causes the volunteers to forget their own troubles a
Muckerman, who used to head up DOD emergency preparedness, says
that one reason the British could stand alone against Nazi Germany
after France fell and the Luftwaffe was bombing nightly was because
most of the people were involved in some way with the civil defense
or military effort. Perhaps 60 percent or more were actively
involved. They were too tired to give up.
the frenzy after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government did try to
promote volunteerism, but it has not taken hold. The reason why the
Freedom Corps and other federal efforts are not meeting the need
very well is that they are federal programs operated from the top
down. In our country, that is the wrong way to build volunteer
right way to expand the number and role of volunteers is to foster
a buildup of volunteer groups from the bottom up. Americans resist
regimentation, and they are not attracted to a federal program that
is run from Washington by bureaucrats. On the other hand, Americans
are very social, and most of them belong to one or more
organizations at the local level.
Above all, it is really counterproductive
to try to build volunteer organizations by sending federal dollars.
Volunteers, by definition, work without pay. The joy of
contributing is tainted by money from the federal government. The
trick is to encourage and assist the development of local volunteer
organizations without sending money. It is OK to send training
packages and speakers, but not money. Money corrupts, and federal
money corrupts absolutely.
Cold War civil defense program was built on volunteer
organizations. There was an entire network of these groups ready to
help. They were supported by a relatively small cadre of paid civil
defense or emergency management specialists. They were an important
part of the plan.
Local volunteer groups can do a lot of
good things before the attack by reporting suspicious activity and
after the attack by helping the authorities provide mass care,
emergency housing, and other tasks that do not require rigorous
training or entry into dangerous areas. One example of a really
worthwhile organization is the Neighborhood Watch
program--consisting of unpaid volunteers and organized from the
ground up with a little bit of mentoring by other volunteers. Other
local groups can be persuaded to help also in a national emergency
takes a long time to build from the bottom, but it results in a
system that works for the long haul.
States are alleged to be a source of
reinforcement. Don't believe it.
Governors have the greatest responsibility
for managing consequences of attacks. They have the fewest
resources with which to do it. Governors have no fire fighters to
speak of. They have only the state police and the National Guard to
provide for law and order. Some of them have state defense forces,
but at this time, these are small organizations, some of which are
not even allowed to bear arms. So it does not pay to expect help
from the state authorities.
There are only 55,000 state troopers
nationwide. This is an average of about one thousand per state.
These officers specialize in highway patrol, and they each come
with a car, so massing a couple of hundred state troopers is a
Army National Guard is the major resource available to governors,
but there are only 350,000 of them--an average of about 7,000 per
state--and Secretary Rumsfeld promises only that half of them will
be available to the governors during the global war on terrorism.
That number of people is adequate for routine incidents and some
major emergencies, but not for catastrophic terrorist attacks.
would help greatly if governors would enthusiastically and
energetically raise, arm, train, and maintain large state defense
forces equal to about half of their respective National Guard
contingents. They don't seem to want to do that, for reasons I
leaves the federal government as the best source of reinforcements
for those overwhelmed local emergency responders waiting for help.
This is a major topic in itself. The people at the Department of
Homeland Security know this and plan to send help. They themselves
need help in figuring out how to do that.
John R. Brinkerhoff is an Adjunct Research
Staff Member at the Institute for Defense Analyses. These remarks
were prepared for a panel discussion, "When Disaster Strikes!
Public Support for State and Local Government Response," held at
The Heritage Foundation on April 29, 2005.