It should go without saying that we must all work and hope never to see another terrorist attack on the United States. However, even our best efforts cannot create a foolproof defense for the American homeland. There is always a chance that we will find ourselves under assault once again. Planning ahead for a catastrophic event can help reduce damage to lives and infrastructure. These plans should include every level of society, including national, state, and local governments, as well as families and businesses. Plans must be made for evacuation from affected areas, communication between separated family and friends, and protection of vital resources. In the event of another tragedy, these preparations may truly make the difference between life and death.
A terrorist attack will always be frightening. Even the most thorough plans will not reduce all uncertainty, but knowing what is expected of you and your family will be of some reassurance, as well as helping insure your safety. And do not think that if you are many miles, or even many states, away from an attack, that these plans are unnecessary. We all remember the fear and confusion of 9/11, even those of us who were half a continent away. At these moments, find your family, keep them close (even if they are only reachable by phone), and stay home. Listen to local and national authorities and be patient. With time and space, they will be able to do their jobs. And with planning and effort, you and your family will be able to do yours.
1. Your Family
In the event of an emergency, government resources will be stretched thin. It is important to have a family-level emergency plan for connecting with loved ones and escaping an affected area to avoid confusion in a crisis. While this plan will depend heavily upon your location and particular circumstances, there are several important principles to remember. First, do not rely upon public transportation unless absolutely necessary. A terrorist attack will likely disrupt electrical service and transportation routes, shutting down subway, bus, and train lines. Local authorities may suspend such services, even if undamaged, to prevent further uncertainty that could contribute to additional disasters. If you do not have a vehicle, try to find a friend, neighbor, or family member who may be able to assist your loved ones in time of crisis. Find out if your community has an evacuation plan for citizens without independent transportation. If you have a car that can accommodate more passengers than are in your family, seek out a friend or neighbor who may need help.
It is also important to discuss with your loved ones where you will go if evacuations are necessary. Select a location outside of your immediate area, such as the home of aunts and uncles, that is not within the directly impacted zone of an attack but is not so distant as to require unnecessary travel. Be positive that every member of your family knows the exact location of this safe spot, and place identifying information on children in case you are separated. Make sure you have chosen your evacuation location wisely, considering all the relevant factors. If you live near a coast, move inland where transportation and communication are easier. Consider locations that are not too isolated, to insure ample food and medical supplies as well as efficient communication, but are not in large urban areas that may be vulnerable to additional attacks or social upheaval. Though it is a disturbing thought, take into account the direction that wind and weather move. In the event of an attack by nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, leaving a city will do you little good if you remain in the direct path of toxins blowing from the affected area.
Finally, make contingency plans in case you are unable to leave your city or the situation simply does not warrant evacuation. On 9/11, for example, the people of New York and Washington were obviously terrified, but in little danger unless in the immediately affected areas. If possible, listen to the statements of public officials as to the nature of the attack and heed their recommendations for either evacuation or staying home. If they do recommend evacuation, listen for instructions on how to proceed. Follow guidelines concerning evacuation routes and times to avoid dangerous congestion and accidents. In case evacuations are unnecessary or impossible, be prepared to stay at home for several days. The same supplies that can help your family through inclement weather will come in handy following a terrorist attack. Bottled water, non-perishable food items, a first aid kit, flashlights, and a battery-powered radio are all necessities, along with sufficient quantities of any medications your family members may use. If you have pets, remember that they will be trapped along with you and plan accordingly. Listen to the radio while you are at home and heed the warnings of your public officials. If they tell you to stay off the roads, do so. The instructions given by these individuals are designed to protect you and your communities.
2. Your Children
Childhood is a very busy time these days. School, sports, clubs, music lessons, and friends all place high demands on our children's schedule. Because we and our children are so busy, there is a good chance that a terrorist attack would occur while our families are not in a single location. This makes it extremely important for parents to familiarize themselves with the emergency preparations of schools and other places, such as child care or after-school jobs, where their children spend a lot of time. Know where your children will go in case of emergency and find out what procedures to follow if you must pick them up. Find out what sorts of capabilities a school or employer has to deal with injuries, power outages, and protracted isolation. Keep emergency phone numbers close at hand, both for yourself and for your children. If your child is participating in activities, such as athletics, that have parent supervision but lack the official resources of a school, know where these activities take place, who is in charge, and how they can be reached. If no emergency plan exists for these locations or activities, perhaps you can be the catalyst to start one. We should not react to the threat of terrorism by becoming overprotective and unduly fearful, for this would hand the terrorists the victory they seek. But knowing where your children are, what resources they have available, and how they can be reached can help provide the peace of mind following a terrorist attack that is necessary to reunite your family as safely and as quickly as possible.
3. Your Job
In times of crisis and uncertainty, we all want to be with our families. Unfortunately, it is much more likely that our families will be split up, at least initially, with children at school and adults at work. Like every other situation, it is important for workplaces to have a clearly defined policy and procedure in times of emergency. Several key questions must be clearly answered. First, what is the nature of the work being done? Some fields, such as health care and security, cannot be discontinued in a time of crisis. If your job is one of those that must be fulfilled, no matter the circumstances, make sure your family is aware of this and knows how to act. If you have provided for your children to be with your spouse or other trusted adults, an emergency will be much easier to handle. If your business can be closed when necessary, familiarize yourself with the criteria by which this decision is made and tell your family how you can be reached to keep them updated with your whereabouts. Additionally, all workplaces must prepare for the possibility that a crisis may arise that would force employees to remain on site indefinitely. Just as at home, a responsible employer should provide for fresh water, first aid resources, and non-perishable food items to be available for all employees over several days. Preparation is once again the key to success.