Thursday, February 4, 2010

No Need to Panic. Good to Buckle Up.

According to the news, the CIA suggests we could have an al-Qaeda attack in this country within 3 to 6 months. This revelation was part of an annual briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee--not a rambling report by the CIA to the Senate in the wake of 'intelligent panic". Here is the first paragraph of that portion of the 47 page report (from p. 12). I found the portion of financial crime and cyber crime to be more novel, but here's the part that has newspapers' interest from coast to coast:

Over the past year we have seen ongoing efforts by a small number of American Muslims to engage in extremist activities at home and abroad. The motivations for such individuals are complex and driven by a combination of personal circumstances and external factors, such as grievance over foreign policy, negatively inspirational ideologues, feelings of alienation, ties to a global pan-Islamic identity, and the availability of poisonous extremist propaganda through the Internet and other mass media channels.

Here and there, I am reading various comments:
1. Obama is covering his butt because he is afraid something will happen.
2. The CIA must cover both their butt and their president's butt, so they're covering their butt pre-emptively.
3. The CIA just divulged a massive secret that shows the depth of our intelligence to the enemy.
4. Damn the bastards.

None of these comments or opinions are of any use to us. The CIA told the Senate Intelligence Committee something they already knew. And we know it too. Random tragedy happens to us all the time. Only consider. For a victim, it follows the same pattern as an injury-inducing car accident. We must try to safeguard ourselves, but panic at the wheel won't do us any good.

Comparing Dangers
1. Devastation occurs to you when you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the perpetrator frequently also suffers an injury.

2. There are certain predictors, e.g. driving on New Years' Eve, you are more likely to find a drunk driver who will try to kill you on an icy roadway. Likewise, certain countries or cities or places of work are more dangerous for terror attacks than others.

3. The new development (not that new) is that any jerk can decide he wants to be a terrorist and make the rest of us miserable. But that's not new either. Terror has human agency--one jerk, a weapon, an act. But if you think about it, a car collision is also a product of human action.

So, you prepare for it and reduce risks. To prevent car accidents, or bad injuries from one, you study for a driver's license, you take defensive driving, you wear your seat belt, you have a designated driver if you drink. You expect your government to enforce licensing laws and make traffic stops. Same with terrorism, except they don't do the work out where you can usually see it for yourself.

That's the only mystery to the whole thing. The rest of it is just minimizing risk. Trying to get us to panic is part of a terrorist's job. CIA reports shouldn't induce panic either. They are a way for us to focus on our prevention and remedies for the dangers among us.

What is the equivalent to a seat belt for a terrorist attack?  Well, it starts with a three day supply of what you need to live, see in the dark, and get information. We should think about some measure of disaster preparedness for all the places we go. The most readable and useful post is at the Happy Medic, well worth following for its sensible advice.

At Home:
One gallon of water per person per day. Don't forget the pets.
Food for three days--and the right foods. Unfortunately, a family box of Twinkies will not last that long. You will eat those the first hour you are nervous. Food that takes water and fuel, like dried pasta, are also not a good choice. So in the pasta category, you would stock canned cooked spaghetti, already in sauce.
Batteries, a radio that operates without electrical, a well-charged phone
A clock that runs without power. A flashlight and batteries.
Something to do, because gallantry counts--and you will go stir-crazy in your house without an amusement. You might not be able to surf the internet or watch TV. And applying duct tape to your windows will only last so long as an activity.

Home Security.
How are the locks working at your house? What other security measures do you need? Do your windows fasten? Will somebody want to come in? They don't have to be a terrorist. They can just be desperate. If your neighbor is desperate, how do you plan to handle that?

At Work.
I've had bomb scares at my work before. We had to leave immediately. What if it's freezing or raining outside? Where will you go? What if the building is closed and your keys and your bus card and your wallet are still inside? Maybe you need a pocket arrangement or a spare key in your wallet.
What if you get stuck inside your building? Do you have water there, or a transistor radio, or a flashlight? Who is going to win the last doughnut in the employee lounge?

In Your Car.
Do you keep supplies in your car? Amazingly, it is a similar list to what is at home. Some water, some canned goods, a flashlight, all neatly held in a box in the trunk. Batteries and water might need replacement during a hot summer, more so than that stored in a house. Add a blanket. Do you have gas enough to get home or to the nearest shelter? And where is that shelter, exactly? See also mass transportation below.

Mass Transportation.
Keep keys, a small flash, a stash of small bills that you never spend on daily stuff. Having a fifty dollar bill tucked away is not as good as having ten five-dollar bills stashed. The thing you need may cost less, and the person who has it can't make change. Shoes for walking (plus clean socks) are also a good choice. Hard to walk home in four-inch spikes.

I think this can mostly be done with one well-planned trip to the store. After this inventory, I know I do not have enough batteries. All around me, I know people are unprepared. So I am picking up extra water too.

By doing this, I'm just as prepared for any number of emergencies, including the next time they fix the boiler in my building, or a thunderstorm cuts out the power on my block. I'm not doing this for a jerk with a bomb. I'm doing it for me.


Books of the World said...

Great post, and oh so true!

Bob G. said...

I'm in agreement as well...
Fantastic advice.

I have a small "go-bag" in case things ever get that bad, and can place my hands on items of need fast enough in the house and garage.
(never hurts to be armed, too)

It's all SO practical a caveman could do it.

(and Lord knows I have)


Slamdunk said...

Great advice Ann T.--having folks get away from finger-pointing and invest energy in preparation is time well spent.

I do plan to argue preparation involves purchasing quantities of beef jerky as the rest of the family is disgusted by my taste for it--I am thinking this threat may work in my favor as a temporary exemption.

Unknown said...


We need to profile. NOW. I really believe that. Too bad if its not politically correct. We are in wartime and I dont mean Iraq or Afghanistan.

I gots water and batteries and dog food. I'm good to go.

The Observer said...

Ann T.

Yes, good post! It's funny; when I first saw your title, I thought you might be talking about the snow storm that is supposed to be coming your way. :-)

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.,
you cave-man you,

What do you put in your go-bag? This is something I left out. If you have time, please drop a line with some hints for us. I would greatly appreciate advice in getting something like that together.

Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,

Beef jerky is a traditional american dish for disasters such as Indian attacks, blizzards, lack of refrigeration, and failures of dog sleds to mush forward. Certainly it should be included!

The pioneers used to boil it, though, in their dried bean soups. On another level, it's a little like pasta, taking water and heat.

I love the stuff. But it's true that it's highly seasoned, and you need a toothpick afterward!

As always,
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Peedee,
I don't see a way out of profiling, because we are imperfectly able to know motivations. But as the quote above says, alienating American Muslims is not a viable choice either.

I never like it when I am profiled. It is a burden of citizenship that many American Muslims bear without being respected for their tolerance of it.

When we start profiling Bubbas as well as American Muslims, the shit is going to hit the fan. But when we do, then profiling will be more accurate.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the forbearance of those who are unfairly profiled, and submit to extra scrutiny for the greater confidence of others. In a way they are the witnesses to the half-step it truly is.

Thank you, you made me think my position through.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Oh, yeah, we're getting a blizzard! Can't put off those battery purchases at all. not to mention that family box of Twinkies(yuk)

Peedee, I'm glad you're good to go on the dog food. I'm going to pick up extra cat food, too. I think these two would scratch me to flinders! Maybe all of us will share a package of beef jerky, too.

MBB, thanks for the encouragement!

I am truly grateful for all these Very thoughtful comments! --teachers, instigators of thought, and reassurance -- Best Readers Ever!

Ann T.

Christopher said...

A communication plan between loved ones is extremely important as well, including plans for disruptions in cellular, land line, and internet service.

And there are other possiblities for the CIA releasing this information than the four already mentioned, and I am inclined to lean towards those. Intuitives minds like yourself will be able to imagine those.