Civil Defense, Circa 2008: An Urgent and Monumental Management Task

Janet Napolitano, assuming confirmation, will have her hands full as our third chief of homeland security. That was made even more clear with the publication yesterday of the report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism. In short, the report virtually promised a major WMD attack on the U.S. homeland within the next five years, by 2013—and said that deaths in the hundreds of thousands could well be the tally.

If history is a teacher, DHS will work like hell to prevent the catastrophe—and beef up the capabilities of first responders. I'd hardly shortchange those two tasks, particularly the first, but I think that no-bullshit training and organizing of you and me and our neighbors in Civil Defense, not unlike World War II practices, should share top billing. If a WMD, nuclear or biological, kills hundreds of thousands, the entire nation will go nuts. (Rightly so.) So how do the man or woman on the street and our community prepare for it and deal with it? My father, too old for the draft in WWII, was a Civil Defense air warden leader within a well-organized schema—one of my favorite souvenirs from him was an elaborate guide showing the shapes of German bombers that might make it to our shores. (A few German subs did make shore not so far away.) He was a local big cheese in a highly developed and well-trained civilian network—needless to say, the British version of this was more elaborate by orders of magnitude, as the odds were high (very high!) of an invasion of their homeland.

Well, if the shit is going to hit the fan, and a sane person would conclude that the odds of a shit-covered fan are not all that low, you and I should be exceptionally well trained and exceptionally well organized to be part of the solution, a big part, rather than part of the problem. (Did you watch any of the short-lived TV series Jericho—not a pretty sight, and not necessarily all that far out.) My entire "training" since 9/11 has amounted to half listening to airport announcements telling me to look out for suspicious things. That is a pathetic request for my involvement. And I'll bet things don't change much—or at all.

My bottom line, and others have said this, is that I, and I suspect you, stand ready for my country to ask much of me in defending our homeland—if only President-elect Obama or DHS Secretary-designate Napolitano bother to ask.

So what are you and I going to do about it? (Anybody have Governor Napolitano's private cellphone #?)