"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Next month, state transportation specialists will temporarily close the Alaskan Way Viaduct [a local thoroughfare that carries a substantial amount of our container shipping traffic, and which remains patched together after being severely damaged in a 2001 earthquake -Ed.] to check for cracks. Seattle police and firefighters plan to take advantage of the opportunity by testing their response to a mock emergency — a pretend truck bomb that pancakes the structure.
There is a reason the exercise includes a fake explosion and not an earthquake: The federal government will pay the overtime of cops and emergency medical workers if the drill involves an act of terrorism, but it won't if locals rehearse for a natural disaster.
"I would love flexibility" when devising training scenarios, said Barb Graff, Seattle's director of emergency operations. "I don't have flexibility."
And that, say state and local disaster officials, exemplifies everything wrong with how we're preparing for catastrophe.
Even though the city has determined that earthquakes — not terrorism — represent the greatest threat, the federal government has given Seattle roughly seven times as much money over the past five years for homeland security as it has given for seismic retrofitting since 1990.
The federal focus on man-made attacks helps explain why there is a waterfront warning siren that can detect radiological dust, but a plan to stash four trailers full of cots, radios and water for thousands of displaced residents around the city has yet to be implemented.
Assuming you don't live in Seattle, why do you care? Simple - your neighborhood has its own vulnerabilities, and the federal government is uninterested in fulfilling its role in helping your local authoroties address them. Just ask the folks who live, or perhaps lived in New Orleans.