Can we END Terrorism?

So it has been a while since the blog has had any new content.  My thought moving forward is that I will be more diligent and also post more writings by my students.  This week my students had to submit a paper on “How do we end Terrorism?”  The below paper is by Masters of Science in Emergency Management student Jessica Brangaccio.

Can Terrorism End?

Can Terrorism ever really end? That is a question that somewhat circular in that every argument for or against the ending of terrorism brings it back around to the root of why terrorism exists. Many people have written arguments for why the end of terrorism is near, or how it can be achieved through peace and common understanding but for each of these arguments is a carefully articulated argument that has counter-points for every one of these pathways to peace. Kruglanski et al. (2013) argues that while terrorism may never fully be stopped, by understanding the motivational forces that push the terroristic agenda, one could show ways that these terroristic actions could be refocused into a more positive direction. While I agree with this, as basic principle of human nature requires us to replace one need or desire with another, I feel that the imperative term in the statement made by Kruglanski et al. is “positive direction”. What is positive or negative is simply a matter of opinion and social construct.  It is with almost absolute certainty that persons who are engaging in terroristic actions feel that this is a positive step or part of some type of positive action that will incite movement for their cause.

Kruglanski et al. (2013) also argue that we as a people know more about what terrorism “is not” rather than what it is or what causes it. They theorize that there is an underlying “quest for significance” that all humans innately have and that this is what drives or inspires a person to make a personal sacrifice for the good of a collective cause, such as in cases of suicide bombings. This “quest for significance” or more commonly known as being in search of notoriety, can often take over the natural need for self-preservation (Kruglanski et al., 2013) however it may not be just as simple as that.  This idea of re-channeling the need for significance or notoriety could reduce some of the root causes of terrorism, but if it were that simple, doctors or scientists would have already created a program or way to do this. In some ways, what a terrorist is goes much deeper than this, and also can be more upfront than this as well.

As stated, we know more about what terrorism “is not” and one of these things is that it is not a psychopathology. There is no specific personality profile that exists that can label someone as a terrorist. While there are social indicators, these are not always reliable either and can often lead people in the wrong direction when attempting to detect the true intentions of people. Some of these indicators include situational factors such as poverty and oppression, however these are not “root causes” of the ideology that creates a terrorist, but rather contributing factors only (Kruglanski et al., 2013). When discussing how to work on ending terrorism and how to stop future actions from becoming more and more heinous, people often turn to what the goals of these terrorists or terrorist organizations are. Kruglanski et al. (2013) argue that terroristic behavior is not necessarily always a goal-driven action, but rather a means through which the individual or organization pursues their actual goal. This type of confusion in what terrorists want is not uncommon in what we have seen as we study their behavior, but what is common is the lack of understand and communication to determine what could have prevented this from occurring.

In an article written by Theriault, Krause & Young (2017) they urge people to “know thy enemy” and to educate ourselves about terrorist’s motives and their attitudes. They state that most terrorist groups “welcome our hatred” as a part of a successful strategy to show their followers or prospective followers the worst side of our culture, which is exactly the point. Theriault et al. (2017) also make a point that we are not using the term “terrorist” as a specific definition but as more of a moral judgment on the actions of the person or group receiving that label. This could also contribute to why we had such a hard time narrowing this definition down and why it is so open to interpretation between groups. Again, this is where communication could be crucial in working to reduce the amount of terrorism occurring in the world. If persons are deliberating upping the violence of their actions in order to make it as heinous as possible and earning themselves the label of “terrorist”, it may not be that they are seeking judgement from others, but rather affirmation that what they are doing is correct, due to the miscommunication of just this single term.

By working to educate ourselves and understand the existing prejudices we may be able to incorporate this into any work that is being done in the future to work on preventing terroristic actions as well as developing more conflict strategies that could open doors for additional creation of relationships (Theriault et al., 2017). Most authors are hesitant to state that there can be an ultimate end to terrorism, and there is a good reason for this. While some of the most successful counterterrorism strategies have been developed by utilizing breakthroughs in the areas of understanding what motivates the people that commit these acts, the organization of the groups that order these acts and the strategies that are employed by these groups (Theriault et al., 2017) the fact of the matter is that terrorism is rooted in humanity, which can change a motivation, organization plan or strategy at any given time, often without warning.

Other authors state that terrorism can simply be deterred with enough strategies and enough planning in place to address each issue as it arises. Trager and Zagorcheva (2005) discuss this in depth when writing about deterrence strategies and the case against the use of these strategies. In this article, it is stated that deterrence strategies have two elements aside from straight punishment of the individual or person: creation of a threat or action that has been designed to increase the cost (either real or perceived) of an enemy engaging in a particular behavior, or the creation of an offer to change the “state of affairs” if the enemy refrains from the particular behavior (Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005). Both of these sound as though they are reasonable ways to work to reduce and eventually end terroristic actions, but what happens when there is nothing that can be created to change someone’s mind? Or if there is not a cost that is too high, such as human life, like in cases of suicide bombers? These deterrent strategies do not work, which is why there is an argument against using them as well.

The arguments used against these strategies are also rooted in opinion which makes it difficult to determine if they are valid or simply thoughts of a group of persons who do not want to engage with terrorists or terror organization on any level. The three that were mentioned in this article are as follows: that terrorists are “irrational” and they cannot be responsive to any type of cost/benefit scenario so attempting to show them they have too much to lose will not work; that the level of motivation in terrorists is so high, that nothing will ever change their minds; or that there is no fear of punishment from the countries they are attacking, especially if they are not from that country as they are “not subject to our laws” (Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005). Again, while these may just be one opinion, it does seem as though it has been echoed through the media and our culture, as it does not seem out of the scope of what is real that these could be reasons not to deal with terrorists in a deterrence strategy model.

Ultimately, I am not sure that anything can be done to fully end terrorism. Even when there are acts committed by a “lone wolf”, the place they are from will denounce them or deny any affiliation with them, so by working to form alliances or at least an atmosphere of mutual agreement to not attack one another with larger organizations, there is still always the possibility of those “lone wolf” attackers. We as humans each have our own mind, and with that comes the ability to make our own choices in any situation. This includes the choice to plan, organize and execute a heinous act at any time. While we have gotten much better at detecting some potential threats and being able to neutralize them before they occur, we will never be able to catch them all. To try to do this would be like predicting and suppressing human nature itself. By continuing to educate ourselves and those around us, as well as keeping lines of communication open, we can only hope to slow down and stop some of the acts from occurring and harming those around us. I also feel that be de-sensationalizing the aftermath, it may help to reduce that spark of interest for some people that are “on the fence” about joining a terror group or organization.

Additionally, by pulling multiple professions into this counterterrorism planning, we can gain more insight into humanity and into how things may unfold in the future. As stated in the Kruglanski et al. (2013) article, there is no personality profile that is set for what a terrorist is, but perhaps with enough research and enough outside perspective, something could be created to determine who is most at risk dependent on situational factors. Education of factual definitions and terminology may help to take away some of the sensationalism or moral judgment that comes with learning only from the media or other social places and could help make counterterrorism something that can be understood across the board, rather than something that is purely opinion or morally based. The perspectives of the science and mathematics field, education field, social sciences field and emergency management can merge to create a well-rounded compass that can help guide the world in how to deal with identifying terror, preventing terror, and addressing the aftermath of when terror touches our lives.



Kruglanski, A.W., Belanger, J.J., Gelfana, M., Gunaratha, R., Hettiarachchi, M., Reinares, F.,Orchek, E., Sasota, J. & Sharvit, K. (2013). Terrorism- a (self) love story: redirecting the significance quest can end violence. American Psychologist, 68(7), 559-575.

Theriault, J., Krause, P. & Young, L. (2017). Know they enemy: education about terrorism    improves social attitudes toward terrorists. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 146(3),    305-317.

Trager, R. F. & Zagorcheva, D. P. (2005). Deterring terrorism: it can be done. International Security, 30(3), 87-123.


New School Year

It is that time of year when parents send their children back off to school.  Some for the first time, some to middle school and some to their first day of high school.  However, we also have those parents sending their children away to college, many times far from home.  Are these children, no matter age, prepared?

It is National Preparedness Month and today I was asked to do a story about school preparedness.  This is not a new concept, I did a similar story several years ago when I sent my son off to college.  However, in these past three years, it seems like the world has changed dramatically. When we send our children off to school, are they ready?  Are we ready?  What can and should we be doing this month to make sure that no matter what happens, our children are prepared to deal with it?

The first thing we need to do is make sure we have a plan with our children, a plan that does not involve technology.  Too often as a society we think, we will just call our children or loved ones when a disaster strikes.  However, as disaster after disaster have proven, our technology usually does not work when we need the most. Therefore, just like those family fire drills we all used to practice, our plan must include safe havens to reconnect after a disaster.  If it’s our K-12 children, the plan will revolve around your schools reunification plan.  If you have not checked already, now would be a good time to check with your school district and inquire about their plan.

If your child is at college, not only do you want to know the school’s plan, but you also want to create a plan with your child that will not include electronic communications, unless of course texting is working.  Have several locations away from your son or daughters school where your child knows you will come to meet them.  These two or more locations should be in opposite directions, because you never know where the disaster might strike.

In the next two weeks the South Central Task Force will be holding a full scale exercise with a local high school. If this is like many other exercises we have conducted, we will have parents refuse to allow their children to participate and “experience” this potentially lifesaving event. We will hear it’s “too traumatic for my child.”  I ask those parents, would you rather you child learn under created circumstances or learn in a real event. None of us can predict where a natural or man-made disaster may occur, we all need to start taking steps to teach our children what to do when that day occurs.

Teaching the Young

I have spent a great amount of time researching disaster preparedness, and in particular, how we can do a better job of preparing our citizens.  In recent presentations at several conferences, the same issues are common, the “it won’t happen here” philosophy is stronger than the need to prepare.  

As I continue my research, at issue is how do we get our citizens at large to prepare?  One of the current research agendas is to work with school age children, similar to the Fire Prevention Education we teach in elementary through high school.  Why do we “only” teach Fire Prevention Education and some basic crime prevention, such as “Active Shooter Drills?”  Would it not make more sense to teach disaster preparedness, which then encompasses all types of “being prepared?”  

In meeting with colleagues who teach early childhood education and doing various research, another light bulb moment arose, by the time children get into the educational process, they have already formed many of their habits and traits.  Therefore, we need to begin this preparedness education in pre-school, or before our children get into the educational process, and then do reinforcement learning throughout K-12 and even into higher education.  If we can develop these good habits, when we do follow-up it will just be “normal” for our citizens as they grow up and enter society as adults. 

All of this led to some interesting discussion with various undergraduate courses I teach in emergency management.  Then, as one of my student’s posted, “I had an ah-ha moment!”  Just like many of our teenagers and young adults today do not accept many things based upon the theory of “this is how we have always done it,” why do we not use this same approach to disaster preparedness education?

Here is where I am going with this and how potentially I see us turning the corner on proper disaster preparedness for the “Whole Community.”  We need to begin now with those short, entertaining teaching tools, videos, games, etc.  We then reinforce with progressively more education that again is informative but fun.  Once we can get a generation to “accept this as the new normal,” that generation will then not accept unsafe conditions or lack of preparedness as the way it is and the way it should be.  Every generation had moments in which they no longer accepted the way it was, let’s use this moving forward for educating the masses on proper preparedness so that future generation will “No Longer Accept” a lack of preparedness as “just the way it is!”

Paris dread!

These are the types of events that keep some of us up at night.  I have often thought about the dread of suicide bombers, large scale hostage situations or a Mumbai style attack, which this coordinated effort had all three elements.  Imagine this type of “act” on US soil?

These heinous acts, like much of the terrorism we see, are often perpetrated against the completely innocent and unprotected  and unprepared.  Unconventional warfare, which this is one brand, is not new to our allies around the world, and it is very scary to think it could happen here.

Security versus privacy is always a difficult situation and conversation.  Why?  Because of the extremes that we have seen on both ends.  It would be nice if we could draw a nice neat line….here is what is takes to protect X amount of privacy for Y amount of security, but it is not that simple.  One French poll in the days after these attacks stated that somewhere in the neighborhood of 84% of the people polled stated they would give up some privacy for security.  I’d be curious in six months, a year or five years, if another similar attack does not occur, what will be the percentage?

There are things we as emergency managers do that require us to always be prepared, always be vigilant.  We do not get to decide what will happen today, or tomorrow.  It may be a flood, a hurricane, a severe summer or winter storm…or as we witnessed in Paris, a horrific senseless act of mankind at its worse!

Preparedness is what we preach, it is what we live to do.  It is time that we understand that situational awareness is vital to all of us, every day and in every thing that we do.  We cannot let our guard down.  Intelligence is vitally important to our safety and security.  I hope for the sake of all of us, our families, our friends and our communities that our intelligence community is up to the task, and able to accomplish the great task we have bestowed upon them….Security with some Right to Basic Privacy.

Philadelphia Fire Department Fire Prevention Banquet

I had the pleasure and honor to be invited to speak at the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Prevention banquet.  Below is my presentation as written.  Obviously I did not read the presentation, however, I did cover all the concepts below, which seemed to be very well received. Hopefully all of us can take something out of this presentation and the need to continue to review what we do, and figure out how we can do it better for our “Whole Community.”

Philly Fire                                                                                                               October 14, 2015

Disaster Preparedness the Future of Fire Prevention Education 

Fire Prevention is what we do, know and love…Stop, Drop and Roll, Change your Clock, change your battery, exit drills in the house, but why are we limiting ourselves??  Yesterday’s Fire Prevention is today’s Disaster Preparedness….remember when no one wanted to be in OEM, everyone wanted to be a firefighter, or a cop, pretty much everything but OEM, because there was no respect in OEM, they were known as the office of “other duties as assigned”, right…it was not that long ago, and then two maybe three major events happened…and one major shift occurred.

So briefly lets talk about emergency management and how it is similar to the fire service.

Way back in the day, we had lots of fires and we were firefighters.  Then, thanks to code changes, building construction changes (although we don’t have time to talk about some of this new firefighter killing building construction), changes in materials for bedding and couches, the number of fires dropped.  No longer were we burning out houses every weekend.  We had to change the way we do business, we have taken on “different roles.”

So over the course of the last two hundred plus years, government has also been in and out of the emergency management business, but really wanted nothing to do with emergency management. Government wanted the churches, Red Cross and other non-profit non-government organizations to take care of disaster response and recovery.  In 1979 a little event happened up my way on an island in the Susquehanna River at a place called Three Mile Island, within a relatively short time period President Carter signed an executive order and created the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.  FEMA has had quite some existence.  Reagan was going to get rid of FEMA, and it was used to basically prepare us for the cold war threat and nuclear war.  Bush I continued it, then Clinton came along and brought his Emergency Manager along from Arkansas and made it a cabinet position.  Under James Lee Witt we began preparing for natural disasters, including many projects like Project Impact in Washington preparing for earthquakes.  Then Bush II came along, as did 9-11, and emergency management became a counter-terrorism centric organization.  Five years later we encountered this wind event known as Hurricane Katrina and we again changed, this time to all-hazards.   This is where we need to go, we cannot be just a “fire service,” and emergency management really is what we do anyway, we are an all hazards organization!   I remember when we still had fire alarm boxes on the corners in Lancaster.  Many times we would respond to a “pull box” and it had nothing to do with the fire service, but the citizens knew if they pulled the alarm we would come, just like today, if they call 911, we will come.  We don’t refuse service because it is not a fire!

Let me talk briefly about the events and where we were, where we are and where I think we need to be going.

The first major Event was 9-11.  On 9-11, in which 343 of our fellow firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice was, in my opinion, the first real emergency management event in my mind.  9-11 is when we began the cultivation of the profession of emergency management.  Emergency management is three Cs, Communication, Collaboration and COORDINATION!  9-11 needed coordination and needed an agency to be the coordinator of Fire, Law Enforcement, EMS, Search and Rescue teams and the private sector.  Isn’t that what we do every day in the fire service, we coordinate resources!  9-11 was the beginning of the profession of emergency management, creating that “umbrella” that the emergency services and non-governmental agencies and private sector all work under.

9-11 did something that may not have been otherwise possible for emergency management; it freed up money and it brought us all to the same “sandbox” for a common purpose.  We started to train together; we began to get money from the federal government for equipment, training and exercises.  Law enforcement, Fire, EMS, emergency management, the business community, and all levels of government began working in the same sandbox, for a common cause and a common goal. Planning became the process versus our reactionary nature from the past, we became proactive.

This leads to event two, the wind event known as Hurricane Katrina. We had spent a whole lot of money, time and resources planning for the next 9-11 when Katrina struck.  It is no surprise to anyone in this room, but we have a lot more natural disasters in our nation then we do manmade events or terrorism activities.  Katrina is when we decided that our profession needed more  professionals.  We had an organization and Certified Emergency Manager, but our profession needed to expand and it needed more professionals to supplement those we already had in the profession.

We had Katrina, then a third event Hurricane Sandy, which you experienced here in Philadelphia and then maybe even a forth event we can include, the Boston Marathon bombing,  So these are the events, but what’s the shift….education.  Although many programs in higher education were being developed in Homeland Security and Emergency Management, it was Katrina that started the rise in student numbers in emergency management, and the creation of more professionals, with BOTH experience AND education!

I realized education and experience were important when I was interviewed for the fire department.  The Deputy Chief interviewing me told me to get my education, it is, as he said, one of those things in life they cannot take away from you once you have it.  I went to school and what did I hear, “hey kid you don’t need no books to put out fires…”  Do you know that our local community college is contemplating dropping their fire science program for a lack of interest and thinking of switching to an emergency management program instead!  Let me ask you a question, is a degree almost mandatory to get promoted?   Many fire departments and law enforcement agencies all but require advanced degrees to get promoted.   However, I want to make sure you don’t misunderstand me, education is important but experience is vital.  I learned most of what I know about disaster preparedness from those from the first generation of emergency managers

So what does this all have to do with today and Fire Prevention?  Well, we need to go back to the roots of Philadelphia and the beginning of emergency management, except Ben Franklin called it the volunteer fire service, neighbor helping neighbor…sound familiar…the Whole Community approach!  This is what I teach and preach at the university, this is what I teach and preach for FEMA, but more importantly, this is what I preach at home…more about that in a bit!   Walking the talk as they say!  This is what the current administration is pushing, the Whole Community approach to emergency management.  There are not enough responders to help everyone in need when a disaster strikes.  We need to use our resources wisely.  If we train the masses on what to do before and during a disaster, this is less people relying on our limited number of responders, and also people that can assist their neighbors, again reducing the burden on an already taxed response system.

Lets go back to where I started…stop, drop and roll..and exit drills in the house, etc. are great programs, but they don’t go far enough……we need a culture shift, all-hazards, all disasters…remember the Station night club fire, why did they die?  They tried to leave the way they entered, seven other exits…over one hundred dead civilians because they were creature of habit.  We need to teach better habits, and it is so simple if we start when they are young.  This coin of culture shift has two sides, education for us as responders, and a change of preparedness habits for our communities.  We need to teach good habits!

We need to teach people preparedness, not Fire Prevention or crime prevention…all hazards….did 911 not prove this to be true, people lived because they had practiced “fire drills” and those drills assisted them when this heinous act occurred.  As firefighters, are we doing our community justice by just teaching Fire Prevention?

Who has access to our kids to teach them basic preparedness, things they will remember for life, good habits….we do, us, firefighters, we have access to the children, let’s not limit them to fire safety, but let’s teach them about all hazards, let’s change the culture and teach good habits.

Can it work you ask?  Yes, I have my very own case study.  Remember how I talked about preaching it at home?  I have a soon to be 21 year old son, David, who is my case study.  By the way, he goes to Drexel, here in Philly.  The first thing we did when he decided to come here for school was to pick two meeting places so if something happens, we can meet when the cell phones don’t work.  He knows to go and wait for Dad, although I can also say now that I have a few of Philly’s finest in my classes, I have been offered safe haven in firehouses too for him.

If this is not enough for you to believe about teaching good habits from when they are young, well let me tell you this story.  David and I were visiting colleges in the Midwest a few years ago.  We got back to the hotel and I asked him to go see what the hotel had at the restaurant.  He came back to the room a short time later and said 5 and 7.  I said what the heck is 5 and 7, he said the doors to the exits left and right.  Since David was small we traveled a good bit and it is always the first thing I had him do, count the doors.  He counted the doors, I did not have to ask….that is good fire prevention, but also preparedness no matter the disaster.  As I mentioned, people in the WTC were doing exit drills before 9-11, a fire drill, but it was basic preparedness, disaster preparedness.  Those “fire drills” saved many lives.

We need to teach these habits, who has the opportunity to teach kids preparedness, the fire service, let’s broaden our horizons, let’s make Disaster Preparedness our new Fire Prevention.

The Cultural shift is needed, we cannot be all things to all people.  We need to train the masses to help themselves, no matter the disaster.  We need to get educated both informally and formally in emergency management to understand not only how important the profession is, but why it is important that we become professionals in emergency management and disaster preparedness

We, the fire service, have the opportunity to do what it is that we say we do every day, PROTECT THE PUBLIC!, but we have to be Thinking outside the Box…out of necessity we should accept the responsibility of not just talking about fires, but talking about preparedness in general…we cannot do things the way we used to do things.   I am counting on you, my son is counting on you, your citizens are counting on you, don’t let us down!  Thank you

#A Moment in Time

I was blessed to be asked to give the 9-11 Keynote for the Lancaster County 9-11 Memorial Ceremony.  I wanted to share it with you:

A Moment in Time

First of all, let me say, I should not be here today, none of us should be here, because this should never have happened, but it did…that Moment in Time that will forever change our existence as a nation.  I will talk about a Moment in Time, although those events took hours, the reality is that in the timeline of mankind, those hours all put together were but a “Moment in Time.”

Further, I want to say, that no emergency responders should ever die in the line of duty. Today is about that Moment in Time, a moment that helped shape today and our nation’s future.  That moment can continue to help us prepare or be forgotten as time passes.  Today I will briefly talk about that moment in time.  I am Nervous to be here in front of so many distinguished guests for such a solemn occasion, and wish we did not have to be here, that that Moment in Time never happened.

Thank you to the commissioners, our veterans, the cadets, our responders, to those that perished that day and for those that have perished since as a result of that horrendous day 14 years ago.  Many have died fighting to defend this great nation and many have died in the pursuit of justice for the acts committed 14 years ago.  Thank you all and may those lives never be forgotten.

I remember where I was when those towers were struck, just as most of you do, I remember where I was when I received the call that Bin Laden was killed, just like many of you…but something bothers me about my memories, soon, very soon, I will have college students in my classes that have no memory of September 11, 2001.   To them, it will be like Pearl Harbor is to me, something you read about and study. My son, who will soon turn 21, is probably one of the last college classes to remember that day. These cadets standing before us were probably 1, 2, 3 or 4 years old on that day.  I often think how do we make it important to this generation? How do we make that Moment in Time sustainable in this ever changing, very fast paced world, where we have instant message and email on our phone and snapchat and Instagram and who knows what else, a world where moments don’t seem to matter?  How do we sustain our passion for being prepared while Never forgetting that Moment in Time?

I fear that we will forget, that we won’t plan, that we won’t prepare and that we won’t educate our future generations and this is a tragedy.  That moment in time will win and we will all lose if we let this happen.

Look around and imagine all of us perishing in a few Moments in Time.  In those fateful moments 343 firefighters died, 72 law enforcement personnel died, and over 3000 citizens died, all in that Moment in Time.  Imagine your friends, your family, your colleagues lost, lost in a few fateful Moments in Time, moments that will never come back to us, senseless moments, unconscionable moments…we need to ask, and we do ask, could those moments have been prevented? However, if those moments could have been prevented is not what is material today because it did happen, what is material today is that we are here to remember those moments and those that died in those moments, and making sure we never let a moment in time like that ever happen again.

We all know what it is like to lose a family member or a friend; some of us know what it is like to lose a brother or sister in the emergency services.  However, none of us here know what it was like at that Moment in Time.  That Moment in Time hopefully made our nation stronger. But that strength, like a body builder lifting weights, you lose if you don’t continue to train and exercise, we need that strength from that Moment in Time to make sure we never have a Moment in Time like that ever again, not just here, but anywhere in this world.  We need to continue to build our strength and get stronger, we need to continue to work together, training, planning, preparing, we need to continue to remember that Moment in Time, and never forget..that moment.

For I believe forgetting that Moment in Time is almost as horrendous as the act itself, if we are not vigilant, if we cannot take our safety and our security seriously, then all those people who perished in that moment, both civilian and responder alike, died senselessly at a far greater cost then even paid on that day.  They died without cause and for no benefit for the present and the future, no one should ever need to die for a cause, but the reality of it is a cause was born in that Moment in Time

Here in Lancaster County it may be hard for us to imagine what it was like to be in NYC, or Washington DC or even Shanksville in that field.  But not being able to imagine what it was like, versus never forgetting that Moment in Time are two different things completely.  We don’t need to know what it was like; we need to know that it could happen again.  That Moment in Time needs to be immortalized in our Nation’s memory, never to be forgotten, but yet we look around and see that many seem to have forgotten, are we letting down our guard and are we destroying the memory of those that lost their lives in those Moments in Time, both on 9/11 and in the years since?

This is not about our enemies; I am not going to stand up here calling people out….I am more concerned that we soon will have a generation that did not know the experience.    I remember the first WTC bombing, and OKC, and then 9-11, and Boston and many failed attempts before and since.  I am a firm believer in preparedness and self-reliance, both as individuals and as a Nation.

It’s about education, it’s about preparedness, it’s about not dwelling on the past, but remembering the past and all the sacrifices…it’s about vigilance, it’s like that song…have we forgotten, they took it all off the tv…I believe we should show the towers being struck and falling.  We should show it every week, or maybe even every day.  We MUST NOT Forget that Moment in Time. This may sound strange at a 9-11 memorial service, but it’s about places like the Nickle Mines, why, because like those of us in Lancaster County who said it can’t happen here, I think it was the same nationally with 9-11.  On October 2, 2006 ten little Amish girls were shot by a lone gunman, on October 1, 2006 if I would have asked most people in Lancaster County if such a thing could take place, most, if not all, would have said it can’t happen here!  Terrorism was other places, the Middle East, Asia, Europe even South America, but not here. We have shootings in schools, at malls, in movie theaters…it can happen here!

Locally we are very lucky because we work closely with seven of our surrounding counties and the State on  a daily basis.  Regionalization and working together is something we need to remember, all of us working together is the ONLY way we will prevent another 9-11.  None of us can go it alone, but all of us can work together to prevent another Moment in Time.

So how do we prepare, while remembering and paying honor to those who died as a direct result and indirect result of that day. Vigilance, preparedness, nosy neighbors, coordinated efforts, government support, neighbor helping neighbor.   Did he say nosy neighbor?  What are nosy neighbors? Nosy neighbors are our best friends when it comes to being prepared.  My mom sits at the window of her house, reading, eating, watching the world go by.  I used to give her grief about being nosy, but then I had a moment, my moment!   Who is the best source of information in her neighborhood if a disaster strikes? She knows who lives in her neighborhood, who is young, who is old, who is disabled, when they are home.  She is a prime source, I stopped calling her nosy and named my nosy neighborhood program after her, we should all be nosy neighbors?  For you younger members of our audience that is #NosyNeighbor!   Do you know your neighbors? I tell her story all over the country, because it is that important.  We NEED neighbors to be nosy, and we need neighbors to help neighbors.   Ben Franklin had it right in 1732 with the volunteer fire service, each neighbor dividing up the work to help others in their time of need.

Report everything, there is an app for that, See Something, Say Something!  Please never stop being Vigilant, Never be the person to say, “I knew that was going to happen.”  Be the person that stopped it from happening!

Today is not about who I or we have learned from, but who I and you are learning from?  Many of you are here today, Craig, Randy, Rick….and then there is my son David.  David has had the life of growing up with a dad who is a safety guy, worked as a firefighter, studied and practiced EM…not for the faint of heart.  For the past 8 years I have  taught emergency management at Millersville. Many of my best teaching moments, and a lot of my best questions to my students have come from David.  Either things we have done and lessons he has taught me, or questions he has asked me.   To our younger members here, Don’t ever stop asking questions.   To our educators and seasoned members, don’t stop answering, PLEASE!

Two years ago David went to Philly for school.  We planned everything, including meeting  spots if a disaster were to strike.   I was nervous, but I know what I have taught him, and more important, what he has taught me, he is prepared.  In two weeks he will be leaving for DC for six months to live.  Am I nervous, yes, a little scared, yes….but he is prepared….he has good habits.  How do I know he is prepared?  5 and 7, what is 5 and 7 you say?  I am glad you asked.  Three summers ago we were on our whirlwind college tour.  After a long day we finally got to a hotel.  I asked him to go check out the restaurant, he comes back a few minutes later, and he says, 5 and 7.  What the heck is 5 and 7…5 doors to the left and 7 doors to the right to the emergency exits.  You see David and I have traveled a lot from the time when he was small.  Every time we got to a hotel, after he picked the best bed, we would go count doors to the exit in case we had to evacuate, a habit that was instilled in him and a habit he continues as he gets older, a good habit. That was the Moment I knew he was Prepared, Preparedness and vigilance are the keys to our survival.

If we ever forget that Moment in Time, I believe it will be the beginning of the downfall of the greatest nation on earth.  That Moment in Time when so many sacrificed for you, for me, for today’s generation and future generations will be a lost moment and thus a lost opportunity to make our nation even greater and stronger.  In addition to those that sacrificed at that Moment in Time, there have been thousands of other Moments in Time in which our military personnel and nation’s citizens have sacrificed their lives to allow us to continue to grow strong.  May that Moment in Time never be forgotten, and always be remembered, allowing us to continue to grow strong, exercising proper preparedness and letting that Moment in Time be as important as any moment ever in our nation’s history or our nation’s future.  That Moment in Time will forever define us, good or bad, it’s our choice, it’s your choice, it is the choice of future generations how we will continue to build strength, it will always be the keystone, the cornerstone and the foundation of our existence, lest our great nation not learn, forget and not continue to build our strength from training, exercises, planning and education, we may go like so many nations throughout history and disintegrate and disappear forever.

I want to thank all of you, my peers, my colleagues, my brothers and sisters for giving me a few moments today to share my thoughts about THAT Moment in Time, that Moment in Time when the world was forever changed and never again be the same.  Please never forget, always be vigilant, be prepared, prepare your family, friends, neighbor and community, when your kids come home with a preparedness message, take it seriously. Be a nosy neighbor, and NEVER FORGET THAT MOMENT IN TIME!  Thank you for listening!

Colleges and Universities: How Prepared are YOU?

I asked my students if they think every college and university should have a mandatory course on disaster preparedness.  As can be imagined the answer ranged from, “Absolutely, and here is why”, to “Another mandatory class that I have to pay for,” to my favorite, “We are adults, we all know what to do.”   This last response was then greeted with my reply, “Please read your post from last week when I asked how prepared you are if a disaster strikes right now?”  Colleges and Universities have a daunting task, oversight of thousands of 18-24 year old adults who may be very far away from home, and maybe for the first time.  I was in Washington D.C. this past summer with numerous EM colleagues from various colleges and universities making a plea with congressional staffers for more assistance and recognition of the problem.  We DID NOT ask for money, but recognition of the problem.  One of the startling facts I learned was that higher education is the second most regulated industry in the nation, behind nuclear plants…YES, nuclear plants are number one, we are number two.

However, why shouldn’t we be?  We are responsible for the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of our future leaders.  Many times our campuses more then double the size of the local community.  Ask a student, you will get this answer, “I am sure the school has a plan and will tell me what to do in a disaster.”  Do you, can you, and will you be prepared? One of the things we all know very well, there are less resources to come help than there are people who need assistance after a disaster strikes.  I just watched a video from a university that had twenty some thousand students in a football stadium when a storm passed through.  The challenge, getting the student body to listen and getting them to evacuate.  Maybe the mandatory freshmen awareness course could have assisted with this problem?

At the end of the day, we need to go back to baby steps, neighbor helping neighbor.  It does not matter if that neighbor is your roommate, the student down the hall, or other members of your campus, and surrounding community.  We all know college students can be a great asset after a disaster if properly trained.  This is another example of a situation in which a little knowledge can go a very long way.  Whose your neighbor?

Are you Prepared?

I ask my classes at the beginning of each semester this same question.  It is a self check and reality check to most students, whether graduate students out in society or undergrads living on campus.  Here is the “Go Kit” for one of my students.  If you are looking for a place to start, this is a pretty good list:

Being personally prepared for a disaster is definitely something that I always have in the back of my mind.  When I started in the emergency services field I read a lot about what things I would need to keep my family prepared and safe if a disaster would strike.  I started small with the basic things like flashlights and batteries, matches/hand-held propane lighter, hand-crank radio, weather radio, prepackaged food including canned food/manual can opener and bottled water (3 gallons for each person – enough for 3 days) and toiletries (toothpaste, tooth brushes, toilet paper, pads, paper cups, plastic trash bags etc.).  I made up “Go-Kits” (backpacks) for every member of my family and have them in the closet by our front door for easy access.  I check the contents every month when I check my smoke detectors.  My daughter even chose what small things she would take with her to comfort her if we would have to leave home.  Next, I made copies of all of our medical insurance cards, bank account numbers/debit cards, credit cards and SSI cards, along with all of my certifications/diplomas (EMT, nursing license).  I also made copies of the scripts of our daily medications and keep our meds together in a basket for quick packing.  My husband and I went and bought vehicle adapters and solar powered chargers to charge our cell phones.  I made up a first aid kit which includes a medical information card on all family members including allergies and blood types. I made a small address book which includes a list of all of our family members cell phone numbers and addresses along with a paper map that I picked up from my local AAA center.  Things that are paper and could be ruined if wet are all packed in plastic zip-lock bags.  I bought one large plastic tote for each member of the family and in there have packed extra clothing, socks, underwear, blankets, a small pillow, the bottled water for each member and small zip-lock bags of money in case ATM’s/banks are destroyed.  Of course, my daughter HAD to pack some extra “small stuffies” that she could hold if she was “extra” scared and my husband had to add a “special” pliers for utility shut-off.  I found a plastic whistle at the dollar store and added that to my tote.   I did just recently add hand sanitizers (because the hand wipes dried out), dust masks and a 5 gallon bucket that has a snap-on plastic toilet lid!  This gets kept out in the garage right by the door because I have no more room to store things in my closet.  As for the house, we purchased a portable generator which we have had to use multiple time with the snow storms that we have endured. However, we ran into the problem when the power would go out and the ground was saturated with water, everyone’s basement would flood.  So when my husband and I were out on fire calls for hours on end on pump detail (pumping out basements with submersible pumps), ours would be flooding too.  We would have to run home, hook up the generator to the sump pumps, try to get it started and make sure we had enough gas to last while we were out running calls. So after hours of pumping out other people’s basements, we would have to come home and finish doing our own!  So, we saved our pennies and last year FINALLY purchased a large home generator so we don’t have to worry now that our basement is flooding when the power goes out!  I am constantly on the look-out for different things that I can add to our totes that would be of a great benefit to us during an emergency.

After reading her list, I have to ask you, “Are you prepared?”

And. don’t forget the animal “Go Kit” if you have pets!

Why you need a Family Action Plan: Jim Cramer

It is January 16, 2015, this is your 22 wedding anniversary and the incredible woman that you proposed to all those years ago still loves you. Through all of your faults, your failings, the deployments overseas into hostile combat zones, she stood by you. As a small token of your devotion to her, you planned a quiet dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by her favorite musical in downtown Philadelphia. Everything was planned perfectly and (as long as Mr. Murphy doesn’t come along for the ride) should all go like clockwork.

You spent weeks planning this event for a single evening with your wife. You made sure the kids had what they needed to have some fun while you were out. You called Osteria’s for reservations, bought tickets at the Philadelphia Theater for “Les Misérables”, made sure the car was filled with fuel, and you bought some spring flowers, because she loves daisies. You took weeks to do this because you care about your wife.

Two weeks after your anniversary, your life changed. The world you knew and remembered was forever altered and destroyed in the blink of an eye. Those that you loved beyond life itself were now shadows of their former selves trying to understand the magnitude of their grief and the losses that caused it. No longer did the laughter of your children echo down the halls as they played in the bedrooms and teased one another. The pets, no longer climbed on the furniture only to be told “get down” for the hundredth time. The phone will no longer ring on one of two existing 1970’s era rotary dial phones that actually still worked. In fact, nothing about your life will ever be the same from now on.

The fire department chief told you that the fire started in the attic. Some faulty electrical wiring from when the house was built in 1974 had finally failed and shorted. This caused the new insulation that you had installed last fall to ignite over time and with the stored boxes in the attic became a tinder box ripe for burning. The possessions stored were a mix of decorations for each holiday season. Some relics from your past, extra books that have more meaning than use to you, and several painting and prints that you liked and could not bear to let go of just yet. In essence, pretty much everything that qualified what you called a life.

In 2007 you and your wife bought your first house. Your children were still young, but it gave them a place to grow, to call home. The yard was filled with areas to explore, grass to play on and room for the pets to chase and play fetch. With the joys of owning a home, you also knew there would be great responsibilities that came with the mortgage. Annual and seasonal maintenance, mortgage payments, insurances were the least among them. Safety also came to mind. The safety of your family, your neighbors and friends, somehow it seemed appropriate, the safety of the house itself. In its planning, you looked at insurance policies and warranties for various things. You did not live in the flood zone, so flood insurance seemed a bit excessive. You had the standard policies that all agents recommended. So, what was missing?

Did I have a “Family Action Evacuation Plan”?

There it was, as plain as the nose on your face. You had everything but the family evacuation plan. The following day, you went down to the local fire company and asked where you could get information about making an evacuation plan. The chief gave sound advice and some pamphlets and told you that the Red Cross was also a good source of information. So you then went to your local Red Cross Chapter and asked the same questions. True to his word, the chief was right. You got great information on how to make an evacuation plan that would serve you well should it ever be needed.

That evening, you sat down with your family to discuss what we should do in the event of any emergency. Where should we go, who we should call, what should be done until everyone was safe. You shared the information you were given and asked everyone to give some input as to the FAP that you were building.

The American Red Cross made some recommendations:

  • If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL for help.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
  • Test smoke alarms once a month, if they’re not working, change the batteries.
  • Talk with all household members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.(Cross)

Emergency action plans for your family should include your animals

Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count. They are members of the family. In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being. The best way to ensure the safety of your entire family is to be prepared with a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan includes your pets. Being prepared can help save lives. (Cross)

So in building the Family Action Plan, you laid out the frame work of what was needed, what responsibilities each person had, where would we all meet if separated, and who to contact in the event of an emergency. Each family member had an assigned role as they were now old enough to grasp the severity of things and capable of helping. The children would locate the pets and evacuate from the house, mom would locate the children and evacuate the house, dad, would locate everyone and evacuate the house. If the fire was small, dad would combat it while everyone else got out. Everyone would call 911 unless otherwise directed.

For the house itself, you purchased several fire extinguishers from the Kidde Company. (United Technologies, 2015) These included one for the kitchen and cooking fires, one for the house and general fires, and one for the garage for chemical fires. You also purchased a dozen up to date smoke detectors and installed them throughout the house the attic, the bedrooms, the basement, and the garage to get better coverage throughout the house.

After finishing the framework and installing the proper equipment in the house, the day came to test what we had built. Simulation Day was here. Our neighbors, being the good sports and for the promise of a BBQ afterwards, were willing to help us with the testing. It also gave them incentive to decide if this was a good thing for them to consider. We informed all of our neighbors that we were running a drill, but also contacted the local fire company and police just in case someone heard us yelling fire and called them. The test went flawlessly as tests often do, we evacuated the house in under 2 minutes, all pets and people accounted for, everyone was happy. You prayed that the true test would never happen.

(Fast Forward)

February 1st came and seemingly went with no fanfare it was just another cold day among the typical winter-scape of Pennsylvania. It was a long day gone and a cold night coming. Around 2 A.M. you awoke, something was wrong but you weren’t sure about what it was. The room was dark, but it felt warmer than it should have for a cold February night. Then the second warning came; another screaming banshee assaulting my senses saying, “Listen to me”. You realized it was the detectors going off and the warmth was not a summer’s night, but a fire somewhere in the house. Opening the bedroom door, and hearing nothing close by, you knew the attic must be the problem. You grabbed the rope and pulled the ladder down far enough to see the glowing light in the darkness. You knew that you couldn’t combat it; and started screaming and calling for your family to get out. Going from door to door in the house you gathered your wife, a cat, and the dog. Getting to your daughters rooms, they were empty. Fear wasn’t your first thought, hysteria was more like it. You didn’t know where they were and could see the flames breaking through the ceiling in spots and now time was more precious than it had ever been. Sending your wife out the sliding door you raced through the house yelling for the children. The attic was now in the living room and the flames were spreading faster than you could move. Reaching the stairway, you could hear screaming from the basement and fearing the worst pushed into the darkness. The upper floor and attic were now lost, nothing to do but escape through the garage or basement door. Outside you could see the light from the flames; you could hear the sirens and the neighbors yelling. There in the neighbor’s care you found your children and the other two cats in the neighbor’s yard just as the plan called for. Everyone was now out of the house as the decades of your lives roared in the light.

In the days, weeks, years that passed, I was able to reflect on the thought of the FAP. It is hard to describe the benefits of any action when the end result is that you are alive and all that you love is too. Without the FAP it may not have been that way. What took 4-6 months to create and build was destroyed in mere minutes. An entire world removed save for the memories it created over time.

I am being asked what benefits are there in a Family Action Plan.

  • It gave a family clear direction in their responsibilities during an emergency
  • It gave tangible meaning to why these things were to be done
  • It gave purpose for the actions that led to the installation of safety equipment
  • It removed fear and instilled confidence that this will work
  • It saved the lives of 5 people and 4 pets

Yes, there is benefit in the Family Action Plan (FAP); we are living proof of that benefit.


Cross, A. R. (n.d.). Home Fire Safety. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from

United Technologies, K. (2015, March 22). Home Safety. Retrieved from Kidde:

Systemic Promotion of Disaster Preparedness Habits: A student’s perspective

Zach Brier

Forming habits can be difficult, and it is important that the habits that are formed are good ones. Good habits can be anything from brushing your teeth, to always saying please and thank you. Some habits that are overlooked however can be some of the most important. Disaster preparedness is a perfect example of a habit that should be formed but that is commonly overlooked. An ideal age for forming disaster preparedness habits is between the ages of eight and thirteen. There are many ways we could get across to today’s kids in that age range and a system should be set in place in order to allow for disaster preparedness’ to become a habit.

The system should be appealing to the kids, otherwise the participation would be lacking. Kids love interactive videos and gaming. My mom is a first grade teacher and I frequently help out in her class. They have several educational games that the students really respond well to. If the targeted youth were to be taught disaster preparedness in class they would absorb some of the information but if a disaster preparedness game was created that would present the information in a more appealing manner. Gaming would allow kids to exercise the 18 things needed in order to form a habit. A commitment to thirty days would be achievable because kids when they get a new game will play it daily for several months, especially if they were asked to play during school. As long as the game went over what they would need to do to be prepared the information would be absorbed. The second thing needed for a habit is a daily thing which would be addressed by the kids playing daily! Starting simple is the third thing, and it would be easily achievable by having levels to the game.  If the game asks for participation outside of it the targeted youth will be likely to exercise what they learn and thus be practicing the habits and better forming them. Reminders could be sent via phones, or via the computer. You’d be amazed at the number of kids in that range that have cellphones or have access to tablets and computers. Consistency is important in forming a habit so the playing of the game as well as the practicing what the game teaches is important. Parents, teachers, and adults should make sure to have the targeted youth exercise the activities and follow the same steps as in the game. The whole getting a buddy thing would be easy by the game character as well as by the adult promoting the game and the exercises outside of the game. Triggers should be just the game itself as well as the frequent outside of game practices. Imperfection is important for practicing and learning while forming a habit and the game would allow for failure as well as success which will better promote the habit. Temptation to stray from the habit will be there but that is why the adult reinforcement is needed to help promote and take away the temptation to stray from the habit formation. Role models will be accessible through the game and the targeted youth should respond positively to them. Experiments and trials will be accessible through the game, simulating a disaster and whether or not the avatar is sufficiently prepared. The targeted youth should be encouraged to keep some kind of record of their preparedness strategies in both the games and in real life. The benefits of disaster preparedness should be expressed not just through the game but also in real life if the targeted youth is faced with a disaster.

All in all, I feel as though the best way to systematically train youth between the ages of eight to thirteen to develop disaster preparedness habit would be through gaming. The youth respond really well to gaming and I feel that it will allow a bridge to be formed into the subjects real life allowing them an easier way to form a habit and a way that the subject will feel motivated to develop and maintain the habit.