Thoughts Following 9/11

Home

Political Index

10-10-2001 (Later):    After rethinking the problem, I've realized that what I said below is totally unrealistic. There isn't apt to be a national emergency or a national traffic jam. Instead, an attack would probably be like Florida's anthrax attack.  localized, and slow to be detected. Offhand, I could imagine three scenarios: wind-driven poison gas or spores, person-to-person contagion, and suitcase-sized nuclear bombs comparable to World-War II blockbusters.
    Wind-driven anthrax spores would be undetectable.
    Wind-driven poison gas would require immediate evacuation downwind from the point of release, as would wind-driven radioactive fallout from a tiny nuclear device. However, this evacuation would be localized, and would require outrunning the wind.
    Tiny nuclear devices would destroy a couple of blocks in a city. The one known Soviet-developed device weighed 163 pounds. Other nuclear devices might be detonated in aircraft, trucks, or ships. However, these are not readily available (and, one might hope, not available to terrorists at all). But in any case, they would produce localized effects rather than city-busting damage.
   I won't say more until I have done a better job of thinking this through.
10-10-2001:    I would reiterate yesterday's recommendation regarding The Politics of Rage- Why Do They Hate Us?, by Fareed Zakaria . Mr. Zakaria says, "Bin Laden and his fellow fanatics are products of failed societies that breed their anger. America needs a plan that will not only defeat terror but reform the Arab world."  I found Section 10 particularly interesting. The message in Section 10, written by Jonathon Alter, is that some intellectuals "are unforgivably out to lunch"."Critics of the war on terrorism donít seem to understand: someone is trying to kill them." Arab terrorists are products of a resurgent fundamentalism in Muslim affairs, and the U. S., as the poster child for Western influence and the supporter of Israel, is, to a large degree, a scapegoat. For example, Mr. Zakaria points out that Arab nations may decry the plight of the Palestinians, but he suggests that neighboring Arab nations haven't helped them or been willing to take them in. (Lebanon has come the closest.)
   I'm working on contingency planning for Tommie and me, and for our family members, in the event of trouble. My first thought was that we would "head for the hills", but then I realized that U. S. traffic would be in a state of total gridlock. Legally, U. S. citizens aren't supposed to drive on Interstate highways during times of emergency, since the Interstates are reserved for official and emergency vehicles. Even if this weren't the case, under the best of conditions, Interstates can't accommodate more than, perhaps, 5,000 to 6,000 cars per lane per hour. (Imagine what would happen when you add out-of-state traffic to evacuation traffic in the neighborhoods of large cities.*) Everyone ought to be encouraged to become aware of alternative routes to get out of town. Everyone ought to be warned against blocking intersections, and thereby blocking cross-traffic to alternative routes.
    Ruth and I were in an emergency-evacuation situation like this once, when a blizzard suddenly descended on Birmingham, Alabama.. What happened was total gridlock. There would have been many ways to leave town, but people who were trying to use the main escape routes blocked the intersections so you couldn't get across town to the lesser roads. The reason was that, if drivers didn't block the intersections, other cars would enter from the side streets. Of course, once the side streets had emptied out, this would no longer have happened, but by then, everyone had adopted the practice of ignoring traffic lights and blocking intersections.
    This is terribly inefficient. Bumper-to-bumper traffic moves fewer than 1,000 vehicles per lane per hour.



* - Several steps might be taken to improve urban traffic. One step would be to open up the berm to traffic. (Or maybe not. Emergency vehicles presently use the berm.) Another might be to station radio-equipped police or volunteers at freeway entrance ramps to control traffic entry. These personnel should be located at the entrances to the entrance ramps so that, if freeway traffic locks up, it would be feasible to follow other routes. (Police and volunteers--e. g., school traffic volunteers--ought to be out in force to keep traffic moving.) Some inbound lanes might also be used for outbound traffic, leaving only a lane or two for incoming emergency vehicles. Here again, the berm might be pressed into service.
    Bridges are choke points. Two lanes might have to be reserved for emergency vehicles. Alternatively, one lane could set aside, provided that there were some way to control the one-way traffic.


    All other things being equal, it would probably be better to be in rural, than in urban areas during troubled times, but for most of us, properly equipping our households so that they can be "self-quarantined" and maintained in a 4-to-6-week state of self-sufficiency is probably going to be a better approach than trying to run somewhere. It wouldn't take much to saturate rural retreats.
    I'll be sharing more of this after I've done a better job f thinking it through. Right now, we're thinking in terms of bottled water, a portable radio, possibly an electric generator, and so forth.
    The student intern, who wrote a letter.to American Media telling them he "had a surprise for them", has been cleared of any mischievous intent. His surprise was a bag of bagels and a package of cream cheese for them in their refrigerator.
    One of the interesting questions about what will undoubtedly be demonstrated to be an anthrax terrorist attack upon American Media concerns the timing. Bob Stevens died of a massive dose of anthrax spores. The incubation period for such heavy exposure can be as little as two days. If the anthrax attack was launched a week before the World Trade Center atrocity, the terrorists risked alerting the world to their September 11th intentions.
    Another interesting question is: "Why didn't anthrax spores show themselves in American Media's air filters?" Fortunately, unlike smallpox, anthrax isn't readily contagious.
    The principle lesson to be learned from this attack might be that bioweapons aren't easily effective. On the other hand, if it turns out that these anthrax spores were concocted in some nation's laboratories....