After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the increasingly serious threats from both state actors and non-state actors, there has been a growing call for the resurrection of some form of civil defense structure in the United States.
Among those calling for this resurrection was a bi-partisan committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. In August of 2012 two Republicans and two Democrats introduced House Resolution 762: “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding community-based civil defense and power generation.” Even though the resolution failed to acquire a passing vote, the sense of the Congress is still important. The sense of that bi-partisan committee was that a community-based civil defense program is a good idea for the modern community.
Proposed House Resolution 762:
Encourages every community to develop its own “civil defense program” working with citizens, leaders, and institutions, ranging from local fire halls, schools, and faith-based organizations, to create sustainable local infrastructure and planning capacity, so that it might mitigate high-impact scenarios and be better prepared to survive and recover from these worst-case disaster scenarios and be better able to affordably and sustainably meet the needs of the community in times of peace and tranquility;
Encourages every citizen to develop an individual emergency plan to prepare for the absence of government assistance for extended periods;
Encourages each local community to foster the capability of providing at least 20 percent of its own critical needs, such as local power generation, food, and water, while protecting local infrastructure whenever possible from the threats that threaten centralized infrastructure; and to do so with the urgency and importance inherent in an all-of-nation civil defense program developed by citizens and their local communities; and
Encourages state governments and federal agencies to support the ability of local communities to become stronger, self-reliant, and better able to assist neighboring communities in times of great need.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long told a Congressional subcommittee in November 2017, “Let’s hit the reset button” and “The nation needs to stop and take a deep breath and figure out how we can become more resilient.” He also said “I’m ready to change the face of emergency management and how we tackle resiliency.”
Most recently in an interview with EM Weekly, Administrator Long said: “One thing I have been very vocal about is we’ve got to stop looking at the citizens as liabilities and start looking at citizens as first responders. How are we training them to take actions that are low or no cost actions they can take to be better prepared? How are we actually going back to the old civil defense in the 1950’s of incorporating them into our activities and response plans like basically putting CERT teams on steroids and teaching citizens practical skills?”
The answer to Administrator Long’s dilemma is in Resolution 762 – a local community civil defense organization. This is the answer FEMA has been looking for. By organizing and training the citizens in planning, preparedness, rescue and recovery, the community is more resilient, and the nation as a whole is stronger when each community takes the responsibility for themselves and their neighbors. The many heroes in Houston, Texas after hurricane Harvey hit there in 2017 is a perfect example. That was the spirit of continuity of community (civil defense) in action.
On January 18, 2018, Time magazine online published an article entitled “Hawaii’s False Alarm Exposes U.S. Civil Defense Gaps“. The article points out that civil defense programs are designed to limit [emphasis mine] panic in the population. But as we saw, the false alarm created a lot of panics and exposed the vulnerable underbelly of our current emergency management programs and true lack of any continuity of the community.
We, as a nation, can no longer rely solely on the federal and state governments to provide our rescue, relief, and recovery after a catastrophic event. We must take the responsible for our own safety and security to a large degree. There is little consistency from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and the civilians are usually not invited – the non-professional need not apply mentality. This is probably why the great C.E.R.T. program is not more widely accepted across the country. My jurisdiction meets this situation, unfortunately. This may come from the idea that we are not capable of handling the truth of a catastrophe and would only hamper the “professionals.”
Also, administrations come and go. Each one has their own ideas on resiliency for our nation. Just look at the history of Civil Defense and one would learn very quickly that the top-down system for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery is not in the best interest of our nation. The emphasis on Civil Defense changed from every administration from President Truman through the end of its life during President Clinton. This is why it must be a local grass-roots initiative that involves the people and organizations in the community.
One of the strengths of our old Civil Defense Corps was that the citizens were informed and involved in the safety of their families, neighborhoods and communities. Being informed and trained to respond and recover IS the strength of our communities. To use the example again of the response by untrained citizens in Houston is proof of this. But to keep this alive in the community there must be an organization that keeps people involved, trained and ready for the next big event. That organization called by any other name is a Community-based Civil Defense organization.