The best defense against a terrorist attack would be to improve the nation's ability to respond to all disasters, a widely recognized author believes.
Intelligence agencies won't always be able to prevent terrorist attacks, but the U.S. should put more resources into emergency health care responders, said Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a retired Coast Guard commander. That level of care is needed anyway to deal with natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, Flynn said.
"Our public health and our emergency medical capabilities are really not able to deal with the daily, routine emergencies we see in this country," Flynn said.
Flynn, author of two books on the nation's vulnerability to disaster, will be a keynote speaker at the fifth annual Homeland Defense/Homeland Security Symposium at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The event brings together military, academic and law enforcement experts, as well as private firms that specialize in security and military equipment.
They will share ideas, said Donald Addy, president of National Homeland Defense Foundation, the Colorado Springs- based group that runs the symposium. The group also provides financial assistance to the families of soldiers serving overseas.
Among highlights of this year's conference is a discussion Thursday on winning the war of ideas against terrorists.
"What we're really involved with in our culture today is a war of ideology: radical Islam vs. a free people," Addy said.
The panel discussion features speakers from the Middle East with ideas about how to bolster the power of moderate Muslims.
Flynn, who will open the conference Tuesday, said, "My critique is that the post-9/11 way we have approached the terrorist threat was to say we have to do it over there (in Afghanistan and Iraq) so we don't have to do it over here, that the only defense is offense."
But that doesn't make Americans any safer in the event terrorists pull off another attack here, said Flynn, who is headquartered in New York City.
In the absence of a good emergency response, the public reaction to another attack is likely to be fear and a sense of helplessness -- exactly the response terrorists want, Flynn said.
"The value of the act of terror is not the actual, specific event. It's our reaction to the event," he said.
In addition to bolstering first responders, the country should repair its physical assets, for example by fixing bridges so they can "take a punch," Flynn said.
Vulnerable structures should be strengthened or moved, he said. He cited a gas storage facility in a populated part of Boston, his hometown. A hit on that facility would leave the city "with literally scorched earth" over at least a half-mile, he said.morsonb@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5209