In just about one year this country will elect a new president. An event most Americans take for granted, this involves not only the passing of the torch from one president to the next but also an overall change in administration and staff. In the eyes of the American public and the responders who provide emergency services, the period while the government is in transition is the time of the greatest vulnerability for the country and for emergency responders. If you ve listened to some of the experts on terrorism (and I have) they warn the next greatest period of possible terrorism in the U.S. might occur during the changeover from one administration to the next. You only need to look at recent U.S. history to be concerned.

Case in point: Feb. 26, 1993 — just 38 days into the new Clinton administration, a radical Islamic terrorist group tried to bring down World Trade Center Tower One with a car bomb filled with explosives that were detonated in an underground parking garage. After an initial upswing in awareness and training, the country soon settled back into a complacent mode and public safety agencies didn t focus on training and preparedness for terrorist events.

Move forward eight years. A new president has taken the helm, and while not as soon as the first event, it was only 234 days into this new administration that another event occurred shocked the world. Sep. 11, 2001 is to this generation what Dec. 7, 1941 was to our parents and grandparents — a day that changed America forever. The U.S. fell victim to international terrorism within its borders. After that date, most agencies that provide emergency services in this country increased their preparedness for another event and accepted the changes that occurred as the result of the event.

Now let s look at the present, little more than six years after that horrific day. As time wears on, the anticipation of another event seems to decrease with each passing month. Those of us in public safety have relaxed our posture along with our preparedness and readiness. Another terrorism event is not as high a priority as it was just after Sept. 11. Although it s somewhat natural for that to occur, it sets a dangerous precedent that the terrorists are counting on. Most experts predict the next event won t be planes crashing into tall buildings. It will be something else that impacts the most number of victims possible and attempts to scare America into permanently changing the way of life of its citizens. So, will your organization be ready when the next event occurs?

A key point in your preparation is to not try to create a new procedure that conflicts with normal operations. In most disaster situations, a break down occurs when different operating procedures are thrust in the middle of an incident. What can you do to get ready? It s a relatively simple process to begin because you only need to organize your agency in two areas.

The first way to prepare is to be aware that a terrorist event could occur in your community and assess your agency s capabilities. What are the key assets and critical infrastructure in your organization that could be impacted, and what crucial elements of providing emergency service do you need to be able to provide? Do you have mutual aid agreements in place for additional resources, and have you looked at target hazards in your community that may impact a large number of people.

In conjunction with doing your assessment, the second area is to prepare your department for a terrorist event. Begin by re-enforcing your organization s policies and procedures for a disaster or mass casualty event. Terrorist events are intended to impact a large number of people, and your preparation should take into consideration having to deal with multiple patients. Conducting training exercises will help prepare your employees and command staff. You should review your emergency operations plan and assure that your resources are in place to assist you.

Another way to prepare is to be sure you have the equipment necessary to deliver service in the event of such an MCI, or where you can obtain additional resources should your capabilities be exceeded by the event.

I would caution you to not disregard recent history. The world is a different place now and the elements of terror don t always work out in the open. Take the time and effort to prepare your agency and personnel on what to do if a terrorist event were to happen in your community. One of my favorite quotes is from philosopher Edmund Burke, All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. It is up to all of us to be prepared as we best can be and to stay vigilant. Don t wait until next year to get ready. It s time to get busy now.