EOC crisis management teams around the country have had experience in dealing with natural disasters and perhaps some human-made threats (such as riots) to cities, but very few have had any experience in dealing with a terrorist attack. This lack of experience, and the potential problems it implies for attack recognition, response, interagency operations, and public information management and media relations, is a serious vulnerability. The Office of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in conjunction with state and local officials, should collaborate to develop and deploy threat-based simulation models and training modules for EOC training, for identification of weaknesses in systems and staff, and for testing and qualifying EOC teams throughout the country.
Most thinking and planning related to preparedness, warning, and response rest on the assumption of an undifferentiated “community” or “public.” Research on disasters, however, reveals that individuals and groups differ in both readiness and response according to previous disaster experience, ethnic and minority status, knowledge of the language, level of education, level of economic resources, and gender. In addition, individual households vary in their responses to crises, depending on factors such as perceived risk, credibility of warning system, and concerns about family and property. The behavioral and social sciences can thus make important contributions to understanding group responses to crises. A program of research should be established to understand how differences based on cultural background, experience with previous disasters, and other factors should be taken into account when systems are designed for preparedness, warning, and response to terrorist attacks and other disaster situations. A basic research program in the National Science Foundation could build the groundwork for this counterterrorism research.
While research will lay the groundwork for long-term improvements in the quality of preparedness, warning, and response communications, in the near term the government must be preparing now to communicate as best it can in the aftermath of a crisis. Appropriate and trusted spokespeople should be identified and trained now so that, if a terrorist attack occurs, the government will be prepared to respond not only by supplying emergency services but also by providing important, accurate, and trustworthy information clearly, quickly, and authoritatively.
To strengthen the government’s ability to provide emergency services, indepth research should be conducted to characterize the structure of agencies responsible for dealing with attacks and other disasters. These studies would focus on discovering optimal patterns of information dissemination and communication among the agencies, the most effective strategies for coordination under