Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Does homeland security matter?
I'll 'fess up. Before I read Stephen Flynn's new book, "Edge of Disaster," I never gave much thought to the issue of homeland security. For me, this issue was all about long lines at the airport, color-coded alerts and forfeited moisturizer. I've always felt safe in America, even after 9/11. And if something's going happen, it's going to happen, right? Nothing I can do about it. Nothing any of us can, I thought, not even the government.

Uh, wrong.

What Flynn's book showed me (and what tonight's "360" special "Edge of Disaster: Are You Prepared?" will hopefully show you) is that there are simple, concrete things we, as a society, can do to make ourselves safer. The scary thing is, Flynn says we're not doing them. In fact, he says, we actually seem to be making ourselves more vulnerable with each passing year, and not just to terrorism, but to natural disasters of Katrina-like proportions.

About a month ago, we embarked on a cross-country journey to see for ourselves what Stephen Flynn was talking about. Among our stops: Philadelphia, Boston, Rhode Island and California. What we found was startling.

From coast to coast, the inter-connected foundations of our nation are crumbling: levees, waterways, the electrical power grid that keeps our lights on. Flynn says they could tumble like dominoes in the face of a natural disaster or a terrorist assault. By allowing them to deteriorate, we have made ourselves vulnerable, Flynn says, but he thinks a renewed push to invest in the United States' infrastructure would go a long way toward making all of us safer.
Posted By Claire Brinberg, CNN Producer: 6:20 PM ET
  32 Comments
I don't think we're prepared for another terrorist or natural disaster. A couple of months ago a passenger had spilled mercury at the subway system here in Los Angeles and it took 8 hours before any action was made to clean it up. Imagine if it was a biological weapon that was spilled instead.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 7:27 PM ET
I work for the Dept. and all I can say is someone wanted to get something on a plane they could do it with no problem.
Posted By Anonymous A.G Newark NJ : 8:00 PM ET
We do what we can, little things like, keeping an emergency kit in your car (flashlight, water, non-perishable foods, etc). Have a plan with family members who live outside the state you live in (they take care of you if a disaster hits your area, and vice-versa). Stock your house with canned goods, water, and other basic necessities. I know disaster preparedness is one of the things that Anderson advocates (along with volunteerism). On a grander scale, I believe in investing in our infrastructure, e.g., improve tsunami/earthquake/etc. warning systems, levees, airport security systems, etc. There are no guarantees, but our likelihoood of survival is greater if we've done our homework and anticipated these things to the best of our ability.
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 8:02 PM ET
We are way too vulnerable! The Mexican border and the border where Canada meets Michigan might as well have signs that read: "OPEN - Come on in! "
Posted By Anonymous xtina chicago IL : 8:15 PM ET
Consumed with the inevitable notion that again the United States will be faced with terrorists or natural disaster we all begin to slip into a reality check. No matter where we are located or what our social status none of us are immune from disaster. The United States sometimes seems so busy rebuilding and improving the infrastructures of other countries that we seem to forget our own homeland. America in all her greatness and glory extends her hand across oceans and borders to make the world a better place. In her haste to be so mission minded she often seems to neglect her own inner needs. I suppose America could be compared to a mother....so busy meeting the needs of those around her she often fails to take the time to care for herself.
It's rather scary to stop and think that America is a crumbling giant. We are our own worst enemy. Like a cancer in the body--- we are being destroyed from the inside out. Our neglect to adequately provide for ourselves may be our very downfall.
Thank you Stephen Flynn for enlightening us to these facts. Good Luck with your book!
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 8:23 PM ET
If this regime had spent the last 6 years rebuilding THIS nation instead of "nation building" in Iraq, we'd be stronger and better prepared for all manner of contingencies instead of a crumbling and globally loathed empire wanna be.
Posted By Anonymous John A. Starnes, Jr Tampa Florida : 8:44 PM ET
America is definitely in decline. If we don't learn to stop bickering and start investing in our people and infrastructure then we are destined to meet the same fate that so many other so-called great societies have faced.
Posted By Anonymous Roosevelt-Statesboro, GA : 9:18 PM ET
Take a day. Literally, take a day off and enjoy the place where you live. Take it off on one of those splendiferous days, that only the people of your area know about. Walk in your local park. Visit the local museum. Watch your favorite team at the local stadium. Eat at your favorite restaurant. Go get an ice cream from the place down the block. Enjoy where you live. Take note of all the people in your life, who make it possible and sometimes charming. Be kind, be nice. You never know when it will all be taken away from you, as the people of La., Ms., Tx. etc. now know.

And once you have taken that day, become a concerned citizen. Vote for the issues that make the place where you live, the place you love.

A Katrina survivor
Posted By Anonymous Ruth Brewington, Metairie, LA : 9:22 PM ET
Building infrastructure costs big money. We can't afford to protect all we have now - trains are still an issue, chemical plants, shipping, etc. Making more of these things does not make us safer, it creates more targets that need expensive protection.
Posted By Anonymous Don L., Phoenix, AZ : 9:39 PM ET
I've lived my life with earthquakes, and each time we're hit with one, it's always the same. The stunned looks on the faces of everyone, the deer in the headlights look, the what's going on expression. No, we aren't ever ready for disaster and we, myself included, just don't seem to grasp that reality. It would be great to be prepared, really prepared, but it's like anything else, the barn door is locked after the horse is missing. I'm not sure we will ever be 100 percent ready for a calamity, so I guess it's up to me to be ready to take care of myself. Tax dollars should fix things that need to be repaired, but for all the rest that drips through the sieve, it's up to us. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 9:46 PM ET
Hell ya! Homeland securty matters when a disaster happens. But when things are cozy calm at home, wall street dictates what goes on in the country, and on Wall street, money is what matters and security is the last thing on most peoples mind!
Posted By Anonymous Claude Calgary AB Canada : 10:14 PM ET
I haven't read the book, however, i feel a cloud is over us with a future catastrophic event looming in the near future: a major fault in the water supply, electrical outages widespread, or bridges along the Mississippi River bombed separating the country from transportation of food supplies. What can we do, not much, depend on Homeland Security?, please. What we each can do is stock enough water for a period of a week-(I save all my Clorox bottles rinse them out and fill with water and refill every three months). We can stock can goods, batteries, and cash on hand, if banks close, have a ready supply of our meds and first aid products. Of course a gun with shells available is always important and a necessity to have at hand. With gangs and crimes of violence, we are reverting to the wild wild west in many cities in the 21st century.
Posted By Anonymous judy perkins , nesbit, Ms : 10:15 PM ET
I think Homeland Security is extremely important. I just wish we would do the things we need to in this country to prepare. That's why I never join in or agree with people who call the Bush Adm. or Republicans "fear mongers". Anybody with sense should know that our country is vulnerable. The borders are open, we let anyone go to school here and enforcement of visa's is a joke. I do agree that state governments need to work in conjunction with feds to shore up infrastructures, emergency response, etc. I'm glad you did this segment.
Posted By Anonymous Cecilia, Houston Texas : 10:19 PM ET
Think of all the good jobs that would be created if we spent our tax dollars on rebuilding the electric grid, shoring up levees, and securing chemical and nuclear plants (to name a few) instead of sinking hundreds of billions into Iraq. It makes me sad. The good news is there is still time to correct it. All we need to see is some leadership.
Posted By Anonymous Nicholas Goodman, NY : 10:55 PM ET
You needed to read a book to understand this very simple concept? I only had to watch TV on 9/11...
Posted By Anonymous Rod C. Venger, Colorado Springs, CO. : 11:03 PM ET
I worked in Transportation Security for Homeland Security for 4 years. For all that time there were constantly changing managers and procedures that often contradicted each other. Our prior military skills and civilian skills were not used and training was disorganized. Passengers told us we were just window dressing and after a while many of us felt that way. Worse,
many low grade employees of the previous security contractors were hired and they gave us nothing but grief. In an emergency these people would simply run away. Many of them were gradually fired, but not before they destroyed the morale for the rest of us. Gallows humor often set in when we realized how vulnerable we were and how poorly we were prepared. Although there were hundreds of us, with some pretty incredible, dedicated people, none were trained in emergency medicine or disaster preparedness, and they told us we never would be. I eventually realized it was pointless and left in complete disgust.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, St Louis MO : 11:21 PM ET
Please do not waste our time with the what ifs when it comes to homeland security? Anderson is suppose to be in the rain forest, however, night after night there has been minimum coverage in the rain forest. I am getting bored. Don't advertise on topics that you can not deliver.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy Indy, IN : 11:29 PM ET
The only way this country will be safe is when Bush leaves office in 2009 and a Democart take over to clean his mess up. I am sure by the time he leaves we will be in a war with Iran.
Posted By Anonymous Benton, Indianapolis, In : 11:39 PM ET
Does homeland security really matter to our leaders? Does it matter to Citizens? "Scary" is the fact that fewer than 5 in 100 Americans (I'm an optimist) evern know what the US PATRIOT Act even stands for as an acronymn...not to mention it's ramifications. Scary is how far we as a nation have come from what the framers of the Constitution intended for this nation. Scary is the prevalent refusal of Americans to assume personal responsibility for their lives and their choices. Yes, it is a scary world and a scary time... yet it has less to do with external terroristic threat than it does internal disintegration.
Posted By Anonymous BJ, Sterling, VA : 11:49 PM ET
Hi Claire,
Flynn thinks a renewed push to invest in the United States' infrastructure would go a long way toward making all of us safer. How could our government leave us so vulnerable to disaster? It makes dollars and sense to me that this would be a better investment than war. It would be much more productive and save lives rather than loosing lives in a war. Ahh, the irony of it all, priceless.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 5:42 AM ET
Thanks for your excellent reporting on our disaster unreadiness. I can't wait to read The Edge of Disaster. I think your report and the book are so on target and so very important. Everyone in this country should be required to watch/read them! Please rerun that report often, often, often.
Posted By Anonymous R Mock, Indianapolis, IN : 6:12 AM ET
Ah yes, wouldn't it be nice if we could actually remove the log from our own eye before worrying about the splinter in our neighbor's? Think maybe the trillions we are pouring into a war based on lies, causing the murder of hundreds of thousands, might be better put to use in our own backyard? Too bad ol bush is too stupid to see that. It will be at least 2 more years until anything changes. And if there is any justice, bush can watch the changes from a jail cell where he belongs!
Posted By Anonymous nathan, junction city, ks : 7:54 AM ET
I must agree that most of the main infrastructer of our nations is 40-50 years old and in bad shape. A terrorist assault will be home grown with the rise of Islam within North America unchecked. What is really troubling is the poll by CNN that over 60% thus far, of voters don't care about the religion or beliefs of candidates leaving the door wide open to Islam to gain political control of regions within our borders of which has already happened.
Posted By Anonymous Bruce, Ontario, Canada : 9:22 AM ET
Yes, Homeland Security matters to all Americans! Our President and government should concentrate on securing OUR Borders and Ports rather than those of other countries! At both of the Congressional hearings that I went to last summer - the Border Patrol had clothing, books and money that had been discarded by people of Middle Eastern background on our Southern Border. But no one in our government wants to take that seriously until another 9/11 happens?!? We need a fence and armed guards 24-7 on both of our Borders!
Posted By Anonymous W.R. Ezell, Austin, Texas : 9:43 AM ET
So we spend 400 billion dollars on a pointless war which actually seems to be increasing our risk rather than diminishing it. How much "crumbling" could have been fixed with that $400B?
Posted By Anonymous Chris Moller, Cary, NC : 10:09 AM ET
Isn't the US at war? Against Terrorist? So why, since 9-11-01, have our borders not been shut down? We've got trucks lined up for miles to carry cargo from Mexico to US, the increase in illegal's is unbelievable. So why would we think, no terrorist would take advantage of our stupidity in not closing the borders? Think every trucks cargo is just tomatoes? Wonder how many bad guys have just walked across the Rio Grande? The 1st thing should've been the US security, but due to the lg# of hispanics that have moved into this area in last couple yrs, I feel the barn doors open & the horse's are already gone, so we do need to take personal responsiblity &
be prepared.
Posted By Anonymous Katie, Dallas Tx : 10:10 AM ET
Scary! We're investing BILLIONS on a nonsense war in Iraq when we SHOULD be investing billions right here at home protecting our borders, and our infrastructure. Can someone clue in President Bush? Oh that's right... he doesn't listen to anyone, he'd rather continue to play a real life game of "Risk", while we just sit around and wait for another catastrophe that we WON'T be prepared for... I feel safe!
Posted By Anonymous Anne, Middletown, NY : 10:34 AM ET
Claire,
In last night's AC360 report, "Edge of Disaster", I guess what struck me the most was the word "resiliency". I believe Flynn said his definition is "what is valued in our society." I agree with his scenario about how the US government, at this point, has placed our national "interests" overseas in a more important category than our own US infrastructure.

I also agree with his philosophy to not depend upon the federal government for needed support but to build local and state infrastructures to handle disasters more efficiently. This makes sense since local and state could respond more quickly than the federal government could. Just look how they responded to Katrina.

But when it comes down to it, this country will have to change its way of thinking when it comes to facing disasters. But as the AC360 teaser said "We Never Learn" until it's too late. Turning a blind eye to what could have been done only lessens our ability to act more effectively next time.
Posted By Anonymous Liz, Milwaukee, Wisconsin : 10:41 AM ET
Claire,

I was going to write a smarty pants response to rebuilding in NOLA in areas below sea level and then I saw Sacramento in last night's coverage of disaster preparedness. I live and work in the Sacramento area and I thought oh yeah, our levees. Before Katrina, I did not know that Sac was the American city most vulnerable to flooding. And of course since that fact was brought to our attention, life went on and even tho Arnold is trying to get money to rebuild our decaying infrastructure of levees and roads, not much has happened yet. Our levee system is over a hundred of years old and was first built by farmers and ranchers to protect their land. Now besides homes, the levees protect the water supply of one of the world's largest economies. And not just water to fill the swimming pools in So Cal.
Over 20 years ago just around this time of year, we were hit with massive rain storms. A levee south of Sacramento broke and the major north-south freeway, I-5, flooded and was impassable for days. The water lapped to the edge of the bridges on the second major artery, Hwy 99, and closed it on and off. The day the levee broke my commuter van faced a harrowing trip home. We were stopped in traffic on I-5 north of the freeway closure and finally got off only to try and find a way home along a treacherous levee road. I still remember going home in the driving rain with darkness to the left and sandbags and sandbaggers in yellow slickers to the right. The road was right along the levee that volunteers were trying to reinforce. Hmm, it is supposed to rain tomorrow...
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 10:52 AM ET
You never thought about homeland security before? Seriously?

The country's major problem (besides focusing on overseas and not here)is that we tend to overlook the basics. For example, there's been much talk about Avian Flu vaccines that may or may not even work, but there's been very little mention of the fact that if a crisis like that occurs we're completely unprepared when it comes to having the most basic supplies. Forget not having enough Tamiflu-there's not going to be enough IV bags (and so on). We are not prepared. We are not prepared at all.
Posted By Anonymous Stacy, St. Louis, MO : 11:10 AM ET
The only reason our infrastructure isn't being improved, or at least updated to meet current standards, is that there isn't enough profit in it for the money grubbing big business pals of Bush and Co. These firms would rather rebuild other countries under the auspices of no-compete government contracts so they can perform shoddy work and submit inflated invoices to the federal govenrment and be paid without question or consequence. War is good business and Bush's dirty little conflict is our downfall. He and his entire administration are a pack of dangerous animals and should be reigned in now. Impeachment is our only choice.
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson, Tucson AZ : 11:14 AM ET
We can only do so much to prepare for disasters both natural and man made.I however do believe in planning ahead for all this and so homeland security does matter.But most important thing is each family should have their own plan and be prepared.Media needs to make viewers aware of these issue and how to plan for such things.I'm of the opinion that the current awareness is not sufficient.
Posted By Anonymous Priya Junnarkar , Fremont,CA : 12:05 PM ET
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