During the Cold War, I remember reading that, especially in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, it was not uncommon for people to build bomb shelters well stocked with canned goods in their backyards.
The threat of a nuclear exchange terrified so many people during the Cuban Missile Crisis that many people invested a tidy sum in foodstuffs with long shelf lives.
Various local groups were established in urban and suburban areas near large cities around the “Civil Defense Service Agency.” According to Wikipedia, the following definition applies:
“Since the end of the Cold War, the focus of civil defense has largely shifted from military attack to emergencies and disasters in general. The new concept is described by a number of terms, each of which has its own specific shade of meaning, such as crisis management, emergency management, emergency preparedness, contingency planning, emergency services, and civil protection.”
Their job was strictly based on vigilance and making whole communities aware of potential threats. At that time, the threat of communism had many in this country concerned. Current threats in these times are Cyber Security “(Cyber-attacks now exceed the risk of physical attacks),” and ISIS still exists. Islamic terrorism, and Bio-Cyber Security as a far more potent threat to civilian populations.
In the 1950s and 60s, Civil Defense workers were given yellow armbands and white hard hats. They had no legal power or authority, but it was their job to enlist volunteers to keep an eye out and patrol their own neighborhoods and be aware and report what was going on there. This was very much like neighborhood watch groups at work today, but the emphasis was on anyone acting suspiciously. Everyone was on the lookout for anything out of place, be it a car, person, or object. As a positive result, burglaries went down, as did cases of arson, rape, and other violent crimes.
Civil Defense workers in the cities were tasked with knowing where all the underground bomb shelters were and to make sure they led people to them in the event of a nuclear attack. At the most, there would be fifteen to thirty minutes between the launching of a Soviet missile, and when it hit, so shepherding people underground would not have saved many.
The fear and paranoia did not end until nuclear arms parity (or superiority—neither side really knew just how many nukes each had) was reached, and the concept of MAD became the new norm. MAD is the acronym for “Mutually Assured Destruction.” It meant that there were so many nuclear missiles in both U.S. and Soviet arsenals that both countries would be utterly destroyed if either country triggered a preemptive strike. It acted as a great deterrent.
Today, with far more wide-ranging concerns, we face a very different enemy that is becoming more and more clever about getting explosives onto aircraft or placed in a car bomb. The absolute need to educate the public about these dangers is paramount, especially since about 300 Muslim Americans were self-radicalized over the web during the ISIS era, then flown to Turkey and Syria to join ISIS.
Because they have U.S. passports, they could come back at any time. As far as I know, only 12 came back, and few were arrested. In Trump’s era, they cannot return. They are considered terrorists.
A lonely backpack sitting on a subway platform in the middle of rush hour in a subway should ring the bell. Something like that occurred during the Boston Marathon bombing, as we have seen. People who do not follow the news will be so busy talking on a cell phone or engaging in other activities; they will not know it is a bomb until it blows. Self-knowledge of your own surroundings is the greatest deterrent to stopping a terrorist attack I know of.
Let us be reminded that ISIS took 88 pounds of Uranium from Fallujah University when it took over. That is close to what they need for a dirty bomb.
We should attempt to recreate something like the Civil Defense teams, but there are too many consumed by electronic gadgets they know to operate but have no idea what is going on in the real world or how to deal realistically with such situations. They need to be educated about the dangers. To see just how uninformed many people are, I used to watch Watters’ World every Monday night on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox. That was a few years ago. Jesse used to go around the country asking people across the spectrum questions they should know the answer to without thinking. When he asked one group of people what Ebola was, many offered the following answers: it was a country in Africa, some thought it was a senator, while there was only a minority who actually knew. When he asked students at Brown University who the American Vice-President was, there were many without a clue.
Our education in this area is critical. If most Americans are not brought up to speed about terrorist tactics, they are the walking dead; people whose lives could be snuffed out when one nitwit opens that lonely backpack on that subway platform and sets off the bomb. Technology offers us many benefits, but it has really dumbed down the nation. Our educational system is so progressive now, especially at the college level; most students know only how to hate the U.S. and do not seem to care what goes on around them. They also seem not to care about their own self-protection.
What needs to be figured out is how do we get people to pay attention to why a pressure cooker is sitting in the middle of the street in a city. If we do not make people aware of the dangers and if we rely on law enforcement, people on the street will be the ones cooked when the pressure cooker in a backpack goes off.
It is also correct as to the complexity of public information, DHS, FEMA, and what others publish. We witnessed how ill-informed and disastrous CDC information was in regard to Ebola and perhaps Coronavirus. I knew more than they did because I had studied Ebola since 1994, and Ex-CDC chief Dr. Frieden, a bastion of protection of public health, was completely uninformed in his so-called area of expertise.
Know thy enemy” is a perennial gem of wisdom. Disaster preparedness can save your life.