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From 9/11 to 9-1-1: What the Death of Bin Laden Means to Us

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-05-04
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Late on the evening of Sunday, May 1, President Barack Obama announced to the world that Osama Bin Laden was dead; ending a decade long search for what many believed to be the poster child for terrorism. Like many, I heard the news from my television; my attention being grabbed from mindless channel surfing by a graphic announcing a White House news conference. As could be predicted, the few minutes of facts presented have since morphed into days of speculation, bad jokes, doctored photographs, and more than occasional uninformed debate.

So now that the dust from the chopper blades has cleared the compound, and we have a clear view, just what does all of this mean to public safety? Unfortunately, a clear view doesn’t mean a clear answer.

Throughout history there have been many murderous despots whose passing brought little tears.  All had shameful memorials dedicated to their memory. Hitler had his Auschwitz and lesser known but still as infamous concentration camps. Pol Pot had the killing fields of Cambodia. Bin Laden had the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93. Whether or not their collective deaths avenged the deaths of millions of innocents is not clear. If anything, they served as a “feel good” moment – if there is such a moment when death is involved – where societies as a whole heaved a collective sigh of relief.  But even then, that relief was for the death of what these tyrants represented and not for the body itself. For, unfortunately, there sometimes seems to be an unlimited supply of evil waiting to fill the void.

The sad fact is that while a significant blow, the death of Bin Laden does not mean the death of Al Qaeda, and especially not of terrorism. While that of the Middle Eastern persuasion seems to grasp our attention (maybe because they “look and speak so differently than us”) we must not overlook the Timothy McVeighs who “look and speak an awful lot like” the folks next door; because they are the folks next door. A year or so back several arrests were made in a county adjoining mine where a father and his sons were allegedly planning a jihad. 

As I write this column there is no lack of advice that we should raise our terror levels in the wake of Osama’s death.  Having just recently abandoned the color code system, this might prove an interesting test of our new and improved measures.  But the sad fact remains that while killing the terrorist leader might lead to retaliation, leaving him alone was no guarantee of peace. And the devastation that actions he directed had on American citizens – hundreds of them public safety officers – left him little sympathy in our community.

Still and all his demise is no guarantee of this peace, either, and we must remain vigilant against such future threats. But, more than that, we have to remain focused on those hazards that we will likely have to face in our own little corners of the world. While the Pentagon, by nature, needs to be fortified against almost unimaginable threats, the suburban or rural Public Safety Answering Point is probably best protected by assuring that it has working locks and is not located in a flood plain. Standards such as NFPA 1221 specify reasonable security precautions, and adherence to protocols for admittance to your premises can do the rest. While I can tell you from experience that flights of fancy abound when talking about 9-1-1 center design, it is the jilted lover, disgruntled ex-employee, and citizen with a grudge against the government that ought to be our biggest concerns.  Is it time to crawl back out of our bunkers and emerge from the bullet proof glass? I think not.  The world has its share of bad people. If it didn’t, we’d be out of our jobs.  And a good portion of our jobs is to protect the good people – including our staffs - from the bad.  Because of this, physical security will remain high on the list of every 9-1-1 center for years to come. I’ve always said that when it came to developing a plan, I was more concerned about Bubba than I was Bin Laden.  Now it looks like I’ve got one less thing to worry about.


Our PSAP Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.






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