Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America

“Admiral Alert”

This Is a Time to Study Your Shelter-in-Place Protocols

Dear Valued Clients and Friends:

Now that everyone has returned from their August vacations, tanned, rested, and, ready to, once again, take on the realities of business and commerce, it is fitting that September is National Preparedness Month. I say that because while much of the working world spent August lying on the beach enjoying tabloid stories about Taylor Swift’s dalliance with a member of the Kennedy clan, and Jennifer Anniston’s latest engagement (is it on or off?), some of us in the security business were at our desks, analyzing information and contemplating scenarios that would probably land us in the loony bin if we were in any other line of work.

That said, I want to say to all of you that this would be a particularly good time for you to pull out your shelter-in-place protocols, dust them off, give them a good reading, and share them with your tenants. If you don’t have any such protocols, it is a good time to develop some. I say that for two reasons:

1)       I believe that we may be entering a very critical time period in world events when the possibility of significant new security threats may be on the horizon; and

2)       The default position of most people in reacting to almost any security emergency in their vicinity has become one in which people flee their offices immediately and head for home.

Taken together, those two statements could represent a dangerous situation for those working in office buildings in concentrated urban environments. This has nothing to do with the fact that we are approaching the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This is an entirely new potential threat. Let me elaborate.

There is a growing consensus that the ongoing diplomatic conflict between Israel and Iran concerning Iran’s effort to develop nuclear weapons may reach the boiling point and go military between now and the end of the year. Some analysts believe that could happen before the date of our Presidential election in November. That is because the time to act militarily is rapidly running out before Iran cannot be stopped by an attack. Further, Israel can start the fight but probably lacks the military power to finish it. It will probably need the help of the US to do that. Logic dictates that if you want the help of the President of the United States as Commander in Chief, and you are not entirely sure that he is with you, you should force his hand before an election, when he must look strong to the voters, not after an election when he may be a lame duck after losing the vote, or if he wins, not having to worry about facing another election.

Sometimes, when the schoolyard bully gets punched in the nose, he will slink away quietly, but in other cases, you may be in for a real fight. In this case, if/when Iran gets hit by Israel, it will probably have to retaliate as a matter of national honor, and it has proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas to help them with their dirty work of raining missiles into Israel and launching terror attacks around the world. That is where the US military muscle will be needed, in addition to ensuring that the nuclear sites are actually destroyed. We should all assume that the possibility exists that we could see real terror activity here in the US in the aftermath of an attack on Iran. Iran doesn’t want to take on the US military directly. That is a fool’s errand that will result in regime change. But anonymous terror attacks, carried out by proxies, might be something they feel they could initiate and still survive if they don’t leave evidence directly linking the attacks to Iran. I think they would be mistaken, but I think they would try.

In the world pecking order of terror, Al-Quada is the junior varsity. Hezbollah is the terrorism varsity, and they are already here among us. They are truly state sponsored terrorists with operational proficiency and access to training, assets, and material that only a state sponsor can provide. If unleashed by Iran, American cities could face the real possibility of car or truck bombs, suicide bombers, the potential use of chemical/biological weapons, and the possible deployment of active shooter teams similar to what India experienced in the Mumbai attacks in 2008 that killed 168 people. It will be easier for Iran to conduct these operations in Europe, but we are not immune from such violence. Without question, we would be the ultimate target after Israel. Certainly, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have done an extraordinary job of keeping us safe in ways that we have read about, and many other ways that we will never know about. But, how long can we count on that record of near perfection? What can we do, or should we do, to maximize our own safety and security while we are at work and away from our families? I believe that we can start by understanding what to expect in the event of a serious terror attack, and having a preparedness plan that is not simply an impulsive reaction to fear.

The reality is that if a bomb goes off downtown, you can count on the following things:

  • There will be a level of panic and chaos that no tabletop exercise can ever prepare you for.
  • No one will know if it is a radiological dispersal device (“RDD”) or a conventional bomb for several minutes and no official announcement will be made for quite a while. (See paragraph in red below)
  • If it is a biological attack, it may take days or weeks for authorities to identify the agent and even longer to tell the public. Chemical attacks can be identified faster.
  • Complete traffic gridlock will ensue as a huge law enforcement and medical response is made to the mass casualty event.
  • Law enforcement will be on full alert, anticipating more events because they fully expect that there will be more than one. (You may think you are safe because the attack occurred in an area miles from your building, but a secondary attack may be only minutes from your doorstep.) Surrounding jurisdictions will begin implementing emergency procedures.
  • Depending on the circumstances, subways may not be operating, but only the foolhardy would venture into the subways in such situations, given the past subway attacks in London, Madrid, and Tokyo.
  • For that matter, I would not want to be near the street level vents that lead from the subway tunnels when terror operations may be taking place.

(It is important to understand that that when I refer to a radiological dispersal device, I am not referring to a small nuclear weapon. I am referring to a conventional explosive combined with some element that will register radioactivity. It might be a component taken from an old piece of medical equipment or any one of a number of other sources or material that register radioactivity. For example, if you grind up granite, it will register radioactivity. The real danger to the business community is that the dispersal of such radioactivity by an explosion may not represent a health threat anywhere close to receiving 1/1000th of one x-ray per year, but the mere report of radioactivity can spread fear and panic that can cause people to avoid the impacted neighborhood as though it is Chernobyl. Even though the radioactivity that is likely to result from the material that could likely be used for such an RDD would disperse quickly, activists with their own meters would likely argue the continuing presence of radioactivity due to the blast, because you can find trace radioactivity almost anywhere, every day. Therefore, the potential property value loss and/or the cost of “clean-up” for public relations purposes, in the absence of effective public education messages, and strong public safety leadership, could be high if fear is allowed to run wild in the aftermath of such a situation. The RDD bomb is the scenario that public safety officials fear, and train for, constantly, both because of the potential lethality of any explosive device combined with the added psychological/fear impact of even minute levels of radioactive material.)

With all of that going on, and with so little accurate information available to the public in the minutes, and hours, after the (initial) attack, smart people will choose to shelter in place for at least six hours until things have settled down, hard information is available, and anything bad in the air has had a chance to disperse. Be prepared to stay in place for up to 24 hours if extraordinary circumstances require it. Unfortunately, after 9/11 where people saw buildings fall, and natural events like the recent East Coast earthquake that immediately sent people running into the streets despite the fact that it was the worst choice they could have made, it is clear that people are now conditioned to flee their offices and try to get home when they feel threatened by events around them. But what if that strategy delivers you right into the teeth of a second phase of the attack? Or what if there is nowhere to go because the streets are completely clogged, traffic lights are not functioning, and surrounding jurisdictions have begun shutting down roads as a part of their emergency planning procedures? Are you prepared/willing to walk home, possibly through a chemical/ biological agent that you may not be able to see, smell, or taste?

Sometimes it is better to do what is counterintuitive and not try to rush home to your family. Execute your shelter in place plan and stay safe where you are unless circumstances make it necessary for you to move. Wait until you have sufficient information to know that it is safe to venture outside. If you have children in schools or daycare, find out what their emergency preparedness plans are should an emergency situation arise where parents are unable to pick up their children. If their plan is unsatisfactory (most are not satisfactory), develop your own plan with friends and neighbors and discuss it thoroughly with your family.

Make National Preparedness Month a time to think seriously about what you would do if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of a terror attack or another type of major disaster. What would you do? What would you need to have, pre-stocked, in your office to shelter in place, comfortably, for 6 hours, 12 hours, or 24 hours? Hopefully, we will never have to test those plans, but if we do, those who have planned ahead, and make smart decisions, will be much better prepared to meet the difficult challenges. Not everyone will follow the shelter in place protocols, and you cannot force people to do what they simply refuse to do. What you can do is make information available to them so that they have the ability to make intelligent decisions for themselves. At that point, you have done your job.

Be Safe.

Carl Rowan, Jr.
Director of Special Services
Admiral Security Services
Datawatch Systems
4401 East-West Highway Suite 304
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
301-280-4452 Office
202-438-2062 Cell