Rohrer COB's Fleming discusses terrorism on 12th anniversary of September 11 attacks
Since the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, Dr. Robert S. Fleming, professor of Management in the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University and a recognized authority on emergency preparedness has been interviewed by numerous television, radio, and print media outlets on a variety of topics related to our nation’s vulnerability to domestic terrorism and our enhanced preparedness for the ever-present threat of terrorism within our contemporary world.
On the 12th anniversary of the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, Fleming has provided the following responses to typical questions from the media. Reporters are encouraged to use and credit this material as appropriate in related news stories and coverage.
Fleming has been actively involved in fire and emergency management for more than 40 years, serving in numerous operational and administrative positions, including that of fire chief. His professional activities have included serving on the National Fire Academy (NFA) Board of Visitors for 13 years, including six years as vice chairman and six years as chairman. He is the chairman of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fire Service Certification Advisory Committee and the Chester County Local Emergency Planning Committee. The primary focus of his research, teaching and consulting has been on enhancing organizational effectiveness, with an emphasis on local, county, state, regional and national fire and emergency service organizations. Fleming has five earned master’s degrees, including a Master of Government Administration from the Fels Center of Government of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and has completed the Senior Executives in National and International Security Program at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. His most recent books are Effective Fire and Emergency Services Administration (2010), Survival Skills for the Fire Chief (2011), Media Coverage of Emergency Incidents (2013) and Achieving Instructional Excellence: A Collection of Essays for Fire and Emergency Service Instructors (2013).
1. How prepared was the United States for a terrorist attack prior to September 11, 2001?
The coordinated attacks of September 11, 2001, were not the first acts of terrorism in the United States. Prior to that day there had been several attacks that resulted in the potential for domestic or international terrorism assuming a prominent position on the radar of agencies tasked with preventing such attacks. While analysis of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 led to significant improvements in our nation’s ability to respond to a domestic terrorist attack, the four separate but interrelated and well-planned and coordinated aircraft hijackings on September 11, 2001, clearly and convincingly illustrated that we were not prepared to prevent such attacks. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks (commonly referred to as The 9/11 Commission) characterized the failure to prevent these attacks as a lack of imagination in understanding and institutionalization. It became clear that intelligence gathering, processing and dissemination at that time failed to prevent these tragic attacks on our nation, its government and its people.
2. What did we learn about the threat of terrorism and our vulnerability on September 11, 2001?
Prior to the September 11 attacks, the conventional wisdom was that the targets of attacks would typically include controversial businesses, historical sites, infrastructure systems, places of assembly, public buildings and symbolic targets. A number of important insights regarding the evolving reality of the terrorist threat were revealed on that tragic day. While governmental agencies and businesses had engaged in fairly extensive vulnerability analysis and planning initiatives based on the previous attacks, certain constructs of that planning changed on September 11, 2001. Earlier planning had focused on traditional means of attack delivery, such as parking a truck loaded with explosives in a parking garage, rather than the unimaginable hijacking of commercial aircraft loaded with unsuspecting passengers and sizeable fuel loads and the use of the same airplanes, that we take for granted in our contemporary world, as instruments of domestic terrorism. That tragic day, likewise, taught us that attacks can happen anywhere, as evidenced by the airplane brought down in rural western Pennsylvania.
3. What has been done to enhance preparedness since September 11, 2001?
The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security was an essential action in enhancing our nation’s capabilities with respect to combating domestic terrorism. Prior to its establishment, 22 separate federal agencies had various responsibilities related to domestic terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security has made tremendous progress in enhancing our nation’s preparedness in many areas, emphasizing terrorism preparedness in most of its initiatives. The Department of Homeland Security has aligned its initiatives with those of other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and Department of Justice, and corresponding state agencies. The National Incident Management System, a command and control tool designed to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and safety of incident management, is now utilized by emergency responders throughout the nation. Significant progress has also been made in ensuring the interoperability of public safety radio communications systems. Federal grant programs have supported planning initiatives, training and the acquisition of necessary apparatus and equipment.
4. Are we safer today than we were 12 years ago?
Without question we are safer today than we were prior to the September 11 attacks. As a nation, we have embraced the threat of domestic terrorism and through our vigilance, resolve and resilience have greatly enhanced our national security today and will continue to do so in the future. Enhancements in our intelligence capabilities provide an essential foundation. The establishment of regional intelligence (“fusion”) centers has provided the underpinning infrastructure for the necessary gathering, evaluation and dissemination of information, as well as information-based decision making and action. Public safety and other governmental agencies are “on the same page” and working in an unprecedented cooperative and collaborative mode. The public, as well as public safety organizations, now play a key role in identifying and reporting possible suspicious activity.
5. What must be done to further enhance our preparedness in the future?
The responsibility for terrorism prevention and preparedness is largely in the hands of our elected and appointed leaders. It is imperative that we as a nation and they as our leaders never forget the vivid images of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and continue to commit their talent, energy and passion to combating domestic terrorism, regardless of its source. They must put politics aside and, based on the lessons learned from past and future attacks around the world, ensure that our nation’s capabilities and resilience to prevent future domestic attacks are measured and proportional to the scope and magnitude of the threats that we face in the present and will inherit in the future.
6. How has the threat of domestic terrorism changed over the past 12 years?
The objective of terrorists to create a climate of fear and intimidation was clearly accomplished through the coordinated attacks of September 11, 2001. Those living in our nation, as well as the citizens of the world, woke up to a new reality that morning. Through the media we all experienced the tragic events at The World Trade Center, The Pentagon and in a rural field in western Pennsylvania. It was now in the “minds and hearts” of most that our nation and world would never again be the same safe and secure places we once took for granted.
7. How have the perpetrators of terrorism changed?
The bilateral world that existed during the Cold War has been replaced by a transnational world wherein a growing number of countries seek to advance their goals through a continuum of means, including in some cases committing acts of terrorism against other nations and peoples. The cast of characters who would seek to invoke harm through acts of domestic terrorism has grown to include not only state actors but also the “homegrown” terrorist. Identifying these new actors, who act individually or in small groups, and tracking their activities present obvious new challenges.
8. How have the targets of domestic terrorism changed?
While traditional targets of terrorism, including controversial businesses, historical sites, infrastructure systems, places of assembly, public buildings and symbolic targets, continue to represent desired targets of terrorists, it is realistic to expect that there may be an increase in attempted attacks on “soft targets,” particularly as the more traditional targets have taken the necessary actions to harden their ability to defend themselves against terrorist attacks.
9. What is the greatest worldwide threat that we will likely face in the coming years?
Most authorizes agree that while the potential threats of terrorism will continue to include biological, chemical, explosive and incendiary attacks, the greatest worldwide threat that we will face in future years is that of a nuclear attack. This must be a priority of the international community through such strategies as containment, elimination and deterrence. The focus with respect to preventing the use of nuclear weapons as an instrument of terrorism must be to prevent those actors that would intend to use these catastrophic weapons from gaining access to the weapons or the necessary materials to construct them.
10. What new challenges with respect to domestic terrorism are we likely to face during the next 10 years?
While the threat of domestic terrorism will clearly remain an ever-present threat in the future, it must be recognized that the nature of domestic and international terrorism will continue to evolve. While it is unlikely that any country will be capable of eliminating the terrorist threat and accompanying vulnerability of the contemporary world, it is essential that we continue to build our capabilities and resilience with respect to domestic terrorism. Preparedness in the future will require that we fully embrace and, as appropriate, address issues and events related to international terrorism that have the real and proven potential of compromising our national security.