Review of Impact and Response

Developing the Resilience of American Communities57

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4.Developing the Resilience of American Communities57

Resilience has been described as a phenomenon whereby individuals show positive adaptation in spite of significant life adversities.58 The construct of resilience was developed on the basis of observations of people who not only survive, but thrive, in situations of extreme adversity.59 According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is a “process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially highly stressful or traumatic events.”60 A recent guide produced by the APA suggests that characteristics of resilient people include:61

  • Optimism – maintaining hope about the future is associated with the use of active, problem-focused coping when dealing with stressful life events.62

  • Self-efficacy – confidence in one’s skills to manage or accomplish the task at hand (Bandura, 1982) results in sustained effort and a greater likelihood of success.63

  • Intellectual mastery – belief in one’s ability to exert positive control over their environment, and to break down complex problems into smaller, more accomplishable tasks and goals can result in a series of immediate successes that enhance feelings of mastery and control over the problem.64

  • Social competency – as described earlier, the social aspect of responses to terrorism are important . . . social skills help one deal with stress in a constructive and positive manner.65

  • Cohesive family - Evidence suggests that family cohesion and support buffer the negative impact of stress in youth, perhaps because they promote active coping and reduce emotional distress.66

  • Models – When an individual’s peers, parents, siblings, or others in their life model effective coping with stress, this provides important learning opportunities.67

Another dimension of an individual’s resilience is often called “hardiness,” defined as being committed to finding meaningful purpose in life, the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and the belief that one can learn and from both positive and negative experiences; a kind of self-enhancement.68 This term is also used to describe those who are actively engaged, who believe they can influence the course of events in their lives, and who accept change as a part of life—as a challenge rather than a threat—and know that it can be beneficial.69 Evidence suggests that hardiness buffers the negative impact of stress, perhaps because it is associated with appraisals of events that minimize emotional distress and promote active coping.70

Resilience is also used in psychological research to describe “an interactive product of beliefs, attitudes, approaches, behaviors, and, perhaps, physiology, that help individuals fare better during adversity and recover more quickly following it.”71 According to the APA, “resilient people bend rather than break during stressful conditions, and they return to their previous level of psychological and social functioning following misfortune. Being resilient does not mean that one does not experience difficulty or distress or that life’s major hardships are not difficult and upsetting. Rather, it means that these events, although difficult and upsetting, are ultimately surmountable.”72

A review of the research on impacts of 9/11 indicates an admirable level of resilience among the victims of the terrorist attacks. For example, sociologist Tom Glass has noted that that the evacuation of the World Trade Center in New York was self-generated, orderly and without panic.73 Psychologically, the number of PTSD cases reported immediately after the attacks were relatively small considering the size of New York’s population (over 8 million), and the number of such cases reported six months later was only a fraction of that. Economically, most industries showed little (if any) impact, and those which did suffer more than others—including the aviation, financial and insurance industries—have shown a level of “hardiness” and an ability to “bend rather than break during stressful conditions,” to borrow the terms used by the APA to describe resilience.74

In the U.S. today, efforts to strengthen our communities’ resilience in the face of a global terror threat are driven by an almost universal conviction that “we must do something to protect ourselves” from future terrorist attacks (regardless of who “we” are or how small the city is that “we” live in), and prepare ourselves for responding effectively when such attacks occur. Thus, we have seen a host of measures—many of them related to educating and equipping first responders and emergency personnel—taken by large and small municipalities throughout the U.S. Many of these are sponsored or directed by the federal government. For example, in August 2005, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Kentucky was the first state in the nation to complete the National Incident Management System Capability Assessment Support Tool (NIMCAST), the first step in a process to reaching full National Incident Management System (NIMS), compliance. The NIMS was established by DHS to provide a consistent nationwide template to enable all government, private-sector and nongovernmental organizations to work together during domestic incidents. NIMS compliance is a prerequisite to obtaining most federal preparedness funding. The NIMCAST is a web-based, self-assessment system that state agencies and local jurisdictions used to evaluate their incident response and management capabilities. It also identifies how compliant an agency is with federal incident management guidelines.75

Meanwhile, in recent years public health workers have been trained using role-playing exercises and actual disaster drills to prepare them for a multitude of catastrophic scenarios.76 For example, on April 14, 2005, more than a dozen local, state and federal organizations in Provo, Utah responded to the mock detonation of a weapon of mass destruction at Brigham Young University (BYU). The exercise revealed several deficiencies in response preparation, including approaches to decontamination and a lack of ambulances.77 In another example, public safety officials, first responders and county staff in Yamhill County, Oregon held an emergency training exercise on November 9, 2005 to simulate a situation in which flu vaccinations are provided on a mass scale.78 Such exercises are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help ensure the preparation of our communities in case of emergencies. On July 21, 2005, authorities in South Carolina held a dramatic terrorism response exercise involving an explosion at Clemson University’s Memorial Stadium during a football game; the discovery of suspicious packages at Oconee Memorial Hospital and the Abbeville Opera House; and simultaneously, a train accident involving a tractor trailer rig in Anderson, featuring a hazardous material spill which required an evacuation of surrounding areas.79

On October 6, 2005, Southern Nevada emergency responders held a terrorism drill dubbed “Operation Loaded Dice,” involving simultaneous car bombs at the Galleria Mall in Henderson, the Meadows Mall in Las Vegas and at a site in Mesquite. The drill involved dozens of dead, wounded and dazed actors who were treated just like they were real victims, and tested the capacity of local firefighters, paramedics and police officers to respond to an event of this magnitude with current levels of personnel.80

On October 8, 2005, emergency workers in white and yellow full-body protective gear and gas masks surrounded the Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina as they prepared for a deadly scenario: a terrorist attack at the renowned track, part of a state-coordinated drill to prepare emergency workers and authorities in case the area is hit with a weapon of mass destruction. The simulated chemical attack happened on the track’s infield. The emergency workers created a perimeter around the track with yellow tape marking off the “hot zone,” which included the decontamination showers and the scene of the attack. Special teams from Florence County and Sumter County emergency operations centers sent their members to inspect the hot zone for about 30 minutes each, until the air tanks on their backs ran out. These special teams are called COBRA, which stands for Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological. The state Emergency Preparedness Division determined which chemical weapon was supposed to have struck the track, and it was the COBRA teams’ role to determine which chemical they were dealing with. The teams staggered their arrival times to simulate how quickly they could respond during a real attack.81

Also in October 2005, a four-day emergency preparedness drill was held which eventually involved five states. The drill began with mock reports of widespread illness across western Virginia, and included a simulated truck crash that set free a load of possibly diseased prairie dogs. Led by the Virginia Department of Health, the exercise tested response efforts and communications among state agencies, 32 hospitals in Virginia, and officials in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee.82 Later that month, a drill was conducted in Virginia Beach involving a simulated “ammonia” leak from a rail car and school buses loaded with students,83 while in nearby Kentucky, a simulated chemical emergency at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond tested the preparation of emergency response teams in 10 counties.84

In Porter County, Indiana, local officials grappled with a scenario for school and emergency workers in which a tanker truck filled with chlorine overturned near Boone Grove High School. A chemical plume was headed toward the school and would arrive in about an hour. Thus, without enough time to get busses and drivers to the school to evacuate hundreds of students, the decision was made to “shelter in place” and implementing a lock down (a status where no one gets in or out of the school), in essence sealing the building until it was out of danger.85 And in Saline County, Missouri, a simulated chemical spill disaster exercise was held at Bueker Middle School to test the effectiveness of communication between agencies, as well as the ability of school officials to deal with parents, evacuate students, and secure buildings by shutting off power, gas flow, and air intakes.86

Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) initiatives have been developed throughout the United States, and are designed to give ordinary residents the necessary skills and knowledge to react and control the situation for a period of 72 hours following a disaster. Some of the skills residents are expected to learn through CERT training include triage victim assistance, light search and rescue, putting together a command post and a small medical treatment center, and managing a water and ice distribution center.87 The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees. FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials, believing them applicable to all hazards.

Today, CERT training is made available to anyone online via the Citizen Corps website ( While anyone who takes this training will certainly benefit, communities can supplement its response capabilities by recruiting and training their citizens in neighborhood, business and government teams that can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. Here, the CERT training is provided by a team of qualified first responders, and is usually delivered in 150-minute sessions, one evening per week over a 7-week period. The training consists of the following sessions:89

Session 1, Disaster Preparedness: Addresses hazards to which people are vulnerable in their community. Materials cover actions that participants and their families take before, during, and after a disaster. As the session progresses, the instructor begins to explore an expanded response role for civilians in that they should begin to consider themselves disaster workers. Since they will want to help their family members and neighbors, this training can help them operate in a safe and appropriate manner. The CERT concept and organization are discussed as well as applicable laws governing volunteers in that jurisdiction.

Session 2, Disaster Fire Suppression: Briefly covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards, and fire suppression strategies. However, the thrust of this session is the safe use of fire extinguishers, sizing up the situation, controlling utilities, and extinguishing a small fire.

Session 3, Disaster Medical Operations Part I: Participants practice diagnosing and treating airway obstruction, bleeding, and shock by using simple triage and rapid treatment techniques.

Session 4, Disaster Medical Operations, Part II: Covers evaluating patients by doing a head to toe assessment, establishing a medical treatment area, performing basic first aid, and practicing in a safe and sanitary manner.

Session 5, Light Search and Rescue Operations: Participants learn about search and rescue planning, size-up, search techniques, rescue techniques, and most important, rescuer safety.

Session 6, Disaster Psychology and Team Organization: Covers signs and symptoms that might be experienced by the disaster victim and worker. It addresses CERT organization and management principles and the need for documentation.

Session 7, Course Review and Disaster Simulation: Participants review their answers from a take home examination. Finally, they practice the skills that they have learned during the previous six sessions in disaster activity.
During each of these sessions, participants are required to bring safety equipment (gloves, goggles, mask) and disaster supplies (bandages, flashlight, dressings) which will be used during the session. By doing this for each session, participants are building a disaster response kit of items that they will need during a disaster. Since 1993, when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities in 28 States and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training. A directory of CERT programs in each state is available on FEMA’s website—as of December 2005, there are over 2,000 such programs throughout the U.S.90

Technology is also providing new ways to help communities prepare for emergencies. For example, in 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago unveiled a video game that simulates biological, chemical, radiological, and natural disasters in a major metropolitan area, that will be used to prepare public health workers for real life emergencies.91 The first scenario in the new video training project simulates a bioterrorism response focused on training thousands of people to dispense mass amounts of drugs and vaccines in the wake of an anthrax attack. Health workers are faced with real-life situations, including a person who may have been exposed to anthrax and a hysterical woman who believes the world is going to end. Throughout the simulation, the game tracks how the health workers respond to various situations and how quickly patients are being evaluated and treated. The simulation project was developed for the Chicago Public Health Department and was unveiled at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Distance Learning Summit in September, 2005.92

In another example of technology’s application to homeland security training, scientists at the Los Alamos research center in New Mexico have been constructing elaborate computer models of the U.S. to create simulations of a real terrorist attack.93 There are virtual cities inhabited by millions of virtual individuals. And there are virtual power grids, oil and gas lines, water pipelines, airplane and train systems, even a virtual Internet. When planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon nearly four years ago, the government had little understanding of the weaknesses and interdependencies of power, water, transportation and telecommunications networks. The models have helped officials pinpoint and prioritize where changes need to be made. The scientists continuously run the simulations, testing actions like closing the airport, quarantining a neighborhood or shutting down workplaces. Some findings are obvious: that the invention of air transportation may be the biggest factor in the spread of disease. Others aren’t as easy to guess: that shutting down schools may not help as much as expected because parents are likely to take their children to malls and playgrounds where they can come in contact with others who have been infected. It also turned out that the speed of intervention is much more important than the type of intervention—an important lesson to note, particularly in the wake of the government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.94

These kinds of emergency training and simulation initiatives serve to develop the capacity of local communities to respond to terrorist events as well as natural catastrophes. Similar efforts involve public education and information networks. For example, health officials are launching an advertising campaign to encourage Iowa residents to have a plan for dealing with disasters. The campaign, called “Protect Iowa Health,” asks individuals and families to review how they will respond in the event of a disaster and to prepare a disaster kit that includes basic medical supplies and several days of food and water.95 The Department of Homeland Security established, a nationwide public education campaign described as “a common sense framework designed to launch a process of learning about citizen preparedness.”96 Visitors to this online resource are encouraged to download a 16-page emergency preparedness guide, or call 1-800-BE-READY to have a copy mailed to them.

DHS also regularly provides threat alerts to help raise awareness about specific threats, based on new intelligence. For example, on August 6, 2004, the Homeland Security threat level was raised for the financial services sector in New York City, Northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C. (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Example DHS/TSA Terrorist Threat Alert

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration
August 6, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration continue to monitor reports on potential terrorist threats in the United States. The United States Government has raised the threat level to ORANGE for the financial services sector in New York City, Northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C. We do have new and unusually specific information about where Al Qa’ida would like to attack. Based on a recent interagency review of available information, we remain concerned about Al-Qa’ida’s continued efforts to plan multiple attacks against the United States possibly employing commercial or general aviation aircraft, including helicopters. As a precaution, increased awareness and reporting throughout the general aviation community is desired. At this time, we have no information on dates for potential attacks. TSA will keep you advised should any additional aviation security measures be warranted as the intelligence and threat situation are further analyzed.

TSA wants to remind general aviation aircraft and airport operators to review the security measures contained in the TSA Information Publication, Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports (available online at, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Airport Watch Program materials (available at In addition, general aviation aircraft and airport operators are encouraged to consider the following:

  • Secure unattended aircraft to prevent unauthorized use.

  • Verify the identification of crew and passengers prior to departure.

  • Verify that baggage and cargo are known to the persons on board.

  • Where identification systems are in place, encourage employees to wear proper identification and challenge persons not wearing proper identification.

  • Direct increased vigilance to unknown pilots and/or clients for aircraft or helicopter rental or charters—as well as unknown service/delivery personnel.

  • Be alert/aware of and report persons masquerading as pilots, security personnel, emergency medical technicians, or other personnel using uniforms and/or vehicles as methods to gain access to aviation facilities or aircraft.
    Be alert/aware of and report aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications.

  • Be alert/aware of and report persons loitering in the vicinity of aircraft or air operations areas—as well as persons loading unusual or unauthorized payload onto aircraft.

  • Be alert/aware of and report persons who appear to be under stress or the control of other persons.

  • Be alert/aware of and report persons whose identification appears altered or inconsistent.

Persons should report suspicious activity immediately to local law enforcement and the TSA General Aviation Hotline at 866-GASECUR (866-427-3287).

Meanwhile, in Florida, thousands signed up for a new emergency alert notification system in Flagler County, through which residents can keep informed of a terror attack or a disaster, such as a chemical spill or a sudden tornado. The free service enables residents to receive timely emergency notices by cell phone, land line, pager, personal data assistant, fax or e-mail.97 Similarly, first responders in Washington, DC and surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia are deploying a common text alerting system for emergency communications aimed at improving communications between themselves and with their citizens. The Roam Secure Alert Network provides for text-based notifications, and combines software, hardware and a secure server configured to support messaging among email accounts, cell phones, satellite phones, Blackberries, pagers and other devices. Each participating jurisdiction—which includes Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland and the cities of Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia—has its own redundant system that supports real-time, two-way information sharing among police, fire, emergency management, health, schools and specialty units such as military reserves and urban search-and-rescue teams. The systems also communicate with one another, and citizens can sign up to receive text messages for official emergency alerts.98

Clearly, ensuring the ability to communicate with each other is vital for the effectiveness of emergency responders. Using federal money, amateur radio operators and the Fairfield County (Ohio) Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security have developed a plan to make sure there will be communications in case of a disaster. To make sure amateur operators can communicate in Fairfield County, a system of 13 new antennas are being mounted on one firehouse in each fire department in the county, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, and the Fairfield Medical Center.99 In Colorado, officials are linking all of its first responders together with an 800 MHz radio network.100 Other examples include the Arkansas Wireless Information Network,101 which will allow responders to communicate about man-made and natural disasters through an interconnected radio system, and the Fairfield County (Connecticut) Business Alert System, through which e-mail and voice mail messages are immediately sent to contacts at participating businesses in an emergency.102 Similarly, a number of Mid-Atlantic states are forming what they are calling the All Hazards Consortium, which is meant to better enable emergency management participants to share strategies, integrate planning, and ensure their ability to share voice and data information during emergencies.103

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