Last week U.S. officials accused the Iranian government of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, with a plan to employ Mexican drug traffickers to kill the diplomat with a bomb as he ate at a Washington restaurant. This potential act of war highlights the brazenness to which state sponsored terrorists have risen and also raises multiple homeland defense and emergency response issues that have been previously discussed but take on new character now that the alleged plot involves a known developer of nuclear weapons that has raised a terror threat against our state, an illegal crossing our national borders, a plot to involve drug organizations that have networks throughout our country, and a planned attack within our capital.
Overlaying this incident with the recent gridlock in DC caused by a minimal earthquake and it elevates the task of improving the status quo evacuation capability of our nation’s capital region to a higher priority. A year ago, I spoke extensively with state leadership in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and emergency leadership of Washington DC about developing a comprehensive evacuation and sheltering plan to dramatically improve the region’s evacuation capability. The plan would include the evacuation of hospitals and other medical facilities as well as shelters in the capital region.
The discussions I conducted entailed achieving a step change in capability by a comprehensive, interagency review of impediments and development of an interagency strategic plan for systematically eliminating these roadblocks through a prioritized method over a multi-year period to significantly improve the region’s capabilities. An overview of the concept can be found on http://www.epi-center.us under ASCEND.
Leadership of each state at the time understood and agreed that the vision I laid out could significantly improve the region’s capabilities and was needed. Most also conveyed that the work involved and the coordination to achieve such results would be significant. In the end, the task seemed potentially overwhelming to some given the difficulty of financing, commitment of time, coordination of efforts, and legislative changes that might be required, and the difficulty of raising the priority of the project to all agencies across state lines. The momentum to overcome status quo inertia seemed insurmountable to many of the leaders given the substantial efforts that had already been consumed to achieve the status quo.
The recent earthquake that caused gridlock in DC clarified more than ever that the corridor is in need of a comprehensive evacuation process that mitigates the mountain of impediments existing in the current system. The idea of hardening the capital for in-situ response is feasible for many disasters but leaves it extremely vulnerable to others.
We know that DC is a terrorist target and that those intent on terror have witnessed the same gridlock that America saw in the aftermath of this minimal earthquake. Apply any number of insidious or natural events that make evacuation imperative and we now know that the status quo will not achieve what is necessary to affect the safe and orderly evacuation of the capital region for all citizens. Apply the brazen attempt to bring a bomb into the district and it heightens the urgency to act.
Every time a real test of our emergency response capabilities shows the limitations of our integrated system, it calls for a widening of scope and scale of strategy and tasks within our imaginations of what can be achieved. The DC earthquake is no different. And now that the world is imagining from this real life event what might be achieved against America’s capital, it is imperative that the emergency community get on with redefining a step change evacuation goal for the capital region.