What I Learned
About Preventing Terrorism
I recently attended the 22nd Annual Jerusalem Conference of Mayors. The topic of this year`s conference was "The Role of the Mayor in Times of Crisis." There were eight other mayors with me as part of the U.S. delegation. We were joined by 20 mayors from cities in more than 15 countries in South and Central America, Europe and Africa .
While perhaps each member of the varying delegations had their own reasons for attending, I had mine as the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, a city, like many others in Bergen County , experienced devastating loss on 9/11.
In a post-9/11 world, elected officials in the United States have had to rapidly prepare to deal with the harsh new realities we face. From local Mayors to the highest office in the land, there are no significant precedents within our boarders to guide us in the delicate balance between providing for security and protecting the individual freedoms we as Americans cherish first and foremost.
Although I have been to Israel many times before, I had never gone there with the eye of a Mayor who is responsible for the safety of the people he represents. My trip, sponsored by the US Conference of Mayors, was geared toward providing us with the skills to address terrorism. While there are no precedents prior to 9/11 in dealing comprehensively with terrorism in the United States , conversely there is perhaps no stronger model for an open society managing an ongoing terrorist threat than the state of Israel .
I was not disappointed in my expectations. From medicine and politics to the police and military, my trip to Israel was a crash course in preparedness for terrorism in today's post-9/11 world.
These are some brief highlights from my notes of the trip.
The Hadassah Medical Center - this was a visit to a working trauma unit. The hospital's children's ward was designed so its lobby could be converted within moments into an additional trauma unit. The facility was also prepared to provide disinfecting showers on street--to treat masses in the event of a chemical/biological attack. Unlike anything I have seen in our country as a volunteer EMT myself, the ambulances at Hadassah have video cameras to send medical information rapidly to the hospital to which a patient is being transported.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski underscored to me how a mayor in crisis must keep his constituents informed and connected to three crucial points: 1) a mayor must take responsibility "and raise the banner of leadership by keeping control"; 2) a mayor must demonstrate empathy for the people by being among the people at eye level in the torment of crises; and, 3) a mayor must keep day-to-day life on track (for example, concerts are still scheduled even after attacks, although, of course, they are done so in memory of the fallen). Mayor Lupolianski also emphasized how the media can be used as a tool for crisis control and that representatives of the government (from city employees to elected officials) should extend themselves to assure the public.
The Commander of Police Forces in Jerusalem , Major General Nicki Levy told me that in the last three years, 34 terrorists came to Jerusalem . Of them, 11 were killed by the police and 11 car bombs were neutralized. However, 173 innocents also died and 1,383 were injured. These figures are derived from a city population of 760,000, so 173 deaths in three years in the face of terrorism may seem to many to indicate success. However, to me, a greater indication of the basis of the Israelis success in battling terrorism was found in General Levy's comments about losing an extraordinarily small percentage of their population to terrorism. "These are not acceptable losses…I work 20 out 24 hours a day and sleep four hours every night with one eye open."
The Israeli Defense Forces, Colonel Yossi Sager, and the Homefront Commander of the Army's Jerusalem District explained that terror has no boundaries and that we must prepare ourselves for more extreme events in the world. In Jerusalem , two Army brigades are available at all times, with special beepers on reservists so they can be called up within hours. The colonel also detailed how intelligence is crucial to responding to terrorism, for example, access to building plans. I also received a briefing from Eitan Nangot, the Tzrifim Homefront Base Commander. Included were live demonstrations of terrorist attacks, of both a conventional and unconventional nature, and demonstrations of equipment, police and military preparedness, the latest in homeland security protection (both military and civilian), air support shelters for homes, portable shelters and tents, first responder protective gear, unseen indoor protective devices, mobile command posts, safe room kits that can be assembled in one minute, and demonstrations of Israeli organization for support to countries in crises (for example, the assistance given to Turkey during earthquakes).
While I met with a wide variety of important leaders, perhaps the most important lesson came from the death of a twenty year-old soldier killed in the line of duty during my trip. I am a close friend of his family, and as I attended his funeral I asked myself if the work we were doing could translate into preventing terrorist attacks like the one that killed him from happening more often throughout the world. As I watched his friends and family grieve, all I could do was pray that our efforts during this trip would help make it so.
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer