Category Archives: Society

The Importance of Planning

To borrow from the motto of the Boy Scouts of America (2011), “Be prepared!” There is no possible way to fully predict with perfect accuracy when and where a crisis will develop. However, with some foresight, the adoption of a comprehensive crisis communication plan will allow an immediate response to any emergency, disaster, or other crisis that might arise. Gray (2008) discusses how JetBlue might have benefited from such a plan. JetBlue, if they had focused on developing a crisis communication plan, might have uncovered the not unlikely possibility of a major storm grounding many of its passengers. In this case, JetBlue would have been in a more proactive position to mitigate the effects such a storm might produce on passengers and their east coast operations. According to Fearn-Banks (2011), the impending storm prediction would have been a warning sign, or prodrome, that JetBlue could have responded to in order to prevent the crisis. Had JetBlue contacted the passengers prior to their arrival at the airports, they might have been able to secure better and more comfortable accommodations than the airports had to offer. Additionally, the company would have presented themselves proactively instead of taking the defensive posture noted by Gray.

In December 1984, Union Carbide, a pesticide production company, was the subject of the worst industrial accident in history. At their plant in Bhopal, India, an employee purposefully allowed water into large tanks of a chemical called methyl isocyanate (MICN) which caused a chemical reaction (according to Union Carbide management), bursting the tanks and releasing MICN gas into the environment killing more than 3,000 people (some estimates exceed 25,000 dead) and injuring 100 times that amount (Venkatasubramanian, 2011). According to Muller (2001), MICN was stored in large above ground tanks, a water valve was connected to the tanks, and employees had largely unrestricted access to these tanks and valves. When liquid MICN and water are mixed, MICN rapidly expands to a gaseous state and can quickly overwhelm holding tanks. Had Union Carbide conducted an investigation of potential crises while constructing a crisis communication plan, these circumstances might have been uncovered and considered prior to the accident, allowing company officials the opportunity to mitigate the potentially deadly situation and avoid the catastrophe in 1984. Additionally, had this crisis occurred regardless of mitigation, the company would have been poised to provide helpful instructions and recommendations to public safety officials and the public to minimize the loss of life. Union Carbide was eventually sued for billions of dollars, which it has never paid.

Another incident that might have benefited from a crisis communication plan is the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine explosion that occurred in West Virginia on April 5, 2010. Venkatasubramanian (2011) describes this explosion as the worst mining accident in four decades, killing 29 people. Like the Union Carbide example above, Massey Energy initially tried passing the blame to employees and single system failures, but eventually the company closed its Kentucky Freedom Energy Mine #1, and the CEO, Don Blankenship, stepped down. This after being confronted with the over 600 safety violations in 2009 and 2010. Again, the implementation of a crisis communication plan would have focused on potential accidents and allowed a window for mitigation and prevention. Upon completion of the effort, when the accident occurred, there would have been clear directives on how to proceed, which might have helped to save the company’s reputation; although, in this case, that is unclear.

Only when a company’s management realizes that safety is important and that crises do occur can they set forth means of mitigating their risk. One important way to mitigate risk is to consider that no matter the attempts at prevention, errors and failures can always occur and it is best to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios in hopes that they never do occur. By being prepared for the worst case scenarios, mainly by having drafted crisis communication plans along with incident action plans, the company representative has focus and direction on how to proceed with response efforts both publicly and internally. The benefits are appearing with a unified message of adequately responding and recovering from the crisis, and bringing a sense of strength and direction to that effort that the public, employees, and shareholders alike can appreciate and find faith. It is always best to be prepared.


Boy Scouts of America. (2011, March). Overview of Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved from

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gray, S. (2008). Without crisis plan, your reputation could be at risk. Las Vegas Business Press, 25(8), 22. Retrieved from

Muller, R. (2001). A significant toxic event: The Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, 1984. Rural and Remote Environmental Health, 1(10). Retrieved from

Venkatasubramanian, V. (2011). Systemic failures: Challenges and opportunities in risk management in complex systems. AIChE Journal, 57(1), 2-9. doi:10.1002/aic.12495

Roles and Perceptions in Victimology

Victimology, or the biopsychosociological study of crimes and their impacts on victims, was introduced almost 65 years ago, in 1947, by Beniamin Mendelsohn during a presentation given in Romania (Jaishankar, 2008; Kirchhoff, 2006). Then, in the following two years, Frederick Wertham (1948; as cited in Kirchhoff, 2006) and Hans von Hentig (1949; as cited in Kirchhoff, 2006) both wrote comprehensive books on the subject, based on work of the last 10 years (see footnotes 1 & 2). However, it seems that even many contemporary social scientists and criminologists still regard the science of victimology with less than full credit (Jaishankar, 2008). To understand the validity of a particular science, one should consider the impact of the scientific theories on its subjects. According to Jaishanker (2008), proponents of victimology have struggled to develop theories particular to victimology; the theories being based in sociology and criminology. Victimology, according to Elias (as cited in Jaishanker, 2008) and Fattah (as cited in Jaishanker, 2008), being steeped in application, “has lost its scientific rigour” (p. 2).

Kirchhoff (2006) disagrees with Jaishanker and posits that victimology is a truly interdisciplinary science made up of a number of differing perspectives (e.g. law, sociology, social work, psychology, philosophy and ethics, medicine, nursing, political science, and community organization). Victimology is the professional and scientific consideration of a crime from the perspective of the victim, instead of the criminal or society in general, and though this view is not new, the focus within our criminal justice system is.

What is a victim? Many philosophers, religious and agnostic alike, agree that as individual members of a society, we have rights. Whether these rights originate from a higher power or by virtue of a social contract, these rights have primacy and must be protected by the individuals themselves and by society: the criminal justice system (Kirchhoff, 2006). One way of protecting these rights is retroactive in the form of indemnification, or restitution. Aside from the consideration of the victim during sentencing of the offender, indemnification became the primary means of making reparations to victims “for the damage caused by crimes which [the state] has not been able to prevent” (Kirchhoff, 2006, p. 17). This has been the normative practice throughout much of the world over the last century or so.

In the last 50 years, since Mendelsohn, Hentig, and Wertham provided a renewed focus of victimology, the role of victim has changed significantly, specifically over the last 20 years. The criminal justice system now seeks to include the victim in an active role in the system, offering compassion and dignity in the process (Voogd, 2010). This process, including the provision of victim services, increases the likelihood of positive outcomes, greater benefit, and satisfaction of the victim, as well as maximizing the potential of interfering in the cycle of violence (Hotaling & Buzawa, 2003a, 2003b; Zweig, Burt, & Van Ness, 2003). Referred commonly as restorative justice, a new paradigm of criminal justice is now being offered in areas of Canada and the United Kingdom (Voogd, 2010; Walsh, 2010). According to Walsh (2010), Norfolk Constabulary in the United Kingdom is hoping to be the first fully restorative justice county by 2015. Restorative justice is a means of settling disputes between victims and offenders by bringing them together to discuss ways of dissuading the offender from reoffending, providing adequate reparations to the victim, and reintegrating the offender as a contributing member of the community, all outside of the court system. Walsh describes the benefits, effectiveness, and almost universal acceptance of the system within the county. Restorative justice relies on special training of police officers to handle minor incidents and infractions of the law (both, civil and criminal) as well as managing people exhibiting antisocial behavior. Restorative justice allows police officers to act as intermediaries to the victim(s) and offenders when deciding on a proper course of action.

Restorative justice is nothing new. In the United States, many juvenile delinquents were merely transported home to their parents and handed over with some advice, including suggestions on how to have the child make restitution to the victim. Times have changed, though, and we do not see this type of policing anymore. If this new paradigm promotes the virtues of community, we might see more implementation in the years to come. Victimology, again, may provide a target for resentment by some, but by focusing on the victim over the last few years, the application of victimology on society has produced some very promising results that cannot be argued against.


Hotaling, G. T. & Buzawa, E. S. (2003a). Forgoing criminal justice assistance: The non-reporting of new incidents of abuse in a court sample of domestic violence victims (NCJ# 195667). Retrieved from

Hotaling, G. T. & Buzawa, E. S. (2003b). Victim satisfaction with criminal justice case processing in a model court setting (NCJ# 195668). Retrieved from

Jaishankar, K. (2008). What ails victimology? [Editorial]. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 3(1), 1-7. Retrieved from

Kirchhoff, G. F. (2006). Perspectives on victimology: the science, the historical context, the present. Journal of the Tokiwa University Mito, College of International Studies, 1, 2-18. Retrieved from Version History of Victimology.doc

Voogd, H. (2010, April 23). A justice system that focuses on the victim, as well as the offender. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from

Walsh, P. (2011, October 19). Pioneer justice scheme is working in Norfolk. Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved from

Zweig, J., Burt, M. R., & Van Ness, A. (2003). Effects on victims of victim service programs funded by the STOP Formula Grants program (NCJ# 202903). Retrieved from

1 von Hentig, H. (1948). The criminal and his victim: Studies in the sociology of crime. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
2 Wertham, F. (1949). The show of violence. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Effects of Victimization

Selye (as cited in Roberts & Yeager, 2009) presents stress as natural component of life. Feelings of anxiety or memories of that anxiety are what drive us to fulfill our needs. This is where stress is important to the natural development. As we develop, we face many discomforting scenarios that we learn to avoid (e.g. hunger, cold, burns, pain; and later, losses of loved ones, debt, material losses, et al.). These stressors are learned and we live life trying to avoid them for the most part, and, according to Roberts and Yeager (2009), healthy stressors exist also, such as buying a home, the birth of a child, and others.

It is when stressful situations are too overwhelming to cope with that stress becomes a problem. Overwhelming stress can lead to crisis, acute stress disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (Roberts & Yeager, 2009). The key to dealing with stress is to have a positive outlet or sense of control over the stressors.

A study by Taylor (1995) shows that increases in crime, or at least the perception of crime, in a community leads to community decline; however, as this decline manifests, community participation grows to help to stop or slow the decline. This is possibly more akin to piling trash in the corner, then realizing one day that it is time to bring it all to the dump. The stress of living in a declining community is compounding until the community member finds a healthy outlet to alleviate the stress (help with clean-up efforts) or finds a negative outlet, contributing to the decline of the community. Positive outlets within a declining community allow the community members to take responsibility, once again, for the state of their environment, and thereby, relieving the stress of living amongst a declining community.

But, what happens when a person feels no control or ability to control their environment, such as a child? Kilpatrick, Saunders, and Smith (2003) explored the impact of violence and victimization on adolescents across the nation. Unlike adults who might have more opportunity to feel safe in the face of violence and have more options to redirect the stress, children are limited in their ability to react. They have yet to learn strategic coping mechanisms required to deal with stress productively. Kilpatrick, Saunders, and Smith show that “victimization in early childhood and adolescent years is the root of many problems [, such as PTSD, substance abuse, and delinquent behavior,] later in life” (p. 1). What is unclear, however, is the proximate cause of the cyclic phenomenon of violence.

As the studies suggest, violence (within the environment) begets violence (in the individual, especially children and adolescents). As children of violence mature through their environment and as they tend toward violence, they contribute to the environment of others by fulfilling what some might deem as their destiny. This, though, is shown to be untrue in many as not only can an individual contribute negatively to an environment, but many, even those touched by violence, find means of contributing positively, even if as an outlet for the stressors of such an environment. Being a product of one’s own environment does not dismiss the notions of self-reliance and personal responsibility. These ideals are the cornerstone of social change.


Kilpatrick, D. G., Saunders, B. E., & Smith, D. W. (2003, April). Youth victimization: prevalence and implications. Retrieved from

Roberts, A. R. & Yeager, K. R. (2009). Pocket guide to crisis intervention. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, R. B. (1995). The impact of crime on communities. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 539(1), 28-45. doi:10.1177/0002716295539001003

Defining Crisis

A crisis is any problem that has a significant impact. Most simply, a crisis is a decision-point of change, for better or worse. For example, a new father seeing his child for the first time might have a crisis of faith. A beautiful and healthy child may trigger thoughts of awe and trigger a divine revelation; whereas, a seriously ill child may bring feelings of doubt and religious contempt. In the field of crisis management, Coombs (2012) defines crisis as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes” (p. 2). In this definition, Coombs suggests that crises are both negative and unpredictable events that effect others. While I agree with the scope of the definition, as I stated above, crises do not necessarily have to be negative events, and frequently, they can be predicted. Predictable negative crises are usually caused by negligent management, such as economic crises (Berg & Pattillo, 1998; Compagnon, 2011; Feldstein, 2010; Roubini, 2010).

A crisis usually develops from a less significant issue and, if understood and contemplated, can be mitigated early (Coombs, 2012). A crisis stemming from an issue finds a causal relationship with risk. Risk can be categorized by human, systematic, and process or random (Youndt, Snell, Dean, & Lepak, 1996). Human and systematic risk can be mitigated easily; however, process risk is inherent and requires substantial process change to minimize.

The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon event, which occurred on April 20, 2010, was said to have been fraught with risk of all three types. A New York Times article by Barstow, Rohde, and Saul (2010) describes the event and attempts to elucidate what went wrong. Initially, according to the article, there was a blowout of the Macondo Prospect well, a risk that is inherent to drilling, especially in deep water. Next, every single “formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout” (para. 10) failed. This was certainly a failure of process errors (geological “bursts” causing the well blowout), systematic errors (“One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons” [para. 18]), and human errors (“members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response” [para. 15]).

On a micro-organizational level (the rig), these failures are evident and allowed risk to develop into an issue, which developed into a crisis. On a macro-organizational level, however, the response seemed to be swift, but the focal response to the incident and the public relations response appeared very disjointed, which was compounded by both the media and the federal government, that is, until the U.S. Coast Guard took control. It was apparent very early that both British Petroleum and the federal government were concerned with reputation over response and recovery from the focal incident. This translated to poor support for both by the public. I believe the U.S. Coast Guard is the only managing entity involved in the response to have managed to maintain dignity throughout the effort.

Crisis management is promoted as a multifaceted approach to mitigate, alleviate, respond to, and recover from crises of different types and scope. Although there are many aspects to organizations that require attention during these efforts, it needs to be understood that some have higher priorities than others, and reputation is a culmination of all of these.


Barstow, D., Rohde, D., & Saul, S. (2010, December 25). Deepwater Horizon’s final hours. New York Times. Retrieved from

Berg, A. & Pattillo, C. (1998). Are currency crises predictable: a test (Working paper #98/154). International Monetary Fund. Retrieved from

Compagnon, D. (2011). A predictable tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the collapse of Zimbabwe. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communications: planning, managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Feldstein, M. (2010, June 14). A predictable crisis: Europe’s single currency was bound to break down. The Weekly Standard, 15(37), 1-3. Retrieved from

Roubini, N. (2010, May 17). All crises are predictable: Contrary to beliefs, history shows there’s nothing new in debt or inflation. Gulf News. Retrieved from

Youndt, M. A., Snell, S. A., Dean, J. W., & Lepak, D. P. (1996). Human resources management, manufacturing strategy, and firm performance. The Academy of Management Journal, 39(4), 836-866. doi:10.2307/256714

Impact and Prevalence of Crime

In researching the crime rates of Connecticut and other states, I see that there has been a significant rise in crime during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (The Disaster Center, 2011). Luckily, last year, we have been able to see crime rates reduced to those not seen since 1967.

The probability of being involved in a murder or assault, whether victim or perpetrator, is characterized by a propensity for violence; therefore, the advances in medicine, especially those of the emergency medical services, contribute by allowing these people to survive an initial act allowing them to reoffend (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1998). But what was contributing to the base increase in violent turpitude in the first place? Wilson and Herrnstein (1998) posit that changes in child-rearing focii (from moral development towards personality development) have changed dramatically from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. No more are lessons in character, but more attention is now paid on enjoyment.

Luckily, my community is far removed from crime. Woodstock, Connecticut, has one of the lowest crime rates in the state; however, Connecticut, itself, does have problem areas, which are the typical urban centers. According to the Connecticut State Police Crime Analysis Unit (2010) Uniform Crime Reports database query tool, Woodstock, during 2009, has had only 25 index crimes (e.g. murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft) with only two violent crimes (aggravated assault and robbery). The remainder 23 crimes were burglary (11), larceny (10), and motor vehicle theft (2). A website by CLRChoice, Inc. (2010) that details crime risk shows the following indices compared to the national risk average (100): total crime risk (Woodstock: 2, Connecticut: 64), murder risk (Woodstock: 5, Connecticut: 49), rape risk (Woodstock: 8, Connecticut: 63), robbery risk (Woodstock: 4, Connecticut: 77), assault risk (Woodstock: 2, Connecticut: 49), burglary risk (Woodstock: 1, Connecticut: 51), larceny risk (Woodstock: 2, Connecticut: 74), and motor vehicle theft risk (Woodstock: 2, Connecticut: 71).

Considering the above statistics, I find the crime to have the most impact on my community is burglary. The psychological impacts of burglary are not unlike those related to other violent crimes, such as rape or assault, and can last up to 10 weeks after the initial incident (Blanco, 2010; Maguire, 1980). For the residents of Woodstock, the personal impact would be significant. Woodstock is still considered by many a sleepy community where door locks are optional. Whenever there is a burglary in the area, however, residents tend to be more vigilant. Incidently, my personal observation is that there are more firearms per capita in Woodstock than in most other areas of Connecticut. This could potentially create an issue, but so far it has not.

Woodstock does not have a police department and is patrolled solely by the Connecticut State Police. Whenever a crime of significance occurs in Woodstock, the police must take resources away from other areas of the state in order to respond and investigate the crime. This puts a burden on law enforcement in the community and surrounding communities.

Crimes of all types can have serious consequences not only for the involved parties but those fairly removed from the crimes (family, friends, etc.); however, burglary, unlike murder or assault that tend to be focused on a specific victim, impacts whole communities and can have far reaching effects that begin to harm the fabric of those communities.


Blanco, A. (2010, February 5). The psychological effects of home burglary. Security World News. Retrieved on October 18, 2011, from

CLRChoice, Inc. (2010). Woodstock crime rates indexes. Retrieved on October 18, 2011, from

Connecticut State Police, Crime Analysis Unit. (2010). Connecticut Uniform Crime Reports [Data]. Retrieved on October 18, 2011, from

The Disaster Center. (2011). U.S. crime statistics: total and by state (1960-2007). Retrieved from

Maguire, M. (1980). The impact of burglary upon victims. British Journal of Criminology, 20(3), 261-275. Retrieved from

Wilson, J. Q. & Herrnstein, R. J. (1998). Crime & human nature: The definitive study of the causes of crime (First Free Press paperback ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Future Threats

Aside from hoax attacks, where credible threats occur based on purposeful counter-intelligence efforts of terrorists, I suspect large-scale events to be the modus operandi of terrorists in the next decade. According to LaFree, Yang, and Crenshaw (2009), anti-U.S. terrorists have ample intent on attacking the U.S. on our soil; however, this would be a huge and logistically complicated undertaking. For this reason, any future organized act of terror on U.S. soil will be designed to be significant, causing extreme loss of life or toppling a significant structure or both.

Biologic weapons would be the choice for terrorists who wished to inflict harm to the greatest amount of people, though releasing biologic material lacks the sudden impact usually sought, and weaponized biologics are not easily grown or economical (Levitin, 2005). Chemical weapons are typically easier and cheaper to manufacture, though they lack effectiveness and tend to merely create a scare of equivalent magnitude of a hoax (Levitin, 2005). Aside from basic explosives, this leaves the radiologic threat, a threat that I believe, coupled with a significant target, will cause devastating effects not unlike 9/11.

A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive used to disseminate radiologic materials over an area. I foresee a coordinated attack on the financial districts of the U.S. using dirty bombs. The bombs would, first, cause physical destruction to the buildings causing immediate disruption of the financial sector of the U.S. economy, along with a large death toll. Second, the radiation dispersed over the area would cause difficulty in cleaning up the area, inhibiting recovery and further impacting the financial markets.

A law enforcement response to such an attack would certainly be large in scale. The local police department would be first to respond, along with state police, then the WMD Coordinator at the local FBI field office would be apprised of the situation. As responders start arriving on scene, personal radiation detectors would start to tone indicating the release of radiologic material. This further information would prompt the WMD Dictorate in Washington, D.C., to order a full asset response by the FBI and other federal terrorism partners (e.g. the Joint Terrorism Task Force). The response to this type of incident should be trained on in cooperative exercises involving all levels of law enforcement. Additionally, personal radiation detectors (and other detectors) should, at a minimum, be placed in police vehicles for early warning of environments immediately dangerous to life and health. Adequate training, equipment, and preparation are the only ways in which to prepare for responding to large-scale terrorist attacks.


LaFree, G., Yang, S., & Crenshaw, M. (2009). Trajectories of terrorism: Attack patterns of foreign groups that have targeted the United States, 1970-2004. Criminology & Public Policy, 8(3), 445-473. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9133.2009.00570.x

Levitin, H. W. (2005). Debunking myths: How law enforcement can help diffuse the public’s fear. On the Beat. Retrieved from

Fear of Terrorism

As terrorism becomes more prevalent within a society, concerns about the psychological effects are brought to the forefront. The psychological effects of terrorism, in general, should have an impact on the ability of law enforcement and the public to interface appropriately. A recent study by Bleich, Gelkopf, and Solomon (2003) of the psychological effects of terrorism on the public in Israel showed surprisingly low levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms despite high incidences of direct exposure to terror events. This study demonstrated that, although up to a third of the respondents acknowledged a “limited sense of safety and substantial distress [they] reported adapting to the situation without substantial mental health symptoms and impairment, and most sought various ways of coping with terrorism and its ongoing threats [, possibly linked to] processes of adaptation and accommodation” (p. 619). The study found that the most effective and widely used coping mechanism was checking on the well-being of friends and family. As people tend to cope well with trauma, attitudes towards protective measures seem to acquiesce for the common good, and this can be assistive to law enforcement.

One of the protective measures people tend to adopt that would help law enforcement is a sense of hypervigilance (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Hypervigilance allows the people to be more attentive to things out of the ordinary (e.g. unattended packages, suspicious loitering, anxious mannerisms of others, et al.). This promotes a line of communication with law enforcement not only regarding terrorism but for other criminal activity, also.

Another protective measure, which goes towards acquiescence, is the ability of the people, in general, to accept an increased presence of law enforcement in their daily lives. When faced with a proximal event, the bulk of the citizenship contend that it is, indeed, a function of government to protect the masses from further harm, and these citizens tend to accept limits on personal liberty for perceived increases in security (Klein, 2007). This is a double-edged sword, however. People tend to want to return to a normal state of affairs (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Though an increased police presence is initially welcomed and embraced, the people will eventually resent the loss of liberty and require law enforcement presence to recede. How this occurs will either enhance or detract from the ongoing relationship with law enforcement. An example of this is easy to see when considering both local law enforcement and the federal effort of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Local law enforcement seems to have decreased their presence, at least in my area, and are respectfully viewed as helpful, whereas the TSA, an agency that continues to irrationally impede on liberty, is viewed negatively by the traveling public.

Law enforcement is a service-based industry where the public is the customer. Police need to understand both the rights and the fears of the people in order to maintain the appropriate level of service, which waxes and wanes.


Bleich, A., Gelkopf, M, & Solomon, Z. (2003). Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290(5), 612-620.

Klein, L. (2007). Civil liberties and national security in the post 9-11 era: State power and the impact of the USA Patriot Act. Conference Papers – American Sociological Association, 1-8.

WMD Coordinator

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI; 2007) and the U.S. Department of Justice (2009), the WMD Coordinator, a designated Special Agent within each field office, is responsible for initiating the federal response to any possible WMD event. “The Attorney General has lead authority to investigate federal crimes, which includes the use or attempted use of a WMD. 28 U.S.C. § 533 (2008) and 18 U.S.C. § 2332(a) (2008). The Attorney General has delegated much of this investigative authority to the FBI” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2009, p. 1). The WMD Coordinator helps to fulfill this mandate by being the point of contact for local and state officials when an event involving an WMD is suspected to have occurred.

In the Mattapan scenario, the initial response by the Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Police Department unveil a possible attempt to utilize an explosive to disseminate a chemical or biologic material in a public place. As soon as this plot is uncovered, an emergency response plan should be initiated, which involves notifying the Boston FBI field office of the suspected WMD event. The WMD Coordinator of the Boston field office would be the person receiving this notification. The Massachusetts State Police would also be notified to respond as they are able to provide their own subject matter experts and resources.

As a WMD subject matter expert, once notified of the circumstances, according to the FBI (2007), the WMD Coordinator responds to the scene and assists local and state law enforcement in determining the threat. Once it is established that an WMD is involved, whether by direct investigation at the scene or based on reports from law enforcement, the WMD Coordinator would immediately notify the WMD Directorate at FBI Headquarters. This notification would activate a team of WMD experts who would participate in a conference call with the WMD Coordinator to further identify the threat and, also, identify the additional federal resources needed to respond to the event. The additional resources could be individual experts, federal response teams from other departments or bureaus (e.g. the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), or the special teams of the FBI, including the Chemical and Biological Sciences unit (to identify the particular payload material), photo operations personnel, an explosives team (based on the dispersal mechanism being explosives), the disaster squad (to identify any potential victims), and the national level Hazardous Material Response Unit and the local Hazardous Material Response Team to collect evidence from the scene. The WMD Coordinator would, then, be responsible for leading the investigation.

The WMD Coordinator would most likely fulfill his role within the unified incident command structure as Law Enforcement Command. This position would allow him or her to delegate the responsibilities of the response, including the need to provide information to the public. Public Information Officers provide a critical role in major response efforts. They provide enough information to the public to allay any unfounded fears, provide direction and instructions when needed, and filter sensitive information so that it does not become public knowledge. It is important for the public to be apprised of the situation in a calm and authoritative manner to assure them that everything necessary is being done. It is also important for the public to understand the risks of the situation in a realistic manner to prevent a mass overreaction.

The WMD Coordinator position is a valuable tool of the FBI and the federal government. Though the value of this position has been criticized for the lack of readiness and training, preparations are being undertaken to ensure a quality approach to responding to WMD events in the future (McDonald, 2009; U.S. Department of Justice, 2009).


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2007, March 5). WMD threats: How we respond. Retrieved from

McDonald, J. (2009, October 8). FBI WMD Coordinator program needs improvement [Web log]. The OC Sheriff Blog. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice. (2009, September). The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Weapons Of Mass Destruction Coordinator program (Audit Report #09-36). Retrieved from

The Role of Federal Law Enforcement

The role of federal law enforcement has changed with the inception of the National Response Framework (NRF; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008). In the past, according to the obsolete National Response Plan (NRP; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004), the effort of the federal government was to support local efforts and only take charge if necessary or requested to do so by the responsible jurisdiction. The NRF furthers this goal. However, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice (2010) report, federal law enforcement is ill-prepared to provide a robust and organized response to an act of terrorism on U.S. soil, save for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

For instance, assume that a small group of terrorists detonate a bomb, otherwise known as a ‘suitcase bomb’, designed to shower radiologic material over an area approximately 9 city blocks in downtown Los Angeles. What chain reaction, in regards to a law enforcement response, would this event trigger?

First, calls to 9-1-1 reporting a large explosion would trigger a local response by both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, along with other emergency services. As local assets begin arriving, hopefully they determine the large and possibly catastrophic nature of the event and advise their communications center to make the appropriate notifications. These notifications would be contingent on the preplanned incident action plans of each agency, which would, hopefully, open emergency operations centers (EOCs) for the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and the State of California. These EOCs would be responsible for making further notifications and coordinating the response with mutual aid agencies as well as state and federal assets. Common to most all preplans in the event of a suspected terrorist attack is the notification to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is responsible, according to the Department of Justice (2010) report and the NRF, for coordinating all law enforcement and investigative activities of federal agencies (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008).

A suitcase bomb is significant as it involves the spread of radiological materials that are harmful to humans. According to the Department of Justice (2010) report, the only federal law enforcement agency prepared to deal with such an event is the FBI. Thus, the FBI would be expected to offer expertise and specialized teams to the Los Angeles Police Department in a cooperative effort to begin law enforcement and investigative procedures as soon as possible.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2004). National response plan. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008). National response framework. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010, May). Review of the department’s preparation to respond to a WMD incident (OIG Report# I-2010-004). Retrieved from

The Need for Multi-Agency Coordination

Terrorists, whether foreign or domestic, typically choose targets that have value in societies or philosophies that they oppose (LaFree, Yang, & Crenshaw, 2009). For instance, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (n.d.), al Qaeda, under the leadership of Usama bin Laden, had their sights on the World Trade Center, a symbol of global capitalism, for many years. Another example, involving domestic terrorism, is the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and Michael Fortier. This target was chosen as a representation of the federal government, which McVeigh and Nichols despised, citing the incident involving federal agents in Waco, Texas, two years earlier.

Considering local community events that might be of significant interest to terrorists as potential targets, the Bristol Fourth of July Parade comes to mind. The parade is a major component of the oldest celebration of our nation’s independence and is attended by over 200,000 people each year (Fox Providence, 2011). The parade is symbolic and casualties could number in the thousands, depending on the tactics and strategies used.

There is limited egress from the Town of Bristol (see figure 1). Hope Street and Metacom Avenue are the only two roads that provide a route in and out of the town. Both lead to the Town of Warren to the north, and Hope Street converges with Metacom Avenue just before exiting the town by way of the two-lane Mount Hope Bridge to the south. Both roads are heavily trafficked during the parade inhibiting both evacuation and emergency response.

In the event that a significant terrorist act was to occur at this parade, the initial law enforcement response would be limited to those officers already on site. These officers, operating under the auspices of the Bristol Police Department would be primarily Bristol police officers with a small contingent of off-duty officers from neighboring jurisdictions. There is usually a small contingent of Rhode Island State Police troopers present. These officers would be on their own for a length of time, some of them probably affected by the attack.

Secondary responders would include both Rhode Island and Massachusetts State Police, along with mutual aid officers from approximately 10 to 15 neighboring communities; however, as people flee the initial attack, a secondary attack could create further confusion and increase the likelihood of severe traffic jams at all three evacuation points further inhibiting a timely response. Once the degree and scope of the incident is ascertained and the access difficulties are identified, it would make sense for a contingent of law enforcement to board helicopters and boats out of Providence and cross Narragansett Bay. Once on land, these officers (most likely consisting of U.S. Coast Guard, Providence Police, U.S. Border Patrol, and other federal law enforcement entities housed in Providence, RI) would rely on alternative means (walking, bicycles, ATVs, et al.) to reach the scene.

Colt State Park, to the southwest, would make a viable forward area command, allowing access for all types of vehicles, including single-engine fixed-wing aircraft. There is also an added benefit of a strong sea breeze to help direct any plume away from this forward area command post.

I have to consider that the law enforcement entities, along with the local emergency management authorities, have a working disaster plan in place for the Bristol Fourth of July parade; however, the plan must detail the fact that all resources would be overcome due to the scope and severity of such an incident; therefore, contingencies, such as stand-by assets, must be established and ready to respond by alternative means in the event that a catastrophic event were to occur, whether criminal or accidental in nature.


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Famous cases & criminals. Retrieved from

Fox Providence. (2011, July 5). Inbox: Fourth of July festivities. Retrieved from

LaFree, G., Yang, S., & Crenshaw, M. (2009). Trajectories of terrorism: Attack patterns of foreign groups that have targeted the United States, 1970-2004. Criminology & Public Policy, 8(3), 445-473. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9133.2009.00570.x

Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency. (2008). State of Rhode Island hurricane evacuation routes: Town of Bristol [Map]. Retrieved from

Figure 1.

Bristol RI Evacuation Route
“State of Rhode Island hurricane evacuation routes: Town of Bristol” (Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, 2008).