Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 20, 2009

Columbine – April 20, 1999

Filed under: Events — by Christopher Bellavita on April 20, 2009


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Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 20, 2009 @ 4:32 am

Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City, Columbine… and so many more in succession reminds me,

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

But I also wonder if all are best categorized as “homeland security” events? There are moments when it seems helpful for HS to encompass any and all risks. The principles and processes of HS are clearly relevant to preventing or mitigating such events as these. But there is also value — especially for a new discipline such as HS — in categorical distinctions.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 20, 2009 @ 9:06 am

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed–my life closed twice before its close–paraphrase of favorite poem by Emily Dickinson.

Thanks to Associate Director Kay Goss, AD for the Preparedness, Training and Exercises Directorate of FEMA under President Clinton school preparedness got some attention during the Clinton Administration. FEMA however never fully resolved its positon with respect to both school administration officials, teachers, and the 45 Million in the various school situations at least 9 months of the year. The result was that the special populations above were treated as members of the general public. Neither administrators or teachers wanted to be responsible for either preparedness or the children (mainly) under their care and supervision in emergencies. After Columbine people started to wake up to the huge mass of population unprotected in schools and colleges. Very few state laws todate however and to my knowledge Department of Education has put out almost $800M since 9/11 for school preparedness without a great deal to show for it. It should be mandatory that all administrative staff and teachers are given preparedness training, including first aid, and that carefully tailored evacuation plans are developed and tested. Largely school emergency plans now cover lock downs and emergency transportation issues (around nuclear power plants e.g.). This really should be thought through much more carefully. Both administrators and teachers are leery of liabilty issues since schools are favorite targets, yet it seems that with appropriate protection from liability these same administrators and teachers must do much more. Often othe public safety officials have no knowledge of school plans nor do parents. The result is when the media announces a problem even outside the schools then parents begin to arrive to pick up kids even when they might be safer in congregate care. We need real knowledge and expertise in this arena and I argue that every school needs a highly trained and knowledgeable Emergency Coordinator to work full time on this arena. Again it is my belief that schools (witness attack in Russia) are specific terrorist targets and must be viewed from that standpoint. Also vulnerabiliy of children to specific hazards (chemical and radiological) means that special protective measures must be take (distribution and maintenance of KI–Potassium Iodide) for good measure. Let’s protect the kids while in custody or located in State or local operated or run (and private also) facilities. Thanks for the post. Good to remember even awful tragedies.

Comment by Arnold

April 20, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

First, I do feel it is very important to commemorate such a tragic incident. And even more important to consider the lessons: first reports/impressions/lessons can often be called into question or rendered false by in-depth investigation. By this I mean all the hand wringing concerning bullying, goths, video games, etc. has mostly been debunked in the years since the incident (according to recent reporting).

Second, I agree with Mr. Palin that this should not be considered primarily a homeland security issue (unless one really wishes to get into gun control and explosive issues). Unless one wishes to make every criminal act a homeland security act, a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

Third, to slightly disagree (or clarify) Mr. Cumming’s remark about KI-Potassium Iodide–unless you live near a nuclear power plant it is unlikely to be useful in a radiological or nuclear terrorism incident. KI is applicable to a very particular isotope that could be released by a nuclear reactor incident. It would not very useful in many of the possible “dirty bomb” scenarios or in the aftermath of a nuclear terrorism (meaning they achieve a fission explosion of any yield–a “mushroom cloud”).

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 21, 2009 @ 8:04 am

REspectfully disagree with a portion of Arnold’s comment. KI is one of several thyroid blocking agents and other than dilution (drink beer) post exposure is an effective agent for blocking the thryroids sensitivity to radiation in particular for women of child-bearing age who might be pregnant and children. Hey hoping for no dirty bombs either.

Comment by Arnold

April 21, 2009 @ 10:33 am

There are some studies suggesting that red wine also exhibits some useful anti-radiation properties…

Apologies if I was unclear about KI–I meant to point out it is useful for protection against radioactive iodine, which is found in great quantities in nuclear reactors. However, if a dirty bomb is based on Cesium, KI would not have any useful benefits. And there is generally little iodine in nuclear fallout.

The CDC: “KI cannot protect the body from radioactive elements other than radioactive iodineā€”if radioactive iodine is not present, taking KI is not protective.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 21, 2009 @ 10:44 am

First! Thanks Arnold. Second, The Biological Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 mandated KI distribution around domestic nuclear power plants within the 10 mile EPZ.

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