Security at Home

Emergency Management Once Removed

October 2023

By Jim Mullen

“DHS Issues National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin
Lone Offenders and Small Groups Continue to Post a Persistent Threat to the Homeland” – issued May 24, 2023

That Department of Homeland Security’s advisory is a clear, unmistakable warning. Emergency managers and homeland security professionals should take heed.

Shortly after the audacious 2008 Mumbai, India terrorist attack which took 160 lives, a Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief mused that a similarly trained team could paralyze a city like Seattle for a “considerable” time. Mumbai illustrated how a team of well-trained bad actors could exact considerable damage.

Of course, the Mumbai attacks were prompted by motivations that do not apply to us, but our society has its own demons. Passions of a political and ideological nature are running high in our country, right now. It’s past time for government authorities at all levels to consider the implications of an organized domestic terrorist uprising. The growing frequency of provocative statements from influential national and regional platforms, the intimidating actions by armed, and presumably motivated, well-trained persons and groups confronting state legislatures, school boards, election workers, and other government officials should provide sufficient incentive for authorities to think seriously about what was once inconceivable in our country.

The exercise design itself could be tricky: one problem with planning for such an exercise might be anticipating the twists and turns such a scenario might take, factoring in appropriate (or inappropriate) responses of various governmental authorities, including neighboring jurisdictions or neighboring states. Of course, tactical discussions on how to thwart violent forces bent on overturning our form of government might best occur in tabletop exercise format, away from cameras and the public eye, in a classified setting.

Too much? Farfetched? A cursory examination of rhetoric from extremist platforms might suggest that this is a minimum preparatory step to take at this time. The “exercise” of contemplating such a scenario could prove useful to emergency managers, and homeland security personnel in considering potential consequences of such a scenario before it bursts into reality one day. It seems worth considering – hopefully, given the clear warning implicit in that NTAS bulletin and the unalterable law of common sense, some in our profession are doing just that.

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.