Trust Me

People do not like to think about natural or manmade disasters as part of their personal future and businesses are the same as people. Planning for recovery from disasters presents unique issues in an increasingly complex world as we consider varied types of problems. Think about these matters because unfortunately, a disastrous day comes sometime for us all.

There are over 118,000 emergency calls made each day in the U.S. on wireless telephones that were essentially non-existent six years ago. This is only a third of all daily emergency telephone calls. These calls are made to ask for help for the heart attack victim who collapses every 3.3 minutes, to call for medical assistance on the highway where 5.2 million people were injured and 42,000 U.S. citizens died last year in automobile accidents, and because of strokes that happen every 53 seconds to someone in America. People have problems on the factory, office, or kitchen floor, and on the road.

In spite of a growing population and congestion, improving technology has made the probable outcomes better for medical emergencies. For example, the time for an emergency medical response team to reach a destination has dropped significantly over the past decade in both urban and rural scenarios. In 1988, the average response time in minutes was 9.6 in rural settings and 5.1 in urban areas and compares, respectively, in 1998 with 6.8 and 3.7 minutes. The pace of technology insertion in this regard is startling. By the first of next year, over a million cars on U.S. highways will be fitted with some type of automatic crash notification systems.

Government has become quite active in emergency planning and separates functions into those of a "first responder" (primarily local fire, police, or medical units) and "consequence management," such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams who address post-event survival needs of communities and regions with large scale disasters. FEMA does pre-crisis planning with the National Warning System, a 24-hour operating communications network with 2,200 fixed and 120 mobile radio stations that cooperate with and rely on 500,000 amateur radio operators across America. Crisis phase operations can connect to any environment of cellular, paging, radio, and satellite links with assured connectivity. However, planning for the recovery from a disaster is where the prudent businessman must face realities or face company-killing losses.

This leads to the human side of disaster management - the police and military roles in assisting relief from hurricanes, earthquakes, civil strife, or terrorist attack. It is here that government has changed the responsibilities of soldier and police in ways that have impacts not well understood by the public but deserving of attention. While conspiracy theory is not my thing, smoke and fire are related; there are no black helicopters flying over Philadelphia at night as some weirdos claim, but the phrase "posse comitatus" is important.

Posse comitatus (PC) was a rider to a congressional appropriation approved 18 June 1878 whose impetus was two-fold. First, after the Civil War, federal troops had been used at polling places to assure that no drunks, undesirable suffragettes, or former Confederate officers who were stripped of voting rights, entered the premises. Later on the western frontier, fort commanders exercised law enforcement powers, often in ways violating the Constitution. PC requires that the military does not perform police work and that the military not use its lethal powers in law enforcement. These provisions still stand in U.S. Code. But in 1988, restrictions were lifted that prohibit National Guard from working more than 179 days per year under federal pay, this done the under aegis of fighting the war on drugs. Further, USC Title 10, Sections 331-333 address "insurrection" in any state and allows a President to use armed forces to suppress insurrection. PC has been violated many times over the past hundred years, presumably for good reasons as in 1919 to end riots in Chicago, to quell the Bonus Marchers 1932 riot in Washington DC, when President Truman nationalized the railroads and during the riots at the Democrat Party political convention in Chicago. So we see that prohibitions against using federal troops in police work are not absolute. This has been a problem ever since the Supreme Court decided in 1863 that a President can decide unilaterally whether an "insurrection" exists or, recently under the terrorist threat mantra, martial law can be declared and civil rights suspended.

It was Clinton confidant Paul Begala who reportedly said about Executive Orders, "Stroke of a pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool." My advice is to watch what Washington does and plan for your own repairs when the dam breaks. IH