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Of Boston, Bombs -- and the Centurion Program!

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The atrocious recent multiple-bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon brought back memories to this former Boston resident.  In the early 1970s, I was working in downtown Boston for an agency which had received several bomb threats.  One day in the early Spring I received a phone call at work from the Post Office serving my office building, asking me to come down to "identify a suspicious package."

When I arrived shortly after the call, several of Boston's Finest were at the Post Office,  and I was shown to a small internal room where the package in question was on a table.   I was asked if I recognized the return address, and I confirmed that it came from my family in Tunnel, New York and that I even recognized the handwriting.  Still, I was asked to open the brown-paper-wrapped package in the small room all by myself, while both Post Office staff and Boston's finest kept their distance outside the heavy internal walls.  Since the package contained home-baked cookies, the least I could do was to offer them around.

Upon returning to the office, the regional director of my agency told me that a nearby building housed both the Irish and Israeli consulates, and there had been previous bomb threats and suspicious packages -- so the Boston authorities had learned to be very careful.  But, fast forwarding to the 2013 Boston Marathon,  it seems that the need for extreme caution and care in dealing with risks at public events has yet to be learned, not only in Boston (where the post-event official response has been outstanding) but, indeed, throughout the United States of America.  There are vital steps which this nation should have taken decades ago to prevent or mitigate the very-real hazards of both internal and external terrorist or terrorist-type attacks.  We have yet to take many of those steps.

By the late 1990s, I had become first an emergency management volunteer in Vermont, and then a professional hazard mitigation consultant for the Office of Emergency Management in New Hampshire.  Prior to that, I had worked for the Development Corporation for Israel in Connecticut, and had noted on trips to that fledgling nation that the level of preparedness for bombings and other attacks was far above anything present in the USA.  After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, I studied the situation and developed the Centurion Program,  which proposed an American Home Guard (similar to Israel's) in which one person out of every hundred U.S. citizens would be recruited and trained for awareness to all sorts of threats, particularly bombings -- and would thus become a Centurion, the ancient Roman term for a soldier leading 100 troops.

The Centurion Program was published in such newspapers as the North Adams MA Transcript in the late 1990s, and was offered to the U.S. Army War College as a monograph solicited by that premier military institution.  After the War College failed to act on the program, telling me that it would cost too much money to implement, it was offered to various other federal agencies -- always well-received, yet always rejected for cost reasons.  In 2000, now working in emergency management and having been trained as a Disaster Assistance Employee at FEMA Region I based in Boston, I asked FEMA to refer Centurion where it might at least receive serious consideration.  FEMA failed to make any referral at all, to the best of my knowledge.

When September 11, 2001 brought the horror of airliners being flown into the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, nearly all of us at the New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management in Concord moved into the basement Operations Room for several days, monitoring the tragic terror attack and focusing on preventing anything similar in New Hampshire.  Many of us offered to go to New York to assist right after 9/11/01, but that offer was not accepted at that time.  

In the aftermath of that tragic terrorist attack, I renewed efforts to secure at least serious consideration of establishing an American Home Guard along the lines proposed in the Centurion Program. Instead, a so-called War on Terror was launched  at the Federal level, and a new Department of Homeland Security was established. The results of those efforts are hard to judge, since the public does not know how many threats have been averted or avoided.  But it is safe to say that this nation could and should have done considerably more, and should have done it decades earlier.

Indeed, the terrorist handwriting has been on our wall since the 1970s, but we have failed to read it--just as our security agencies failed to read those Arabic documents which outlined the 9/11/01 plot well in advance of its perpetration.  Other at-risk nations such as Israel have done far more, and done it far more effectively.   One need only look at our silly Smokey-the-Bear color-coded "threat levels",  and the seemingly-endless in-fighting among our federal security agencies, to prove that we have yet to learn this basic lesson: the price of safety and security, like that of liberty, is indeed eternal vigilance.  Our vigilance at the 2013 Boston Marathon was, sadly, inadequate to the task of maintaining that safety and security.   We need an American Home Guard ala the Centurion Program -- we've needed it for decades, and we surely need it now.

 

Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of Pownal, (more...)
 
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While Boston and Massachusetts authorities have ha... by Eugene Elander on Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013 at 7:05:50 AM
Eugene, Though vigilance is definitely a requirem... by john Heptonstall on Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013 at 1:52:27 AM
You're reading far too much into this proposal! It... by Eugene Elander on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013 at 4:52:48 AM
The Department of Homeland Security has roughly 25... by Bill Dugan on Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013 at 6:56:01 AM
I agree as to DHS -- but that doesn't change the p... by Eugene Elander on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013 at 4:56:11 AM