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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

New Study Indicates U.S. Could Learn A Lot About Citizen Preparedness From Israel

May 15th, 2009 · 4 Comments

I want to bring to your attention a terrific new report, Public Role and Engagement In Counterterrorism Efforts: Implications of Israeli Practices for the U.S., prepared for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Science and Technology by the Homeland Security Institute (a federally-funded research and development center which serves as the Department’s think tank). The study was co-authored by Dr. Sibel McGee (the principal investigator), Catherine Bott, Vikram Gupta, Kimberly Jones and Alex Karr. It is not yet available on the web. However, if you would like a PDF copy, please contact me at and I will e-mail you it.

The 145-page study offers a comprehensive review and analysis of citizen preparedness efforts in U.S. as well as Israel and then makes some excellent suggestions on how we can learn from Israeli experience in this area. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of public readiness. As has been discussed regularly on this blog, Israel provides a helpful model for the U.S. when it comes to civilian preparedness and engagement. Of course, Israel’s special circumstances (terror threat, size, militarily-trained populace, etc.) limit the transferability of many of its lessons. Nevertheless, the U.S. needs to move farther down the citizen preparedness continuum towards Israel. The key questions then are how much farther and how we do it. This report should be helpful in answering to both those questions.

To me, we can learn and draw from Israel on citizen readiness particularly in three areas — more robustly informing the public on potential terror threats, better educating kids on emergency preparedness, and expanding readiness drilling to include the public. I believe this study will be very useful in developing new efforts here in the U.S. to prepare and engage the public going forward with the goal of building more societal resilience. I have excerpted a portion of the summary results below. 

The report’s key observations on the different Israeli and American approaches to the public role and engagement in counterterrorism are: 

In Israel,

• The public is treated as a key partner in counterterrorism.
• Both the public and government agree on a high level of public responsibility for personal safety and national security.
• The public is interested and motivated to assume its responsibility in counterterrorism issues.
• The level of public participation in counterterrorism efforts and readiness programs for terrorism-related emergencies is high. This is likely to be the result of the high threat level and strong national consensus on public preparedness.
• The government programs and messaging are centralized, highly coordinated, and consistent.
• The government organizes and funds extensive, diverse, and ubiquitous programs that provide the public with appropriate information and education to facilitate its active role in counterterrorism.
• The Israeli government enjoys a high level of public trust and credibility on terrorism-related issues.

In the U.S.,

• Within the official paradigm of homeland security, terrorism is subsumed under an “all-hazards” approach.
• Both the public and the government perceive counterterrorism primarily to be the responsibility of the government.
• In official emergency management and security/counterterrorism programs, the term “the public” appears to be frequently understood to mean only uniformed /official first responders. Thus, large parts of the public at large are excluded.
• The level of public participation in counterterrorism efforts and readiness programs for catastrophic incidents-both natural and manmade, including terrorism-related emergencies-is low.
• The current public apathy may be a result of the lack of effective/adequate programs for greater citizen involvement in counterterrorism practices.
• The number of and funding for effective programs for public education and training on terrorism-related issues is limited and reflects a lack of prioritization at the national level.
• Even though there are examples of good practices in the field at the state and local level, there is little awareness of these efforts at the federal level. Moreover, these efforts are disjointed, inconsistent, and lack federal-level coordination and mandate. 

Some of the report’s key recommendations are:

• DHS needs to champion greater understanding, in both the general public and within those responsible for homeland security, of the public‘s unique role in ensuring its own safety and homeland security. Emergency authorities, in particular, need to change their perceptions of the public from seeing them as victims to considering them as partners and force multipliers.

• As a way to reinforce this understanding, DHS needs to support programs that inform, educate, train, and prepare the public to take a role in ensuring its own safety and security.

• Despite its benefits, the current all-hazards approach has an unintended consequence-terrorism-specific preparedness issues are not adequately understood and addressed. There is need for more systematic and comprehensive terrorism awareness and education programs in the United States that can highlight terrorism-specific risks and coping strategies.

• Given the perception that the terrorist threat to the United States is non-immediate, the government will need to work creatively to overcome public apathy, and must increase preparedness for disasters in general and terrorism-related emergencies in particular.

• To mount an effective counterterrorism strategy, DHS and other federal agencies involved in homeland security issues need to improve information sharing internally and better coordinate their risk communications with the public.

• Providing the public, particularly the more youthful segments of the population, with terrorism-related information, education, and training may prove useful in facilitating and maintaining public resilience as a long-term counterterrorism strategy.

As I mentioned, the report is not yet available on the web. However, if you would like a PDF copy, please send me an email at (Thanks to the “Homeland Inside & Out” radio show for bringing this report to my attention.)


The logo in Hebrew & English on Israel’s Home Front Command from its public preparedness website.

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Tags: Preparedness Lessons · Preparedness Reports

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