The effects of Oklahoma City terrorist incident on emergency response
Emergency response can be defined as those procedures that should be followed to ensure appropriate action is taken whenever a disaster strikes. According to Orto and Power, disasters are broadly classified into three. These are natural disasters which are sometimes referred to as acts of God, technological accidents which are caused by unintentional human error and terrorism intentionally caused by humans (Orto and Power, 2007, pg. 214). Disasters are bound to happen anywhere any time and it is therefore important to ensure people are aware of those disasters that are most likely to happen wherever they may be. Such information can be gathered by carrying out historical analysis about the past incidences because such incidences may probably reoccur in the future. Emergency response ensures safety of people and increases chances of survival of victims. It also alleviates human suffering through provision of basic necessities to victims on demand. Taking into account the case of Oklahoma terror attack, lessons can be drawn to ensure a repeat of past mistakes is not witnessed. This paper examines terrorism disasters and emergency response by using Oklahoma City terrorist attack as a case study.
A terrorism disaster was witnessed on 19th April, 1995 when terrorists bombed federal building in Oklahoma City. It is very important to note that Oklahoma bombings affected emergency response by drawing attention on four main areas. First is how a similar crisis should be handled soon after it happens. This involves rescue operations and emergency services. The issues of how well equipped are the experts and their expertise comes in. In the case of Oklahoma terror attack, police swung swiftly into action. In the aftermath of the bombing, they responded by carrying out the following tasks. They rescued the victims and provided them with “life saving first aid (LSFA)” before taking them to hospital. Triage stations were set up. Streets were opened up to ensure free and smooth flow of traffic. OCPD response was activated for call out. People were evacuated from all buildings within the proximity of Murrah federal building. A perimeter fence was set up to mark the crime scene and help to protect evidence of the attackers to help in investigations. Response media was put in place to keep the members of public informed. Medical personnel were called to offer their services. Both the medical, fire and security personnel worked in cooperation. This was aided by the command post that was set up to oversee the operations of the emergency response team. Evidence was also collected including photography documentation. Security was heightened in the FBI command base and “myriad convention center. Drug Enforcement Administration” (DEA) agents including their families were also provided with adequate security. Eye witnesses were interviewed before any property or motor vehicle trapped in the crime scene was released. The victims were then identified. Liaison officers were appointed. Outer perimeter entry passes were issued. Then press releases followed which included interviews. Suspects were detained for interrogation. To assist victims, a victim assistance center was set up. VIPs were allowed to tour the site but heavily escorted by security officers. According to Boyd and Sullivan,
“These tasks illustrate the wide variety of issues converging for consideration by transit police and operations personnel when managing a terrorist incident.” (Boyd & Sullivan, 1997, pg. 26).
Clearly stated formal objectives were found to eliminate confusion in similar circumstances. They also ensure optimization of resource allocation and management in a well coordinated manner to deliver quality critical services. It was noted that the definition of the roles of transit agencies was very important. This is because it ensures that essential emergency efforts are not hindered by confusion in a similar scene. Importantly, command centers and communication structures were identified as some of the most sensitive areas incase of a similar attack. As a result transit terrorism was seen to degenerate to either a crisis, disaster or even both.
Secondly is how the victims’ needs should be met in order to alleviate more social, physical, psychological, emotional and economic suffering. In the case of Oklahoma terrorist attack people lost their loved ones while many were injured. Majority of them sustained emotional and psychological problems and they urgently needed tender care to bring their lives back to normalcy. Loosing a body part from such incidences affects the social and economic lives of the survivors. Their lives are shuttered and painfully transformed to become dependants. According to Orto and Power, 2007, pg. 214, among the three types of disasters, terrorism causes the worst effects of mental health to the victims. This is because a terrorist event is characterized by heinous intention. Also evident in Oklahoma terrorist attack, Bongar, 2007, pg 162 argues out that victims of terrorist suffer from psychological consequences and they should be given professional care. The victims with less social support are worst affected. According to Forest, 2007, pg. 244, over 384,518 people were highly affected by the Oklahoma attack. These included those who perished, those orphaned, those who lost parents, visitors in the Murrah building, and those rendered homeless, federal contractors in the building, those who lost their place of work, those who were in the town when the incident occurred and those who knew people who worked in the building.
The third issue is ensuring justice is done. This can only be done by conducting comprehensive investigation that will see the culprits arrested and apprehended. Though the loss caused by such perpetrators is enormous, the message must be strongly conveyed to those who may have such ill minded intentions. According to pentagon report on Oklahoma bombing, five bombs were separately used to attack the federal building in 19895. The damage was exacerbated by fertilizer explosives. Though the ammonium nitrate fertilizer had low intensity, it was believed that there were well organized wired explosives of high intensity. The fact that the fertilizer could have caused such a great damage was not disputed either since it was parked in a Ryder truck just outside the building as it awaited transportation. This gave a clear indication that some one who knew the building very well might have been involved. This terrorist attack refreshed American memories on the 1933 Reichstag building fire. Two years later, the US president of the day bill Clinton moved swiftly to accent on the counter terrorism bill into law. The highly suspected perpetrator of the act, Timothy McVeigh was reportedly executed in2001 by use of a lethal injection. Claims have however been made that Timothy McVeigh was falsely executed and that he is still alive. The same tactics are believed to have been used in the bombing of the twin towers. The issue that the so called Controlled Demolition Company was used to clean up the rubble in both incidences raised suspicion of a possible involvement in the two attacks. In the case of Oklahoma bombing, specialists casted their doubts on the possibility of ammonium nitrate bomb destroying over one third of the building. Ben Partin (a blast expert who had already retired) argued out that the damage caused was over ten times that ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) could cause. According to Smith, 2001, pg 64, terrorism should be addressed by establishing policies to criminalize the act and moving swiftly to implement them. Such policies should be entrenched in legal systems of all countries through a consensus.
The fourth is how to prevent such incidences in the future and sustain the welfare of the affected victims in the rest of their lives. It is very unfortunate that people are never prepared until such incidences occur. Oklahoma was thought to be too interior to be penetrated by terrorists and it is very unfortunate that terrorists were believed to commit crimes in ‘other areas’. It was until the incidence occurred that people realized that terrorists reside both within and without borders of any country. Purpura identifies five missions of any government that can assist in preventing terrorist attacks. According to him, the government should be the first responder to help civilians. Government stability is of paramount importance. Military personnel and security officers should be well trained and kept on high alert. All borders and coasts should be well guarded. Air force defense should be strengthened (Pupura, 2007, PG. 373). Ashford and Dauncey, 2006, PG. 224 however argues out that;
“Preventing that terrorism means looking at the root causes and motivation that lead people to take such savage action, even at the cost of their own lives.”
She identifies paucity as a key contributor of terror attacks especially for suicide bombers. However she points out that police must play a critical role in order to facilitate dialogue and foster intercommunity and intra-community respect (Ashford and Dauncey, 2006, PG. 224).
After the incidence of Oklahoma terrorist attack, policy recommendations were based on the decisions of five main groups that worked closely to help the victims. The first was the office of the attorney of the US. This office came up with both policies and procedures that would ensure justice is done through fair trial. The ‘project heartland’ was also established to ensure terrorist victims received adequate mental health services. It was supposed to work closely with substance abuse service. “Colorado Oklahoma Resource Council, Denver” was established in order to ensure victims get the necessary services. “Critical Incident Workshop Group, Inc., Oklahoma” was also set to ensure all people affected (including deceased families, survivors and rescue operators) receive sessions of the much needed therapeutic debriefing. The fifth group was the” Oklahoma State Crime Victim Compensation Program” whose main objective was to provide financial support to cater for funeral costs, lost income, medical expenses and costs of mental health(<http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/publications/infores/respterrorism/chap4.html>).
It has been noted that many countries are not well prepared to offer emergency services whenever an incidence like that of Oklahoma City terrorist attack happens. Proper training of responders is very important. This should be combined with the use of modernized that will make life saving easier and faster. Every person should understand that disasters can happen any time wherever they happen to be. They should therefore acquaint themselves with the necessary information that may help them and others whenever such incidence occurs. People should also cooperate with the police to give all suspicious information that may lead to prevention of such disasters. All hazardous materials should be handled with caution and kept far from residential areas. This will prevent those people with intention of parking vehicles in such areas with an intention of harming and killing innocent people. Proper investigation should be carried out whenever such incidences occur in order to punish the perpetrators. The responders should therefore be able to preserve all evidence in the crime scene. War on terror should not be seen as a problem of a particular country. This is because it is fast spreading in all corners of the world as evident in the recent terrorist attack in Uganda where tens of people lost their lives. It is also important to note that this war can not be won by a single country without involving other nations. After such occurrence, proper action should be taken to put things in place. People’s confidence should restored (Boyd& Sullivan pg 27)
Ashford M. W. Dauncey, G. (2006). Enough blood shed: 101 solutions to violence, terror and war. Canada; New Society Publishers
Boyd, M A, Sullivan, J.P. (1997). Emergency preparedness for transit terrorism Transportation US; Research Board
Bongar, B.M. (2007). Psychology of terrorism. US; Oxford University Press
Chapter IV: The Criminal Pretrial and Trial Phases; A Summary of Victims’ Needs During the Pretrial and Trial Phases Retrieved from ;http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/publications/infores/respterrorism/chap4.html; on 8th August, 2010.
Forest, J.J.F. (2007). Countering terrorism and insurgency in the 21st century: international perspectives. US; Greenwood Publishing Group
Orto A.E, Power. P.W. (2007). Psychological and social impact of illness and disability. US; Springer Publishing Company
Purpura, P. (2007). Security and Loss Prevention: An Introduction. UK; Butterworth-Heinemann
Smith, L. (2001). Terrorist Threats to the United States: Congressional Hearing. USA; DIANE Publishing;