For an emergency management department to operate effectively it must earn and maintain the trust of the public to which they serve. This means that operations must be conducted in a transparent and open manner devoid of the corrupting influence of politics. And for the most part, this is usually the case. However when the planners at the Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Department devised their most recent training exercise, they not only failed in this endeavor, they have failed miserably.
Earlier this week when the Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Department, in conjunction the US Department of Homeland Security, announced a planned emergency training event they could not have known they would initiate a firestorm of criticism. The problem that the department ran into was not the fact that they were going to host this event; the problem was that the individual(s) involved in planning this event injected a heated political issue into the event.
The scenario that was incorporated into the training events background information involved two white teenage males that were staunch opponents of illegal immigration as well as firearms enthusiasts. The scenario that was laid out has these two students enter the school where they proceeded to begin opening fire on minority students. Essentially what this scenario is telling people involved is that if you someone is opposed to illegal immigration they are a white supremacist. Also they are telling people that if you are a firearm enthusiast you are a dangerous extremist that needs to be watched and feared.
According to a press release published Friday March 25, 2011 the Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Agency asserts that they were only using the planned scenario in order to get additional funding from the Department of Homeland Security. So this begs the question, is the Department of Homeland Security intentionally forcing emergency management agencies to train their personnel to into believing law abiding US citizens are the most dangerous threat to our nations security? Which leads me to another question is it time to develop some sort of civilian oversight of this national security agency? Or is it time to disband the Department of Homeland Security?
At the local level the fact that planners in Pottawatomie County felt they needed to acquiesce to DHS head Janet Napolitano’s innermost desires is quite telling. They were willing to commit the resources of all the agencies taking part in the training exercise to playing out the fantasy of a federal department head that has already labeled our returning veterans as right wing extremists. The county officials in Pottawatomie County need to take a step back and reassess their counties priorities. I understand that there is a very real need to secure the county to assure the safety of its residents. But the question that they need to ask themselves is whether they need to do that at the expense of alienating those that they are tasked with protecting?
After the controversy erupted into a national scandal the Des Moines Register’s William Petrowski spoke with Pottawatomie County Emergency Management planner Craig Reed. Mr. Reed asserts that the recently canceled training event was never intended to be political in nature. It is entirely probably that Mr. Reed’s assertions are correct, that the County never intended to inject political ideology into the training scenario. Unfortunately it is here that the planners of the event failed. Not only has politics been injected into the scenario, but the planners have failed to see that this is the case. County officials would do well to initiate a probe into this event to determine whether Reed’s assertions were accurate. If it turns out that the planners intentionally inserted this controversial political issue into the training program the county needs take appropriate disciplinary actions against the perpetrators. Additionally they would do well to initiate a study to determine just where the planners went wrong so as to prevent this type of situation from ever happening again.