Local Commentary

Editorial: Where’s All Our Homeland Security?

No matter that Falls Church and environs are home to the highest income households in the entire world, with the best educated people. No matter that it is in the midst of one of the most strategically important and sensitive areas of the planet. When it came to the “derecho” storm that blasted through here last Friday night, leaving power and communications systems smashed and scattered in its wake, this might as well have been a Third World village.

With 100 degree heat for days upon end since the storm, the extraordinary suffering and compromised health of thousands in our midst goes, as of this writing, still largely undocumented. The healthy ones, the “I’m all right, Jack!” ones, can be seen moving around and pretending this is more like a challenge than a crisis. But there are the weak, the aged, the homebound, who after unrelenting heat and no relief from it suddenly find living in this part of the world no advantage to them, whatsoever.

The last incident remotely similar to the current one was Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which left hundreds of homes in Falls Church without power for more than a week. But that one was not accompanied by consistent 100 degree temperatures bearing down on those homes with no power. Then, in 2003, the promise of imminent regional benefits accruing from the nation’s newfound commitment to homeland security was the focus of responses from public officials at all levels.

But over a decade after 911 incident precipitating the new national homeland security mobilization, how many billions assigned? How much brick and mortar laid? How many administrators and bureaucrats hired? How much better off are we, as evidenced by what happened last Friday night, than before the first dollar was spent? We don’t know the exact answers to all these, except for the last one: not one iota, zero, nada. What if all those billions had been spent on undergrounding power and communications lines, instead?

Had last Friday’s “derecho” been a military attack, it would have equally effectively knocked out power and communications, rendering the region completely vulnerable to almost any kind of hostile follow-on. In terms of a mobilization of the national operations workforce, in this area that is all of us, and we were rendered helpless. It can’t be stressed too much that basic communications, like cell phones and email, were out of service for well over 12 hours in many areas, 911 service went down in places and even water supplying some of the nation’s most sensitive agencies became potentially contaminated.

There are government contractors in this area who can report that a lot of money originally intended for homeland security operations wound up being siphoned off for use in Iraq and Pakistan, redoubling the scandal that is our current situation. Unfortunately, once everyone’s power is back on, grandma may expire, but otherwise it is most likely to be soon forgotten.