Wednesday, June 27, 2007

To Quote Benjamin Sisko, "I Have Never Left This Place."

Yesterday morning, Julian and I were watching Arthur in bed. Or, to be truthful, Julian was watching while I was trying to squeeze a little more sleep in before the day officially began. At around 7:38, the buzzer of the Emergency Alert system sounded from the television set. I put on my glasses and figured the alert was about a thunder storm heading our way. Not so. The message read as follows:

The emergency action notification network has issued an emergency action notification for the United States from 8:38 am to 8:52 am.

WHAT?!

I got up and tried to remain calm as I turned on the clock radio by our bed. Static. Where was NPR? It sounded like I was getting WGN, but that is an AM station, clearly something was wrong with the radio. I told Julian I had to go downstairs to check on something. I turned on the radio downstairs and the same problem was there. So I switched the station from NPR to WXRT, which was playing a song I didn't recognize, but which sounded like something they would play. I went back upstairs and apologized to Julian as I switched to the morning talk shows. They were all in the midst of whatever their regularly scheduled programming for the day had been, seemingly unaware that an emergency action notification (what exactly is that anyway?) had been issued for the whole country (does that include Alaska and Hawaii, or just the contiguous 48 states?) I switched the station back to Arthur.

I called Fred and started freaking out on his voice mail. Because, of course, I assumed something had happened and he was in Washington, DC, so OH MY GOD WHY WOULDN'T HE ANSWER THE PHONE?

He was in a meeting and called me back and had no idea what I was talking about. He told me that he was looking out the window at Washington and everything looked fine, normal. If there had been a terrorist attack, it hadn't happened there.

The radio happened to still be on WXRT and, at that moment, they chose to play REM's It's The End of the World As We Know It.

I soon forgot about the notice as no further information was provided. I told my mom about it and she suggested it was a mistake on the part of the PBS station. I talked to Kristen about it and she confirmed that she had heard the radio thing, but thought something had gone wrong with her receiver. I joked that it may have been a very clever way for our public radio station to remind listeners how much they depend on them and to cough up some dough (and seriously, why aren't you a member?) Later Kristen emailed me the information about what had happened.

FEMA screwed up. It was only a test and it was never intended to go out to the public. Or something like that. You can read more about it all here, here, and here.

As I was leaving Fred the anxiety filled voice mail message, I felt a profound sense of deja vu. Yes, I am in a new house, I have a child, and over half a decade has passed since the last time I woke up to news that the nation was under attack. But, apparently, all it takes is one message for me to snap back to that place.

This time, however, in addition to my feelings of confusion and fear, I felt something which I didn't on the morning of September 11. I felt a small twinge of relief. The follow up terrorist attack which I have been waiting for since that day had finally come. The other shoe had finally dropped. I felt this same twinge when I heard about the attacks in Bali, Madrid, London, and Bombay. The problem is that the tension never goes away. It can't. Because no matter how many plots are foiled and sleeper cells discovered, there will always be more plots, more cells, more underground networks about which our law enforcement agencies know very little. And let's face it, it is hard to have faith in FEMA and Homeland Security when mistakes are made. A few weeks ago, we found out how effective our government was at preventing a biological terrorist from jetting to and from Europe. Now this.

In one of the articles to which I linked, the writer suggested that mistakes like this may lead people to begin to feel complacent. And clearly, that is bad. I mean, a word like "complacent" is rarely used to describe a positive behavior (usually, people use terms like "easygoing" and/or "tolerant" when they want to describe a similar reaction of which they approve.) Complacent is ignoring the dangers and subsequently taking avoidable risks. But since terrorism is a fact of life, how can we not become complacent? And, maybe, a little complacency is not such a bad thing after all. We can't keep stopping in traffic every time we see a plane flying a bit low and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the shoe will never really drop.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Ally said...

I have chills reading this - I think my hair is standing on end a little! And odd as it is, I understand what you mean about relief.

11:30 AM, June 28, 2007  
Anonymous thordora said...

I'd freak out too. Hell, I was in Toronto on 9/11 and I was freaking out there!

You can never be "on guard" all the time. It's like when you first fall in love-if you maintained that level of fire and passion, nothing would ever get done.

11:45 AM, June 28, 2007  

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