By Arnold Bogis
Homeland security leaders from across the country gathered in Buffalo last week for the National Homeland Security Conference, which began as part of the DHS Urban Area Security Initiative.
Our region may not seem like a natural host for such an event, but as Erie County Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Daniel J. Neaverth Jr. told The Buffalo News, “The concerns and the preparation and the training and the planning go well beyond the major cities” such as New York and Los Angeles.
In that spirit, here are a few lessons the Buffalo Niagara region can learn from recent terrorist attacks.
First, and most importantly, bad stuff happens. Despite their best efforts, law enforcement and intelligence agencies simply cannot stop all possible terrorist attacks. It’s quite possible that eventually our region will be targeted.
How we respond as a community is important. Not only how quickly we can react to such incidents, but also how we help each other respond and recover.
Second, the current terrorist threat appears far from catastrophic. 9/11 set a new standard for the size of attack and level of destructiveness to which terrorists would aspire.
Now, anti-terrorism efforts around the globe are making worst-case scenarios the destruction of airplanes, lone wolves and vehicle/knife attacks rather than biological or nuclear terrorism.
In other words, despite the steady drumbeat of news and scary statements from some pundits and politicians, we are winning in the struggle against terrorism.
Third, do not demonize or marginalize Muslim populations. Calls for travel bans, profiling or internment do nothing to tackle the thorny issue of radicalization. If anything, it only reinforces narratives that ISIS and other jihadist groups use to radicalize new recruits.
These communities are the first line of defense against the self-radicalized and, if threatened, are less likely to turn to outsiders for help. Buffalo has a long and proud history of accepting new immigrant and other marginalized groups.
Consider the popularity of Dyngus Day and Pride parades. The most effective homeland security strategy can be summed up in the message printed on signs popping up all over the West Side, “no matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”
Buffalo residents should not consider ourselves immune from the terrorist attacks we see happen elsewhere, and often.
As the largest city in this region, it has a special responsibility to prepare and be prepared to help others.
At the same time, as a community we must understand that terrorism is not an existential threat nor hold any particular group or religion responsible for the acts of a comparative few.
Arnold Bogis is a homeland security and emergency preparedness consultant.