Emergency Response to Domestic Terrorism: Oklahoma City Thesis

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Emergency Response to Domestic Terrorism: Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murrah Building Attack

Impact of Terrorist Attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building on Emergency Responses

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many observers suggested that "nothing would ever be the same again," but for the citizens of Oklahoma City, things had already changed in substantive ways years earlier on April 19, 1995 after Timothy McVeigh detonated an enormous ammonium nitrate bomb contained in a Ryder rent-a-truck in front on the Alfred P. Murrah Building, killing 168 people and injuring scores more. Not surprisingly, the initial emergency response to this event, which was the most deadly domestic terrorist attack in the nation's history at the time, was quick but largely uncoordinated, and rescue efforts were further hampered by rumors of yet another bomb set to explode and emergency workers fled the scene. Following the attack on the Murrah Building, though, some policies and procedures were altered to help improve emergency responses to such unexpected events in the future and this is the topic of the research paper provided below. A review of the relevant literature is provided to determine the impact of this terrorist attack on emergency responses in the city and state, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

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Background and Overview

TOPIC: Thesis on Emergency Response to Domestic Terrorism: Oklahoma City Assignment

The first people on the scene following an accident or a disaster - manmade or natural - are called "first responders." According to Hulnick (2004), "First responders - or 'emergency response providers' - include federal, state, and local emergency public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, emergency medical and support personnel. First responders also include private security and volunteer organizations who would be the first people to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack or some other disaster that inflicted harm on the homeland" (p. 167). The first responders on the scene of the terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 found themselves confronted with a scene that nobody could reasonably expect to encounter in America's heartland, and this is apparently the reason this federal building was targeted in the first place. In this regard, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the two individuals charged and convicted of the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, reported that their actions were motivated by the federal government's for its botched handling of the Waco affairs and the general feelings among the right-wing militants at the time that the U.S. federal government was attempting to suppress their activities (Hulnick). As this author emphasizes, "The attack on the Murrah Building was driven more by rage than by politics" (Hulnick, p. 26). McVeigh and his cohorts, though, were also following the philosophy of the right-wing militants to employ "leaderless resistance" that was inspired by books such as the Turner Diaries and a growing body of like-minded rhetoric published on the World Wide Web (Silke, 2003).

The events that followed are well-known but bear reiterated to help establish their true magnitude and to evaluate the response that followed the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building. According to Lewis, Tenzer and Harrison (1999), "A bomb targeted government employees in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the central business district of Oklahoma City, the state capital and 29th most populous U.S. city. Words inadequately depict the tragic human toll: the explosion claimed 168 lives, injured 674 people, and directly touched the lives of many thousands of rescue workers, volunteers, families, and friends" (p. 617). The victims of the attack on the Murrah Building included 19 children killed, 57 children injured, 30 orphaned (there was a daycare center located on the first floor of the Murrah Building directly in line with the primary explosion), and another 219 who experienced the loss of one parent (Lewis et al.). More than half (59%, or 101 victims) of the fatalities and 21% of the wounded were employees of the federal government, and Oklahoma state employees represented another three fatalities and 126 (or 19%) of the wounded casualties involved (Lewis et al.).

The economic costs associated with this terrorist attack have been estimated at a minimum of $650 million by the Oklahoma governor's task force in May 1995 and these figures have escalated since that estimate was made; however, as the statistics above emphasize, the human toll involved was incalculable with life-changing implications for the children and adults involved alike (Lewis et al.). Not surprisingly, the emergency response efforts that followed this attack on the Murrah Building attracted a great deal of media interest as well as investigations by local, state and federal officials to determine if more could have been done to save lives and property as well as to safeguard any evidence that might have been left behind following the attack. In this regard, Lewis and her associates note that, "Because immediate intervention preserves lives, evidence, and property, the efficacy of an initial response to a terrorist incident relies first and foremost on local personnel's professional expertise" (p. 617). Professional expertise suggests that emergency responders will follow established guidelines and protocols when executing their duties no matter what type of situation is involved, but such guidelines and protocols are not generally formulated with the horrific effects of this terrorist attack on the citizens of Oklahoma City.

Based on the investigations of the quality of the emergency response to the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing, there were some mixed reviews concerning how emergency responders handled the situation that have implications for future efforts in similar situations. The mixed reviews were not negative concerning the actions taken by the emergency responders, but rather the manner in which they violated standard protocols that were in place at the time through heroic efforts to save as many people as possible in spite of the imminent dangers involved in the rescue efforts in a crumbling building with the potential threat of yet another bomb being circulated among the rescue workers that had national implications. For example, according to Jon Hansen, Oklahoma City's assistant fire chief during the rescue operation that following McVeigh's attack, "We later learned that some of those rescuers opted to stay with the injured and ride out the threat. We didn't reprimand any of them for their decision. We felt it was one of those few times in life where there wasn't a right or wrong choice. Whatever each rescuer personally chose to do given each specific situation was the right thing to do" (quoted in Lewis et al. At p. 617). Moreover, as Lewis et al. point out, some of the reviews concerned issues that are inherent to virtually any such incident: "The long, dangerous, and frustrating rescue operation generated significant and complex ethical issues. Some of these are generic to emergency management, such as an emphasis on body count as a proxy measure of an incident's significance and the preeminence of the privacy of survivors and victims' families over other values" (p. 617).

Notwithstanding the enormity of the human and economic costs that resulted from the attack on the Murrah Building, the general consensus was that the emergency responders not only did their jobs admirably, many of them went above and beyond (violating departmental policies in the process) in order to save lives and reassure that wounded that help was on the way. In this regard, Lewis and his colleagues point out that, "Based on the evidence examined here, it can be claimed that the response to the terrorist incident was 'successful.' The local rescuers performed in a highly professional manner. But there remain ambiguities in the ethical dimensions of the responses to the rescue operation, and perhaps unnecessary burdens as well" (Lewis et al., p. 617). One of the consequences of this apparent ethical dilemma and ambiguity of policies and the extent to which they should be adhered to following a disaster of this magnitude was a reexamination of the departmental policies involved and how violations in the future should be handled. In the case of the Murrah Building attack, the emergency responders who violated departmental policies were not reprimanded but were recognized for their heroic acts. According to Lewis et al., "Because deviating from standard procedure -- an action rarely celebrated -- was rewarded with the highest organizational honor, the rescue operation in Oklahoma City leaves emergency personnel with ambiguous ethical and operational guidelines" (p. 617).

Emergency responders, at least in this writer's view, are all heroes but it is apparent that some of these individuals ignored their training and departmental policies in order to do what they considered best at the time, and despite their recognition for their heroic acts, it became abundantly clear to the policymakers at the local level that a reassessment of just how rigid such departmental policies should be when it comes to unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable events such as McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah Building. As Lewis and her associates point out, "With clashing fundamental values at… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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