Urban bombings and the human factor

Veteran emergency responders teach about planning and flexible response.

chemical warfare drill 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
chemical warfare drill 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
More than 50 years of experience have shown Hayim Granot and Jay Levinson that the rapid proliferation of urban bombings demands a change in emergency response strategy and that victims can be more helpful than people expect. Granot and Levinson have explained their findings in two books recently published in English. The hope is that both the public and government agencies will benefit from the information, Levinson told The Jerusalem Post last week. "In Israel we have accrued all too much experience... The two of us thought that people should be able to learn from our experience rather than making mistakes and learning from them," he said. Granot, who is now retired and lives in Petah Tikva, and Levinson, who lives in Jerusalem and is a visiting professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, chose urban bombing as the focus of their book, Terror Bombing: The Global Urban Threat (2009), because it was a new phenomenon that many institutions didn't know how to handle, Granot said. "We assume that counterterrorism [is] not something you and I are going to be involved in. Unfortunately, your city government now has a responsibility to cope with the outcome of terror bombing," he said. "[Terrorists] use a fairly new human development. Over the 20th century living in cities has become a way of life... Terrorists take advantage of this very central element of urban life: crowding. That gives them the target, that gives the, the impact," Granot said. Municipalities needed to know how to take care of dead bodies, mental health problems, emotional needs and emergency organization, Granot said. "We in Israel certainly know that there's only so much protection and sometimes these guys get through. You have to be prepared to cope with the outcome. That's the point of the book," he said. Granot and Levinson advise officials at all levels of government, including cities, which they said have not had to deal with terrorism-related emergencies until recently and therefore didn't know how to respond. "Nobody is immune from terrorism... You can't say, 'Oh, I live in such-and-such-a-place. I'm immune. That's false thinking. Everybody has to be prepared," Levinson said. "There must be a response plan in place that goes from national government all the way down to the very local government. Everybody is a partner in disaster response." From the Israeli-American Levinson's years working for the CIA in counterterrorism and in disaster victim identification in Israel, he learned that the key to adequate response is flexible plans that can be adjusted to the circumstances. Once the plans are in place, the most important thing was to train emergency responders to keep the plans in mind when they arrive on the scene, Levinson said. In a train crash that Levinson studied, the first responder was a woman at a disaster site for the first time. She told Levinson that she heard many victims crying for help, but did as she was trained and made a full report on the situation before helping anyone in particular. "She said it was the hardest thing of her life," Levinson said. But training like that is crucial in emergencies, because "when they know what to do, they will function properly." However, in another book he authored, The True Golden Hour: How People Respond in Emergencies (2009), Granot said it was not only emergency responders who needed more training. His experience comes from many years working for the IDF's Home Front Command headquarters and its predecessor, Civilian Defense, starting in 1975. He first thought about writing the book during the First Gulf War, when he traveled across Israel with emergency response teams from the Home Front Command. He said he was impressed with the sensible reactions he observed after talking with people and seeing their responses to missile strikes near their homes. "If somebody is injured, nearby people will help, but only trained people will do a good job at it," Granot said. "The more you know about what to do, the better your help will be." Contrary to conventional wisdom, victims rise to the occasion more often than they panic, he said, and the more prepared they are, the more their help will improve chances of survival of other victims. "I was impressed with the ability of people in the worst situations to attempt to respond to the emergency in pretty sensible ways," he said. "With all the trauma and with all the pain, they're remarkably responsible in doing what needs to be done."