Prevent and respond to disasters

It’s not exactly seamless to be thinking, first, about The City’s planned new surveillance cameras and, second, about emergency preparedness. But there are reasons, contemplating the next disaster, why Mayor Newsom’s crime-prevention tactic ought to be writ large.

We’re as libertarian as anyone when it comes to that chilling feeling our everyday movements are watched by government. But we’re also comforted when municipal authorities pay attention to their primary duty — i.e., keeping those everyday movements unmolested by criminals.

Examiner columnist Ken Garcia had it exactly right when, defending Newsom’s plan to install more cameras in public housing sections, he argued that ideology had gotten between the mayor’s opponents and common sense. Those critics almost certainly don’t complain when calls come for a boosted police presence in high-crime neighborhoods.

What do those police, acting as the citizens’ agents, do when they’re not actually arresting criminals in such areas? They’re patrolling. They’re watching. Their very presence contributes to the public safety.

Nothing, not even a camera, can serve as a surrogate for a uniformed officer. But there’s no question electronic surveillance enhances police work immeasurably.

Now then, the principle of prevention likewise ought to be given at least as much attention when preparing for the next disaster — whether it’s caused by shifting tectonic plates or crazed jihadists. All the discussion this week, this fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on America, seemed to focus more on emergency response than on prevention.

First was the attention given federal funding for local preparedness. The Bay Area could lose much of its Homeland Security money if authorities don’t find purposeful ways to spend it. That’s a problem facedin both the public and private sectors, when administrators and executives scramble to use their annual allocations so as to justify an unreduced or bigger budget the next year.

Then there was the leadership turnover at the Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security. We wish Laura Phillips well in her new duties, hoping she’ll devote as much energy to counterterrorism as to natural disaster response. Her domain rightly shows off pricey equipment to deal with the horrible aftermaths of both natural and terrorist disasters.

There’s a new bomb truck and a bomb-disabling robot, as well as suits to protect responders from biological and chemical releases, and much more. All well and good. But we hope the mission isn’t creeping away from the prevention of terrorism, which means enhanced cooperation with an intelligence community practicing surveillance.

Mayor Newsom confidently asserts we’re prepared for both kinds of emergencies, but we’d like to be convinced he knows our country, The City not exempted, is engaged in a long war on terror.

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