In their Honor: Combating Future Acts of Terrorism
The Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida, in the tradition of the two-term Florida governor and three-term U.S. Senator for which it is named, combines public service at the grassroots level with a commitment of engagement with domestic and foreign policy. Graham students are firmly grounded in the case study method used in Bob Graham’s book, “America: The Owner’s Manual.” This book examines in detail the nuts-and-bolts of grassroots political activism dealing with everything from the creation of Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) to the residential fight against skyrocketing insurance rates in the Florida Keys. It is the type of grassroots public service that is at the core of the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center, co-founded by Sen. Graham after the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, uniquely ties together this commitment to creating opportunities for public service while engaging students and citizens in one of the most important issues facing the United States today: the threat of large-scale terrorism attacks. The CIA has reported that the next major attack on the United States is likely to be a biological attack; as with any issue of emergency management, local governments will be required to be the first responders. Yet we know little about whether or not local governments are prepared to deal with weapons such as anthrax or sarin gas. We believe that the best way to honor the September 11 victims and first responders is to work diligently to prevent another catastrophe.
Building on the WMD Center’s initiative on bioterrorism and civic engagement, the Bob Graham Center has mobilized 70 student volunteers to examine Florida counties’ readiness for a bioterrorism attack. This diverse group of students, who include a freshman political science major, international engineering students and a graduate fellow in special education, are interviewing county emergency management directors, public health directors and nonprofit organizations about each county’s ability to detect and diagnose health and safety issues related to a bioterrorism attack and to communicate with their public about such an attack. Our volunteers are not only gaining valuable experience in learning about a potential threat to the U.S., they are also gaining insight into local government operations and coordination. The student volunteers will submit their reports to the Bob Graham Center on August 12, 2011. From these reports we will develop a narrative on Florida’s level of preparedness, which will be published and readily available to the public. We will also develop a digital map of Florida which outlines each county’s strengths and weaknesses.
On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attack on the World Trade Center the Bob Graham Center is hosting a program, “10 Years Later: Evaluating Preparedness for a Biological Terrorist Attack,” to discuss the preparedness of Florida counties for a biological attack. Sen. Bob Graham and FEMA Director Craig Fugate will speak on the possibility, timing, and likely method of this attack, also giving their analysis of the nation’s preparedness for responding to it. Our student volunteers will also report on their assigned county’s ability to detect, diagnose, and communicate information in the event of biological warfare. The program will conclude by offering Florida the first steps toward organizing a state of preparation for an attack of mass destruction. In the audience will be numerous volunteers, both local and others at the state level who would lead a state-wide response in the event of a biological attack. Additionally, as the audience members enter for the 9/11 program, they will hear the audio recordings of individual experiences of those who are now in Gainesville but are recalling their story of remembrance of this tragic event. The UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program is recording these two to three minute audio-only stories for this occasion; these will then become a part of the 9/11 Memorial in New York (http://makehistory.national911memorial.org/).
The Bob Graham Center will advertise “10 Years Later: Evaluating Preparedness for a Biological Terrorist Attack” widely on campus, using both online media and the Gator Times, which reaches all 50,000 members of our student body. Notices of the event will also be advertised in the UF newspaper, the Florida Alligator that has one of the largest circulations of a campus newspaper in the country. We will also advertise extensively to the Gainesville community through our local newspaper and radio stations. Additionally, we will stream this program live during the event and it will be permanently archived at our website, which receives 2500 visitors a month (http://www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu/events/past).
If the Bob Graham Center were to receive one of the awards for this event, we would dedicate it to working with other states to replicate our Civic Scholars program: student volunteers collecting data on a state’s readiness for a biological attack. As a partner with the WMD Terrorism Research Center, this project would provide a report card on readiness of the United States as whole. Such a project has the potential not only to play a significant role in supporting national security but it will also provide opportunities for hundreds and hundreds of volunteers to participate and make a contribution to our national safety.
Graham Civic Scholars: 70 University of Florida students who will prepare a report and provide an oral summary on county preparedness for bioterrorism
County respondents: 300 estimated; each student is required to interview at least three people in his/her assigned county and most will conduct additional interviews
Oral history: 30 – 50 persons interviewed about their remembrances of 9/11; 6 volunteers from the Oral History Program.
Volunteers, plus faculty, staff, students and community members, will meet on September 11 as the first step in making Florida a safer place.