'March against terrorism'

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | June 6, 2002



"The sense of 'siege' is felt anew each day in New York."

—Gil Furst, Lutheran Disaster Response


In what President Bush called a 'relentless march' against terrorism, there has also been a toll on the nation's spiritual health, said faith leaders.

As Bush announced the largest government restructuring

since the 1940s, many faith-based responders worried

that a long-term spiritual crisis will

continue to grip the nation.

In a national address Thursday evening, Bush proposed a

permanent cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security

to oversee homeland security issues currently divided

among about 100 different agencies.

"Every day brings new information," Bush said, in "a

relentless march" against terrorism. Each day, Bush

said, he reads "a threat assessment" that may include

very general or very specific information.

The new Department of Homeland Security would help

control the country's borders, work with state and local

authorities to communicate terrorism warnings, bring

together scientists who could strengthen protection

against bio-terrorism and other types of attack, and

review information from intelligence and law enforcement

officials to assess threat levels.

Increased security measures and government restructuring

might temporarily help ease people's fears but won't

necessarily address deeper spiritual care issues

affecting millions of people, faith leaders said.

Church World Service (CWS) and other faith-based

disaster response groups have been offering spiritual

care training for clergy and laypersons, who in turn are

ministering in their own churches and communities.

In New York City - and elsewhere across the U.S. -

clergy see people needing more spiritual care with each

new warning issued by the government. "They are, in

these days of high alert, really feeling the pressure,"

said Gil Furst of Lutheran Disaster Response.

"The sense of 'siege' is felt anew each day in New York,

as bridges and tunnels close because of unidentified

packages, as reports of threats are reported, as

excavation of the World Trade Center site is complete,

as individuals cope with issues of lost jobs and missing

loved ones."

Responders also expressed concern that the national

focus on domestic security and 9/11 will draw public

support away from other disasters.

Fred Toland of the United Methodist Committee on Relief

reminded the response community that hurricane season is

approaching, and that some people have dropped their

guard with regard to hurricanes. "This is a dangerous

thing to do, because we remember that Andrew was in a

year like this," he said. "We are reminded that it only

takes one, and the odds are we will see that happen this

season. Things are quiet right now, but be assured that

will not last."

In a similar vein, Bush warned all Americans to be aware

of their surroundings and stay alert. The focus of the

new Department of Homeland Security, he said, would be

"imagining the worst and planning to counter it."

Response leaders have acknowledged that, when the

government issues warnings, it helps people prepare both

for terrorist attacks and for other disasters. Public

surveys have shown that people's new sense of

vulnerability in the wake of 9/11 has helped increase

disaster preparedness nationally and locally.

But government-issued warnings also serve to re-

traumatize people who have felt vulnerable ever since

9/11. The fear they feel is akin to the fear survivors

of a natural disaster feel when they hear warnings about

the weather. "I think there is a high correlation

between the two," said Furst.

Flood survivors in West Virginia and tornado survivors

in La Plata, MD have experienced new trauma every time

another storm system moves overhead. "The spring storms

followed the same path for weeks," pointed out Stan

Hankins of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

But the trauma following 9/11 has been different in some

ways, too, said Furst. "A tornado warning is issued and

then passes. The news of possible new terrorist acts

doesn't go away as easily. And people across the whole

country are, essentially, affected by warnings of

terrorism," he said.

Post 9/11 fear brought disaster-related trauma to a new

level, said Linda Reed-Brown, associate director for the

CWS emergency response program. "There may be a

different level of fear, because a different sense of

security was breached with the Sept. 11 event."

CWS continues to offer interfaith spiritual care

training programs, and is also involved in a joint

effort with Eastern Mennonite University offering

Seminars on Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR). The

focus of STAR training is to equip religious leaders in

New York, Washington, and other cities with new tools to

deal with the ongoing trauma caused by 9/11.

Bush said that his proposed plan would help prevent

another 9/11 from happening. "Information must be fully

shared so we can follow every lead and find the one that

could prevent tragedy."

But as recovery continues from that event, only a small percentage of those affected by 9/11 have

applied for government aid.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) pointed

out in its report to contributors that there is no list

of people who do not have the resources or the insurance

to recover from the 9/11 attacks.

That growing list could include, UMCOR reported, "recent

immigrants, restaurant workers, small-business owners,

and other people who earned their living from tourism,

real estate, or by serving the tens of thousands of

people who used to spend their days in the downtown area

and now work elsewhere."

Thursday's announcement focused more on preventing

future attacks than on long-term recovery from 9/11.

White House officials were calling the announced

domestic security initiative the biggest government

restructuring since 1947.

Some members of Congress said Bush's announcement was a

complete surprise. Congress has been pushing Bush to

make the director of homeland security a cabinet

position so that Congress would have oversight. Former

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is the current director of

homeland security.

Congress will consider the proposal, and some political

analysts theorized that Bush's announcement was timed to

offset criticism that he did not do enough to stop the

9/11 attacks.

On Thursday FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before

Congress about why the FBI failed to anticipate the

attacks. Mueller already announced a major restructuring

of the FBI.


Related Topics:

Counseling, prayers offered in bombing wake

Churches respond to Boston bombings

Cybercriminals growing threat


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