A Nation's New Alertness

Americans are now all Paul Reveres. After the Sept. 11 attacks, citizens are being asked to become alert to potential terrorism and to know what to do about it. (See related story on page 1.)

Coordinating this national effort will be Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, who will head the new Office of Homeland Security. He will rally some 40 federal agencies involved in thwarting attacks. But he'll need help in ending longstanding problems of bureaucratic overlap, excess, and turf battles.

Before the attacks, the federal approach has been to focus on some 120 metropolitarian areas. That effort will need to expand. Equally important is a need to better coordinate national, state, county, and local governments in preventing or reacting to terrorism.

Americans will need education about the nature of potential attacks - especially chemical or biological - which are more difficult to carry out than many believe. More training must be given to local fire, rescue, and public-health departments.

A new way of life is being demanded, one that many people seem to accept. As they do, citizens can help by taking part in an evolving national-preparedness discussion.

L. Paul Bremer, former chair of the National Commission on Terrorism, said last week that the nation had "a strategic warning [when it came to a potential terrorist strike], but a tactical blindness." May that no longer hold true. In the rush to act, wise individuals can see that the United States has the time, this time, to do it right.

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