Emergency (Photo-)Op

That the recent declaration of a state of emergency in response to the swine flu outbreak by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was greeted with neither skepticism nor panic from the US public demonstrates the extent to which "emergency" measures have in fact become "standard operating procedure" for dealing with normal courses of events, for everything from floods and fires to the inauguration of the president, as Napolitano herself emphasized. One could also add to the list a number of wars, both metaphorical and otherwise. It would be interesting to see a comprehensive archive of such states of emergency, including those which have expired and those which are still ongoing at both state and federal levels. Wikipedia supplies a handful, mostly related to matters of foreign policy.

The fact that fires and floods and inaugural events are seasonal and cyclical and thus neither unusual nor un-forseeable exposes the contradiction involved in such declarations of emergency. Napolitano, however, addressed another inconsistency in the practice during the news conference: "I just wanted to clarify — on the declaration of emergency, I wish we could call it declaration of emergency preparedness, because that's really what it is in this context."

The situation is made all the more absurd by the fact that an unpublicized Airforce "fly-by photo-op" for Air Force One and a couple of fighter jets over downtown Manhattan caused real panic in New York City, revealing the status of the country's base-level state of preparedness (which may be described as ill given the failure of communication between and among city officials, White House officials, the FAA, the DoD, the media and the public), not to mention the public's susceptibility to alarm.

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