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It's OK to overreact to shootings in Washington

October 3, 2013, at 4:19 PM
 

The "active shooter" situation that wasn't paralyzed downtown Washington today, and as of this writing, there are still heightened security measures in place. The panicked reaction to reports of what happened began after the incident itself was resolved; the suspect apparently had been killed, and a police officer was being tended to, and those on the scene did not find any reason to believe that more people were involved.

On CNN, anchors raised questions about security measures, and whether they were up to the task of protecting the U.S. government. Fox News has already concluded that security worked. Both networks are justified in their informed speculation.

One thing was clear: As soon as something began to happen, a massive blanket of federales, police officers, helicopters, and heavy equipment appeared from almost nowhere; perimeters around the White House and the Capitol and the Supreme Court were immediately expanded; the Capitol complex went on lock-down, with staff and members of Congress told to shelter in place. From my vantage point in DuPont Circle, I saw dozens of police cars race down Connecticut avenue as part of a city-wide call to fortify the area around the White House.

I'm no fan of security theater, or of the militarization of the police, or of post-9/11 panic-stoking by the news media. But when there's even a remote possibility of an attack, however small or improbable, on two branches of government, overreaction is warranted. The scenarios portrayed in movies like White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen do not happen in real-life, until such a day that they do.

The Secret Service, Capitol Police, Park Police, and Washington, D.C. police have prepared and rehearsed for all sorts of unknown troubles; the biggest X factor is simply trying to respond proportionately when there is no way of knowing what is actually happening; whether one event is connected to another, or whether others are yet to come. Interoperability between those agencies is better, but not perfect. And until the voice of God says, "This is only a crazy person trying to ram her car into a White House perimeter stanchion and nothing else," I'm fine if the Secret Service triggers contingency plans while it prepares for something much worse.

Securing important people is an important duty of these agencies, but collectively they protect the continuity of the entire U.S. government. (This week, the non-government, but that's a technicality.) I'm the first person to say, "Chill out, guys" when an airplane breaches the air defense zone around the capital region; the event is routine and commonplace. But the ADIZ is not there for theater; it's there because it protects the U.S capital from attack. If that means I have to evacuate a building for a while, or listen to television anchors speculate about tweets that get information wrong, I'm OK with that.

 

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