Death by Emergency Plan

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A strange culture of emergency has taken over this country, and the slightest provocation triggers it. It could be an expected terrorist or just an old-fashioned weather warning. The officials are quick to swing into action, and tell you what to do.

The problem is that these demands are often based on nothing other than government plans that are not in your best interest. It behooves all of us to think carefully about genuine preparedness, which might often involve bucking the system and telling the emergency nazis to mind their own business.

A case in point is the disastrous weather emergency that befell Enterprise, Alabama, last week. The first warnings about a tornado came at 10:30am, and that’s when the disastrous “preparations” began. The school could have permitted the students to leave. After all, we are talking about a high school here, and most students could drive. Those who couldn’t might have gotten a ride. Parents would have been glad to pick up their kids, and many tried but were turned away.

At least some choice in the matter should have been allowed. But, if you know anything about disaster plans, you know that choice and human rights are the last things on the decision-makers’ minds. They treat people like cattle to be herded, bark orders, and threaten everyone in the most awful way for having the most normal impulses to seek a safe way out.

So instead of just letting the kids go, the officials herded them all in hallways, where it was said that they would be “safe.” There they sat in crowded conditions for hours and hours, just waiting for the moment of death to come. It finally did: at 1:30pm. The twister slammed into the building, the walls caved in, and eight kids were killed, with many more injured. Parents who had come to pick up their kids at the earliest possible moment (the school announced that this was 1:00pm) sat helplessly by. They weren’t allowed in before, and when they showed up, the police demanded that they come inside and still wouldn’t let the kids go.

And did the officials in charge express regret about their stupid decision to force everyone to stay? On the contrary, they claim that if they had let the kids go, there might have been hundreds of deaths.

First, we don’t know that for sure. The main spot of death was the school, and it was precisely because so many were crowded into just a small area. A point of common sense — very much lacking in emergency management — is that wherever you are hiding, you need room to move so that you can dodge falling concrete. They were given no such room.

Second, there is a big difference between dying at the hands of the plan and dying because of your own bad choices. It is a matter of who bears the responsibility. When you die because of the decisions of the officials, your blood is on their hands.

And this brings us to the second response of the officials, and this applies to the school, the local police, and all the way up to the governor. Instead of expressing regret, they congratulated each other for adhering so closely to the plan, and for following through with the emergency preparedness. Yes, they are sorry people died, but for the emergency bureaucrat, the far more important consideration is that everyone obeyed orders and that the orders were clear and decisive.

Yes, some parents have spoken out against the decision of the school to keep the kids corralled in a trap of death. But their complaints have been shot down by the “responsible” voices of the officials in charge. Meanwhile, news has slowly leaked out that other schools in Alabama have a different policy: they shut down the school and tell the kids to get the heck out.

This is an unusual approach. The whole culture of emergency in this country seems to be predicated on the notion that people do not know what is best for them. They need authorities to tell them what to do. And whatever they do, they must do it in concert. Masses of people must be shuffled this way and that, and no one should be permitted to have any choice in the matter.

Why do we assume that the officials in charge know what is better for us than we do? It is a leap of faith. After all, everyone has access to the weather channel. Everyone can watch the radar. We don’t need nazis-on-the-spot to suddenly pop up and manage our choices on whether to evacuate or stay, to hunker down where we are or find some other spot.

The best approach to an emergency is simply to let people make their own judgments about how to stay safe. Instead, we have developed a system whereby a central plan goes into effect that applies to everyone. This is why evacuations tend to be mandatory these days, and why you are not allowed to rescue your own children from danger.

This brings us to the final presupposition of emergency management in this country: officials assume that you are their property. You have no rights, no freedom of choice, and no volition of your own that should be respected. Your one job is to obey them, and at least if you are killed, they can have bragging rights that they got everyone to go along.

At some point in the coming years, you will probably face this problem. There will be some emergency in which you will be told to put your life or that of your children in the hands of experts, who pretend as if they know what is best for you. Chances are that they don’t, and this emergency will be the time when you need to think seriously about fundamental values. Is obedience to authority more important than life itself?

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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