The Price of Freedom

Dry Ice in a plastic bottle exploded, resulting in Disneyland's Toontown being evacuated. What does this prank tell us about security? Screen capture from
Dry ice in a plastic bottle exploded, resulting in Disneyland’s Toontown being evacuated. What does this prank tell us about security? Screen capture from

There was a small explosion at Disneyland in California Tuesday that forced the temporary evacuation of Toontown. Police and fire crews investigated and determined that the blast was caused by dry ice sealed in a plastic bottle. According to the latest reports, there were no injuries.

But what does this say about security, not just at Disneyland, but other theme parks? With the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and the attack on the British soldier in Woolwich, we may be seeing a deliberate shift in terror tactics. Maybe coordinated, maybe not, but it certainly seems like the emphasis is shifting from drawn out, planned attacks against hardened target to smaller attacks at targets of opportunity. And if that is the case, can the federal government do anything to stop those attacks?

Consider that in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings, Homeland Security had multiple warnings on one of the alleged bombers, Tamarlan Tsarnaev, yet were unable to find any reason to hold him. At least one of the two main suspects in the Woolwich murder had previous arrests for terror activities, yet was still free to carry out the vicious attack.

What do these two events have to do with what appears to be a fairly harmless prank at Disneyland?

If nothing else, it demonstrates how easy it is to create an explosion. Dry ice is used to keep ice cream cold and plastic bottles are ubiquitous in a theme park, which means that the prankster didn’t even have to bring anything in with him to improvise an explosive device.

But suppose he had? What if he brought some ball bearings, nails, or even just some glass marbles in with him? Hell, how about a handful of pebbles? How much more damage could he have caused?

Let’s ramp up the scenario a little. You can create toxic fumes by mixing common household cleaners. Add a chemical mixture to your dry ice bomb and drop it into a trash can in a crowded area and you can count on injuries, not just from the blast and the gas, but from a panicked crowd trying to escape the painful fumes.

One of the most congested places in the park is actually outside the park at the bag check area. Imagine the damage that could be done thereby a bomb like the Tsarnaev’s used. I could go on and escalate the scenarios, but I think you get the point and I don’t want to pick on Disney, or on theme parks in general. The point is not that their security is bad; it isn’t. It’s as good as it can be under the circumstances. The point is that every place where people gather, a school, a stadium, a mall, a parade route, etc can be a potential target and there is simply no way that the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, or the police can ensure the safety of all of these places under the law as it stands.

Now there are a lot of people who would be fine with changing the law and giving the police more power to try and prevent these events. But the question arises, how much power do we want to give the police? Or to put it another way, how much of our freedom are we willing to give up?

Changing subjects for just a moment, as I sit and listen to people debate illegal immigration, and I hear conservative folks talk about mandatory ID’s for immigrants and for voting, I wonder if they understand that they are not thinking clearly, or if they are deliberately trying to increase government power. Because the only way an ID system will work is if everybody, not just the immigrants, is required to carry ID at all times, and is required to show that ID to the police  at any time for any reason.

Since when do Americans need to show identification papers to the police? Isn’t that awfully totalitarian? What’s next, internal passports?

The point is that when we are faced with a problem, whether it is the development of small scale terror attacks or getting a handle on illegal immigration, we have to be very careful that the solution we adopt isn’t worse than the problem it is supposed to solve. The city of Boston was placed under lock down by the police, a  state of martial law that held for several hours while authorities tried to find the bombers. This violation of civil liberties was an accomplished fact before the citizens of Boston could even think to protest. Ironically, Dzhokhar wasn’t found until after the lock down was lifted.

Right now, because of constitutional restrictions requiring due process and the presumption of innocence, our police are constrained to react to crimes committed, and are severely limited in what they can do proactively. There will always be room in a free society for the bad guys to operate and we will always be forced to catch them after they’ve acted.

That is simply part of the price of freedom in America.

But let’s take this from the theoretical to the practical. Given that the police cannot protect us, what can we do to protect ourselves? Should we stay away from all public gatherings, refuse to go out into crowded areas and become paranoid recluses? Should we arm ourselves to the teeth, lay in a 5 year supply of freeze dried beef stroganoff and wait for the world to collapse? Should we immediately enroll in a conditioning class, a strength class, and a combat class to prepare ourselves to take the fight to the terrorist enemy?

Well, while some preparation is never misplaced, let’s start with something a little more basic, a lot more realistic, but absolutely vital.

Open your eyes.

Yeah, that’s it. Just open your eyes. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes open. Really look at the people around you. Examine them; notice their body language. Who is a threat and who is harmless? Who appears to fit in and who stands out?

Next, listen to your gut. Remember that as human beings we evolved to become the top of the food chain, beating out other predators that were stronger, faster, quicker, sneakier and better armed than we were. We developed intelligence and instincts. We have within us the ability to pick up subtle clues that we might not even recognize on a conscious level. If a situation doesn’t feel right, then leave. DOn’t rationalize it; don’t ignore it, and most of all, don’t get discouraged if you do leave and nothing bad happens. Your departure changed things.

These two simple actions, keeping your eyes open and following your instincts, will keep you out of trouble most of the time. For the rest of the time, well, like I said, a little preparation is never a bad thing.

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