News is a funny thing, and yet, emergency preparedness is no laughing matter. As residents of the mid-Atlantic states have become all too aware, disasters do strike, communication systems do fail, and people do suffer because of it.
One of the missions of good governance is to provide support during times of emergency. The United States government is particularly good at this on a logistical level. Unfortunately, as we saw during Katrina, politicians can get in the way of a well-designed escalation system, causing systems to break down.
However, the bottom line is that the U.S. has implemented many forms of disaster management over the years, planning for everything from natural disasters to man-made disasters, to terrorist attacks, to the effects of war.
President Obama continued that management process last week with the issuance of the Executive Order Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions.
It's an extension of previous emergency communications policies of the government, but this time it assigns specific responsibilities to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. It also sets up a new committee called National Security and Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) consisting of key players from most of the major agencies.
This is a good thing. Emergency preparedness and escalation procedures are important. Assigning specific responsibilities ahead of time prevents turf battles, and helps restore critical services faster.
On the other hand, depending on where you read the news, you might get a completely different perspective. For example, take RT.com. RT stands for Russia Today -- so you know their perspective. If you read RT's article, you'd read "Obama gives himself control of all communication systems in America."
I've represented America's strategic perspective as a guest on Russia Today's TV show (YouTube video), and I can tell you that it's an enormous, well-funded propaganda machine. As you might imagine, Russia's interests aren't always in line with what's good for America.
Or take the Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG). These guys, based in Canada, write "Obama Seizes Control of All Communications Systems With Executive Order".
For some reasons, Canadians seem terribly upset with this particular executive order. The Canada Free Press screams, "Obama’s obsession with control".
Here in America we're no stranger to partisan bickering. But there's no real partisan juice in complaining about good emergency preparedness. National Journal sanely writes, "Obama Outlines Emergency Communications Authority", while FierceGovernmentIT calmly reports, "Obama establishes new emergency comms effort".
That's why it's important to carefully read beyond the headline. In the case of this Executive Order, it's not particularly difficult to read the entire thing from beginning to end.
I can't tell you exactly how it benefits other countries to bash America's communications preparedness. After all, in an increasingly globalized world, we all need to stay in touch and be prepared.
With Russia, of course, it makes the most sense. Russia has long run an anti-American propaganda machine, and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin shows no signs of warming to the West. In fact, he seems ever more nationalistic in his own right.
The Canadians are a different story. I'm not sure what they have to gain in cynically trying to naysay American progress. Perhaps they're playing to their base, or trying to boost traffic on a particularly slow news day.
Like I said, news on the Internet is a funny thing. Whenever you can, explore beyond the 140-character Twitter headline and go to the source.
Otherwise, like many misinformed Twitter tweeters this week who retweeted RT's headlines, you may find yourself repeating Russian propaganda while thinking you're being a good American.