The politics of the Port: Is Magnolia at risk for a terrorist attack?

In the almost two and half years since Sept. 11, 2001, much of life in our community remains unchanged. We still come together as neighbors in ways we cherish, making Magnolia our oasis. Meanwhile, we have found ourselves in World War III - set against an enemy which, in this toxically overwrought age of political correctness, is only reluctantly discussed.

For many in Magnolia, the events of 9/11 created abiding unease about its industrial ├╝ber-neighbor: the Port of Seattle. In the days after 9/11, Stealth Fighters patrolled Puget Sound - shattering the horrible quiet overhead with asperity - stirring emotions like stinging anger from a slap in the face: this is serious, and this is war.

What the hell is coming our way by ship, we wondered, if they could do that with planes?

In myriad ways since 9/11, Magnolia neighbors have united in admirable volunteerism and support for one another: block watches, SDART (community disaster teams) and, most recently, doorbelling for the school levy. Folks have time and again expressed concern about the port terminals "next door" to our neighborhood. "What are they doing about terrorism at the port?" It is a consistent refrain.

Years go by, several proactive plans have been floated and it appears what will emerge is "Shelter-in-Place" guidelines. Getting indoors (remember duct tape and plastic sheeting?) may actually be your best choice to limit exposure to harm from a terrorist incident at the Port of Seattle. The trick is in the knowing when to shelter, and how well you are prepared to do so.

Our local community club has members assigned to the Port's "Neighbor's Advisory Committee" (NAC). Here's a

question for you, NAC: Why didn't the Port work with the city to produce a joint emergency response plan? We need to empower our citizen volunteers to make the NAC process work. It is well past the time for hectoring on this subject.

Where have our leaders been in providing us with implementation of technology such as the LINC program - cutting-edge devices which trigger civil defense response and shelter-in-place orders within minutes of a chemical, biological or nuclear plume from a port terminal? (For more information about the LINK program, you can visit the City of Seattle's Web site at

What about the over-arching federal role in proactive response to terrorism? Have we heard from our state's junior senator, particularly with regard to the year she has now spent as a member of the commerce committee? No doubt Maria Cantwell can provide us with key leadership, given that her new committee has made port security a top priority. What about some help - providing neighborhoods near major port terminals with what they need (LINC technology and civil defense alert systems)?

Our state's senior senator, Patty Murray, has made Bush-bashing over port security a prominent feature of her public persona. Murray proudly points to her heavy-handed smack-down of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge over the funding of a laundry list of both responsive and preventative measures.

Still, it is tragic in this election year that we have not been given Murray's positive vision of homeland security, Seattle-style; particularly with regard to how it might be brought to bear in prevention of marine cargo terrorism - though from her own website she asserts preeminence in these matters: "Murray has become the leading voice in Congress to improve port security."

This sounds like someone who should be working with the White House, not bashing it. A question, Senator Murray: What would Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Warren "Maggie" Magnuson do? Can you name a more important time in our history to "deliver" on legislation? This drawn-out campaign season, and all the ill it portends for getting anything done in D.C., is "playing politics" with the folks back home.

We in Magnolia are "down-winders" - shouldering a still ill-defined risk from many virulent forms of terrorist attack on our port. Though treated as such, we are not political pawns.

And we need results. It has been two-and-half years since 9/11, we are fighting a war with billionaire terrorists who despise our values, our political system, our civilization and the freedom it offers. We have had plenty of emergency response planning. We need implementation of both prevention-oriented proactive and responsive programs.

Other major U.S. ports are in sprawling industrial mega-zones. Our port, with its large, modern downtown and lovely surrounding neighborhoods, presents the mother-of-all targets.

And where does Jim McDermott fit in with regard to influencing this debate? Is he willing to spend some coins of "political capital" on actual legislation? Providing better protection for us Port of Seattle "down winders"?

Congressman, you are such a powerful advocate against the "administration in occupation of the White House" - how about some advocacy on behalf of your district? You actually can have a positive, even ironic, role for once. Before action there must be understanding. With understanding there can be agreement. With agreement, you can accomplish anything.

Let's roll.

P. Scott Cummins lives in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]