If the name of the chap who was chatting on Friday afternoon to ABC Adelaide's Carole Whitelock about security is anywhere on the ABC website then I can't find it, but he made for riveting listening. He was an Israeli who'd been involved in high-level international security for a very long time, and he was giving a few tips and hints to improve the lives of the mostly safe and innocent citizens of Adelaide, who for the most part are a very long way indeed from the kinds of things he's seen.
But a couple of things he said made a lot of sense to me, as things that an ordinary citizen in a small city in a relatively safe country might well be moved to do. If there is some unforeseen disaster or attack, he said, the first thing that will happen is that communications will go down, which will mean you can't contact your family or any of the people who are important to you; it's therefore a good idea to prearrange a meeting place that everyone will make their way to, especially if your house isn't there any more. This, as Carole Whitelock pointed out, will have struck a chord with Adelaide Hills residents who have been through some of the worst bushfires, and for whom the idea of a prearranged meeting place is a very familiar one.
The other thing he said that was simple common sense, really (though have I ever been sufficiently organised to do it myself? Of course not), was that it's a good idea to make copies of all your important documents and keep them together and waterproofed in one envelope, somewhere they're easily retrievable. Ideally, he said, they should be in the small bag you've packed with emergency supplies of muesli bars, water bottles and anything else that might contribute to your short-term survival when the sky falls in.
It's easy to make fun of this kind of apocalyptic imagination. Peter Cook et al did it in Beyond the Fringe ('Have you got the tinned food?' 'Yes.' 'Have you got the tin opener?' ' ... ') -- but they did it, as they well knew, at a time when what was comedy sketch one day might well have become autobiography the next. And I couldn't help thinking of my friend R, who was living in Manhattan and working at the UN when the planes flew into the towers, and who for months afterwards carried around with her, as instructed by the authorities, a bizarre assortment of survival-oriented stuff. I also couldn't help thinking of the contemporary fiction I read for review as it comes out, and how much of it tells stories of utter ruination, destruction and disaster from the Second World War.
That might be part of the problem. Most Australians think of such events as the stuff of fiction and movies, stuff separated from our sense of ourselves by its packaging as cultural artefacts. Australians who live in the line of natural disasters, say the coastal North Queensland folk or those in the habitual paths of bushfires, have some sense of their indifferent and inexorable destructiveness. But with a handful of exceptions -- people with military training and experience; elderly European-born citizens -- I doubt very much whether any of us has a realistic sense of what a political attack would be like. Even the people fleeing the Gulf Coast in droves as Hurricane Gustav heads north-west have at least had a little bit of warning, but the people at the World Trade Center seven years ago, like the citizens of Dresden and Hiroshima in 1945, had none.