AMERICANS ARE NOW connected to their president, but don’t really know why, or why now.
AMERICANS ARE NOW connected to their president, but don’t really know why, or why now.

     At 1:18 p.m. last week Wednesday afternoon, 225 million of us received this text on our blaring or vibrating cell phones:

Presidential Alert
THIS IS A TEST of the National
Wireless Emergency Alert System.
No action is needed.


     That last sentence is dubious.

     Really? No action is needed?

     We just need to blithely accept that Uncle Sam has morphed into Big Brother, able to talk at us, all of us, whenever he deems necessary.

     This begs the questions: Have the powers that be created a way to simultaneously text us all just because they can?

     Or do they know something that we don’t? ...

     One could argue that if something is so catastrophic  — incoming nuclear weapons, a hostile martian invasion or ebola outbreak — that it requires a nationwide notice that doomsday has arrived, we won’t need our cell phones to learn of the impending menace.

     The presidential alert is a classic case of the technological imperative: “We can do it, so we must do it.” It’s a nervous reaction to nervous times.

     Closer to home, this is evident in efforts to turn public schools into fortresses. Calls to fortify school buildings were amplified following the February shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School (17 deaths) in Parkland, Fla. A month later, Gov. Walker signed a bill granting $100 million to tighten school safety. Ripon received $161,000 of those monies; Green Lake got $40,000.

     Why weren’t such grants offered after 13 were shot at Columbine in 1999 or 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012? One could be cynical and note that this is an election year.  

     But more to the point is the question: How necessary are bulletproof glass, additional training and security cameras everywhere? Like hardened entrances, they may be critical. But their value must rationally be weighed against the cost.

     Data from the U.S. Dept. of Education shows that the statistical likelihood of a student being shot in school since Columbine occurred is 1 in 614 million, and the odds have declined since the 1990s.

     You’re probably heard it before: There’s a greater likelihood of a child dying to or from school, or in an athletic event, or from a disease contracted in a classroom, than at the hands of an active shooter.  

     That’s not to devalue vigilance or prevention, or to suggest we shouldn’t at least consider every measure to keep our children safe and then, as the Ripon School District has done, work with local police to identify which measures are most necessary and cost-effective.

     But we must guard against taking actions — whether creating a national-alert system or turning schools into military encampments with armed teachers — just because we can.  ...

                                        — Tim Lyke

     To read the entire editorial, see the Oct. 11, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.