Sunday, March 22, 2009

Overreaction by the government

It’s an interesting question. If an extraterrestrial craft lands in the United States how will the various levels of government react? The notion of various levels of government is important, because any form of sudden First Contact, such as a craft landing in the United States, will face several levels of government scrutiny.

It all starts with the local police. These first responders would most likely set the tone for the entire event. Do they react with extreme concern, shut down the scene, and remove humans from the area? Do they call the feds immediately or do they try and figure out the situation first?

You could certainly argue that an extreme reaction and immediate appeal to the federal government for help is the most likely scenario. It’s an idea expressed by writer Jim Wilson in an intelligent Popular Mechanics article from February of 2004:

“If ET turns up at NASA's doorstep bearing that invitation, it is in for a surprise. Instead of getting a handshake from the head of NASA, it will be handcuffed by an FBI agent dressed in a Biosafety Level 4 suit. Instead of sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, the alien will be whisked away to the Department of Agriculture's Animal Disease Center on Plum Island, off the coast of New York's Long Island. Here it will be poked and probed by doctors from the National Institutes of Health. A Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) will tow away its spacecraft.”

You could certainly see a situation in which there would be such a swift and unwelcoming federal response. If the landing was threatening, or unexplained, it could certainly inspire a level of fear that would provoke such a reaction.

However, one thing left out of this scenario is the disbelief factor. We have been deluged with alien landing stories and movies for years. Because of this, and because we have become understandably cynical in this age of instantaneous news, most people are likely to think any craft landing in the United States is part of some elaborate hoax. The question is how long this disbelief would last. It’s an important question because it goes directly to the response. If the local and state agencies responding to a craft landing maintain a healthy level of skepticism, it will take a while before federal authorities are called in to investigate. How long? Perhaps a few hours, maybe less. You would imagine it would take at least an hour or two for local police to sort out the scene, call for back-up and make decisions with the political leaders at the city, county and then state level. This process would have to occur before federal authorities would be called in. Contrary to portrayals in the movies the federal government doesn’t move very quickly. I think Mr. Wilson is correct in the idea that the FBI would be the first to arrive on the scene. These would be local agents from the nearest bureau and even their appearance would probably take an hour or two.

So, how do you organize First Contact so that a complete overreaction by the federal authorities is avoided? The media is the key. There is only one thing almost as powerful as the federal government and that is the combined power of the local and national media outlets. When news is breaking the media can control how the coverage will proceed, but only if they are on the scene quickly enough. Now this is certainly not the case in a plane crash. We have all seen police and then federal investigators secure a plane crash scene and keep the media at bay. But First Contact wouldn’t be a plane crash. In fact, the one thing that helps the situation is that there is probably no standard response for such a First Contact type of event anywhere at the local or state level. You would imagine the federal government would have some such response plan, but how quickly would they implement such a plan?

This subject is important because First Contact can go two ways. It can be an open and positive hello to the entire planet. Or it can be a secretive and paranoid series of governmental overreactions. The key is to engage the power of the news media immediately. To do this there has to be some human help. Extraterrestrials can’t just walk off a spacecraft and say hello. There has to be a process, and a quick one at that. It needs to engage media coverage immediately and then set forth a motion of process that goes so quickly that government bodies get left behind, essentially playing catch up and struggling with crowd control. This won’t be easy. It will take detailed preparation and controlled execution.

First Contact can either be a celebratory moment or one of fear and distrust. How it is organized and carried out is critical. And the results would most likely impact the relationship with our new neighbors for many years to come. It has to be done right.

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