11/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Terror Alerts: What Should We Do?

Two recurring news stories always mystify me: Terror alerts and locations that are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Today (9/23/09) the Associated Press reports that the, "Government expanded a terrorist warning from transit systems to U.S. stadiums, hotels and entertainment complexes," apparently leaving us comfort zones in bars (although "places of immorality and sin" are on the al-Qaeda list of targets). The government warning concedes, however, that they "have no information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack." So what is a citizen supposed to do with this information?

I suppose that there is an argument to be made that it might help if citizens were on the look out for suspicious activity. Certainly law enforcement should have the information, no matter what it contains, but I question the purpose in advising the public. Of course, I do not challenge the media's right to publish such stories, but rather its judgment in doing so. Creating fear in persons who are powerless to do anything about it, in my mind, serves no useful purpose.

More problematic for me are the recurring stories about general categories or specific locations that are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. I have seen stories with visual depictions, drawings and photos, such as where a ladder could be placed to gain access to a high risk target or general stories how attacks upon particular types of targets could have devastating effects upon large numbers of people or the economy. They are virtual "how-to" manuals. I recognize that the answer to such criticism is that the terrorists already have this information, but I still ask: Suppose they don't, and even if they do, what purpose do such articles serve. Now that we know, what should we do other than be afraid?