Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again? Edna St. Vincent Millay asks in “Spring.”

Time has come to remember tragedy.

On Sunday a scrubby heil hitler spitting septuagenarian hatewad clawed tears into Kansas.

A year ago the madness shrouded Boston.

T.S. Elliot wrote

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Yes.

Mixing memory and desire. Stirring dull roots.

But to what purpose, April?

Walt Whitman — grieving a Lincoln whose April 15 death few any longer commemorate — thought also of the lilacs

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

To mourn with ever-returning spring?

1. marathon 10

 

1a marathon 8

 

2 marathon 3

 

 

3  marathon 1

 

3 marathon 13

 

 

Bramhall's World - Boston NY - New York Daily News 4/16/20135 marathon 4

 

 

7 marathon 6

8 marathon 5Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

9 marathon 9a

11 marathon 12

12 marathon 11

It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify? ….
Life in itself
Is nothing
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs,
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. — Edna St. Vincent Millay

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April 14, 2014

On the 14th of Nisan

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 14, 2014

A 14-year-old Eagle Scout, his grandfather and an elderly woman were killed in shootings Sunday afternoon near Kansas City. The two separate shootings each took place on the grounds of a Jewish institution.

73-year-old Frasier Glenn Cross Jr. was taken into custody after the attack. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Cross is an alias for Frasier Glenn Miller, the former Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a long-time neo-Nazi.

It is worth noting that this year the celebration of Easter (in many churches) and the birthday of Hitler coincide on April 20.

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April 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2014

On this date in 1861 Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.  Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused.  At about 4:30 AM on April 12 Confederate artillery commenced firing on the fort.

We persist in the light and shadow of that bombardment.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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April 10, 2014

Mass aggregation and analysis of data: Debate, discussion, desiderata

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Media,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 10, 2014

On Monday the Supreme Court declined a petition to expedite consideration of Klayman v. Obama.   The plantiffs had sought to by-pass appellate review given the government’s “outrageous intrusion of privacy” confirmed by a Federal District Court’s finding.

Klayman is one of several cases focused on the government’s aggregation and analysis of metadata, as exposed by the Edward Snowden document releases.  (Prior consideration by HLSWatch is available here.)

Since the December decision in Klayman at least one other Federal District Court has affirmed the constitutionality of actions that the judge in Klayman suggested would cause Madison to spin in his grave.  A variety of related cases — and contending judgments — are working their way through the courts.

It would have been unusual for the Supreme Court to abbreviate the process.  On this issue a fulsome set of legal engagements should serve to clarify key issues.

The political process around mass surveillance is also advancing.  On March 25 the President outlined several reforms to how metadata is collected and accessed.  The Republican Chair and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have proposed their own reforms. There is also an effort underway to frame-up policy directions for the digital domain that go beyond a privacy-v-security binary.

The political context features several advocacy groups, such as the ACLU and EFF, pressing for privacy rights; several commercial organizations including AT&T, Verizon, Google and Facebook reluctant to be identified  as co-conspirators in invading consumer privacy; and a mainstream media keen to cover any source of conflict.

At least in the United States there is deeply divided public opinion.  For example one January poll found that 48 percent of respondents approved and 47 percent did not approve of tracking phone calls for potential terrorist links. Roughly twenty-percent of those who approved of the phone tracking also agreed the program is “too much intrusion into Americans’ private life”.   This tracks with what seems to be increasing concern that “anti-terrorism policies” threaten civil liberty, even as support for specific anti-terrorism activities remains strong.

TREND: What concerns you more about the government’s anti-terrorism policies, that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, or that they have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country?
                     Jan 09  Oct 01  Aug 02  Jul 10  Jan 14
                     2014    2013    2013    2013    2010

Gone too far         51      43      46      45      25
Not gone far enough  33      40      39      40      63
DK/NA                16      17      15      15      12

Are these public attitudes contradictory… ambivalent… paradoxical?  Are these the ill-considered judgments of a poorly informed mass or a signal of profound crowd-wisdom?

Our intellectual culture is (mostly unconsciously) influenced by Hegel (abstract, negative, concrete or sometimes thesis, antithesis, synthesis and more).  The law is especially Hegelian in its dependence on the adversarial process.  Well beyond the law we are inclined to engage contending perspectives in search for ideal solutions.  For some this ideal emerges from historical (empirical) context.  For others there is an ideal that transcends history and experience.  In either case there can be a tendency to exclude or negate one option in order to achieve an other.

It is worth noting this is Hegelianism without Hegel who wrote, “Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.”  But much of our current discontent with so many aspects of politics, law, and governance may very well emerge from an intellectual conceit that seeks the best and disdains the rest.

If you characterize an issue as privacy versus security, I will probably lean toward privacy.  To acknowledge this predisposition can be helpful. It ought not be confused with thought. First principles inform but very seldom resolve our problem-solving.  Thinking requires an examination of context and contingencies and potential consequences.

Privacy and security are not necessarily in conflict, as for example in the language of the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

When privacy and security are perceived to be in conflict, what is the source of conflict? What are the contingent Goods that an active instance of privacy or security seems to threaten?  For surely neither privacy nor security are ends-in-themselves.  Rather each are aspects of a more comprehensive Good or Goods.  Can we articulate our valuations to each other so that we might resolve the perceived conflict by directly addressing the goals which privacy and security are thought to advance (or retard)?  Are we disagreeing over first principles or tertiary techniques?

Issues of privacy and security are clearly being considered as matters of law.  In these legal considerations ancient ethical concerns are referenced and there will clearly be contemporary ethical implications whatever the legal outcomes.

The current political arguments strike me as mostly rhetorical rather than ethical.   Typically absolute rights or obvious needs are assumed much more than demonstrated. Strawmen are set forth by every side.

In both the legal and political domains the consideration tends to be adversarial — pseudo-Hegelian — in method.   I have no objection to this as one of several methods by which a shared understanding can emerge.  I am concerned if it is the predominant method.

Where do you participate in serious and sustained consideration of important ethical issues?   Especially civic issues such as the matter of privacy v. security?  Where and how have you seen non-adversarial methods generate practical solutions?

I hope your answers are more fruitful than my own.  If not, I wonder how much the paucity of such approaches suggest a social-civic anemia for which our current political confrontations are but a symptom?

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April 9, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing Roundup

With the Boston Marathon quickly approaching, along with the one year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, you can imagine there has been a surge of related events and releases.

Here are some of the more informative, in case you missed them.

Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.” It mostly focused on the law enforcement-related decisions, and served as a podium to denounce the Administration’s stated plans to consolidate homeland security grants into one block grant to states.  However, it also contained interesting questions and answers/testimony on the current and future state of NIMS in disaster response.

The Committee’s page for this hearing can be found here: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearingthe-boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-look-back-look-forward

A better quality video can be found here (apologies, but I couldn’t find one I could post on this blog): http://www.c-span.org/video/?318765-1/boston-marathon-bombings-anniversary-review

The Witness list with links to written statements:

Witnesses

Mr. Edward F. Davis, III

Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Edward P. Deveau

Chief of Police

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese

Sergeant

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard

Professor of Public Management

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Two of those testifying, Dutch Leonard and Edward Davis, participated in the development of the report, “Why Was Boston Strong, Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.” Among it’s conclusions:

 The report highlights a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors urge responders:

•    To quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post — with dedicated space for strategic, tactical and logistical teams — that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.

•    To provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.

•    To develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.

•    To critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.

•    To design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days.

•    To consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint Harvard Kennedy School and Public Health School venture, just released their preliminary findings on “Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From the Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence.” What’s it about?

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately. These rules include: 1) unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders; 2) generosity of spirit; 3) deference for the responsibility and authority of others; 4) refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame; 5) a foundation of respectful and experienced relationships that garner mutual trust and confidence. That confidence, both personal and systemic, bolstered these leaders individually and as a coordinated force over the 102 hours between the attacks and the conclusion of the incident. They handled difficult decisions in the face of credible risks: Whether to keep public transit open? Whether to release blurry pictures of the suspects? The study found that over the course of the week, they learned how to lead and lead better, so that by the time they reached the chaotic conclusion of the event, they acted as a coordinated and unified cadre of crisis leaders.

Finally, 60 Minutes aired a segment several weeks ago about the decisions made behind the scenes during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning? Grading the Administration’s Counterterrorism Policy”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 9, 2014

Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning?”

I’m going to say no.  No, they are not.

It seemed more an opportunity to critique the Administration on the concept of a “pivot toward Asia” and keeping us (too?) engaged in the Middle East rather than a honest attempt at assessing this difficult question.

However, the participants are well qualified to address this issue:

Panel I

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
(Former United States Senator)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

The Honorable Jane Harman
Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
(Former Member of Congress)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Panel II

Seth Jones, Ph.D.
Associate Director
International Security and Defense Policy Center
RAND Corporation
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Frederick W. Kagan, Ph.D.
Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director
Critical Threats Project
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Mr. Benjamin Wittes
Senior Fellow
Governance Studies
The Brookings Institution
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

One would think this would be a well attended hearing, but notice the empty seats around the 2:00 minute mark in this video (unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the entire hearing that I could post):

For the full hearing, go here.

 

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April 8, 2014

How the quest for short-term efficiency creates vulnerabilities in public health and medical service; and what to do about it.

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on April 8, 2014

Today’s post was written by Jeff Kaliner.  Kaliner works in health security and preparedness at a state health department. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School as well as a Master of Science degree in Education from Northern Illinois University.

———————————————————————–

The other day I checked the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) website for current drug shortages. The ASHP uses the following criteria to determine if a drug qualifies under the “new shortage” heading:

“A drug product shortage is defined as a supply issue that affects how the pharmacy prepares or dispenses a drug product or influences patient care when prescribers must use an alternative agent.”

The ASHP also states that:

“Shortages can adversely affect drug therapy, compromise or delay medical procedures, and result in medication errors.”

I must admit I was a little surprised to find approximately 250 Current Drug Shortage Bulletins listed on the site.  Is this an average day’s shortage?  I don’t know, and to be fair, some drugs are listed more than once because different predetermined measurements of the same drug may have their own bulletin. For example, Sodium Chloride 0.45% and Sodium Chloride 0.9% are both listed. It’s actually my interest in Sodium Chloride (normal saline solution) that brought me to the ASHP website in the first place.

———————————————————————–

A few months back some of our healthcare partners started to inform us that they were at low levels for 0.45 1000cc bags of saline. These types of shortages are not necessarily unusual and can normally be resolved through internal sharing protocols within larger healthcare systems. We had heard that the shortage was nationwide and was due to increased demand on the three major manufacturers (Baxter, Braun and Hospira). This reason is also the one indicated on the ASHP website.

However, this instance was anything but normal; the situation was becoming critical. For instance, a few of our health care partners stated that patient diversion due to lack of the needed supplies was possible. Another facility activated alternative treatment guidelines, consolidated saline supply and verified necessity prior to patient distribution.

After a little probing, we began hearing that some of the larger saline vendors had contracts with hospitals that prohibited them from purchasing product from a different vendor. In other words, the hospitals were restricted from purchasing saline outside of their initial vendor agreements. Even if the hospitals could contract with other vendors, we were also hearing that the vendors themselves were running low. And, it turns out that there are vendor restrictions on adding new clients when products are under allocation.

We also learned that larger systems will sometimes purchase directly from the manufacturer. Of course buying in volume reduces the amount paid but these types of contracts may also prohibit the larger facility from selling product to partner systems to discourage possible profit making.

Regardless, the option for some systems to purchase product at different points in supply chain influences overall supply availability and may leave smaller hospitals and systems at a disadvantage.

———————————————————————–

Another problem with these overly efficient supply chain models is that the practice of just-in-time ordering does not allow for a large enough buffer if there is a legitimate emergency. In an effort to decrease costs by reducing the number of storage points in the network, just in time ordering leaves a facility vulnerable in case of a catastrophic hit to the regular supply chain.

For example, in the case of an earthquake that takes out road access to a healthcare facility, a just in time policy may exacerbate an already challenging situation. A policy that relies on receiving product when it is needed instead of keeping large quantities readily available is at greater risk in an event where the supply chain is compromised.

Additionally, hospitals are often times unable to store these types of products in-house due to limited space.  Actual “storage wars” between hospital departments are not uncommon. Even if a hospital does have available storage areas, product rotation can also become an issue. Depending on when saline is manufactured, it will probably need to be rotated every six months to a year to keep  the supply fresh. Thus, the critical dependency on vendors to keep the supply change moving.

Regardless, the usual protocol for a health care facility when they are unable to receive product from their vendor or their own internal systems is to reach out to other nearby facilities and initiate formal or informal mutual aid agreements. However, due to the nationwide shortage, requests to other facilities for product were being denied. If a facility only carries three days worth of saline, sharing one day’s worth of product with another facility during a shortage would only leave the lending facility more vulnerable. In this type of situation, it’s not worth the risk to a lender to assist a partner agency in need.

Ultimately, after about a week of intense consternation and consideration, our emergency saline situation subsided (at least for the short-term). The few hospitals that were critical were finally able to get the product they needed from their vendors…just in time. In the end, the system work perfectly.

———————————————————————–

It was also about this time that it finally hit me.  While state and local public health emergency preparedness programs focus on building public and private capabilities to handle the added systemic stress of an emergency, such as a patient surge during the aforementioned earthquake scenario, many health and medical partners in the private sector are undermining the effort by creating just in time systems that could possibly leave healthcare facilities and their patients more vulnerable during their greatest time of need.

Using the saline example, if a surge in patients created a need to use excess product during an emergency, the just in time system of product delivery would not allow for the most effective patient care. As the situation narrated above outlined, many hospitals are already operating on slim product stockpiles (usually a maximum of three days). If they were unable to receive product for longer periods of time because of an event, patient care would be compromised.

As it occurs to me, the manufacturers, vendors and healthcare facilities share responsibility in this scenario. I have to believe that building in added risk during a crisis is not intentional on the part of our private partners.  However, creating such efficient systems is working at odds with the greater public health. Hospitals that are unwilling to add robustness to their systems by adding extra storage space are basically averse to stockpile necessary product.  Manufacturers and vendors operating on just in time delivery schedules are also seemingly more concerned with the bottom line than the needs of the patient. In all cases, profits win out over patients.

Ted Lewis describes this phenomenon as self-organized criticality (SOC). In his book Bak’s Sandpile (2011), Lewis write:

“I propose a unifying theory that explains how accidents, disasters, and catastrophes are intensified by the way modern society has evolved into a collection of highly connected, optimized, and cost-efficient systems. Everything has been optimized—principally by eliminating surge capacity that allows a given system to deal with any overload it experiences. Add to this optimization of capacity the fact that modern just-in-time systems have squeezed out any tolerance for error, and you have the ingredients of what the Danish physicist Per Bak called self organized criticality. This has brought modern society to the brink, and it is our own fault. Modern systems weren’t designed to be resilient, self-correcting, and secure, but rather to be low-cost, efficient, and optimized for profitability. As a consequence, the critical infrastructures supporting modern civilization have evolved over the centuries into fragile, error-prone systems. We have reaped the benefits of short-term efficiency, but now we are suffering from it. Efficient, optimal, and cost-effective systems are why $#^! happens.” (Pgs. 8-9)

———————————————————————–

Although there has been much talk about private/public partnerships within the ESF 8 landscape, I have never heard (at least at the state or local levels) any of these conversations put within the context of self-organized criticality.  Using the SOC lens to view the problem makes it clear to me that when Public Health encourages partners to come together and discuss increasing surge capacity within our health and medical systems, we must include product manufactures and vendors.

Leaving these partners on the sideline of the health and medical system during preparedness and response conversations focused on surge planning will only lead to the creation of more unnecessary fantasy documents. If collaboration is the key, all players in the supply chain must be at the table and all the accompanying issues, including SOC, must be honestly and directly addressed.

However, when one player in a system is trying to maximize economic gain, while the others have more altruistic goals in mind, the possibility for overall systemic collapse would seem to be amplified as public and private agencies work at their opposing missions.  Thus, these types of conversations would ideally need to take place at the highest policy levels. In other words, tackling problems that impact free market behaviors need to be addressed at the federal level so that any resulting policy or regulations can be implemented on a national basis. In this way, entire national health and medical supply chain systems are addressed in any proposed solution.

———————————————————————–

What has also become clear is that the Public Health Emergency Preparedness enterprise needs to reevaluate how it trains and educates its practitioners. Encouraging professionals to take the latest Incident Command class will not help problem-solvers at all levels to identify and apply concepts such as SOC to supply chain and other systems related problems. Understanding and using these types of theory based concepts in relation to increasingly wicked problems needs to be at the foundation of the 21st century homeland security practitioner’s tool kit. Otherwise, professionals in the field will not have a fertile soil to ground their practice.

Yet entering into conversations without 21st century knowledge tools is exactly what I see happen on an almost daily basis. Most everyday I witness emergency management and homeland security professionals discuss problems and propose solutions that have no grounding in any type of researched or scientific theory. In this context, meetings dominated by assumption, personal preference and group think can easily become the status quo.

An inability by professionals in the field to understand systems, network and other related theories is no longer acceptable in an enterprise that has now been in existence for over ten years.  Although Public Health Emergency Preparedness may not have its own specific and unique set of concepts to apply to the field, borrowing these types of ideas from other disciplines (including Public Health!) must be encouraged and supported.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that an understanding of concepts like SOC is all it will take to solve difficult issues like the saline supply chain situation. A complex problem like this will need any number of solutions (at all levels) interacting together to achieve the desired outcome for both the short and long term.

However, redesigning a 21st century Public Health Emergency Preparedness training and education curriculum that provides practitioners at all levels these types of cognitive tools is crucial so that players at all points in the system can view problems though a common lens. If we do not make these fundamental changes in how we develop these professionals, the millions of dollars we have endowed into the human resources of this nascent field will certainly provide a more than disappointing return on investment. In a knowledge based economy, critical and independent thinking, intellectual courage and beliefs based on facts and evidence are our stock-in-trade.

———————————————————————–

Good intentions, an understanding of the Incident Command system and an ability to mimic “grant jargon” is no longer enough to confront our ever changing and increasingly complex world. It’s now time that Public Health Emergency Preparedness programs provide up to date evidence based and research supported professional development opportunities to its practitioners.

If we don’t move in that direction, the next time you need some basic saline solution, it just might not be there.

 

 

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April 7, 2014

Nostalgia – a key component of resilience?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2014

My oldest daughter and I were having a conversation which led to talk about my grandfather.  We were discussing the toughness and ruggedness of him and his era.  Born at the turn of the 20th century “Gramps” was everything I thought a man should be.  He was a boxer, slept in jails during the depression, worked in the Brooklyn Navy yard during World War II and did whatever he needed to do in order to provide.  I have yet to meet the man who I respected as much as my grandfather. He embodied what I thought all men of his age and Americans were: strong, smart, capable, dutiful, and unafraid.

I reminisced about one day sitting on a school bus with a bunch of cub scouts going to a New York Mets game for a father and son night.  My grandfather, then in his mid-70s, and another “grandpa” began to talk.  I listened agape as he described how he played against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during barnstorming games.

In the conversation I realized that this reminiscence, this idea of nostalgia has a powerful effect on expectations, performance and point of view.  In my maturation I recognize what I saw in him was probably not completely accurate, but was my interpretation of him. His characteristics, in my nostalgic point of view, are tantamount to what I need to return to when things and life are not ideal.  His actions in my nostalgic recollections are tantamount to resilience.

Resilience — as has often been mentioned in this blog — has many formulas and definitions.  It’s an overused aphorism in many instances and somewhat nebulous in others.  Resilience is part of a broader definition of panarchy and biodiversity.  Resilience is many things to many people and I think very easy and at the same time very difficult for some to define.

From the metaphorical point of view, I see resilience as the owed narrative of our nostalgic past.  We often speak about the Greatest Generation, the Depression, the Right Stuff, the American way.  All those phrases are versed in nostalgic virtue and have a theme of returning to something.  The return is part of the resilience definition.

In many of my postings over the years I notice I have an “I owe” theme.  I believe in my heritage and to a large extent the nationalist themes of exceptionalism and my time in the Marine Corps.  That said, it’s a bit abstract to shape ones actions on a subjective past.  Marines don’t want to let down marines of the past, those that came before them. It is certainly a bit weird, but then again not.

Our history, our expectations, and our belief system are shaped by a narrative of nostalgia.   To channel Phil Palin for a moment, the word nostalgia is a formation of a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and álgos, meaning “pain, ache”; the word was coined by a 17th-century medical student.    Nostalgia can also be seen in that aching for home and the past as a purported ideal. That idea, the longing for a return, has a resilience theme in it.   Nostalgia may reflect an ambivalence of sorts, but it is a positive emotion.

Nostalgia, whether captured in history books or propagated in Frank Capra pictures, is part of the American experience. Maybe America has always been nostalgic, whether from our multiple immigrant pasts or simply the fringe of the empire creating a culture that embraced such reminiscence.  We often read and hear today that our online, nearly virtual lives and cultural shifts have eroded the sense of community and togetherness that we once experienced. Maybe more nostalgia at work!

In some psychological circles it is believed that nostalgia is necessary for people to be resilient.  Nostalgia may have a restorative function amongst resilient people and also bolster mental health.  Several studies indicate that it is a key attribute in returning to some type of mental symbiosis.   If the key to resilience in social-ecological systems is diversity, as some researchers present, than perhaps our national resilience and personal resilience would benefit from a diverse and rich nostalgic discovery .

The homeland security aspect of resilience is spoken of regularly and often in this blog.  Perhaps that’s an ingredient that we have overlooked: the narrative, with its distorted warts and all is a decidedly important aspect of building a resilient nation.

I was never unsafe, unprotected, or fearful in the presence or company of my grandfather.  He was easily the toughest, bravest, and most fearless man I have ever met.  He’s been gone now a good while, but his legacy and my remembrance of him lives on by what he would expect of me and how he lived his life.  If that is not nostalgia, than I do not know what it is.

Nostalgia is an important and often overlooked aspect of a personal and national resilience. It is based not in myth but in narrative shaped by two perspectives kluged together.  Maybe it’s time to reinforce who we are and where we come from as a key component of resilience.

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April 4, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 4, 2014

From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states, including thirty F4/F5 tornadoes.

On April 5, 2010 there was an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners were killed.

On this date in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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April 3, 2014

“Simply a manifestation of the criticality of the system” and the implications if true

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 3, 2014

OSO_Photo by Marcus Yam_The Seattle TimesPhoto by Marcus Yam, The Seattle Times

John Schwartz and the New York Times gave us an unusually thoughtful piece of journalism last Saturday: No Easy Way To Restrict Construction In Risky Areas.  Several cases are examined: Oso Landslide, Sandy, Katrina and more.

This is largely an issue of the transfer, avoidance, reduction, or acceptance of risk.  Very closely related are attitudes toward contingency.

The Oso landslide is a specific case where “complexity originates from the tendency of large dynamical systems to organize themselves into a critical state, with avalanches or punctuations of all sizes.” Other dynamical systems include seismic networks, volcanoes, ocean currents and I would include the electrical grid and significant concentrations (populations) of almost anything.

In a seminal 1995 paper Per Bak and Maya Paczuski outline two very different explanations of the same “punctuation” event:

A Historian Describes a Sandslide.

On December 16, 1994, a grain of sand landed at the site with coordinates [14, 17] on the pile. Adding to the grains of sand already accumulated at this site, this addition caused a toppling of that site, spilling over to the neighboring sites. Unfortunately, one of these sites [14, 18] happened to be near an instability so that the toppling caused this site to topple also. This toppling destabilized sites [14, 19] and [15, 18] and eventually led to the collapse of a large part of the pile. “Clearly, the event was contingent on several factors. First, had the initial grain of sand fallen elsewhere, nothing dramatic would have happened. Also, if the configuration at position [14, 19] had been slightly different, the sandslide would have stopped sooner, without devastating consequences. While we can give an accurate and complete account of what actually happened, we are at a loss to explain how these many accidental features could possibly have conspired to produce an event of such magnitude. The event was contingent upon many separate, freak occurrences and could clearly have been prevented. Furthermore, we are baffled by the fact that even though sand had been added to the system for a longtime, only minor events had occurred before the devastating collapse, and we had every right to expect the system to be stable. Clearly, the event was a freak one caused by very unusual and unfortunate circumstances in an otherwise stable system that appeared to be in balance. Precautions should and could be taken to prevent such events in the future.

A Physicist Describes a Sandslide

During a long transient period, the pile evolved to a critical state with avalanches of all sizes. We were able to make a rough identification of the toppling rule and to construct a computer model of the phenomenon. Actually, the particular rule that we use is not very important. In any case, we do not have sufficient information about the details of the system to be able to make long-term predictions. “Nevertheless, our model exhibits some general features of the sandpile. We monitored how many avalanches of each size occurred, after the addition of a single grain to the pile. We made a histogram (Fig. 2), and found that the distribution of events where a total of s sites topple obeys a power law, P(s)- s-T. Thus, if one waits long enough, one is bound to see events that are as large as one has the patience to wait for. We ran our simulations (the tape of evolution) several times. Eliminating the particular grain of sand that caused a particular avalanche only made the system produce large avalanches somewhere else at different times. Changing the rules slightly — for instance, by planting snow screens here and there — does not have any effect on the general pattern.

Avalanches are an unavoidable and intrinsic part of the sandpile dynamics. “Actually, I’m not interested in the specific details of the event which Prof. Historian is so excited about and gives such a vivid account of. What the professor sees as a string of freak events appearing accidentally and mysteriously by an apparent act of God and leading to a catastrophe is simply a manifestation of the criticality of the system. History has prepared the sandpile in a state that is far from equilibrium, and the matrix through which the avalanche propagates is predisposed to accommodate events of large sizes. The complex dynamics which is observed in the ‘historical science,’ where the outcome appears contingent on many different, specific events, represents the dynamics of self-organized critical systems.

Historical narrative is inclined toward an understanding of reality where human intention, rationality and will can assert control.  Bak and Paczuski point toward the possibility of domains beyond our power, though certainly deserving our attention and respect.

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April 1, 2014

Sustainable agriculture as a homeland security issue: sometimes the old ideas are the best

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 1, 2014

Resource sustainability insistently encroaches onto the homeland security agenda.

Regardless of the causes — climate change, increasing global demand for a middle class life, depletion of available land and water, ethical norms — the throw-away culture is itself being tossed into the recycling bin.

Not long ago, Pope Francis told reporters

“We’ve become a little accustomed to a throw-away culture, … we do it far too much. With all these young people out of work, the throw-away culture is reaching them too. We must get rid of this throw-away mentality.”

The sustainable agriculture movement is one manifestation of this cultural shift.

Sustainable agriculture weaves these ethical traditions together. It requires rigorous science and reverence for nature. It treats plants, animals, and human beings with care and respect. Sustainable agriculture arises out of concern for the health and wellbeing of individual farmers, farming communities, and the public at large. It replaces the prevailing economic and technological models of “more, bigger, faster, and more efficient” with utmost concern for quality. Above all, it replaces the norms of extraction and exploitation with the norm of sustainability.

 While the language may sound like a neo-new age hash, sustainable agricultural practices are not a new idea.

…if sustainable agriculture is defined as the ability to maintain productivity, one can find hints of attempts at “sustaining” agriculture since its inception some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In fact one could contend, as some do, that since we have ably maintained productivity, agriculture as we know it is sustainable. The real question is whether current agricultural practices can be sustained much longer.

Some people look to technology and innovative institutional practices as the keys to achieving a sustainable future.  See, for example, the discussion of The Farmery, on the always informative Resilient Communities website:

The Farmery is designed to be an innovative grocery store where produce is grown and sold under one roof.  The modular design of the structure is created from shipping containers.  These are cheap and easily accessible building materials making nationwide construction a very real possibility.

But we also have a great deal to learn from our grandparents, the people who lived sustainably before it was culturally correct.

The two minute, and now declassified, British video below shows one technique the Swiss practiced, presumably during the food shortages of the 1930s and 1940s.

Among other things, the video illustrates that sometimes the old, simple ideas remain the best.  One wonders how many other antediluvian solutions to 21st century threats are also filed away — like this video — in dusty, all but forgotten storage rooms, patiently waiting to be rediscovered.

 

 

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March 28, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 28, 2014

On this date in 1920 there was a tornado outbreak across the southern and middle United States.  More than thirty-five tornadoes were confirmed, resulting in more than 300 deaths and 1200 injuries.

On this date in 1979 a coolant leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station resulted in core overheating and a partial melt down.

On this date in 2011 al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula carried out terrorist attacks in Yemen killing 110 and injuring 45.

What is on your mind related to homeland security?

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March 27, 2014

Fragments of a fractured field

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Some bemoan and others exult in the capaciousness of homeland security.  Whatever your attitude, this week you just needed to graze lightly across the top of the news to get a sense of substantial girth:

Dismissing a Russian threat to the United States, President Obama said on Tuesday, ““I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

The new FBI Director told a House Appropriations subcommittee that Westerners fighting with the Syrian opposition represent a “metastasizing threat” to the United States.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith,  Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.  Meanwhile the site of his father-in-law’s brazen attack — still a construction site — was back in the news for security lapses. (and here and here).

In an effort to better preserve the privacy of the people’s “haystack” when trying to find the terrorist “needle”, both the executive branch and the Congress may be ready to establish some further fire-walls between phone records (and other data) and the aggregators and analysts in the Intelligence Community.

Meanwhile the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence accuses the CIA of forsaking an especially high firewall — the Separation of Powers — in hacking Senate computers.

Of coursing hacking is a rapidly growing sport.  Over the last year the federal government has informed more than 3000 private companies that they were being hacked (presumably by entities other than the federal government).

Refining and related industries were slowed when a collision and oil spill shut the the Houston Shipping Channel for three days.  This week the waterway has had a “tapered” reopening under the careful eye of the Coast Guard.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in an effort to prevent future threats to agents and passengers “the Transportation Security Administration is calling for an increased police presence at agency checkpoints after November’s deadly shooting at LAX… The agency’s assessment covers 14 recommendations relating to employee training, improved emergency technology and law enforcement presence that will be implemented at airports nationwide.”

Local, state, and federal emergency management officials are involved in the response to the massive landslide in Washington state.  A 1999 geological study (and more) is said to have predicted a catastrophic landslide.  Several have suggested comparisons to living on the Outer Banks or on top of an earthquake fault. The Seattle Times reports on warnings going back decades. (Implications for the recent reset of flood insurance reform?)

In another — this time retrospective — analysis, the House Homeland Security Committee is expected to release a report today that will detail how opportunities were lost to prevent the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Three Secret Service agents doing advance work for the President’s trip to the Netherlands got totally wasted the night before POTUS touched down.  They were sent back to the States…  It was waaay too reminiscent of another “Spring Break” episode in Cartagena two years ago.

Some would include the Malaysian Airline mystery, others Russian pressure on Ukraine, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa or new reports on climate change.  I am inclined to point toward what I see as threat-precursors in Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria. I am also inclined to see vulnerability-indicators related to the US electrical grid, telecommunications system, water systems, and supply chains.

In any case, there is more and more and more…

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Dignity in Disaster

Filed under: Catastrophes,Disaster,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Shigeru Ban has been awarded the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

The Japanese architect’s practice is comprehensive, but he has given particular attention to innovative design, materials, and construction techniques for post-disaster settings.

He was one of the first to use — and creatively adapt — cargo containers for use as human shelter. (See here application in Northeast Japan following 3/11.)

No one else has so beautifully and effectively deployed cardboard.  Originally conceived as a quick and inexpensive means of providing temporary post-disaster housing in Rwanda, Kobe, Haiti and elsewhere, the material is now recognized as a sustainable, resilient, and flexible resource for an extraordinary range of form and function.

Cardboard Cabin_shigeru

Cardboard Cabins (Kobe, Japan) photo found here.

Below is the “Cardboard Cathedral” replacing the much-mourned earthquake pummeled Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand.   It has been found that with regular maintenance — mostly painting — these temporary structures can be long-living.

In response and recovery we often begin at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: water, food, and basic shelter.  Too often we are inclined to ignore the higher reaches of beauty, inspiration, and hope.  Shigeru Ban’s architecture demonstrates attending to biological fundamentals need not exclude engaging the psychological and spiritual.

Cardbaord Cathedral_Stephen Goodenough Photo

Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand) photo by Stephen Goodenough

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March 26, 2014

Dirty bombs a left/right issue: left or right of boom

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

One of the headlines to emerge from the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit concerned dirty, not nuclear, bomb material:

Twenty-three nations participating in the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands this week said they intend to comply with international guidelines regarding the security of so-called “dirty bomb” material.

The parties to the multilateral statement — including the United States and countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — pledged to secure all their most dangerous “Category I” radiological sources under guidelines set out by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Specifically, they vowed to follow the IAEA “Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.”

Radiological sources are those that, if paired with conventional explosives, could form a “dirty bomb” that disperses radioactive contamination over an area, but which cannot produce a nuclear detonation akin to an atomic bomb.

Matt Bunn, already referenced once today, isn’t accepting all this apparent progress on face value:

Bunn, however, criticized the transportation gift basket, which does not require the participating countries to utilize any specific security measures. He told Global Security Newswire that the transport-security pledge “is as weak as dishwater,” and he took exception to its suggestion that “the security record of civilian transport of nuclear materials has been excellent” historically.

“Essentially what it means is just that the shipments have not been seized by terrorists so far,” Bunn said. “It used to be legal to send plutonium by regular mail, and the industry complained loudly when the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] started requiring any armed guards at all.”

Yet what he or other critics of the agreement failed to mention is that it is entirely focused on what is referred to as “left of boom.”  These are the prevention, occasionally encompassing preparedness, measures focused on preventing a dirty bomb attack in the first place.

Nuclear terrorism is a left of boom problem.  The part of a nuclear attack terrorists cannot achieve themselves is making the required fissile material.  While a large amount of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material exists (the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia), it is a finite amount that can conceivably be locked down or eliminated.

If a nuclear explosion goes off, you and everyone else in the world will know.  If an attempted attack “fizzles,” it will still result in government action that will make the 9/11 reaction seem tame.  Preparing to respond to a nuclear detonation is important, but once it goes off officials are basically relegated to cleaning up.

A dirty bomb is mostly a “right of boom” issue.  It is incredibly helpful to reduce the access to the potentially worst dirty bomb ingredients, such as cesium, by eliminating or drastically reducing their use in medicine and industry, as well as increasing transportation security standards.

However, unlike a nuclear explosion, the bar to detonating a dirty bomb is extremely low.  Simply add any radioactive material, which exists in countless forms for countless uses in countless fields, to an explosive device and voila!…Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing former administration officials about how this dirty bomb could have happened.  Didn’t we agree to get rid of this stuff at the last nuclear security summit?!?

I jest.  To a point. It is important to secure or eliminate the most dangerous radiological sources.  However, unlike with nuclear terrorism, it will not be possible to accomplish this for ALL radioactive substances.  And the the end product of any dirty bomb is panic and fear of lingering radiation that results in economic damage.  Basically an own goal or touchback if officials and the media emphasize the presence of ANY radiation following an attack, regardless if it included cesium or another isotope considered dangerous (for which these new suggested regulations are attempting to increase the security) or something just barely radioactive that can be measured by local officials on their Geiger counters – if they aren’t simply registering the already existing background radiation.

So what to do?  Concentrate on preparedness, response, and especially recovery.

  • Don’t focus public messages on prevention, but instead on preparedness. 
  • Emphasize the low risk nature of the threat; point out the lack of radiation injuries resulting from Three Mile Island and Fukushima.
  • Prepare succinct talking points for officials in case of a dirty bomb attack.
  • Officials should become comfortable downplaying the fear of radiation.  This should also be instilled in first responders.
  • First responders should have clear, exercised plans for dealing with any radiation-related incident.
  • Federal officials should transfer money from expensive efforts at prevention to developing new technologies for cleaning up.

The only people likely to die in any dirty bomb attack are those injured by the explosion.  The worst damage is caused by a fear of radiation.  The ability to decontaminate an urban area will deter potential dirty bombers in the future.

As long as the experts, currently in and out of government, do not go on cable news to expound on the over-hyped danger of dirty bombs.

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Why Japan giving up nuclear material is a good thing

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

The Nuclear Security Summit recently wrapped up in the Hague.  While it was overshadowed by events in the Ukraine, there were several substantial actions reported and pledges made that move the ball forward on nuclear security.

One in particular involved Japan.  While it might seem strange that we should be celebrating Japan sending the U.S. nuclear weapon-usable material, or that we should be worried about their possession at all, Harvard professor Matthew Bunn provided a concise explanation for PBS’ Newshour:

The report Professor Bunn’s references in his interview can be found here. The main conclusions are:

Combat complacency. Developing and sharing a database of incidents with lessons learned, as well as expanded intelligence cooperation, will help those responsible for nuclear security make the case that nuclear terrorism is a real and urgent threat to their countries, worthy of a significant investment of time and money.

Improve protection for facilities and transports. Countries should ensure that all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear material under their control are at least pro­tected against a baseline threat that includes: a well-placed insider; a modest group of well-trained and well-armed outsiders, capable of operating as more than one team; and both an insider and the outsiders working together. Countries facing more capable adversaries should provide higher levels of protection.

Consolidate stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials so that there are fewer sites in need of security investments.

Strengthen security practices “on the ground” through improved training, realistic performance testing and “force-on-force” exercises, new programs to strengthen security culture, and exchanges of “best practices” among organizations responsible for nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities.

Build a more effective global nuclear security framework to help states co­operate on establishing standards and goals for nuclear security, discussing and deciding on next steps to improve nuclear security, confirming that states are fulfilling their responsibility to provide effective security, and tracking states’ progress in fulfilling their nuclear security commitments.  In particular, the authors suggest that for the next nuclear security summit in 2016, a group of states should make a high-level commitment to high standards of nuclear security and invite other states to join them, offering help to those who would like to meet the agreed standards but need assistance in doing so.

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