Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 19, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 18, 2014

We can see the future battle order

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

0210Russian Imperial Fleet under attack at Port Arthur (February 1904)

It sounds like a stupid film.  Good riddance.

But someone — almost certainly North Koreans, probably with paid help — successfully attacked and digitally destroyed a leading multinational corporation.

Then this week they made gratuitous threats of a Christmas Day kinetic attack.

Response so far: Basically total capitulation.

We have been warned of a Cyber-Pearl Harbor.

We probably just experienced our Battle of Port Arthur.  In making the comparison I do not predict the rise of an imperial Pyongyang.  But just as the Japanese showed the Russians (and others) that naval power was more than a European skill, we have been shown another powerful asymmetry arising.

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Ebola update

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

The December 17, WHO situation update is available here.  According to this report, some progress is being made in Sierra Leone, which has replaced Liberia as the nation reporting the most incidents of transmission.

EVD transmission remains intense in Sierra Leone, with 327 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 14 December. While there are signs from the country situation reports that the increase in incidence has slowed and the incidence may no longer be increasing, the country reported the highest number of confirmed cases in epidemiological week 50. 

A major effort was undertaken this week in Sierra Leone to alter population behaviors that are contributing to continued transmission of the disease.  The Guardian (London) reports on some of the strategies being employed.

Reuters has an update on operations as of Wednesday.

UPDATE:

On Friday the Washington Post — which has done distinguished reporting on  the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — published a big front page feature on the situation in Sierra Leone.

Also on Friday NPR interviewed the CDC Director who is the midst of a site visit to West Africa.  Dr. Thomas Frieden warns of the risk that the virus might become endemic and therefore a perpetual source of recurring spikes in transmission.

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Soft targets

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

The Leopold Cafe reopened four days after several customers were killed during the November 2008 urban swarm attack on Mumbai.

The Lindt Cafe in Sydney will, I expect, also reopen.  Prior cases suggest a community’s sense of defiance is good for business.

Kabul’s La Taverna du Liban has not reopened after twenty-one were killed there last January.  Among those killed was the owner.

The Sandy Hill Elementary School has been demolished, so has the Beslan school.  It is too soon to anticipate what may be done with the Army Public School and College in Peshawar.

On the same day as the Peshawar attack fifteen Yemeni children were killed when their school bus happened to intersect a car bombing.

Does anyone else remember the bombing of the My Canh Cafe floating on the Sông Sài Gòn?  How about the 1984 purposeful use of food poisoning in The Dalles, Oregon? Last month a kosher restaurant in Paris was fire-bombed while patrons were eating. Just a small fire-bomb.  No one was killed.  C’est la vie?

Hotels and restaurants. Buses, trains, planes, and subways.  Markets, mosques (other places of worship), movie theaters, and schools. Even hospitals. These are notoriously difficult to secure.  To  impede entry and egress complicates the fundamental purpose of such places.

I am surprised it has not happened here more often.  It will almost certainly happen in the relatively near future.

Some trace the origins of modern terrorism to the 1894 bombing of the Terminus Cafe in Paris.  The target, according to the self-confessed anarchist, was bourgeois society.

The motivations of those involved in such attacks are often obscure. It is typically not a tactic in our usual use of the word.  The purpose is something other than competitive advantage. There is often an odor of delusions of grandeur.

In many cases the motivation may be usefully compared to a frantic outburst designed to attract attention to individuals or an organization, thereby externally validating their power and countering their own self-doubt.

While it is difficult and always context-specific, I hope when it happens here we can respond — and not respond — in ways that refuse to provide the reinforcement sought.

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December 17, 2014

A new homeland security-related blog: The Bifurcated Needle

Filed under: Biosecurity,Media,Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on December 17, 2014

I fell behind on some work this week and am not likely to post anything substantial today, so unfortunately I cannot personally provide Phil reading material to go along with his (really early) morning coffee.

However, for his and everyone else’s reading pleasure I’d like to point out a new homeland security blog that has recently come to my attention: The Bifurcated Needle. Named for the needle used to administer smallpox vaccinations, technically it is a health security blog. Since it seems no one can agree on what means “homeland security” I’m eagerly dragging the “Needle” down to HLS Watch’s level.

It is published by the good, and very smart, folks at the UPMC Center for Health Security. Health security is not unlike homeland security in that it covers a vast intellectual space. They already have posts up covering topics such as measuring preparedness, the security risks involved in virus research, collateral benefits of nuclear power plant preparedness, and the difficulties of biological decontamination.

Very likely worth your time to check it out: http://www.bifurcatedneedle.com/

 

 

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December 16, 2014

Exponential thinking in homeland security: what could it mean?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 16, 2014

In 1927, a New York Times reporter tried to explain quantum theory. He wrote “It is much like trying to tell an Eskimo what the French language is like without talking French.”

Over the years, one element of quantum theory – Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – has been translated, extrapolated, and culturally distorted into regular-person speak: “the act of observing alters the reality being observed.” One can measure the position of something, or the movement of something. But not both.


What is the status – the “position” – of homeland security? Lots of contemporary strategies, reports, exposés offer opinions on that question. For one example, see the September 2014 GAO report “DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of Vulnerability Assessment Efforts.”

What’s happening to the movement of homeland security during the time it takes to produce what I’m terming “position descriptions”?

From the DHS response to the September GAO report (p. 65):

“The draft report contains six recommendations with which the Department concurs.”

The next three pages describes how DHS is already doing what the draft report said it should be doing – that is, “we’re already moving in the direction GAO wants us to go.”

That’s just one example.

The 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report offers another example. On page 29 it describes

“four potential ‘black swans’ that could materially change our assessment of overall homeland security risk and priorities over the next five years…. These changes are not planned for or expected in the next five years, yet if they were to happen, they would fundamentally alter the homeland security strategic environment described here.”

Three of the four potential swans have already happened. Maybe even all four.

Can’t measure position and movement at the same time. The world is not as linear as it used to be.


The argument I hear increasingly is the world has become exponential. (For brief illustrations see this video  or this one.)

Here’s Peter Diamandis  starting to explain the difference between linear thinking and exponential thinking (my emphasis).

As humans we evolved on this planet over the last hundreds of thousands of years in an environment that I would call local and linear.  It was a local and linear environment because the only things that affected you as you were growing up on the plains of Africa was what was in a day’s walk.  It was local to you.

Something would happen on the other side of the planet 100,000 years ago you wouldn’t even know.  It was linear in that the life of your great grandparents, your grandparents, you, your kids, their kids, nothing changed generation to generation.  It was pretty much the same.  You used the same stone tools.  You ate the same animals.  You pretty much lived in the same place.

Today we’re living in a world that is exponential and global. Something happens in China or Korea, it affects you in Manhattan literally minutes later, through stock prices, news, whatever it might be.  That’s a global planet we’re living on. The life of your grandparents, your parents, you, your kids is extraordinarily different in every possible way and we know this from going to Best Buy and finding a computer that is twice as fast or four times as fast for the same dollars as you bought it a year or two ago.  So we’re living in a world that’s exponential in that regard.

To give a visualization of this, if I were to take 30 linear steps, it would be one, two, three, four, five.  After 30 linear steps I’d end up 30 paces or 30 meters away and all of us could pretty much point to where 30 paces away would be. But if I said to you take 30 exponential steps, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and said where would you end up? Very few people would say a billion meters away, which is twenty-six times around the planet.

That’s the difference between our ability to project linearly and project exponentially. It’s what’s really causing disruptive stress because as humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.

There are arguments against the exponential claim – such as it’s warmed over Malthusianism, or that it may only apply to the technological world, not the social world.

Linear thinking still works quite well in a lot of domains. I’m able to type words on a computer and place them on the internet because many people were very good at thinking linearly about circuit boards, databases, electricity, networks and wireless communication.

But I don’t think the argument is about replacing linear thinking. I believe it’s about augmenting linear thought.


If the exponential claims are correct, what are the implications for homeland security?

What does exponential thinking look like in homeland security? How does it differ from linear thinking?  What would a GAO report based on exponential thinking look like? How would one think exponentially about homeland security policy, strategy, law, threat, preparedness, leadership, education? Are there any advantages to thinking exponentially?

I don’t know. But like the uncertainty principle, it may be worthwhile to take the idea of exponential thinking and translate, extrapolate, and culturally distort it into homeland security speak.

N’est-ce pas?

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December 12, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 12, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 11, 2014

Going the wrong way in Sierra Leone

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on December 11, 2014

Eboa 12_10

Ebola concentrations in West Africa.

The map comes from the December 10 WHO Situation Update.  Also from this report is a very troublesome finding, highlighted below.

Effective contact tracing ensures that the reported and registered contacts of confirmed EVD cases are visited daily to monitor the onset of symptoms during the 21-day incubation period of the Ebola virus. Contacts presenting symptoms should be promptly isolated, tested for EVD, and if necessary treated, to prevent further disease transmission.

During the week of 1 December, 95% of all registered contacts were visited on a daily basis in Guinea, 96% in Liberia, and 84% in Sierra Leone (a steady decline since week 44, during which 94% of registered contacts were reached). However, the proportion of contacts reached was lower in many districts. Each district is reported to have at least one contact-tracing team in place.

On average, 17 contacts were listed per new case in Guinea during the week to 1 December, 22 in Liberia, and 6 in Sierra Leone.

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Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

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Reasoning together

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

In regard to the Senate report on CIA interrogation practices, and the (non?) efficacy of the Grand Jury system, and action or inaction in Syria or Ukraine or the Ebola zone, and Central American poverty and violence, and border security, and mass surveillance, and inter-religious conflict, and… well, the list could easily continue… a few incomplete thoughts:

The inevitable hypocrisy, which is associated with all the collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective man an outrage to their conscience. They therefore invent romantic and moral interpretations of the real facts, preferring to obscure rather than reveal the true character of their collective behavior. Sometimes they are as anxious to offer moral justifications for the brutalities from which they suffer as for those which they commit. The fact that the hypocrisy of man’s group behavior… expresses itself not only in terms of self-justification but in terms of moral justification of human behavior in general, symbolizes one of the tragedies of the human spirit: its inability to conform its collective life to its individual ideals. As individuals, men believe they ought to love and serve each other and establish justice between each other. As racial, economic and national groups they take for themselves, whatever their power can command.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society

There are at bottom only three alternative routes or approaches to follow in making moral decisions.  They are (1) the legalistic; (2) the antinomian, the opposite extreme — i.e., a lawless or unprincipled approach; and (3) the situational.  All three have played their part in the history of Western morals, legalism being by far the most common and persistent.

Joseph F. Fletcher, Situation Ethics

The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law, it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete…. The absolutism of love is its power to go into the concrete situation, to discover what is demanded by the predicament of the concrete to which it turns.  Therefore, love can never become fanatical in a fight for the absolute, or cynical under the impact of the relative.

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology

If you perceive something simple and/or obvious in any of the foregoing, please read again.  Then as the calendar continues into our hemisphere’s darkest of dark nights, consider please how we might more constructively engage together over treacherous issues of ethics and morality.  What do we ask? How do we ask it? What do we say (or write) and when do we remain quiet?

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December 10, 2014

Senator McCain on American Torture

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on December 10, 2014

Obviously, the big news is yesterday’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA Interrogation Techniques following 9/11.  The text of the publicly available document can be found here.

The Minority viewpoint can be downloaded here.

Additional views here.

I can’t think of much to add to this discussion, at least at this point.  Most likely one’s opinion aligns closely with one’s political affiliation.  Or, at the very least, was cemented years ago with little chance of movement caused by newly declassified details.  I could be wrong.

Regardless, I was moved by Senator McCain’s statement in support of the release of this report and thought it worth sharing.

 

If you’d like to dive into the weeds of the report, the good folks at the Lawfare Blog are methodically posting direct comparisons between the majority’s conclusions, the minority’s dissent, and the CIA’s rebuttal.

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December 9, 2014

Ottawa Attacks Reveal Public’s Confusion About Terrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2014

Today’s post was written by Jason Nairn.  It appeared originally on the Homeland Security Roundtable blog.


The US media and news-consuming public are known for their short attention spans when it comes to domestic events.  A novel major story quickly refocuses attention, often leaving important issues without context or follow-on reporting.  This phenomenon, one that I like to call “Issue Attention Deficit Disorder (IADD)”, is exacerbated when the event in question is not domestic.

Major issues in Africa, Asia and Europe are simply underreported in the US media, and though they often do not, major events in Canada should merit our attention.  Ottawa is only a 9-hour drive (471 miles or 911 kilometers) from Washington DC, the rough equivalent of driving from Detroit, MI, to Marquette, MI (455 miles), or from Nashville, TN to Chicago, IL (471 Miles).

Canadian media coverage of the recent attacks in Ottawa involving the gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau has revealed a glimpse of the Canadian public’s attitudes about terrorism.  Two stories that ran recently in the National Post provide some valuable lessons for followers of homeland security trends.  First, according to a poll conducted in Canada of over 1500 citizens, only 36% of those that responded would characterize the attack on Parliament as terrorism.  Second, in a propaganda magazine ISIS took credit for inspiring both the attack on Parliament and an earlier attack on a Canadian Warrant Officer by another individual said to be a “jihadist”.

Homeland security professionals have been heard to lament the “nothing happens until something moves” effect of support for homeland security.  The idea is that only after a disaster or major event, like a terrorist attack, is attention refocused on the support of homeland security goals and objectives.  Based on the Canadian news reports, even serious attacks may not drive the public’s support of security priorities.

If an attack on the seat of government does not qualify as terrorism in the eyes of the public, but qualifies as supporting the mission in the eyes of the terrorist group, then something is awry.

Even if our neighbors don’t use the phrase “homeland security” as we do, a fundamental issue remains.  Getting the word out about what terrorism is, what homeland or domestic security is, and how to support resilience in our communities and institutions should be a focus that we maintain beyond the next headline.

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December 5, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 4, 2014

100,000 Doors

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 4, 2014

Recently my non-blogging life has experienced a set of interesting, but time-consuming convergences.  As a result my engagement at HLSWatch will be constrained for several weeks, potentially a few months.  

In my judgment the task of this blog is to amplify, aggregate, analyze and occasionally advocate.  Until more time emerges from the convergence, I will mostly use this Thursday post to amplify a situation someone else has written about, but that has not gotten much mainstream attention.

The Ebola threat continues to be deadly in West Africa and despite considerable progress still presents a potential threat to global health.  Here is the December 3 WHO Situation Update.

Local (whether Dallas or Monrovia) and global engagement of this threat has also been an interesting case-study in prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and — we hope — recovery.  It has been fascinating, at least to me, how crucial “whole community” engagement has been to bending the transmission curve.  

For reasons that are not yet entirely clear, Liberia and Guinea have made much more progress on changing population behaviors than has Sierra Leone.  This is despite considerable efforts by the Freetown government for a period of several months.  On Black Friday the New York Times ran a related story on its front page.  The following is from Tuesday’s Concord Times, a leading newspaper in Sierra Leone. It was written by Mohamed Massaquoi.

–+–

The Disaster Management Department in the Office of National Security, with support from UNDP, will be embarking on a door-to-door campaign in new Ebola epicentres across the country, targeting 100,000 households in the next two weeks in Waterloo, Port Loko and Moyamba with specific life-saving information.

The campaign, which is expected to reach one million people, has commenced following the recruitment and training of 300 community disaster management volunteers in Moyamba last week.

The volunteers, drawn from localities in new Ebola epicentres, will disseminate information ranging from the importance of early treatment, keeping families safe from infection while waiting for help, to welcoming survivors back into the community as a way of reducing stigma associated with Ebola.

The UNDP-supported campaign is part of national efforts to engender behaviour change in order to stem the spread of the Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone.

In the past 21 days, Sierra Leone has recorded an exponential rise in the number of Ebola infections. Latest WHO figures show that while reported case incidence is stable in Guinea with 148 confirmed cases reported in the week to 23 November, stable or declining in Liberia – 67 new confirmed cases in the week to 23 November, Sierra Leone recorded 385 new confirmed cases in the week to 23 November.

In addition to the continued rise of cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, the epicentre of the outbreak has shifted from the east of the country (Kailahun and Kenema) to the north-west, including Bombali, iron ore mining district of Port Loko and the Western Area, especially Waterloo and Freetown.

The Western Area continues to have the highest rate of infection, with 280 cumulative cases in the past week. Port Loko is also a major area of concern, with 120 cases in the past 7 days, according to WHO figures.

Chief Alimamy Bethembeng II of Waterloo, himself a volunteer in the door-to-door campaign in his community, enthused that with the right information, using face-to-face methods and using people who are part of the community, things would hopefully change. “We have to defend our communities from Ebola,” he said as he moved from house-to-house in the Faya-Mambo neighbourhood in Waterloo, one of the worst hit areas in the Western Area.

During one of the training sessions in Port Loko, Director of Disaster Management Department, Mary Mye-Kamara, said that the face-to-face campaign has proved very successful in slums across Freetown, and that it is the preferred method for effective awareness-raising on Ebola.

She said: “People in some of these communities are still suspicious of outsiders coming into their neighbourhoods and villages telling them about Ebola. Some of them think that these outsiders are the ones spreading the virus. This is why we are engaging the local people, training them so that they will do the awareness raising themselves. That is the only way forward now.”

She added: “Without community ownership this is difficult, even impossible to make any meaningful headway. The imams need to understand and accept that they cannot be doing the same burial rites like before…otherwise the virus will spread.”

Mye-Kamara noted further that denial is still very high, as is distrust and reticence in communities, thus urging everyone to get involved in the campaign.

“People said to us why should they be bothered to take their sick relatives to the hospital and treatment centres when the ones who had been taken before did not return? ‘They are going to die anyway’. But now we are saying to our compatriots that, with early treatment, there is a huge chance of survival. We are showing them evidence of people who have recovered from the virus. They are seeing it and we continue to hope things will change. Ebola will go,” she said.

Denial, suspicion about the spread of the disease, low level of knowledge and information are still very much prevalent especially among the poor in urban and rural areas. The face-to-face campaign hopes to target the hard-to-reach villages and communities with the right information in Port Loko, Moyamba and Waterloo in particularly, where the virus is spreading.

UNDP Programme Manager Saskia Marijnissen says, “Stopping the Ebola outbreak will not only depend on improved knowledge, but also on a change in attitude and practices. Our approach actively engages community members in a dialogue to motivate behaviour change.”

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December 2, 2014

Security, Liberty and Architecture: Creating Safe—and Safe-Feeling— Public Spaces

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 2, 2014

Today’s post was written by Justin M. Schumacher, and first appeared on Medium’s homeland security site.

 

NewImage

 

 


Open societies often struggle to balance values that can conflict with one another. Rights and responsibilities, freedom and equality, cohesion and diversity, openness and order are a few examples. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one of the most prominent such struggles is the re-balancing of security and liberty.

Much of this fight is taking place behind the scenes, in political battles over the powers of law enforcement, legal arguments over automatic license plate readers’ data collection, executive orders on the detainment of terrorism suspects, or hacktivist protests to it all by groups like Anonymous. But I’d like to focus on one of the most visible aspects of this shifting mindset: what does a safe and secure public space look like?

In the United States prior to 9/11 fear of terrorism was almost nonexistent, and public spaces had far less security than they do today. Much of current security was installed rapidly on an ad hoc basis, resulting in airport screening systems established in awkward places and ugly jersey barriers placed around all kinds of sensitive buildings. All around the country, fueled by a flood of homeland security funding, public spaces became more and more securitized, usually according to assessments of criticality and threat.

Current US Embassy in London; built during the cold war to be imposing upon its neighbors, with piecemeal security features added over the years that enhance its unwelcoming nature.

A decade has now passed, and social scientists are asking questions about the effects this security is having on us, individually and as a society. Because we are relatively new to threats in the public sphere many are looking to the UK for lessons. Having endured bombings annually for a generation during the Troubles, British architects, security planners and sociologists have a lot to teach.

Early on, the British did much as we have done since 9/11, installing barriers and bollards anywhere they might save some lives. But as the years passed, their approach became much more nuanced as they realized that over-securitizing public spaces drives away the public, which increases crime. This appears to happen in part because security features lead people to believe that crime is commonplace and increasing even if it is rare and decreasing, and in part because simply seeing security features causes anxiety and discomfort.

This realization has led to a number of projects in cooperation with the government and academics like Jon Coaffee that try to determine how best to design public spaces so that they are both safe and welcoming. They’ve published many documents, both instructional and intellectual, that might be useful for American security planners. In particular, Coaffee describes a spectrum of visibility / hidden measures that should be considered to achieve the right level of security while maintaining the character of place.

justin s 1

When well implemented, these ideas can lead to security features that are not only unintimidating but truly add to what a place has to offer. One example is the new US Embassy in London, currently under construction and shown in a rendering at the top of this article. It stands in stark contrast to the current embassy (shown in the smaller image). The tiered gardens and water features will make working there or walking by a much more comfortable experience, but they are designed to provide even better security than the maze of fences and barriers around the building’s predecessor.

photo credit Populous Brand Activation

Perhaps the best example of this theory put into practice is Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal football (soccer) team, which includes features like the auto barrier shown at right. More effective than bollards or jersey barriers, this security tool has itself become a draw with fans often going out of their way to get their pictures taken with it. Coaffee and his allies point to Emirates as proof that one can implement measures that meet security goals without the negative effects that so often come with an overt security presence.

Britain first began suffering car bomb attacks from the IRA in 1969 (1971 on the British mainland) and it took decades before universal measures were in place to combine crime prevention, counter-terrorism, and social benefits in public space design. Today, in addition to just providing guidance like that linked above, every local police department has an architectural liaison officer to assist with just this on all public and private projects at no cost to builders. By linking architecture and urban planning with law enforcement and security planning, they are working to ensure that future construction will be both safe and welcoming.

The construction of public spaces can take generations, but we in the United States need not wait a few decades to get started on planning for what we want those spaces to look like in the future. We should learn from the experience of the UK, adapting their lessons and their tools to our own urban design initiatives. Doing so will help ensure that the public square of tomorrow will do more than just be safe; it will feel safe.

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December 1, 2014

Serial Security Failures in Ferguson

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Nick Catrantzos on December 1, 2014

Is it only me, or does anyone else wonder how a governor can mobilize his state’s national guard and law enforcement, make highly visible preparations for an even more highly anticipated riot, and yet allow rioters to get away with torching two police cars and 25 businesses while looting and trashing other establishments they didn’t set ablaze? When did active security measures take a back seat to lofty pronouncements and highfaluting exhortations to please, oh, please, don’t express your understandable outrage in a violent and unproductive way? Ferguson, it seems, has become the poster child for how not to prevent a foreseeable riot.

What Could Anybody Do Anyway?

There are laws, specialized knowledge, and institutional memory available to use for anyone serious about preventing the kind of wanton destruction that went unchecked. Here follows a sampling to illustrate what was missing in the aftermath of the highly publicized and presumptive riot trigger that followed November 24th’s announced grand jury finding that there was insufficient cause to try Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

1. Absence of leadership.

From Army Field Manual 19-15, Civil Disturbances, p. 2-2:

Leadership has a profound effect on the intensity and direction of crowd behavior…. The first person to give clear orders in an authoritative manner is likely to be followed.

COMMENT: Where was such leadership on the streets of Ferguson last week once crowds started turning aggressive?

2. Use of legal means to control crowds. There are usually options for dispersing volatile crowds before they turn into aggressive mobs. Declaring them unlawful assemblies is often a step in that direction, and the means to do that exists in public law. As an example, in California, public law offers value by setting forth clear definitions which authorities may use to get the upper hand on an unruly crowd before it gets out of control.

From California Penal Code:

404. (a) Any use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by two or more persons acting together, and without authority of law, is a riot.

404.6. (a) Every person who with the intent to cause a riot does an act or engages in conduct that urges a riot, or urges others to commit acts of force or violence, or the burning or destroying of property, and at a time and place and under circumstances that produce a clear and present and immediate danger of acts of force or violence or the burning or destroying of property, is guilty of incitement to riot.

(b) Incitement to riot is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

406. Whenever two or more persons, assembled and acting together, make any attempt or advance toward the commission of an act which would be a riot if actually committed, such assembly is a riot.

407. Whenever two or more persons assemble together to do an unlawful act, or do a lawful act in a violent, boisterous, or tumultuous manner, such assembly is an unlawful assembly.

COMMENT: Doesn’t Missouri have similar, legitimate grounds for crowd dispersal? If so, why didn’t someone in authority declare an unlawful assembly and take prompt action to disperse the crowd before it wreaked havoc on shops and cars?

3. Factors to monitor and mitigate that were nevertheless ignored.

From Peter E. Tarlow, Event Risk Management and Safety (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002), pp. 98-99

Components of a Crowd Likely to Riot

1. Mainly young people.

2. Good weather.

3. Abundance of bored people.

4. Inadequate security — too little coverage in early stages.

5. Darkness.

COMMENTS: The last two items were particularly ignored at the expense of business owners and employees who saw the source of their livelihood go up in flames last week. Media coverage of law enforcement and national guard mobilization suggested that uniformed responders were being kept out of sight of protestors and news cameras, ostensibly to avoid inciting aggression. This was precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, their protective value would have been in exercising a presence to deter lawlessness, particularly if led intelligently by experienced authorities who know the importance of keeping a crowd moving, keeping them engaged, and keeping the high ground in order to be able to exercise authority and rapidly disperse them (tactics addressed at greater length in Jane’s Facility Security Handbook, 2nd Edition, D. Shawn Fenn, et al, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2006).

What about darkness? Timing last week’s announcement for the hours of darkness seemed unwise because darkness masks identities, which in turn encourages agitators, looters, and predators to strike with lower risk of being caught or stopped. Besides, there was an earlier signal that masking identity was going to be easy for thugs planning to mix among nonviolent protestors with little fear of being unmasked.

What was this signal? Well before the rioting, faces in the crowd were getting away with sporting Guy Fawkes masks, ostensibly in expressing solidarity with generic resistance movements. This transparent canard doubles as a test, and authorities failed. Anyone serious about keeping the peace while allowing for nonviolent demonstrations would not have hobbled police by timing the triggering event to take place in the hours of darkness or by allowing people to conceal their identities so openly.

Lessons We Don’t Learn

America is no stranger to peaceful protest and catastrophic riot alike. We should know better by now. Perhaps the day has passed when the likes of the Texas Rangers would allocate no more than a single ranger to quell a lynch mob. (How? They would have the ranger worm his way through the crowd until reaching the instigator who was busy inflaming the mob. Then the ranger would beat the living tar out of the instigator, and the mob, seeing this, would lose its motivation and self-disperse.) Today, times may be different, but crowd behavior remains predictable, hence capable of being managed.

Failure to check the violent and destructive force of the Ferguson mob was a foreseeable failure of management, of leadership. And it was probably a failure of top management, since there had to be someone in law enforcement with the experience and expertise to get better results with the right use of available resources.

And so, when cases like this suggest that failure is not an option, why does failure turn out to be standard equipment?

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