Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 9, 2009

Saturday morning mix: natural, accidental, and intentional threats

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 9, 2009

The Jesusita Fire has expanded to over 8000 acres.  Eighty homes have been destroyed.  3500 homes are in “immediate jeopardy” according to Reuters.  The San Francisco Chronicle headlines, Jesusita fire likely a sign of things to come.  The best blog on the fire, that I have found, is: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/

Severe storms in Missouri and Kentucky killed five.  A tough Saturday is forecast for Arkansas, Tennessee, and much of the Southeast.

Forty-three States now report confirmed cases of H1N1. According to the CDC 1639 US residents have confirmed infections.  Japan and Australia have reported their first cases. According to WHO, 25 nations have confirmed 2500 cases. 

Intense fighting between Pakistani and Taliban forces has prompted a massive civilian exodus. According to the Daily Times (Pakistan), “On Friday, troops targeted Taliban mountaintop training camps, ammunition dumps and command and communication centres in precision strikes.” (More from Reuters, Associated Press, and Al Jezeera.)

On Friday the House Republican Conference released a video entitled, Never Again,  criticizing the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies.  Richard Clarke, former White House (and Obama campaign)  counterterrorism advisor is pushing back.

The White House and Senator Vitter continue to exchange jabs over the Lousiana Senator’s “hold” on the nomination of Craig Fugate as FEMA Administrator.  Meanwhile the nomination of Tim Manning as Deputy Administrator (Preparedness) cleared the Senate.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 9, 2009 @ 9:27 am

Decided to let you push back against some thoughts of mine from postings last few days and last week!

First, I thought the designation of the Secretary DHS as PFO for the H1N1 was strange. I now believe it was not an attempt to find who was best qualified to be the PFO by training, education, experience or position but an effort to politicize the federal response. This should have been an HHS baby all the way but I am sure that the Administration did not want to have the press focusing on failure to have key leadership in place at HHS/CDC! CDC in particular should never have an acting. Julie Gerberding should have been left in place until Senate confirmed her successor and that successor sworn in to office.

Second, the OIG/DHS report on the after-action reports (or lack thereof) and absence of lesson learned from these expensive training events is remarkable. Both DEMS and REPUBLICANs should be shamed. Rick Skinner now OIG/DHS and once Deputy OIG/FEMA and that office issued a report after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 stating that Lessons Learned was extremely important and should be adopted because none in place. We now learn over almost two decades that learning has been totally wasted. Interestingly, many of the operational and policy faux pa(w)s in Katrina were the same as in Andrew in 1992. So much for an improved FEMA. Again I will always ask why the continued hostility to FEMA as a concept by the Republicans and now the leadership of DHS even under the DEMS. Still no domestic civil crisis management system.
Interesting news being made by trying not to make news by the NSC Advisor retired General Jones. Scoping of NSC looks like under active review and an interesting story would be how does DHS related to NSC now even with the existence of an HSC!

Finally, and of course issues and policy discourse could go on and on. But given the oversight of DHS by the Judiciary Committee in the Senate last week we can now safely state that the oversight by the DEMS will be as sparse and sketchy as that by the Republicans when they held both houses over a Republican administration. Really awful the almost total incompetence of Congress and worse thing of all they are unable to recognize competence. Wow! Like Ben Franklin stated when asked what kind of government had been invested in the Constitutional Convention–It is a Republic if we can keep it!
One more footnote really disappointing that less than 3% of budget submission represents a change from Republican submissions. Why? The corporations and banks who are the real welfare queens have sucked dry the ability to change an increasingly broken system.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 9, 2009 @ 11:13 am

The prior comment raises several important issues. Despite asking,looking and listening, I don’t have any non-speculative insight on how DHS and NSC and/or HSC interfaced over the last two weeks. Wish I did.

I am actively ambivalent on the PFO issue. Without discounting the possible political and pragmatic motivations mentioned, is there any benefit to a continuing role by the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Secretary’s designate as the consistent PFO for domestic incident response?

There is a deep-seated human tendency,it seems to me,toward threat-based thinking. Pandemic is one threat. Wildfire is another. Flood is another. Terrorists are another threat. And so on.

Certainly substantive threat-specific expertise is needed. But I am interested in our potential for moving beyond threat-specific strategy and preparedness. In addition to threat-specific surveillance and readiness,can we become broadly risk-ready? Is there a significant benefit to being more broadly risk-ready?

I don’t have a confident answer to the question — yet. But conceiving of homeland security as such a risk-oriented — as opposed to more narrowly threat-specific — domain is worth exploring. The Secretary of Homeland Security as the PFO is a reasonable organizational reflection of this risk-ready concept.

A major pandemic will not just be a public health issue. There are significant inter-disciplinary, intergovernmental, and public-private issues. I certainly want to invest in public health and health care capacity. But I perceive we have even less capacity and readiness for inter-disciplinary (and “inter-other”) coordination. In this context I was pleased to see Secretary Napolitano play the role and perceived that the role was played pretty well. The “trans-threat” PFO role was not — fortunately — tested very rigorously, but some possible benefits seemed to emerge.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 9, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

Touche! My point is just the simple one that during the crisis management and crisis response stage as well as others technical expertise as opposed to money might just be paramount. How that technical knowledge is integrated is always going to be a tough issue. Medical, Scientific, Legal, Engineering, and don’t mean to ignore disciplines but all must somehow be integrated into the decision making. The question is how best to do that and what organizations will help facilitate that integration. Stovepiping and careerism must be overshadowed by cooperation and collaboration but I for one not certain how that ends up happening. It seems to be and in particular in the world where secrecy prevails knowledge sharing is a big no no allowing advantages to those who wish us harm or even Mother Nature.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

May 10, 2009 @ 6:45 am

William and other readers:

“It is a Republic if we can keep it” words of wisdom by good ‘ol Ben and so aptly quoted by you who is also so enlightened as to the prerequsite specifics to truely help this failing nation….

What a calamity! What politicizing of self-agenda and incestuous manner. What grandiose theatrics when in fact, the good ‘ol boys are numb to reality and the cost of a simple gallon of milk….

I once stood for 1,491 hours – for three years – from 1992-1995 in nor’easters with ice pellets bouncing of my cheeks, standing silently with protest sign in hand – “Open Engine 4” – from any free time from 5:30am to midnight whenever possible – (see:bigdiglifevest.com) while also coordinating a one-man campaign to muster 6,000+ local citizen petitions to enlighten the public of the politicizing and self-agenda of the entrusted “elite” pols with self-agenda and willingness to compromise Life for both the soul in desperate 911 need and the first responder as well. The station opened, however as I stood all alone for those three years on the town green in the midst of thunder and lightning, on hot days and below freezing nights with only my auto’s headlights twenty feet away shining on me, my sign and an upsurd closed building and Engine 4 pumper truck behind me and the closed green door, I learned much….(yes, the station was forced to reopen and today stands tall as the busiest house in town helping those in need – kudos) however I learned much in my 40’s then and today in my 50’s – I know by experience supported by my on scene experience watching good and devoted men and women – the first responders – the firefighters, the police officers, the EMT’s – committed in their diligence to fellow human being that people do not need big government and really do know what is right from wrong for the majority.

It is the arrogance and far too much self-acclaim in prominence that has led us astray from our the insight of our forefathers truly Blessed by God as a beacon of hope to so, so many and a populace of much heartfelt charitable giving to others….

No man-made government since Babylon has survived and given the few years this nation has endured compared to others, it is obvious to me at least as portrayed not only by my willingness to stand tall on top of snow mounds, on every street corner, near the resting places of men who have given their Life on the shores of Europe or in the islands of the Pacific to allow me to stand tall against the faint-hearted found in the lion’s den wallowing in their own glee when in fact I learned that our great nation, our wonderful people deserve more respect….

The bureaucracy and Mother Pelosi and Father Barney are in fact the ones who don’t get it.

We understand the esentials of government by the people and for the people.

Many years back as a young man I recollect waiting in line for a gasoline fill-up at $0.19 cents per gallon during a supposed gas shortage with prices rising quickly at a blink of the eye to $0.44 cents a gallon and now after the same ‘ol empty talk after all these years of a government that thinks it knows better than us and knows how to fix it all, this summer will see gas prices skyrocket again because of a tainted beltway inherent with genuine “legal” corrupt ways with really not a genuine care for us just as our 911 calls in Milton (MA) were going to be allowed to go unanswered by unacceptable response time and the minium of emergency personnel staffing….

The brillance of a gentleman I do not know and only read here on this very important and informative blog – William R. Cumming – should be read by you Mr. President and your babes not even wet behind the ears must ramp up quickly for we are drowning in our very own quick sand being shovelled by the incompetency of those who believe somehow that they sit above us.

Read and be attentive to Mr. William R. Cumming and others gents like him. Not only is his earned diligence and knowledge impressive, his Love for country is apparent.

In fact, if William R. Cumming were willing to print out all his much appreciated responses herein, putting his thoughts together would give us all a good grasp and starting point to really address a government which is much off course.

Also, while we have rampant pornography, thirty + children in Chicago alone mudered – killed – mere children – com’on and that’s only in Chicago…what about LA and other cities and so much more wrong by laws that are ineffective and local and metro governments’ budgets at peril from the lack of line by line audit and ethical management of each and every dollar…We see our highly respected police officers who we need being told that budgets shortfalls mean lay-offs while those willing to engage in criminal activities have fewer to thwart their ways…

With hopes that those at NSA are listening attentively to those who seek our demise not only with their bombs, but maybe more importantly with their chatters and sharing of cyber skills, remember that as a people we have always stood against injustice on behalf of fellow man here and far yonder and with gun sales going vertical, AQ and the Taliban have their own concerns, however I caution that we as a people are becoming less tolerant and impatient towards an ever growing government which Mother Pelosi and Father Barney speak to us in such condescending ways…Enough is enough!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA USA

Comment by Peter J. Brown

May 10, 2009 @ 9:18 am

The above comments also tie into the recent nomination of Dr. Tara O’Toole as DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology. DHS S&T may be a good place for her, but is it the best place for her given the events of the last few weeks? The HHS team under ASPR will certainly need reinforcing, and then there is the issue of region by region readiness and coordination under both HHS and FEMA as this public health emergency unfolds. Thus far, DHS is holding the reins, but at what point do we see common sense kick in and HHS rise to the top? We have already heards complaint that the existing DHS-centric framework slowed the response of the US, and yet despite this claim, the status quo remains unchanged. This, among other things, is why the decision to plant Dr. O’Toole at DHS S&T in some sort of extended biomedical R&D capacity does not sit well with me. Hopefully, she can help forge an effective team that along with DHS CMO brings about intended results in terms of response coordination and mobilization until we come to the realization that all medical and public health response efforts belong under one roof at HHS ASPR.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 10, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

I like Peter idea of Dr. O’Toole as the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS! Nonetheless, I think she brings a lot to the S&T Directorate at DHS and maybe I am wrong but is she the first non-former Admiral head that directorate? I view DHS S&T Directorate as largely applied science as opposed to basic R&D but not sure I am correct. Anyhow plenty of work to be done and definitely a shortage of the able and willing and I would looks at both sides of the aisle as the President did with Craig Fugate.
And Chris thanks for you nice remarks but there are plenty younger, faster, smarter and more experienced people out there that could be brought to bear. My hope is that White House personnel is not requiring campaign donations for Presidential appointments and note that the Senate somehow never seems to know how much an individual contributed “bought” his/her job for?
I think I asked in an earlier comment on a H1N1 post as to the whereabouts of Anthony Fauci last I heard at NIH. He seemed smart and capable and I hope was not relieved of his job just based on political affiliation!
As to the PFO designation it seems it would be highly useful if the White House would issue a brief ratification document for the HSPD’s making plain that some might in the future be retained completely, superseded in part, revised in part or superseded entirely.
Just as George C. Marshall developed the 5 paragraph field order in WWI so that communications between command levels did not screw things up with misundertandings, I think a simple ratification document published in the Federal Register would be helpful to the continuity of Homeland Security policy.
I was not a supporter of the formation of DHS but do think that clarification of its theme and purposes by OBAMA would be helpful. DHS has the imprimatur of the Bush gang of six that developed the adminstration bill in the face of the gain in support for Senator Lieberman’s bill after 9/11 but it does really need OBAMA to fish or cut bait now on DHS. The creeping infiltration occuring daily on prime missions of DHS by White House level reviews, and other agencies and departments policy and budget proposals means that it is difficult to keep track of DHS “wins and losses” bureacratically speaking. I did notice a pull back on bioterrorism sensors in NYC which again means that the British government and London City officialdom are almost a decade ahead of the US on detection and monitoring. Why? Perhaps the answer can be found!
Also another budget has been submitted that again provides nothing for Self-contained breathing Apparatus for first responders that can allow operations in a WMD/CBRNE environment. EPA should be allowed to have its Emergency Response Operation upgraded to help first responders in contaminated environments. They (EPA) should be constantly petitioning OSHA for rulemakings to protect first responders.
What will be interesting in the H1N1 situation is watching whether the medical and first responders sector are impacted in significant numbers. in a real pandemic (not that this is not) of a highly virulent virus these sectors must be maintained in an operational status regardless of other priorities. Not sure whether all plans reflect this priority but think not.

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