Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 20, 2010

Values vs Value: Making Our Efforts Count

Filed under: Events,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on January 20, 2010

The Haiti earthquake response, now in its eighth day, has already begun to illustrate the difficulties confronting American leadership in the Information Age and the Age of Terrorism.  These two great trends, both prone to exploitation by extreme points-of-view and over-the-top rhetoric, put the United States in an unenviable damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t position.  As such, a commitment to our values matters more than ever.

During a BBC news broadcast yesterday, callers from around the world offered deeply divided opinions of the response effort and the United States’ role in it so far. More than a few offered their own interpretations of the motivations behind these actions, which, it is safe to say, vary substantially from official accounts.

Mainstream U.S. media have been quick to criticize too, quickly highlighting what they consider both the extreme highlights and lowlights of the response efforts so far. Perhaps the most counterproductive of these efforts has been the tendency of media to compare and contrast the responses of different international teams.

I have been particularly struck by the effort to paint the United States response as lumbering, self-serving, obstructionist, and over-the-top.  In contrast, some international teams have been lauded as nimble, quick, precise, and caring.

As William Cumming noted in his comment on my last post, this is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Both Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami pale in comparison. In the first instance, not due to the scale of the destruction but in the lower death toll. In the latter, not due to the immense human toll but in the widely distributed scope of the damage.

Port-au-Prince encompasses the worst aspects of both of these disasters: The earthquake wrought devastation that is both immense and intense because it is concentrated in such a small and densely populated urban area already affected by great deprivation.

Such a massive disaster requires an equally massive response. But this poses another difficult dilemma. I say dilemma not problem, because it cannot be easily solved. As American task force commander LTG Ken Keen put it, getting aid to Haiti is like “pushing a bowling ball through a soda straw.”

No one, not the United Nations nor even the United States, can erase the disadvantages accumulated in Haiti over time that complicate and indeed compromise the response there. A massive disaster requires a massive response. But it also requires understanding that this equation will remain unbalanced in proportion to the scope and scale of the catastrophe even as our compassion seems equal to the task at hand.

Quick, nimble, and precise responses, like those exemplified by teams from our allies Israel, Italy, and Germany will produce striking successes, but always on an isolated scale. Meeting lingering challenges requires logistical muscle and concerted coordination efforts.

And this is precisely where value-focused and battle-tested leadership is most important. In a disaster, when the normal order is so suddenly and completely disturbed and the senses of place and purpose become disrupted, command and control strategies may seem appropriate but they do little good when no one is in a fit condition to respond or lacks the capacity to do so.

Coordination requires a different set of skills. In military circles, we often talk of C4I: Command, Control, Communication, Cybersystems, and Intelligence (emphasizing analysis). These elements still have a role, but disaster response has a flip side that requires us to employ these resources differently. In disasters like Haiti, we need to think and act in terms of a different C4I paradigm: Clarification, Creativity, Collaboration, Commitment, and Intelligence (emphasizing synthesis).

Our values, not just the value we commit in terms of human, financial and material capital (which has been substantial, if not unprecedented), make the most difference in a disaster. When we resist the temptation to engage unproductive emotions by criticizing the efforts of others and instead take the opportunity to work with anyone else willing to lend a hand, we can achieve great things, if only on a small scale. Criticism requires no special skills, but neither does caring. If you can only do a little, make it sure counts.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 20, 2010 @ 10:27 am

WOW! What a great post Mark! Thanks for articulating the two C4s and differences. Yes definitely a different paradigm. Of course the choice to militarize the response in Haiti and even Katrina (Coast Guard is a uniformed military service which comes under DOD jurisdiction upon declaration of WAR) was ordained long ago as the potential civil agency responders were drained of resources by duplicatino and funding of military programs that have limited use today. We don’t face any opponents that can field 100 mech-infantry divisions.

I was shown pictures of the port devastation and second hand comments by those with more expertise indicate will take a major effort to get those facilities back to where they were, much less better. IMO will take two years so alternatives must be planned.

Comment by Mark Chubb

January 20, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

Spoken in a different context at a different time, but nonetheless resonant today: “Satisfaction does not come with achievement, but with effort. Full effort is full victory.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 20, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

Well he had a legal background and knew you can’t win every case no matter how good the facts or law for your position.

Why good lawyers try to keep their clients out of court.

Comment by christophr tingus

January 21, 2010 @ 10:15 am

The US military and government will again be at the forefront as it has always been and the most charitable people of this great Republic have been responding with their dollars, substantial monies to help relief ops. DC logistics folks are busily working to address the challenging logistics to expedite response.

As an int’l business development executive who has the privilege to work with top tier government and commerical resources, anyone can criticize the US, especially the Europeans who have been making every attempt to criticize the US at every turn, on every issue, making every effort to win trade agreements with Caribbean and throughout South America, even enjoing the Vatican and the influence it has with Catholics in South America, writing new agreements and taking business from the US – so despite the horrendous scenario in Haiti, again, politicizing and criticism by others who prefer politics versus sincerity, WE are present in large numbers, opened the airport control ops in 26 minutes and WE are mustering what will be an impressive – long-term – commitment to the good people of Haiti, with South Command and others coordinating a complex, yet organized response w/supplies and much compassion – a special relationship WE have with our neighbors and friends who have been subjected to the unthinkable.

While we certainly have seen a clear message from the Senate election here in Boston to Washington and Congress that folks are not happy w/the same ‘ol, same ‘ol politics and partsian politics and we know unemployment numbers will only get worse and the printing of “fiat dollars” and the lack of transparency will only place us in further peril as a bankrupt nation, void of economic leadership who must make tough choices, WE as a nation of people who despite our politicians refer to our Constitution, WE know what lies ahead and are weary, however WE have many resources and WE will share with our Haitian neighbors and friends as we have done with so many in lands far yonder to bring hope from despair.

WE are resilient, WE are Americans and WE are proud of those who serve us from the top tier throughout in the US military who reach with clasped hand and big heart to make a difference.

Be assured that the world will once again see an impresive and meaningful relief assistance program for Haiti and their devastation and despair will be replaced with new hope, a renewed faith in the American flag and WE as caring people who have also been very disturbed by CNN and Fox news reports updating us.

God Bless America!

Our Love and compassion to the people of Haiti!

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

CEO & Managing Director
GlobalH2OSolutions, Ltd.
London – Boston

Comment by Maria Juana Chiaro

March 25, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

Good one. The truth is that when disaster strikes like that one in Haiti, people will panic even if they are miles away from the country. They panic cause they get scared that it can happen to them to. Now, even though everyone likes to help out not everyone has the chance to do so. We have experienced rescuers and military people who are capable of properly planning and executing the right rescue techniques and search methods. But that doesn’t mean that other people cannot help cause there is a lot that we can do even if we are not physically there to help dig out collapsed building or help in carrying the victims. We can always help by sharing financial support and prayers for those who needs help. It was great on how the whole world was concerned and are helping out after the disaster and I do hope that it wouldn’t be just after disasters and natural calamities that the world would reach out to each other.

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