Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 13, 2010

Homeland security futures worth creating

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2010

On Wednesday,  while world leaders meet for the last day of the Global Nuclear Security Summit, there will be another meeting.

For this meeting,“…participants from a wide cross-section of the emergency management community, select subject matter experts in relevant academic areas, select federal agencies, and other key stakeholders … will begin to identify, define, and refine key issues and drivers that may impact the future of emergency management [over the next 15-20 years].”

One meeting aims to “develop a plan of action to secure loose nuclear materials, prevent nuclear material smuggling, and deter, detect and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.”

The other gathering wants to explore “issues, trends, and other factors that could impact the future emergency management environment, and to support expanded strategic thinking and planning for the future.”

One meeting deals with today’s threats. The other meeting seeks to create a better understanding of  homeland security’s future context.


A central justification for speculating about homeland security futures is to “make strategic decisions today that will be sound for all plausible futures.” That’s the view of Peter Schwartz, one of the country’s best-known futurists.

There is a contrary perspective that argues the homeland security policy space is too undefined, too broad, too complex to allow any intentional journey into the future. From this perspective, thinking strategically about the future of homeland security is similar to what George Bernard Shaw said about chess: a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever.

Abraham Lincoln was clever. He is quoted as believing “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Neat bumper sticker, but what does that have to do with anything real?


What is a homeland security future worth creating (to paraphrase Thomas P. Barnett)?

During homeland security’s early days, the people doing the work used to describe the challenge of creating organizations, policies, and programs, as “building an airplane while we’re flying it.”

The multibillion-dollar aircraft is now airborne.

Maybe now is an appropriate time to think deliberately and systematically about the kind of world that plane is flying toward.

That’s what the people in FEMA’s long-range planning initiatives are starting to do.

Here is the context for Wednesday’s strategic foresight meeting:


The world around us is changing in ways that may have profound effects on the emergency management enterprise.  Collectively, we must begin to think more broadly and over a longer-timeframe if we are to understand these changes and their potential impacts.  To this end, FEMA has launched a Strategic Foresight initiative, the objective of which is straight-forward:  to seek to understand how the world around us is changing, and how those changes may affect the future of emergency management and our community.

Our approach is rooted in an explicit attempt to innovate and move beyond the constraints of existing planning efforts.  FEMA recognizes that it is only a single member of the national emergency management enterprise.  Alongside other federal partners, states, nongovernmental organizations, community based organizations, and especially neighborhoods, towns and cities that do most of the work, the scale and coverage of the emergency management community comprises a broad and complex network of interdependencies and overlapping vital interests.

Our goal is to engage this diverse community in a collective exploration of issues, trends, and other factors that could impact the future emergency management environment, and to support expanded strategic thinking and planning for the future.  We intend to further this goal by participating actively, sharing our own questions, directions, concerns, and decisions, and helping bring together people from various disciplines to engage in the discussion.

The Big Questions

Three guiding questions to consider are:

(1)   What are the drivers of change (e.g., demographics, climate change) that may “dial up” or “dial down” systemic risk in the future?

(2)   What has the potential to transform emergency management in the future?

(3)   What should we do now to better align our missions and capabilities to our future needs?


In the coming weeks FEMA will take steps to create space for collaboration and dialog on these issues across the emergency management community.  We will facilitate engagement through various media, including workshops, online collaboration tools, individual meetings and conferences.  More specifically, the first phase of key events will include three primary engagement opportunities:

·        APRIL 14, 2010: Scoping Workshop
This workshop will include participants from a wide cross-section of the emergency management community, select subject matter experts in relevant academic areas, select federal agencies, and other key stakeholders.  At this event participants will begin to identify, define, and refine key issues and drivers that may impact the future of emergency management.

·        MAY 2010-JULY 2010: Online Collaboration
Diverse participants from many disciplines and fields will join in moderated discussion through easy-to-access, easy-to-use online communities.  Dialog will focus on better understanding emerging trends and future directions in key issue areas, and the potential implications for emergency management.

·        AUGUST 2010: Future Strategic Needs Workshop
This workshop will synthesize the results of the online collaboration, leverage expert contributions in each area, and consider key issues and drivers in combination, examining their implications.  The result of this workshop will be an emergent picture of future strategic needs for the field of emergency management.

( You can find out more details by contacting  the  FEMA Office of Policy and Program Analysis.)


I am agnostic about the utility of spending too much time looking into the future, particularly in the surprise ridden warren of homeland security.

The planner in me hopes there are trends that can be identified and incorporated into strategic design and implementation.

The realist part of me considers underwear bombers, predictable hurricanes that were ignored, and fanatics awash with unreason and recalls the Yiddish proverb: Man plans; God laughs.

Peter Schwartz tells the following story in his book Inevitable Surprises:

Pierre Wack used to compare his [futures] work to the prediction of floods on the Ganges River in India. “From source to mouth,” he would say, “the Ganges is an extraordinary river, some 1500 miles long. If you notice extraordinarily heavy monsoon rains at the upper part of the basin, you can anticipate with certainty that within two days something extraordinary is going to happen at Rishikesh, at the foot of the Himalayas.”  Three days later, he would add, one could expect a flood at Allahabad, which is southeast of Delhi; five days after that, one could expect a flood in Benares, at the river’s Delta.  “Now, the people down here in Benares  don’t know that this flood is on its way,” he would conclude, “but I do. Because I’ve been at this spring where it comes from. I’ve seen it! This is not fortune telling. This is not crystal ball gazing. This is merely describing future implications of something that has already happened.”

The people putting Wednesday’s meeting together have looked at analyses that purport to see the spring “at the upper part of the basin.”    Those documents share a common view of “what has already happened: ” 10 trends and drivers shaping the future of emergency management and homeland security.

  1. U.S. Economic Strength
  2. Climate Change
  3. Rapid Technological Change
  4. Demographics
  5. Terrorism and Transnational Crime
  6. Proliferation of WMD
  7. Natural Resource Scarcity and Competition
  8. Pandemic
  9. Weak/Failed States and Ungoverned Spaces
  10. Rise of New Powers/Weakening of U.S.

I hope to write more about these in future posts.


More than three dozen world leaders are talking about the possibility of reducing nuclear weapons. That seems very idealistic.

But I believe even the realist Lincoln would approve.

I think he would also support FEMA’s idealistic effort to help shape — if not create —  the future of homeland security.


Clarification (4.13.10 @11:22 PST) — The person who provided me with the list of drivers suggests the following clarification: “The 10 trends and drivers you mention at the end of the post … are not emergency management/homeland security specific.  They were common themes … found when reviewing futures literature from a variety of sources that mostly had a global/international flavor to them.  The goal of the workshop tomorrow is to begin the process of identifying and defining what those drivers are for emergency management.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 13, 2010 @ 3:38 am

Interesting post and agree with much of what is stated.

The listing is of interest and repeated here of major inputs to future developments in EM:
U.S. Economic Strength
Climate Change
Rapid Technological Change
Terrorism and Transnational Crime
Proliferation of WMD
Natural Resource Scarcity and Competition
Weak/Failed States and Ungoverned Spaces
Rise of New Powers/Weakening of U.S.

If these are in fact the areas of concern that will guide the future of FEMA I can state with absolute certainty that FEMA is out of business again with the next Republican administration. Why do I reach this conclusion?

First because FEMA is an administrative and grant making agency primarily. It has little or no technical ability, or desire to conduct research or integrate research findings into its agenda, or willingness to learn new tricks. It employs almost no meterologists, climatologists, seismologists, health physicists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, geologists, and since its formation in 1979 has lost 95% of its PhD strength. Nor does it utilize the NAS or NRC (National Research Council not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) very well. And it has almost no R&D or research staff. Yet the needs for all of the above are enormus. What it does have is a relatively large and deep political cadre. This distinction is discussed to some degree in an article of Richard Sylves and myself in the inaugral issue of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in 2004. It also has almost no ability to work with DOD and the Armed Forces and National Guard in an effective manner and with that other 800 lb Gorilla of law enforcement the Department of Justice. That said what are my top 10 issues impact emergency management in next two decades.
1. The crisis in federalism, with no consensus of state roles in administration of civil government activities. Federal funding of all state activities has now passed the 50% mark and is climbing steadily. The pay as you go and reliance on property taxes to finance state governmental activity, including betting on constantantly rising real property tax take has proven a fundamental flaw in the states ability to determine their activities. Remember almost 50 million STATE and LOCAL employees and contractors are now permanent claimants on the resources of the Nation. This number was less than 5 million even for public safety being included in 1940.
2. The failure of the STATES to develop effective mitigation strategies with the result that federal disaster outlays largely subsidize state and local negligence.
3. The failure of the STATES to reduce the number of Local governemental units to those that can tax and those that can sue or be sued. The others are meaningless political giveaways to some political group like land developers or another.
4. The failure of the FIRE SERVICE to provide the cadre for EM activities in its downtime from fighting fires. Hey the “We fight fires” and are “Heroes” is obsolete in the face of decline in fire statistics as to losses and numbers of events. The Fire Service has largely let the EMT and HAZMATS response functions slide away from them.
5. The failure of the STATES to develop commonality in their EM structure and thereby making efforts such as EMAC more effective.

Okay why the focus on the states and locals above–because they are EM and its future. But hey let’s not leave out the Federal government and it could help the states immediately by fully federalizing and operating medicaid and unemployment insurance and payments under those systems. Both are bankrupting the states and forcing EM cutbacks.

Okay let’s go to the FEDS and the future of EM at the federal level.
1. The failure of Congress and the Executive Branch to reorganize the Stafford Act so that it can more effectively accomplish its purposes. Does this mean new legislation? In many cases not. Just make clear where the federal government is offering technical assistance, like mitigation, or finicial assistance, other types of assistance like case management or debris removal contracting or whatever. And the Stafford Act needs to clearly address the catastrophic category of events. And Congression reorganization must occur to make EM and even HS efforts more rationale.
2. The feds need to avoid the militarization of EM and make sure that the role of the NG and Reserves is clearly understood by STATE and LOCAL civil govermental units. This could even be a course or courses in the EM curricula. The AF is now seizing on EM as a future growth industry having picked up the vibes the STATES are failing and the military may be tasked as more efficient and effective in disasters. The NG would also like to stay home.
3. NORTHCOM should be headed by a NG four-star. If not the continuing battle for roles based largely on personal views and misunderstanding of our democracy (actually a Republic) by those running NORTHCOM will continue.
4. The FEDS need to train most of the Western Hemisphere in EM as a civil function, just as it has done for tax systems and their enforcement, military assistance, etc.
5. The VP of the US needs to be a grownup that stops asking daily the health of the President and made by STATUTE the principal Civil Crisis Manager and senior EM person in the Federal government.

What you say? These are long term things impacting on EM? Yes because they represent unresolved conflicts, wasted time and wasted effort that are already driving EM into oblivion. And the factors in the post don’t have a chance of allowing FEMA to be predictive, not just a reactive federal agency wherein you are only as good as your performance in the last disaster.

Hey good luck addressing the list in futuro if my list is not addressed. But of course I could be wrong as always.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 13, 2010 @ 7:01 am

Probably should have mentioned that large scale events are what impact EM and HS in the US. Why? The culture of EM and HS IMO!

If I was to add a single longterm factor to the list in the post I would probably add the impact of long-term international MIGRATION caused by many things. What is interesting is that it turns out the Deputy Secretary would be a great person to be involved in this policy analysis given her background and work at the UN before DHS.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

April 13, 2010 @ 7:39 am

Who are the participants in the Strategic Planning endeavor?

As usual, the DHS website for which you listed a URL is not informative about the office and its mission.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 13, 2010 @ 10:11 am

Thanks Chris and Excellent POV Mr. Cumming.

Today’s current events are tomorrows trends. If one were to do study the current events and do some trend analysis and perhaps push back from trying to policize the future we’d see the need for capability in lieu of policy.

There are no advanced techniques, but advanced applications of the fundamentals. So it is my estimation that instead of procuring more make believe money and putting more onerous laws on the books, we should become highly, highly proficient at mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. So to expound on the catch phrase;

Until we have a fundamental mastery of the skill set of the aforementioned, we’re simply spinning our wheels. There is a required balance to rules and capability. Currently, idealism and ideology are running our homeland security policies as well as our emergency management systems. The expectation placed on first and second responders is unrealistic.

The pragmatic, non PC, “keeping it real” voice is squelched by the rhetoric.

All is grist for the mill. We have the data to have a high quality probability matrix of most to least likely incidents and threats. Once we identify the minimum baseline response to the these threats, we have a real degree of an all hazards approach. Keep in mind that all incidents, no matter how bizarre or unique create disruption, casualties, and needs. It is within this definition that our future lies.

Want to prepare for the future? Worry about the present. There is no “complete knowledge” and therefore waiting for such is folly. We know about systems degradation, infrastructure lifespans, and life sustainment requirements. Anything planned today is obsolete tomorrow, so instead of constantly trying to see the future, prepare for it. Vision is different than predictability.

This is a leadership issue, not a policy issue. My bias on this is strong and unyielding;

I think the Marine Corps makes the best leaders. Why? They set high expectations, demand more, and have a culture of do more with less. That fact is proven by the USMC getting less than 3.5-4% of the annual DoD budget. More so, they believe themselves to be better and are uninhibited by challenge… The relevance? We must cultivate, exploit, and reward these type of leaders for our future… they are adaptable, nimble, smart, and not constrained by perceived limitations.

How you build your leaders is more important that how you task them.

I do not know this answer so it’s a bit rhetorical;
How do we build homeland security leaders? What do homeland security leaders read? What do they talk about? How do they prepare? What do they study? Where is the Homeland Security “war college“? What is the balance of theorists and practitioners? How do they recruit? How do they recognize talent and grow responsible, aggressive, and highly capable leaders?

This is a LEADERSHIP question….The future belongs to tomorrow’s leaders… how will we prepare, equip, train, and exploit them? Do we want specialists or generalists? Is creativity and imagination more important than grant writing acumen? Do they cross pollinate? Do they tolerate friction and maverick ideas well? How much time do they need?

Am I oversimplifying or keeping to my own maxim; there are no advanced techniques but advance applications of fundamentals. Homeland Security issues and the future require an organization that is creative, cultured in “can-do” and execution, and organizationally “one”.

There is so much that can be accomplished today. Why hasn’t there been a task force of EPA, DHS, and the National labs figured out how recycling can prepare coastal homes and roadways for weather? We have an overabundance of plastic; use it… green buildings, environmental consideration, and energy conservation can be met with utilizing this overabundant resource. Does such an organizational construct exist? We need more “why” and can do” instead of “can’t and don’t”.

Today is where preparation begins. While the future is unknown, there are some steps we can take to build capability that adapts and displays resilience in any number of scenarios.

Thank you for the post.

Comment by Desert Dweller

April 13, 2010 @ 11:48 am

The DHS/FEMA relationship continues to blend and blur the lines between emergency management and homeland security. The question of what is homeland security is still relevant to some and contributes to the problematic association between the two. I believe a better question to answer is, what isn’t homeland security? I suggest that it isn’t counterterrorism. If emergency management is homeland security, or vice versa, then counterterrorism must stand alone as a mission and a discipline. Consequence management is self serving if it limits or reduces prevention efforts, which can occur when it is brought under the umbrella of all-hazards. Diluting the emphasis necessary to defeat surprise is dangerous. It is also why the DHS/FEMA relationship should be scrutinized when it comes to this practice. The marriage of these two no doubt contributes to initiatives such as this and continually muddying the water.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 13, 2010 @ 11:53 am

Thanks for your post also DAN! General Shinsheki now VA Secretary in his retirement speech said that what the military needed and was short of were leaders, not commanders and he then skillfully articulated the difference. Glad he is tended to those who served as did my father for 25 years at VA. I am glad that General Shinsheki was allowed to stay in the Army despite a severe wound by a pungi stake in RVN.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 13, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

Desert Dweller’

I often pose that question to Chris; What is and therefore what is not homeland security… perhaps we need a Dept of Offense and Dept of Defense…With a Dept of Special teams…Of course I am being facetious, but currently our current structures and “enteprises” are locked in place creating large gaps and response inequities. Excellent POV.


Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 13, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

Waaay back in 2008, the National Intelligence Council released its report “Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed.” Many of the report’s headlines coincide with the issues highlighted above. The full report is available at http://www.dni.gov/nic/NIC_2025_project.html

The 15-20 year horizon that is to be the focus of the FEMA effort is best for staking out a few (very few)aspects of strategic context… and for stimulating the imagination.

Once some shared sense of probability and possibility is carved out, the biggest issue with the future is what to do about it today and tomorrow and the day after.

Combining the urgency of the now with the potentiality of the future is where the value of futures thinking is demonstrated (or not). Where are you (or FEMA) going to place your bets? How committed are you (or FEMA) to the bets? What are you (or FEMA) going to stop doing today in order to create the future?

To create the future, we make choices… today, tomorrow, and the day after.

Comment by Joe Citizen

April 14, 2010 @ 5:38 am

The reality, the void in leadership and governing of our beloved Republic is evident from a grid-locked Congress to FEMA to the Executive Branch to the highest Court allowing such broad interpretation of our Constitution.

We are a nation so vulnerable, so unaware of the evil which besieges us and to those who seek our demise, you see our own consternation from within and our weakness in our ability to muster the Will to really address the weaknesses such as FEMA, our $12trillion in debt, open borders, even our vulnerable electric grid so whether Republican or Democrat, We are a bankrupt country with neither the vision or the inherent strength to utilize our innovativeness, our resiliency to overcome the borrowing mentality, the arrogance in self-agenda.

Our “entusted” professional politicians failed with Katrina, failed in Haiti and again yesterday, like in the skies over New York with Air Force One scaring the wits out of New Yorkers flesing their buildings, another sightseeing ride this time in a helicopter over Haiti yesterday while the good people of Haiti remain in the mud!

America is weak in backbone not in its most charitable people who work so hard to make ends meet, but in those who pledge in oath to serve the public, to vote as its constituents prefer.

Mr. Cumming is right on target as he most always is and unfortunately Washington is not listening and implementing many of his useful suggestions. As chatter and tensions in the Middle East mount in direct result of this Administration’s – narrow perspectives – and actions giving encouragement to the enemy not only in telling those who much prefer in cutting our heads off that hey, even if you attack us and cripple us, don’t worry, I as Commander-in-Chief will not order a retaliation using nuclear capacity…..

….since when do we advise our adversaries of our strategies, our military “options” – what practicality is in such outragious statement, where are the Joint Chiefs of Staff in all this – with at least my considering this as an act of treason in disregard of the oath the President and Commander-in-Chief took in pledge to uphold the security of this nation….

It is quite apparent that whether FEMA, HLS, so on and so forth throughout our government from the very top downwards mostly comprised of – lawyers – with a very evident lack of scientists, engineers and the vision in continuing to gain benefits from space exploration and giving our adversaries control of the skies, we have become a nation in great debt, a third world country and less.

We prefer keeping the social issues at the height of discussion, reiterating how badly the slave was treated..we know all about it…we read history…we are in the 21st century and we cannot get out of our way as the lawyers and the sociologists pervade the fabric of the nation rather than scientists and engineers who have the foresight, the innovation, the imagination are lost to those who prefer to dwell in the past.

The fact is that FEMA and DHS and so many others whether at the local level, state or national whether in education or other, we cannot compete and we cannot take care of our people as our spend and spend and lack of integrity and oops that word again, transparency Hank Paulson, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi et al, well, taxes and fees, taxes and fees, yet don’t fret, for it will not be too long before Middle East tensions and the shock and awe over East Jerusalem make it quite apparent that any US President who snubs the Prime Minister of Israel in the manner in which was so noted in Wshington last week and conveying military strategy and taking any “option” off the table in retaliation strategy we may or may Not employ, well, we have lost and there is little hope with lawyers and community organizers at the helm of a ship, not sinking, but sunk as the coffers of the life rafts and the bankers at the steering shaft drift far away taking the gold and leaving us the “fiat” federal reserve notes and the IOU’s which this county will never repay simply because by 2015, you Mr. President as I forewarned and others too, will have placed such hugh burden on debt that we will ot even be able to meet our interst payments, never midn worrying about a defunct FEMA, HLS and other….

God Bless the DoD, the folks at NSA and others in the intelligence community, truly dedicated Americans who do their utmost daily to address cyber attack and other, however until we see the gold medal be conveyed to not folks like Al Gore and his busienss interests and central banker buddies, but scientists and engineers who can use imagination, creativeness and their astute acumen in commitment to diligence, the clock has already done its ticking and submerged, little time to recapture the Amwrican Dream not in its riches, but to create a Life whereby the individual is afforded Liberty, Freedom of Expression, the tools of individual creativeness to share all with others from within to shores far yonder!

Just as you cannot rely on the local school administration with its high salaries and top ended bureaucracies, nor the “professional politician” at the local, state and national level with all requiring term limits, during a time of emergency, it is not FEMA or HLS which will knock on the remnants of our belongings and ourselves, it will be the oursleves and our loved ones, neighbors as well and the word of God for greed and corruption, narrow perspectives from you Mr. President to those within the White House and throughout Congress, impressed with your credentials, incestuous in accolades of one another, yet merely a charade for we are bankrupt, let me reiterate, bankrupt $12trillion times and in the not-too-distant future, without manufacturing, no new jobs of any consequence, taxing the already destitute, the 24% or more of homeowners under water and so many others with so many more issues, well, God Bless America for we have from within, dealt the cards of greed and self-agenda depicting a country who live for today and unfortunately Not for tomorrow!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

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