Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 15, 2010

Farewell Jack. Welcome to Treme.

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 15, 2010

Fox has canceled 24, its counter-terrorism drama. The show debuted in November 2001 featuring Jack Bauer as a fearless, selfless, and sometimes reckless undercover catcher and killer of bad guys. The final episode will run in May. A movie is under development.

On Sunday, April 11, HBO introduced Treme, a post-Katrina New Orleans neighborhood. The ensemble cast includes, “an eclectic group of locals — among them a trombone player, a chef, a civil rights lawyer, a disc jockey and a displaced Mardi Gras chief — as they struggle to repair their lives after the storm.” (New York Times)

Sic transit homeland security?

The Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning 24 features a covert Counter Terrorism Unit. But there is really only one hero. “When Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 superagent barks “Dammit, Chloe–we’re running out of time!” America’s ass is about to be saved in some new, heart-stopping way.” (Entertainment Weekly) Assassins, kidnappers, suicide bombers, bio-terrorists, nuclear weapons, sundry colleagues, adversaries, and victims co-star.

Treme is not saved, but neither does it succumb. The levee breaks are called a “federally induced catastrophe.” MTV’s Ben Collins tells us Treme is about “death, resilience, and broken hearts.”

“Treme uses sound and imagery to suggest that even the worst damage and disruption can’t extinguish the joie de vivre, and that is found in the pearly gleam of fresh oysters, the high notes of Antoine’s trombone, the crunch of barbecue, a glistening bottle of French wine, the feathers on a Mardi Gras costume and, most simply, laughter.” (New York Times)

Last Friday I told residents of a dense urban neighborhood they should not depend on much official guidance or help in the first 72 minutes of a local emergency or 72 hours of a wide-spread emergency. About one-third were astonished. Others were pretty sanguine.

Those who were astonished insisted someone must be “in charge.” Surely there’s a courageous and capable Jack Bauer nearby.

The majority did not expect a  hero to save them. But they quickly recognized their own lack of readiness. “Not knowing each other is our greatest vulnerability,” one participant offered. “No offence, but I don’t know if in an emergency I would trust information from anyone in this room,” another said.

In Treme the neighbors come together around a shared love affair with music. In too many American cities (and towns, villages, and more) neighbors do not come together at all. They share a place and that is about all they share.

The good news is that the neighbors-in-name-only whom I met last week seemed to enjoy being together and agreed there was good cause to meet again. The risk of disaster gave them a good excuse to do so. I had the sense they would have welcomed almost any excuse.

We need our Jack Bauers. He is a flawed, but well-intentioned guard-dog. Even more we need herds that are less like sheep, more like American Bison. Or even better: neighborhoods of full-fledged neighbors who know each other and – despite all our eccentric differences – care for each other. This is the foundation of resilience… and, probably, the Republic.

Further Reading:

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street by Peter Lovenheim

Governing the Commons by Elinor Ostrom

The Idea of Fraternity in America by Wilson Carey McWilliams

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Comment by Publius

April 15, 2010 @ 4:57 am

Tuesday the White House told all of us that in case of a nuclear detonation we need to be self-reliant for 72 hours. See USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-04-13-nuke-plans_N.htm

The White House statement and news reports point to the recurring — if seldom fully recognized — federal policy:

“There will be no significant Federal response at the scene for 24 hours and the full extent of Federal assets will not be available for up to 72 hours. Emergency reponse is principally a local function.”

From Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation (2009)


Comment by Claire B. Rubin

April 15, 2010 @ 6:49 am

See the review of Paradise Built in Hell by
author Amanda Ripley in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management this past week:

Comment by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan

April 15, 2010 @ 6:55 am

Interesting read. In addition to the concepts of community that you discuss at the end, there is another interesting body of work in the architecture/urban planning/American Studies arena that focuses on the concept of “place” and its ability to bring communities together or apart.

In 2006, Harvard hosted a conference around this idea called “The Soul of Place What is it? Where do you find it? How can you help create it?, http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/professional/loeb_fellowship/events/reunion-06-site/index.html, which brought together many of the scholars in this field.

Among the scholars attending were Dorothy Hayden, http://www.doloreshayden.com/bio.htm, who has written extensively on the politics of place and helped create in Los Angeles a non-profit arts/urban development project entitled “The Power of Place,” to commemorate and incorporate disparate groups of citizens into the city’s public history and current existence.

Thus, the somewhat esoteric and intellectual approach to politics and power of place contribute to the reason for “recovery” in the resilience model.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 15, 2010 @ 6:57 am

With respect to the first comment the guidance was released under the Bush Administration if it was released officially. Second, it has been criticized as deeply flawed by some experts. See http://www.strategicdefense.org

Apparently “Treme” produced by director/producer of HBO’s series “The Wire” which received high marks and just finished its run also.

I have continually tried to figure out why some elements of American Society are more prepared than others. The followers of the MORMON church for example with their two years of food and water reserves for each family. Hey we are now a just in time society as well as business system. No real surge or logistics expansion capacity because no one to pay for it and costs money.

But I think the phenomenon in the “urban sophisticate” class (those who expect Starbucks always to be open for getting their latte)have a sense that someone is protecting, maintain, and capable of replacing critical infrastructure in a hurry. Which is surprising when you try and get a home computer system repaired.
Interesting as to how the NYC blackouts of 1966, 1977, and the Northeast Blackout of August 2003 fade in memory except for those born perhaps 9 months after.
Well each new technology seems to add to our dependency or co-dependency on some technological development. But hey have they perfected yet the medical procedure to remove cell phones from the ears of teenagers?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 15, 2010 @ 11:35 am

Expectations. Having never watched the show primarily because I wasn’t interested in the fiction I am drawn to a contrast; We very well may have “Jack Bauers” out there. But, their advice, experience, and talents are often not heeded nor valued, in my humble opinion. In a very real sense, our National marketing of “uber performers” by our entertainment industry and government, coupled with progressive entitlement packages has created a credibility gap. We no longer under promise and over deliver. We cannot do what we say we do. Instead, the opposite occurs. That gap creates huge expectations and uniformly, we unable to deliver. Our grandparents would guffaw at our institutional weakness and excess.

We don’t need reasons for why things are broken; we need results and solutions. I read this morning that 41% of New Yorkers pay NO TAXES.
(http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/taxman_cometh_but_not_for_of_nyers_O4m1AJeyWo6v7CzHYonAkK ) We can debate the semantics and cost benefits et al, but the picture that emerges is there is not a shared responsibility in our growing fiscal burden. Often, we spend more times positioning this and other issues for gain instead of discussion. Take this situation and compare it to someone who worked their entire lives, bettering themselves, becoming “Jack Bauers” in their own micro world and tell them they have to pay more because they make too much. So, that scenario paints this picture; succeed and achieve to carry the burden for those who don’t. Again, debate and semantics aside, this is the crux of the matter. Expectation and contrast.

Hard, hard decisions lie ahead. The time for blame and accusation is long gone. We may have Jack Bauer talent out there… in fact, I’d bet on it. Shared sacrifice; shared burden.

What would our Jack Bauer of energy say?
What would our Jack Bauer of defense say?
What would our Jack Bauer of Education say?

Are you; the reader a Jack Bauer?

On some contrite level, I foresee an erosion of our current situation and wonder are we a Nation of substance or of history books…looking in the past for our glory.

We will need and want our Jack Bauer’s… they will emerge from us and before our eyes. Will we see them as our leaders and resolute problem solvers or will they be an impediment to the status quo?

Expectation; Some expect answers, others action. As for me, my expectation is always bet on us.

There’s a little bit of Superman in every Clark Kent…. And therefore; there’s a little bit of Jack Bauer in every American.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 15, 2010 @ 3:05 pm


I like your emphasis on recognizing, appreciating, and fully engaging the “Jack Bauer” in each of us, or perhaps more broadly the heroic in each of us.

The meaning of America that captures my heart is the WWII “army grunt.” North Dakota farm-boys, Brooklyn longshoremen, boilermakers from Pittsburg and Mississippi sharecroppers came eye-to-eye with the self-proclaimed ubermensch and won.

Sure we had a Superman or two as well, but what really won that battle was the creativity, courage, and commitment of the everyman (and woman) on the battlefront and the homefront.

Where I may disagree with you is the expectation that this heroic potential has somehow been diluted. When push comes to shove, I don’t think it has. Boomers (my generation) have a tendency to fuss and assume extreme positions (both left and right). All this bluster makes it difficult to see what is really going on.

But when something really bad happens, the concern, care, and generosity of the vast majority of Americans (even Boomers)is awe-inspiring. I am even more impressed with my kids’ generation. They typically skip the arguing and self-importance and go right to work, persuading by practical example.

Too often homeland security is framed by low expectations of our citizens. This is certainly not helpful. I see plenty of evidence it is just plain wrong.

Heroic citizens are not produced by seeking “compliance.” They are empowered by truth-telling and high expectations.

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