Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 25, 2010

Homeland Security, social capital, and resilience – a Pandora’s box?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Port and Maritime Security,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 25, 2010

Editorial note: Last evening John Comiskey posted the following as a comment to my Thursday post (immediately below this post).  Without receiving his permission, I am moving John’s comment to today’s front page.  If you have read John’s prior comments you know he serves with the NYPD and is also with the Coast Guard Reserve.  John is currently deployed with the USCG to the Gulf of Mexico.  Full disclosure, John and I both serve on the faculty of the new Pace University graduate program in management for public safety and homeland security professionals.  We have met each other precisely once, at a Spring faculty meeting.


Your Grandpa sounds like a wonderful man. I imagine that he too would be overwhelmed and even frustrated by the levels of bureaucracy and particularly the federal government’s grant strategy (get the locals to do what you want by footing some or the entire bill). “All politics are local and most times federal too” might be the old “all politics are local.”

That being said, it sounds like your grandfather would have found a way. Bennet’s axiom “People are discouraged, encourage them,” should be a homeland security and preparedness mantra.  The obvious — helping people — seems within our grasp, but eludes us all too often.

Homeland security and preparedness are a Pandora’s box of sorts (privacy intrusions, challenges to rights & privileges, economic costs, and others things that are not so nice). But, we need to remind ourselves that the original Pandora’s Box also offered hope.

Today, I heard a Coast Guard Commander refer to Deepwater Horizon as the Coast Guard’s Afghanistan.

The “long spill,” Deepwater Horizon, like the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq require fortitude, patience, understanding, and hope. Somebody said “hope is not a plan.” Just the same I will keep on hoping and praying for the best whilst I prepare for the worst.

The emotional toll to Gulf residents, government workers, and cleanup volunteers warrants consideration and is bound to be high. The days ahead present three overarching challenges: stopping the spill, extracting the maximum amount of oil feasible, and mitigating the damage. The current forecast of 23+ storms with a 50% chance of a significant storm make that challenge all the more challenging –or might clean most of the mess up -mother nature is most resilient.

I have come to know some of the people of NOLA and have found them to be concerned but going about their business best they can. They talk a lot of football. LSU and the Saints are dear to their hearts. Last year’s super bowl celebration has continued with the team’s preseason visit to Louisiana communities weary of oil: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127561660

If I remain in NOLA past September, I will likely attend a game. For the record I am a Jets fan. Football players and fans are resilient.

My new colleagues in NOLA poke fun at my New York accent. In turn, I enjoy their nawlins’ colloquialisms. They seem to appreciate my reviews of their restaurants and haunts. So far Acme Oyster House, Tujajues, and Café du Monde top the list. Nothing like football and food to bind people.

I have found that Katrina has left the people of NOLA with doubts in the efficacy of the federal government and particularly FEMA. NOLA’s celebrated relationship with the Coast Guard seems uneasy at best. I am told too little is being done too slowly. That phenomena might be a study in a relationship earned in one disaster (Katrina) only to be lost in another (DWH). Social capital is easier lost than earned.

The USCG is most resilient. It is and always has been a multi-mission organization. Today that mission is clear: ensure and facilitate the RP’s (responsible party) response – in this case BP. That mission will not make the Coast Guard popular.

From my view BP is doing all that it can and is most instances more than that. The American people need to know that without the media hype. BP too is resilient. I imagine someone or some people high in the organization deliberated as to their course of action –cut and run or invest in their enterprise. BP chose the latter. I can’t and won’t speak to BP’s alleged wrongdoing because I don’t know if they were negligent or had a catastrophic industrial accident. I know that matter is being investigated and await the final analysis.

Recovery requires everyone to look past their factions, fights, frustrations, and everything else.

I’m rooting for the people of the Gulf and the United States of America.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 25, 2010 @ 3:22 am

John, Thanks especially for reminding us that hope remains (actually, I think much more than hope remains).

For human nature Hope remains alone
Of all the deities; the rest are flown.
Faith is departed; Truth and Honour dead;
And all the Graces too, my friends, are fled.
The scanty specimens of living worth,
Dwindled to nothing, and extinct on earth.
Yet whilst I live and view the light of heaven,
Since hope remains and never has been driven
From the distracted world–the single scope
Of my devotion is to worship Hope.
When hecatombs are slain, and altars burn,
When all the deities adored in turn,
Let Hope be present; and with Hope, my friend,
Let every sacrifice commence and end.

Theognis of Megara, translated by John Frere

Comment by Art Botterell

June 25, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

Obviously nobody wants to be seen arguing against hope. Then again, we in emergency management are tasked (indeed, generally have volunteered) to address precisely those situations that most folks hope won’t arise.

The New York Times website has been running a fascinating series by Errol Morris entitled “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is.” (“Anosognosia” is defined in Wikipedia as “a condition in which a person who suffers disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.”)

Morris interviewed various psychologists, neurologists and others on the topics of denial, self-deception and general cluelessness. A couple of quotes caught my eye. One was from social psychologist David Dunning of Cornell:

Donald Rumsfeld gave this speech about “unknown unknowns.” It goes something like this: “There are things we know we know about terrorism. There are things we know we don’t know. And there are things that are unknown unknowns. We don’t know that we don’t know.” He got a lot of grief for that. And I thought, “That’s the smartest and most modest thing I’ve heard in a year.”

Another is from V.S. Ramachandran of UCSD and the Salk Institute, responding to Morris’ question, “Do we live in a cloud of belief that is separate from the reality of our circumstances?”:

Absolutely, and overall, fortunately, it’s a positive cloud in most of us. If we knew about the real facts and statistics of mortality, we’d be terrified…It may well be our brains are wired up to be slightly more optimistic than they should be.

I’ve frequently said that emergency management is largely the management of denial processes at the individual, organizational and social levels. Having read the Morris series I’d expand that to include other forms of self-deception.

Hope, like other emotions, can be a powerful object of rhetoric. Emergency managers frequently appeal to various emotions in order to motivate groups and individuals, including leaders. And indeed it’s only hope that causes us to bother. But is there some degree of danger in drinking our own Kool-Aid?

I’d suggest that one challenge we’ve faced with in the early years of the Homeland Security era has been the tendency, especially when faced with a paucity of evidence to inform our choices, to substitute passion for understanding. That’s indubitably human, and it may well be characteristic of the beginnings of any new enterprise.

But by the same token, a key characteristic of maturity is the tempering of passion by experience.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 26, 2010 @ 12:45 am

Well hope springs eternal. Guess that is the best thing about humanity. And of course often not what we know or what we don’t know that kills US but what we think we know that we don’t know that kills US.

Well for me the fundamental flaw in the whole Homeland Security paradigm is that terrorist activity and threats to the US all started on 9/11/01. My guess is 100 years down the road that event as dramatic and perception changing as it was and is will be viewed from the perspective that it was NOT even a catastrophic event but an excuse to bring forth a new agenda for a National Security/Homeland Security State that kept the military/industrial/academic complex fed and housed while continuing to starve things like our civil foreign policy efforts and assistance and detract from the fundamentals that drive terrorism, including religious fanaticism, desire to keep women in ignorance and under the control of males, etc. etc.
By the end of this century environmental issues may well call for the best and brightest talent just to fill MASLOV’s heirarchy of needs to some degree fulfilled. After all with over 2 billion people having NO access to clean drinking water that would seem to be a factor in indicating a wrong sense of priorities. But hey I do hope all people on the face of the earth can get their basic 3 galleons of water daily without parasites and disease vectors.

Comment by George

July 19, 2010 @ 10:59 am

En hyggelig sensasjon er rikere enn Viagra ™. De som brukte Viagra forstår, følelsen av trøtthet etter et samleie er sterk, og det er plutselig svak og plagsom følelse. Kjønnshormoner ingrediensen av kjemikalier er ikke inneholdt, og Satibo Capsule justerer sex funksjon av en menneskelig kropp ved metoden for å styrke evnen utskillelsen av egne hormon helt, er egen potensielle makt fullt demonstrert, og en rik følelse av samleie er produsert . Detteer størst sjarm Satibo Capsule.

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