Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 30, 2010

Place your bets: bad, worse, and worst

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 30, 2010

Whether you are into prevention, mitigation, response, or recovery, we all deal with the deadly trifecta of natural, accidental, and intentional threats.  A few recent examples:

Natural threats: The Arizona wildfire continues to burn as Alex threatens the Texas-Mexico border just as a 6.2 earthquake hits near Oaxaca.  (See a very helpful overview of natural disasters from National Geographic.)

Accidental threats:  Arguably the worst industrial accident in American history continues to emerge from the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico.

Intentional threats:  The ambush killing of a leading Mexican political candidate is blamed on the drug cartels while five Northern Virginians are convicted of terrorism charges.

To win a trifecta the gambler (risk analyst?) has to accurately call which of the options will come in first, second, and third.  I’ve never been much of a gambler.  Maybe that’s why I keep pushing resilience.

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Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 30, 2010 @ 9:38 am

Phil has drawn a new illustration of risk complexity. Clearly each on of these crises in and of themselves serves as fairly high level risk. Combined regionally or geographically, what is the magnitude of orders of effect? Is it exponential or simply incalculable? How close does it move from complex to chaos?

Add the National and International economic situation and a host of other variables and we are seeing our future; resilience indeed!

Comment by John Comiskey

June 30, 2010 @ 10:27 am

The natural-accidental-intentional trifecta threat is real and worrisome.

On March 26, 2006 NYC’s OEM conducted a drill nobly called Trifecta. The drill tested the city’s hazardous material response, first responder safety, and decontamination and fatality management.
See: http://www.nyc.gov/test/oem/html/about/drills_trifecta.shtml

My take away from the drill was that bad guys might use an accidental or natural incident as an opportunity to do bad things when the police and emergency responders are busy putting out fires.

In that hypothetical, natural/accidental occurrences X intentional bad acts = really bad things.

Yesterday, I spoke to a colleague in the Texas National Guard. They are preparing for Hurricane Alex. While the storm is expected to gain strength of a Category 1 only, Texas is planning on opening shelters in the lower three counties of Texas. Their concern is how many folks will come across the Matamorous seeking shelter and more importantly if any of them will be cartel members.

Meanwhile, oil spill responders in the Gulf hesitantly wipe their brows with the knowledge that Hurricane Alex will have less than devastating effects ….at least for now.

To that point, most post-9/11 event management has taken on a counterterrorism element. The question is raised, how does the planned event increase our vulnerabilities and decrease our resources. “Working smarter not harder” and “doing more with less” is an evolving homeland security paradigm.

What worries me is that the bad guys are on the offense, they have always done more with less, and are sometimes smart.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 30, 2010 @ 11:31 am


I think the real challenge…the long pole if you will, is how to grow the leaders prepared for these challenges… instead of an all hazard approach, it should be the all hazards leader…The thought process, the problem solving skills, the pattern recognition, and the idea of complexity and black and grey swans, etc.

The idea that doing more with less should be, in my humble opinion, a badge of honor, not an albatross of things to come…

You must tie resilience into creative, nimble, and adaptive leaders.

We must change our lets wait and see culture and get vigorously creative and proactive. Offensive doesn’t mean reckless, it means active.

Great thoughts.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 30, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

A couple of quick replies inspired by Dan’s and John’s comments. A long-ago classics professor once explained that to the ancient Greeks their chaos, from whence the universe was made, was disorganized potential. They were fascinated by both the innate potential and the process of organization. I sometimes think we approach chaos with too much sense of dread, rather than opportunity (I suppose that is part of what Mark is writing about today). Then… to me, one of the biggest differences between a disaster and a catastrophe is the cascade effect. Essentially this is a process of unraveling the organization we have applied to chaos, restoring it to something like its original condition.

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