Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 6, 2010

Sign up to envision the future

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on July 6, 2010

In April, I wrote about FEMA’s  Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI), a program designed:

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.

By “our community” I am including homeland security (recognizing different views persist about the relationship between emergency management and homeland security).

If the Strategic Foresight Initiative produces material of value — notwithstanding its quasi-homophonic SciFi acronym — one hopes it will benefit everyone within the homeland security enterprise.

The three central questions guiding the initiative 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?


As I described in April, there are three opportunities to participate in this Strategic Foresight Initiative.  The first activity was a meeting to identify “the most important drivers [participants] believe could impact emergency management over the next 20 years.”

The second opportunity — based on the work done at the initial SFI meeting — started a few days ago, and you are invited to participate:

FEMA has launched a broader community engagement effort to attract diverse participants from many disciplines and fields to join in moderated discussion.  An easy-to-access, easy-to-use online tool, OMB-Max, will promote dialogue to better understand emerging trends and future directions in key issue areas, as well as the potential implications for emergency management.

If you are interested in participating in this effort, please send an email request to:

FEMA-OPPA-SFI[at]fema.gov  ( remember to turn the [at] into the @ sign).

Once you receive your invitation and sign on to the SFI site, you will find detailed information about the Initiative.


I wish this activity well, and I intend to participate in it.  But I remain agnostic about the usefulness of spending much quality time looking at the drivers of the future.

Like any good agnostic, however, there’s a place inside me that wants to have faith, that wants to believe there can be a direct relationship between a knowledge of what’s coming toward homeland security and taking right action based on that knowledge.

I continue to look for evidence that the systematic study of the future is anything more than (as George Bernard Shaw wrote about Chess) “a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.”

Hope springs eternal, however, even as we move through a northern hemisphere summer into a future that will surely surprise.

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

July 6, 2010 @ 10:16 am

I question the methodology — “crowdsourcing” is not always the right choice.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 6, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

I continue to find it interesting that FEMA todate has ignored all statutory mandates to become a learning organization in part by analysis of real world ops and exercises. If you disagree perhaps you should study the FEMA investment in its Lessons Learned functions and activities. Guess who in FEMA’s org chart is responsible for Lessons Learned? And which FEMA office is in charge of Foresight Activities?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 6, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

Ms. Rubin, I am interested to hear a bit more why you question the methodology utilized.

In my opinion, it is not as if this is a Yelp survey. At the beginning there is a good deal of self-selection, and afterward I hope at least a bit of Google searching before acceptance into the project. Just to check that those with a singular focus on certain issues (i.e. either side of the climate or immigration debate) are not included or at least forced to publicize their stances going into the project.

I agree that this effort might not yield a whole lot in terms of concrete policy ideas or even suggestions going forward. But I do believe it is an exercise worth having, in that it shows there is at least some interest in beginning to think, plan, or at least consider situations that might arise after the current Administration is long out of power. Too often domestically we are reactionary, while internationally there are at least institutionalized attempts at anticipating future scenarios.

Comment by bellavita

July 6, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

I think from a methodological perspective, the online part of the SFI can usefully be seen in two contexts. First as a continuation of government’s “ready, fire, aim” effort (starting with the QHSR) to expand who gets involved in deliberating over “important but not urgent” issues. I see the online effort as analogous to sending mail via planes in the early days of aviation. It is advancing the technology by helping us learn how to use it to further develop our republic.

Secondly, the online activity is one element in FEMA’s the three part activity described in April:

· 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.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

July 7, 2010 @ 6:19 am

It would have be helpful if a succinct summary of the results of the April 14th workshop were shared so that respondents might see what has been suggested to date. The laundry list on the website for the project is not the best way, in my view, to stimulate thoughtful and informed discussion.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Lee Clarke’s 9 Future Catastrophes

August 3, 2010 @ 1:06 am

[…] I learned about Lee Clarke’s 2005 book, “Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination,” through a post on the Emergency Management Strategic Foresight Initiative website [registration required]. […]

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