Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 15, 2010

Size Doesn’t Matter

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on December 15, 2010

In a Saturday post to his Disaster Zone blog, Eric Holdeman questioned why the United States had entered into a bilateral agreement with New Zealand to share lessons learned from emergency management activities and cooperate with one another in response and recovery operations when necessary. The not so subtle subtext of Eric’s post was “what does tiny, remote NZ have to offer the U.S.?”¬†As someone with a foot in both the Yankee and Kiwi camps, I am happy to repsond, “Quite a lot, really.”

To be fair, Eric supported the ideal of collaboration as a general principle of emergency management and had nothing bad to say about entering into such a partnership in this instance. He simply wondered whether other agreements existed, and, if so, where this initiative fits in FEMA’s overall approach to collaboration.

I doubt Eric knows that the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have a longstanding mutual assistance agreement in the wildfire arena. ANZAC firefighters routinely come to the assistance of beleaguered U.S. colleagues during North America’s increasingly protracted and difficult Western fire seasons. The ANZACs’ level of skill and professionalism are highly regarded by their peers in U.S. federal fire agencies. It’s interesting to note that New Zealand has never requested U.S. assistance in return, although it has been offered a couple of times.

The benefits to New Zealand from such an arrangement are clear. Their officers and firefighters get experience that would be difficult to obtain back on their home turf. In exchange, the U.S. gets experienced fire officers who know and use the same incident command system they do. The helps comes at a time when U.S. incident managers need relief after going nonstop for extended periods of time.

When it comes to other kinds of disasters, we could expect the same sorts of benefits, especially in the United States’ sprawling Pacific territories and protectorates. New Zealand sees a direct national interest in the welfare of Pacific island states, and already engages in extensive humanitarian relief work in these and other areas around the globe, a fact recently recognized the DARA International Humanitarian Response Index.

This agreement goes beyond traditional mutual aid agreements. It includes provisions for sharing information about mitigation and recovery, areas of great interest to both countries but areas in which New Zealand might have a distinct advantage because of its less cumbersome governmental structure, which places intergovernmental cooperation at the core of its planning efforts.

New Zealand is positioned slightly ahead of the United States in the way it engages the public in mitigation and preparedness programs by linking emergency planning with broader community outcomes and the local government strategic planning process. This framework seeks to encourage transparent alignment of budgets and regulatory priorities with desired outcomes.

Having faced a much more dire economic situation in the mid-1980s than we face now, the Kiwis overhauled the public sector and consolidated local government. As a result, officials in local, regional and national levels of government find it easier to get the right people in the room and get people on the same page when critical decisions are required. This is an impressive feat even in a country with a population comparable to a U.S. state, especially in light of the widely dispersed geography and the challenging natural hazards environment to which they must respond.

Having national police and fire services helps too. Because these agencies see local government bodies and their constituencies as important stakeholders rather than masters, they do not regard themselves as being in either a subservient or competitive position relative to other programs and policy priorities. Seeing one another as partners enables them to seek opportunities for shared success.

I will be very interested to see what initiatives arise out of this agreement, and think it more likely than not that the U.S. will benefit more from the partnership than the Kiwis will.

Having made it clear that I see no relationship between New Zealand’s small size and the quality of the big ideas her government has put in place, I was chuffed to read David Brooks’s op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, which sought to reassure anxious Americans that our national identity and importance is not a function of where we rank in GDP league tables, debt-to-GDP ratios, longevity statistics or other measures of individual or social welfare but in the strength, stability and enduring appeal of our values and ideals. The measures that preoccupy our national discourse simply don’t tell the whole story. Other countries are not so much overtaking us as catching up, which, of course, actually benefits us both.

The importance of ideals like openness and tolerance distinguished Sweden as well as the United States. The weekend’s apparent suicide bombing has caused some Swedes to question whether this is the right course, to which their prime minister boldly responded: “Yes!” I wonder how many Americans would agree with him? The New York Times editorial board clearly wondered too, as it published an editorial Tuesday morning endorsing this action and underscoring its significance and importance to global efforts to end extremism.

Finally, I was saddened to see an article by Star-Ledger reporter Amy Brittain reporting that some of my public safety colleagues in New Jersey had succumbed to the bigger-is-better mentality in a way that is particularly difficult to understand. The newspaper identified at least 248 police, corrections officers, and firefighters who had received prescriptions for anabolic steroids, human growth hormone or both from a now-deceased physician (whose demise appears to have resulted at lest in part from his own use of these controlled substances) and paid for these so-called performance-enhancing drugs with their employer-paid prescription drug benefits. In some cases, this amounted to costs to taxpayers in the thousands of dollars.

In homeland security, size doesn’t matter. Our adversaries understand this principle explicitly and use it to exploit our inability to adapt quickly because of our condition, whether it manifests itself as a bloated bureaucracy, a muscle-bound officer or an obese citizen too disillusioned with government to exercise the privileges of liberty. The evidence of this cognitive dissonance is evident across our institutions and in our society as a whole.

At its heart, homeland security is shaped not by our ability to project power but rather by our ability to organize and mobilize collective efforts to support, defend and extend the ideal of liberty. If bigness matters at all, then the big idea may be the one instance where size make a difference.

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5 Comments »

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

December 15, 2010 @ 3:29 am

We in the U.S. could learn a lot about a country that readily acknowledges its risk from seismic events and makes earthquake insurance mandatory. I wanted to do a comparative study of the recovery process in NZ and the US, but could not find the finding to do so.

Let’s keep an open mind about learning from the experience in other nations.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 15, 2010 @ 7:26 am

Nice post Mark and knew you would be upholding this collaboration when I read Eric’s post.

I am going to focus on this sentence in your post:

“Having faced a much more dire economic situation in the mid-1980s than we face now, the Kiwis overhauled the public sector and consolidated local government. As a result, officials in local, regional and national levels of government find it easier to get the right people in the room and get people on the same page when critical decisions are required. This is an impressive feat even in a country with a population comparable to a U.S. state, especially in light of the widely dispersed geography and the challenging natural hazards environment to which they must respond.”

Well it is hard economic times in this USA and getting the right people in the room so to speak is still the big HS/EM problem. Perhaps you could post more on this NZ effort. I would be particularly interested in consolidation of local government approaches. The USA does not really need 90,000 administrative districts below STATE level and someone needs to develop a model package for the STATES so that their out-of-control creation of subunits is made more rationale. The hidden costs of federalism are enormous and probably many of the hidden benefits also. But unless the disciplines of the academic world and others start to really focus on federalism and its unvarnished study the US will be carrying a huge burden that might well be unnecessary for our democracy into the future. Why is it that the “laboratories of democracy” end up pulling so little weight in governance in the US? Two main reasons in my mind. First irrational federal policies that often have no understanding of federalism and what it brings to the table in a democracy. And second, the irrational number of subunits of STATE government. One policy for example that makes no sense is the STATES limiting expansion of municipal areas by annexation.

One specific example! The Kellog Corporation long headquartered in Battle Creek Michigan threatened to leave if the county and city of the same name that were entirely the same geographic area did not merge. They did merge and Kellog increased its tax payments over the amount paid both entities before but achieve production and other savings by having to deal with only one government.
The US tends to elect former governors as President (has a mayor ever been elected President?) but they usually fail to have any deep understanding of the federal system. As many federal officials fail to have a deep understanding of federalism. The Constitutional doctrines of Supremacy, pre-emption (Commerce clause) and separation of powers rarely get the treatment they deserve in Congressional law making. This ignorance hurts the US because it does often compete against more authoritarian governance systems. But it is not inherently less competitive in the long run.

Comment by Eric Holdeman

December 15, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

Thanks for you blog post that goes into depth about the relationships that draw our countries together. I’m all for agreements with “everyone.” The example I use is that smaller agencies, departments and countries all bring something to the table. What turns people and organizations off is when they are dismissed because they are not the big boys and are treated as such. It is a collaboration killer!

Comment by Mark Chubb

December 15, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

Two points based on the very supportive comments posted by readers so far: 1) As I noted in the original piece, New Zealand’s approach to emergency management is significantly and directly influenced by wider movements to improve efficiency and accountability in government. As such, where we have seen national security, homeland security and emergency management as distinct but related discplines whose shared frontiers sometimes overlap, New Zealand has made very little if any distinction between one area and another. That said, they do employ specialists in each area, but their overall approach makes collaboration among agencies and alignment with public expectations the central focus of national policy and practice. 2) This difference influences New Zealand’s foreign and domestic policies in fundamental and very powerful ways. New Zealand has been engaged on the ground in Afghanistan since shortly after the U.S invasion. Despite its pacifist tendencies, New Zealanders have remained largely supportive of continued engagement in this effort despite casualties, including at least one from friendly U.S. fire. New Zealand has committed both special operations troops to the counter-insurgency effort and engineering and logistics specialists to development work. What makes this interesting, but not necessarily unique among nationa other than the U.S., is the fact that this is the normal way of doing business for New Zealand’s armed forces. They have taken a coordinated approach to deploying hard and soft power for a very long time and their troops are particulary adept at these sorts of operations.

The timing of the announcement that propted Eric’s post and my reply probably coincides with Secretary Clinton’s recent visit to New Zealand during which she announced new initiatives intended to foster greater military and diplomatic cooperation. Since the mid-19080s, when New Zealand declared itself nuclear-free, the relationship was strained by the reluctance of the U.S. to disclose whether warships operating in New Zealand’s water were nuclear armed or nuclear-powered, which prevented the U.S. Navy from making port calls there. As a consequence, New Zealand defined its relationship to the U.S. as that of friend rather than ally. Today, the friendship between New Zealand and the U.S. is among America’s strongest partnerships. New Zealand is a significant partner with U.S. intelligence agencies in the gathering and sharing of signals intelligence for example.

Whether the U.S. can learn from New Zealand’s enthusiastic embrace of collaboration as a way of improving government efficiency and accountability remains uncertain. A robust dialog between policy thinkers and senior officials of the two nations has produced some notable successes. But the diffusion of policy innovations in the U.S. is tedious and notorious for its glacial pace. The best I would hope for are occasional flashes of insight as we look to the Land of the Long White Cloud for what is possible rather than seeking patterns we can scale up to use in our own environment.

Comment by Size Matters

December 16, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

100,000 million sq miles is far differemt to manage than 4 million square miles and if one compares Aukland with our largest city population…well, let’s just say those in New Zealand have far less governing challanges and they are not Americans who are far more needier and….While it is easier to govern RI than CA, both state governments leave much to be desired….for self agenda amongt the elected is so blatently apparent And no one cares to call another to task. The arrogance is so apparent.

We are all so overburdened by the outlandish and apparent mismanagement and spending appropriations of Federal and State governments that We will never get out of this spiralling deficit happy hour after hour hour and it would not surprise me to see more and more Chinese companies relocating to the States at some piint not too far down the road seeking cheap labor for we have now been so enslaved….

…. and soon to be a third world country as a result of this ongoing Goldman Sachs inspired “charade” that all those in elementary schools across the US should learn how to speak Chinese as it is no doubt that they will be their employer….

….annex our municipal areas…why not annex it all to China for this they seem to be far better off than the fortunate ones here on Main Street USA who do have a job and are grossing $8.50 an hour! Evfery place my international business takes me in addressing global “water” issues – the Chinese are already there… The ports are managed and the Chinese Navy can be seen globally maybe even from Sarah Palin’s front porch just off our coast…

Size matters, however every good American citizen should be calling for – resignations – by those whether at the State level or Federal level who do not have a clue how to manage, to govern as the ineptness is so broad, so very apparent in our global standings w/other nations in every sector and so many being challanged and so many families foreclosed (raped) by the fellas of this Goldman Sachs administration and special interest groups for years….

….the inexperience is so obvious that no wonder Putin was singing at the club the other night, he has little to be concerned with as he see like so many, the ineptitude which is so inherent in the self agenda of those entrusted by our precious vote!

Size does matter, yet character and pledge to flag pin, our flag, the National Anthem and thwarting this white collar theft of America’s values, it families, the well being of children who cannot pay their bills for they cannot fly to China for employment…as printed USA doe snot at all mean manufactured here…

You gave it all away and what we have needed is not one so caught up in the wonder of Martin Luther King or the color of another skin which some how makes another different, but a republican and democratic party which can think past itself and acknowledge that Beck should be thrown off the air for stating that millions of Muslims are terrorists which is by far absurd…and those on CNN’s far left commentators thrown out for their unfounded assertions as well for we need serious and informed people, scientists and engineers to rebuild America, folks who are innovators who can see that algae will play a crucial role in making us awash in oil for instance or that shortly the super spped of our computers will give us so many advantages…we need people to think as siz matter and we are a big nation and we need manufacturing and jobs and not broken promises by Barry and Deval for the only change we see is the few pennies remaining which have been taken….

Wake up America! Wake up America! Longer school days the Czar states…we cannot even keep the svhools heated or teachers who like those of us in business must perform.

DHS needs no more political appointmemnts, it needs competent and dedicated Americans and demanding that all adhereto the laws of the country including those who have entered across our borders illegally or whose visa has expired –

Christopher Tingus
CEO & Managing Director
Global H2O Solutions, Inc.
Boston
chris.tingus@gmail.com

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