Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 20, 2010

Late updates from London, Washington, and Los Angeles

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2010

Terror targets included Parliament and shopping malls

Counter-terrorism officials launched a major operation over fears of multiple bomb attacks in Whitehall, central London, and on Christmas shoppers and revellers in the West Midlands, the Guardian has learned.

In a series of co-ordinated pre-dawn raids in Stoke, Birmingham, Cardiff and east London, police arrested 12 men aged 17 to 28 and began extensive searches of a number of properties.

Sources with knowledge of the operation said the arrests followed intelligence that targets including “public spaces” and shopping areas in the West Midlands were part of a suspected plot. Sites in Whitehall, including around the Houses of Parliament, were also said to be possible targets. Sources said it is believed that the targets had been scouted as part of the alleged plot.

If the intelligence and assessment by British counter-terrorism officials are correct, it means an attack may have been averted with days to spare. The multiple arrests followed a long undercover investigation led by MI5, according to counter-terrorism officials. MORE

Washington Post: The Monitoring of America

The lead story in today’s Washington Post is a major investigative feature on domestic intelligence operations.  The online version of the story includes even more details.  Please see: Top Secret America.

“Storm of the Decade” Hits Southern California

Thousands are without power as winds, rain continue to pummel the Los Angeles area…  More than 5 inches of rain have already fallen in downtown Los Angeles this month, and the record of 8.77 inches for December is within reach. Mammoth Mountain has already recorded the highest December snow levels ever. After four days of pounding rain, another major storm is expected to hit Los Angeles on Tuesday and last through Wednesday night. Then another storm is expected to settle in over the Christmas weekend.  MORE

European Travel Chaos

Heathrow authorities effectively cancelled the Christmas plans of hundreds of thousands of travellers yesterday as the Transport Secretary admitted the chaos at Britain’s busiest airport was “not acceptable”.  The whole story suggests a classic intersection of natural hazard and human organizational amplification. MORE

Fresh snowfall overnight caused further setbacks at Frankfurt Airport, with no planes taking off or landing on Tuesday morning. Around 130 departures, and a further 130 arrivals, were canceled at Germany’s biggest air terminal.  One of the airport’s three runaways was reopened, allowing the first plane of the day to land at 8:28 a.m. MORE

Swine flu: three more deaths as 200 fight for life

Doctors have warned they are seeing the worst flu outbreak in 10 years in some areas as fears grow that three more people may have died after contracting swine flu.

The new deaths would take the total to 20 so far this winter, with the majority linked to the H1N1 swine flu virus. Laboratory tests on the latest deaths in Leicester are awaited.  MORE 

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Monday afternoon I was one of nineteen “preparedness professionals” seated around a table at the emergency management headquarters of a major jurisdiction.   I was the only one focused on preparedness for catastrophe.  There was one other colleague who often works with me on catastrophic possibilities.  So… we might say there was a 9-to-1 ratio in terms of disaster-to-catastrophe attention.  Frankly that’s much higher than usual.  Consistently investing five percent would be great.

The collection of stories above suggests why.  Flood, blizzard, and other less-than-catastrophic threats abound. Just these can strain our readiness and seriously complicate our lives.  Yet an investment in catastrophic thinking pays dividends by helping us be less-surprised by the less likely, catastrophic or not.

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 21, 2010 @ 9:21 am

Just noting for the record that neither FEMA, DHS or their statutory authority or assignments are all-hazards in their approach or capability.

One quick fix that might help. Rewrite Executive Order 12656 first issued in November 1988 after the 1988 Presidential election to become the first all-hazards Presidential level order since NSDD-47 and perhaps if generous HSPD-5 and 8!

Well Mr. President, time for action is now now post event.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

December 21, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

Keep singing that catastrophic preparedness tune. I make the same point when arguing for nuclear terrorism preparedness–if you work the issues surrounding an event that big, you will be better prepared for not just other catastrophes but the more likely everyday disasters as well.

The contrast between the UK terror news and recent US arrests is interesting. There seems to have been an active plot that did not require facilitation by MI-5 or Scotland Yard agents.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 22, 2010 @ 8:42 am

As Bill Cumming sometimes explains, a note for the record. Today, December 22, I am in Lexington, Kentucky. In this morning’s Lexington Herald-Leader — a better than average paper — many of the topics noted above appear as a collection of very brief notes on world news, usually no more than four sentences… and no links to more extensive sources. Too little, too late… or just enough for the typical citizen?

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