Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 29, 2011

Kip Hawley: Compliance with security procedures is not enough

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 29, 2011

from: latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-hawley-tsa-20110129,0,5091218.story

Plugging the airport security gaps

Post-9/11 security has done its job, but we must continue to adapt. To foil endlessly resourceful terrorists, we need to improve in three areas.


[note: the three areas are:

1. Multiple layers of security deployed throughout the airport that are changing regularly and seem unpredictable.

2. Ownership of the security result must be jointly shared by TSA, the airports, airlines, law enforcement, vendors and  the traveling public

3. Active assessment and allocation of risk-management resources that balance risk tradeoffs]

By Kip Hawley

January 29, 2011

After this week’s airport bomb attack in Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared that there was a “systemic failure to provide security.” That is difficult to dispute. But the claims of Domodedovo Airport’s spokesperson that “we fully met all the requirements in the sphere of air transport security for which we are responsible” was probably also correct. Yet ultimately, dozens of people are dead and dozens more wounded. So who is to blame? What’s wrong with the system? And are we in America also at risk?

In the United States, we divide security responsibility according to who performs the activity. For example, Transportation Security Administration personnel search carry-on bags at checkpoints, while airport law enforcement officers patrol the airport perimeter. TSA also requires that airports make public address announcements and not allow vehicles to park at the airport curb, and that airlines inspect aircraft food trays. Each activity costs money, so TSA requires only what it can justify, write down and audit.

But security that depends on an auditable checklist of written requirements is always going to be vulnerable to an enemy that can change the method of attack based on those regulations. Once TSA publishes what is required, three things happen: vulnerability is embedded where those measures are weak; the minimum required becomes the maximum undertaken by the security players; and the regulated party feels protected from blame because it did what was required. Unfortunately, in counter-terrorism, regulations alone are not enough.

When responsibility is finally determined in Russia, there probably will be a gap between what Domodedovo Airport was required to do and what it could have done to prevent the attack. But top-down rules allocate responsibility in slices, fragmenting responsibility, thereby eliminating any one party’s accountability in security’s overall outcome. A corollary vulnerability is that no government can issue regulations quickly enough to cover every conceivable angle of attack. Therefore, if compliance with set rules is our system, it is a system born to fail.

Post-9/11 security has done its job, but we must continue to adapt. To foil endlessly resourceful terrorists, we need to improve in three areas.

First, we need multiple layers of security deployed throughout the airport that are changing regularly and, to outsiders, seem unpredictable. Layers such as K-9 teams, random inspections and behavior detection agents, by their very randomness, prevent terrorists from identifying a security gap and exploiting it.

Second, ownership of the security result must be jointly shared. TSA, the airports, airlines, law enforcement, vendors and, yes, the traveling public all share responsibility for our security outcomes. The fear of blame within a security apparatus leads to bureaucratic inaction, which eventually leads to gaping security holes.

And last, we need active assessment and allocation of risk-management resources that balance what I call risk tradeoffs.

Effective security is, in fact, risk management. Our political leaders and security authorities make judgments about where to set the risk-management needle. They have chosen to take the minimum possible risk at airport passenger checkpoints, resulting in pat-downs and plastic bags. The needle registers a little more tolerance in the maintenance area, or so-called backside of airports, and more still in the public areas. But how much risk do we want to accept in these public areas? And how much more hassle can we take?

When we call for more security in public areas, we should be searching for a risk balance that protects us yet is sustainable.

The victims’ families in Russia, or anywhere, do not care about excuses from segments of security that each claim it did its job according to the rules. When responsibility is diffused in systemic failure, we may tweak procedures, assure ourselves that we have fixed the problem, while disregarding the truth that static security based on regulations isn’t enough. Risk management must be constantly assessed and depends on each of the participants accepting ownership and being actively involved in how resources are deployed.

Before we hear the words “systemic failure” again, we should take another look at regulation-based security and recognize that compliance with procedure is not enough when it comes to stopping terrorism threats.

Kip Hawley served as administrator of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration from 2005 until 2009.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

An image of homeland security – 2011

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 29, 2011

Here (thanks to the folks at Wordle) is a portrait of Secretary Napolitano’s state of homeland security speech.  The size of each word is proportional to the number of time it appears in the speech (common English words are removed).

January 28, 2011

The Washington Post and many others are learning the wrong lesson. This was not an evacuation failure. It was a shelter-in-place failure

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2011

Today’s lead editorial in the Washington Post is blistering — it also neglects the most valuable lesson to be learned from an admittedly hard knock.

NO OFFICIAL EXCUSE, rationalization or explanation can justify the terrible – and in many instances terrifying – commute that many motorists and bus riders experienced Wednesday night. That the nation’s capital was brought to its knees by what in some places was no more than five inches of snow from a long-predicted storm is more than embarrassing and infuriating: It should also be cause for real worry about the region’s ability to cope with far more serious threats to its safety.

In the aftermath of the late-afternoon winter storm that swept the region, officials were advancing a number of explanations for the hellish circumstances that gridlocked area roads and trapped commuters in their cars for as long as 13 hours: Rain washed away the preconditioning salt treatment of roads. A layer of ice formed and was followed by an intense period of heavy snowfall. Add in the rush-hour timing and the notorious inability of many Washington residents to drive – or even show some common sense – in the snow, and some problems were inevitable.

Read the entire editorial here: How did five inches of snow turn into a disaster?

Today the National Capital Region’s airwaves and hallways are abuzz about how Wednesday’s snow event demonstrates the region’s lack of readiness to conduct an effective evacuation.  I would argue Wednesday afternoon and evening tells us much more about how we have focused too much attention on evacuation and too little on shelter-in-place.

At 2:08AM on Wednesday morning, I received the following from AlertDC (sign up here!)

National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory from 10AM to 4AM Thursday morning. A mix of rain, sleet, snow to start becoming all snow during the mid to later afternoon. Accumulations of 3 to 5 inches or expected. precipitation is expected to change to all snow by late afternoon with the heaviest of snowfall is expected between 4PM and midnight. Temperatures in the mid 30’s with a northwest winds 10 to 15 MPH.

This is almost precisely what happened.

At 11:00 AM on Wednesday AlertDC — provided free-of-charge to your hand-held or other digital device by the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency — added a sense of urgency:

National Weather Service issued Winter Storm Warning until 4:00 AM Thursday for the Metropolitan Area (including District of Columbia). Precipitation of snow, heavy snow at times late in the afternoon hours. Expected accumulations of 5 to 10 inches of snow.

The same message was being shouted aloud by every radio and TV station.  I wanted to stay where I was Wednesday morning.  But I could not re-calendar a critical meeting.  I was able to shift the time and place to allow me to drive in, park, and absolutely plan to not drive anywhere — even a few blocks — after 3:00.

What happened on Wednesday afternoon is the urban core evacuated into the heart of the storm.  Look at the weather data posted below (thanks to Weather Underground).  At precisely the time the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management gave what was, in effect, an evacuation order the temperature fell and the precipitation spiked.   The federal enclave was evacuating directly into the plume… fortunately this time it was only ice and snow.

In the vast majority of threat scenarios shelter-in-place should be our default.  We should plan, prepare, and train for shelter-in-place.  We should plan, prepare, and train individuals to access pertinent information, consider the entire context, and make decisions that match their considered priorities, the context, and a full range of options.  Evacuation is often a bad option. That’s the lesson to be learned from Wednesday.

Homeland security: Anticipating risk is key to the business plan

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2011

Twenty-five years ago today the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

Last year there were no airline fatalities in the United States.

The financial crisis was avoidable, according to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

On Wednesday and Thursday the Dow Jones Industrials briefly reclaimed 12,000 for the first time since June 2008.

In the aftermath of the street revolution in Tunisia, this morning the streets of Cairo, Sanaa, Tripoli and elsewhere were full of the angry (and hopeful).

Are these headlines in any (reasonable) way related and meaningful to homeland security?

In her USA Today special on the Challenger explosion, Traci Watson offers some intriguing lessons learned.  The lessons suggest how an ambitious and potentially meaningful program came to a close.  The final space shuttle flight is tentatively scheduled for June with no substantial successor program identified.

To better suggest possible relevance with homeland security I will — slightly — amend headliness for two of the  four lessons learned:

  1. The mission takes big bucks… so it requires a big justification.
  2. The strategy and vehicle selected couldn’t sustain its business plan.
  3. Complacency is hard to avoid. (verbatim)
  4. There will be accidents (verbatim)

Ergo, if the business plan cannot really justify the big bucks then when a bit of human complacency results in a dramatic failure (or two), the entire enterprise — no matter its nobility or potentiality — will tend to implode.  If you are not familiar with “business plan” consider raison d’etre, practical purpose, or return-on-investment.

Please read Ms. Watson’s original for details related to the Challenger, but it does not take much imagination to apply the word-problem to homeland security.

In contrast to the space shuttle program, even as the number of flights and passengers have increased, the number of airline fatalities has decreased.  According to another USA Today article (can you tell I have been staying in hotels alot?):

The average number of deaths fell from about 86 a year in the 1990s to 46 a year since 2000, a 46% drop. Last year also marked the first time that there were no passenger fatalities on any airline based in developed nations, says Arnold Barnett, a professor who specializes in accident statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. “In the entire First World, fatal crashes are at the brink of extinction,” Barnett says.

Improvements in aircraft engineering, maintenance,  decision-processes, and training/education have substantially reduced the probability of fatal accidents.  The same might be said for the space shuttle as well.  The difference is almost certainly the perceived (actual?) value of the business plan.  The advantage of commercial air travel — despite everything — remains clear.  The advantage of the shuttle compared with alternatives is not nearly as distinct.  But, make no mistake, there will be airline fatalities and human complacency or intention are likely to play important roles.

Yesterday the 576 page report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was released.  They found:

The crisis was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire… The captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question, understand and manage evolving risks within a system essential to the well-being of the American public. Theirs was a big miss, not a stumble… The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.

I am entirely prepared to accept this finding, except for the implication of the last sentence. No matter what improvements are made, it will happen again. Something like the financial crisis is inevitable. The most important precondition for mitigating the consequences is a very keen sense of impending failure.

Regarding the recent stock market rally Dan Caplinger writes, “When everyone is frightened about the stock market, opportunistic investors start looking for bargains. But right now, after a huge rally over the past four months, investors are getting cocky with their profits — and contrarian investors should be looking for ways to protect themselves.”  What goes up will come down.

Yesterday in Davos, French President Nicholas Sarkozy warned that monetary imbalances “have risen five-fold in recent years … and could bring down the whole house of cards.”

On January 13 speaking at the Doha Forum for the Future of the Middle East, Secretary Clinton said:

We all know this region faces serious challenges, even beyond the conflicts that dominate the headlines of the day. And we have a lot of work to do. This forum was designed to be not just an annual meeting where we talk with and at each other, but a launching pad for some of the institutional changes that will deal with the challenges that we all know are present.

For example, a growing majority of this region is under the age of 30. In fact, it is predicted that in just one country, Yemen, the population will double in 30 years. These young people have a hard time finding work. In many places, there are simply not enough jobs. Across the region, one in five young people is unemployed. And in some places, the percentage is far more. While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. They are demanding reform to make their governments more effective, more responsive, and more open. And all this is taking place against a backdrop of depleting resources: water tables are dropping, oil reserves are running out, and too few countries have adopted long-term plans for addressing these problems.

Each country, of course, has its own distinct challenges, and each its own achievements. But in too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand. The new and dynamic Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere.

The next day the long-time Tunisian strongman, Ben Ali, fled to exile in Saudi Arabia.  That pebble in the pond continues to ripple.

Airline travel is a highly engineered complex human-machine interface operating within sometimes extreme, but generally predictable conditions. There is constant risk.  A large population has, for now, decided the benefit justifies the risk and cost.

The space shuttle is a highly engineered complex human-machine interface operating at the edge of our experience and knowledge. There is constant risk.  It has been decided the benefit no longer justifies the risk and cost.

The stock market is a complex human system facilitated and amplified by highly engineered machine processes.  There is constant risk. A large population has, for now, decided the benefit justifies the risk and cost.

In the Middle East we are on the sharp edge of a profound demographic and social shift.  A large population has decided the current approach to social engineering is no longer worth the costs. Risk is spiking.  Whether very soon or a bit later, the current arrangements will be superseded.  By what is not nearly as clear.

Whatever else, the homeland security business plan involves risk anticipation.  Do you see what I see?

Napolitano says we will have the resources. Are we ready for the responsibility?

Filed under: DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2011

Yesterday Secretary Napolitano gave a “State of Homeland Security” address at The George Washington University.  Her prepared remarks are available from the DHS website.

I expect most news stories have focused on the replacement of the color coded alert system.  Good riddance.  Glad it is being replaced.

More substantively there is quite a bit of language — and amplified attention — to the role of the “whole of the nation” or “whole community” in preparedness, protection, response, and recovery.  Some excerpts:

Despite our title, the Department of Homeland Security does not possess sole responsibility for securing the homeland within the Federal government…

But the homeland security enterprise extends far beyond DHS and the federal government. As I said, it requires not just a “whole of government,” but a “whole of nation” approach. In some respects, local law enforcement, community groups, citizens, and the private sector play as much of a role in homeland security as the federal government. That is why I like to say that “homeland security starts with hometown security…”

A study just last year study found that, between 1999 and 2009, more than 80 percent of foiled terrorist plots in the United States were thwarted because of observations from law enforcement or the general public…

And so, every day at DHS, we are doing everything we can to get more information, more tools, and more resources out of Washington, DC, and into the hands of the men and women on the front lines.

Which the Secretary strongly suggests is where each of us happen to be.

Sort of related… Wednesday afternoon during rush hour the Washington DC area was hit hard by quickly falling ice and snow.   It turned into a nightmare commute home for many.  (See Washington Post story)   Evidently tens-of-thousands were surprised.  This is despite the metro area’s horrendous traffic in the best weather, despite last year’s snowpocalypse, despite the breathless warning of weather people all day long, and despite the real surprise of significant snow on Wednesday morning.

Last night we heard snow-thunder across the National Capital Region.  In a more superstitious era someone might have suggested the storm god was slapping his forehead in frustration with how so many could miss all the warnings.

The Secretary is right to push information, tools, and resources out of Washington.  For this to make a difference the rest of us will have to accept our responsibility to pay attention, plan ahead, and practice good judgment.

January 27, 2011

Unrest in the Middle East: implications for homeland security?

Filed under: International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on January 27, 2011

Trying to predict the outcome of all the protests rocking Middle Eastern countries is a mug’s game.  Will authoritarian regimes fall or will they crush the uprisings?  If political change occurs, will democracy (of any sort) necessarily be the result?

Middle East expert Marc Lynch of George Washington University addresses some of the underlying issues:

The end of the Tunisian story hasn’t yet been written. We don’t yet know whether the so-called Jasmine Revolution will produce fundamental change or a return to a cosmetically-modified status quo ante, democracy or a newly configured authoritarianism. But most of the policy community has long since moved on to ask whether the Tunisian protests will spread to other Arab countries — Egypt, of course, but also Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and almost every place else. Most experts on each individual country can offer powerful, well-reasoned explanations as to why their country won’t be next. I’m skeptical too.

But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow.

Harvard realist Stephen Walt does not believe we’ll see what happened in Tunisia occur in Egypt or elsewhere….maybe:

Do the large and angry demonstrations in Egypt mean that I was wrong to predict that the revolution in Tunisia wouldn’t spread? Not yet, but I will be watching events closely and developments there could eventually prove me wrong. (As Keynes famously retorted, “when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”) But thus far, I’m sticking with my original forecast.

And Daniel Drezner of Tufts University asks a question that touches on a potential homeland security implication:

Which neoconservative impulse will win out — the embrace of democratic longing, or the fear of Islamic movements taking power?

Experts have pointed out that while there was little Islamic fundamentalist-based opposition to the Tunisian government, that is not true in Egypt.  While it appears the current protests are organic in nature and not organized by any particular group, the largest opposition group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood.  Clearly spelling out the nature of the group is for others with a much deeper understanding of their beliefs and activities, but I would bet that many U.S. security officials would be nervous about them gaining power in the largest Arab state.  Many homeland security analysts are already wary of groups operating in the U.S. that are associated with the Brotherhood.

A larger issue is if regime change does come to some of these nations, will it have a net positive effect in terms of terrorist recruitment in the future? One of the reasons given by Bin Laden for attacking the U.S. is that we prop up these “apostate” regimes in the Arab world–regimes that people like Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been unable to topple themselves.  So they focused on the “far enemy” (the U.S.) so that we would retreat from the Middle East and they could then topple the “near enemy” (regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

So if there is regime change of any sort, will that decrease the terrorist threat to the U.S.?

As appealing as the prospect of democracy spreading across the Middle East is, it is not the primary national security interest in the region for the U.S.  That would be keeping the flow of oil unimpeded by ensuring that no one state dominates the area.  Could that clear interest come into conflict with a murky opportunity to perhaps decrease the long-term terrorist threat?     

Cyber Musings from an Author and a Wonk

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Arnold Bogis on January 27, 2011

The New York Times had a cyber two-fer on their op-ed page today.

First up, celebrated cyberpunk author William Gibson (credited with coining the phrase “cyberspace” in the early 1980s) who provides historical context for the Stuxnet virus:

IN January 1986, Basit and Amjad Alvi, sibling programmers living near the main train station in Lahore, Pakistan, wrote a piece of code to safeguard the latest version of their heart-monitoring software from piracy. They called it Brain, and it was basically a wheel-clamp for PCs. Computers that ran their program, plus this new bit of code, would stop working after a year, though they cheerfully provided three telephone numbers, against the day. If you were a legitimate user, and could prove it, they’d unlock you.

But in the way of all emergent technologies, something entirely unintended happened. The Alvis’ wheel-clamp was soon copied by a certain stripe of computer hobbyist, who began to distribute it, concealed within various digital documents that people might be expected to want to open. Because almost all these booby-trapped files went out on floppy disks, the virus spread at a pre-Internet snail’s pace.

Should the lights go out in our online bus shelters one day, or some critical control system go spectacularly awry, it may in a sense, however distantly, be because Israel found a way to shut down Iran’s centrifuges. But in another way it will be the result of a bright idea two brothers once had, in the vicinity of Lahore Railway Station, to innocently clamp a digital pirate’s wheel.

Considered something of a cyber-visionary, Gibson points out he foresaw computer viruses becoming strategic weapons deployed by nation states but admits to missing the possibility that they would, for the most part, be the tool of amateur vandals.

The second piece is from Richard Falkenrath, former Bush White House homeland security official and NYPD Counterterrorism Commissioner. He covers a lot of familiar ground, questions of sovereignty and collateral damage, but brings up an interesting new (at least to me) issue:

Under American law the transmission of malicious code is in many cases a criminal offense. This makes sense, given the economy’s reliance on information networks, the sensitivity of stored electronic data and the ever-present risk of attack from viruses, worms and other varieties of malware.

But the president, as commander in chief, does have some authority to conduct offensive information warfare against foreign adversaries. However, as with many presidential powers to wage war and conduct espionage, the extent of his authority has never been enumerated.

This legal ambiguity is problematic because such warfare is far less controllable than traditional military and intelligence operations, and it raises much more complex issues of private property, personal privacy and commercial integrity.

Therefore, before our courts are forced to consider the issue and potentially limit executive powers, as they did after President Harry Truman tried to seize steel plants in the early 1950s, Congress should grant the White House broad authority to wage offensive information warfare.

Both pieces are worth reading in full.

January 26, 2011

New Rules or New Game?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Futures,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on January 26, 2011

In his State of the Union Address tonight, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the rules governing our society and our place in the world have changed. Many Americans, he said, have experienced the impact of these changes in lost opportunities, diminished outlook and a dashed sense of optimism if not outright despair. Nevertheless, the President challenged us to see the future as ours to shape, and he outlined a four-point plan to renew American confidence in our competence, our creativity and our ability to make the world a better place by collaborating and competing.

The four elements of the President’s plan — innovation, education, building the nation, and managing the debt — seem sound but strike me as not enough to meet the challenges we face. If what we confront, as the President himself proposed, is a “Sputnik moment,” we have less need for new rules than we do for a whole new game.

As the President himself noted in examples sprinkled throughout his speech, the greatest changes have arisen from people seeing in past crises opportunities dressed up as challenges. The nation itself, he noted, was founded on just such a radical idea. The notion that the nation’s existence reflects a quest to promote an idea — securing the common good by protecting individual liberty — was itself a radical innovation in its day, and one we are in danger of taking for granted.

In what struck me as burying the lede, the President made few if any bold policy pronouncements or proposals until he mentioned his administration’s plan to present a proposal to reorganize executive branch departments and agencies to reflect his agenda. He gave few hints at what this might look like beyond offering an amusing anecdote about the conflicted way in which our government regulates and protects salmon, smoked and otherwise.

Incremental changes in government administration, tax policy and fiscal management will not fix the problems facing our country or renew the promise of its founding documents or the potential of its citizens. The President admitted as much himself, but he offered few if any tangible insights into how we might restore the vitality of the institutions touched by the agenda he proposed. I for one hope that the relative position of comments concerning reorganization of executive branch functions in his remarks does not reflect the true priority of this initiative. If it does, the other planks of the platform he outlined may be doomed.

Finally, unless you count his goal of increasing the percentage of energy we produce from renewable sources to 80 percent by 2035, his remarks barely touched on homeland security. When he turned to foreign policy concerns near the end of his address, he relied almost entirely on boilerplate plaudits. While renewing promises that al Qaeda, its affiliates and supporters will have no safe haven while he occupies the Oval Office, he made the point that renewed focus on domestic issues does not mean abandoning our commitments abroad or seeing those beyond our borders solely as consumers or competitors.

With all of this said, I wonder whether you see the President’s remarks as new rules, a new game or neither? Either way, what would you like to see come of each of the four policy planks he proposed? How will actions to implement policies in each of the four areas — innovation, education, infrastructure and debt — help us build a stronger, safer nation?

January 25, 2011

FEMA is looking for your public participation ideas

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on January 25, 2011

FEMA is looking for ideas about how to increase public participation in emergency management and homeland security. As a part of that search they’ve made available a paper describing some of the policy challenges associated with creating resilient communities.

As described in an email from a colleague:

Over the last several months, we have engaged a diverse range of people, organizations, and professions from across the Nation. Our goal is to learn what works well in local communities before an incident occurs and to connect these successful activities, networks, assets, and processes to preparations to withstand, respond, mitigate, and recover from emergencies.

…We would like your comments on a working paper, Policy Challenges in Supporting Community Resilience. (The 29 page paper can be downloaded at this link.) This paper explores how governments can better engage with the public to increase locally-organized disaster resilience and empower citizens and local institutions to take an active role in protecting themselves and their communities.

In particular, we would appreciate your thoughts on the following questions:

  • Do the themes and concepts outlined in this paper resonate with you? Please describe.
  • Are there additional characteristics (i.e. themes) that are important to consider?
  • Have you seen greater resilience in places where communities have been engaged in emergency management activities? Please share examples.

Please submit your reactions and comments on the themes, challenges, and overall approach presented in this paper by Monday, February 11, 2011 to “FEMA-Community-Engagement@dhs.gov”.

The paper also asks for comments on such policy issues as:

  • What are the best and smart practices among government and private sector agencies and social sector organizations in listening to, learning from, and engaging with community groups (including the general public) in local neighborhoods?
  • What experiences at the local level activate and sustain local residents? interest and involvement in resilience activities? What information do they need to motivate behavioral change and trigger preparedness activities? How are these activities organized? How do these resilience-oriented activities compare with insights from other research and policy literature on why and how communities engage in non-emergency, non-security related activities?
  • What specific barriers do diverse communities face in participating in resilience activities? What types of support do communities need once they have decided to ‘do something,’ including access to sources of expertise (people and guidance documents) or equipment and other assets? Who do they think this should come from?
  • What “entry points? exist for building an effective exchange between communities and national governments on resilience policies?
  • In what ways is each country [the paper describes UK and US experiences] working to build support for action on community resilience among various levels of society and policy makers, ranging from officials and political leaders to citizens and local responder organizations?
  • How might a whole community approach to emergency management work in your community?

Again, if you have any reactions to the ideas in the paper, please email them to “FEMA-Community-Engagement@dhs.gov”.

Ten years’ worth of state of the union words about homeland security

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on January 25, 2011

I wonder what the president will say about homeland security-related issues in his state of the union address tonight.

For context — and a  trip through history — here are  excerpts about homeland security from the past nine state of the union addresses.  (You can read the full speeches at this link.)  Number 10 starts tonight at 6PM, Pacific time.

January 29, 2002

As we gather tonight, our Nation is at war; our economy is in recession; and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet, the state of our Union has never been stronger….

We last met in an hour of shock and suffering. In 4 short months, our Nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression…. Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay. And terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own…. Our cause is just, and it continues. …

We have seen the depth of our enemies’ hatred in videos where they laugh about the loss of innocent life. And the depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear powerplants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world….Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan’s camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking timebombs, set to go off without warning. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement officials and coalition partners, hundreds of terrorists have been arrested. Yet, tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large. These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are….

Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. This campaign may not be finished on our watch; yet, it must be and it will be waged on our watch…. Homeland security will make America not only stronger but, in many ways, better…. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life. Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom’s victory.

January 28, 2003

There are days when our fellow citizens do not hear news about the war on terror. There’s never a day when I do not learn of another threat or receive reports of operations in progress or give an order in this global war against a scattered network of killers. The war goes on, and we are winning…. All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States … and  our allies…. We have the terrorists on the run. We’re keeping them on the run. One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice…. This Government is taking unprecedented measures to protect our people and defend our homeland. We’ve intensified security at the borders and ports of entry, posted more than 50,000 newly trained Federal screeners in airports, begun inoculating troops and first-responders against smallpox, and are deploying the Nation’s first early warning network of sensors to detect biological attack. And this year, for the first time, we are beginning to field a defense to protect this Nation against ballistic missiles…. Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power…. Since September the 11th, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have worked more closely than ever to track and disrupt the terrorists. The FBI is improving its ability to analyze intelligence and is transforming itself to meet new threats. Tonight I am instructing the leaders of the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center, to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location. Our Government must have the very best information possible, and we will use it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect all our citizens….

Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power…. The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal–Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups…. We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

January 20, 2004

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American service men and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure….. Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are tracking terrorist threats; analysts are examining airline passenger lists; the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are patrolling our coasts and borders. And their vigilance is protecting America…. Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September the 11th, 2001– over 2 years without an attack on American soil. And it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting–and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombasa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated…. Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give our homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the PATRIOT Act, which allows Federal law enforcement to better share information to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists….  America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this war. Last March, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a mastermind of September the 11th, awoke to find himself in the custody of U.S. and Pakistani authorities….  We’re tracking Al Qaida around the world, and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on the manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves, and one by one, we will bring these terrorists to justice….

Tonight I also ask you to reform our immigration laws so they reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary-worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing employers when no Americans can be found to fill the job. This reform will be good for our economy because employers will find needed workers in an honest and orderly system. A temporary-worker program will help protect our homeland, allowing Border Patrol and law enforcement to focus on true threats to our national security.

February 2, 2005

In the 3\1/2\ years since September the 11th, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans. We’ve created a new Department of Government to defend our homeland, focused the FBI on preventing terrorism, begun to reform our intelligence agencies, broken up terror cells across the country, expanded research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, improved border security, and trained more than a half million first-responders. Police and firefighters, air marshals, researchers, and so many others are working every day to make our homeland safer, and we thank them all….

Our Nation, working with allies and friends, has also confronted the enemy abroad with measures that are determined, successful, and continuing. The Al Qaida terror network that attacked our country still has leaders, but many of its top commanders have been removed. There are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists, but their number has declined. There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction but no longer without attention and without consequence. Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many and intimidate us all, and we will stay on the offensive against them until the fight is won….

In these 4 years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events. We have known times of sorrow and hours of uncertainty and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us. The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom’s power to change the world. We are all part of a great venture: To extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings.

January 31, 2006

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this Nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives, protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks. They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, so I ask you to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act….

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our Government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to Al Qaida operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack–based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute–I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected Al Qaida operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and Federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate Members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaida, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again….

Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our Nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border….

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency, and stays at it until they’re back on their feet. So far the Federal Government has committed $85 billion to the people of the gulf coast and New Orleans. We’re removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We’re providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

January 23, 2007

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America, with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we are doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and funding new infrastructure and technology. Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border, and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in, and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. We will enforce our immigration laws at the work site, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there is no excuse left for violating the law. We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. We need to resolve the status of illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and without amnesty….

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We have had time to take stock of our situation. We have added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us, unless we stop them. With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled, that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free-flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same. Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevents, but here is some of what we do know: we stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the west coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terrorist cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a Nation at war. In the minds of the terrorists, this war began well before September 11 and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past 5 years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy.… Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi:  “We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse.” And Osama bin Laden declared: “Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.” These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement….

In the sixth year since our Nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people…. This war is more than a clash of arms. It is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our Nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom, societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments.

January 28, 2008

Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined…. And on a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists, evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule…. Since September 11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies…. We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to the people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom….

America needs to secure our borders, and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We are increasing worksite enforcement, we are deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings, we have effectively ended the policy of  “catch and release” at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals….

By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear….

On the homefront, we will continue to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. This is our most solemn duty. We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11. This is not for a lack of desire or effort on the part of the enemy. In the past 6 years, we have stopped numerous attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building in Los Angeles, and another to blow up passenger jets bound for America over the Atlantic. Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this Chamber owes them our thanks. And we owe them something more: We owe them the tools they need to keep our people safe.

One of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning. Last year, the Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, the Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1. This means that if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorists’ threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.

February 24, 2009

For 7 years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price. We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibility [sic] ends this war. And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away….

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned….

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend–because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists–because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

January 27, 2010

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who is to blame for this, but I’m not interested in relitigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our Nation and forge a more hopeful future–for America and for the world….

That’s the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our Nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed–far more than in 2008…. And in Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghanistan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans–men and women alike….

There will be difficult days ahead. But I am absolutely confident we will succeed. As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi Government as they hold elections, and we will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home….

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade….But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment–to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

January 25, 2011

To be determined.

January 24, 2011

Aviation Security: Curbside to Cockpit

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 24, 2011

In a recent speech to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security,  Transportation Security Administrator John S. Pistole discussed the need for aviation security to be “curbside to cockpit.”

Unfortunately, today’s attack at the Domodedovo Airport on the outskirts of Moscow (the busiest airport in Eastern Europe),  demonstrates the importance of a comprehensive approach to aviation security.  The attack today killed 29 people in a waiting area for arriving passengers, just outside the Customs area. Another 50 were hospitalized, including  35 who were listed in critical condition.  As in most airports, the area struck was outside the security zone.

In response to the attack, TSA stated  “We are monitoring the tragedy at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. As always, we are working with our international partners to share information regarding the latest terrorist tactics and security best practices.”

This response by TSA is a reasoned one that hopefully will prevail in the coming days over more reactionary ones.  Today’s incident demonstrates how complicated aviation security is, not only in the U.S., but internationally. Threats can be mitigated, but they must be done so through risk management and cooperation globally.   The creation of international standards and strengthened information and intelligence sharing for terrorist attacks are also both critical tools.

As the U.S.  further develops its “curbside to cockpit” vision for aviation security, it should recognize that security must be layered and that  VIPR teams, explosive detection technologies, canines, and behavioral patterns are all important parts of a security program.   Just as important is the recognition that not all travelers are the same and mechanisms for getting low-risk travelers in and out of airports quickly, while focusing government attention on those that are higher risk is critical to our future efforts.

January 21, 2011

ARkStorm: Moving toward evidence-based whole-of-community engagement

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on January 21, 2011

Late last week the US Geological Survey and others reported out a study of a historically documented pattern of super-flooding along the West Coast. Even in California the report has not gotten the attention I expected.

Moreover, much of the limited attention has signaled world-weary fatalism or knee-jerk skepticism.  The effort deserves more balanced and simply more attention.

Following is a related news story from the Sacramento Bee with some online links — click on any blue text below — and interlinear comments by yours truly.


McClatchy Newspapers
Published: Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 – 12:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 – 11:35 am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California has more risk of catastrophic storms than any other region in the country – even the Southern hurricane states, according to a new study released Thursday.

(A 183 page overview of the study is available from USGS)

The two-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey is the most thorough effort yet to assess the potential effects of a “worst-case” storm in California.

It builds on a new understanding of so-called atmospheric rivers, a focusing of high-powered winds that drag a fire hose of tropical moisture across the Pacific Ocean, pointed directly at California for days on end. The state got a relatively tame taste of the phenomenon in December.

(Is an Atmospheric River the cause of the epic flooding in Queensland?   See: Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

The team of experts that developed the scenario can’t say when it will happen. But they do say it has happened in the past and is virtually certain to strike again.

(We can seldom predict catastrophe, all the more reason to anticipate it.)

“This storm, with essentially the same probability as a major earthquake, is potentially four to five times more damaging,” said Lucy Jones, USGS chief scientist on the study. “That’s not something that is in the public consciousness.”

(It is a low frequency — but periodically recurring — event with very high consequences.)

The study aims to fix that.

A conference on the subject, ending Friday at California State University, Sacramento, brings together hundreds of emergency planners to discuss the worst-case storm and how to prepare for it.

(I wonder if there are specific plans to extend the conversation beyond emergency planners? Hope so.)

The USGS is assessing a variety of natural hazards across the country. California was chosen for the latest project, called ArkStorm, because the state “has the potential for the biggest rainfall events in the country,” Jones said.

(You can scan USGS work on a range of natural hazards at their website.)

In December, an atmospheric river threw a series of wet storms at the state, breaking rainfall records in many areas across California. One part of Los Angeles County got 17 inches of rain in three days. Disasters were declared in 11 counties.

(I understand this is the same weather pattern behind the Queensland flooding.)

In the study, researchers used computer models and a composite of three historical storms to estimate a worst-case event: a torrent of tropical rain for nine straight days.

It amounts to a 500-year storm. In the lingo of disaster managers, that does not mean it happens only once every 500 years, but that it has two-tenths percent chance of occurring in any given year.

The Central Valley and the Sacramento region are likely to suffer the worst effects because they lie within a funnel for the state’s biggest rivers.

Such storms have happened. The primary example in the study occurred over December and January, 1861-62. Rain fell on and off for 45 days. Sacramento was inundated, and Gov.-elect Leland Stanford famously took a rowboat to his inauguration.

The researchers used soil samples to estimate that similar megastorms hit the state on at least six other occasions in the past 2 millenia, at 200- to 400-year intervals.

(In my thinking, the geologic and historical record differentiates this study from other modeling or projections.)

Of course, a lot has changed since 1861 – for better and for worse. Central Valley levees are generally stronger and more comprehensive now. On the other hand, millions more people and more economic activity depend on those levees.

The report acknowledges that some experts disagree with the severity of the scenario, especially in Sacramento and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Joe Countryman, president of MBK Engineers in Sacramento, who has decades of flood-control experience in the region and saw a draft of the study several months ago, said it lacked detailed analysis of reservoir operations and river flow capacity.

“As an exercise to test emergency procedures, OK. I’m not against it,” he said. “It seems to me much bigger than anything could actually be.”

(Given the geologic record — or just what we are seeing in Queensland — what is the source of skepticism?)

But the researchers also note that none of the levees is built for a 500-year storm. The best – such as those in Yuba County’s Plumas Basin and parts of Sacramento – are built for a 200-year storm.

Potential consequences include:

-$1 trillion in damages statewide – five times worse than a massive earthquake, which likely would affect only one region.

-1.5 million people displaced, about the same number affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

-Potentially hundreds of people killed, based on the inability of some vulnerable groups to evacuate, or for help to reach them.

-Pollution from flooded wastewater treatment plants, refineries and dairies. Some sewer plants might not return to operation for months.

“For a lot of people in California, we don’t think of ourselves as being this flood-prone,” said Laurie Johnson, an urban planning and disaster recovery expert, and co-author of the report. “It’s just too difficult to comprehend.”

What should people do?

Anyone living behind levees should buy flood insurance, Jones said. Only 12 percent do currently.

Citizens can also support urban planning efforts to steer development away from flood-prone areas, and support continued levee improvements.

The study estimates that upgrading urban levees to withstand the worst-case storm might cost $25 billion – a sum that pales next to the potential for hundreds of billions in storm damages.

Officials hope emergency planners use the ArkStorm report to prepare for the worst.

The next step is to develop a storm-rating scale similar to that used for hurricanes. It would assign a number to a storm based on predicted severity.



Much more is available regarding ARkStorm (Atmospheric River plus k Storm, get it?) and other high consequence hazards from USGS and CalTech at the Multi Hazards Demonstration Project website.

From a USGS news release:

According to FEMA Region IX Director, Nancy Ward, “The ARkStorm report will prove to be another invaluable tool in engaging the whole of our community in addressing flood emergencies in California. It is entirely possible that flood control infrastructure and mitigation efforts could be overwhelmed by the USGS ARkStorm scenario, and the report suggests ways forward to limit the damage that is sure to result.”

I hope so.  This is the kind of information that needs to be packaged and pushed out to the public for broad consideration.  We  should not wait to develop official answers and assurances before engaging the public.  In dealing with potential catastrophe, such answers do not exist.  But in my experience when clear historical precedence is presented with credible empirical analysis it can capture public attention and spur the creativity of communities.

January 20, 2011

Lessons from Estonia’s Cyber Army

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on January 20, 2011

Dr. Who fans, don’t get excited.  Estonia is not creating an army of Cybermen.

Instead, as reported by NPR,  it has created an all volunteer force of programmers and computer scientists that would be mobilized to defend the country during a cyberwar.

The responsibility would fall to a force of programmers, computer scientists and software engineers who make up a Cyber Defense League, a volunteer organization that in wartime would function under a unified military command.

“[Our] league brings together specialists in cyberdefense who work in the private sector as well as in different government agencies,” Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo says. The force carries out regular weekend exercises, Aaviksoo says, “to prepare for possible cyber contingencies.”

For a nation as dependent on the internet for everyday life as Estonia, the fear of cyber attack is strong. The risk was made vivid following the 2007 assault on many of the country’s networks.  So strong, in fact, that there is serious consideration given to instituting a cyber draft:

The sense of cyber vulnerability in Estonia has been a key rallying point for the Cyber Defense League. No democratic country in the world has a comparable force, with computer specialists ready and willing to put themselves under a single paramilitary command to defend the country’s cyber infrastructure.

Aaviksoo says it’s so important for Estonia to have a skilled cyber army that the authorities there may even institute a draft to make sure every cyber expert in the country is available in a true national emergency.

There seems to be some obvious lessons for U.S. cyber efforts, but cultural difference may present too large of a firewall…

In the United States, most top cybersecurity experts work in the private sector and are not available for government duty, even in times of an emergency. Stewart Baker, who tried to coordinate cyberdefense efforts at the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, says a Cyber Defense League like Estonia has would have been helpful.

But Baker, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency, says it’s been hard in the United States to promote public-private collaboration in cybersecurity.

“The people who work in IT in the U.S. tend to be quite suspicious of government,” Baker says. “Maybe they think that they’re so much smarter than governments that they’ll be able to handle an attack on their own. But there’s a standoffishness that makes it much harder to have that kind of easy confidence that you can call on people in an emergency and that they’ll be respond.”

Potential lessons learned for U.S. homeland security are not limited to the cyber arena.

The unit is but one division of Estonia’s Total Defense League, an all-volunteer paramilitary force dedicated to maintaining the country’s security and preserving its independence.

Aaviksoo says Estonian civilians are willing to be mobilized to defend their country because of their experience of invasion and occupation: by the Soviet Army in 1939, followed by the Germans in 1941 and then again by the Soviet Union, which occupied Estonia until it broke free in 1991.

“Insurgent activity against an occupying force sits deep in the Estonian understanding of fighting back,” Aaviksoo says, “and I think that builds the foundation for understanding total defense in the case of Estonia.”

While a paramilitary force is not required in the U.S. to preserve our independence, the Estonian Total Defense League could be a model for increasing citizen resilience, in particular active participation in prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.  A Total Resilience League?

CERT is a good, if underfunded and underdeveloped, first start in this direction. The next step should be a concentrated effort to engage those outside of traditional homeland security communities with relevant expertise or experience to participate in resilience-building activities.  For example, veterinarians as well as anyone else with a modicum of medical training should be excepted as providers/responders during any catastrophe that overwhelms traditional response organizations (thus helping to create community medical resiliency).  Unfortunately, I fear that ingrained attitudes found within those organizations, concerning behavior of the public in general and volunteers in particular during events of all sizes, will be a major impediment.  But we can always hope.

January 19, 2011

A Better Place

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on January 19, 2011

On a day that presented many interesting topics for consideration — including a large, shallow earthquake in southwestern Pakistan near Baluchistan on the border with Afghanistan’s embattled Helmand province, the announcement that Senator Joseph Leiberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, does not intend to seek reelection in 2012, and an FBI investigation following the discovery of a bomb along a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade route in Spokane, Washington — it was the death of Sargent Shriver that really caught my attention and got me thinking. Deputy editor of The Atlantic and Shriver biographer Scott Stossel posted perhaps the most moving and personal remembrance of Shriver following announcement of his death at age 95.

Stossel called Shriver perhaps the most influential American of the last half of the 20th century who was not a president, prominent elected official or Dr. Martin Lither King, Jr. That’s saying something.

Too many will remember Shriver as George McGovern’s running mate in the Democrats’ failed 1972 bid to defeat Richard M. Nixon for President of the United States. On the political and public service front, it was Shriver’s immense contribution to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 followed by his contributions to Kennedy’s and later Lyndon B. Johnson’s administrations that had the most lasting impact on the lives not only of Americans but of poor and marginalized people around the world.

As the first director of the Peace Corps and the person responsible for launching the Head Start preschool program, Shriver helped establish huge federal programs that not only worked but demonstrated what could be accomplished for very little money if we only had the vision and energy to put our nation’s values into action. Shriver’s faith in public service was equalled only by his commitment to social justice.

In an age obsessed with celebrity, too many people will remember Shriver as the husband of John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice. A younger generation will recognize him as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father-in-law. Obviously, he was both of these things too, but it is interesting to note the impact Shriver had in these relationships as well. In the first instance, he helped Eunice establish the Special Olympics, which he championed with relentless zeal for most of the rest of his life. And later I suspect, but clearly cannot confirm, probably encouraged Republican Schwarzenegger to adopt or at least consider seriously some liberal policies that may become the accomplishments for which he is best remembered from his tenure in Sacramento.

As we consider some of the day’s other news, it’s worth noting what Shriver’s approach to public service accomplished. By encouraging individuals to become actively involved in development projects in impoverished countries he raised the living standards of millions while enlightening our nation to its leadership role in the world by showing how every citizen could play a meaningful even integral part in making the world a better place. By helping poor Americans get a running start in education he undoubtedly lifted many out of poverty and gave everyone hope in the promise of accessible and affordable education. By providing a system of legal aid for indigent citizens, he helped guarantee that American justice is not a commodity that can be bought or sold. And by helping us all recognize the abilities of people with cognitive and developmental impairments, he showed us that the innate worth of individuals is neither measured by money nor mental ability.

Sargent Shriver’s legacy extends well beyond these accomplishments. His lasting legacy is showing us that we can all make the world a better place if we don’t prejudge anyone’s worth or ability to contribute and we simply work together.

January 18, 2011

From the other blogs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 18, 2011

Here are a few of the homeland security-related issues covered by other blogs over the past two weeks.


1. Pentagon Retools Bio-Effort After $1 Billion Flop

It was supposed to come up with antidotes for pathogens that terrorists might use for a mass-casualty bio-attack. But after spending over $1 billion during the last five years, the Pentagon’s Transformational Medical Technology initiative can barely develop drugs ready for a clinical trial. That’s why the officials tasked with running it are setting their research-subsidy targets much lower [Wired]

2. Queensland Police Facebook Page: Best Practice in Public Engagement

The Australian flooding event in Queensland is proving to be a good example of the use of social media during a crisis. Although there are multiple facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and even a crowdsourced map created around this event, I’d like to focus on the Queensland Police facebook page. The fact that the page has almost 165,000 fans points to its relevance, but their content and use of the platform I believe, make it a model to be duplicated. [Idisaster]

3. So Easy A Girl Could Do It

The JAWA Report reports on a news story:

Less than 18 seconds. That’s how long it took two young women to climb a U.S.-Mexico border fence that costs millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

In a video shot by filmmaker Roy Germano, two women show how easy it is to reach the top by climbing the fence’s concrete-filled steel pipes in less than 18 seconds, MyFoxHouston.com reports.

The billion dollar (so far) virtual fence has been scrapped and the physical fence as designed is ineffective. [JAWA Report]

4. Fears of cyberwar exaggerated: report –

When the writer of a notorious book for hackers says we should stop panicking about cyberwar, it is probably time to sit up and take notice.

“Governments should take a calm, disciplined approach and evaluate the risks of each type of attack very carefully rather than be swayed by scare stories,” says Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics. [Homeland Security Newswire]

5. Nuclear Mondays

Relying on chemical, biological, or radiological detectors as year-round monitors for CBRN terrorism was never a good idea. Given the very low probability of the threat, it’s not an intelligent risk-management decision to invest in these systems. Detectors are good things to have for singular events like the Olympics or the presidential inauguration. They are good things for special response teams to have to verify and control particular hazards, if a terrorist ever uses a CBRN hazard.

If the US government is seriously concerned about illegitimate transportation and open releases of CBRN hazards, the key is to emphasize intelligence collection and law enforcement to pre-empt such actions. Ensuring a rapid emergency response (using local, not federal specialists) and developing resiliency in critical government services would be the second and third priorities. Any serious policy analysis of this area would reveal these facts. Unfortunately, the government leadership chooses to ignore such analysis. [Armchair Generalist]

6. [Today] Events of Interest: Frontline program on terrorism-industrial complex: ‘Are We Safer?’ (Jan. 18)

PBS’s Frontline will air a program about security, surveillance and civil liberties — including privacy — in the United States: “Are We Safer?” ….

The magazine series launches with the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who investigates the sprawling terrorism-industrial complex that has grown up in the wake of 9/11. Her report, Are We Safer? — produced and directed by FRONTLINE veteran Michael Kirk (The Warning, Obama’s Deal) — explores the growing reach of homeland security into the lives of ordinary Americans.

Priest examines Maryland, for example. Here, Gov. Martin O’Malley tells FRONTLINE how the Department of Homeland Security backed his state’s efforts to track down terrorists, funding the creation of a “fusion center” to bring together data from new high-tech devices like license plate readers and CCTV cameras on street corners, and to combine it with the databases of local police and the federal government.

The problem, Priest finds, is that, nine years after 9/11, Maryland, like so many states, has yet to use its vast anti-terror apparatus to capture any terrorists. Rather, it’s built a massive database that collects, stores and analyzes information on thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET

Location: Local PBS TV stations  [PrivacyLives]

7. 2010 Coast Guard Video of the Year Winners

Every year the United States Coast Guard recognizes the top videos of amazing rescues, national security operations and drug interdiction. The videos chosen highlight the mission and dedication of Coast Guard members. The videos received 31,639 total views and 1,064 votes.

This year’s first place video features Coast Guard Port Security Unit 307 and the Haitian Coast Guard providing medical attention during an orphanage relief project following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. [Homeland Security Digital Library]

8. Bruce Schneier on Airport Security

Last week, I spoke at an airport security conference hosted by EPIC: The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures. Here’s the video of my half-hour talk. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Schne [Schneier on Security]

9. Inspire Issue 4: An Open Front Jihad

Inspire’s fourth issue contains new strategies for attacks, including ways to blow up buildings and participate in al-Qaida’s media war on the West. Pursuing jihad is the way to heaven, it says, urging Muslims to make a choice between heaven, sacrifice, and jihad on one hand, and hellfire, punishment, and helping disbelievers on the other. [Investigative Project]

10. The Great Food Crisis of 2011

Lester Brown writes: As the new year begins, the price of wheat is setting an all-time high in the United Kingdom. Food riots are spreading across Algeria. Russia is importing grain to sustain its cattle herds until spring grazing begins. India is wrestling with an 18-percent annual food inflation rate, sparking protests. China is looking abroad for potentially massive quantities of wheat and corn. The Mexican government is buying corn futures to avoid unmanageable tortilla price rises. And on January 5, the U.N. Food and Agricultural organization announced that its food price index for December hit an all-time high. …

The current surge in world grain and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to.

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices — and the political turmoil this would lead to — that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward. [Foreign Policy]

11. Peep show: inside the world of unsecured IP security cameras

If you’re in public, you’re on camera. If you walk into a coffee shop, the owner gets you at the register. Visit a larger store, and chances are they have your face as soon as you cross the threshold. At least one or two of your neighbors catch you on camera when you walk around your neighborhood, and many cities monitor traffic using red light cameras at major intersections. The question is no longer if you’re on camera, but rather how many different angles you were caught on while going about your day. [ars technica]

12. Dismantling the Warrior Fetish

On Monday, ADM Mike Mullen told a crowd at the National Defense University that he was concerned about the civil-military “disconnect” – that the military was in danger of being out of touch with the American public, who appears disinterested in defense affairs. This recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal made me wonder if Mullen (and other military leaders) are aware of just how much that “disconnect” is self-induced….

We need to help the military off their high step and remind them that, once the guns stop firing (and one day, gods willing, they will), the service members get to come back to society and rejoin the public. Certainly … serving in the military or police permanently changes your life perspective. For those who have been in harms way, life has a different feel than the average joe (or jane). That doesn’t mean you are outside of society, though, and we shouldn’t support a “warrior fetish” that increases the distance between those who have served and those who are protected. Just as … so many … did after World War 2, it’s perfectly acceptable to come home and quietly rejoin society as our citizen-soldiers have always done. [Armchair generalist]

13. Innovative Technologies Used in Haiti Relief Effort

The Knight Foundation released the report Media, Information System and Communities: Lessons from HAITI. The report found that relief workers employed innovative technologies, using interactive maps and SMS (Short Messaging Service) texts to help locate people in need of assistance.

“This report captures three important observations:

1. Traditional humanitarian organizations were often open to the new technologies, but remain nervous about the implications of information and powersharing through crowdsourcing and other new media platforms.

2. Joint humanitarian communities demonstrated that there were many beneficial ways to use digital media in the crisis setting, particularly texting functions.

3. Although much of the attention has been paid to new media technologies, radio was the most effective tool for serving the needs of the public. The first media priority in Haiti was to restore radio service (as it was in the tsunami and other recent crises).” [Homeland Security Digital Library]

14. The Origins of Counterinsurgency

Thomas Rid reports: The editors of the Journal of Strategic Studies kindly made some articles in the current issue available for free. One of these texts, “The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine,” asks, Where does the theory of counterinsurgency come from? [Kings of war]

15. Youths in Violent Extremist Discourse

CSC researchers Pauline Cheong and Jeff Halverson have just published a paper in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism that …examines al Qaeda texts from 1996-2009 to determine strategies used by the group to construct a pro-radical identity for young Muslims. … [Abstract]

This article examines the discursive strategies employed by violent Islamist extremists to build a persuasive collective youth identity in their messages. Our analysis draws from strategic communication, social movement, and membership categorization theories to analyze youth references made in texts disseminated by al-Qaeda from 1996 – 2009. In these texts, “youth” is constructed via three main discursive strategies.

The first involves ascriptions of allegiance to a common belief system whereby militant actions are directed toward establishing a new sociopolitical order. Extremists envision revolutionary violence as the principle mechanism for change and an integral part of religious salvation. They see Muslim youth as the vanguard necessary to bring about the new social reality. The second utilizes descriptions of pious youth as “true believers” apart from “apostate” state regimes. Every conflict against hypocrites, unbelievers, or apostates in the Muslim world is a shared responsibility amongst the Muslim ummah (as a single nation) and not exclusive to individuals of a particular “nationality” or holders of a particular passport. The good youth fulfills his obligations as a member of this ummah. The third is through references to hagiographies of extremist martyrs which serve as moral exemplars and the formation of a distinctly jihadist tradition. The idealization of these men as warrior-saints or heroes serves the need for alternative militant paradigms among the violent extremist ranks, especially youths.

The article concludes with research directions to facilitate counter-narrative interventions, such as utilizing stories from Islamic history and the life of the Prophet Muhammad to disrupt extremist claims. [Comops]

16. Federal Highway Administration Fusion Center Information Sharing Guidebook

This guidebook provides an overview of the mission and functions of transportation management centers, emergency operations centers, and fusion centers. The guidebook focuses on the types of information these centers produce and manage and how the sharing of such information among the centers can be beneficial to both the day-to-day and emergency operations of all the centers. Challenges exist to the ability to share information, and the guidebook addresses these challenges and options for handling them. The guidebook also provides some lessons learned and best practices identified from a literature search and interviews/site visits with center operators. [Publicintelligencec.net]

17. Background Report: Incendiary Devices in Packages

Following the ignition of two incendiary devices in packages at the Maryland Department of Transportation in Hanover, Maryland, and the Jeffrey Building in Annapolis, Maryland, START [the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism] has compiled background information from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) on:





January 17, 2011

Chaos or Community?

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2011

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
Pages 62-63

This was the last book written by Dr. King before his assassination. Thanks to John Comiskey for reminding us.

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