Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 31, 2011

The nature of catastrophe, sakura, and the hope of hakanasa

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on March 31, 2011

Spring Evening by Hayami Gyoshu (1894-1935) Yamatane Museum, Tokyo

The nature of any catastrophe is confirmed by how survivors respond and especially the meaning-made of their shared experience.

Are we victims or heroes?  Are we innocent or culpable?  Have we done our best or shown our worst?  What have we learned?  What does this pain tell us of wider reality?

Three weeks after the earth’s rocky jaws opened and a black tide swallowed the shore, the aftershocks — both geophysical and psychosocial — continue.  This crisis is not concluded.  The nature of this catastrophe has not yet been resolved.

We can see the cascade of cause-and-effect from earthquake to tsunami to infrastructure failures to nuclear emergency to death, injury, and destruction.   The functions in time and space are mostly known.  But our interpretive formula is not yet in place.   We cannot discern the limits of these functions, we cannot yet calculate the direction (much less velocity) of change.

This uncertain calculus — and radically disrupted equilibrium — helps confirm we are in the midst of catastrophe.

Across Japanese society we can perceive the system self-organizing around various attractors of meaning.  One of the principal attractors is solidarity with the survivors. Last week I suggested this is an example of mochiai, a sense of interdependence, unity, and shared-steadiness.

This is the season of sakura — cherry blossoms — in Japan.  There is no direct analogy in American holidays, but a blend of Independence Day, Memorial Day, Arbor Day, and Easter, each in its most old-fashioned form, might get close.   Typically this is a time for families, work-groups, and others to picnic beneath the flowering trees, watch fireworks, and drink too much.

This year some are concerned it is inappropriate to enjoy the sakura.  Would such individual indulgence undermine mochiai?  In English we might ask, would such behavior be unjust? In Tokyo the blossoms are expected to reach their peak April 4-14.  In Sendai the peak is forecast for April 18-25.

Mindful consideration is appropriate. I hope most will choose to gather beneath the blossoms.

Cherry blossoms reach their peak just as they begin to fall from the tree.  The beauty is brief.   But the beauty is real. The small sour cherries that replace the blossoms are also real.  The birds that eat the cherries are just as real.

Reality is hakanasa — fleeting, ephemeral, evanascent, transitory — the sakura teach us.  The Seventeeth Century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote,

Come, see real
of this painful world.

Embracing  pain does not require excluding the flowers.  To recognize the reality of each is a resilient choice.

There is much in Japanese culture to reinforce this complicated, even paradoxical, sense of reality. This may reflect the precarious physical reality of Japan. But this sensibility is also present in Western culture and in the American experience. We can recognize it at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, the Edmund Pettus Bridge and more.

In future posts I will join you in seeking to learn what the “nuclear earthquake” in Japan has to tell us about mitigation, resilience, supply chains, critical infrastructure, public information, training, recovery, strategy and much more. But it would be a mistake to discount what this experience has to teach us regarding narratives, worldviews, and culture. These are equally real.

In this context it was meaningful to me when earlier this week I received from a long-time Japanese friend an extract from the opening and closing of Ranier Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus:

A tree ascended there. Oh pure transcendence!…
And all things hushed, yet even in that silence
A new beginning, beckoning, change appeared…

Silent friend of many distances, feel how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell into the night…

Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

To which I responded with the Basho haiku of flowers and pain.

There is shared strength, even half a world away… if we will allow it.

March 30, 2011

Recovery: Selfless Acts of Economy

Filed under: Futures,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on March 30, 2011

When I posted Ruthless Resilience two weeks ago, I had suspected (or maybe hoped) some of you would take issue with my thesis that markets take care of themselves and in doing so exhibit more resilience than almost any other human system. Of course, my thesis relied upon the assumption that the economy, like the planet, will survive the calamities confronting us in some form even if it is not one we find particularly satisfactory.

That this can be said of the macroeconomy also says an awful lot about the sorts of microeconomic choices that confront market participants after disaster strikes. Economies rise and fall on their ability to help us meet our wants and needs. In fact, it is the difficulty the market has with making a distinction between the two (our wants and our needs), or perhaps more accurately the ease with which it utterly ignores the very existence of any meaningful distinction between the two conditions that causes much of the concern about the economic effects of disasters.

As New Zealand and Japan face the daunting tasks of reconstructing their communities, the economic effects of their respective disasters has received considerable attention. But that attention has shed very little light on the values informing market participants’ decisions about their present situations.

Economists like to assume that rational people act in their own self-interest. As such, they would have us believe that people left to their own and confronted with competing choices, will choose the option that yields the most utility. In this sense, utility is best understood as the ability of the chosen option to satisfy one’s notion of his or her interests or expectations. Although these considerations leave plenty of room for people to choose things that make them feel good by appealing to altruism or compassion rather than one’s own temporal concerns with safety and security,  such choices afford them little immediate advantage and almost always leave economists puzzled.

We have many examples of economic transactions in which people behave in ways that leave them less well off and others better off without any tangible evidence that those giving receive anything in return but the warm feeling of having done something nice for someone else. Perhaps the most common and tangible example is the tendency to tip service workers even when we have no reasonable expectation of ever seeing or interacting with them again. We have already benefited from their services and have nothing to more to gain by being generous rather than stingy. But we still choose to follow conventions that reward those who serve us knowing that it is the right or just thing to do.

Maybe this sentiment helps explain why the leading suggestions for how to rebuild Christchurch’s shattered central city precincts emphasize principles of sustainable design. The leading citizen-submitted suggestions for the future of Christchurch rated by visitors to the Re-imagine Christchurch website recommend steps to make the resurrected city the best example of sustainable urban design on the planet.

Such sentiments are not without precedent. After the devastating 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, the residents of Napier rebuilt that city in a way that has made it one of the best examples of Art Deco design in the world.

Christchurch’s residents seem inclined to leverage the city’s pre-quake identity as the Garden City to green their community even further. Some even seem willing to relegate cars to the dust-bin of history and rebuild in ways that make the relatively flat cityscape even easier to transit by walking, biking or riding buses, trains or other modes of mass transit than it already is.

This would be interesting enough even if it were not accompanied by some suggestions that emphasize efforts to retain some slightly quirky urban design characteristics, like those one contributor refers to as “secret spaces.”

Economists might have us believe that such suggestions reflect the interests of Christchurch’s residents in encouraging tourism, which does constitute a significant portion of the local export economy. But I would like to believe that the aspirations reflected in these suggestions indicate a higher sense of value and a commitment to future generations’ enjoyment of a place that has inspired and sustained many generations already.

In the end, those making the decisions about how to rebuild may neither have much to gain from these choices nor much more to lose than that which has already been sacrificed. If economists’ efforts to work out the puzzling ways in which our values influence our decisions are right in assuming that we value present losses more highly than future gains, then there has never been a better to time act selflessly than right now.

March 29, 2011

Front door theater and backstage muck: consent of the governed in aviation security

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

Today’s blog was researched and written by a “concerned Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officer.”


How far can consent be stretched?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can be a lightning rod in the ever-evolving world of homeland security.  This is true for the agency and for the much larger operational concept it embodies.  It is not fair to pile on, but TSA often begs for the attention with their actions and possible mission creep into other venues.

The Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) is one of the TSA programs that can generate questions and interesting privacy and authority discussions.  According to TSA in 2007:

VIPR teams work with local security and law enforcement officials to supplement existing security resources, provide deterrent presence and detection capabilities, and introduce an element of unpredictability to disrupt potential terrorist planning activities.

Looking to expand the VIPR concept beyond the rail sector to other forms of mass transit, TSA has been reaching out to several high-volume ferry operators to provide additional security, particularly during the summer months when ridership is at its peak.


VIPR teams enhance TSA’s ability to leverage a variety of resources quickly to increase visible security in any mode of transportation anywhere in the country and are a normal component of TSA’s nimble, unpredictable approach to security.

The TSA VIPR operation at the train station in Savannah, Georgia in late February 2011 sparked another debate about the authorities and responsibilities of TSA Transportation Security Officers (screeners) and TSA Federal Air Marshals well away from the aviation environment.

Does the concept of implied consent to search apply if you wish to travel via commercial aviation and now possibly rail?  The TSA employees reportedly searched adults and children at a train station after they departed the train.   These reported searches have generated concerns because the subjects had already disembarked the stated area of concern or threat (i.e., the train) that supposedly created the “justification” or need for the “consent” search in the first place.

TSA’s Blogger Bob proactively addressed the incident and concerns on the TSA blog site to explain their actions and possible error(s):

A video of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) screening passengers at a Savannah, Georgia Amtrak station has been gaining quite a bit of attention and many are wondering why we were screening passengers who had just disembarked from a train.

We were wondering the same thing.

The screening shown in the video was done in conjunction with a VIPR operation. During VIPR operations, any person entering the impacted area has to be screened. In this case, the Amtrak station was the subject of the VIPR operation so people entering the station were being screened for items on the Amtrak prohibited items list as seen in the video.

It should be noted that disembarking passengers did not need to enter the station to claim luggage or get to their car.

Signs such as the one shown here are posted at the entrance to the impacted area.

However, after looking into it further, we learned that this particular VIPR operation should have ended by the time these folks were coming through the station since no more trains were leaving the station. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused for those passengers.

So by now, you’re probably wondering what a VIPR is? Is it a type of snake that we misspelled? A really cool car… Nope. It’s a team that’s made up of Federal Air Marshals, Surface Transportation Security Inspectors, Transportation Security Officers, Behavior Detection Officers and Explosive Detection Canine teams. The teams provide a random high-visibility surge into a transit system and work with state and local security, and law enforcement officials to expand the unpredictability of security measures to detect, deter, disrupt or defeat potential criminal and/or terrorist operations.

Ignoring the clear question about their “authority” to conduct searches beyond the implied consent of a passenger at an airport who wishes to fly and not drive to his destination, what is the true benefit or intention of these VIPR operations? Is there value beyond mere presence? Is this an expansion of the agency’s responsibility and authority?    Does the TSA have such abundant resources that they can afford to expand well beyond the aviation environment, if even only for sporadic VIPR operations?

These questions may be unfair after the horrid results of terrorist attacks in the rail environment in Spain and England.  Nevertheless, these VIPR operations may not fully conform to their primary duties in the post 9/11 environment.

Even though the word “transportation” in their agency name encompasses a larger world in the eyes of some people, should TSA employees also be operating at seaports and private marinas where broader authorities and training are required for border searches, inspections and proper interaction with the public.  This is a policy and liability question for discussion by the government and its people.  Where does that discussion happen?  And when?


How successful has TSA been in the aviation environment, almost ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks?   A Washington Post article,  Auditors question TSA’s use of and spending on technology, raises many important concerns and questions about the benefit of the billions of dollars expended by TSA for screening:

Before there were full-body scanners, there were puffers. The Transportation Security Administration spent about $30 million on devices that puffed air on travelers to “sniff” them out for explosives residue. Those machines ended up in warehouses, removed from airports, abandoned as impractical.

But government auditors have faulted the TSA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, for failing to properly test and evaluate technology before spending money on it.

The GAO has said that the TSA has “not conducted a risk assessment or cost-benefit analysis, or established quantifiable performance measures” on its new technologies. “As a result, TSA does not have assurance that its efforts are focused on the highest priority security needs.”

“They’re adding layers of security and technology, but they need to do a cost-benefit analysis to make sure this is worthwhile,” said Steve Lord of the GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice team, who has reviewed the TSA’s purchases. “They need to look at whether there is other technology to deploy at checkpoints. Are we getting the best technology for the given pot of money? Is there a cheaper way to provide the same level of security through other technology?”

(In addition to TSA related concerns, the DHS Office of the Inspector General recently recommended that the strategic sourcing of detection equipment at DHS could help its agencies save money and standardize its equipment purchases.)

Beyond the established TSA airport screening locations, TSA conducts subsequent passenger baggage searches in the airport concourses after the passengers were already processed by their personnel.  Another recent Washington Post article addressed this issue, describing the experiences of a passenger at the Seattle Seattle-Tacoma International Airport who had reportedly cleared TSA screening and was awaiting her flight.

As she waited for her flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Medford, Ore., last month, Linda Morrison noticed something unusual in the waiting area.

“A lady in a TSA uniform came over, put on her rubber gloves and went up and down the rows of seats, choosing bags to go through,” remembered Morrison, a retired corporate recruiter who lives in Seattle. “She didn’t identify herself, didn’t give a reason for the search. She seemed to be targeting larger carry-on bags.”

Morrison was stunned. She expected to be screened at the designated checkpoint area, or maybe at the gate, where the TSA sometimes randomly checks passengers as they board. But this was different. “To me, it just felt like an illegal search performed by a police state,” she said.

Ms. Morrison is not alone with her concerns.  Not all air travelers concur with these expanded screening operations, according to the Washington Post article:

James Morrissey, a University of Illinois biochemistry professor and a frequent air traveler, prefers “intrusive security.” “TSA has become a law unto itself, and it routinely tramples the civil rights of the flying public,” he says. “Unfortunately, there will always be some people who will be perfectly okay with having their rights trampled in the name of security. But allowing this to happen is very disturbing to me.”

Jeff Stollman, a security and privacy consultant in Philadelphia, thinks that “annoying” better describes air travel in 2011. He’s irked by what he calls “security theater” that offers no real protection against terrorism. “I suspect that a lot of the current controls don’t really do that much to improve security,” he said.

Matthew Gast, a technology writer who works for a San Francisco-based publishing company, believes that it doesn’t matter what it’s called – it’s wrong. The TSA has gone “too far” in trying to protect us from terrorism. “I have not taken a flight since I was forced to allow a TSA agent to put his hands down my pants,” he said. “It’s the only time I felt unsafe in an airport.”

Other frequent travelers have voiced their concerns.  A number of airline pilots reportedly continue to disagree with the current TSA screening procedures resulting in at least one pending lawsuit against the TSA:

Two U.S. commercial airline pilots complained in a lawsuit on Friday that new screening procedures for flight crews — scaled back after complaints by pilots — were still too invasive and violated privacy rights.

Pilots and flight crews complained the new screening exposed them to excessive radiation because they fly so frequently and that extra scrutiny for them was unnecessary because they already control the planes.

According to the TSA blog, TSA is again reviewing a more focused approach through identity based screening and a known traveler program:

For some time now, there has been much talk about implementing a Trusted Traveler program and switching to more of an identity-based approach. Good news… Administrator Pistole is on board with a known traveler approach. He spoke earlier this month at the American Bar Association and talked about his vision for this concept. You can read his remarks here.


All these articles (and the thirteen at the end of this post) raise controversial, but important questions for consideration and discussion:

  • Is the mission to maintain a sufficient level of confidence in air travel by spending money for homeland security theater, or is it to provide a truly secure aviation environment?   What are the cost limitations, if any, in our current economic world?

  • Does it make sense to expend these very valuable and limited resources at the front door when the back doors at many airports are often wide open, given the ability of hundreds of thousands of Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badged employees to introduce and remove all forms of contraband and other interesting items?  If this threat is not fully appreciated, please spend some time with the agencies conducting smuggling and theft investigations at the airports to evaluate the enormous insider threat (the next threat?).

  • Does a policy of hiring employees with significant criminal convictions and associations affect the quality of screening and/or faith in the process by the American public?  Does this practice also expand the insider threat in the aviation environment?

Unfortunately, the investment of billions of dollars in technology (useful or not) and personnel at the front door of the airports may be the easier challenge to tackle at this time rather than considering the likely next threat to commercial aviation.

However, the central question I want to raise remains, how far can consent be stretched?  Must we sacrifice liberty for security and to what extent? Are we really using our imagination and connecting the dots in a post 9/11 world?

Maybe we should just be quiet and patriotically remove our shoes to support homeland security theater.


  1. http://www.gadling.com/2010/02/04/tsa-forces-richmond-airport-to-issue-access-badge-to-convicted-f/?icid=main%7Cmain%7Cdl5%7Clink6%7Chttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.gadling.com%2F2010%2F02%2F04%2Ftsa-forces-richmond-airport-to-issue-access-badge-to-convicted-f%2F
  2. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_12755515?source=rss
  3. http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=129658&page=1
  4. http://www.wsvn.com/features/articles/carmelcase/MI90493/
  5. http://www.allvoices.com/news/8400162-tsa-agent-arrested-for-helping-drug-suspects-sneak-through-security
  6. http://online.wsj.com/article/AP0eabbe9f157c43c089bf9be4e4d9cd10.html
  7. http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-02-16/news/28622234_1_tsa-officers-baggage-drug-dealer
  8. http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/news/orange_news/013110_TSA_agent_arrested_for_molestation-
  9. http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/TSA-Security-Agent-Arrested-at-LAX-80858482.html
  10. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-16/justice/new.york.tsa.arrests_1_tsa-officers-third-degree-grand-larceny-bag?_s=PM:CRIME
  11. http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/tsa-supervisor-arrested-stole-cash-from-travelers.html?id=6114960
  12. http://www.wreg.com/news/wreg-tsa-security-officer-arrested,0,4936320.story
  13. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/11/26/tsa-worker-accused-assault-jail-time-stalking-harassment/#


March 27, 2011

TSA’S Baggage Problem

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on March 27, 2011

Recently, I served as a member of the US Travel Association’s Blue Ribbon Panel for Aviation Security,  a group brought together to evaluate aviation security.  US Travel, based on recommendations made by the panel, released a report, A Better Way, Building a World Class System for Aviation Security.  The report made recommendations, based on the following goals and recommendations:

  • Goal Number One – Improve the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint by increasing efficiency, decreasing passenger wait times and screening passengers based on risk
    • Implement a risk-based Trusted Traveler program
    • Give TSA authority over entire checkpoint area
    • Improve preparation of travelers
    • Encourage fewer carry-on bags
  • Goal Number Two – Improve governmental efficiency and cooperation in the execution of its security responsibilities
    • Reinstitute the Aviation Security Advisory Committee
    • Facilitate non-partisan leadership of TSA
    • Develop a comprehensive technology procurement strategy
    • Encourage wider use of secure identification documents
    • Reduce duplicative TSA screening for international arrivals
    • Expand trusted traveler programs to qualified international passengers
    • Eliminate duplication between TSA and CBP
    • Push for international cooperation with U.S. security standards
  • Goal Number Three – Restructure our national approach to aviation security by developing and utilizing real risk management methods and tools
    • Implement well-defined risk management processes

If there was an underlying theme throughout the paper and recommendations, it is “let’s ensure that aviation security is risk-based and we have an established risk management process.”  A risk-based Trusted Traveler concept is one for which TSA Administrator Pistole has advocated in front of Congress and various business groups over the last several months.

One recommendation for which security concerns may not be apparent at first blush but is costing millions and will be a huge problem if unaddressed is the number of carry-ons being brought onto planes.  The recent trend of airlines charging travelers for any checked bags is forcing a number of passengers to bring more carry-on bags onto each flight.  The result: increased checkpoint congestion and the government having to dedicate more resources, equipment, and personnel to screen passenger bags. Secretary Napolitano, earlier this month, estimated during a Congressional hearing that the extra carry-on baggage generated by checked baggage fees is costing TSA $260 million.

What will happen as the economy improves and more people begin to fly more? What types of costs, delays, and congestion will result? Is it really a good use of our security resources to force TSA to focus on screening carry-on bags instead of looking for terrorist threats?

The report recommends that the Department of Transportation issue regulations requiring that airlines allow all passengers one checked bag, even if that bag is limited to the size of a carry-on bag.  It also recommends that DOT set standards for the number and size of items that a passenger can bring on a plane. These are common-sense recommendations that will not only make the experience of travelers better but will allow our security officials to focus on security, as opposed to random bags.

March 25, 2011

Preventing the next meltdown

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 25, 2011

While  most of the world’s nuclear attention is on the efforts underway to regain control of the troubled Fukushima reactors and spent fuel pools, some analysts are suggesting steps to prevent future accidents and beginning to predict the impact of the current crisis on the nuclear future. Harvard professor Matthew Bunn writes in the Washington Post about the need for a new way of performing safety inspections:

Every country operating nuclear facilities needs to undertake an urgent review — by an independent international team, not by the companies that own the plants or the agencies that have long regulated them — of whether there are risk-reduction steps as compelling as those the academy recommended that have not been taken.

He also points out the need to take security and not just safety into consideration:

The risk is not just accidents but attacks. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear facilities. The 2006 study focused primarily on the danger that terrorists might succeed in draining the water from a spent-fuel storage pool, the same outcome raising risks in Japan.

Nuclear facilities around the world are much less prepared for security incidents than for accidents. While U.S. reactors are required to have armed guard forces, many reactors abroad — and even some sites with potential nuclear bomb material — have none. One senior U.S. nuclear official I spoke to last fall described security for most of the reactors he had visited abroad as “frightening.”

You can read the entire piece here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-we-can-reduce-the-risk-of-another-fukushima/2011/03/23/ABpyI3KB_story.html

In a similar piece in the New York Times, Princeton physicist Frank N. von Hippel suggests that oversight of the nuclear industry in this country isn’t up to snuff:

Yet despite the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has often been too timid in ensuring that America’s 104 commercial reactors are operated safely. Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of “regulatory capture” — in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it.

As a result of weak regulation, Hippel points to a potentially precarious situation concerning spent fuel pools in this country:

More recently, independent analysts have argued, based on risk analyses done for the commission, it is dangerous for the United States to pack five times more spent fuel into reactor cooling pools than they were designed to hold, and that 80 percent of that spent fuel is cool enough to be stored safely elsewhere. It would also be more expensive, however, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed the nuclear utilities’ lead and rejected the proposal.

Praising the staff at the NRC, Hippel instead suggests that these issues begin and can be solved at the top:

Therefore, perhaps the most important thing to do in light of the Fukushima disaster is to change the industry-regulator relationship. It has become customary for administrations not to nominate, and the Senate not to confirm, commissioners whom the industry regards as “anti-nuclear” — which includes anyone who has expressed any criticism whatsoever of industry practices. The commission has an excellent staff; what it needs is more aggressive political leadership.

Even before the nuclear events unfolding in Japan there was little chance that many new nuclear power plants were going to be built in the United States.  Not due to fears of meltdowns and radiation releases, or even concerns about long-term storage of nuclear waste, but because the economics just didn’t (and still don’t) make sense.  With fossil fuel prices so low, there are few incentives for anyone to provide the money to cover the high construction and other start up costs that come with nuclear power plants.

This is not the case in other nations that have laid out plans for aggressive nuclear power expansion in recent years.  For an informed view of the potential impact of the current crises on these efforts in China, Russia, South Korea, India, and Iran, I recommend reading “The Global Future of Nuclear Power after Fukushima” in which researchers from those particular nations provide their views.

Learning from Japan: Sources of resilience

Filed under: Catastrophes,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2011
Above is the classical kanji for mochiai, see more below.

Two weeks into the Japanese crisis we continue to careen along the cusp of chaos.  But some preliminary lessons-learned are emerging:

Mitigation Matters –  Deaths and injuries were significantly minimized by long-term investments in structural integrity and community readiness.  Many major buildings and transportation assets survived earthquake, tsunami, and multiple after-shocks.  The ability to restore the transportation network in comparatively short order has been especially helpful.  “Soft” mitigation achieved through personal, workplace, and neighborhood readiness is probably the biggest success story of the crisis.  Hundreds-of-thousands effectively self-evacuated in the 15 to 20 minutes available prior to the tsunami hitting.  The biggest problems have spiked where mitigation failed: the electrical grid,  nuclear safety, and mobility for the elderly.  According to OCHA, “19 percent of the casualties were people over the age of 60, 22 percent were over 70 and 23 percent were over 80. The survey shows that the elderly were most affected by this disaster, probably as a result of not being physically able to evacuate quickly enough.”

Resilience Works – In most cases, buildings swayed but did not break.  Bridges cracked, but remained intact. Neighborhoods were washed away, but neighbors cared for each other.  There have been a thousand references to Japanese stoicism in the face of this disaster.  I wonder what most Americans make of this blithe reference to an ancient Western philosophical system.  We are even less likely to know much about Japanese gaman.  Often translated as perseverance and/or patience and/or endurance, this is a rigorous — sometimes cynical — adaptation to reality involving what most Americans would see as self-denial or self-giving.  Last year there was a Renwick Gallery exhibition of art produced in World War II internment camps by Japanese-Americans.  It was entitled the Art of Gaman.  The curator — and child of internees — explained, “Gaman means to bare the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience.”  Gaman is linked with gambaru meaning to do one’s best, try hard, make every effort. While gaman has been referenced in English-language media,  I have not seen a single report on the equally important role of mochiai (shown above) meaning interdependence, unity, stability, and steadiness.  But a sense of being in relationship, mutually dependent, and strong-together is at least as much of the Japanese national identity as the cowboy is to the American sense-of-self.  (For more on cultural issues involved in resilience please see Alasdair MacIntyre’s monograph on “Individual and Social Morality in Japan and the United States: Rival Conceptions of the Self”.)

Ignorance Hurts – The fear of radiation that emerged in response to the Fukushima nuclear emergency is a call-to-action.  The real threat — certainly significant enough — is amplified by imagined risks.  This is not just a problem in Japan, but far-far-away where the risk is entirely negligible.  The preoccupation with this threat — and fear of the threat — has distracted, complicated, and delayed attention to other priorities.   I have tended to underplay the risk of most Radiological Dispersal Devices.  I have snidely called RDDs “weapons of mass distraction.”  Well, the last two weeks have persuaded me this kind of WMD is a serious threat.  It is also a threat that can be substantially mitigated through public information and education.  This information and education will be most effective well-in-advance of the crisis.  The failure of corporate, bureaucratic, and political decision makers to deal forthrightly with the real risks at the Fukushima nuclear plant is another kind of ignorance-as-threat-multiplier that needs attention.

Compulsion for Control can Complicate Care –  Collaboration, coordination, cooperation, creativity, courage and many other C words have important roles when engaging complexity and chaos.  Trying to jump-start a non-engineered system by imposing control is usually a bad idea.  There is compelling evidence —  but not yet conclusive — that during the first ten days (and perhaps still) an ongoing effort to impose access control on the most affected areas — especially in Eastern Iwate and Miyagi prefectures — hurt more than it helped.  The effort to control cut-off sources and means of supply that could have otherwise been available to the survivors.

Catastrophes are Different –  Even as the cascade of death, injury, and destruction has swept across rich and resilient Japan, I have encountered plenty of Americans — including several emergency management and homeland security professionals — who insist similar risks in the US are minimal.  We are, they are sure, big enough, rich enough, and ready-enough to take on two or three Big One’s at once and fully recover.   I think these colleagues are deep-in-denial, but if a week of wall-to-wall coverage of the Japanese crisis does not persuade, I cannot do better. (More details are available from OCHA Situation Report 13.)

The Japanese concept of mochiai includes a sense of shared risk and reward.  Given the perceived reality of mutual dependence, short-term opportunities may be sacrificed in exchange for longer-term stability.  It is a worldview that may have particular resonance on a densely populated archipelago buffeted by earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, tsunami and more.   I acknowledge it is a concept less well-matched with a continent-spanning nation of rugged individualists.

Individuality is real.  So is mutual dependence.  Our shared dependence on various technologies and systems empowers and threatens our individuality. A collapse of these technologies and systems for any extended period will challenge the most capable individuals.   The Japanese have developed a cultural resilience uniquely (?) suited to potentially catastrophic events.  American culture has its own resilient roots.  But are we tending our garden?  Are we claiming the opportunity of this Spring to plant for the Winter we know will come?

March 22, 2011

How much ionizing radiation can one absorb?

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christopher Bellavita on March 22, 2011

An illustrative graphic, below, describing “the ionizing radiation dose a person can absorb from various sources” — from sleeping next to someone through spending ten minutes next to the Chernobyl reactor core after meltdown.

The chart’s creator, Randall Munroe, warns people that he is not a radiation expert, and “If you’re basing radiation safety procedures on an internet PNG image and things go wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself.”

You can click on the image below to view a larger version of the chart.  Even better is to look at the original chart at this link: http://xkcd.com/radiation/

[Thanks to Maj Gordon Hunter, 8th Civil Support Team (WMD) for the lead.  He asks how come “no one in the media has yet actually quantified what ‘a large amount of radiation’ is?  100 Alpha particles?  A chunk of Cobalt 60 the size of one’s head?  The background rad being reported on the [Japanese] reactor is actually less than the background normally found in Colorado just by walking outside.  Sometimes, knowing the math behind rad can make life hard on your TV (being shouted at, things flung into, etc).”]

Growing more homeland security ideas, volume 3

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 22, 2011

On Friday, the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security will graduate its 31st and 32nd master’s degree class .

Here are the titles of the graduates’ theses (and short descriptions) to illustrate the topics covered.

Many of the theses — adding to the storehouse of what we know, do not know, and need to know about homeland security — will be available through the NPS Dudley Knox library in a few weeks.


1. Assessing the effectiveness of current NYC radiological emergency response strategy in protecting responders immediately after detonation of an improvised nuclear device.

An analysis of current New York City radiological response plans compared against current research about the consequences of a terrorist attack using an improvised nuclear device on a major metropolitan city.  The analysis sought to determine if the plans offered effective guidance in protecting first responders.  Research indicates a need to revise current plans and change existing response tactics.

2. Compstat 2.0: an innovative police strategic management plan focusing on performance in the all crimes and all hazards environment.

This thesis examines the current research on CompStat (a law enforcement accountability system), focusing on the practical results agencies have seen, both good and bad, after employing today’s most popular model of strategic management in policing. By applying lessons learned from CompStat, and other strategic management models, this thesis proposes a strategy to improve CompStat over the next decade. In CompStat 2.0, agencies will use what works to rapidly identify and effectively address threats in the all crimes and all hazards environment.

3. The Transportation Security Administration’s four major security programs for mass transit – how they can be improved to address the security needs of Tier II transit agencies.

This thesis examined how the TSA has been carrying out its mandate to provide for the security of the mass transit sector of transportation against terrorism. The study recommends ways to increase the numbers of law enforcement officers and explosives detection canine teams for Tier II (medium) sized transit agencies.

4.  The evolution of the public administration education curriculum as a response to the complex issues created by a post 9/11 America.

Homeland security has developed as an educational discipline over the last ten years.  This thesis explores whether undergraduate public administration programs at Indiana colleges and universities have incorporated homeland security issues into their curriculum.  The thesis includes recommendations that can be taken to ensure that these institutions address the growing homeland security field.

5.  Non-pharmaceutical interventions to pandemic influenza and other biological events.

In the event of a novel influenza virus or an unknown biological event, it is important that organizations be prepared to institute infection control measures. The thesis is a study of how non-healthcare organizations can use a simple tool to identify needed inventions for an employee or group of employees.

6. United we stand, divided we fall: increasing response capability in Kentucky through regionalization and leadership.

This work focuses on the 2009 ice storm that devastated Kentucky. Although research indicates that regionalization has benefits, only a small portion of Kentucky collaboratively worked together during the storm. The thesis explores how regionalization could be used to improve future response throughout the state.

7. The New York City Urban Search & Rescue Team (NY-TF1), a case study of interagency effectiveness.

This thesis examined the NY-TF1 model to identify structural and procedural designs that foster interagency synergy between the Fire Department of New York and other emergency services.  The study provides direction for a closer alignment of NYC emergency first-responders.

8. Complacency: a threat to homeland security?

This thesis takes an unconventional approach to enhancing the resilience of homeland security by exploring the human factor of complacency. The research defines complacency for the homeland security discipline, explores its credibility as a threat and provides a baseline understanding from which to address it.

9. Effective selection: a study of first-line supervisor selection processes in the Department of Homeland Security.

This research examines the four most important tenets of a supervisor selection process. Using a multi-method approach, this study compares first-line supervisor selection processes for effective and less effective federal agencies as measured by Federal Human Capital Survey.

10.  Analyzing the need for special operations teams within the fire service.

Fire suppression and rescue are the primary missions of the fire service, but not all rescue efforts entail putting out fires.  For this reason the fire service created Special Operations Teams; however, they come at a high cost to fund and operate.  Reorganizing traditional fire service rank structure will allow tenure in developing subject matter experts who will ultimately save lives and property while reducing recovery cost.

11. Developing a set of measures demonstrating how regional collaboration builds preparedness capabilities.

The thesis identifies the critical components of the National Capital Region Fire Service jurisdictions.  It defines common terms that link community to community and enable measurement of collaborative activities that build preparedness capabilities.

12. Policy option analysis for Assistance to Firefighters grant program.

An analysis of approaches to distribute AFG program funds to increase the funding’s impact on national homeland security.  The presented approaches acknowledge the unique, first-responder contributions of fire services and EMS to homeland security.

13. Political subculture: a resilience multiplier.

Dr. Daniel Elazar’s theory of political subculture (i.e. how a community views politics and the role of government in their lives) acts as a modifier to the overall resilience of that community.  Knowing this and by mapping the dominant subcultures of communities, a better predictive model of resilience can be established for future planning and mitigation efforts.

14. Considerations to enhance Florida’s domestic security strategic plan.

The thesis identifies the potential benefits of including prioritization, assignment and metrics methodologies into Florida’s homeland security strategy.

15.  Addressing the Mumbai style attack: interstate law enforcement mutual aid in the absence of a declared emergency.

With an ever evolving terrorist threat, quick and efficient response by law enforcement across jurisdictional boundaries is needed. This thesis examines the existing methods for providing interstate law enforcement and applicability to the evolving threat, to determine what methods work and what new systems may be required.

16. Community preparedness: alternative approaches to citizen engagement in homeland security.

This thesis deals with community preparedness and citizen engagement in the United States.  It acknowledges that the approach we have taken since 9/11 has not been as effective as desired.  The research examines citizen engagement models that have had some success, such as fire prevention and seat belt safety, and explores the characteristics of these programs and their applicability to homeland security.

17. American institutions of higher education: reducing the vulnerability from acts of terrorism.

This thesis examines vulnerabilities on the campuses of American colleges and universities, including research laboratories, places of mass gatherings, and the potential for extremist radicalization of college students. The thesis also looks at insider threats and how threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams may help prevent attacks.

18.  Using DoD ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] capabilities in support of homeland security and defense: policy challenges and considerations for effective incident awareness and assessment.

United States Northern Command is responsible for providing military support to civil authorities during major disasters and homeland security events. The military can provide airborne intelligence capabilities that have the potential to increase the effectiveness and timeliness of response. However, there are doctrinal, legal, policy and ethical obstacles that reduce the military’s ability to deliver this capability. This thesis finds that the most significant challenges come from doctrine and policy and makes recommendations to align military doctrine with the National Response Framework to overcome these barriers.

19.  Freed: ripples of the convicted and released terrorist in America.

This thesis frames new discourse about an unexplored, yet inevitable phase of the terrorism continuum, by discussing the implications that follow the release of convicted terrorists from American prisons. It examines existing models ranging from sex offender registries to megacommunities and existing sociological theories of terrorism as potential tools with which to address this complex and interdisciplinary issue.


The thesis argues that horizontal, inter-state, police-department to police-department sharing of information is where the most critical seams exist within U.S. law enforcement.  The study analyzes the 50 largest urban areas in the United States and asks how leveraging the disparate burgeoning banks of police data and resources that reside in each urban area against homegrown terrorism can increase national resilience.  The thesis defines DOMESTIPOL as a national system of police coordination between the 50 most vulnerable urban areas in the United States.

21. Operating in uncertainty: growing resilient critical infrastructure organizations.

Publicly owned utilities as natural monopolies have historically operated in a relatively controlled environment. As they have become increasingly networked and interdependent with similar enterprises, the level of management complexity has increased dramatically within their operating environment. Leadership skills, based on the management practices of the last century, have not kept pace with these rapidly changing environmental conditions. There exists a gap today among leaders in understanding that their environment and organization are part of complex adaptive systems and that the implications of operating in a complex environment are substantive. The pupose of this research is to provide management with a roadmap to fill this gap and guide utilities toward a more resilient organizational structure.

22. Mitigating decision making paralysis during catastrophic disasters.

Catastrophic disasters are overwhelming situations to the people they affect, including the decision makers managing the disaster. Making decisions about preserving life, the environment, and the economy during a catastrophic disaster requires a fast and flexile process, or the decision making of the emergency managers will become paralyzed. This thesis presents a process model for mitigating decision making paralysis so that life, the economy, and the environment are sustained during a catastrophic disaster.

23.  Planning for an integrated intergovernmental, interagency, and multi-disciplinary investigative response to a multi-jurisdictional series of crimes spanning the National Capital Region (NCR).

This thesis explores the development of an investigative model that will help the many local and federal law enforcment agencies serving within the NCR to work in an integrated manner to effectively and efficiently investigate serious crime sprees spanning the National Capital Region.  Additionally, this model seeks to integrate other disciplines such as fire/EMS, fusion centers, and public information into the model and the investigation.

24. Project management for homeland security.

This is a study about how we manage complex new homeland security initiatives. By standardizing and institutionalizing “project management” procedures, homeland security practitioners will save time, money, and possibly lives.

25. No emergency incident recognizes borders.

This research examines the development of a response framework for first responders to a bi-national incident along the Arizona and Mexico border. The study identifies the benefits of bi-national response and collaborative sharing of resources in times of disaster.

26. Implementation methods and standards for the National Guard’s Homeland Response Force.

The thesis offers standards for the employment of the Homeland Response Force in a domestic Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive event and an all-hazard response mission. The study provides recommendations for the employment of military forces and advanced technologies in a domestic environment in accordance with U.S. response standards, intelligent oversight laws and civil liberties concerns.

27. Failing the grade: countering the effects of America’s declining global educational ranking on our national security.

In the last several decades, the United States has seen a dramatic decline in the global educational rankings of its students, specifically in the area of math and science.  This decline has a serious impact on the technological advantage, economy, and the national security of the United States.   Globalization is expanding areas of shared interests between nations, and the declining educational capabilities of U.S. students leaves the country vulnerable to an advancing threat and changing future battle spaces.  This thesis identifies potential educational policies and suggests recommendations aimed at re-establishing the United States as the world’s educational leader.

March 21, 2011

Learning lessons from Japan: Give priority to physiological needs before safety needs

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

An impression: Delivery of water, food, and medicine to  survivors of the earthquake-and-tsunami has been reduced and delayed because the government has been more concerned with coordination and order than supplying their citizens.

I do not have the evidence needed to confidently make this assertion.  I am seeking evidence to either deny it or confirm it.

Some quotes:

“Takahiro Saito, 28, from the disaster-ravaged city of Sendai… said that government organized relief has been too  slow and private efforts to deliver supplies cannot succeed because the military has closed major roads and highways to all but emergency personnel.” (Washington Post)

“Petrol was diverted to the emergency relief effort. No fuel was made available to civilians. Only state vehicles could access the pumps.” (unattributed from the BBC)

The President of the largest, arguably most influential, Japanese business association: “Though companies are trying to send relief supplies, they cannot secure fuel for returning.” (Kyodo News Service)

“The expressways are practically empty, just SDF caravans and police.” (Private conversation regarding situation in Miyagi Prefecture)

“They (the government) are totally ignoring well-established private logistics and doing a horrible job of trying to replace it.” (Private conversation with colleague in Tokyo)

“Many relief supplies offered by food makers and other firms to areas struck by last week’s devastating earthquake in northeastern and eastern Japan have not yet been delivered… The situation was attributable to confusion in commodity distribution and difficulties in making arrangements between the government and quake-hit areas… Relief supplies are sent by the government through arrangements with the Self-Defense Forces and others after checking lists for such supplies and demand from quake-hit areas. Executives at manufacturers complained about the government’s sloppy responses to offers of their firms’ relief supplies to the quake-hit areas.” (Kyodo News Agency)

According to the March 21 OCHA Summary:

More than 350,000 evacuees continue to endure cold weather at shelters in 16 prefectures… 244,000 households remain without electricity
(601,000 people). Access to water is still a concern however and 1 million households (2.4 million people) remain without water across 11 Prefectures… To date, the Japan Self Defence Force has delivered approximately 379,928 meals, 1,370 kg of rice, and 52,146 canned foods, 19,889 litres of drinking water, 4,720 blankets and 46,580 litres of fuel. The Force has also provided bathing services to 5,424 persons.

Please consider the number of evacuees, the number of those sheltering-in-place, and the number of days since the quake.  Compare this level of demand to the reported supply.  This is not in any way a criticism of the effort and efficiency of the SDF.  I am asking a question of strategy, not of tactics.

There are certainly a range of causes contributing to slow and insufficient supplies: quake and tsunami damaged infrastructure, fear of radiation (one of the principal supply lines into the impact area runs through the radiation exclusion zone), reduced availability of fuel, and more.

But the anecdotal evidence is simply becoming too great to any longer under-play the potential role of perimeter-power.  My immediate concern is for the Japanese survivors. But I am also concerned about lessons-learned for the US and others.  Too often when government is unable to do much of anything else, it can impose a rigorous perimeter… so it does.

What are you seeing, hearing, and reading? If you have other evidence, please use the comment function.

March 20, 2011

Japanese preparedness and response: Update and a few deniable hypotheses

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2011

The image above displays different levels of March 11 quake intensity (circles) superimposed on population density. Red star is epicenter. Darkest blue is Tokyo region.  The large arc of an island extending across most of the picture is Honshu.  The island at the top is Hokkaido.  The northern third of Honshu is traditionally known as Tohoku (literally meaning northeast).  Courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

Most of the following was posted as of Sunday evening in Japan, some updates made at 0600 Monday US Eastern time (Monday evening in Japan):

Dead: 8133    Missing: 12, 272 (Kyodo)

Injured: 2611 (OCHA)

Evacuees in public shelters: 360,000 (Kyodo)

Buildings damaged or destroyed: 117,000 (USAID)

Without regular water service: 2.3 million people (COE)

Without electricity: 289,000 households (713,000 plus people) (OCHA)

Aftershocks: 290 and at least one separate 6.1 earthquake (USGS)

Late Sunday the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released Situation Report 9.

The situation at hospitals that have been without tap water, electricity and gas since the earthquake struck remains a concern. Many hospitals are trying to keep patients alive without water or electricity. Some hospitals have reported reducing the number of meals and procedures provided. They fear that lives saved from the earthquake will now be lost due to the shortages of doctors and medicine. There is also a shortage of medicines for people with chronic conditions in the evacuation shelters. Several reports of hypothermia, serious dehydration and respiratory diseases in the shelters. The focus is now on keeping the elderly alive and healthy. (OCHA)

The cold weather has eased slightly but the Japan Meteorological Agency warned that freezing temperatures will return in the Tohoku region on 20 March, and be followed by heavy rains on 21 March. Unseasonably cold weather is expected to continue beyond 22 March. The Agency has also issued a flood alert for the earthquake affected coastal regions during the spring tides from the 18 – 26 March and in particular for Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi where the ground has sunk 75cm.

Approximately 94 percent of main roads reaching affected coastal areas had been repaired as of March 19, with additional repairs ongoing in affected areas, according to the GoJ.  In addition, six previously damaged sea ports are now operational and the Sendai airport is open for a limited number of emergency and humanitarian flights. (USAID)   Two main highways are still reserved for emergency vehicles only. (COE)

The current GOJ guidance for securing emergency supplies: Evacuation centers will send requests to municipalities, and the prefecture will consolidate these requests  and liaise with the national government. Then, the national government will request relief items  and food from the private sector and other municipalities, which will be consolidated at SDF  sites and transported by the SDF to affected areas. (COE)  This system is not yet having wide-spread effectiveness.  According to Sunday’s Washington Post, “Eight days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake sent a merciless wall of water crashing onto Japan’s northeastern coast, a city once noted for its jazz festival and expansive joie de vivre is reduced to foraging for basic necessities. The descent of a vibrant metropolis toward a state of simple survival has helped numb the population to a further agony. Many here are too preoccupied with day-to-day needs to focus on unseen dangers leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant down the coast.” Personal note: It is my impression — but evidence is not yet conclusive — that the government’s effort to establish a parallel, or even replacement, supply chain is suppressing the supply capacity available in Japan.

The GoJ has announced temporary power cuts across the nation, following the reduction in output or the closure of 11 of 50 nuclear generators located in affected areas. The government warned that rolling blackouts would begin March 14 and are expected to last until at least the end of April.  (COE)

The construction of temporary housing for the evacuees has started in Rikuzen-Takada City and Kamaichi City, in Iwate Prefecture. In Rikuzen-Takada, 36 structures are planned for the end of this month, and 200 in total afterwards, while about 100 structures are to be built in Kamaishi, Ofunato, Iwate and Sohma, and Fukushima. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, estimates 8,800 temporary houses are needed in Iwate, 10,000 in Miyagi and 14,000 in Fukushima for the short-term. The Government has requested a consortium of constructors to build at least 30,000 in two months. (OCHA)

According to Reuters, Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano said that the economic damages from the disaster would exceed 20 trillion yen (US$248 billion). The 1995 Kobe earthquake caused some US$100 billion in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history. Citigroup estimated 5-10 trillion yen in damages to housing and infrastructure while Barclays Capital estimates economic losses of 15 trillion yen (US$183.7 billion). Goldman Sachs estimated total economic losses to be 16 trillion yen. (US$198 billion) (Reuters, March 19)USB expects Japan’s economy to grow 1.4 percent this year, compared to a previous forecast of 1.5 percent and also upgraded its growth forecast for next year to 2.5 percent, up from a previous estimate of 2.1 percent. (Reuters)

Crisis Commons has established a data aggregation site focused on Japan. It is being constantly updated and expanded.  ReliefWeb continues to be a very rich source of background and situational awareness.


It has taken much longer than the oft-discussed 72 hours, but nine-to-ten days after the earthquake-and-tsunami a reasonably clear picture of the situation in Northeast Japan is beginning to emerge.  The clarity will increase with each passing day, as should our sense of the profound scope and scale.  This is how a rich, resilient, and well prepared society can still be knocked very hard.

It is, I think, premature to reach many risk readiness conclusions.  While the amount of information available is really amazing, differences of language and culture can obscure our understanding.  The vast amounts of information may even distract from our sense of meaning.

But it is not too soon to begin framing some questions.  Even as those on the ground are organizing themselves to serve the survivors, how can we organize observations to enhance our chance of future survival.  A few questions of particular personal interest:

Resupply of the affected areas has been slow.  What factors contributed most to the delay: Unavailability of supply? Damage to transportation infrastructure? Uncertainty about the status of transportation infrastructure? Reduced availability of fuel?  Uncertainty about availability of fuel? Weather complications? Unwillingness of truckers and other elements of the logistical system to enter the impact area?  Refusal of officials to allow truckers and others to enter?  Efforts to establish effective command-and-control?

My deniable hypothesis: All the above contributed, but I perceive the command-and-control mentality had (and is having) a particular impact.

While the total number of dead is likely to be above 20,000, given the roughly 1.4 million in the tsunami target zone alone, this is a considerably better outcome than might be expected.  What saved lives:  infrastructure, information, training?  Family reunification is a big question for US catastrophic preparedness, what is the Japanese policy/strategy in this regard?  What was the population’s behavior in this regard?  Who died?  It seems to me there is evidence to suggest that the elderly died in disproportionate numbers.  Was this a matter of mobility?  Information?  Training?  Isolation?

My deniable hypothesis: The wider an individual’s social web especially at the critical moment of threat, the more likely their survival.

At least from this distance, there has been a strange sort of slow-motion decision-making in regard to both the tsunami response and dealing with the nuclear emergency.  For example, I am neither a firefighter nor a nuclear specialist, but I was pushing use of Tokyo’s high-rise firefighting equipment at Fukushima 48 hours before it happened.  Based on my experience in Japan I wonder about the influence of hierarchical cultural patterns.  To what extent were people waiting for orders? Waiting for instructions?  Using the Cynefin framework, how did participant-observers define their problem: was it complicated, complex, or chaotic?

Two deniable hypotheses: The situation after 2:46  Japan time on March 11 was “chaotic”.   Most participants and decision-makers in Japan treated the situation as “complicated.”  See Cynefin Framework for definition of terms.

I doubt this next hypothesis is deniable (or able to be confirmed), but I would certainly value evidence leaning either way:  Going into Wednesday and Thursday (March 16 and 17) public attitudes seemed to be building toward a substantial shadow evacuation of the Tokyo area.  Thursday night, in response to urgent requests from the government, a spontaneous electrical blackout was avoided through voluntary public action.  Did the success of this social solidarity short-circuit the fear and uncertainty behind the evacuation fever?  In any case, from Friday morning forward I perceive the shadow evacuation threat has dimmed.

Japan: Where the lights are off

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2011

This composite image, provided by the NASA Earth Observatory, compares observations after the earthquake to images of lights observed in 2010. Yellow indicates lights that were functioning in both 2010 and 2011, and includes Tokyo and areas to the south and west. Red indicates power outages detected on March 12, 2011, compared to data from 2010. Areas of power loss include Sendai, and coastal locations north of Tokyo. Blue indicates clouds, and that blue also tints some of the yellow-lit areas to green. Magenta (visible south and west in the large image) indicates lights obscured by clouds. Bright green spots also may indicate new lights detected in 2011 that were not observed in 2010; some are visible in coastal areas north of Sendai.

From Tokyo: What it means to be ‘prepared’

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2011

The following is from Saturday’s Japan Times.  The author is Amy Chavez a regular columnist with the English-language daily published in Tokyo.


Japan has repeatedly been referred to as the “most prepared nation in the world” for an earthquake or tsunami disaster. The government has been praised for its readiness via earthquake/tsunami drills, for the prompt organization of the Self-Defense Forces, and for its preparedness to send in doctors and volunteers.

But “being prepared” means even more than that.

Japan is what I call the “Boy Scout Nation of the World,” because it also does a stellar job of preparing the individual for a crisis. In Japan, every person knows exactly what to do in an emergency.

As a resident of Japan since 1994, I can tell you that Japan is so adamant about preparation for disaster that sometimes it seems a bit over the top. But when disaster strikes, it becomes all too apparent that you cannot over-prepare.

Most of the fire drills and tornado drills I remember practicing in the U.S. were performed while I was a child in school. As adults, we are seldom versed in what to do in any emergency; we’re expected to already know. Yet seldom do we act instinctively in an emergency.

Instead, we often look back and say, “I should have done . . .” Like CPR, a refresher course in what to do in an emergency can never hurt. The purpose of drills in Japan is not just to introduce emergency procedures to people, but to practice until the actions become second nature.

Here are just some of the ways Japan has prepared the average citizen for a disaster:

Evacuation points with signs

Earthquake and tsunami evacuation points are well-established in every neighborhood. Not only are there signs on the streets pointing to designated evacuation centers, but detailed maps of escape routes are distributed to each household.

These maps, which in my area are topographical, also provide emergency phone numbers and contacts. With a designated evacuation area for each neighborhood, every resident can be accounted for quickly. Remember the “buddy system?”

Cell-phone alerts

Earthquake and tsunami alerts are distributed via cell phone text messages by the local government for those who sign up to receive them.

Survival kits

All citizens are encouraged to have a survival kit kept near the genkan (doorway) to their house. Not just your average first aid kit, survival kits have several days worth of water, vacuum-packed food and matches so you can build a fire (for cooking, washing, bathing).

Water reserves

Japanese housewives are famous around the world for recycling bath water. You can even buy washing machines in Japan that have an extra hose to draw the leftover bathwater into the machine for the wash or rinse cycle. The daily bathing ritual of the Japanese requires a full bathtub of hot water to soak in after their shower. This is a nightly habit performed before going to sleep. Most households will not drain this fairly clean tub water until the following day. If there is an earthquake overnight and the water supply is cut off, you’ll have at least 250 liters of water on standby. It’s just common sense.

Good sleeping habits

Few people in Tokyo sleep without a flashlight nearby. It’s a precautionary measure people take in case an earthquake occurs during the night and disrupts power. I have a flashlight that stays under my bed, within close reach should I feel the tremors of an earthquake. If you need to escape quickly, you need to be able to see where you are going.

Emergency information — in multiple languages

The local governments distribute booklets telling people what to expect and what to do in the case of an earthquake. In my area, these pamphlets are available in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Portuguese.

The books are full of good advice for emergencies such as: Grab your footwear before rushing out of your house. In an earthquake, there will be rubble, broken glass, etc. that you’ll need to protect your feet from. If you are getting out of bed and putting on clothes, choose clothes with long sleeves and long pants so you’ll be protected from falling debris and flying glass. Expect that you might have to escape through a broken window. Find gloves to wear if you have time.

You are also instructed to walk to the evacuation center. Do not drive. Too many cars will clog the streets and prevent rescue vehicles from moving in and out of the affected area. If you are already in your car during an emergency, you are to park your car on the side of the road, leave the keys inside and don’t lock it. That way emergency personnel can move your car should it be in the way of rescue operations.

Preparedness not only saves lives, but it teaches people how to act during a crisis. That’s why when you see live coverage of disasters in Japan, the Japanese people rarely panic. They are prepared.

How prepared are you for the next crisis?

March 19, 2011

Japan nuclear threat: The tsunami is the bigger tragedy

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on March 19, 2011

The following is taken in its entirety from the BBC. I think it is bad practice — and worse ethics — to cut and paste from the source that invested time, effort, and money to produce the original. But I also see that HLSWatch readers almost never follow the links that accompany my posts. The argument below is important and deserves to be consumed-in-full. You can (should) access the original at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12785274

The author is David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University and a Senior Scientist in the Medical Research Council’s Biostatistics Unit.


The apocalyptic visions of destruction brought by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami have been largely replaced in the media this week by reports of the struggle to control radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

This provides a gripping narrative – a brave team battling to contain the threat, warnings of catastrophe and claims of incompetence, families desperate to protect their children and leave the area.

But perhaps the media coverage tells us more about ourselves than it does about the threat of radiation.

Psychologists have spent years identifying the factors that lead to increased feelings of risk and vulnerability – and escaped radiation from nuclear plants ticks all the boxes.

It is an invisible hazard, mysterious and not understood, associated with dire consequences such as cancer and birth defects. It feels unnatural.

Perception and reality

In contrast, few in the west of England seem concerned at the natural radiation they are exposed to from the earth in the form of the gas radon, even though it is estimated to lead to more than 1,000 cancer deaths a year in this country.

But if radiation comes from an accident and has been imposed on us unwillingly, we feel we can’t control it or avoid it.

It is therefore not surprising that the psychological effects of man-made and unintended radiation exposure, or even its possibility, are strong.

Many of the thousands of servicemen exposed to A-bomb tests suffered lifelong disability similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, and any effects of Three Mile Island were psychological, rather than caused by the minimal radiation exposure.

It has been estimated that 17 million were exposed to significant radiation after Chernobyl and nearly 2,000 people have since developed thyroid cancer having consumed contaminated food and milk as children.

This is very serious, but nothing like the impact that had been expected, and a UN report identified psychological problems as the major consequence for health.

The perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also somewhat contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives.

By 1992, over 40,000 had died, but it has been estimated that only 690 of those deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were major.

Radiation does, however, feel acceptable when used in benign circumstances such as medical imaging. You can pay £100 ($160) and get a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up, but it can deliver you a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion.

Because more than 70 million CT scans are carried out each year, the US National Cancer Institute has estimated that 29,000 Americans will get cancer as a result of the CT scans they received in 2007 alone.

Barrage of opinions

Given extreme public concerns, risk communication in a crisis is vital.

The accepted wisdom is for governments to be open and honest, without denial or premature reassurance, to own up to risks and uncertainties, and to keep up a constant flow of consistent information while giving people clear instructions and something to do.

The Japanese authorities are struggling.

The electricity company appears to be as secretive as its reputation suggested and although the Japanese media are mostly giving the government an easy ride, individuals able to follow western sources are faced with a barrage of conflicting opinions.

The EU Energy Commissioner may have his own reasons for making extraordinary statements about apocalypse and imminent catastrophe.

The UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir John Beddington, meanwhile, has had to revise his previously optimistic assessment to include the “worst case scenario” of radiation reaching Tokyo, albeit at a level which could be protected against.

Even under this worst case, though, the direct health consequences of the nuclear accident would be very small compared with the thousands already killed by the earthquake and tsunami, let alone the continued suffering of the survivors.

Maybe we should wait and see what happens before we decide what lessons to learn.

The Daily Mail science editor, Michael Hanlon, has already boldly claimed that “what has happened in Japan should in fact be seen as a massive endorsement of nuclear power”, given the success of most Japanese plants at withstanding a disaster they were never designed for, but others will use exactly the same information to reach the directly opposite conclusion.

Yesterday I asked an audience of 800 sixth-formers their opinion and, although they were pleased they weren’t in Tokyo, the majority still thought nuclear was a sensible option for future energy.

Maybe the generation who know nothing of the Cold War are growing up with a different perspective on radiation?


In my experience we — that amorphous collective of risk managing professionals — by in large work much too hard to avoid alarming the public.  We certainly wait too long to seriously engage the public.

There are idiots, there are troublemakers, and there are those who are profoundly vulnerable and frail.  But the vast majority of our “publics” are entirely capable of responding creatively and courageously to the truth, even moreso if we don’t wait until the last possible moment to let them in on the truth.

The truth can be complicated, ambiguous, and even paradoxical.   This kind of truth is especially characteristic of catastrophes. Too often we focus our messaging on the idiots and troublemakers (perhaps because the media often gives this minority more than proportional attention).  This tendency suppresses the resilient potential of the majority. Especially in the midst of a crisis the public ought not be patronized.

Our best policy and strategy is reaching out to the public to develop understanding and readiness well in advance of a crisis.  This last week I was involved in conducting a non-catastrophic, but very ambiguous preparedness exercise for an urban commercial district.   A colleague described the 100 plus participants as “ordinary people.”  A thank you note received afterwards included: “I want to first and foremost thank you and everyone… for helping us think clearly and thoughtfully about readiness and, most importantly, about decisionmaking under duress.”

Thinking together is helpful.   Even moreso is beginning to think together before the crisis is upon us.


A few related links:

Lessons from the long tail of improbable disaster by Steven Pearlstein

Japan’s “black swan”: Scientists ponder the unparalleled dangers of unlikely disasters by Joel Achenbach

Predictable Surprises by Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Worst-Case Scenarios by Cass R. Sunstein

Catastrophe: Risk and Response by Richard A. Posner

March 17, 2011

Preparing for our Nation’s Children – It Will Happen Here

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on March 17, 2011

Guest author Gregg Lord reminds us how important it is to focus our attention on the youngest victims during a catastrophe. While much of the attention, and not unwarranted, has been on the vast elderly population in Japan, I believe this particular issue is of utmost importance.

Gregg Lord is a Commissioner with the National Commission on Children and Disasters.  He is a retired Emergency Medical Services and Fire Chief with more than 30 years of experience in emergency response and disaster preparedness activities.  He currently serves as a Senior Policy Analyst at the George Washington University Medical Center’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

Over a year ago our nation was in the midst of a large disaster response and relief effort in Haiti.  U.S. response was difficult for a variety of reasons, but many expressed that the difficulties were the result of an inadequate government and lack of preparedness or response capacity by the Haitian people.

Over the past year our nation’s homeland security enterprise has discussed the many issues and impediments involved in the Haitian response.  These “lessons” should have provided significant incentive to our government to recognize the needs of a prepared nation.  Moreover, it should have shed light on the incredible gaps that currently exist in preparation for a large scale incident such as Haiti and now Japan.  Inherent in this gap is the ability to provide for our nation’s children when such devastation visits a community.

The Haitian people were ill prepared for the disaster and, without the support of the world, many more Haitians would have died since the earthquake due to injuries and infections.  We now know that a disproportionate number of Haiti’s children have died in the post earthquake environment, some of whom could have been saved given the right expertise and equipment.

In any disaster children are the most vulnerable victims.  Haiti’s population of children is higher than many countries, with nearly 40% being under age 14.  The timing of the earthquake also meant that most children were still in school, the majority of which collapsed, causing significant death and injury to the school-age population.  These issues and circumstances led to a horrific outcome.

Now another catastrophic event is unfolding.  In this case it occurred in what many have called the “most prepared nation in the world.”  Japan has a long history of dealing with large scale events and terrorism and as such have educated, trained and practiced for disasters.  Yet despite their efforts it is clear that in a truly catastrophic event not even the “most prepared” can adequately respond.  It is too early to try to evaluate the ongoing issues in the response and recovery in Japan, but it is not too early to recognize that once again children will be the most affected and least supported group during the response.

According to the organization “Save the Children,” many of the Japanese shelters lack child-safe areas.  Disaster response teams usually lack any significant quantity of pediatric-specific medications and medical countermeasures such as Prussian Blue or potassium iodide in appropriate pediatric doses.  Save the Children has sent teams to provide guidance to the Japanese government on creating environments for children that will aid them in recovering but, historically, disaster shelters in the U.S. have lacked child-specific areas and resources.  The U.S. government has provided assistance in the form of Urban Search and Rescue Teams, but those teams lack pediatric-specific expertise and equipment.  Although we continue improving our ability to deal with children disaster-specific needs, we are still not where we need to be.

Over the past two years the National Commission on Children and Disasters has worked diligently to identify gaps in our national preparedness and response enterprise as it relates to children and disasters.  As a result of these recommendations, significant progress has been made within FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, but the real needs of children during a disaster can only be met by local communities and states.  However, the fiscal issues confronting local and state governments continue to push the preparedness responsibility up to the Federal government and threaten to leave us unprepared.  When an event occurs in this country and we lack an effective response at the local, state and Federal level, the finger pointing will begin.  It will become quickly evident that our nation has ignored 25% of its population, our children.  This begs the question, “Would our children be better off then those in Haiti or Japan if the earthquake happened here?”  At this point I believe the answer is a qualified “maybe” at best.

This most recent event is horrific and the loss of life will be large, but we within the U.S. the homeland security enterprise must move now to convince policy makers in and out of Washington that preparedness is a shared responsibility that begins at the local level.  It must be a political imperative at each level of government to learn from Haiti, and now Japan, so that when it is our turn we can manage the event and ensure that our children are the priority.   On more than one occasion our elected officials have spoken of our nation’s children as “our most precious asset, our future.”  It is time for local, state and federally elected officials to take that sentiment to heart and ensure that children are treated as our most precious asset, especially during times of a disaster. Buildings can be rebuilt, but our children can not be replaced nor can the nightmares of the surviving children be alleviated if we fail in our efforts.

Northeast Japan: Logistics network beginning to recover

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on March 17, 2011

Original available at http://www.mlit.go.jp/common/000138042.pdf

According to March 18 USAID Summary Report (worth accessing full report for detail across the spectrum of need and response):

To date, the GoJ has restored 18 main roads, 5 airports, and 6 ports to facilitate aid delivery in affected areas… The International Medical Corps (IMC) reported that systems for delivery of basic goods do not appear overwhelmed at this time in Sendai,with taxis, running water, and electricity available.  However, the current shortage of fuel is limiting the aid delivery capacity of relief agencies, private transportation companies, municipalities, and the JSDF. Furthermore, poor communications and insufficient capacity in affected areas has also restricted the delivery of relief items.

According to a March 18 Nikkei report:

The government is pursuing emergency measures to deal with fuel shortages that include shipping 38,000kl of oil products by sea from refineries in Hokkaido and western Japan to the earthquake-devastated Tohoku region. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda on Thursday called on the Petroleum Association of Japan to implement the emergency steps. METI on Monday had urged oil distributors to release 1.26 million kiloliters, or three days’ worth of mandated reserves, for supply to the market. But since there was no visible improvement in supply to afflicted regions, the government will take its efforts up a notch, Kaieda said.

For starters, it will secure 38,000kl of oil products a day, which is equal to daily demand in Tohoku prior to the earthquake. From a total of 13 refineries in Hokkaido as well as Sakai, Mizushima and elsewhere in western Japan, tankers will transport oil products by sea to storage facilities in Akita and Niigata prefectures.

And 300 tank lorries operating in western Japan will be transferred to Tohoku, increasing the region’s fleet to 700. Kerosene will be put into drums and transported by truck. Kaieda also called for the operating rates of refineries in western Japan, which are stuck at around 80% at present, to be hiked to at least 95%. Of the 500-plus gasoline stations in the quake-hit zone and its surrounding area, 100 will be designated as facilities for priority use by emergency vehicles transporting relief products.

Much more in Japanese at http://www.mlit.go.jp/

Catastrophic preparedness: Here and there, now and then, well… if there’s time

Filed under: Catastrophes,Congress and HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 17, 2011

Late this afternoon (Thursday) the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee conducted a hearing entitled Catastrophic Preparedness: How ready is FEMA for the next big disaster.  A video of the hearing is available. I don’t recommend taking time to watch it.

In a process and outcome emblematic of our overall stance on catastrophic preparedness,  several other issues and purposes were mixed into the hearing.   In a nearly two-hour session I perceived about 15 to 20 minutes were committed to what I recognize as catastrophic preparedness.

The situation in Japan was discussed, but mostly in terms of the nuclear emergency.  Senator Lieberman committed one seven-minute round of questions and answers to the implications for the US of  the Japanese experience of preparedness, response, and recovery beyond the nuclear emergency. I am not wanting to discount the potential harm and implications of the nuclear emergency. But it seems to me our (both Japanese and others) preoccupation with the nuclear emergency has discounted the urgent needs of those who survived the first two stages of this crisis.

Available at the hearing website is prepared testimony by each witness.  Below is a long quote from Administrator Fugate’s prepared testimony that does address important issues of catastrophic preparedness. It is worth reading each paragraph and beginning to insert your own footnotes related to the emerging lessons-learned from Japan.


We must view all of the work FEMA does in concert with the rest of the emergency management community as part of a broad plan for addressing the demands and challenges of a catastrophic disaster.

To ensure that our efforts become part of an interconnected plan of action, we are focused on our “Whole Community” initiative. This initiative will continue to leverage the capabilities that both governmental and non-governmental entities play in preparing for a catastrophic disaster.

We cannot effectively respond to a catastrophic disaster alone. Our planning and preparedness scenarios require all parties to pitch in, including FEMA and its partners at the federal level; state, local and tribal governments; non-governmental organizations in the non-profit, faith-based and private sector communities; and most importantly, diverse individuals, families, and communities, who continue to be our most important assets and allies in our ability to respond to and recover from a major disaster.

As the name of the initiative indicates, it is truly the whole community that must be prepared to respond in ways that extend beyond the normal paradigms in which we have traditionally operated. As a result, when we at FEMA address our own preparedness and response capabilities, we now do it through the “Whole Community” framework…

“Whole Community” uses planning assumptions for catastrophic disasters that are based on the worst case scenarios. These scenarios are designed to challenge preparedness at all levels of government and force innovative, non-traditional solutions as part of the response strategy to such events.

To begin this change in national preparedness practice and doctrine, we are enlisting the active participation of the whole community, partnering with emergency management, public health, security, law enforcement, critical infrastructure and medical organizations to plan, train, organize and heighten awareness as a team.

The “Whole Community” initiative identifies the highest priority tasks necessary to save and sustain lives and stabilize a community or region during the crucial first 72 hours after a catastrophe. This initiative also addresses the fundamental pillars of the entire emergency management spectrum. While the initial 72-hour period after an incident is the most critical in saving and sustaining lives, the Whole Community approach spans not only response operations following a disaster, but also recovery, prevention, protection, and mitigation activities that occur before, during and after a catastrophic event.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure we work together as a nation to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. Too often we have overlooked our role as supporting citizens and first responders. The “Whole Community” initiative recognizes that FEMA is not the nation’s emergency management team – FEMA is just part of the team.

FEMA continues to play an integral role as part of the emergency management community. However, we know that we cannot and should not do it alone. We know of the capabilities of federal agencies, which can be leveraged in the event of a disaster to provide a robust federal response. We know of the importance of effective coordination with state, local and tribal governments, who provide direct, on the ground experience, and who usually have initial and primary responsibility for disaster response. We know that non-governmental organizations, like faith-based and non-profit groups, and private sector entities, possess knowledge, assets and services that government simply cannot provide. An effective disaster response involves tapping into all of these resources.

Finally, and most importantly, we know of the great capacity of individuals to care for their families, friends, neighbors and fellow community members, making our citizens force multipliers rather than liabilities. Together, we make up the whole community, and we all have an important role to play. We must engage all of our societal capacity, both within and beyond FEMA, to work together as a team.

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