Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2011

FEMA: A parenthetical but important third party endorsement

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2011

Friday evening on CNN, John King interviewed FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on the ground in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The rather long interview included the following:

KING: All around the region we’re speaking to mayors and governors and the like and hear a lot of praise and compliments saying everybody seems to be working well together. As you know that’s not always the case in the past. Have there been any hiccups or unanticipated whether a supply shortage or chain of command issue?

FUGATE: No. Chain of command is easy. We’re in support of the governors. They’re in charge.Their state teams were up and running. Our job is to support them and in this case, particularly in Alabama, it’s really going to be supporting them in the recovery operation.

In the typical rhythm of news coverage, the stories emphasizing neglect, incompetence, and such generally do not begin for about 48 hours after the disaster.  Still, this early positive framing is worth noting.

An Associated Press story filed early Saturday may signal the usual pivot to the attack.  See: Southerners see their emergency safety net shredded.  The story certainly highlights how local capabilities have in several instances been overwhelmed by the impact.

Substantively, this week’s extraordinary long-line tornadoes had a much more than typical impact on housing stock.  This was especially the case because of the direct hit on Tuscaloosa, population 90,000.  I have not yet seen a credible projection, but several hundred replacement homes and apartments will certainly be needed, the sooner the better.

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency released a new situation report shortly after 7:00 local time on Saturday.   It is a pdf and, at least this morning, requires significant time to load, but is accessible at: http://ema.alabama.gov/filelibrary/SituationReport/SitRep8complete.pdf


Housing issues nagging at tornado victims (Los Angeles Times)

Power back for roughly two-thirds (Birmingham News)

Five federal agency chiefs in disaster zone (Politico)

Government’s disaster response wins praise (New York Times)

Is FEMA bold enough to get it right? (Delaware Online Editorial on FEMA’s role and Wicked Problems)

The University of Alabama student newspaper, The Crimson White, is providing detailed reporting and sometimes different angles on the situation in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, including FEMA on the Ground.

April 29, 2011

A super-cell outbreak is one kind of complex threat. Do the principles of good practice fit?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 29, 2011

There were over 130 tornado sightings reported (some say more than 150) on Wednesday night.  It will take a while to generate a fully accurate count.  Over 300 fatalities are reported in states ranging from Alabama to Virginia.

Depending on how current reports are deconflicted, April 2011 may have seen more North American tornadoes than any prior month since record-keeping began in 1950. The historic record is May 2003 with 543 confirmed tornadoes.  The preliminary count for the current month is close to 600.

Depending on how the Wednesday night reports are confirmed,  the record for the largest single tornado outbreak may also fall.  Until Wednesday night the record was 148 confirmed tornadoes on April 3-4, 1974.   Over 300 fatalities resulted from the 1974 series of storms.

On Wednesday, according to the Birmingham (Alabama) News:

In the Birmingham area, the severe weather started about 5:30 a.m. with winds as high as 100 mph ripping through parts of the city, toppling trees and knocking out power. By nightfall power was out to 370,000 customers statewide, and more than 170,000 in metro Birmingham, Alabama Power reported.

That early storm was just a prelude to what weather forecasters had been warning for days. Schools were shut down and many took a day off from their jobs in anticipation of the events to come. People stayed glued to the radio, and many watched tornadoes touch down live on television, striking Cullman, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

“We were very prepared”, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley told reporters.  But in a highly populated area such as Tuscaloosa, where a maximum force, mile-wide tornado wiped out parts of the city, “you cannot move thousands of people in five minutes.” (See more from the Christian Science Monitor.)

While weather forecasting continues to be a less-than-certain undertaking, it is more accurate than in 1974.  There are also many more sources of weather information than 37 years ago.  It is impossible to precisely measure this complex event against the prior complex event.  But it is not unreasonable to assume lives were saved on Wednesday night because of increased awareness and accuracy of the weather forecast.

Last Friday I proposed five principles of good practice for resilience:

  • Awareness: Observe and engage the full context,
  • Connectedness: Recognize and engage our full range of relationships and dependencies,
  • Realism: Differentiate between cause and effect, capacity and capability, novelty and continuity.
  • Agility: Expect change in context and relationships, remain creatively open to change, and actively embrace change.
  • Flexibility: Expand the “basin of attraction” where and how turbulence can occur without threatening our fundamental identity.

Increased weather awareness is an outcome of 1) much greater communications connectedness and 2) a more sophisticated scientific understanding of the connectedness that “makes” weather.

Most, though not all, residents of tornado alley — and hurricane alley or snow valleys or flood bottoms — are entirely realistic about the threat.  This is not as much the case for earthquakes, wildfires, and some other threats.  I wonder if this is because the connectedness of these other threats seem more obscure?

Because we are more aware of the forecast we are more agile.  We are more alert.  We are not surprised.  Back in Illinois when a friend built a new furniture factory, a tornado safe room was specifically added.  Less than a year later the factory had been flattened, except for the safe room.  All forty-some employees came out without a scratch.  That is anticipatory agility.

The closing of schools is a practical example of expanding the basin of attraction in which turbulence can occur.  Distribute your critical resources, children and otherwise.

Awareness, connectedness, realism, agility, and flexibility seem better suited for a self-help book than a serious piece of homeland security strategy.  Waaay too motherhood and apple pie?  Maybe so.  But I perceive we can undervalue both our mothers and apple pie.  What might come from greater attention?

Principles of good practice for advancing resilience: Awareness of complex context and connections

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 29, 2011

(This is the second in a two-part series on a possible set of principles of good practice for resilience. The first part appeared on Friday, April 22)

Psychologists and sociologists increasingly view resilience not as an extraordinary characteristic, but a common feature of healthy individuals and communities. We are resilient because resilience is required to deal with everyday reality. The process of structuring, unstructuring, and restructuring is typically persistent and reasonably incremental; so much so, we may mostly take-for-granted our habits of resilience.

But when our environment takes an extraordinary turn, the ability to apply these – sometimes unrecognized – habits under duress can be fundamental to the survival of individuals, communities, and systems.

Reality is complicated, often complex, and sometimes chaotic. There are also moments of real simplicity. The context is known, our relationships are straightforward, and choices are clear. We have the experience, knowledge, and confidence to make effective choices. With agility we anticipate challenges. We are flexible when surprised.

A big part of our joy with a championship basketball team or a great jazz ensemble is our experience of wonderful choices unfolding in real-time. It is especially thrilling to watch a team make resilient choices that bring them back from behind. We recognize the analogies to our own lives, whether we articulate the analogies or not.

A championship basketball team or a great jazz ensemble or a world-class symphony or a victorious army does not take these resilient habits for granted. They practice, they study past performance, they are rigorously coached, they recruit the best possible individual talent and they continuously work to blend various talents into an integrated whole. They actively seek new challenges, new compositions, new competitors, uncommon approaches to doing better what they already do very well. They structure, unstructure, restructure.

David Snowden and Cynthia Kurtz offer a conceptualization and methodology especially germane to potential catastrophe. What they call the Cynefin Framework – from the Welsh term for a deep sense of place and kinship – helps us make sense of our shifting reality.

Cynefin Framework (2003)

All of these places are familiar to us. We begin most days with what is known: simple, repeatable, and predictable patterns of behavior and relationships. Most days the routine works as expected. Driving to work we monitor our context for unpredictable, but knowable changes. A vehicle breakdown five miles ahead gives us the opportunity to choose an alternate route. We still get to work on time.

Working through our relationships can be more complex. Cause-and-effect can be unclear or actively hidden, patterns morph, personalities flare, and unusual problems arise. But many of us are actually paid to engage the unusual problems. We enjoy the give-and-take, the creative and reflective process of probing with possible solutions, sensing the good and bad outcomes, and working to wrestle the complex into the knowable and eventually corral it as known.

Emergency management, homeland security, public safety and related disciplines are accustomed to complexity. As individuals and organizations we may actually thrive on complexity. Police, firefighters, emergency managers and their professional siblings tend to be drawn to the work precisely because of the sense of accomplishment – and adventure and service – that comes from wrestling complexity and winning.

But on occasion complexity cascades into something considerably different. Here’s how Kurtz and Snowden describe it:

Un-ordered domain: Chaos. In the first three domains we have described, there are visible relationships between cause and effect. In the chaotic domain there are no such perceivable relations, and the system is turbulent; we do not have the response time to investigate change. Applying best practice is probably what precipitated chaos in the first place; there is nothing to analyze; and waiting for patterns to emerge is a waste of time. The chaotic domain is in a very real sense uncanny, in that there is a potential for order but few can see it—or if they can, they rarely do unless they have the courage to act. In known space it pays to be canny, that is, to know how to work the system in all its intricacies (canny meaning not only shrewd but safe). But in chaotic space, a canny ability gets you nowhere (there is no system to be worked). You need a different type of ability, one that is uncannily mysterious, sometimes even to its owner. Canny people tend to succeed in their own lifetimes; uncanny people tend to be recognized and appreciated only centuries later, because during their time their actions appeared to be either insane or pointless. Each of these styles has a unique ability to succeed in a particular space, and each is necessary.

In homeland security, public safety, emergency management, and related endeavors uncanny individuals, communities, and systems are called heroes.

Michael Jordan was great, the Chicago Bulls were uncanny. After 1987 an alchemy of weirdly diverse relationships transformed the team and even the game. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones were individually great musicians. Playing together they were uncanny.

Can the uncanny be consciously cultivated? The example of the Bulls and the Miles Davis Quintet demonstrate it is possible, even as precise cause-and-effect continues to be mysterious.  Will the Miami Heat make the transition to uncanny?

A potential catastrophe often emerges on the cusp of complexity and chaos. Effective preparedness for catastrophe enables key decision-makers and actors recognize when the boundary is being crossed and creative probing is no longer sufficient. Probing and waiting to see the outcome is not an effective way to engage chaos. Decisive acting – even while entirely uncertain – and responding rapidly to the outcome of acting — is the strategy for this “particular space.”

Kurtz and Snowden warn of another boundary that bears watching, and this boundary is especially relevant when dealing with a potential catastrophe. They write,

Movement at the known-chaos boundary. This boundary is the strongest of the four, in which a perfectly working machine operates inches away from a devastating fire. For that reason, this boundary is the most dangerous—and the most powerful if treated with respect… We have seen a tendency for organizations to oscillate between the domains of the known and the chaotic, avoiding the upper domains. Organizations settle into stable symmetric relationships in known space and fail to recognize that the dynamics of the environment have changed until it is too late. The longer the period of stability and the more stable the system, the more likely it is for asymmetric threats or other factors to precipitate a move into chaos. The decision makers in the system don’t see things that fall outside the pattern of their expectation, and they continue not to see them until finally the system breaks and they find themselves in chaos.

For the most experienced professionals many aspects of emergencies and disasters are known, understood, even predictable. There is good practice, proven protocol, and effective incident command. But when chaos begins to cascade over the boundary, failure to notice the change in context and relationships – failure to recognize the unfolding reality – will produce non-agile and inflexible reactions which will accelerate and compound the chaos.

April 28, 2011

Event Alert: OIL SPILLS, EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS & MELTDOWNS: Acting In Time Against the Next Disaster

Filed under: Catastrophes,Events,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on April 28, 2011

Speaking of Juliette Kayyem, she will be appearing this evening on a panel at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on “OIL SPILLS, EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS & MELTDOWNS: Acting In Time Against the Next Disaster.”

In addition to Juliette there is an impressive list of participants:

Juliette Kayyem
Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs,
Department of Homeland Security (2009-11)

General Craig R. McKinley
Chief, National Guard Bureau

Admiral Robert Papp
Commandant, US Coast Guard

The Hon. Bart Stupak
Member, US House of Representatives (1993-2011)
Chair, House Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

Admiral James Winnefeld
Commander, US Northern Command &
North American Aerospace Defense Command

David T. Ellwood (Moderator)
Dean, Harvard Kennedy School

The event will be streamed over the internet live and can be viewed here beginning at 6pm:


A day or two following the event, a recorded video will be made available on the Kennedy School website.  I will update this post with the relevant information when it is made available.



Here is the link to the video of the event:


And here is a summary of the remarks:


Echoes of Deepwater in Fukushima

Much of the analysis of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, both the tick-tock of events at the plant itself and the re-evaluation of nuclear reactor safety and response plans here in the U.S., has treated the subject as if it was an isolated incident. This ignores the triggering event, a 9.0 earthquake and resulting monster tsunami, along with the true utter death and destruction that resulted as opposed to the ongoing radiological situation that has yet to kill one person (the brave people working to get the situation under control have likely been exposed to high enough doses of radiation to increase their chances of developing cancer, but at this point outside the plant it likely will be difficult to identify any increased cancer rates).

This is not generally the best of ideas, either for understanding decisions made by the utility that owns and operates the Fukushima plant and Japanese authorities or in analyzing our own safety efforts and crisis response plans (never mind the fact I’ve seen significantly more concern raised about nuclear safety than questions about our own ability to deal with an event that kills tens of thousands and displaces hundreds of thousands of people).  That said…I’m about to commit the same mistake, because like in physics it is sometimes easier to treat a real physical object like a car as if it were a pure geometrical shape (such as a sphere) just because it makes the math easier. In other words, sometimes important insights can still be gained by simplifying a situation.

In this case, I’m thinking about the similarities between the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill and the ongoing troubles at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Both are technical disasters that impact people and the environment with possible long-term effects to which there has been a confused response.  In a recent Boston Globe op-ed, former DHS assistant secretary Juliette Kayyem reflects on her experiences in the Gulf:

In hindsight, it’s clear to me that there were two different responses to the spill — one political, one operational. Despite some fits and starts, the operational response largely worked. But it was the political response that garnered so much attention, and seemed so disconnected from what was going on day-to-day operationally.

The operational response, led by Thad Allen, occurred in the field. Countless Coast Guard officials, environmental cleanup crews, BP engineers, and state and local first responders focused on closing the well; used 1.8 million gallons of dispersants on the surface and sea bottom; burned oil when it surfaced; protected marshlands with protective boom; skimmed oil if it was near shore; and cleaned up tar balls when oil hit the shore.

Yet, the whole time, we were playing by a rulebook that no one could admit we were playing by. This was true not just for the White House, but for the governors and local leaders as well.

Even putting aside BP’s public-relations fiascos — former CEO Tony Hayward wasn’t the only one who wanted his life back — the notion that the US government would stand hand in hand singing “Kumbaya” with BP as we worked together to fight the oncoming oil was absurd. Thus, Thad Allen would become the voice and leader of the response, BP would be kicked off the podium (literally: their daily press briefings with the Coast Guard were canceled)

Not one of the Gulf governors — all of them Republican, at least two potentially running against President Obama in 2012 — would accept that his own experts had signed off on plans that, essentially, they no longer liked in the harsh light of day.

In a democracy, any disaster is inherently political. This isn’t a criticism. The administration did, in my view, what any compassionate and concerned administration ought to do; the governors would similarly defend themselves. And maybe first responders are too quick to criticize elected officials for involving themselves in major disasters; leadership is what we elect them for. They can assign blame, demand resources, and channel popular outrage in a way a by-the-book field response cannot.

On the other side of the Pacific, the story sounds eerily similar.  The Wall Street Journal has been carrying out some of the best reporting on the management of the Fukushima crisis:

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the country’s top nuclear regulator, said Friday said it will run Tepco’s main daily plant-status briefing, held each evening, though the company will conduct some others on its own.

Tepco came under another indirect attack Friday, as the governor of Fukushima prefecture, or state, vowed he would oppose any efforts to reopen parts of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as a neighboring Tepco-run plant, until he was assured of their safety. While he has limited ability to block any reopening, his comments underscore the rising local opposition to nuclear power in Japan.

Tokyo’s intervention in Tepco’s public-relations arm came after several briefings that sowed confusion, with Tepco issuing statements on radiation levels that it later rescinded or revised, or that appeared to catch Tokyo by surprise at briefings often held at around the same time of day.

The move deepens the government’s involvement in Tepco. After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that led to dangerous reactor overheating at the plant, Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered advisers to set up a command center in Tepco’s offices. The government has since moved to quash speculation, amid questions over Tepco’s ability to shoulder potential liabilities over the disaster, that it would nationalize the company.

“Under the current configuration, it is not clear who is calling the shots and who is taking responsibility,”

To bring it all together, Ben Heineman, former General Counsel of GE (among his many professional accomplishments), highlighted the similarities between the two incidents in a Harvard Business Review piece:

A potentially catastrophic technological problem, an incomplete crisis response plan, misleading early information, divided private and public authority, ineffective initial actions.

This could describe the current situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and its six reactors. But, it also describes what happened after the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

These two unprecedented events are stark reminders that effective crisis management involving complex science and technology is wholly dependent on well-thought-out — and actively practiced — crisis response plans. Of course, such plans will have to adapt to actual events, but without a robust plan, “seat of the pants” crisis management won’t work.

Although the Japanese nuclear event is not yet a week old and information is impressionistic and fragmentary, it bears a striking resemblance in a number of dimensions to the Gulf spill

Response Plan. Neither the Gulf spill nor the problems at the Japan nuclear plants were unthinkable.

Public or Private Responsibility? The U.S. government initially left many dimensions of crisis management and response to BP. But, the Gulf spill was a national issue, which required governmental direction, responsibility and accountability.

In Japan, although the government has taken the lead on many aspects of the post-earthquake/tsunami crisis, there has been confusion about who is in charge at the nuclear plants. Where is the central government? Where is the nuclear regulator?

Confusing Information. A host of factual questions were raised by Gulf Spill: How much oil was flowing? How could the flow be stopped? Where was the oil going (surface/sub-surface)? How could it be contained or removed? How could damage to environment/people/property be eliminated or mitigated? But for a significant period of time, responses from the company and the government were confusing. The U.S. government needed a central authority which used expert working groups, and which made clear to the public what was known, what was unknown, what process was in place for improving knowledge, and when there would be regular updates on those issues. A similar set of problems bedevils Japan.

Decision-Making Processes. As noted, there was substantial confusion for weeks after the Gulf spill about whether the company or different parts of government were making decisions.

A similar concern appears to apply in Japan, where opaqueness prevails about who is making decisions about what options, with what parties at the table, and with which other parties advising (from around the world).

Implementation and Resources. In the Gulf, there were also serious issues about which private and public sector actors would implement which decisions — and about what resources were necessary.

In Japan, it is very hard to tell at the moment who is responsible for carrying out which decisions at the nuclear plants.

It is still too early to draw any definitive lessons from what is happening in Japan.  Yet the basic similarities so far identified between these two events  should give pause to all regulators and emergency planners.

April 27, 2011

Innovating with Integrity

Filed under: Events,Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on April 27, 2011

Yesterday and today I am attending the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference organized by Washington State University in Tacoma. This annual event is well-attended and attracts a particularly progressive cross-section of public, private and non-profit sector practitioners as well as academics.

As you might imagine, the topics on offer at this year’s conference include several that might be considered “hot,” including social media, public-private collaboration, catastrophic event planning, and resilience. Most presenters seem to have taken account of the impact of the ongoing economic situation in addressing their topics, but none so far as I have seen or heard have explicitly addressed how we might measure the performance of our efforts in these areas.

Yesterday, Chris Bellavita let us in on a discussion he’s been having with a couple of his colleagues about the power of narrative as a means of expressing if not assessing the effectiveness of our efforts, especially those related to innovation or improvement. As this discussion illustrates, narrative has the advantage of distilling a great deal of complexity without losing context. Narrative also appeals to our rational sensibilities (order, structure, content) without overlooking the importance of our emotions (context, texture, feeling) in imprinting them on our individual and collective memories.

Unfortunately, despite its relatively concrete nature, narrative leaves us wonting when it comes to discreteness. How do we judge the relative value of competing or conflicting narratives? Doesn’t their very existence make it harder for us to know what’s really happening?

I got a glimpse of how we might address this dilemma even if we cannot resolve it completely from one of the final presenters on Tuesday. Tracy Connelly is an emergency preparedness training specialist for the Seattle Office of Emergency Management. Despite her self-admitted diminutive stature, “gender confusing” appearance, and “eighth grade reading ability” due to a life-long struggle with dyslexia, she’s a dynamo who really knows her subject yet is still unafraid to get to know the communities she wants to reach on their own terms.

Tracy’s presentation made it clear that she measures her own effectiveness in how many new people and groups her existing contacts help her reach and by the extent to which the communities she engages shape her own thinking and in doing so transform her program and its message. As a result, she’s managing to develop and deploy really innovative and successful interventions in some of Seattle’s most vulnerable, under-served and often hard-to-reach communities.

In a nutshell, Tracy’s outreach program and the effectiveness of her efforts rely on her personal integrity. Something as seemingly intangible as integrity can be measured simply by considering whether the people she’s reaching welcome her back and share her message with others. Now that would be a pretty good start all by itself, but Tracy also demonstrated the added value she gets from the new contacts and partnerships that develop from her relationships and the ways in which they have shaped her approach.

Most programs count the number of individuals or groups they reach. But they seldom consider what any small business could not afford to ignore: How many customers return? How many refer their friends and acquaintances? And how many new product or service offerings developed from the feedback these new and returning customers gave?

Just as no effective business can afford to rely solely on customer counts or gross sales to assess its performance, no effective public service can afford to ignore its impact on human and social capital. Stories help us get a handle on how our programs shape what people think and do. But the real test of our effectiveness comes down to what we do with the information that comes back to us through their interaction with us.

April 26, 2011

A half-baked idea about measuring preparedness

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 26, 2011

President Obama “wrote” the following as a part of PPD 8:

…I hereby direct the development of a national preparedness goal that identifies the core capabilities necessary for preparedness and a national preparedness system to guide activities that will enable the Nation to achieve the goal. The system will allow the Nation to track the progress of our ability to build and improve the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation.

In previous posts over the past few years, I noted how difficult it is to “track the progress of our ability to build and improve capabilities.” At least a half dozen pilot projects have made the attempt. But tracking “preparedness” (my shorthand for this complex undertaking) still waits in the “too hard to do” box.

Since nothing is impossible to the person who does not have to do it, I think “we” (people who care about assessing preparedness) should just ask homeland security officials across the country what threats they are prepared to “prevent, protect… mitigate…” etc., and what they are not prepared for. And we should track responses annually.

However I detect serious misgivings from people-in-charge-of-things about the responses they would get from that kind of inquiry. There seems to be an expectation that homeland security officials charged with taking care of their jurisdictions would lie about their preparedness so they get more money.

Or maybe even worse than lying, their responses would be “subjective.”

So just asking responsible professionals how prepared they are is a naive non-starter, unless the request can be backed up by some kind of six sigma truth guarantor.

What else can one do?


This gets to the topic today’s post: Where do new ideas come from?

In my experience they come in intermittent, varied and interrupted intensity, like bees getting called to pollen

Truly blessed is the man or woman who gets to work with people around whom they can think out loud. I have the good fortune of working with people like that, who do not expect your ideas to be fully formed.

Here is an exchange I had with three colleagues (Ted Lewis, Rudy Darken, and Lauren Fernandez) last week about another idea for assessing preparedness. The idea is “half baked,” by which I mean in a non-derisive way, it is not done.


Me: When you get the chance, can you look at this 6 minute video from David Snowden, the complexity theorist. [The video is posted in this blog, below.] It is a promotional video for SenseMaker software, but it describes a kind of narrative research that could be used by states and cities to assess preparedness.  It basically uses stories as data, and then portrays those data as a (both fixed and dynamic) fitness landscape.

I wonder if we could use an approach like this to measure (or at least portray) preparedness.


Ted: While you’re at it, take a look at this video (from the United Kingdom, about involving people in their energy future).

It might be a model for doing what you want.


Rudy — Conceptually, I get what they are doing, but I can’t quite grasp what form this takes or how I would use it [to measure preparedness]. Do you?


Ted : What is the objective? What do you want to achieve? Then work backwards. If you were going to construct a Maslow Hiearchy for homeland security preparedness, what would it be? That is the goal. Once you have that, what data do you need to collect and display to define or ‘prove’ a layer in this hierarchy? At each layer, drill down to the precepts. What are they.  Keep going until you are exhausted or the listener is no longer interested. Then you are done.


Rudy — The problem is that the connection between things we do and preparedness outcomes is fuzzy at best. In fact we don’t even know what the metrics are. So that’s what I’d want to use the wisdom of the crowds for. If we could think of a way to get hundreds of responses that help frame the concepts of what goes into preparedness and how much does it matter, you might have a very interesting result.


Ted — agree! What are the metrics? It could look something like the UK energy site, but what are the levers?


Rudy — Exactly my point. What if you had a way for the user to say what he thinks the levers are and how he thinks the levers influence outcomes (which he would also have to specify, or pick from a list).


Me — Unless I’m missing something, the UK app illustrates trade off analysis.  The goal is clear and measurable (achieve 20% of 1990 CO emissions). I think preparedness assessment could lead to trade off analysis, but I think there are some steps missing before we get there — like what the goal is.

As I understand a fitness landscape, it is an image that portrays the relationship between agents and their environment.  Some of those relationships are stable and are unlikely to change without a massive disruption.  So one might say those agents are a good fit with their environment.  Other relationships are unstable and are not likely to persist in the environment (such as paying attention to terrorism in a community that has never had a terrorism incident).  So preparedness would mean something different in each community (or more accurately, each region).  By first mapping the preparedness landscape (by collecting and plotting stories told by agents as described in the SenseMaker software), one would have a baseline from which to look at how preparedness is changing.  This would be analogous to observing how an ecosystem changes as its environment or agents within the system change.

Public choice theory posits that, over time, communities tend to be satisfied with the level of government services they receive.  If they are not, they will tend to elect people who will work to change the level of services — via ending, starting programs; increasing/decreasing taxes.  There’s more to it than that, but public choice assumes a tendency toward a dynamic equilibrium.  I wonder if one can make the same assumption about preparedness: that communities are generally satisfied with their level of homeland security preparedness, otherwise they would take action to change that level.  (This excludes for now one level of a system expecting more or less out of a different level of a system: fusion centers might be an example of that.)

The key to all this, as I understand it, is in one of Ted’s earlier emails: define the data.  I think the objective is agent satisfaction.  The data consist of stories the agents tell about prevention, mitigation, response, recovery, resilience, and the other portmanteau concepts in preparedness – and I think identifying the questions that elicit those stories would be a useful next step.

I want to bring Lauren Fernandez into this conversation.  While she was with DHS, she led pilot projects to figure out how to assess preparedness (in response to HSPD 8 requirements).  She has more experience and knowledge about measuring preparedness than anyone I know.  Here’s what she wrote in an email to me yesterday on this topic:


Lauren: I watched Snowden’s video, and some of his statements resonated with me—in the real world people share anecdotes, and this information is valuable. I liked the idea of the storyteller also being the interpreter. I didn’t quite understand what a fitness landscape is and how it can be developed.

I do think that different ways of assessing preparedness need to be explored. It is the type of problem where there are not (nor do I think there can be) commonly accepted and measurable indicators across the board. There are some instances where quantitative measures make sense (e.g. average response time of certain equipment in certain geographic area), but this can’t be done for everything. There are instances when people’s perception of performance is adequate, and instances when it is not.

There are so many moving pieces:

– Preparedness requires dollars, and there are differing views on where dollars should be spent and how much the government should be able to acquire and distribute for all needs (education, healthcare, security, etc.) [Bellavita note: this would be a good use of an application similar to the UK energy app.]

– The actors that wish to cause harm in the domestic US are not static, they adapt. Our defenses must also adapt, making measurement difficult.

– Our capabilities to prevent and respond change over time (new technologies, events affect our resources, etc.)

– Some things are just difficult to measure. If you provide enough specification in a question to get a decent answer, that answer is not generalizable. If the question is too generalized, it can’t be answered well.

– We measure because we want to adjust where we place resources (time, money, etc.) People who are a part of the system being measured are motivated to affect the evaluation (it affects programs they care about, personal finances, reputations, etc.). Measuring teacher performance is a good analogy—we end up placing a lot of resources into standardized testing. Teachers spend significant time working to get students to pass the tests. To what end? Has this produced better students that will improve their personal and community life?

When thinking about a new approach to preparedness measurement, perhaps we can start with the end in mind [Bellavita note: to me, the desired end in mind is regional satisfaction with that region’s preparedness for certain types of threats] and work backwards to tools that will help us meet that end.

I liked this blog post on the importance of being able to take action. I’m curious if there is any evidence that fitness landscapes can (or could) influence decisionmakers and if the information developed is good enough to make decisions.


Ted — A couple of observations: You may be describing qualitative reasoning, which is a subtopic of artificial intelligence. No numbers, just directions like up, down, small, big, etc.  Alternatively, your model might simply be “the wisdom of crowds”, and nothing more than a heat map of the US. Ask people to rank their level of satisfaction along a scale.  At least Chris identified the goal: to reach preparedness satisfaction. That is a start. What stories deal with satisfaction?


Me —  If asked, I could come up with stories about how satisfied I am with my community’s ability to anticipate, respond to and recover from floods.  I could do the same with fires and wind storms.  Those are the major threats where I live, and there are stories people in the community tell each other about, for instance, the wind storm of 1995 that destroyed a lot of trees, knocked out power for a week or so in some places, disrupted travel and so on.

Without actually collecting those stories (yet), I am guessing I could locate on several triangles (like the Snowden video) how prepared I thought my community was to anticipate, prevent, mitigate, communicate about (and so on) a major windstorm. That could provide some measure of satisfaction — or at least a basis for asking. I could also include indicators of likelihood, vulnerability, etc.  Same things with stories about fires, hazardous materials (Interstate 5 runs right through the town), and terrorism  — we have a machine gun store in town (under the right conditions you can rent a machine gun). It’s a few blocks from an elementary school.  There’s a story.

Using an app in Walmart, on iPhones, in schools, in the library, all over the place, people could tell and interpret their preparedness stories; based on the “data points” (still not sure what that means) we would get a fitness landscape.  What that landscape means – and what its action implications are – is also unclear to me.

But the task is to collect and display stories.  Then let’s see what emerges.


Ted — And would you open this up to the crowd? You still need some way to rate or compare “stories”.


Me – I would open it up to the crowd — i.e., US residents — the people who are supposed to benefit from all of this preparedness.  As I understand the SenseMaker model Snowden uses, the designers create the categories to be rated. The story tellers are the ones who rate their own stories.  The video describes the process, from the 1:13 mark to the 4:15 mark.

And to emphasize again, I’m stumbling around here.  If preparedness is a complex idea and activity, maybe a tool sensitive to complexity could help give a picture of preparedness (I hesitate to say “measure preparedness”) in a way that would allow policymakers/analysts to try to explain what accounts for the different preparedness landscapes and whether a particular landscape is politically, fiscally, socially acceptable….  (and here I trail off into mumbling).


Lauren — There are a number of studies that focus on trying to evaluate the preparedness of citizens.  (DHS tracks this research here: http://www.citizencorps.gov/ready/research.shtm).  Although there are ‘rate your community’ surveys for general attributes, I am not aware of studies that focus on citizens evaluating the preparedness of their communities.

Some questions to consider (meant not to attack this idea, but rather to strengthen it through critical thinking):

– Do citizens know enough to develop a good picture?  (Perhaps ‘enough’ is the wrong question, as different individuals will have different pictures which in aggregate is valuable, but do they have key insight.)

– Do citizens know how their emergency services prepare?  In my mind, knowing that the fire and police chiefs talk over pancakes once a month (as they apparently do in Austin, Texas) would make me feel more prepared than having a spiffy new EOC.  I know we have a spiffy new EOC in [my city], but I don’t know what the relationship between fire and police is like.

– What would and could policymakers do with this information [about preparedness]?  (Would they shut down the machine gun rentals near the elementary school?)

– I think Rudy’s statement that the “connection between things we do and preparedness outcomes is fuzzy at best”  is very true.   We have pulled multiple levers in the past 10+ years (fusion centers, WMD response equipment, Citizen Corps, etc.) but don’t have a good handle on the delta of preparedness.   Is there a good way to determine the relationship to outcome, or are the events we are preparing for so rare and complex that we can’t do this well?

– That said, there may be a few exceptions in understanding the connection of actions to preparedness. We’ve learned that people don’t want to evacuate without their pets.  Seems trivial, but by satisfying this behavioral factor by planning to shelter pets, I think (and perhaps there is evidence) that preparedness is improved.  What other behavioral keys exist?  What makes people feel comfortable reporting suspicious behavior?  Could a good outcome of a study be to encourage more study on the impact of levers first before developing standards?

–  What would and could citizens do with this information?

–  Are citizens rational actors?   Recent developments in behavior economics have found that our assumption that investors are ‘rational actors’ is not a good one.  I wonder if preparedness satisfaction might be very tied to psychological factors.  Or would public choice theory ring true?

– Should communities be preparing for something greater than what they have experienced?  Stories from the Midwest may relay a high level of satisfaction, but the New Madrid fault hasn’t been shaking.

Mumble, mumble…

Ted —  Most of your questions boil down to the question, “do you trust the wisdom of crowds”?

Is perception about preparedness reality? Probably.

Fukushima illustrates this. Nuclear power is just as safe ( or not) now as it was before the earthquake, but I bet the landscape of preparedness satisfaction is radically different now than before!


Rudy – This is fairly well outside my area of expertise, but from what I’ve seen, true preparedness is unachievable without large-scale community (i.e. private citizen) involvement. That implies some level of ownership of the problem. There currently is little to none of that. It would be interesting to ask a large swath of the population how likely they think their neighbors would be to come to their aid if they needed it — like when a tornado rips through a neighborhood, damaging some homes but not others. Then how likely would they be to aid their neighbors. Then broaden to include the role of responders. I wonder if the fitness landscape for preparedness is a good idea but one that needs to be built in incremental layers, not all at once.

Ted — Is it possible to build a landscape out of the words people use to tell their stories? What if nobody comes to our field of dreams?




April 25, 2011

Taking Homeland Security Seriously

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 25, 2011

The new May-June edition of Foreign Affairs includes a piece by Steve Flynn.  If anyone can claim credit for “resilience” becoming an object of strategy, the former (always?) Coastie and current President of the Center for National Policy is the guy.

In a journal dominated by pieces on the New Arab Revolt, Dr. Flynn’s piece is modestly titled: Recalibrating Homeland Security.  The subtitle suggests an idee fixe which I probably share: “Mobilizing American society to prepare for disaster.”

The first sentence grabs the reader’s attention, “The United States has made a mess of homeland security.”  That is a critique of US society as much as the US government.

Flynn does not mention PPD-8, but I have to believe he saw a preview copy.  The closing section of the essay — The Way Forward — is entirely consistent with the recent directive, highlighting three “tiers” of resilience: Individual, Community, and Commercial.

He also warns that in regard to resilience, “… neither the federal bureaucracy nor the general public appears to be paying much attention.”

You need to be a subscriber to read the piece online.  You can buy a copy at your news stand now.

April 22, 2011

Resilience: Five principles of good practice

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2011

Preparing for catastrophe is mostly about cultivating resilience. The more resilient the person, community, or system, the more likely the preexisting equilibrium – or something close – can be reclaimed after a crisis. The less resilience, the more likely a crisis will become a catastrophe and an entirely new equilibrium will emerge.

On March 30, 2011 Presidential Policy Directive 8 was signed-out: “This directive is aimed at strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the Nation, including acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters. Our national preparedness is the shared responsibility of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and individual citizens. Everyone can contribute to safeguarding the Nation from harm.” The directive continues, “The term resilience refers to the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.”

What can we do to enhance our ability to adapt, withstand and rapidly recover?

Over the years HLSWatch has given considerable attention to the psycho-social resilience of individuals and communities. We have also looked at sources of resilience and non-resilience in supply chains and other systems. While there are clearly differences in how a person or a process becomes resilient – and what it means for a person or a process to be resilient – there are also shared characteristics. For an individual or community or system, an increasing body of evidence suggests resilience is more likely when there is:

  • Awareness: Observe and engage the full context,
  • Connectedness: Recognize and engage our full range of relationships and dependencies,
  • Realism: Differentiate between cause and effect, capacity and capability, novelty and continuity.
  • Agility: Expect change in context and relationships, remain creatively open to change, and actively embrace change.
  • Flexibility: Expand the “basin of attraction” where and how turbulence can occur without threatening our fundamental identity.

Some individuals demonstrate what seems to be a natural predisposition for many or even all of these attitudes and actions. In communities and systems, a sustained attention to all five characteristics requires an organized approach and/or deep normative sanctions. For individuals, communities, and systems there is evidence that resilience can be intentionally developed and strengthened.

OODA Loops: Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action

One methodology for intentionally developing resilience is application of a disciplined process of observation, orientation, decision, and action. OODA is one of the foundations of modern military doctrine. It is also a crystallization of an ancient understanding of how humans learn, generate knowledge, and engage the world.

The modern military application was articulated by John Boyd, an iconoclastic Air Force Colonel and fighter pilot. In 1976 Boyd wrote,

To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning… We destroy and create these patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment… We cannot avoid this kind of activity if we intend to survive on our own terms. The activity is dialectic in nature generating both disorder and order that emerges as a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality.

But we are often unconscious of the process or even deny this process. As a result we do not acknowledge the choices we make to destroy or create or the attitudes and impressions that inform our (non)choices. This is non-resilient behavior.

Complete awareness of our whole context is not humanly possible. Meaningful engagement with the full range of our existing relationships is unlikely. But Boyd and others show the significant benefits produced by being particularly disciplined in developing awareness, connectedness, realism, agility, and flexibility.

We tend to see what we are prepared to see, even what we want to see. This is because what we observe is influenced by our orientation, which is the outcome of prior direct and indirect experience.  Our lessons learned become the mental concepts we regularly apply to make sense of unfolding reality. This is all very efficient until reality shifts and presents us with something novel. Then, unless we recognize and adapt quickly to the novelty, our well-developed concepts become our biggest impediments. Too often our preexisting concepts work to suppress and delay our recognition of novelty… until it is too late.

The resilient individual, community, or system organizes itself around well-established proven concepts. The resilient individual, community, or system also actively engages in a disciplined process of challenging – Boyd calls it “destruction” of – proven concepts. According to Boyd,

We can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often… Fortunately, there is a way out… We can forge a new concept by applying the destructive deduction and creative induction mental operations… In order to perform these dialectic mental operations we must first shatter the rigid conceptual pattern, or patterns, firmly established in our mind.

Consciously, proactively, we engage in self-antithesis and self-synthesis and in this way enhance self-resilience to whatever the risk.

Japan is the world leader in earthquake and tsunami preparedness. Japanese culture typically tends to be quite context-sensitive. Some important context: In 1896 and 1933 there were powerful earthquakes off the Sanriku coast that spawned tsunamis very similar to that of March 11, 2011. But in designing tsunami countermeasures and emergency plans for the Fukushima nuclear power station the Japanese used as their benchmark the 1960 Valdivia earthquake and tsunami. This involved a 9.5 earthquake in Chile that produced an 18-to-30 foot tsunami along the coast of Northeastern Japan. Partly due to proximity, the March tsunami was three or more times higher in some locations. The broader context we engage, the more resilient we will be.

In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake-and-tsunami many manufacturers – especially in the automobile and electronics industries – were surprised by previously unrecognized relationships they had with Northeastern Japan. While the US (or Chinese or European) manufacturer often had no direct connection with the quake affected area, it was suddenly learned a subcomponent of a subcomponent was entirely dependent on a single source that was now without power and trying to clean up from the earthquake or worse. Replacements are in short supply or simply not available. As the supply chain drains, production lines are slowed or even stopped. Seeking to reduce complexity we can unrealistically deny or neglect relationships. Eventually such denial will only amplify complexity. Recognizing and cultivating a diverse range of relationships enhances resilience.

Reality is complicated, often complex, and sometimes chaotic. But unless we engage reality on its own terms, it will bite us… hard. To be radically realistic we must be open to ongoing change, actively agile in embracing change and flexible when we are still surprised (and we will be surprised).  Boyd describes reality as,

…the process of Structure, Unstructure, Restructure, Unstructure, Restructure is repeated endlessly in moving to higher and broader levels of elaboration. In this unfolding drama, the alternating cycle of entropy increase toward more and more disorder and the entropy decrease toward more and more order appears to be one part of a control mechanism that literally seems to drive and regulate this alternating cycle of destruction and creation toward higher and broader levels of elaboration.

Next time: What are the higher and broader levels of elaboration specific to resilience?


Some previous posts related to resilience:

Resilience: How much can we absorb?

Resilience Redux: Our capacity for creative community response

Crafting catastrophe, Choosing Resilience

Real Life Resilience

Food Security: Do Economies of scale suppress risk resilience?

Resilient Character

Other resources:

Resilience: The Grand Strategy

Building Resilient Communities

Building Community Disaster Resilience through Private-Public Collaboration


April 21, 2011

Bank of Japan: “A supply side shock”

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

Earlier today the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Japan, Kiyohiko Nishimura, gave a speech that provides the most comprehensive overview of post-earthquake-and-tsunami supply chain issues that I have heard or read.  Below are several long excerpts from the speech.  The official translation of the entire address is available from the Bank of Japan.

There is nothing especially new here for readers of HLSWatch, but to have such an authoritative source outlining the issue may help in making the case for those who are not familiar with the key role of supply chains in mitigation, response, and recovery.


The disaster has caused two types of supply constraints, which I will explain shortly. As a result of these constraints, production in some industries has declined substantially, which has had a severe impact on exports and domestic shipments. Business sentiment has also deteriorated and consumer appetite has waned.

One of these supply constraints is the widespread damage to production facilities and associated malfunctioning of the supply chain networks that deliver parts. The Kobe Earthquake had a devastating impact on city functions in the part of southern Hyogo Prefecture that was directly hit, but the affected areas were not so widespread. In contrast, the March 11 earthquake caused devastating damage over a much wider area, destroying the production facilities of many industries, including the electrical and general machinery industries…

Production of electronic components and devices had been thriving in the affected areas, and there were more than a few parts manufacturers producing unique products with dominant global market share. Damage to the production facilities of these firms has meant that many other firms face difficulties procuring parts — typified by the automobile industry, which relies on computerized and customized parts produced under strict quality control. This is causing constraints on production throughout Japan.

Another supply constraint is the constraints on power supply. More than 20 percent of generating capacity has been lost in the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s service area, due to damage not only to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant but also to several thermal power plants. The Tohoku Electric Power Company has also lost about 30 percent of its supply capacity. This has resulted in disruption to stable power supply, as rolling blackouts were at one point implemented in the Kanto and Tohoku regions to avoid unexpected large-scale blackouts due to power supply constraints.

There are some industries, such as the food and chemical industries, which need time to start up or shut down production facilities or need continuous power distribution to ensure the quality of their products. It has been pointed out that production levels have declined in these industries because of the absence of stable power supply, even though their production facilities were not significantly damaged by the earthquake.

Meanwhile, on the demand side, while demand for necessities increased temporarily, a deterioration in firms’ appetite for investment and households’ appetite for consumption, due to rising uncertainty about the future, seems to be exerting overall downward pressure on business fixed investment and private consumption. For example, sales at electrical appliance stores and department stores declined significantly after the earthquake, as a result of a deterioration in households’ appetite for consumption coupled with shortened business hours due to power supply restrictions…

Today, I would like to discuss three key aspects to consider in projecting the outlook for economic activity and prices in Japan. The first aspect is when, how, and to what extent the current supply-side constraints that Japan’s economy is facing will be removed.

The sharp downturn in Japan’s economy after the earthquake has been, simply put, triggered by supply-side shock from damage to production facilities, including damage to power supply capacity caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

Therefore, the key for the outlook is when and how the supply-side constraints caused by the disaster will be removed. On this point, I must say that there is a great deal of uncertainty about when they will be removed. This is due to a high degree of uncertainty about the following three problems.

The first problem is that it is very difficult to say with any certainty when the production capacity lost as a result of the disaster will be restored. Firms are making strenuous efforts to, for example, resume operations at affected production facilities and ensure substitute production by factories in non-affected areas. However, progress in these efforts has been slow due to various supply-side constraints including unstable power supply. Another factor that makes it difficult to remove such constraints is that some of the electronic components and high-end materials produced in the affected factories are hard to replace because of quality requirements and high levels of customization.

The second problem, which is also related to the issue of restoring production capacity, is the question of when the disruptions to supply chains will be removed. At present, firms are working to repair or rebuild supply chains by, for example, seeking to secure alternative suppliers, including from overseas, and reviewing product specifications. However, as supply chains are complex and interconnected, if a bottleneck occurs in any one part of the chain, accurately gauging its impact and addressing the problem present various difficulties. Therefore, a considerable amount of time is considered necessary to reconstruct supply chains.

The third problem is uncertainty as to when constraints on electric power supply will be removed. Electric power companies and other related parties are doing all that they can to, for example, resume operations of facilities to restore supply capacity. Firms are also taking various measures to address the situation. One such measure is changing working hours. For example, one firm in Kanagawa Prefecture has changed the working hours of some divisions. These divisions now start work two hours earlier in the morning to reduce the amount of electric power used. Another measure is operating at non-peak times, such as at nights or on holidays. And a third measure is using in-house power generators. Households have also been asked to conserve electricity and voluntary conservation has been ongoing. These efforts have recently eased constraints on economic activity due to power shortages. However, demand for electricity will surge in the summer due to the use of air conditioners, and therefore, the balance between electricity supply and demand will tighten again and a certain degree of supply constraint is likely to emerge.

Taking these points into account, it is unlikely that the supply-side constraints will be removed anytime soon. I must say that Japan’s economy is likely to remain under strong downward pressure, mainly on the production side, for some time to come. However, looking ahead to the autumn and beyond, the supply-side constraints are likely to ease as the tightness in electricity supply and demand balance improves and progress is expected to be made in the reconfiguration of supply chains. If that is the case, as long as the global economy continues to record high growth led by emerging and commodity-exporting economies, which is likely, a recovery in production in Japan and ensuing increase in exports will probably serve as one driving force behind a recovery in Japan’s economy.

April 20, 2011

Crisis as Crucible

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on April 20, 2011

This week, the nation has paused to reflect on the lessons learned from past and present crises, most notably the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and the explosion and spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico last year. At the same time, current events, especially the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, the political stalemate over budget deficits, and the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, have made it difficult to focus on much of anything.

Yesterday, Chris Bellavita encouraged us to reflect on why people do what they do: some acting virtuous, even valorous; others behaving diabolically, sometimes to devastating effect. I have been thinking recently about how people go about their tasks and what it says about their character and the way it affects others.

The crisis of confidence in our political leaders has piqued my interest in the influence of integrity or at least perceptions of it (or the lack of it) on the way others go about their business. Considered in this way, integrity is closely connected to credibility. If we cannot trust someone’s actions are consistent with their words, and that both reflect congruence with positive virtues and the values informing them, we are inclined to proceed with caution, if at all.

How then do we judge the credibility of another? At a minimum, we judge the competence of their performance. In many if not most instances, especially when we are the direct beneficiary of their services, we judge others’ competence by its correctness, which in most instances reflects the degree to which it performance addresses our needs and wants. Even when we know very little about the technical capabilities required to perform a given task or we are not beneficiaries of its performance, we apprise the competence by observing the confidence of those who perform it. We seem to recognize that competent, even confident performance does not come easily.

The more complex the tasks, the more we prize consistency in the performance of them, even when this is not particularly reasonable. Our assessments of consistent performance often depend not on what results from the actions of others, but on how they go about them. This is especially important in situations where desired outcomes arise long after the delivery of the required outputs. Consistency in this sense is as much a question of continuity as it is continuous improvement. We look for repeatable results, but want to know that these results arise from processes that engage and respond to contingencies. As such, we prize both means and ends, and tend not to accept that either justifies the other.

The longer we have to wait to see results, the more we value compassion. A consistent performance helps, but compassionate service adds value beyond the task at-hand. The more difficult, disruptive or damaging the circumstances, the more likely we are to be impressed by the compassion of those who deliver the services required to deal with them. The ability to engage a task with empathy is consistently impressive.

Ultimately, the virtue that most impresses us, the one that ultimately convinces us of another’s credibility is their willingness to engage difficult issues and tasks with courage. It is not the absence of fear that impresses us, but the ability of others to conquer or rise above their fears that gets our attention. We recognize immediately that such actions reflect genuine and deep-seated convictions that exhibit themselves even under stress as a commitment to positive values and a clear sense of moral purpose.

We understand implicitly that courage is refined and purified by the crucible crisis. It impresses us because we know it does not emerge spontaneously, but rather arises even in unexpected circumstances from deep reserves of experience informed by the practices that precede it.

I am convinced that this hierarchy helps explain, at least in part, the deep divergence of public opinion about the integrity of public officials and public servants alike: The Pew Center tells us people hold firefighters, teachers, doctors and others in high esteem but, in contrast, generally dislike if not loathe their employers: elected officials at every level of government. It also helps explain why people respond so differently to particular political parties and individual politicians even when they have such little respect for the class as a whole.

These reflections on the origins of integrity and influence have led me to look harder at how I act and how others understand my actions. How has the integrity of others informed your understanding of public service and public servants?

Japan: Letter from an oldie in a hinanjo

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

Yesterday the Japan Times ran the following. The English-language paper regularly offers essays of this type to introduce Japanese (nihongo) words and concepts to its readers.

I am more interested in the first-person report. Forty days and forty nights after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, over 100,000 Japanese continue to be housed in evacuation centers, over 800,000 are without regularly assured sources of water, electricity has still not been restored to many areas.

Yesterday, I was in yet another meeting where intelligent, experienced, and committed American professionals (this time from the private sector) minimized the implications of the Japanese experience. I wonder what our mothers might write to us in the month after an American catastrophe.

On the one year anniversary of the explosion and oil spill in the Gulf, remembering the Murrah building victims, and as wildfires scorch wide swaths of Texas, giving some sustained attention to lessons-observed from Japan does not seem to me unreasonable.


By Kaori Shoji

I never thought at my age, that I would be in this spot. But this is where I am at 74, in the taiikukan (gymnasium) of a middle school in Miyagi Prefecture, now known as a hinanjo (evacuation center) for people who lost their homes to the earthquake and tsunami that hit the region on March 11. I lived in a little house that I shared with my son, his wife and my two grandchildren. Arigataikotoni (thankfully), this house was spared but it’s been drenched in a meter of sea water. My son travels every day from the hinanjo to pump out the mud and clean up the mess. The grandchildren have relocated to my daughter’s house in another prefecture, and it’s hard to say when we can live together as a family again.

I’m not complaining. It’s a miracle that none of my family are missing. But let me say this: life in a hinanjo is like living an slow death. It’s not just the discomfort and stress of sleeping among 200 other people in a gymnasium. In the mornings, we elderly are awake at 4 a.m. but jitai suru (refrain from) using any amenities until 8 a.m. We want the working people to get their turn first. And at night, we try to go to bed as soon as possible, so others can do the same. Still, the darkness is overwhelming and the yoruno jikan (night hours) are so long. It’s hard to get to sleep when people are constantly coughing and sobbing, and coming and going by one’s pillow. In the mornings we’re left feeling drained.

But far worse is the feeling that I’m a burden, and have nothing whatever to do. At home, there was always some chore to be done. Now I can hardly hear myself think and the hinanjo meals that consist mainly of cold convenience-store foodstuffs aren’t exactly beneficial to my seishin (spirit) or my shoukaki-kei( digestive system).

Oh no, there I go again. My son is always telling me that I’m a kuchiurusai obaasan ( an old woman who’s always complaining and scolding) but that’s what happens when a person reaches 70 — which in Japan used to be described as “koki.” It’s comprised of the kanji characters “ko” ofkodai ( ancient) and “ki” of kisho (rarity) — put the two together and what you get is a concept that means very rare since ancient times. When you consider that the average lifespan for the Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century was 45 years, living to 70 is indeed a rarity. Can’t he recognize that, and treat me with respect?

That’s what’s missing from this hinanjo life: respect. I don’t mean that people aren’t nice, because they are. They’re shinsetsu (kind) and atatakai (warm) and so concerned. Most of the people working here are borantia ( volunteers) and the doctors here have come all the way from Kobe, because they dealt with quake victims before, during the Hanshin disaster 16 years ago. I’m of the koreisha (elderly) group so they take our temperature daily, give us medication when it’s available and see to it that we go to the bathroom. Apparently, the doctors pay us special attention because they must prevent deaths in the hinanjo. It just doesn’t look good for a survivor to die — not for the volunteers who are working so hard, for the government who are at their wits’ end trying to mend the huge rupture in the fabric of this country’s system, and the national image.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing or indicting. But treating us like fossils in an incubation box (albeit a cold one) isn’t what respect is about. The koreisha of Japan are not the helpless, burdensome bunch of toshiyori ( oldies) that everyone seems to think. What saddens us most is the feeling that we aremeiwaku wo kaketeiru ( imposing on others), and being deprived of the opportunity to work and contribute. Some of us may need care, but many koreisha have a huge reserve of knowledge and experience to draw on, namely those awful years during World War II. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sensocho no kotowo omoeba nandemonai (when I think of what it was like during the war, this is nothing.) It’s a sentiment shared by everyone over 70, I think. And the whole world should know that the Imperial Family — yes! — have shut off the main electrical system in the palace and are now living by candlelight, and the Emperor has said the exact same thing. When I was a child I carried water and lived on hard potatoes and so did everyone else. Watashitachi wo motto katsuyoshite kudasai ( Utilize us more, please) is what I say. The nationwide slogan now calls for all Japanese to be as one (hitotsuni naro, Nippon) but it feels like we oldies are being left out. I speak for many when I say, we want in! Chikarani naritai ( I want to help) is not just the battle cry of the young.

Today’s column is based on a conversation with a tsunami survivor in the Natori district of Miyagi Prefecture. She prefers not to give her name.

April 19, 2011

Why we do the work

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 19, 2011

“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts.

I must study politics and war, that our sons [and daughters] may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

Our sons [and daughters] ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”John Adams; a Letter to Abigail Adams (12 May 1780)


April 18, 2011

The Boston Marathon: In preparedness, the old is new again

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on April 18, 2011

Find below a “Power & Policy” blog post of mine outlining similarities between what PPD-8 calls for and the actions of Boston officials in preparing for and running the Boston Marathon as a “planned disaster.” Being Patriot’s Day, on which the Marathon is always run, I could not resist the comparison.

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This month the Obama Administration released Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8 on National Preparedness.  While arguments can be made both in favor and against this seeming reboot of the national effort to increase preparedness for natural disasters and terrorist attacks, what particularly puzzles me is the lack of attention, given existing homeland security models that include vigorous cooperation among jurisdictions and participation of non-traditional homeland security actors.  These efforts can be models for the rest of the nation and often have been ongoing long before PPD-8 called for “facilitating an integrated, all-of-Nation, capabilities-based approach to preparedness.”

For example today, in addition to being Tax Day, is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and the day on which the Boston Marathon is run.  Why is this relevant to homeland security?  As I wrote in an op-ed in the Boston Globe a few years ago:

Today thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators are unwittingly taking part in a planned disaster. Yet, they are not just safe from harm (except for the variety brought on by running 26.2 miles), they also are participants in an event that will make the citizens of Greater Boston safer in case of a natural catastrophe or terrorist attack.

What is important to note is the long standing, ongoing work towards what PPD-8 identifies as required in that the “national preparedness system shall be designed to help guide the domestic efforts of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public to build and sustain the capabilities outlined in the national preparedness goal. The national preparedness system shall include guidance for planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises to build and maintain domestic capabilities.”

Although the principal goal during such events remains the safety of everyone involved, organizers have realized that these annual gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people present the perfect opportunity to evaluate new technologies, exercise disaster plans, and build vital relationships between public safety agencies and the private sector.

Treating these large, annual events as opportunities to test the disaster response system accomplishes exactly that. Personnel from public safety and health departments meet regularly during the year to plan these events. New officials will quickly meet their counterparts in other agencies. As described in a recent Globe story about how close the 2007 race came to being cancelled due to weather, a unified command is established where all the relevant organizations can monitor the event and react together if something goes wrong.

This is not something that concerns only the City of Boston or events that can be dealt with by local authorities:

This cooperation extends beyond Boston. Thousands of runners pass through eight different towns on their way to the finish line. Coordinating medical care and security for the runners and spectators strengthens connections that will be relied upon when Boston requires mutual aid to deal with a crisis such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

In line with the new guidance calling for “a comprehensive campaign to build and sustain national preparedness, including public outreach and community-based and private-sector programs to enhance national resilience:”

To successfully manage the marathon, BEMS and other public safety agencies must have relationships not just with the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the race, but also with a diverse set of private organizations. These include, but are not limited to, private ambulance services that back up BEMS, and hotels and other businesses along the route that help make the behind-the-scenes operation of the marathon run smoothly. When a real disaster strikes, these contacts can be called upon to lend needed supplies and other assistance.

Sometimes the best, new big ideas can be informed by older, smaller ones.

You can read the entire 2008 piece here.

Not Grokking PPD-8: I’m a stranger in a strange land

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on April 18, 2011

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

–Robert Heinlein, “Stranger in a Strange Land

In generic use, “grok” usually means a deep understanding of a particular topic. Not quite what Heinlein defined, but a term that can indicate an appreciation that goes beyond definition to intent and consequence.  So a step beyond simple reading comprehension.

While I generally consider myself to possess workable reading comprehension skills, I have to confess I still do not grok PPD-8.

I simply do not sufficiently understand what was offered, what the consequences might be, and what is genuinely required to meet the desired ends. Quite frankly, what are the desired ends?  A more prepared nation?  Of course…but how we get there  and what “there” looks like remains unclear.

Even with the invaluable analysis provided by Phil, Chris, and others I still feel myself at a loss to explain or understand what impact this new policy directive will actually have on either the normal operating lives of homeland security-concerned professionals throughout the country or even on those of us who are lucky enough to pretend to think big thoughts about such topics.

I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Chris’ post underlining the similarities between the new and old preparedness pronouncements (these events, in the previous and current Administrations, make me wonder if policy is being brought down from the mountain top.  Obviously today in short policy memo form, often in .pdf rather than stone tablets…). The Heritage Foundation’s WebMemo, noted in an earlier post, also raises some of the same issues of overlap with previous preparedness efforts.  The true sliver of originality seems to be in the form of a whole of “something” approach to the worst case scenarios.

I do not want to give the impression that my flip comments are meant to deride the hard work of current and past professionals working these issues at all levels of government, in particular the higher reaches of Administrations.  Some of them have given me jobs…but seriously, it is difficult from the outside to ascertain the benefit of rebooting and reorganizing these efforts instead of focusing and expanding.

If its possible to follow my disorganized thoughts, I’m thinking that HSPD-8 set a train in motion that is still running today in terms of preparedness efforts. Goals were set, planning scenarios written, and target capabilities listed.  In some form or other, these led to equipment being purchased, grant requests written, and exercises of various sizes carried out (am I the only one who things that an overwhelming number of these seem to be some form of the dirty bomb scenario?).

Now there could very well be serious concerns whether those exercises were serious, the grant requests appropriate, and the equipment required.  These concerns may have been addressed during the work of drafting PPD-8, though it is impossible to tell from the outside. But could the pre-existing system have crashed and required this reboot?

Phil argues that this stone tablet, I mean directive, does build on what came before it. I am prepared to be convinced of this (see non-grokking), in fact suspect that it is true to a large degree. But why bother seeming to set new goals and a new path if small course corrections were what was needed?

I probably seemed dismissive earlier with my “whole of something” comment.  Yet I think, perhaps grok, that this is the real talented rookie player for whom we’ve been waiting (by the way, given their recent play I’m truly sorry I ever brought up the Red Sox in past posts). Lip service has been paid to the important role of the private sector and citizens in all aspects of homeland security.  However, the low amounts of money provided to programs such as Citizen Corp and the exclusion of many private stakeholders in the immediate aftermath of Katrina pointed to a different mindset.  FEMA’s “Whole of Community” effort (the name that I prefer to “Whole of Nation” as it seems to me to focus more on the non-governmental entities) strikes me as paying more than lip service–it starts by considering MOMs, analyzes required capacity to deal with MOMs, and comes to the conclusion that government is unable to do everything necessary in the time frame required.  Working back from MOMs, the real inclusion of non-traditional homeland security players will only improve preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery to events of all sizes.  That logic progression hopefully will drive serious collaboration with people who aren’t privy to FOUO documents and don’t have access to homeland security information sharing systems (which seems to rarely occur and another reason I am skeptical about the otherwise forward leaning prose of PPD-8).

April 16, 2011

An urban cowboy writes about preparedness

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 16, 2011

This post is by someone called H. Grattan.  It was originally posted as a comment.

The author makes an important point about the nature of preparedness, especially about developing and sustaining capabilities appropriate to low probability high consequence events.  On paper, New York City had the capability — measurable and measured – described in the story below.  But as the author suggests, not everything that should be measured about the capability was measured.  Would it even have been worth it?

This is an anecdote.  Do we need to we move beyond “anecdata” to assess preparedness?  Or can we do something creative with anecdotes that gets us to some roughly right indicators of preparedness?  I think we can, but that’s a post for a different day.


Preparedness initiatives lend themselves to affirmation: what could be wrong with kaizen efforts to prepare for emergencies. But preparedness is more about tomorrow and for the most part homeland security practitioners are overwhelmed with today and their core functions.

Prior to September 11, 2001, some NYPD officials wanted to prepare for really bad things. In 1998, in preparation for the Goodwill Games, members of the NYPD’s eight patrol task forces were trained as Level-C hazmat response units to supplement the Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit in the event of a large-scale hazmat incident. The initiative was well intentioned but not well supported.

In the wake of 9/11, the initiative was renewed and the Task Forces were identified as the Department’s secondary for hazmat response. A pilot program was developed to qualify 200 task-force members as Level A hazmat techs and was facilitated on an ad hoc basis. Members of the Task Force were sent to the nation’s hazmat training facilities in New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, and Alabama.

The training was extensive and took away from the Task Force’s core function which was to suppress crime in the City’s hot spots.

The Commanders of those units sometimes resisted efforts to multi-task their units because it debilitated unit effectiveness: arrest and summons numbers dropped [HLS-WTF!].

Consequence: the pilot 200 police officer level-A hazmat qualification metric became a reality but a nominal one. While the approximate 200 officers did achieve initial qualification, few were allowed to renew their qualification. But all were required to take an annual OSHA Hazmat Tech medical. I believe, on paper, the 200 or so retained their qualification.

On July 18, 2007 NYC experienced a steam pipe explosion that was initially thought to be a possible terrorist attack. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_New_York_City_steam_explosion.

Someone in NYPD realized that the Department had a secondary hazmat capability and requested their response. The roster of 200 was dutifully pulled from a shelf and approximately 17 members were determined to be on duty and qualified to respond. On scene, 3 of the 17 were determined to be ready, willing, and able to facilitate the operation. The other 14 were not fully prepared. The failed response was the coup de grace for the Task Force initiative.

IMHO, the Task Force HazMat initiative was an affirmative effort to be prepared. I was part of the initiative and have to admit that qualifying as a hazmat tech was a full time effort and retaining it even harder when the unit was expected to maintain its core functionality, i.e., crime suppression.

At one meeting, I was questioned about my unit’s activity [arrests and summons]. I responded by mentioning that counterterrorism initiatives accounted for approximately 25% of the unit’s man-hours. It was suggested that I do more with less, counterterrorism efforts notwithstanding.

So, the urban cowboys went on [and go on ] nominally prepared for the next large-scale hazmat event.

I understand the NYPD’s decision, i.e. prioritization.

PDD-8 should consider “incremental burden;” are we really doing more with less or just saying so.


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