Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 1, 2011

The Importance of Plan B: baseball and homeland security

Two days ago, Homeland Security Watch’s own Chris Bellavita pointed out in an email that “baseball season starts tomorrow and to me that means the homeland is safe.”  As a baseball fan whose pulse quickens at the phrase “pitchers and catchers report,” all I could think was: amen.

Whatever the correct analogy–I need an extended spring training; I belong in the pundit minor leagues; I am simply a replacement-level commentator–I realize that I am simply not in the George Will-class of baseball loving opinionators.  That said, I still cannot resist attempting to make another connection between baseball and homeland security.

The baseball season is long, so there will be ample time to tease out general connections between what is required to win on the diamond as well as succeed in this amorphous thing we call homeland security. However, one aspect of the game struck me as particularly timely in terms of news out of Japan–the importance of having a “Plan B.”

In baseball, one can hope that a team’s starting players will go the entire season without losing much time to injury.  This happens, albeit rarely, and when it does the team involved (assuming the players were good in the first place) does well.  Most often, this just doesn’t happen and a good team has a smart general manager who considers this possibility before the season begins and takes steps to mitigate the risk.

The Red Sox finished in third place in the American League East last season, seven games behind the Rays. Television ratings plunged and empty seats were common at Fenway Park as tickets once fought over were given away.

But it may have been one of the best jobs Theo Epstein has done of building a team in his eight seasons as general manager.

Injuries led to the Red Sox using 53 players over the course of the season and calling up two others who were on the roster but never got in a game. Manager Terry Francona drew up 143 batting orders over the 162 games and used 44 outfield combinations.

Yet the Red Sox finished with the fifth-most victories in the American League and were second in baseball with 818 runs despite having five Opening Day starters — Josh Beckett, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis — spend large chunks of the season on the disabled list.

It would seem obvious that baseball teams would plan for contingencies involving losing a couple starting players for a period of time.  Yet it involves variables not easily managed, as the most useful bench players when regulars are healthy are not always the optimal choices to fill-in for a starter over the long term, as well as juggling competing priorities at the minor league level (i.e. whether to develop prospects or stock back ups). It is easy to plan for the best case and hard to manage risks involved with the worst:

Assembling a 25-man roster is fairly easy for most general managers, especially for a team with financial resources.But finding the depth to combat injuries requires creativity.

“You have to plan for injuries because they happen every year,’’ said Epstein. “You try and plan for the worst-case scenario and adjust to the best-case scenario. It’s by trying to create redundancy.

Some obvious lessons for homeland security planning in general.  Yet, just as in baseball, this balance between best and worst case scenario planning can be difficult in even the best prepared of countries–or simply ignored.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s disaster plans greatly underestimated the scope of a potential accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, calling for only one stretcher, one satellite phone and 50 protective suits in case of emergencies.

Hard to believe, but it seems that in a nation often lauded as among the best, if not the best, in terms of preparation for a natural disaster simply dropped the ball regarding catastrophic planning for nuclear facilities. More from the Wall Street Journal article describing the lack of proper planning:

Disaster-response documents for Fukushima Daiichi, examined by The Wall Street Journal, also contain few guidelines for obtaining outside help, providing insight into why Japan struggled to cope with a nuclear crisis after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility.

There are no references to Tokyo firefighters, Japanese military forces or U.S. equipment.

The main disaster-readiness manual, updated annually, envisions the fax machine as a principal means of communication with the outside world and includes detailed forms for Tepco managers when faxing government officials.

Much hinged on the fax machine. One section directs managers to notify the industry minister, the local governor and mayors of nearby towns of any problems “all at once, within 15 minutes, by facsimile.” In certain cases, the managers were advised to follow up by phone to make sure the fax had arrived.

Obviously one could take up several blog posts to simply unpack these and other related revelations. Undoubtedly, other Japanese efforts at disaster readiness saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives following the earthquake and tsunami.  I have serious doubts about the current ability of the United States to manage a similar size catastrophe–both the immediate impact and long term consequences.  And I agree with Phil that the nuclear crisis is needlessly overshadowing the larger natural disaster.

Yet it still boggles the mind that a society so prepared could allow such a substandard state of planning to exist.  The current disaster would not have been avoided if much of the response plan had been improved–only moving the back-up generators to higher ground would have saved the plant from the loss of power that initially drove events.  However, this disaster did underline the deficiencies in planning and hints at the difficulties that it caused in responding to this maximum of maximums event.

What the managers of the Fukushima plant failed to do was honestly consider even a bad, never mind worst, case scenario.  The level of planning appears to be equivalent to losing your back-up catcher or utility infielder for half the season.  Would it be inconvenient?  Absolutely.  Would it derail a season?  Not a chance.  Perhaps planning for an earthquake and resulting tsunami stronger than the reliable historical record indicates would not have been feasible before current events.  But the existence of a decent Plan B may have helped ameliorate the consequences of this Godzilla-esq black swan that fell on the people of Japan.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 1, 2011 @ 4:24 am


What is very important to note is that in fact only the administrative process of NRC was left to evaluate FEMA’s efforts and that process is controlled by an NRC that while it assumes an accident–see WASH 1400–does not realize that the offsite planning effort is a stepchild in FEMA due to the historical relationship with NRC where few competent FEMA personnel wished to be involved with NRC after direct threats by senior NRC management against FEMA appointees and employees as reflected in the administrative hearing record of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in its initial liscensing hearing.
Once again in the last 15 years neither Congress, GAO, DHS/OIG or FEMA/OIG before has conducted any outside oversight or analysis of FEMA’s REP program and NRC changed its regulatory scheme to prohibit outside challenges by interested persons when it eliminated adversary proceedings for such challenges under it regulations. The OSTRICH method of regulation? That is what Japan utilized and so does FRANCE.

Comment by john comiskey

April 1, 2011 @ 9:18 am

Plan-B a HLS metric? Should be!

Arnold and I imagine somewhere in the blogosphere one Chris B.,

I am both a baseball (METS) and a Plan-B type ….a HLS something too. So your post resonated with me especially due to some Plan-B mentoring and planning I have been doing with my 18 year old son who is likely to enter the US Coast Guard Reserve this summer. He wanted so much to be an ME (port security) but no ME-billets were available. He is currently in contention for an IS (intelligence) billet [Plan B]. He wants very much to be a member of FDNY but knows that a current discrimination lawsuit and a downturn in the economy make that a long shot. His plan B is the NYPD and a host of other civil service jobs. The economy might make Plan-C [living rent free in my basement] an option too.

I maintain a Plan-B in near real-time. If activated by my USCG reserve unit, I have two colleagues in the bullpen ready to close the game [semester]. Currently, it looks like I will finish the game.
One of the issues with Plan-B is Plan-B contingencies cost money for low-probability high consequence events that don’t facilitate real-time politics. Politicians abide by PNIMTOF-metrics [probably not in my term of office]. They require efficacy and prosperity in the short term more so then in the long term. IMHO and worse yet, PNIMTOF is a 21st century lets live for today entitlement phenomenon that politicians have encouraged and must now abide for with little remedy in sight. Should we build a modern Noah’s Ark?

Yesterday Phil Palin’s post The Nature of catastrophe, sakura, and the hope of hakansana resonated with me too. So much so that I have bookmarked it for use in the fall semester.
Chris B charged a cadre of scholar-practitioners to include myself to paradigm the homeland security narrative.

Yesterday I added to my in-progress HLS paradigm a resilient and educated civic minded populace imbued with a sense of kaizen and Emersonian self-reliance, mochiai, and an appreciation of cherry blossom-like treasures.

Surely, baseball and particularly on a 90 degree sunny day replete with beer [$7.25 ouch] and hot dogs are cherry blossom-like treasures. So too is Plan-B part of the HLS-paradigm.

Note: Chris B maintains that HLS is in a pre-paradigm stage.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 2, 2011 @ 6:04 am


Further to your advocacy of a Plan B, writing in Business Week, Harold Sirken argues:

“As demonstrated by Japan’s recent disaster trifecta—an earthquake and tsunami quickly followed by a nuclear crisis—corporations too often find themselves unprepared when low-probability events shock their supply chains.”

“They’re caught without a Plan B because of two fallacies: 1) the belief that because no one can predict the future, they should operate under the assumption that things will more or less stay the same; and 2) the notion that a supply chain represents a cost rather than an investment.”

More at http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/mar2011/ca20110331_329432.htm

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