Two homeland security professionals I have a lot of respect for provided additional context on issues surrounding PPD 8.
I am reprinting (below) what they wrote. The first was written by Bob Ross, the Chief of the Risk Sciences Branch in DHS. Please note, his views are his own and are not meant to reflect the views of DHS or anyone else other than Bob. Homeland Security Watch has published his work before (see this link).
The second was written by Dr. Dave McIntyre, who has been involved in homeland security since before it was homeland security. Dave also maintain the ThinkingEnemy blog.
“…capture the “extreme corners” of a response requirements polyhedron”
Well, I have read Chris Bellavita’s piece several times and I still don’t know quite what to make of it. But I know Chris and have read a lot of his stuff and don’t always know what to make of it. I guess he is a good teaching academic in the sense that he makes you think, rather than merely making you memorize the textbook answer. Not that there are many textbook answers in homeland security – speaking of which, I strongly recommend that you follow Chris’s link to the Jay Rosen piece on wicked problems. I very much like the wicked problem notion and have been trying to get people in DHS and the larger HLS community to grab onto the notion. One of the biggest problems in HLS and DHS are people seeking definitive deterministic (i.e., Newtonian/engineered) answers to questions we are not even sure how to ask.
It seems to me that Palin has it right toward the bottom of his response when he talks to the utility of a Newtonian approach, so long as you stay within its capability range. But when the problem exceeds the bounds of a Newtonian approach, then the Darwinian dynamic will, of necessity, play out. You always need some structure, but not so much structure than you are in an intellectual straightjacket when the unexpected happens.
I think Chris misunderstands the “maximum of maximums notion.” Just as I think most people misunderstand the intended purpose and potential benefits of the 15 planning scenarios.
Many people took the 15 planning scenarios as representing the biggest threats we had to worry about, from both the prevention and response perspectives. That was never their intent, especially with respect to prevention. Rather, they were intended to capture the “extreme corners” of a response requirements polyhedron. If you have the extreme corners accurately identified and are reasonably well positioned to respond to the identified extreme corners, then you should be reasonably well prepared to respond to real events which will almost necessarily fall within the volume encompassed by those extreme corners. The problem with this approach is that the extreme corners are determined by the type of the event (e.g., cyber vs. bio vs. nuclear vs. earthquake vs. ____) rather than by their magnitude or by other relevant issues such as simultaneity and impact on subordinate levels of government. Thus, the national planning scenarios approach focused on the type of required response capabilities rather than the potential total demand for response capacity.
As I understand it, the maximum of maximums approach is intended to get at the total demand for response capacity issue as well as the loss of subordinate levels of government issue. These issues were largely ignored in prior planning. Further, the so-called TOPOFF exercises were more PR events than real exercises and all the really hard logistics stuff was frequently “assumed” away. The upcoming New Madrid and NuDet exercise is intended to get across the capacity issues inherent in really big events, especially when they come, like rattlesnakes, in pairs (or, like Charlie Sheen, in an even larger grouping).
The problem with using the national planning scenarios for determining prevention requirements is that there can be many different paths that lead to a given extreme corner (e.g., a biological emergency can be deliberate, accidental or natural) and a prevention measure that works on one path to a given corner, but not on other paths to that same corner (e.g., screening 100% of containers but ignoring other kinds of ships and much of aviation), may have no real impact in reducing the probability of that corner event actually occurring. Different analytic and planning frameworks are required for prevention and response functions, as well as for different event scales.
– Bob Ross
“…more focus on required outputs”
Chris’ comments reflect my own puzzlement.
As I remember it, the big stir around the 15 planning scenarios when they were announced was that they were outside the experience or vision or capability of many responders, jurisdictions, staffs and organizations. The focus as Bob says was on the types of events, not the degrees, so the focus that followed was on the types of capabilities required to respond, not the scale of those capabilities. This has been a useful endeavor.
And yes, organizations that had previously not considered response and recovery from most of these threats/scenarios began to look at the famous 15 as the upper limit of their challenges.
So I for one am very happy to see FEMA and others finally talk about MOMs and consider our inability to respond on the right scale, even if all the jurisdictions have all the right capabilities.
This takes my own thinking in a slightly different direction. I am concerned that focus on Preparedness has driven us to think about primarily INPUTS — what do we need to spend and buy to be prepared? I would like to see more focus on required OUTPUTS — what does success look like? what do we need to respond and recover properly? How do we share to minimize these requirements? What can we do to minimize the outcome? To protect against its being so bad if it occurs? To prevent it from happening in the first place?
In other words, my instinct is to back plan from effects to address what the scenarios and MOMs have in common, rather than planing forward from how the threats are different.
This back planning will require that we recognize what Bob and others are calling the wicked nature of our biggest problems — the feature they most have in common — the complexity that involves social issues, and leadership, and uncertainty, and communications . . rather than calculations of capabilities.
But of course, that would put more responsibility on leaders and decision makers and the active management of problems, and less on staffs and budgets and defensible procurement cycles.
I can see why this back planing approach is unpopular in DC.
– Dave McIntyre