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).