Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 12, 2011

The mighty Mississippi tamed?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 12, 2011

Tuesday’s flood crest at Memphis exceeded the 1927 high-water mark and fell just short of the all-time 1937  record.  Yet as headlined by the Associated Press: Despite flooding, Memphis remains open for business.

In the eight decades since passage of the Flood Control Act of 1928 the Mississippi has become less a river and much more an engineered system of maintained channels, levees, and floodways.   In 1927 there were at least a thousand deaths and flooding left more than 600,000 homeless. This week  the threat was largely contained (broadly understood, see below).

The engineered system worked largely as planned. Many aspects of planning and implementation are undeniably impressive.   I am especially impressed that  floodways and the Bonnet Carre Spillway were built into the original and subsequent legislation and appropriations. Moreover water flow easements and other legal requirements for the floodways have been sufficiently maintained to survive a Supreme Court challenge.

The seldom-used floodways and spillway are a great example of trans-generational resilient design. Resilience is an outcome of anticipating turbulence by broadening and deepening the basin in which turbulence can occur while the system maintains its essential character. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimated that opening the Bird’s Point Floodway in Southeast Missouri may have redirected as much as 550,000 cubic feet per second of water volume. (Read more about the floodways at the USACE Mississippi River and Tributaries Project website.)

A couple of cautionary notes:  The typical flow rate for the Mississippi is about 450,000 cubic feet per second.  This week at Memphis the river was running about 1.4 million cfs.  In 1927 the flow rate reached 2,345,000 cfs.   How would the levees at Memphis have dealt with an extra million cubic feet per second? When the flood peaks next week at Vicksburg it may over top some levees by up to 12 inches.  In non-protected or low-priority areas along the river and in the delta the high water will consume everything in its path.  This is part of the system’s design.

The US Army Corps of Engineers organizes its design, development, and management around a “hypo-flood” that anticipates 2,710,000 cfs at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers near Vicksburg.   Fortunately, the mid-South precipitation forecast is mostly scant until the middle of next week.  The upper Mississippi is past its surge. This suggests continuity of the current system.

Many engineered systems (and ecological systems) are characterized by a certain precariousness.   The system is adaptive and resilient until – suddenly — it is not.   When the adaptive capacity of a system is exceeded, a cascade of failures can result in catastrophic collapse.  Tuesday in Memphis we stayed on this side of that terrible threshold.  Barring some surprise (this would be a bad moment for the New Madrid fault to rock-and-roll) the lower Mississippi “system” should continue on its present edge for the next week and more.

We pay a price — and not just financial — for engineering the Mississippi.  There are several negative, often unintentional consequences worth our attention (in another blog).  But at Cairo and Memphis the system performed as planned.

Fundamental to our comparative success this Spring has been an acceptance of our limitations.  The floodways reflect prudent preparedness for the extraordinary, the infrequent, and the potentially catastrophic.  How might we systematically apply this principle to policy, strategy, planning, and management for other areas of homeland security?

Advances in Public Messaging: Great Idea – Curious Reaction

Filed under: Catastrophes,Technology for HLS — by Arnold Bogis on May 12, 2011

A seemingly great technological step forward in disaster communication with the public is thrown under the political bus:

President Obama could soon have the ability to personally text message every single cell-phone-toting American — whether  they like it or not — with “critical emergency alerts” under a new federal program that civil libertarians and political opponents say is a Big Brother-like intrusion posing a high risk of political abuse.

Federal officials in New York yesterday unveiled the three-tiered emergency alert system that would blast messages about Amber Alerts, impending weather disasters and terror threats to mobile devices.

Cell-phone users could opt out of most alerts if they want to, but not the texter-in-chief’s presidential pages.

“It’s like the state rep sending out mailings about how wonderful they are,” said Tad Kasperowicz of the Quincy Tea Party. “President Obama says,’Here come the high winds and the thunderstorms’ and it’s not really an emergency, but, hey, he gets his name out to every cell phone in the area. I can see that. Absolutely. There’s potential for abuse there.”

Sure, there is potential for abuse…if you believe the party affiliation of the people currently in office will always hold that office.  In other words, where is the political advantage for Obama to start such a system if it can be politically exploited when a Republican will at some point come into control of it?

Perhaps this is just the natural, and extremely positive, evolution of a public advisory system that had been lagging behind technological developments. However, I may just be naive…

 

An enduring issue in homeland security

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Arnold Bogis on May 12, 2011

How do appropriate authorities, today and going forward, deal with this attitude?

Guidroz said that the Southern Louisiana community “is protected better than we were 70 years ago” but that most residents did not build their homes above flood levels. Building on pilings 10 feet aboveground is expensive. And residents “just don’t think it’s going to happen to them in their lifetime,” Guidroz said. “They’re willing to take the chance.”

May 11, 2011

Saving vs. Spending

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Futures,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on May 11, 2011

The Political Economy of Homeland Security

The week before U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, at least one prominent media outlet took note of an academic paper examining the return on America’s homeland security investments. Although politicians have offered varying opinions in the week since bin Laden’s killing about the ongoing need for such investments, the paper itself has received little additional notice. An event like bin Laden’s death should, however, amplify rather than reduce our interest in assessing where we stand and where we are heading.

The study’s authors, John Mueller of The Ohio State University and Mark G. Stewart of the University of Newcastle, argue that the country’s one trillion dollar investment in homeland security since the 9/11 attacks should be assessed on the basis of risk reduction and cost-benefit returns. Using such techniques, they argue, one would be hard-pressed to justify the massive scope and scale of investments given the miniscule returns achieved.

I am not sure this finding surprises many people reading this blog. Moreover, I am reasonably confident that a at least some of you question whether it even matters.

The homeland security enterprise, like national defense, has rarely considered cost-benefit returns significant criteria for making decisions. To the extent that analysts consider risk reduction, they accept the extremely low short-term probabilities of an attack while assuming something catastrophic (by some measure or another) will occur eventually.

This ensures that debates usually focus on whether or not we are thinking about the right rare event, rather than whether or not our efforts will actually make any difference at all. The opportunity costs of the investments rarely receive any significant attention.

Even if we cannot justify making all homeland security and national defense decisions on the basis of risk-cost-benefit analyses, we should be able to agree that securing should short-term yield from our investments makes sense even if  long-term benefits remain our ultimate concern. Too often, though, the short-term benefit is measured solely in terms of the immediate satisfaction of having mollified critics or addressing the exigencies of whatever crises called our past decisions into question.

As a community concerned with how we prepare future practitioners, these tendencies to focus too much on the moment on one hand and too far into the future on the other should concern us. Most of the techniques we teach new practitioners have very limited efficacy in these situations or have very little evidence to recommend them.

Allied disciplines, like political science, public administration, engineering, economics and policy analysis, employ more robust theoretical frameworks in their analyses. Although homeland security practitioners recognize many if not most of these methods, it seems we rarely use them. Why is this?

As we look to the post-bin Laden future, I suspect we would do well to recognize that most of the investments we made had little impact on the ultimate success of the mission to locate and eliminate the world’s most-wanted terrorist. As we look for ways to address the atomized residue of al Qaeda and its affiliates, we would do well to ask ourselves which investments make the most sense.

We can invest in the development of democratic institutions and the popular expression of the principles of democratic self-governance, including respect for human rights and economic and environmental equity. Or we can continue supporting the status quo ante, which equates stability with subsidies to military-industrial oligarchs and their patrons.

Applying cost-benefit analysis does not in or of itself ensure democratic outcomes. But the absence of any consideration of the economic value of investments in homeland security like anything else ensures that those who have the most to gain enjoy more say in the decision than those who have something to lose.

Building a sustainable homeland security future may not mean ensuring stability in the short-term, especially if it comes at the expense of our economic security. Investing our national wealth — especially our human and social capital — in institutions that promote freedom will generate a more stable long-term future only if we are willing to accept that speed and certainty matter a whole lot less than the price we pay in terms of blood and treasure.

May 10, 2011

Controlling domestic UAVs wirelessly through a cellular network: major policy challenges

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on May 10, 2011

Seven decades ago,  C. P. Snow gave a lecture about a communication breakdown between two cultures — humanities and science.  Their inability to understand and value the way each viewed the world inhibited the search for solutions to the world’s problems.

Public policy in general — and homeland security policy in particular — may suffer from the same divide.  I know few homeland security policy makers who understand or appreciate the technical dimension of the enterprise; and even fewer homeland security scientists and technicians who value the daily dilemmas of policy makers.

I was brought rudely to this awareness some weeks ago when a journal I’m involved with published several technical articles related to homeland security.  I did not find the articles especially easy to read.  But as I struggled through them, I found them to be models of organized discourse and presentation.  Eventually, with some effort, reading them paid off for me.  I saw a side of homeland security I had been closed to.

Today’s post was written by a colleague who bridges both the scientific and the policy worlds of homeland security.  For organizational reasons, he prefers to remain anonymous.

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Recently the Journal of Homeland Security Affairs published an article called “Policy, Practice, and the Search for Alpha” by Dr. Robert Josefek.  The article provides an overview of five papers that were judged best-in-track and best-in-conference from the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Homeland Security Technology (HST) Conference, the tenth annual meeting of this group.

In addition to his review of the scientific papers, Dr. Josefek points to the chasm that often exists between the detailed concerns of scientists and the broader focus of policy makers:

While both ends of the spectrum are important, my observation is that it is sometimes a challenge for these groups [scientists and policy makers] to understand and best benefit from each other. Yet innovations in science and technology can enable policy options that were not previously available and policy goals can drive scientists and technologists to find ways to reach heretofore-unobtainable objectives.

Among the papers reviewed one in particular illustrates in my mind the intersection of policy and science for homeland security related research.  Daniel and Wietfeld’s article, “Using Public Network Infrastructures for UAV Remote Sensing in Civilian Security Operations,” was selected best for the category of Attack and Disaster Preparation, Recovery and Response.

The paper proposes a method of employing multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), controlled wirelessly through a cellular network, to monitor atmospheric plumes from events such as large fires, industrial accidents, and CBRN terrorist attacks.

The authors’ central idea is to use cell towers because the public safety spectrum is extremely limited, and unlicensed frequency (ISM band) is often unreliable.  A GAO report in 2008 (pdf file)  corroborates their claim and cites wireless communications “security and protected spectrum” among one of the critical requirements for integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace (NAS).

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My first impression of their idea was skepticism.  Public safety organizations have come to be wary of the reliability of cell phone systems during times of disaster due to the cell towers being disabled or call volume simply overwhelming the ability to even access the system.

Despite Full Motion Video (FMV) being excluded from consideration in the paper, FMV will be an important aspect of the system and provisions will need to be made to accommodate the bandwidth required.  Coupled with this will be the need to develop a seamless handoff amongst different carriers as the UAV traverses a geographic region.

The Federal Aviation Administration rightly views safety paramount and protocols will need to be developed to allow manned and unmanned aircraft to safely coexist.  The public will certainly have privacy concerns over information that is collected and stored.

Finally, there remains a suspicion by public safety of the cellular industry due in part to problems experienced from Nextel building out a network in the 800 MHz band in the 1990s that ultimately caused significant interference with existing public safety communications.

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Feeling there was more to the issue, I reached out to a friend to get another perspective.  He is a former Coast Guard pilot and now runs a company that operates a fleet of surrogate unmanned aerial vehicles. His company provides ground based users UAV capabilities without any of the restrictions associated with operating in the National Airspace System, and has accumulated over 2,000 operational hours in the last 2 years operating nationally over both congested and rural areas.

Last year during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, his company’s  systems operated 12 hours per day for more than 100 consecutive days and provided command centers with real time full motion video over a 10,000 square mile area covering the waters off Mississippi and Louisiana.

His perspective of Daniel and Wietfeld’s paper differed from mine.  He supports the authors’ position advocating greater leverage of existing cellular infrastructure and reinforcing it with mobile ad-hoc networks (MANETs) and satellite links in order to maintain connectivity in dead spots.  He mentioned that as a Coast Guard officer he supported operations following Hurricane Katrina and told me:

During Hurricane Katrina wireless air cards in helicopters provided limited airborne connectivity and the solution worked remarkably well at the low altitudes and airspeeds most helicopters were operating at during the response.  In the years since Katrina, we have learned a great deal about the strengths and limitations of using cellular networks to support operational missions and found that augmentation with MANETs and satellite communication is critical to ensure mission reliability.  We have found that use of the 2.4GHz ISM band in rural or open ocean areas works very well, but it is significantly degraded in urban environments or disaster base camp settings.  We have also found that using 5GHz in those same areas adequately addresses the interference issues experienced at 2.4GHz, which serve to reinforce Daniel and Witfield’s findings.

He and I did find common ground in that the call for small unmanned arial vehicles operating at low altitudes is going to multiply exponentially over the next few years over our states and cities.  Assigning each an IP address and managing them through existing and augmented wireless infrastructure is the only manageable path.

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In order to incorporate UAVs into both civilian and emergency response applications many groups are going to have to come together.  Some of the most critical components include the FAA introducing Next Gen Air technologies to accommodate the coexistence of manned and unmanned aircraft.  At the same time that legislation is progressing on FAA Reauthorization, Congress is also moving forward to modernize Public Safety Communications.

Spectrum policy will have to be revised to allow safe and reliable control of unmanned vehicles. Among the proposals is to build out a nationwide cellular communications network for public safety in the 700 MHz spectrum recently vacated by TV stations.  I do not know if technically it would be feasible to link the two together but it might be a consideration for the public safety UAV industry to investigate using the new network while in the planning stages.  The alternative is to “beef up” the existing cellular networks in order to provide daily unmanned vehicle operations and ensure operability during times of disaster.

At the very least, part of the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization (S 223) tasks the National Academy of Sciences to study the unmanned aircraft spectrum issue. (Not everyone is pleased with this initiative, however.  See this link.)

Daniel and Witfield have helped identify a primary technical issue that homeland security leaders will have to contend with as the UAV industry attempts to move forward.  Policy makers will need to address these issues in developing a workable solution for daily use as well as during times of emergencies.  Daniel and Witfield’s paper will help policy makers understand the components of a technically sound plan.

 

May 9, 2011

Terrorist Trends: Four recent reports

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 9, 2011

Germany: Homegrown Terror Takes on New Dimensions (Spiegel Online)

May 9, 2011 – Osama bin Laden may be dead, but al-Qaida is alive and well in Germany. Each month, an average of five Islamists leave the country for terrorist training camps in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Recent arrests in Düsseldorf show just how dangerous homegrown terror has become. MORE

United Kingdom: Five men held after ‘taking pictures’ of nuclear plant (The Telegraph)

May 3, 2011 – Five men were being questioned by anti-terrorism officers last night after being arrested for allegedly taking pictures outside the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. MORE

Morocco: Marrakesh cafe bombing (AFP)

April 28, 2011 - A bomb attack at a crowded tourist cafe in the main square of the Moroccan city of Marrakesh killed 14 people, mostly foreigners, as world leaders denounced the “terrorist” act. (Since the initial attack three more have died and three suspects have been arrested.) MORE

Indonesia: Arrests Point To New Face Of Terrorism (Jakarta Globe)

April 23, 2011 – The arrest of 19 terrorism suspects and the subsequent discovery of a Good Friday bomb plot appears to have revealed a new breed of terror. Most of the newly arrested were university graduates and were apprehended in various parts of the country in relation to the series of book bombs sent to various prominent figures in Jakarta last month. MORE

Some personal notes related to the Marrakesh attack: I have enjoyed the shade and refreshment of the Argana Cafe, bombed late last month.  On a visceral level this attack so far away has, perhaps, been the most personally real for me.  It is interesting the regional affiliate of Al-Qaeda has since rejected responsibility for the bombing.  It is even more interesting that over the last two weeks large crowds of Moroccans have married calls for domestic political reform with rejection of terrorist violence.  In Libya and Syria this non-violent activism has been taken to its nearly suicidal limit. In Egypt peaceful non-cooperation has, so far, been an extraordinary success.

There are implications here for any us inspired by Gandhi and King.  President Obama appreciates the advocates of ahimsa, but has decisively demonstrated he is much more a disciple of Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It will be interesting to hear what grand plan bin-Laden might have been trying to hatch in Abbottabad. But right now the evidence suggests our terrorist problem is much less a starkly Manichean struggle and much more a matter of frustrated narcissists.

This is not to dismiss a very real threat. See each report above.  But part of our plot problem has been a tendency toward narcissism even by the good guys. In every story of good conquering evil I have encountered, the good guys and gals are quiet realists and the evil-doers are undone by their excesses… especially of  delusional self-regard.

May 8, 2011

Mexico City March

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2011

On Sunday an estimated 20,000 marched in Mexico City calling for an end to violence by both the drug cartels and government. According to the New York Times at least 150,000 participated in some portion of the march which began on Wednesday. The mass rally was inspired by poet Javier Sicilia. His 24-year-old son and six friends were found dead near the resort town of Cuernavaca, a massacre that mirrored scores of others in Mexico’s brutal drug wars.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Sicilia hopes to turn Sunday’s demonstration into a mass movement to fight not only the drug cartels but also the government’s heavy-handed tactics in pursuing them. The leftist academic is a vocal critic of Mr. Calderón’s conservative government, which he says is too corrupt to resolve the problem. Mr. Sicilia hasn’t offered alternatives.

Mexicans have tried before to create a popular movement against criminal violence. In 2004, just before Mr. Calderón began his crackdown against drug gangs, several hundred thousand people gathered in the capital for a “March Against Insecurity.” But momentum stalled.

Nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since then, with authorities saying Monday that another 13 were killed in a shootout between military and drug gangs at a lake on the border with Texas. Mr. Sicilia and his followers hope the mounting toll is enough to create a popular groundswell.

Following is my own rough translation of Mr. Sicilia’s poem Zazen, with apologies and appreciation.

–+–

I
Feeling, Love, is to look at the wall
the white wall, clean before I pray,
light reflected, a plaster desert
clearly closed, pure boundary.

Sitting at the light of day is hard,
hard time without end, an empty wholeness
when body shifts, heaviness departs
and absence is assuring.

I open my Love in this gap
where I’m alone in a white desert
clean spacious and stark,

dusty light, absence without pride.
Nothing left of me I’m open
clearly this is where you spy.

II
Stung by your light and without hope
my body is in ecstasy for the day
dust cleared in the light of noon,
stubble burnt by Your dedication;

in the soft evening light of this January
light my bread and cold, wet room,
my wife, the city and joy
of my soul burns in your hearth.

What can I expect, if the fire
fully consumes me each day
and leaves only its quiet depths?

Everything in life is light so dear,
only my body is straw, wood and blade
light consumed on earth, is nothing.

 

(Editorial Note: On Tuesday morning I inserted this as a Sunday evening post. I began the post on Sunday but did not complete the amateur translation until Tuesday. Please find the Spanish original at A Media Voz.

May 7, 2011

Al Qaeda Is Behind the Eight Ball

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on May 7, 2011

This post was written by Mike Walker.  Mr. Walker was Acting Secretary of the Army and Deputy Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton Administration.  You can follow his comments on Twitter: @New_Narrative

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Osama bin Laden is dead. Remaining senior leaders are being relentlessly pursued. Al Qaeda affiliates continue to bungle attempted attacks in the West. And the FBI keeps stinging homegrown terror wannabes.

Al Qaeda was also irrelevant to this year’s Arab revolutions. Throughout the Muslim world Al Qaeda’s support is crumbling. Key supporters have abandoned the organization.

As a result, some pundits conclude the war on terror has already been won. That Al Qaeda died with Bin Laden. And that the ideological fuel driving radicalization has been rendered impotent.

Soon, government spending for homeland security will increasingly be questioned, as will expenditures by the private sector for infrastructure protection.

Now, just days after the death of Bin Laden, we find ourselves at a crossroads. It is important to get the direction right, because the threat is not over.

 

Al Qaeda Central has not been run by a bunch of yahoos. Al Qaeda has been led by a group of sophisticated, well educated, adaptive men who believe they are doing God’s work on earth.

No doubt, the terrorists already had a plan on the shelf for their next phase without Bin Laden, who was, after all, the most hunted man in the world. And long before Bin Laden was killed, Al Qaeda Central and its affiliate organizations were also planning specific attacks in the West. We must assume planning for those attacks continues and that terror operatives are now looking for ways to accelerate those plots.

Just as likely, self-selected terror wannabes here at home are quietly hatching their own crude, but potentially lethal plots, inspired by internet terrorists like Anwar al-Awlaki

These are some of the reasons the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI and the Secretary of Homeland Security have all said Americans should be alert to the potential for revenge attacks by the Al Qaeda network.

Of course, the US intelligence community is exploiting every shred of evidence taken away from Bin Laden’s compound in an effort to detect plots in progress. But it would be a mistake to believe that an organization, which has deliberately decentralized since the 9-11 attacks, would leave all its secrets in one place.

 

Since 9-11, AQ has become a networked, learning organization. The terrorists have closely watched our tactics, techniques and procedures for a decade, and today they also have a much better understanding of our economic and social vulnerabilities.

Following the trauma of losing their most revered leader, the terrorists, though, must now be concerned about continuing to lose relevance in the Muslim world.

All these factors combine to make the next several months a very high threat period.

 

In the aftermath of the bold, successful operation by Seal Team Six, it’s easy to believe the Federal government will disrupt every plot. To believe that would be folly. The Federal government I was honored to serve for 32 years does have substantial capability. But that capability is not enough to keep Main Street America safe from attack.

The terrorists have made it clear: it is no longer just Washington, DC, and New York City at risk. The terrorists are planning to strike the heartland of America to shake our citizens’ confidence and harm the economy.

Dealing with the threat, in the aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, continues to be a shared responsibility. The responsibilities of state and local governments, the private sector and average Americans did not diminish when Bin Laden was killed. Already, almost a third of all terror plots have been foiled because someone called law enforcement and reported that something didn’t seem right.

So, during the post-Bin Laden period, we must continue to be vigilant. Months ago, the Secretary of Homeland security said we should assume terror operatives are already inside the country and could attack with little or no warning. We should especially be alert for a potential Mumbai in America, where lone wolves or small cells attack multiple soft targets with conventional weapons, and, perhaps, improvised explosive devices.

 

The good news is most analysts believe it unlikely the terrorists will be able to attack with weapons of mass destruction. For now, that potential may be beyond their capability despite efforts for two decades to achieve it. However, it is not out of the realm of possibility that radicalized scientists in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program could clandestinely funnel material for a dirty bomb or worse to their militant friends. The revelation that Bin Laden had been living for years in a community of active and retired Pakistani military officers only heightens this concern.

So, we must not let our guard down in the coming months. This is no time for complacency in America. The celebrations should wait until we deal with longer-term issues.

 

Al Qaeda’s strategy has been focused on attempting to persuade Muslims that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended by any means. Clearly, the terrorists seek to provoke a clash of civilizations.

While many Muslims erroneously believe the West does want to divide and conquer Islam, the terrorists have only been successful in recruiting relatively small, but dedicated numbers to do their violent bidding. It is Al Qaeda’s own violence that has turned off the vast majority of Muslims, who are also repelled by the terrorists’ corrupt version of Islam. The failure by the terrorists to persuade Muslims that Al Qaeda is the vanguard of Islam has been the terrorists’ biggest downfall.

 

Despite the terrorists’ own failures, there are important long-term challenges we must address before we will tame the threat.

Gallup and Pew polls indicate that of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, hundreds of millions want to rid Muslim countries of Western influence and perceived exploitation.

The American military footprint around the world is a leading cause of radicalization both here at home and abroad. How we project power and protect our own vital interests in the future will make a difference in terrorist recruiting. As we saw in Abbottabad, it doesn’t take military divisions to deal with terrorists.

Likewise, the West’s addiction to oil and drugs, much of which comes from countries in the Middle East and South Asia, continue to weaken our influence and increase our image as exploiting Muslim countries. Moving toward alternative energy sources and reducing the national appetite for illegal drugs must become a higher priority.

The perceived plight of the Palestinians continues to be a major source, if not the major source, of frustration in the Muslim world. A final agreement for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians would take this issue off the table.

Here at home, a growing misunderstanding of the religion of Islam actually increases the potential for radicalization. The terrorists continue to persuade disaffected Muslims that the handful of Americans who burn Korans and those who oppose the so-called Ground Zero Mosque actually prove America is at war with Islam.

How we deal with all these issues will have a significant impact on future radicalization inside America and overseas.

 

Radicalization in America will also be influenced by whether or not we remain true to our ideals and civil liberties. The terrorists are counting on us turning against our own fellow citizens out of fear, because they believe that will ensure jihad in America and help them buy time to build new capabilities.

The death of Bin Laden has given us a window of opportunity to seize the initiative at a time the terrorists are off balance. Today, the threat remains. In the short run we must remain vigilant. In the long term, we have some significant policy decisions to make.

 

 

 

 

Mississippi flooding: Policy/Strategy Links

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2011

The Mississippi River has already exceeded the 1927 flood crest at Memphis.   Over the next two weeks or more we will see extraordinary flooding all along the lower Mississippi (and elsewhere).

To facilitate consideration of policy and strategy implications, below are a few links.  Please add your own through the comment function.

National Weather Service River Observations and more.

US Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Flood Risk Management Program

FEMA Flood Map Center

FEMA National Flood Insurance Program

A collection of relevant public laws by the Walla Walla District, USACE

The Evolution of the Flood Control Act of 1936 by Joseph Arnold on behalf of the USACE, Office of History

GAO: A collection of reports on the National Flood Insurance Program

The daily newspapers in Memphis are the Commercial-Appeal and the Daily News.

Memphis-Shelby County Emergency Management Agency

 

Pakistan: complicit or incompetent or byzantine or bungling?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2011

Watching Pakistan I have often been reminded of the anecdotes of Procopius regarding the late Roman-early Byzantine court of Justinian.  To share these impressions would, however, be even more pedantic than yesterday’s endorsement of Immanuel Kant.

I am glad that someone closer to Islamabad seems to see a similar pattern.   Following is an essay published earlier today by Irfan Husain in DAWN.  I have only excerpted a bit of the beginning.  The whole essay is worth your reading: A History of Bungling.

–+–

The space between an admission of gross incompetence or of complicity in a major crime is full of humiliation and pain.

This is the place Pakistan`s ISI finds itself in the wake of Osama bin Laden`s killing in Abbottabad.

The country`s premier intelligence agency is being accused by many of knowing where the Al Qaeda chief has been hiding for the last five years. His extended presence in Abbottabad, close to the country`s elite military academy, has raised troubling questions.

But when faced with a choice between official bungling and thuggery, I`d go for ineptitude every time. While looking at a crime, the first thing an investigator asks is: ` Cui bono ?`, or `Who benefits?”

In the case of Bin Laden`s long residence in Pakistan, the country`s security establishment clearly had nothing to gain by concealing his presence.

In the past, several major foreign Muslim terrorists have been captured in Pakistan with the ISI`s cooperation. The names of Aimal Kansi, Yusef Ramzi, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh come to mind. Lesser figures have been fingered for drone strikes, deportation to Guantanamo Bay, or for interrogation by the Americans elsewhere.

It has long been Pakistan`s tacit policy that it would crack down on foreign fighters and terrorists, while maintaining an ambivalent attitude towards jihadi groups who might be of use in Afghanistan at a later date.

Bin Laden was clearly a distraction and an embarrassment. He was of no possible strategic value to Pakistan, now or later; 9/11 had made him a toxic liability, and he was too much of a hate figure around the world for the ISI to risk sheltering him. In addition, with a $25m reward on Bin Laden`s head, do we really think our spooks are so high-minded that they would resist the temptation to turn him in?

So me, I`d go for the bungling option rather than for any of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Washington and around the world…

MORE

May 6, 2011

Three uncertain, yet decisive choices reflecting the core of what we profess to be

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2011

According to Time Magazine, CIA Director Leon Panetta (soon to be Defense Secretary) told them:

What if you go down and you’re in a firefight and the Pakistanis show up and start firing?” Panetta says some worried. “How do you fight your way out?” But Panetta concluded that the evidence was strong enough to risk the raid, despite the fact that his aides were only 60%-80% confident that bin Laden was there, and decided to make his case to the President. At the key Thursday meeting in which President Obama heard the arguments from his top aides on whether or not to go into Pakistan to kill or capture bin Laden, Panetta admitted that the evidence of bin Laden’s presence at the compound was circumstantial. But “when you put it all together,” Panetta says he told the room, “we have the best evidence since [the 2001 battle of] Tora Bora [where bin Laden was last seen], and that then makes it clear that we have an obligation to act. (We know now how it turned out.)

Over the next few weeks the Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds will likely exceed their historic flood-crests.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took the next steps Saturday (April 30) to prepare for blowing up a Missouri levee to ease near-record flooding on the Mississippi River, hours after a federal appeals court rejected a request from the Missouri attorney general to stop the process. “We are seeing water in places we’ve never seen it before,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission and a top Corps official, who said he had flown over much of the Lower Mississippi and Ohio River systems earlier in the day. He stressed that he had not made his final decision and that he would try to give 24 hours notice between the decision and the actual blowing of the levee. Residents in the area were ordered to evacuate a few days ago. (The levees have since been blown up.)

In the midst of plenty of other news, you may have missed the emergency shut downs of Texas City refineries operated by BP Plc, Marathon Oil and Valero Energy Corp accounting for a combined 765,000 barrels of oil a day. According to Reuters:

A BP spokesman said no injuries had been reported due to the power outage, which also knocked out electricity at BP’s adjoining chemical plant. The cause of the outage was unknown. BP “immediately called the city and declared a level 3 emergency,” said BP spokesman Michael Marr in a statement. “The city declared a shelter-in-place for its residents.” ”I can confirm that we’ve had issues with power at Texas City,” said Valero spokesman Bill Day of his company’s refinery. “To what extent we don’t know yet.” (Refinery operations were restarted on May 3.)

A March 2005 explosion at the BP refinery killed 15.  The April 1947 explosion at Texas City of two ships carrying ammonium nitrate killed 581, injured 5000 and is still considered by many the worst industrial accident in the United States.

What our intentional, natural, and accidental threats share is profound and persistent uncertainty. We seek to  prevent or mitigate or prepare to effectively respond or recover from what may not happen in this time and space: not in our life-times or in our neck-of-the-woods.  Interesting job.

When a threat does begin to emerge we are willing to curtail the freedom of some, destroy the property of some, and kill if necessary  in order — we hope and say — to save other freedoms, preserve other property, and protect other lives.

In a letter to President Obama — which the White House would have received on the eve of the decision to send Seal Team Six to Abbottabad — the local Missouri Congresswoman and two Senators wrote,

Besides the predictable long-term destruction of property and the environment within the 130,000 acres that would be deliberately flooded, a secondary risk is the uncertainty associated with the Set Back Levee which, if inadequate, will unleash the flood water across (six) Missouri counties of the Missouri Bootheel area with a population over 75,000 in addition to as many as 10 Arkansas counties.The known and unknown risks of blowing the levee and releasing over one-half million cubic feet per second are sufficient to demand the highest level of attention and accountability. The human evacuation alone would be a critical challenge to public officials as well as the extraordinary cost of post-disaster mitigation and repair and productive economic opportunity cost.

There are always known and unknown risks, the more significant a risk probably the more that is unknown… and often the greater need to decide and act wisely, courageously, and quickly in the midst of deep uncertainty.

The men and women of homeland security, national security, emergency management, and public safety are our guardians, but would clearly benefit from the attributes of philosopher kings. (I once attended a wedding heavy with members of Seal Team Six and if not philosopher kings they were, at least on that occasion, thoughtful princes whom Plato would honor.)

Two weeks ago I quoted from the work of a rather obscure, now dead, Air Force colonel named John Boyd.  For reasons tied to his obscurity, Boyd is a principal progenitor of a revolution in the way we fight and increasingly how we compete in many non-military domains.  Boyd, a fighter pilot whose final academic degree was a bachelors in industrial engineering, was also a great reader of Immanuel Kant.

Human reason has a peculiar fate… it is troubled by questions it cannot dismiss, because they are posed to it by the nature of reason itself, but that it also cannot answer, because they surpass human reason’s every ability. Our reason falls into this perplexity through no fault of its own. Reason starts from principles that it cannot avoid using in the course of experience and that this experience at the same time sufficiently justifies it in using. By means of these principles our reason (as indeed it nature requires it to do) ascends ever higher, to more remote conditions. But it becomes aware that in this way, since the questions never cease, its task must remain forever uncompleted. Thus it finds itself compelled to resort to principles that go beyond all possible use in experience, and that nonetheless seem so little suspect that even common human reason agrees with them. By doing this, however human reason plunges into darkness and contradictions; and although it can indeed gather from these that they must be based on errors lying hidden somewhere, it is unable to discover these errors. (Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the First Edition, Immanuel Kant translated by Werner S. Pluhar)

I understand it seems pretentious and/or pedantic to apply a late 18th Century philosopher to our contemporary choices.  Would it help in any real way for Kant to appear on the reading list for students at the Emergency Management Institute?

But considering the life and death choices made by this profession (and even more the choices we fail to mindfully make) what does Kant’s absence mean? Even more troublesome is the absence of those issues with which Kant struggled. Given what we decide and do, might we find — somewhere between the ICS 200 course, the debris management course and the mortuary affairs course — a moment when our preoccupation with imposing order can make way for considering the nature of order itself?

May 5, 2011

A combination plate of post-Bin Laden analysis

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 5, 2011

I’m very late posting today, and with little original content, but I hope you find some of the following articles interesting.

There has been an understandable deluge of analysis pouring out of every corner following Osama Bin Laden’s death.  Here is a sample of a few of the more interesting ones:

James Fallows, writing for The Atlantic, analyzes the announcement of the event and speculates on the significance:

To his further shrewdness and credit, he invoked his predecessor by name when mentioning one of George W. Bush’s bravest and most important statements:  “As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.”

Further Bush/Obama resonance: In the best speech of his presidency, his address to the Joint Session of Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush used this most memorable line: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” Both Bush and Obama echoed that line tonight. Bush, in his statement: “the fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.” Obama, in his speech: “On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Echoing Chris’ earlier comments:

For years anti-terrorism experts have stressed the decentralized, self-sustaining nature of al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations around the world. The elimination of the celebrated symbol and inspiration of the movement will certainly not mean the end of terrorist threats, and in the short run could trigger revenge attacks.

But here is potentially the greatest significance of this news, apart from the “bringing justice to our enemies” satisfaction: it holds the potential of marking an end to the otherwise un-endable “Global War or Terror.”

Signifying an end to a “global war” does not mean the end of a threat. America faces a daily threat from crime; for the foreseeable future Americans and others will face a continuing threat of terrorist attack; the entire world faces a threat that the thousands of nuclear warheads still in existence could destroy millions, through accidental or deliberate misuse. But we classify all those as threats, requiring our continued vigilance and best efforts to prevent them.

These comments echo Fallows’ September 2006 insightful article “Declaring Victory” where he was ahead of many in calling for an end to the “war on terrorism:”

The United States is succeeding in its struggle against terrorism. The time has come to declare the war on terror over, so that an even more effective military and diplomatic campaign can begin.

“It is not the people al-Qaeda might kill that is the threat,” he [David Kilcullen] concluded. “Our reaction is what can cause the damage. It’s al-Qaeda plus our response that creates the existential danger.”

Since 9/11, this equation has worked in al-Qaeda’s favor. That can be reversed.

Noted terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman challenges some conventional wisdom in the wake of Bin Laden’s death in the The National Interest:

First, the assumption was that he was hiding in a cave in some isolated mountain range, cut off equally from his supporters and from the creature comforts that make life as a fugitive more bearable. Yet we learn that he’s been living a stone’s throw from the Pakistani capital, both in comfort and relative anonymity. This in turn calls into question some of the assumptions about the aid and assistance he doubtlessly would have needed to receive from a variety of plotters to be located right under the nose of the government and its military and intelligence authorities. Also, the assumption was that Bin Laden was in such isolation and so cut off from communication that he’d nearly been reduced to a figurehead, a marginal character, in al-Qaeda’s operations and destiny. His presence in an urban hub, presumably with a variety of modes of contact, calls into question the supposedly hands-off, irrelevant role he had been believed to play in al-Qaeda’s strategy and perhaps even day-to-day operations. Indeed, it may have been his active participation in key al-Qaeda decision-making and operational matters that allowed us to track him to his hideout—there must have been an unusual number people coming and going, functioning essentially as couriers. It may thus be that he’s had much more of a role in al-Qaeda than we believed.

Steve Coll, President of the New America Foundation, covers an array of issues in a New Yorker piece, including:

On where he was found

On who was living with Bin Laden

On what bin Laden’s death means for Al Qaeda

On the hunt itself

You want more?  How about a discussion on Bin Laden’s death and what it might mean for the war on terrorism, relations with Pakistan, and the situation on the ground in Afghanistan with a former CIA agent who dealt with the Pakistani security services, a Ranger who served as “Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team International Security Assistance Forces Afghanistan,” and a Pakistani journalist:

http://www.iop.harvard.edu/Multimedia-Center/All-Videos/BIN-LADEN-KILLED-%E2%80%9CJustice-has-been-done%E2%80%9D

May 4, 2011

Opening But Not Ending

I must admit that like most of you (I assume) the news that U.S. special forces had killed Osama bin Laden and recovered his body from a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan came as a bit of a surprise. But my surprise at that fact pales in comparison to my impressions arising from the openness displayed by the administration in discussing details of the operation and its implications on future policy options.

Much of what needs to be said about the skill and courage of the President and those who conceived and carried out the mission has been said many times over in the past few days. How salient is it, however, that we can acknowledge and discuss the basis for our opinions about the performance of these individuals rather than relying solely on our predispositions to trust the opinions of others? In light of the consequences of public opinion on ongoing support for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it strikes me a particularly important that people not only can reach conclusions of their own about these actions, but also that they seem to be doing so without any particular help from the punditocracy. (This, of course, in no way deterred the talking heads from babbling, often incoherently, about the whole affair. Despite substantiation of leaks about the subject of the President’s remarks, their distracting dialectic diminished in quality as the interval between the scheduled start of President Obama’s address and his actual appearance became increasingly delayed.)

The policy environment surrounding national defense and homeland security are filled with discontinuities and uncertainty despite bin Laden’s demise. How will we end our involvement in Afghanistan? Will the government of Iraq to extend agreements for the U.S. military to continue advice and support arrangements? How will the administration and Congress resolve their pitched political differences over fiscal restraint and debt reduction without undermining our ability to meet commitments here and abroad?

Notwithstanding the release of some erroneous information that has required correction and elaboration today, the administration seems to have done itself (and us) a huge favor by making as clear as possible the basis of its assessment that al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain a threat to the U.S. and its interests. They have also made it clear that lessons about cooperation and information sharing have been learned. And perhaps most important of all, they have demonstrated the potency of patience, confidence, determination and resolve when exercised in the right proportions.

These lessons reinforce one last point: The success of this operation was not so much the product of superior technology or the investments of vast sums of money (although both undoubtedly helped ensure the careful and skillful execution of this mission), but rather the diligent and precise application of human and social skills in gathering, processing and acting on intelligence, which included precise and scrupulous attention to the most minute details.

Much more of this story remains yet to be told. But this should not hinder our understanding of the extraordinary efforts that led to this achievement nor discourage us from continuing the work required to protect our country and others affected by the threat of violent extremism.

May 3, 2011

Not the end. But maybe the beginning of the end.

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on May 3, 2011

I don’t know how you first learned bin Laden was dead. I learned from a text message.

I don’t know what you said when you found out. I said “Wow!”

I rarely say wow. I never use exclamation points.

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We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

I read those words a few days ago in Mother Jones in an article called “The science of why we don’t believe science.”

I still can’t get my reason or my deliberate around bin Laden’s death. So this post is filtered through quick-fire emotions that are highly biased about a topic I care about.

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The physical effects of September 11, 2001 were localized to three places in America. The psychic impacts unquestionably were global.

The physical effects of bin Laden’s death were localized to one compound in Pakistan. The psychic effects can also be global.

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The meaning of his death is not something to be discovered. It is something to be created.

Bin Laden’s death presents a historic opportunity for American leadership to alter the meaning of American history.

For what do leaders do if not create an image of a possible future and enlist others to work to make that future happen.

What should that future be for homeland security? Do we drift? Do we take advantage of this opportunity and disrupt complacent routine?

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George Bush wanted an Office of Homeland Security, not a Department of Homeland Security.

Rightly or not, his instinct was to give Tom Ridge the responsibility — from within the White House — to redirect the efforts of myriad agencies responsible for intelligence, counter terrorism, and the other functions that failed to protect the nation from the 19 hijackers.

Bush’s vision was trumped by reality politics that threatened to out macho him unless he supported a Department of Homeland Security.

What did we gain from being so politically correct?

John Mueller and Mark Stewart — in an eviscerating analysis of homeland security spending (available as a pdf file here) — write “The cumulative increase in expenditures on US domestic homeland security over the decade since 9/11 exceeds one trillion dollars.”

What has that money purchased?

Their analysis supports in extensive detail Bush’s instinct.  They cite an observation by Michael Sheehan, former New York City Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism:

The most important work in protecting our country since 9/11 has been accomplished with the capacity that was in place when the event happened, not with any of the new capability bought since 9/11. I firmly believe that those huge budget increases have not significantly contributed to our post-9/11 security….The big wins had little to do with the new programs.

Mueller and Stewart conclude “in order for enhanced United States expenditures on homeland security to be deemed cost-effective …, they would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day.”

And Mueller and Stewart are being conservative.

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Bin Laden’s death may not symbolize the end of the war on terrorism. But his death can, if we want it, be the beginning of the end of the war on terrorism.

That does not mean we ignore the hundreds if not thousands of people who still want to destroy the United States.

But we have institutions more adept than our still-cobbled homeland security apparatus to defend against, disrupt, and destroy that threat: our military, our diplomats, our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence professionals.

We have institutions to protect the border and transportation systems, respond to disasters, ensure the public’s health. Maybe there was a political case at the turn of this century for including most of them within a single organization. Does that case still make sense?

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Demobilization after both major 20th century wars did not prove easy for government. There is little reason to expect it to be easy in this century. But if the end of this forever war cannot at least begin with an event like bin Laden’s death, what is it going to take?

There have been almost 6,000 American casualties in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. How many more do there have to be before this thing ends?

Yes, there is still a threat. But is it that big a deal?

Where do we go to find an answer to that question? Is there someone in government who will say? Think tanks? Universities? Google?

John Mueller and Mark Stewart remind us of Stephen Flynn’s 2004 test for when the United States knows it has enough security: when “the American people can conclude that a future attack on U.S. soil will be an exceptional event that does not require wholesale changes in how they go about their lives.”

Are we there yet?

Even after Hitler’s death and Germany’s World War Two surrender, many Nazis continued terrorizing. But they were beaten.

Can we say with this man’s death al Qaeda is beaten?

Can we go about our lives not checking over our shoulders every few minutes to see if death is coming?

Can we get back to creating a more perfect Union?

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What vision of homeland security do we want now?

For starters, let’s get rid of the term. I know nobody who thinks the phrase “homeland security” is in any way right for what we are about as a country.

How about human security? Security for people instead of for land.

Porter and Mykleby (in their essay A National Strategic Narrative) offer a way to get closer to that end. Spend less on defense and more on the other dimensions of American life that bolster our security. Invest in “intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.” And be better stewards of the “natural resources we need for our continued wellbeing, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.”

You can read U.S. Navy Captain Porter and U.S. Marine Colonel Mykleby’s monograph at this link.

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America needed to retool economically, politically, and socially after World War Two. It was not a painless process.

Bin Laden’s death offers a new chance to retool.

Bring the troops home. Reduce and re-channel defense and homeland security spending. Attend to human security: jobs, education, health care, civility.

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No one knows what bin Laden’s death means.

It can be as big a deal in our history as the Towers crashing and the Pentagon burning.  If we allow it.

His death is not the end of the barbarity he symbolized. But it can symbolize the beginning of the end of one struggle and a renewal of where we’ve been before, a time not long ago when:

We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

 

May 1, 2011

Reports: Osama Bin Laden Killed

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 1, 2011

Justice has been done.  Bin Laden is dead.

At approximately 11:40 PM EST, President Obama addressed the nation to tell it that Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the force behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, was dead.  U.S. officials allegedly have his body.

Bin Laden’s rage against the U.S. did not start on 9/11 but included deadly attacks in Somalia (1993), bombings in Africa (1998) and the attack on the USS Cole (2000).

The death comes ten years after those attacks which united the nation and changed how we traveled, observed our surroundings, and viewed the world.

The unity we saw after 9/11 diminished in a way that very few of us should be proud of but the scene tonight from outside the White House is one of a re-unified America.

As a country, we owe thanks to the operatives and military who took on this mission and never gave up, despite the danger.

Bin Laden’s death ends a chapter in American history but also opens a new one.  Now, more than ever before, our intelligence and homeland security operations will be critical going forward. From preparedness at the state and local level to complex intelligence information sharing mechanisms, the U.S. must be alert and ready for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups who would do us harm.

As Bin Laden’s death demonstrates, the U.S. will not tolerate terrorism and will doggedly pursue those who would do us harm.

In Tuscaloosa: “What is the plan?”

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 1, 2011

Following is the lead editorial in the Sunday edition of the Tuscaloosa News. The issues outlined are specific to that community and this crisis. The issues below are also recurring aspects of catastrophe preparedness. The specifics are beyond predicting. But catastrophic potential can be anticipated. It is helpful to do so before the crisis hits.

–+–

Even as teams of volunteers, municipal crews and contractors with heavy equipment begin to clear the rubble that remains of a mile-wide, six-mile-long swath of Tuscaloosa, and thousands of people begin to pick up the wreckage the tornado made of their lives, so much — still — is up in the air.

Who are the dead?

Where are the missing?

Where will we house the homeless?

What is the plan?

Every disaster is different. There is no easy template for a response. We have confidence that Mayor Walt Maddox, county Emergency Management director David Hartin, and their staffs are hard at work to find answers.

They admit this won’t be easy. After all, we lost a police precinct and fire station in Alberta, the city’s Environmental Services building, the Emergency Management Agency headquarters, and agency headquarters for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Not to mention schools and major thoroughfares. These all would otherwise play significant roles in recovery plans.

As the mayor has said, it is like having both arms tied behind your back.

Volunteers are essential, and clearly the community has a huge heart for jumping in with work, money, blood donations, clothes and sundries. We need to sustain that effort.

The leadership of our local officials and the professionalism of our police officers, firefighters, utility workers, road and maintenance crews are crucial, and much appreciated.

But we need more.

The focus has shifted from rescue to recovery of victims, and it must begin to shift again from sorting through the rubble to rebuilding lives. This will be long, difficult road.

The visit by President Barack Obama on Friday signaled the federal government has taken notice at the highest levels. As of Friday, there was expectation Tuscaloosa may be visited by at least one member of the president’s Cabinet today. Officials from FEMA have been in town almost since the tornado left.

The response so far has been well coordinated, but assistance to displaced families must be more direct and substantial, and it is needed right away. Some of those being released after treatment of injuries at DCH Regional Medical Center, for instance, have lost everything, even to the clothing they were wearing before they were rushed to the hospital. Where do they go?

One of the terrible features of Wednesday’s unprecedented fury is that it descended on neighborhoods where the most vulnerable among us had lived. Many of the survivors have little or no resources to draw upon.

Turning government funding and private donations into tangible assistance, fast and efficiently, is notoriously difficult. And still it must be done.

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