Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 31, 2011

Ten Years After: The 9/11 Essays

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 31, 2011

Homeland Security Affairs published a collection of essays today in remembrance of the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001.

The journal features original articles by Janet Napolitano, Michael Chertoff, Tom Ridge, Paul Stockton, and others.

The essays are available online by clicking on the links, below:

1. Progress Toward a More Secure and Resilient Nation – Janet Napolitano

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano looks at how the past ten years have “made us smarter about the kind of threats we face, and how best to deal with them,” focusing on the strategy of local hometown security as a key to making our communities and the nation safer in the future. She makes the argument that, “…more and more often, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers – and their community partners – are best positioned to uncover the first signs of terrorist activity.”

2. 9/11: Before and After – Michael Chertoff

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff provides an overview of the “new legal architecture for counterterrorism” which required a refashioning of U.S. laws and processes “focused on three elements of the counterterrorism process: intelligence collection, information integration, and terrorist incapacitation.” His analysis includes observations on the legal challenges that homeland security presents in preventing attacks, sharing information and bringing terrorists to justice.

3. Never Any Doubt: A Resilient America – Tom Ridge

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge reminds us of the dangers of complacency and that “ten years is enough time to know that in the next ten years, the fight will still be with us.” He also reminds us that as new threats surface our tools, policies and security strategies must continue to evolve. “Because after taking fifty years to win the Cold War, while we emerged as the lone superpower, we were also left with a stockpile of weapons, tactics, and diplomatic relationships that were of little utility in the new security environment.”

4. Ten Years After 9/11: Challenges for the Decade to Come – Paul Stockton

Assistant Secretary Paul Stockton issues an invitation to practitioners and academics to work in partnership with the Department of Defense to build on the far-reaching progress that has already occurred since 9/11. Stockton identifies two areas that require specific attention: defense support to civil authorities and “a little-known but vital realm of preparedness: civil support to defense.”

5. Does Homeland Security Exist Outside the United States? – Nadav Morag

Nadav Morag contends, “Homeland security is a uniquely American concept. It is a product of American geographic isolation and the strong tendency throughout American history to believe that there was a clear divide between events, issues and problems outside US borders and those inside US borders.” In answering the question, “Does Homeland Security Exist Outside the United States?” he examines how other countries have organized their security policies, strategies, and plans.

6. Ten Years After the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11: The Need for a Transnational Approach to Address Risks to US Global Security Interests – John Rollins

John Rollins provides a transnational perspective on how the US approaches homeland security. As US economic, political, social, and environmental interests become more global, so have security threats. Rollins believes “the US no longer has the geographic or economic luxury of approaching security issues from a domestic or international perspective. Regardless of where a threat emanates from, today’s security professionals need to recognize, respond, and appreciate the near- and long-term transnational implications of risks facing the nation.”

7. Domestic Intelligence Today: More Security but Less Liberty? – Erik J. Dahl

Erik Dahl discusses the reshaping of the U.S. intelligence system over the past ten years and argues, “that even though we as a nation decided not to establish a domestic intelligence organization, we have in recent years done just that…” His overview concludes that while progress has been made, “… the development of a vast domestic intelligence structure since 9/11 has moved the balance [between security and liberty] quite firmly in the direction of more security, but less liberty.”

8. Preventing the Next 9/10: The Homeland Security Challenges of Technological Evolution and Convergence in the Next Ten Years – Rodrigo Nieto-Gómez

Rodrigo Nieto-Gómez looks at the innovation process that drives the technology sector and how the convergence of technology made 9/11 possible. He also explores the difficulties that technology convergence poses for homeland security professionals. “This retrospective distortion creates a security ecosystem where homeland security practitioners feel pressured to try to ‘connect the dots’ every time, instead of adapting to an environment of emerging patterns and mutating dots that cannot be connected.”

9. Security Studies: The Homeland Adapts – Stanley Supinski

This essay examines the development of homeland security education since 9/11 and the influences that have helped to shape its evolution. Stanley Supinski highlights some key challenges that remain to be addressed in order for homeland security to achieve academic maturity.

10. Inter-Organizational Collaboration: Addressing the Challenge – Susan Page Hocevar, Erik Jansen, and Gail Fann Thomas

This essay demonstrates how scholars have become engaged in theoretical work that can provide the basis for new homeland security policies, plans and organizational arrangements. The authors’ work focuses on identifying factors that contribute to effective inter-organizational collaboration and the factors that inhibit collaboration. This is an area that has proven to be one of the most critical challenges for the homeland security community.

11. Reflections on 9/11: Looking for a Homeland Security Game Changer – Samuel Clovis Jr.

Sam Clovis brings public education into the homeland security discussion. “My intent is to call the attention of my homeland security colleagues to the idea that public education reform must be part of any serious discussion about national or homeland security.” Clovis argues, “A better-educated citizenry will be less dependent on government and more independent in times of crisis… will be more attentive to issues and challenges at the state and local level and more engaged at the national level… will cost less in public funding and will contribute more to the public coffers.”

12. How Proverbs Damage Homeland Security – Christopher Bellavita

Christopher Bellavita discusses twelve proverbs – accepted truths – that have characterized the homeland security narrative. He contends that in the haste to establish a homeland security enterprise and create new policies and strategies, many homeland security proverbs may be inaccurate; they “distort the homeland security narrative in a way that inhibits the search for more effective ideas to protect the nation.” Bellavita sees an opportunity over the next ten years for academics and strategists “to take another look at the basic assumptions underpinning our homeland security narrative, and identify evidence that supports or refutes the proverbs used to guide strategic direction.”

13. The Post-Tragedy ‘Opportunity-bubble’ and the Prospect of Citizen Engagement – Fathali M. Moghaddam and James N. Breckenridge

Fathali Moghaddam and James Breckenridge examine the “opportunity-bubble” that allows leaders to mobilize the public immediately following a tragic event. “Although great crisis will inevitably invite consideration of many alternatives, leadership must pay special attention to opportunities to engage the public as capable partners in their country’s response to the crisis – calling upon them as citizens with civic duties, as well as rights.”

14. The Last Days of Summer – James J. Wirtz

Future generations of Americans will inevitably view 9/11 as a historical event and time period much like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam War era. However, 9/11 brought about significant changes to the country and American’s daily lives. These changes are the subject of this essay. “Instead of remaining an ‘extraordinary’ activity,” author James Wirtz suggests, “homeland security in the United States is becoming part of everyday life because it is slowly but surely improving the ability of federal, state, local and tribal agencies to prevent and respond more quickly and effectively to all sorts of threats and incidents.”




August 30, 2011

Increases in High Tech Aren’t Creating More WMDs

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks,WMD — by Alan Wolfe on August 30, 2011

There’s a popular meme going around the defense and homeland security communities these days.

It’s been popular to note that the growth of the global economy – being able to buy almost anything from anywhere in the world – combined with the spread of science and technology to common laypersons has resulted in an increased threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction(WMD). There hasn’t been any specific terrorist group that has demonstrated this to be true, but people worry. In a time when the number of nations researching nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons is (at worst) remaining steady and in some cases, going down, the Very Serious People insist that this is no time to let up one’s guard.

This is not a new argument.

Scientists and engineers who work in the nuclear technologies field, along with arms control advocates  and some defense analysts, have been predicting that terrorists could build their own nuclear weapon since at least the 1970s.

Once the general public understood the basics of how certain uranium and plutonium isotopes acted when a critical mass was created, certainly any aspiring, bright engineer could explain how to build a nuclear bomb. Well, there was that one critical issue about actually obtaining the fissile material required for the bomb, but that’s just a detail, right? Or those terrorists would steal a bomb from a poorly guarded government facility, just like in any one of dozens of Hollywood movies, television dramas, or best-selling fiction novels.

William Broad of the New York Times has highlighted this fear in a recent article that addressed advances in laser technology that enables a new process by which one enriches uranium for the purposes of creating nuclear fuel for reactors.

But wait! If General Electrics, a multi-billion dollar corporation that has invested years of research into this field, can create a production plant that uses lasers to quickly enrich uranium, isn’t it likely that terrorists will soon be buying lasers and developing fissile-grade uranium in their garages?

“We’re on the verge of a new route to the bomb,” said Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist who advised President Bill Clinton and now teaches at Princeton. “We should have learned enough by now to do an assessment before we let this kind of thing out.”

And of course, this kind of doomsday mentality is not limited to nuclear technology.

Those watching the biotechnology revolution are as equally depressed about the possibility that terrorists could use advances in life sciences to turn benign organisms into pandemic disease outbreaks.

Yes, non-state actors could develop genetically-altered diseases that will target their enemies, and but spare the faithful. Surely the SARS epidemic, spread of HIV, and H1N1 attacks have shown everyone how vulnerable we are to the dangers of biology. You might be surprised by how many hits you can get on  Google with the terms “biotechnology and bioterrorism.” It’s a popular title.  This report’s authors warn: “Even as legitimate biomedical researchers develop defences against biological pathogens, bad actors could in turn engineer countermeasures in a kind of directed version of the way natural pathogens evolve resistance to anti-microbial drugs.

And even the chemical industry isn’t safe anymore, despite decades of regulation and oversight.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), responsible for overseeing the elimination of chemical weapons owned by a handful of nations, is concerned that it’s not going to have a job after 2017. But wait!

The growth of the chemical industry, spurred by the economic growth of developing nations, creates the possibility that chemicals used as precursors for chemical warfare agents may be available to non-state actors. New discoveries in science and technological equipment allow scientists to continue to blur the difference between biology and chemistry.

The State Department has this to say in its latest annual terrorism report:

“Today’s chemical terrorism threat ranges from the potential acquisition and dissemination of chemical warfare agents with military delivery systems to the production and use of toxic industrial chemicals or improvised dissemination systems for chemical agents,” the report says. “The growth and sophistication of the worldwide chemical industry, including the development of complex synthetic and dual-use materials, makes the task of preventing and protecting against this threat more difficult.”

Ironically, of the nearly 50,000 victims of terrorism in 2010 (cited in the State Department report), not one was caused by CBRN hazards. That’s not to say that terrorist organizations today are not influenced by the spread of technology or the global economy.

It’s just not happening in the way that these experts think it is.

Take a look at the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.

— In addition to city maps and CD images of their targets, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had detailed layouts of the Taj Hotel’s interior.

— They used inflatable rubber boats to get from a fishing trawler to the city.

— Their armaments included AK-56 automatic rifles – Chinese versions of the popular Russian AK-47 – as well as 9-mm pistols, hand grenades, and improvised explosive devices.

— They carried cell phones and Blackberries to communicate through the attack.

— Their group could have obtained night vision goggles, GPS gear, and Kevlar vests.

This is the terrorist profile for the future.

While many people are more than willing to darkly warn about the threat of WMD becoming more real because of the global economy and spread of technology, in fact, the terrorists are much more practical than to chase materials that are too exotic to develop and too dangerous to safely handle. They innovate, they adapt, using currently available commercial equipment and weapons to overcome state and local law enforcement officials. So although the fashionable thing today is to talk about how to monitor and track CBRN hazards on the global economy (that’s impossible) or use strict government measures, similar to those exercised for arms control, to limit the spread of information (good luck with that), we’re wasting time and energy as the most likely threat – terrorists armed with conventional weapons and modern technology – continues to grow.

This is not to say that we should ignore the threat of CBRN hazards.

But we ought to recognize by now that terrorists cannot develop a true WMD capability and will seek out the more easily available CBR materials – gases such as hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, chlorine; ricin toxin and botulinum toxin; cesium and colbalt isotopes. We need our state and local emergency responders to understand the threat when it does pop up, understanding that not all biological attacks will be anthrax, not all chemical attacks will be sarin nerve agent, and not all radiological attacks will be 10-kt nuclear devices.

The CBRN threat is manageable, today and in the future, as long as we use common sense.


August 29, 2011

Have we cultivated a culture of preparedness?

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

Today’s post is by John Comiskey a frequent contributor to HLSWatch.  A long-time recently retired NYPD officer and member of the US Coast Guard Reserve, John is on the faculty of homeland security programs at Monmouth University and Pace University. He sent this Sunday night and,  as you will read, he has been busy. We especially appreciate John going above and beyond the call of duty to share this perspective.


Saturday 27 August 2011 Hurricane Irene struck New York City.

Tempered by terrorist attacks, storms, and an earthquake just this week, New York City prepared itself for Hurricane Irene.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg marshaled his forces, closed subways, mandated evacuations of low-lying areas, and asked for the public’s cooperation.   Mr. Bloomberg called the governor’s office and the White House asking for assistance.  Governor Cuomo and President Obama were “on it.”

New York City and parts of the East Coast experienced a 5.8 earthquake on Tuesday, August 23.  The quake startled some office dwellers who knew only that their building was shaking.  Two weeks out from the 10th anniversary of Tuesday September 11, 2001, shaking buildings are apt to alarm most New Yorkers.   But we are New Yorkers, and as Governor Cuomo said, we like to think of ourselves as tough.  We shook the earthquake off.

Then came the news— Hurricane Irene had moved north and would impact the City.  We thought earthquakes were mostly a California thing and Hurricanes mostly a Gulf State thing.  Just the same we, were “on it.”

Plans that had been recently updated were reviewed and questions were raised:  Would we and could we do what we planned to do?  Yes, we would!

Events were rescheduled or cancelled, including the US Open, the Yankees, and Jets (I know the Jets are in NJ, but I mostly watch them on TV and like to remember when they played at Shea). The subways would be closed and ferries would stop running before the storm.   Bridges would close if the winds dictated so.

Victoria’s Secret in Bayside, NY boarded up their windows.  Without lighting, do you need lingerie?

Home Depot emptied their shelves as plywood, pumps, generators, and cure-all duct tape found their way into and on top of cars.  Sometimes the duct tape was used to secure the goods on top of those vehicles.  Maybe all you really need in an emergency is duct-tape.

Supermarkets answered the call.  Truck after truck unloaded as shoppers filled their carts with water, dry goods, flashlights, batteries, and videos.   The store manager at Waldbaum’s in Bay Terrace was drill sergeant-like only more polite.  Still my favorite was the recommendation to freeze the water bottles and use as ice to keep your beer cold in the event of a blackout.

Gas stations operated in military fashion too with store employees acting like traffic cops and still more polite.

I was prepared as I was going to be and decided to get in a last run before the storm.  I ran my usual five mile course alongside Little Neck Bay in Bayside. I ran into several of my hard core running friends, the same runners who are out here when it is 10 degrees.  We said to each other stay safe and stay dry.   During my run an unauthorized SUV honked loudly, sped up behind me, and made a b-line to the marina where the driver reversed into the launch to retrieve his boat that someone else was steering towards the launch.  A line of boat trailers followed and one by one retrieved their boats and made b-lines out of there.

My run finished, I walked towards the parking lot and ran into Kevin, an NYPD officer I have known for years on his way to Fort Totten for Hurricane Irene.   As I leant into his black SUV, I noticed his “go-bag” replete with no less than 5 packs of Camel cigarettes.  I don’t think that’s what we mean when we say be prepared.  Smokes notwithstanding, I wished Kevin a safe tour.

The 5:00 PM mass at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament in Bayside Queens was packed with parishioners fulfilling their Sunday obligation with the evening mass.  Father Bob welcomed us to Noah’s Ark and commented on the level of cooperation we are experiencing during our emergency.  He also predicted that shortly after the hurricane subsides, politics will default to acrimonious debate and politicians telling voters what they want to hear and not necessarily what they need to hear.

Mario Puzzo’s Don Corleone offered similar commentary:  most people teach their children about a world that they want. I teach my children the world as it is. Terrorism, crime, natural disasters, accidents are the new normalcy.  Perhaps we are simply more aware of them due to the www and emerging social media.  Politicians tempered by after action reports replete with lessons not learned and citizens and journalists that will hold authority figures accountable, now do more and sometimes more than some of us want them to do.

Retirement and the “big ones”

On Sunday October 23, 2011, I will mark my first year of retirement from the NYPD.   It’s hard to watch from the sidelines your first year out.  When Irene’s New York visit was first announced, I envisioned what would happen and my role had I remained.  I was aware that the US Open first day of events was scheduled for Saturday August 27 and what this would mean for the three week-long event.  Another would fill my shoes.

Still I had the US Coast Guard Reserve and NY State Naval Militia.  I was put on alert and packed my USCG “go bag.”  The NY State Naval Militia alerted me too and recalled me to active duty.  I report tonight.

In case you’re wondering, the NY State Naval Militia is a NY State organization comprised of Marine, Navy, and Coast Guard reservists who volunteer for State activation in time of State emergency.  They retain their rank in their primary organization.  That’s tomorrow and we’ll see what develops. For now, I have been monitoring the radio, face book, and twitter.  I have lost power in half of my house and have no internet connection.  I am driving to a friend’s house with this document on a pin drive.

I have been texting and tweeting all day.  I spoke to Bruce, a fire service colleague from California whose Incident Management Team was requested by Greg a NY State Colleague.    The request was approved notwithstanding a requirement that the team acquire their own transportation.  The Team made a cold call to US Coast Guard District 11 who approved the request and flew the team to New York in a C-130. The Team made it and is operational in NYC’s OEM as I type.  Would this have level of cooperation have been imaginable pre-9/11?

Reports of at least 15 –Hurricane Irene fatalities are less than might have been.  It’s always hard to talk about people in quantitative terms.  I prayed for them and their families last night and will do so again.

It seems that all is well all around me and the news from the East Coast is much better than expected.  Still we have road closures and power to restore.  Good news is that recovery has begun.  Already some have said that we overreacted.  I disagree.  We acted prudently.

August 28, 2011

Goodnight Irene

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 28, 2011

Sunday morning Meet the Press — and most broadcast media — gave ongoing attention to Hurricane Irene… even as New York was mostly spared and Philadelphia and (later) Vermont were more than a bit surprised.

The panel, gathered around a studio table in Washington DC, discussed “the political aspect of this storm.”  You can see this element of the show in it’s entirety here (after a 14 second ad).  I want to highlight two issues raised during the rather brief discussion.

First from David Brooks:

Obviously, since Katrina, the, the message for politicians is go all out, maximize the warning.  And I suppose that’s fair. In some parts of the country, that’s fair.  But in places like Washington where it really wasn’t that big a storm, what’s going to happen over time, if they do this every time there’s a storm, is people are going to begin tuning them out.  Obviously, there’s an incentive to play it safe, but there are the kind of things you have to balance out.  And if you go hyper every time, people are going to tune it out.

It’s hard to disagree. But what I also heard weather forecasters and politicians and emergency managers saying clearly and often is:  If we wait until we are sure, it will be too late to evacuate out of harms way.  When a hurricane aims for the most densely populated region of the nation you have to take some risks to mitigate a greater risk.   I heard plenty of (wo)man-in-the-street interviews saying the same thing.

Emphasizing that some risks are beyond precise prediction or effective control is a good message to send and explain and re-send and re-explain.  Informed and educated people will make choices that best fit their situation.

Next from Katty Kay in conversation with the host David Gregory:

MS. KAY: …the watchword is overpreparedness and not underpreparedness.  But it’s very different, when you’ve had three days warning to something like what happened in Japan, for example.


MS. KAY:  Imagine that.  How is the country prepared for that?  If you have a seismic earthquake off probably the West Coast followed by a tsunami, you don’t have that time to prepare.


MS. KAY:  Is any country really up to handling something like that?

MR. GREGORY:  And before–I want to get to that point, but before we leave the activism and the preparation, we talked to Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark.  This was a tweet that he sent out last night, yes, on Saturday. “Heading on a pizza run.  I’m going to deliver 10 pizzas to those standing in our shelter at JFK…”

The panel never got back to “that point” and I’m concerned our national answer is just about as substantive as was Mr. Gregory’s.  Like it says in the song, in terms of catastrophe preparedness I wish we would, “Quit your ramblin quit your gamblin.”

By the way, if you love the old Leadbelly Ledbetter ballad you can listen to it here. Someday, but evidently not this day, I will learn how to embed video.

Irene makes whirlwind visit to New York

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 28, 2011

Photograph by Chelsea Matiash for the Associated Press

As of 5AM (eastern) Sunday Irene’s eye is off southern New Jersey.   According to the National Hurricane Center the water level in New York harbor is 3.4 feet above normal. High tide is at 8AM.  Central Park has received over 5 inches of rain.

The September 21, 1938 hurricane (CAT 3) produced a tidal surge of nine feet in the East River.  Southern Long Island received over 27 inches of rain.

Since coming ashore in North Carolina, Irene has left roughly 3 million without power.  Today she will darken many more homes.  At least 13,000 are currently in public shelters.  Tens-of-thousands more are in hotels or with friends and family. On Saturday night the only public shelter in Hoboken, NJ was itself evacuated as the result of an increased flood risk. The Red Cross has a web-based tool for finding evacuation shelters. (MONDAY UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal is reporting: 2.4 million evacuated, 4 million without power, and 24 dead.)

So far it sounds like Tidewater Virginia has been hit hardest.   According the Weather Channel:

More than 1 million homes and businesses lost power in Virginia alone, where three people were killed by falling trees, at least one tornado touched down and about 100 roads were closed. Emergency crews around the region prepared to head out at daybreak to assess the damage, though with some roads impassable and rivers still rising, it could take days.

Perhaps pointing to what’s ahead for New York, the Virginia Pilot (Norfolk) reports:

In Norfolk, Irene’s storm surge at high tide on Saturday night almost pushed water levels to a record level. The National Weather Service reported a combined tide and surge of 7.54 feet around 8 p.m. at Sewells Point, while the city reported a reading of 7.63 feet there… Irene brought 3.5-foot to 4.5-foot storm surges across the region.

Water is not the only sort of storm surge.  Hurricanes, snowstorms and other forecast disasters prompt a demand surge for groceries and gasoline. High demand was experienced across the mid-Atlantic states, even in Baltimore more than 100 miles from Irene’s passing eye.

A personal request: I would appreciate readers in the impact zone sharing their observations related to resupply through Wednesday.  Please use the comment function for this post to provide any personal observations or links to related reports.   Are shelves already restocked today?  Any lingering shortages?

August 27, 2011

East coast evacuates: 370,000 on the move in New York City

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 27, 2011


Early this morning Irene came ashore near Cape Lookout, North Carolina.  She is still tracking to parallel the Atlantic coast all the way into the Canadian Maritimes.   Roughly two million evacuees are on the move to make room for Irene… especially her storm surge.

At this point Irene is forecast to pass over the New York metropolitan area on Sunday as a Category 1 hurricane.  Right now the eye seems likely to move over Long Island which could reduce wind-impact on the more densely populated urban core.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management is reporting:

Due to the approach of Hurricane Irene, the City has issued a mandatory evacuation order for New Yorkers who live in the low-lying Zone “A” coastal areas across all five boroughs and the Rockaways. These areas include: Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway, Beach Channel, South Beach, Midland Beach, and Battery Park City. People should be out of these areas by 5 pm on Saturday.

Residents who live in Zone A are strongly encouraged to stay with friends or family outside an evacuation zone. Evacuation Centers are open for residents who have no alternative shelter.

MTA service including subways, buses, and railroads will begin to shut down at noon tomorrow, so please prepare to evacuate immediately.

The New York Times has a very helpful interactive map of the NYC evacuation zones.

As noted in previous posts, NYC has a great emergency management community.  While there are intense rivalries between certain agencies.  There is also effective — and regularly exercised — incident command.  There is a professionalism, competence, and commitment to mission that very few jurisdictions can equal.

My only critique of NYC emergency services has been a tendency to depend too much on command-and-control structures and systems.  Its very depth of expertise could, in a truly catastrophic context, undermine its effectiveness.  Experts can sometimes get in the way of creative response to the unexpected.

While I think Sunday and the aftermath could be tough, right now — cross my fingers, knock on wood, et cetera — I do not anticipate a catastrophic impact on New York.  If so, the expertise and command-and-control bias will provide significant benefit.  I will be interested in what our New York City readers have to say on Sunday and Monday… assuming they can let us know.

For a different angle on the catastrophe or non-catastrophe issue, please read an excellent post by Nate Silver at the New York Times blog packed with meaningful data.  He calls it: A New York Hurricane could be a Multibillion Dollar Catastrophe.

August 26, 2011

Preparedness and reality: New York City in Irene’s track

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 26, 2011

As of Friday morning, Hurricane Irene is churning about 200 miles off Florida.  Precisely where she might be on Sunday is not entirely clear.  But Mayor Bloomberg has already signaled the possibility of evacuations from low lying areas of New York City.

New York has, perhaps, the single most competent and capable emergency management community in the world.  Tokyo is also very good, but especially since 9/11 the New York approach features a coordination and creativity that is very impressive.

This competence and capability may be about to be seriously tested.  This morning I cannot always access the Office of Emergency Management website, I expect the usage stats are off the chart.  I will stop trying and if you do not live in the greater metropolitan area, I discourage you from trying.

Fortunately, New York City has given considerable attention to the prospect of a serious hurricane plowing up the Hudson or somewhere else nearby.  In 2007 they administrated an international competition focused on creative preparedness, response, and recovery solutions.   The web-based resources are impressive, but are unfortunately not available right now (see prior paragraph).

Here’s the scenario that was set out:

What if New York City… were hit by a Category 3 hurricane?  What if the most densely residential city in the country loses hundred of thousands of homes in a few hours?  What if millions are left with nowhere to live, to work, or to go to school? What if subways flood, streets close, and whole neighborhoods are submerged by up to 23 feet of ocean water and battered by 130 mile-per-hour winds?

We can hope that Sunday will come and go without having real-world answers to these questions.  But if Irene does her worst, it is worth a great deal that those questions have been asked and seriously engaged for a considerable period of time.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, and more: Infrequent is better than improbable

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on August 26, 2011

Probability map for a >5.0 earthquake within 50 km of Washington DC

In June a colleague used a US Geological Survey Earthquake probability tool to explore the likelihood of a  5.0 or stronger quake  occurring within 50 km of Washington D.C.   Maybe once in 5000 years is what he decided.

How time flies.

Of course, that’s not exactly how probability works.   But however you treat it, Tuesday’s 5.8 tremor was a rare event along the east coast. Statistically it was “improbable.”

When speaking of events that have the potential to seriously disrupt society and  kill lots of people, we should stop using the word “improbable.”  Somehow in ordinary English improbable implies “safe to ignore.”

There are some eventualities of which we can be certain, but are beyond our ability to situate in time and space.   We can confidently anticipate these events, but precise prediction is beyond our current capability… and potentially impossible.

We can anticipate the general characteristics of Hurricane Irene.  We cannot be sure if she will visit Times Square, Montauk, or the Delaware Water Gap.  We have a better sense of when rather than where she will arrive.  Wherever she washes up, Irene will be an unwelcome guest.

Hurricanes entering New York harbor are infrequent.  Earthquakes strong enough to crack the capitol dome are infrequent.  Major dam failures are infrequent.  Terrorist attacks are infrequent.  Will they happen?  Almost certainly.

Somehow, I am much more likely to give some sustained attention to that which I know is infrequent,  than to what I perceive is improbable.

Laylat al-Qadr and the Revolutions

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 26, 2011

Tonight many Muslims will mark Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of the Islamic calendar.

The entire month of Ramadan, which this year began on August 1, aims to cultivate the spiritual virtues of patience, humility, and submission to God. But many of my Muslim friends confess the spiritual purposes of Ramadan can be neglected in the social swirl and wonderful food of the sundown to nearly sunrise breaking-of-the-fast.   “Sort of like Christmas,” a friend suggests.

Laylat al-Qadr has preserved its spiritual character. “More like Good Friday,” the same Muslim friend explains.

This is a night of wisdom or power or destiny  — translation from the Arabic loses a great deal — commemorating the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet.  At sundown many Muslims will eat three dates, but otherwise avoid feasting and spend hours in prayer seeking forgiveness, grace, and salvation.   Self-reflection, self-criticism, and dependence on God are all emphasized.

Tonight’s prayers will be especially fervent in Tripoli, don’t you think?

In Tunis and Cairo I imagine millions praying with hope for the year ahead.  In Damascus, Aleppo and across Syria, the supplications may focus more on personal protection.  And in Yemen? Iraq? Saudi Arabia?  In Muslim homes across the United States?

The current National Strategy for Counterterrorism identifies Al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents as the “preeminent security threat to the United States.”   The Strategy continues, “To rally individuals and groups to its cause, al-Qa‘ida preys on local grievances and propagates a self-serving historical and political account. It draws on a distorted interpretation of Islam to justify the murder of Muslim and non-Muslim innocents.  Countering this ideology—which has been rejected repeatedly and unequivocally by people of all faiths around the world—is an essential element of our strategy.”

Better than anything the United States government could orchestrate, the cascade of change across the Arab world and well-beyond rejects the mythology of victimization that has been at the core of Al-Qa’ida’s claims.  The courage of Libyan rebels and the self-sacrifice of Syrian protesters has transformed the strategic context in which both the United States and Al-Qa’ida engage the Arab world and the Ummah Wahida as a whole.

During the month of Ramadan believers are encouraged to re-read the entire Quran.  Tonight they should be finished or nearly finished and give particular attention to the meaning and purpose of their lives in the context of the Quran.

The prayers offered tonight will also reflect the radically changed political context of the last seven months.

The Quran is a book of  Arabic poetry.  The King James Bible is great English literature. But what if Shakespeare had been its single translator and most of us could recall a thousand verses by heart? Then an English-speaking non-Muslim might have a clue regarding the power of the Quran and poetry in Arab life.

The echoes of victimization will never disappear.  To blame another for our own failures is a human tendency across every sect and culture I know.  Al-Qa’ida will continue its recruiting.  Tyrants — petty and large — will still try to exploit fear and failure.

But the Quran is an uncomfortable read for anyone inclined to victimization or self-justification. The envious echoes are quieting, drowned out by the shouts from Tahrir Square, Martyrs (née Green) Square, and the deadly struggle repeated each Friday outside mosques across Syria.

If your peers — even your sons and daughters — have joined together to topple tyrants, claim their dignity, and insist on having a say in the future, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue in favor of suicide vests, market bombings, and fantasies of restoring a caliphate long gone.  There are other clearly more productive paths.

We are told the first words of the Quran as heard by the Prophet were (in Arabic of course):

Read and identify with the Lord who creates

Who created humans from a clot of blood

Read of your Lord: generous, gracious and bountiful

Who imparts knowledge by the pen

Teaching humanity that which it did not know.

(Quran 96:1-5)

Creating, reading, and learning what we do not know, this is the path of faith.  The verb for “read” can also be translated as proclaim.  The reader of the Quran is called to share the knowledge of  a generous, gracious and bountiful God.

The most common prayer offered during Layat al-Qadr is to repeat again and again, “O Allah! You are forgiving, and you love forgiveness. So forgive me.”  Forgive me for whenever I have acted contrary to your generous, gracious, and bountiful identity.

August 24, 2011

Calling the Capitol

A seismograph near Middleton Place showed a sudden burst of activity just before 2 p.m. (see hours at left of graph).

More than a few people in the public safety and homeland security sectors are hoping yesterday afternoon’s shallow M5.8 earthquake shook some sense into politicians, bureaucrats and Congressional staffers. The temblor, the largest recorded in the national capitol region in more than a century, caused a large-scale disruption of cellular telephone service when it struck shortly before 2:00 PM EDT. Cellular operators attributed the failure to overloads rather than physical damage to system components. Landline services, including the copper-wire-based public switched telephone network, remained operational and under-utilized.

The growing dependence of Americans on cellular telephone services, especially the extent to which reliance on these devices has displaced older technologies, has raised concerns among regulators and the regulated alike. Phone companies are now having trouble keeping up with the increasing capabilities of the devices we crave. Despite our seemingly elastic appetites for each new generation of wireless technology, our willingness to pay for the infrastructure to support these nifty services has remained relatively constrained. Meanwhile, pressure on companies to improve profitability in an atmosphere of constrained revenues and stiff competition have limited infrastructure spending to such an extent that one wonders whether the price and performance curves will ever be reconciled, even if the economic recovery takes hold.

This harsh reality has fueled pressure from the public safety industry on regulators and legislators to designate and release a large chunk of radio-frequency spectrum known as D-Block for development of a national broadband public safety network. It didn’t take long for advocates of this move to capitalize on the quake to underscore their concerns about the status quo and renew calls for immediate action on the D-Block petition.

You might wonder why overloaded cellular networks are much of a concern to public safety agencies. After all, don’t they have their own radio frequencies already anyway? We’ve invested lots of federal, state, local and tribal government money in the decade since 9/11 improving interoperable communications capabilities. Hasn’t this paid off somehow?

Well, Virginia, thanks for asking. Yes, public safety does have a lot of spectrum and some pretty fancy equipment. This equipment and the slices of spectrum already allocated do a pretty good job of relaying voice communications and a small amount of data. But because of the limitations of these proprietary technologies and the institutional inertia of the agencies who own and operate it, police, fire-rescue and EMS services rely pretty heavily on the same cellular services the rest of us do for high-speed, broadband data applications and services. And like the rest of us, they often use cellular telephones when they only need to relay a message to a single person. That means when we lose cellular service they do too.

But wait a minute, don’t public safety officials have priority access to cellular telephone services? Clever girl, Virginia. Yes, they do. But that doesn’t help much when the number of priority calls alone are sufficient to swamp the system. Imagine, if you will, how many people in Washington, D.C. and along the eastern seaboard consider their need to communicate with someone right this second more important than anyone else’s. Besides not every public safety agency has configured its equipment and paid the fees necessary to obtain this sort of priority access.

Cellular network operators say most services returned to normal within about 20 minutes of the earthquake. One suspects that the decision to release many (so-called) non-essential government workers early was predicated at least in part on a desire to alleviate further strain on the region’s already overburdened systems and services. At the same time, one has to wonder what this cost both in terms of lost productivity and public image.

By most accounts, the earthquake, despite its surprising intensity and duration, caused relatively little physical damage. But the fiscal damage of the decisions yet to come remains to be seen.

August 23, 2011

Preventing Terrorism Porn

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 23, 2011

Veronique de Rugy created the term terror porn to describe hyping terrorism as a way to justify homeland security and related spending.

I’d like to propose augmenting that definition to include an ethical dimension.

A few weeks ago I was in a seminar listening to someone deliver a research paper about homeland security. The presentation included slides. One of the slides was a picture of the World Trade Center Towers.

The image did not show the Towers about to be destroyed by planes, on fire, or collapsing. Instead, it showed what the Towers looked like on a clear and sun shining day before the attack.

I briefly registered the picture, but did not pay much conscious attention to it.

One of the people in the seminar was a New York City firefighter. He asked a question about the substance of the presentation. After the getting his answer he quietly said, “And thanks for using that picture of the Towers.”

As the days of August end, the sounds of the September 11, 2001 commemorations will get louder.

Yes we should remember, and with respect.

Looking at the Towers and the Pentagon and the Shanksville field as they were does not hide the horror curtained in the lives and imaginations of those who witnessed that day.

And for those too young to have known that day? What images do we share with them?

I don’t know.




August 22, 2011

The End of Al Qaeda’s WMD Threat

Filed under: WMD — by Alan Wolfe on August 22, 2011

After the 9/11 incident, nearly ten years ago, there was a great deal of concern about the possibility that transnational terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, would seek out weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to use in its next big attack. There was no real evidence of that capability other than a video tape of a confined dog being killed by an unknown chemical (probably hydrogen cyanide) and documents obtained in Afghanistan that purported to show al Qaeda interest in anthrax. The evidence underlying much of the threat seemed to start with Osama bin Laden’s famous proclamation in 1998 that using WMD was his Islamic duty and the accepted hypothesis that all terrorists want to maximize the number of deaths they can cause.

Despite attempts to link al Qaeda’s intent to obtain a WMD with any real capability, the much feared terrorist nuclear attacks against US cities never occurred.

Despite plans to build a gas-dispersal system called “the mubtakkar” that generated hydrogen cyanide, it never happened.

Despite efforts to develop anthrax as a weapon against the West, it seems that making anthrax and botulinum toxin isn’t as easy as many “WMD terrorism experts” claimed.

Despite a decade of continued terrorist incidents against the West, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties every year, we have yet to see a mass casualty incident caused by a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon.

That hasn’t stopped journalists from breathlessly reporting the possibility of a future attack, no matter how beaten down al Qaeda is today.

On August 13th, New York Times journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported on the concern by unnamed American counterterrorism officials that al Qaeda’s affiliate branch in Yemen may be attempting to purchase large quantities of castor beans for the purpose of making ricin. These terrorists plan to pack ricin cakes around small amounts of explosive, with the intent of exploding these devices in public places.  This concern was raised to President Obama and his top national security aides sometime in the last year, so they say.

And here’s the ironic part – anyone with any basic understanding of ricin and biology would know that this form of attack would utterly fail to kill any significant number of people (excepting those standing right next to the explosive, perhaps). That obvious point didn’t stop this “news” from being repeated in many major news stations and newspapers.

In late July, Michael Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, spoke at a conference in Aspen, Colorado.  He said that al Qaeda was likely to switch to small scale attacks, but might continue to seek out chemical and biological hazards such as ricin.

“Is it going to kill many people? No. Is it going to scare people? Yes,” he said.

And unfortunately, he’s right – people will be frightened because the media will trumpet that terrorists used a “WMD” to cause casualties. But the incident, if it ever happens, won’t be that significant. Only the FBI believes that small quantities of chemical and biological hazards are “WMD.”

George Smith, a national security journalist who runs the blog “Dick Destiny,” has followed the irrational fears concerning the potential use of ricin as a terrorist weapon. In one of his latest posts, he addresses many of the challenges in developing and successfully employing a “ricin bomb.”

A long long time ago the US military tried. And the only result was an infamous patent for the purfication of ricin. Since the work was done long before scientists understood protein chemistry (full disclosure: DD’s Ph.D. is in protein chemistry) reading it leads a current scientist fluent in the field to realize it actually destroyed ricin. (A longer discussion of the patent, which stemmed from a very old US military project to develop a ricin weapon, is here. Most, if not all, of the people involved in it are probably dead of old age by now.)

Ricin is a protein. And proteins don’t like lots of things — like heat, harsh handling, many solvents, being taken out of their natural environment, and … well I won’t go into the rest right here.

And the old US ricin patent used all the things that are hard on proteins. Which perhaps has something to do with why ricin bombs have never been made.

George Smith also accurately notes the challenge in talking to counterterrorism officials (or law enforcement) who know nothing about advanced chemistry or biology. They don’t understand that it is not, in fact, easy to develop ricin in quantities to cause mass casualties. It does not, in fact, absorb through the skin, and it’s very hard to aerosolize ricin (if you’re trying to get people to ingest ricin).

If you want to assassinate someone with ricin, sure, it’s been done at least once in history, but you have to inject the ricin into the victim’s blood stream to be effective. You’d think that the utter lack of success by any disgruntled individual or prospective terrorist to use ricin might have tipped off the general terrorist community by now.

But they shouldn’t feel bad. We still have the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security touting their “homeland security scenarios” that feature terrorists using nerve agents, mustard agent, pneumonic plague, aerosolized anthrax, and nuclear bombs to cause mass casualties. You know, all the really dangerous weapons that they can’t seem to obtain.

The utter absence of any intelligence or evidence to point to any attempts of any terrorist group in the world developing this capability has never stopped our bureaucracies from planning for the worst case scenario. It wouldn’t be such a problem if our government wasn’t spending billions of dollars on countermeasures for threats we will never see in our lifetime. It’s not like we have any financial challenges today.

I, personally, am encouraged by the New York Times article. I hope that this al Qaeda affiliate buys tons of castor beans. The financial records for this purchase ought to be a good lead for counterterrorism officials to track them down. And every dollar they use to buy castor beans means one less dollar for improvised explosive devices and RPGs.

We need to encourage more acts of social Darwinism like this.



August 19, 2011

Urbanization and professionalization suppress resilience (!?)

A  firefighter, a  cop, and an emergency manager walk into a bar.  This is not a joke.  I was with the three of them.

One had red wine, another had a beer, the third ordered scotch.   I was drinking Dry Sack on the rocks with a twist.

Can you guess which one had which drink?  Can you guess which offered what to the conversation:

“The problem is everyone is in denial about the worst risks.”

“New Orleans after Katrina was simple compared to Sendai after the tsunami.  How about Memphis after New Madrid or LA after the big one?” You can know the real pros by whether or not they pronounce it Maaadrid, as in really crazy.

“How about DC, Pittsburgh, and Birmingham after New Madrid?  How about pipelines, rail bridges, interstates, and the Eastern Interconnect after New Madrid?”  Hows about every little town downstream from a dam?

“How about the whole economy for the next ten years after Long Beach is taken out? I don’t care if it’s tsunami, pandemic, or an IND.”

“How about the whole economy if some cyber-anarchists decide to really screw with credit cards and ATMs?”

“As long as they vaporize my mortgage too.”

The bar talk was not as grim as this suggests.  Extended conversations with this crew are like a public reading of Dante’s Inferno (no Paradiso) with a running commentary by the comedian Lewis Black.  You roar with laughter over a comment that ought not be documented here.   A slightly sick sense of humor is essential to survival in these professions.

“We’re the real problem,” one guy said wrapping his arms around the shoulders of those on either side.  “We’re too good.  Why worry when the A team’s got your back?”

“Just call 911 and the cavalry always comes.”

“Even under fire… hell, with radioactive brimstone falling from the sky.”

“Thing is, we’re really good at the everyday stuff and lots of the tough stuff.”

“Did you hear about the 911 call because the citizen thought her remote had been stolen.  Cops found it in a drawer.  They responded!”

“That’s the problem, we are so #$!@ responsive we’ve trained the citizens to depend on us.  When the big #$!@ happens they just wait around.”

“Not everyone.”

Practically EVERYONE!”

“There’s two big pile-ups:  real increasing dependence. Who grows their own food anymore?  Who even eats at home? And where does our food come from? Not anywhere close.  Second pile-up: The #$!@ complicated system works really, really well until it doesn’t work at all.  So there’s no obvious reason to pay much attention, until it’s too late.”

“So… what we’re really good at is hiding the problems?”

“Sure.  There’s a fire.  You put it out.  You get ’em temporary housing or they go to the in-laws.  I keep gawkers away.  Everything’s fine. No worries. But in Joplin or Tuscaloosa? Even those huge twisters were tiny compared to what we’ll get when the wrong fault shifts under 5 million or a wildfire overwhelms San Diego.  Hows about a CAT 5 and flood surge pounding Miami-Dade?”

“When they call 911 no one will answer, they won’t even get a #$!@ dial-tone!”

“It doesn’t take such a big hit.  Maybe catastrophe comes on little cat feet?  You read Ted Lewis’ new book?  The complex systems we depend on are so intricate  just one little complication and the consequences cascade.”

“Sort of like the 2003 blackout caused by tree branches in Ohio?”

“But the cause wasn’t tree branches, it’s the way WE build and manage systems. Tree branches are a preexisting condition.  Our choices create the vulnerabilities.”

“You know when I was a little kid,” (the guy to his right mimicked the Staten Island accent) we had a farm right down the road.  It’s a landfill now.  The big farms in Jersey, they’re all McMansions.  Mom and pop get their broccoli and peas from California just like all of us.”

“You know what though? The beers alot better than back then.  Hey waitress, another round here.”

August 16, 2011

Homeland security: Interdisciplinary learning for an emerging discipline

Filed under: Education — by Philip J. Palin on August 16, 2011

Most of last week HLSWatch gave focused attention to The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland by Linda Kiltz.  Below is a reply and further considerations by Dr. Kiltz.  She has also posted more specific replies to several of the comments made last week using the comment function for each of the posts.


Thank you to all of those who participated in discussion on the challenges of homeland security education. I appreciate the thoughtful dialogue and debate on some of the critical issues I raised in this article.  While I believe there continues to be a need for more discussion on what a standardized homeland security undergraduate and graduate curriculum would entail, I believe we need to move on to more critical issues that require great thinking.  First, we need to have greater debate and scholarship on the definition of homeland security.  We need to move beyond what government policy documents provide in terms of definitions and begin to explain what we mean by homeland security.  Is it a concept, an organization, an area of research, or a policy domain?  If a definition is a statement that specifies or identifies critical properties or features of a concept then what would these be for homeland security?  While this endeavor may produce no agreed upon definition, it could at least lay the foundation for building a theoretical foundation in this emerging field.

Second, many scholars have discussed the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary nature of homeland security.  I suggested that we initially use a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning due to the inherent challenges in trying to design, develop and implement interdisciplinary programs.  I think it will be critical to move to a more interdisciplinary approach in the future due to the complex, interdependencies inherent in homeland security.  Klein (1990) states, “Interdisciplinary education has been variously defined as a methodology, a concept, a process, a way of thinking, a philosophy, and a reflexive ideology.  It has been linked with attempts to expose the dangers of fragmentation, to re-establish old connections, to explore emerging relations and to create new subjects adequate to handle our practical and conceptual needs.  Cutting across all these theories is a recurring idea.  Interdisciplinarity is a means of solving problems and answering questions that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using single methods or approaches.”

Despite the challenges in creating and implementing interdisciplinary programs, I believe all of us can begin to implement interdisciplinary teaching practices.  Below are ten suggestions for interdisciplinary teaching.  Examples of how each of these activities has been integrated into a course would be helpful to HS educators.

Ten Suggestions for Interdisciplinary Teaching

1. The objective of interdisciplinary teaching is to assist students with seeing complex problems and solutions from a holistic and global perspective … reviewing the history of the pedagogical approach may be helpful, as well as linking it to the increasingly global nature of contemporary society (the world wide web, multi-national organizations, etc.)

2. Identify specific outcomes that illustrate interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving.

3. Construct lessons around a particular question or problem, and take time to identify the disciplines that may offer insights, responses and solutions.

4. Take time to identify issues both central and peripheral to the problem or question; explore how addressing the periphery could enhance the process of problem solving.

5. Explore how various disciplines would resolve an issue; analyze discipline-centric concepts and theories by investigating the success of their applications and comparing and contrasting various multi-disciplinary approaches.

6. Assist students with content analysis of unfamiliar sources that may represent documents outside their chosen field of study; allow them to evaluate the credibility of sources through small group discussion.

7. To enrich critical thinking and writing skills, provide ample opportunities for students to reflect upon the process of their problem solving and their insights on the relationship between the knowledge base and skills of different disciplines.

8. Generate rubrics for student work that satisfies both formative and summative assessments, and be sure to integrate interdisciplinary elements into the rubric.

9. Integrate skills into the problem-solving protocols that draw upon critical thinking, such as statistical literacy, content analysis, and deductive compositions.

10. Integrate conversations about interdisciplinary learning into the challenges we face in homeland security.

Selected Publications

• Augsburg, Tanya. Becoming Interdisciplinary: An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, 2nd Ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2006

• Froderman, Robert, Julie T. Kline, and Carl Mitchman, eds. Oxford Handbook on Interdisciplinarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2009

• Klein, Julie T., Humanities, Culture, and Interdisciplinarity: The Changing American Academy. Albany State University of New York Press, 2005

• Klein, Julie. T. (1990). Interdisciplianrity: History, theory and practice. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

• Klein, Julie T., “Resources for Interdisciplinary Studies.” Change (March/April 2005): 52-58.• Repko, Allen. Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory. Los Angeles and London: Sage, 2008

• Woods, Charlotte. “Researching and Developing Interdisciplinary Teaching: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Classroom Communication” Higher Education. Vol. 54 Issue 6, p. 853-866. Dec. 2007

August 15, 2011

Should Homeland Security Education Sleep With the Fishes?

Filed under: Education — by Arnold Bogis on August 15, 2011

“As dean, I often cited a remark made by the dean of Harvard’s Medical School on the occasion of its hundredth birthday in 1884.  That acting dean was none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the famous jurist who bore the same name with a “junior.” At the celebration, he commented: if the entire medical establishment (by which he meant the Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals in Boston) were put onto a ship, taken out into Boston Harbor, and sunk, it would be better for the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth—and worse for the fishes.”

“What relevance could this have for schools of public policy? I believe that we should ask Holmes’s question: when, in the treatment of various maladies suffered by the body politic, did the prevailing treatment become therapeutic? Or, when might it do so?”

–Graham Allison, former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy: Reflections by a Founding Dean.”

This was a question Professor Allison considered as he led the founding of what is now Harvard’s public policy school, the Kennedy School of Government.  A question he considered in the late 1970s, almost 100 years following Woodrow Wilson publishing on “The study of administration,” which is considered  by some to mark the beginning of the study of public administration (and later public policy) as a discrete field.

On this blog over the past week there has been much discussion concerning the future of homeland security education.  Yet there has been distressingly little discussion of why “homeland security” deserves to be taught as a discrete field of study.  Or even consideration that the idea did not exist 15 years ago, the concept was considerably less ambitious pre-9/11, and today there is little agreement on the definition or even regarding details of the predominant (perhaps only) organizing theory of resilience.

Is it possible that by rushing into curriculum development, in particular undergraduate curriculum, it could be worse for everyone’s homeland security? How can homeland security education avoid bunking with Luca Brasi?

Just a thought as post-script to an interesting HLS Watch post this weekend provided by a mystery scholar…(perhaps it should have been labeled the “Long Blog” or the “X Post?”)


August 13, 2011

“Fundamental challenges of homeland security education:” Preliminary findings

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2011

This post summarizes some preliminary findings from an empirical study of homeland security education.  Because Homeland Security Watch has been discussing education this week, the author allowed me to post this summary.  However, since the findings and conclusions are still provisional, the author requested not using the author’s name until the study has been finalized.  Once it is, I will provide information about how to obtain the full work.


Fundamental Challenges of Homeland Security Education

A growing question is arising as to the focus and status of the “academic discipline” of homeland security.  This is not unique to homemade security.

A quote attributed to Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Laureate Economist, in his Collected Scientific Papers on the state of the discipline of economics seems appropriate: “Economics has never been a science, and is even less now than a few years ago.”

Similarly, homeland security education seemed to be more coherent a few years ago than now.  A few graduate programs were engaged in educating homeland security practitioners, assessing the value and relevance of the curricula, and making deliberate, thoughtful changes based on the evidence.  Educational volume increased and many in academe as well in the workforce established their versions of “model” curricula.   By 2007 the crowded field was metastasizing:

The homeland security academic discipline is currently an evolving ungoverned environment of numerous programs purporting to prepare students for various positions of responsibility. Many of today’s homeland security offerings are an amalgam of pre-9/11 programs and courses that have since been revised to reflect some undetermined level of education and instruction in homeland security issues.[1]

Curricula appear to be touted more than tested.  However, rather than take a completely negative position, there is support for a synthesized “way forward” toward an academic homeland security discipline.

Abbott describes academic disciplines as social and cultural entities for which there are few rules but two main functions:

Reproduction (of Employment for Academics): “being an academic means, willy-nilly, being a member of a discipline” and

Preventing Knowledge from becoming too Abstract or Overwhelming: “Disciplines … define what is permissible not to know and thereby limit the body of books one must have to read.”[2]

One function is self-serving, the other is self-limiting.   Neither function is especially appealing at this stage of development of homeland security education but the need to assess the status of homeland security education has never been more important.

The Homeland Security Education Project

This [research] project began with an assumption: the emerging discipline of homeland security is in the germinal stages of development with a clear direction and focus, even if the elements of the discipline are somewhat unclear.

The research presented here does not support the assumption of a discipline, and it is not clear that there will be an academic discipline of homeland security. The future will be determined by the degree to which academics in homeland security can offer better solutions to problems, and subject-specific knowledge than parallel disciplines.

Issues Facing Homeland Security Education

There are many good reasons to applaud the emergence of homeland security as a new academic discipline.  Encouraging the coalescing of research and knowledge around the critical issues inherent in homeland security is important.  A colleague is fond of quoting a line from Mao Tse Tung, “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences….”   If homeland security is destined to be an academic discipline, it should become increasingly evident as more research is conducted, more theories tested and refined, and more scholarly publications emerge, not simply an increasing number of degree programs seeking to increase head-count.

Students, particularly undergraduate students, rely on faculty and university administrators to exercise good judgment in developing academic programs and pursuing the students to populate them.  There are two honorable reasons to lure students into classes – enhance vocational capabilities and become better educated citizens.  Some programs blend or balance the two, probably compromising one, the other or both.  One issue at hand is the degree to which homeland security education, as currently conceived, addresses either of these objectives.  If it does, students should be encouraged to enroll, complete degrees and accomplish the objectives of the education.  If it does not, homeland security is still a viable research area, attracting multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary attention to the safety and security issues facing the nation.   …[But] the trust of the consumers of education, the students, should not be lost.

The method adopted for constructing this [analysis] is the customary research process common in the social sciences.  Problems and issues are articulated, research questions identified, literature reviewed to formulate possible answers to the research questions, research products described, and conclusions stated that flow logically from the research.  Based on the answers to these research questions, recommendations on a way forward will be made, based on all evidence.

[“Research Method” not included in this summary]

Research Findings [excerpt; supporting data not always included in this summary]

1. Who should be the consumers of homeland security education?

The most critical, and perhaps the exclusive consumers for homeland security education today are practitioners, with homeland security administrative or leadership responsibilities, working in the 51 professional disciplines or groups identified in the research.  Additionally, the most appropriate tier of education is at the first graduate level (Master’s degree).  Committees sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, meeting in 2004 and 2005 identified some core elements of a homeland security curriculum, however, the report stated clearly and unambiguously, “Not a single workshop participant, or any of the committee members, voiced support for an undergraduate degree program focused specifically on homeland security.”[3] Additionally … that education is [probably] best provided at the graduate level.[4] Training is appropriate for many others in the professional disciplines but the objectives and capabilities described [in the study] are most appropriate for graduate education.

2. What is the efficacy of such education?

The research suggests that graduate education could prepare professionals in homeland security leadership positions to be much more effective in their capability to operate in an ambiguous environment …, engage in strategic collaboration …, and engage in critical thinking ….   It would appear that undergraduate vocational education in homeland security, as an employment opportunity, is not central to the largest potential employment, law enforcement, even though the professional discipline is engaged in homeland security preparedness activities….  It would appear that homeland security vocational education at an undergraduate level would not be effective in enhancing employment.

3. What learning objectives and capabilities should be the foundation of the education?

Based on data gathered since 2004 from 19 independent survey groups, across all major professional disciplines in homeland security, the most important objectives and capabilities for homeland security leaders and administrators are:

Strategic collaboration

  • Ability to coordinate, collaborate and communicate across agencies
  • Ability to identify and build strategic relationships within your homeland security organization and across the homeland security community
  • Capability to build, sustain and operate within interagency teams/task forces
  • Improve efforts for collaboration, information-sharing, threat recognition, and target hardening between various disciplines
  • Communicate appropriately with other agencies and organizations to insure the sharing of critical information during and following a homeland security threat or incident

Critical thinking and decision-making

  • Ability to think about complex issues using scientific/critical thinking approaches to solving problems and make sound judgments
  • Capability to take action that is consistent with available facts, constraints, and probable consequences
  • Ability to operate in extreme ambiguity.

The objectives and capabilities [identified above] were the items scored highest in importance by the [survey groups].  The entire list of categories of capabilities, from most important to least important, was:

  • Strategic collaboration
  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Foundations of Homeland Security
  • Analytical Capabilities
  • Leadership
  • Legal Issues
  • Strategic Planning
  • Cognate or Specific Knowledge
Arguably, [the] top two categories — strategic collaboration, and critical thinking and decision-making — could be imbedded in every course in a graduate curriculum and the results would enhance practitioners’ capabilities regardless of their professional discipline.

4. Is there sufficient agreement [about what] homeland security courses [should educate] appropriate students on the appropriate capabilities?

Based on available literature, it appears that there is no more agreement on homeland security core curricula today than in 2007 when Rollins and Rowan found “The homeland security academic discipline is currently an evolving ungoverned environment of numerous programs purporting to prepare students for various positions of responsibility.”[5]

5. Are established, more mature, parallel disciplines better capable of educating students on the appropriate capabilities?

While it was initially expected that existing programs such as Public Policy and Public Administration would better accomplish the two most important elements [above] and cognates could address the remaining ones, examination of the core courses in those disciplines seems to suggest otherwise….  The conclusion is … these parallel programs do not suffice in meeting the needs of homeland security graduate education.

6. Is homeland security a viable academic discipline?

The answer to this key research question is “Not at this time.”  Whether it is an interdisciplinary or a multi-disciplinary study area can be debated but it appears not to have evolved to a point where idiosyncratic theories and methods of research in homeland security are better paradigmatically than those of the disciplines initially producing them and coming together to address or assess the issues in homeland security.  Homeland security education appears to be too immature and amorphous, with its educational goals in dispute, to merit proceeding vigorously in the development of new programs beyond those providing the knowledge and capabilities needed by those leaders already in defined homeland security roles and key public safety positions, and producing evidence of the efficacy of the education.

Consider, for example, the list of things homeland security education is missing, according to Kiltz:

To date, there is no agreed upon definition of homeland security, no grand theory explaining the phenomenon of homeland security, no standardized curriculum, little discussion of the history, paradigms and philosophies of the field, and ill defined faculty roles.[6]

Faculty in the emerging discipline of homeland security, seeking to craft (or cobble together) courses and coursework, in their zeal to incorporate and homogenize the theories and research of others, may drift away from the areas of their expertise and do a less-than-creditable job instructing students when faculty more central to the disciplines being instructed are available.

A Way Forward

Steps forward are still possible, despite the skepticism of the paragraph above….

Continue to encourage graduate education, but strongly encourage the inculcation of [such objectives as ] … strategic collaboration capabilities, the ability to think critically and analytically, and the capability to operate in the ambiguous environment of homeland security.

The recommendations, going forward are:

  • Assess the courses and the program using those key [objectives] as dependent variables in the assessment processes;
  • Assess impact of homeland security education using disciplined, reliable methods that can discriminate effects…
  • Disseminate the results to other universities and colleges with recommendations of smart practices…
  • Encourage (through special journal issues, fellowships, and proactive recruitment) faculty in existing disciplines to adopt homeland security issues and problems within their research agendas….
  • Encourage the Department of Homeland Security to partner with the U.S. Department of Education, Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies to take a leadership role in a process similar to the Bologna Process…, using homeland security education as the example….
  • Engage representatives of more mature disciplines, already contributing to homeland security education and research, to be manifestly involved in the development of theories, methods, and analytical capabilities that should be considered in the development of graduate homeland security education….

Based on these recommendations, it should be feasible to then begin to formulate model curricula that are evidence-based.

[1] Rollins, John and Joseph Rowan. (2007). The Homeland Security Academic Environment: a Review of Current Activities and Issues for Consideration. Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

[2] Abbott, Andrew. (2001). Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. P. 130-131.

[3] Committee on Educational Paradigms for Homeland Security, National Research Council (2005). Frameworks for Higher Education in Homeland Security, National Academy of Science Press, p. 19. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11141.html

[4] Common, Michael Lamport. (2008). Introduction to the Model of Hierarchical Complexity and its Relationship to Postformal Action, World Futures, Vol. 64: 305–320 and Common, Michael Lamport. (2008). Implications  of Hierarchical Complexity for Social Stratification, Economics, and Education, World Futures, Vol. 64: 430–435.

[5] Rollins, John and Joseph Rowan. (2007). The Homeland Security Academic Environment: a Review of Current Activities and Issues for Consideration. Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

[6] Kiltz, Linda. (2011). The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Vol. 8(2), Article 1, pp. 1-22, at p. 13.



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