Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.”

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6 Comments »

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 19, 2011 @ 12:34 am

Of course the most important question is where were you drinking? And when will distribution of Dry Sack expand? (Thanks for including a link, btw, otherwise I shudder to imagine what Google search returns I would have had to sift through for the terms “dry sack”…).

Out of curiosity, did you happen to ask them what they thought of volunteers in regards to their daily operational lives? Would they require credentials to allow non-uniformed personnel to work a scene? What do they really think when the off-duty nurse or doctor rolls up to an accident and offers help, or a bystander claiming law enforcement experience asks if they can help deal with a crowd. And if they are unwilling or reluctant to utilize such help when they don’t need it (<catastrophe), will they be willing or able to adopt a different operational paradigm when the "big one" occurs?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 19, 2011 @ 1:12 am

AS some may know I provide free research through my nonprofit corp to first come first serve based on the requester’s need and potential impact of the research and almost never to profit making organizations. Usually other think tanks or researchers.

So I had a request to find out when someone official first determined that the former FEDERAL RESPONSE PLAN (FRP) now warped into the NRF (National Response Framework) was inadequate for catastrophic events. Turns out GAO documented that in summer 1993 and gave the info out and also posted on one of my blogs. I would argue that amazingly the NRF does not do catastrophic either. Perhaps I am wrong and actually hoping I am wrong because the asteroid is headed this way. Hey it might miss but a large solar flare recently may not.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 19, 2011 @ 4:50 am

Bill, over the last couple of weeks I have been working with a major jurisdiction as they attempt to draft their first Catastrophic Incident Annex (CIA) for their Disaster Response Plan.

One of our inputs has been the NRF’s CIA.

Based on this engagement a couple of personal impressions: 1) the NRF-CIA is probably helpful as long as the catastrophe does not kill off or shut down DHS and the National Command Authority. 2) The NRF-CIA is very response oriented and I don’t think response to catastrophe is the most efficacious strategy, it is certainly not the only strategy. 3) I think the “missing link” in truly effective catastrophe preparedness — including being prepared to effectively respond — is regional intergovernmental and private-public collaboration, and the NRF-CIA does not get us there.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 19, 2011 @ 5:01 am

Arnold, I will not pass along the location. I don’t want to expose my drinking buddies anymore than I already have.

I did not ask your citizen engagement question. I have, however, discussed the issue individually with each of them and many of their peers.

The answers are mixed. EM types are usually very inviting of spontaneous help. In many smaller jurisdictions volunteers are the backbone of the firefighting force.

Cops, in my experience, tend to be bipolar. The ones who put up with having me around, almost always recognize the key role of citizen engagement in community policing. But they get very antsy about civilians in any sort of tactical response.

One major jurisdiction is now looking at ways to provide training and incorporate volunteer “block captains” (sort of, it would take too long to explain) into the Incident Command System. I think this has real potential.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 19, 2011 @ 6:07 am

Thanks Phil and agree. Good luck with your CIA! I believe Regional Intergovernmental and private-public is the best approach.

The Governors often fight the FEDS on regional planning witness the REAGAN Administration’s destruction of the old A-95 process but still makes sense.

And EMAC has proved in the last decade to be quite useful. Should be more automatically funded by the FEDS when triggered.

Comment by Ken Chrosniak

January 16, 2013 @ 10:47 am

I hope you all don’t mind me injectig some thoughts here from the perspective of a retired Army officer, a member of EMPact America, a firefighter with a Rescue and EMS company, and the InfraGard EMP SIG, and an instructor at the Army War College. We all take electric grid vulnerability very seriously, as does DoD. Some thoughts below:

Even though there exists grace and beauty all around us, we are incessantly bombarded with negative 24/7/365 news, — mostly negative. While I hesitate to add more angst to our lives in these unprecedented and anxious times, near the end of this somewhat caustic and cautionary ‘conversation’ I’ll give you a glimmer of hope on what positive action you can take. My perspective is from a private citizen and former soldier, formed from the ‘soft’ foundation of a history/english major and not a scientist (actually it’s an advantage). This is a very complicated problem set with many moving parts that affect you directly, up to our very survival as a sovereign nation. To try and get your arms around the problem, it’s important to get a good picture of the condition of your country.

There now exists a clear and present danger to you, your family and your community; the loss of sustained electric power. This has recently been confirmed and announced by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. As of now, absolutely no government entity (except for the Department of Defense (DoD)) has initiated plans for survival from a catastrophic breakdown of our electric grid over multiple regions of America. While the U.S. government (specifically Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) has the ability to provide you with critical information on the condition of your country for your survival and well-being; to date, they have not chosen to do so.

All of us are totally dependent on electricity; we literally cannot survive without it. Our extremely tenuous electric grid, comprised of hundreds of vulnerable power extra high voltage (EHV) transformers and over 200,000 miles of aged transmission lines, is the ‘circulatory system’ that runs our country and touches every aspect of your life such as water pressure for daily use, sanitation and fighting fires; your cell phone; the Internet (that makes it possible for the doctor to order Insulin for your child); the supply chain to deliver that Insulin to you; pumping systems to cool the nuclear power plant core rods and spent fuel pools; Wall Street and ATM’s; medical services; all forms of transportation; oil refinery production; refrigeration; military installations and defense industrial bases; your social security/pension check, and virtually all types of emergency communications used by Fire, Police, and EMS to name just a few.

Mr. Joseph McClelland, Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expressed further concern that private power utilities are not truly prepared to handle a catastrophic EMP event, and stated that the effects of such an event would be profound on the entire national grid system. Most crucial are the 350 plus large EHV transformers that are vulnerable to all threats; and there are little to no replacements on-hand; and, worst of all, they are not made in the US! Each requires significant design configuration, which takes nearly two years to make, and significant transportation support to put in place. Worst case (remember to always plan for worst case), we will not be able to order nor have the capability to deliver them for multiple years.

It’s difficult to effect change in a person or group through fear alone; and my intent is not to. But weren’t we vividly reminded most recently of our archaic and delicate electric grid as a result of hurricane Sandy in NY and NJ, and before that the Derecho storm that hit the Baltimore-DC-Philadelphia corridor? Fortunately we had fire and EMS service for these desperate times within the regional area to help. Driving to New York City on Friday afternoon just two days before Sandy hit, I passed a convoy of utility trucks (cherry pickers) headed east. They were being repositioned as a result of pre-existing plans for assistance. However, in the event of a simultaneous ‘multi-regional catastrophic’ event, that support can’t will not be available from neighboring regions as they will experience similar problems plus road/traffic congestion, and limited to no communication capability (especially the tenuous 911 system). The real downer here is that most likely there won’t be a power source to work with if they do arrive.

Also, remember this past spring when the Earth experienced an X5 level solar flare (coronal mass ejection)? While it did some harm (mostly to GPS and communications), many factors precluded it from hitting us ‘head on’; but mainly pure luck. While solar events occur often, with the most sensational one’s occurring in 1859, 1923, 1989 and 2001, a massive solar event occurring now would totally destroy modern electronics and leave us “in the dark” for months, if not years. NASA Goddard Space Center and many national solar experts have predicted increased solar activity between now and 2014, with a significant peak activity during 2013.

Have you also been told that there are manmade threats existing to the electric power grid, in addition to solar flares and devastating Sandy-type storms? No, probably not. One is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated from a high-altitude nuclear burst which will destroy outdated and vulnerable high voltage transformers (of which power utilities have critically low spares) and the tenuous transmission system. Let me add to these threats the insidious risk of a coordinated cyber and physical attack on our power generation plants and critical infrastructures. That’s right, most likely all these threats are unknown to you as your local, state and federal leaders have not prepared you for the effects of these catastrophic high-impact/low-frequency events. Taken individually, each threat could result in long-term failure of the electric grid. To give you some perspective, a 2001 congressionally mandated EMP commission of eminent scientists (after an eight year study) concluded in 2008 that over 2/3rds of our population would perish within one year of a nation-wide “grid-down” event.

A recently declassified 2007 National Academies report on power grid vulnerabilities stated that cyberattacks, unlike natural disasters, probably could not cause lengthy blackouts. That was not true then, and it’s certainly not true now. DHS is fully aware that a cyber attack on the power system could affect large regions of the country for weeks or even months. The result would be significant societal unrest (you can use your imagination here) and helplessness. Has DHS alerted you to that fact?

Your First Responder community is not aware of this also, and assistance will not be guaranteed or will be severely compromised as your National Fire Service and fire academies have not addressed this problem-set, and have not developed or exercised plans to protect you. Nor has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They have not developed plans or exercise scenarios, or provided guidance to firefighters concerning any long-term power outages plans for emergency service or police. While it’s well-known that DHS, FEMA and state emergency management offices have excellent “All Hazard” (so called) plans ‘on the shelf’, and conduct exercises for local and regional disasters, there are no existing plans or exercises for a prolonged blackout lasting months or years (involving multiple regions in the continental United States), which will surely result in a tremendous loss of life over time. The closest plan might be the worst case scenario outlined in the recently published National Preparedness Report (March 30, 2012, page 5), where FEMA encourages each local community (of 5-7 million or so) to be ready to handle as many as 260,000 medical casualties beyond the means of ‘government’ help. DHS should develop plans to facilitate command and control (situational awareness), and encourage localized awareness and empowerment. Areas of concern to you first responders out there are how much of a surge capability do you have in your organization? Will you continue to report for duty while your family survival concerns are heightened?

For fire protection alone, agencies of the DHS should ensure that fire apparatus manufacturers produce hardened fire engines, ladder trucks, heavy rescue vehicles and ambulances that can withstand an EMP (hopefully, including a robust E1 HEMP). DHS must produce plans for recovery and maintaining situational awareness and encourage local, state and regional preparation of plans to assist recovery efforts, and regularly exercise those plans. DHS should also ensure development of training material/courses for First Responders (fire, police and EMS) on operational procedures during and after the loss of power, develop an EMP attack consequence assessment tool to perform planning analysis and training (in order to set aside and protect critical equipment), ensure essential 911 communications are hardened and redundant (the 911 system was compromised during the recent Derecho event on the east coast), and enhance mutual aid relationships for time of need.

None of the above is being accomplished right now, as many fire and police chiefs have no idea what to do relative to the catastrophic (if not tragic) effects of having little to no electricity for very prolonged periods of time, over multiple regions of the country simultaneously. Go and ask your local fire chief to explain the effects of an electromagnetic pulse on his/her department or the loss of electricity (no water pressure) for a long time, and see what she or he has to say. You can then waste more time by asking your police chief the same thing.

Thinking of the military “cavalry coming over the hill” after the blackout? Forget it. Again, plan for the worst case! You won’t be able to count on the military for help because just as you, they too are heavily dependent for support from their surrounding community electric grid which powers all military posts including their crucial defense industrial base. Nor do they train or conduct exercises in an EMP environment or the loss of electric power for sustained periods. Again, they are wired to the same grid you are. Think on one more negative; what will be on the mind of military personnel (here and overseas) after a prolonged period of time of no power? Could it be their families? What will be their ‘level of readiness’ with little to no contact and certain doubt? While the DoD is working this issue aggressively, time is of the essence.

Another area devoid of planning in a grid down event is the effect on nuclear power plant back-up power (batteries and generators) for coolant controls to keep the core and spent fuel pools (which may store numerous discarded rods from the core) cool and temporarily safe. Interesting note: the August 2003 blackout that affected over 90 million people and portions of northeastern U.S. and Canada also shut down over 500 power generating plants, with 22 of them nuclear power plants! To keep the core rods and spent fuel pool cool, batteries last about 12-48 hours at best. Generators, if they start to begin with (remember Fukushima?) will eventually run out of fuel (~30 days) with resupply highly questionable (don’t forget refineries and the transportation system will be affected also). Once generators run out of fuel, venting of Cesiun-134 from the spent fuel pools will occur first, and in little time a compromised core. Let this fact sink in: a nuclear power plant can only be restarted by a full-up external power source; it cannot ‘Black Start’ itself.

Need some good news that is an excellent example of a viable Public-Private (industry) partnership to save lives? In the Spring of 2012 a plan was proposed to ‘hard wire’ (EMP proof) a military installation located in VERY close proximity to a hydroelectric generating plant. This hydro plant has very attractive attributes: it’s a renewable source of energy that cannot be shut down by lack of a source (H20); it has maintained the Analog system (as opposed to the vulnerable ‘cyber hack-able’ Digital system); and has the distinction of being the only power generating plant remaining operational during the 2003 Northeast blackout. And best of all, it can re-start itself (if needed), and can facilitate a black start a downed nuclear power plant! No negatives were noted during the initial study. So what has been done with this basic proposal? Absolutely nothing. But if/when completed, it could be a great cookie-cutter model for other hydroelectric plants in our nation, and could provide the military and surrounding community an extended runway, the capability to receive/store repositioned aircraft, a civilian and military command center, a viable support system for military and civilian emergency services, and a capability to receive, stage and prepare for onward movement of life-sustaining goods, and more (bound only by one’s imagination). And the cost? Let’s say considerably less than the recent ‘Cash-4 Clunkers’ debacle. This project was stalled during the election cycle, buy maybe we can get it going now. Oh yes, one reminder; it can facilitate a re-start of a downed nuclear power plant!

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently warned of an impending Cyber Pearl Harbor attack that could result in an electric breakdown with cascading failure of critical infrastructure (power generating plants) across the nation. But here’s more good news. DoD is leaning forward in the foxhole for your survival as plans are developing for “islands of power”, micro-grids if you will, to provide sustained power to a number of military installations (and possibly defense industrial base facilities) consisting of solar, wind, and other varied sources of power to provide at least 20% of essential need. Also, a new bipartisan House Resolution 762 encourages local communities to begin the process of doing the same thing in every local community, namely making 20% of what is needed locally such as power and food, so they can withstand a grid collapse. Support this effort by contacting your federal legislative leaders to support H.R. 762.

It is a basic tenet of sound military planning that a commander’s staff must plan for the worst case situation, and the same should be true for disaster planning. This is where your government at all levels is failing you. Strategically our Congress and Senate are neutered, and are of no help. For the past two years Congress had the chance to pass bills such as House Resolution 762 and the Shield Act HR 668, but they failed to do so (picture my shocked look!). So, I strongly encourage you to contact your federal representative to support the re-write of these bills that will hopefully surface again in the 2013 Congress. Additionally (just for the fun of it), contact your local, county, and state representatives and ask them what they are doing to make your community more resilient in the case of an EMP or prolonged electric grid blackout. Trust me; they won’t be able to answer you.

It is unfathomable that you have not been told of these threats by your leaders; especially the one agency entrusted to keep you informed and secure. That’s right, the DHS. The threat from either a natural or man-made EMP is very real, and inevitable, as stated by two Congressional EMP Commission reports, as well as studies performed by the National Academy of Science on grid vulnerabilities, the Northern Electric Reliability Corporation, the NASA Goddard Space Center, the recently declassified (finally by DHS) National Research Council study entitled “Terrorism and the Electric Power Deliver System”, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and many more.

Unfortunately (here I am again with the bad news), the time needed to “fix” the grid even if the SHIELD Act bill passes soon will be years, so it is prudent now for you to prepare for a prolonged blackout by storing essential supplies for your own and your family’s survival. Do not continue to think in the false terms of the 72 hour mantra as DHS states! Try to prepare and stock provisions within your financial means to do so, for as long a term as you are financially able to — preferably a year or more.

The bottom-line is that your leaders at all levels, and the electric industry, have been negligent in not making recovery a priority, or even developing scenarios and exercises to deal with a complex catastrophic event involving a long duration power blackout over several regions of our country at the same time. For our own survival, and for the survival of our children and our nation, we and our government-must act now. By reading this, you have taken a step forward that many others may be willing to take also. If you remember nothing else from this message, remember that in the end you are inevitably on your own.

Strategically our Congress and Senate are neutered, and are of no help. In 2012 Congress had the chance to pass House Resolution 762 and the Shield Act HR 668, but they failed to do so (picture my shocked look!). So, I strongly encourage you to contact your federal representative to support the re-write of these bills that will hopefully surface again in the 2013 Congress. Even more essential, go to the EMPact America website at: empactamerica.org. Consider joining (at no cost) this dedicated non-profit, non-partisan group which will not take any contributions and exists only to prepare individuals and communities to survive and work together (unlike some representatives which receive donations from the electric industry). Remember, there are fellow citizens out to help guide and inform you; and no, it’s not the DHS. Lend your expertise to help others; — prepare your family and community. Most importantly, talk to your leaders and demand that they do their job. Remember the power of one; you!

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