Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 4, 2011

The National Preparedness Goal Occupies Wall Street

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on October 4, 2011

The national preparedness goal (NPG) says the nation is successfully prepared when we have a

“secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”

I was with several dozen people last week who think the language is entirely too bureaucratic. Maybe it is.  But of all the homeland security preparedness goals published during homeland security’s first decade, the current one is my favorite.

I like the “whole community” language.

Homeland security is now officially more than the Department of Homeland Security. The goal acknowledges that.

I also like the emphasis on “threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”

It’s not your grandfather’s homeland security anymore. Homeland security is focusing on the greatest risks, not just terrorism and natural hazards.

What are those greatest risks?

When Admiral Mike Mullen was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff — a job he left earlier this week — he many times said the national debt is the biggest threat to our national security. But the new chief doesn’t  “agree exactly with that.”

I know threat is not the same thing as risk, but as a nation we can do better than having dueling threat assessments. The NPG recognizes that:

“All leveles of government and the whole community should present and assess risk in a similar manner to provide a common understanding of the threats and hazards confronting our nation.”

That makes sense to me (except for the “present” part, whatever that means). I would like to know what threats and hazards pose the greatest risk, especially considering the NPG observation that “understanding the greatest risks to the nation’s security and resilience is a critical step” in being prepared.

I want to be prepared. So bring on the threats and hazards information.

“In accordance with PPD-8, and in coordination with Federal departments and agencies, a Strategic National Risk Assessment was conducted.”

However, an informative NPG  footnote says:

The complete results of the Strategic National Risk Assessment are classified. For an unclassified summary, see http://www.fema.gov/ppd 8.

I could not find anything at that location called an Unclassified Summary of the Strategic National Risk Assessment.

But I did find:

National Preparedness is aimed at strengthening the security and resilience of the Nation by preparing for the full range of 21st century risks that threaten national security, including weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks, terrorism, pandemics, transnational threats and catastrophic natural disasters.

The “full range of 21st century risks” seem a lot like 20th century risks. But perhaps the real risk assessment — the one that apparently cannot be shared with the “whole community” — is much rangier.


Meanwhile, Wall Street is being occupied by people exercising their first ammendment right “peaceably to assemble.”

And, according to a Wall Street Journal article titled “Wall Street Protest Digs In, Spreads”, and other reports, people in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and elsewhere inside and outside the United States are also peaceably assembling.

There’s a website called Occupy Together that seems to be keeping track of where these activities are taking place.

Another website, Occupy Wall Street, offers one perspective of what this “organic movement” (as the Wall Street Journal calls it) is about:

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

Let’s see,  Arab Spring: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Israel, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Western Sahara.

Unemployed people with cell phones, twitter accounts, facebook pages, youtube feeds.

Now there’s a 21st century risk.

I wonder if it is included in the Strategic National Risk Assessment.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 4, 2011 @ 1:58 am

Great post! And there was a time when the government had the courage not to hide behind a classified risk assessment to tell people what it was taking most seriously. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”!

Perhaps FEAR is the greatest hazard or risk?

Is Wall Street a hazard or a risk?

The history of the military domestically employed was inclusive of union busting, so perhaps Bankster busting?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 4:58 am

Chris, The final draft is tons better than the draft released in August. It is much clearer. There are places where I disagree with its approach, but that is also the benefit of a good goal: clarifying current thought sufficient to prompt meaningful and focused disagreement.

Regarding the National Risk Assessment, I would argue the most important statement regarding risk assessment is found on page 10:

The assessment of risk and resilience must therefore begin at the community level and serve to inform our state, regional, and national planning. For risk information to result in specific risk reduction actions, leaders—whether elected in a jurisdiction, appointed in a given department, a nongovernmental director, a sector official, or in business or communities—must have the ability to recognize, understand, communicate, and plan for a community’s future resilience. The establishment of trusted relationships among leaders in a community prior to a disaster can greatly reduce the risks to life, property, the natural environment, and well-being. When these leaders are prepared, the whole community matures and becomes better prepared to reduce the risks over the long term.

This paragraph — and other elements — also do a much better job of articulating and advancing key aspects of resilience. The decision to include mitigation among the key mission areas is an important and very constructive step.

The language of the goal remains, as your colleagues complained, bureaucratic. But that is a bit like me complaining my monolingual English-speaking parents did not do a better job of teaching me Chinese. (I bet the principal authors have been frustrated by the rhetorical rigidities imposed by the genre.) More of concern is how the conceptual and strategic orientation of the goal remains so focused on security, response, and what we think is predictable. Here I could offer a blow-by-blow critique. But there is emerging attention to resilience, mitigation and complexity and this should not be missed nor minimized. It is encouraging… and in need of more encouragement.

I wonder if your colleagues who critiqued the bureaucratic language might be persuaded to engage in a mostly positive process of “translating” the NPG from bureaucratic to human language. Let me know if anyone volunteers. I would be interested in contributing to such an effort.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

October 4, 2011 @ 6:15 am

I too found the incorrect footnote information a pain when looking for the Strategic National Risk Assessment. If someone has a direct URL, I would like to see that document.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 6:35 am

Chris and Claire: This could be a figment of my imagination — and I don’t have time to research and remind myself of where I got the idea — but it has been my understanding that the National Risk Assessment would emerge from the National Preparedness System… still forthcoming. So, perhaps, the language and link in the NPG is anticipatory.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 4, 2011 @ 7:23 am

One reason I am concerned that risk analysis, risk assessment, and risk management may not be for amateurs, i.e. officialdom from other fields or just experience or education, is that a single human life span never adequately allows for prediction or analysis for many risks. And certainly when it comes to security, random violence may well be unpredictable.

So how do we promote preparedness and other facets of resilience in the face of the above facts. Well there has to be respect and integration of technical knowledge into daily life from families to larger organizations and those in positions of governance have to understand that risk management is one of their many assignments.

One of my main concerns is that those in positions of governance may do what the voters want and not what they need. This is not an argument for elites. It is an argument for explanation of risks and what is known and what are probable consequences if it occurs.

A prominent and famous pioneer in the field of warning and crisis messaging, and a friend, lives in a house on the San Andreas fault. What is it about mankind that feelings of invulnerability can lead people like lemmings to ignore the arrival of a cliff?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 8:56 am

Bill, I think your caution regarding the need for risk assessment expertise is well-founded. But unless the risk assessment process is authentically and meaningfully local — meaning driven by local participants and decisions — the results will be mostly ignored, regardless of how rigorous the professional process. Outside expertise can and should play a role, but the outsiders must be a supportive and facilitative, rather than supplant local involvement, learning, leadership and “ownership.”

Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 4, 2011 @ 10:03 am

Beware the experts. There’s an adage in competitive shooting and it goes like this; Champions always learn. Experts know it all…

Do we want champions or experts? There always seems to be an argument about risk, fear, classification, need to know, etc. It is dicey to be sure, but fear is a manifestation of all the aforementioned. Perhaps the risk experts are too myopic or unwittingly fitting evidence to best underpin the risk hypotheses. Or are we really in perpetually grave danger?

I think Bill touches on a great many points in his comments of Chris’ original post. One is fear.
Is fear a manufactured reality? Is it a marketing message, massaged from the various news feeds in order to justify or is it simply a manifestation of the times? Is fear a brand? How much have we spent in capital and disrupted socially to mitigate “fear”? It appears rather nebulous.

If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, than why are we frisking breast cancer survivors at airports?


Obviously hyperbolic and a bit sensationalistic, but it does draw the contrasting example of fear vs risk, in my view. When did this Nation become so afraid that everything is a risk and all must be controlled and assumed as dangerous? Again, tough albeit rhetorical questions.

What are our real risks? There are certainly obviously infliction points for inconvenience and national mourning, but what is a National risk? What can cripple us nationally? Is it an EMP attack? Is it a biological agent? Is it multiple nuclear warheads? Mr. Wolfe in a previous post posed the question about why there has been no nuclear weapon attack. Mr. Wolfe is eloquent in his point of view;

” I am of the firm belief that it isn’t a question of when, but rather if a terrorist group could ever obtain enough fissile material, construct a bomb, and successfully hold a government hostage to its demands. There are more than a few federal agencies in the U.S. government looking for signs of any sub-state group with ambitions of grandeur – that is to say, those groups who have successfully avoided being the target of Predator drones and CIA-paid turncoats.”.

How many nukes are National threats?

Mr. Wolfe further states;

“The only thing that is different today is the level of paranoia within the United States that something wicked this way comes, in the form of a terrorist-delivered nuclear weapon. So of course the solution has to be more control, more visibility over every shard of nuclear material out there. No one can be trusted to secure this material without our inspections and approval. If the U.S. government controls every aspect and can see everywhere on the globe with real-time intelligence, then we will be safe.”.


To Chris’ point; Meanwhile, Wall Street is being occupied by people exercising their first amendment right “peaceably to assemble.”

And, according to a Wall Street Journal article titled “Wall Street Protest Digs In, Spreads”, and other reports, people in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and elsewhere inside and outside the United States are also peaceably assembling.

How big would these protests be if the Deputy Inspector in NYPD did not get caught on video spraying protestors with pepper spray? I think it’s a reasonable question. Initilly, their momentum was stalled, if not grossly unattended. Again, marketing, messaging and the manufacturing of fear.

NYPD is said to be investigating the Wall Street Protesters, but they also published their spin that it was just a continuum of force and that perhaps the video was doctored to embarrass the police department. The contrast is so vast is it any wonder we don’t actually know the truth? And that is than parlayed into the risk/threat/fear matrix…

It’s an information war… and the “authorities” are losing.

Finally with respect to Bill;

What is the will of the people if not their desire in lieu of need? A tough, tough road to traverse here.

“One of my main concerns is that those in positions of governance may do what the voters want and not what they need. This is not an argument for elites”.

Maybe if the people’s wants were more at hand than their representatives need to be whatever they deem as necessary is the problem. That paternalistic head patting is what got us here in the first place.

Or is the people who have become conditioned to receive whatever they want over generations that has caused this suplanting of rights and desires over necessity?

Who shapes the peoples point of view and understanding of threat and risk? Is it the “experts”?

The most fearful thing to a populace is a government that has no accountability and does not heed the republic it represents. If your vote means relatively nothing, in terms of picking from different ends of the same table what is left?

Fear becomes less abstract and quite real at that point.

“It is an argument for explanation of risks and what is known and what are probable consequences if it occurs”. I do not believe those in positions of governance are any more prepared to explain the risks because there is reasonable evidence to suggest many are of their own making.

Our leaders need to make better, candid, and relevant arguments in order to mitigate fear, recalibrate the risk/threat relationship and how it impacts us today and tomorrow. My question is; are they capable of doing that?

Excellent post and comments today. Thank you for sharing.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 10:26 am

Chris, A potentially gratuitous response to the Occupy Wall Street element of your post: The biggest bankers and other sources of credit, such as the stock market, are as close as the modern West has to the ancient sprites and spirits to which our animist ancestors dedicated such care. With good cause, I might add. Like so many of the characters featured in our nursery rhymes the keepers-of-credit combine considerable power with a highly nervous disposition, significant egos, and a blithe disregard — really incomprehension — of the reality in which the rest of us reside. (Vice-versa is also true.) Rather than confrontation I would suggest clever co-opting.

I am being more serious than referencing the nursery might imply. Thinking about what happened to us in 1929 and 2008, I have been looking at what happened in 1931… especially with the collapse of Credit Anstalt with all sorts of analogies to the current European bank crisis. Back in December the Bank for International Settlements published Banking crises and the international monetary system in the Great Depression and now. Depending on the day this paper is either encouraging or discouraging.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 4, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

Speaking of the Great Depression I posted on http://www.vacationlanegrp.wordpress.com today on Frances Perkins and pointed out the influence of social workers and women on the NEW DEAL!
Other than Elizabeth Warren whose career will or will not end with her Washington role over last several years few women listened to by this Administration. To bad because they have a lot to offer brainpower wise and experience wise.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

October 4, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

John Robb had an Occupy Wall Street explanation on Monday worth reading (thanks Dan for finding it):http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-the-theory.html


Really simple:

Occupy Wall Street is an open source protest.

This type of protest has been very effective over the last year in toppling regimes in north Africa. It’s proving relatively successful in the US too.

Open source protest is an organizational technique. Probably the only organizational technique that can assemble a massive crowd in today’s multiplexed environment. Essential rules of open source protest include:

A promise. A simple goal/idea that nearly everyone can get behind. Adbusters did pretty good with “occupy wall street.” Why? Nearly everyone hates the pervasive corruption of banks and Wall Street. It’s an easy target.

A plausible promise. Prove that the promise can work. They did. They actually occupied Wall Street and set up camp. They then got the message out.

A big tent and an open invitation. It doesn’t matter what your reason for protesting is as long as you hate/dislike Wall Street. The big tent is already in place (notice the diversity of the signage). Saw something similar from the Tea Party before it was mainstreamed/diminished.

Let everyone innovate. Don’t create a leadership group. The general assembly approach appears to work.

Support anyone in a leadership role that either a) grows the movement or b) advances the movement closer to its goal. Oppose (ignore) anybody that proposes a larger, more complex agenda or those that claim ownership over the movement.

If a new technique works, document it, use it again, and share it with everyone else. Copy everything that works.

Spread the word of the movement as widely as possible.

That’s the gist of it.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

October 4, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

The United Kingdom has something called a national risk matrix (https://update.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/nrr2010-matrix.pdf). It shows relative risks of high consequence events. It’s not perfect, but it seems to be based on the assumption that a government can trust its people with information about the kinds of bad things that might happen. It’s a start. (https://update.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/national-risk-register)

If there is something similar to this matrix in the US, I have not seen it.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

October 4, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

Phil – re: Strategic National Risk Assessment. I spoke with someone yesterday who had the appropriate clearances. He was recently given “a number” by a federal representative to be used for his statewide risk assessment. When he asked to see the threat information behind the number he was told no. He said “but i have a need to know” and explained why. But the “no” stood. That is not the first time I have heard a story like this. I do not know which national assessment it was. One can hope the new “Strategic National Risk Assessment” will be different and make appropriate accommodations for sharing. But (rhetorical question) what will it take to recognize the Ptolemic tinkering that is our present approach to risk, challenge the risk priesthood, and do something different that engages people in a continuous and much more open assessment process. Maybe a variation of what John Robb describes. [end of rant]

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

October 4, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

Phil — I take your point about the “emerging attention to resilience, mitigation and complexity and this should not be missed nor minimized. It is encouraging… and in need of more encouragement.” I think that attention is visible in at least the first part of the QHSR, and it clearly is visible in the attention to whole communities. Emergence requires amplifying positive patterns and dampening undesired behaviors. I think my central point in today’s post is captured in the refrain for Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man: “But something is happening here; And you don’t know what it is.”
The DHS direction on resilience, mitigation, preparedness and the other concepts you mentioned are, from my Cheap Seats perspective, movement in a productive direction (I am again reminded that being in the arena differs significantly from writing on a blog). Occupy Wall Street symbolizes other activities that have potential impacts on what kind of nation we are and will become. Issues like that, not placed neatly into a DHS portfolio, may be equally if not more important to homeland security than the usual suspects in a threat assessment.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

Regarding a super secret National Risk Assessment: If it exists it is dangerous. The more closely held it is the less accurate it is and the less likely anything can be done about any vulnerabilities found (as your story suggests). But the real danger comes from any decisionmaker who actually believes the super-secret document defines reality. Such a tightly contained sense of reality will, almost ipso facto, be cause for predictable surprise.

Anything that can be “placed neatly into a DHS portfolio” is, I would suggest, by definition nothing more than complicated. Attending to complicated problems is worthwhile. But complicated can usually be solved by application of available expertise. The really tough problems are complex and chaotic and outside the application of expertise. While I want to be affirmative regarding the progress demonstrated by the NPG, its rhetoric and fundamental logic are still anchored in a command-and-control security, protection, response logic. This is its Achilles heal and — as in the Greek myth — the full extent of this vulnerability is not yet recognized. I understand this is easier to blog about than do anything about. But it would also be helpful if rhetoric and logic not obscure such a significant vulnerability.

So far I tend to see Occupy Wall Street as a healthy expression of participation, collaboration, deliberation — hence resilience. I have a similar sense regarding the so-called Tea Party. Which tends to make the point I guess that one guys “threat” is another guys “opportunity.” Depends on the angle.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 4, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

Respectfully Phil I disagree with your conclusion about Occupy Wall Street. The frustration indicated by the disconnect between the protestors and government policies often adopted undemocratically and unilateral by the government is scary to me. These are not necessarily unemployed and uneducated street rabble. These are people that if properly governed would be of great assistance to overcoming the nation’s problems. Others may disagree but this could be the tip of an iceberg.

Now looking as if the Attorney General himself could be under review for being assigned a Special Prosecutor. If that happens then the Administration will shatter into pieces long before the election. IMO of course.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2011 @ 11:05 am

By the way a National Strategy for DHS Risk Assessment was published in 2007. I wonder if it was superseded by the new doc or if the authors of the new doc knew of its existence.

Notice that when these documents appear almost no effort is made for explanation of the doc, its significance, or training on the doc within DHS or FEMA. Why?

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

October 5, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

More information about the “Strategic National Risk Assessment” (courtesy of W.R. Cumming’s alert about a September 15 GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-873)

DHS identified threats confronting homeland security in the 2010 QHSR report, such as high-consequence weapons of mass destruction and illicit trafficking, but did not conduct a national risk assessment for the QHSR. DHS officials stated that at the time DHS conducted the QHSR, DHS did not have a well-developed methodology or the analytical resources to complete a national risk assessment that would include likelihood and consequence assessments–key elements of a national risk assessment. To develop an approach to national risk assessments, DHS created a study group as part of the QHSR process that developed a national risk assessment methodology. DHS officials plan to implement a national risk assessment in advance of the next QHSR, which DHS anticipates conducting in fiscal year 2013.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

Hey Chris! The system works!

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October 12, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

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October 12, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

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Comment by Jeph

October 18, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

All I have to say is viva la revolution! There’s nothing left to fear; the world isn’t going to change sitting in front of a computer screen/tv. I say EVERYONE needs to get out and witness democracy at it’s finest!

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October 29, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

[…] Chris Bellavita was the first to write about Occupy Wall Street here at Homeland Security Watch.  When Mark made this choice I was not yet convinced the movement was a homeland security issue. […]

Comment by iserve pharmacy

November 28, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

The biggest bankers and other sources of credit, such as the stock market, are as close as the modern West has to the ancient sprites and spirits to which our animist ancestors dedicated such care

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