Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 16, 2012

Barriers to a Whole of Community Response to Anything

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on April 16, 2012

“Whole of Community” has become a popular catch phrase in homeland security.  Not quite as revered or misused as the term “resilience,” but proving a strong second.

Beginning as a simple, yet powerful, idea in FEMA (I think–if anyone can point to another origin, please share), the concept is that citizens, NGOs, and the private sector not just have a stake but a substantial role to play in all facets of homeland security. The operating paradigm within government had been that all such activities, besides a few important outliers such as the Red Cross, would be planned and carried out by government entities at some level.

In other words, government plans were for government folk.  And if you don’t like it, tough–here’s a FOUO designation for those planning documents you were hoping to review. Whole of Community held out the promise of changing that mindset, and at least it has spread to other departments and the White House–in word if not deed.

While I’ve heard skeptics of the federal government’s embrace of the effort characterize it as a way to push back against the growing role the federal government plays in both physical and monetary response to disasters, I am of the opinion that it has the potential to overtime radically re-direct homeland security thinking away from federal centralization.  However, recent items/events have suggested possible obstacles to that becoming a reality.

Like many things in life, it comes down to power and money. Power in terms of secrecy–who decides what information is shared with the Community.  Money spent to support planning by all members of the Community, or perhaps just a select few depending to which opinion you listen.

Secrecy in the context of U.S. national security is usually thought of as protecting vital information from our adversaries (or potential adversaries, or even friends).  The term “sources and methods” is often used to explain why you shouldn’t read a particular report–it could reveal from where or how the government gathers information.  Yet secrecy is often used to leverage position and power over others through the control of access to information.  In homeland security there are true secrets and then there is “For Official Use Only” (FOUO).

When government officials want to prevent a document from being widely distributed or made available to the general public, their friend is the FOUO designation.  I’m confused to how homeland security information can be used non-officially (fun at parties?), but that is not the point.  Power through control of information is often the goal, if not always an explicit one.  Even if accomplished at the margins when a substantial number of law enforcement, first responders, and other officials receive documents that technically shouldn’t be released to the public.

Before the howls of protests begin, I am not a believer that all information deserves to be free.  Refueling schedules for nuclear research reactors shouldn’t be posted in the local newspaper, nor should potential security weaknesses of critical infrastructure be reviewed on the internet as easily as yesterday’s baseball scores. However, the reflex to label everything FOUO is a detriment to moving forward with the Whole of Community approach.  For example, see Phil’s recent post on a study of a terrorist nuclear attack on Washington, DC. He has a good point that it garnered greater attention due to the attempt to not make it public.  However, this is exactly the type of event where a Whole of Community approach is not only beneficial but required.  When weighing the pros and cons of making it FOUO, what is the best argument for not sharing it widely with the public?  What sources or methods could be exposed?  What could “the adversary” (the label du jour in Washington, DC for any man-made threat) learn which would make it easier for them to carry out a nuclear terrorist attack?

Is there a better way to balance legitimate security concerns with what Phil pointed out as “not a need to know, it’s a duty to share?”  If the public is asked to say something if they see something, shouldn’t authorities do a better job describing that something? I concede these are not simple questions to answer, but firmly believe that the reflex toward not sharing still prevails within homeland security circles.

Money, money, money…even in the best of times it is a contentious issue.  During times of constrained funding, especially at the state and local level, it is an even more fraught topic. What does this have to do with the Whole of Community? A lot. The rest of the “Community” outside of government is expected to contribute to all phases of homeland security, yet those parts outside of government are provided little, if any, in the way of financial support. One could argue it is in their best interest to include participation in these activities in their own budgeting processes, but one rarely sees similar flexibility in government planning at any level.

This all ultimately results in fights.  And I don’t mean just some strongly worded statements released by local/state officials directed toward the federal government, or NGO workers grumbling about grant distribution.  I’m talking Ultimate Fighting, smash mouth hockey, son/mother-in-law types of rumbles.  They just seem a little more civilized on the surface.

For example, take the recent dust up in regards to the potential shift in language in the upcoming Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG)  fund that suggested that non-profits might be eligible to participate.  Eric Holdeman at Emergency Management’s “Disaster Zone” blog reported on this story:

Alliances are being formed and warning letters are being sent.  No, I’m not talking about Syria, but the potential for Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funds to be shared with non-profits.

I blogged on this earlier this week and I hit a nerve on several fronts.  Now the National Association of Counties and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) have sent a joint letter, dated March 6th, to the FEMA Administrator asking that any proposal to share EMPG funds with nonprofits be withdrawn.

State and local emergency managers were celebrating the expansion of EMPG funding while other Homeland Security grant programs were contracted significantly in the 2012 budget.  Now they see the “potential” for this funding to be reduced significantly because there are more faces to feed at the grant table.

Eric titled his posts the “Six Day EMPG War” and it concluded just as decisively:

As noted in my earlier blog posts on this subject there was a quick reaction by emergency management, led by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and supported by the National Association of Counties.  There were also direct questions of FEMA Administrator Fugate when he appeared before Congress.

Combined, these actions put pressure on FEMA to change the grant guidance language.

Where I disagree with Eric, despite his lifetime of emergency management experience compared to my lifetime of enjoying vanilla ice cream, is that this is a greater win for preparedness in general.  It does placate emergency management offices and stakeholder groups, succeeding in making them happier with officials in Washington.  Yet in my mind it reverses a potential brick in building a true Whole of Community architecture.  It’s nice that officials are being driven to invite non-traditional partners to the planning table, but those partners will not feel like partners if felt to be regulated to the Thanksgiving dinner kiddie table.  In other words, they are expected to participate, contribute, and take ownership of parts of this issue….but don’t expect to get any official support for your efforts.

This general phenomena, taking different forms at different levels of government and among different professions, has earlier been posted on by Mark and Phil.  In an effort to keep this blog post from becoming a long-form magazine article, I’ll let their words speak for themselves and hope that you can see similar issues emerging from the circumstances they describe.

At the end of the day, I am still a believer in the general mantra of the Whole of Community approach.  I just hope that those responsible for its various moving parts begin to think more broadly about the effects that policies toward secrecy and funding have on the long term chances of this idea’s success.  As I noted in my last post, local efforts can greatly contribute to this type of approach to homeland security.  Yet concerns about secrecy/power—starting at the top in the federal government, but certainly trickling down to state and local officials who guard their newfound access by denying information to the rest of the Community—and money are a real threat that do not seem to have been recognized by advocates of this approach.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 16, 2012 @ 3:24 am

Time running out for the 50 states and their 90,000 units of local government to understand that “if lucky” and catastrophe hits, they will continue to be able to provide governmental services, and the federal government will continue to provide money and accurate information in the quantities needed for adequate response. I suggest that this latter dependency will soon be correctly labeled in the “highly unlikely” category. The federal cutbacks starting in January will be the severest in American history on a percentage basis no matter which party controls which offices in Washington.

In fact what I think needs funding now and immediately is an effort by the “whole of community” to discern how self sufficient it is in fact if there is energy grid failure for prolonged intervals, and destruction of critical infrastructure. Each family unit must develop now a relocation plan and funding for that plan to escape from communities that have not adequately prepared. Survey instruments as to local and state government preparedness need to be produced so that citizens and residents can adequately the risks of living and working in any given community.

Washington, D.C. for example in failing to adequately regionally plan, is now one of the most highly vulnerable cities and metro areas to disruption by various threats and hazards. IMO of course.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 16, 2012 @ 4:49 am


Would value your take on:

1. How essential is the role of local-state-federal government to actively engage, recruit, fund community involvement? From your post, I certainly take away you are in favor. But is this a nice-to-have or must-have?

2. Related to first question: How much is this a matter of self-realization and self-actuation by communities? Last Wednesday I was with a private sector guy who said of communities, “Those who have experienced something really bad are going to be proactive no matter what the state or feds do or don’t do. Those who have not experienced something really bad cannot be begged or bribed to care.”

Comment by Mark Lupo

April 16, 2012 @ 6:21 am

Hello Arnold,
In response to your question at the beginning of your article, “Beginning as a simple, yet powerful, idea in FEMA (I think–if anyone can point to another origin, please share)…”, have you had any contact with the Meta-Leadership for Preparedness initiative that originated through a joint effort between the CDC Foundation, the CDC the Harvard School of Public Health (National Preparedness Leadership Initiative) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation? The Meta-Leadership Summits, beginning in 2007, focused on the concept that community and organizational resilience (there’s that word again) can best be strengthened through a collaborative effort between private sector entities, government/public safety and non-profits, working together prior to the next event. The Summits were conducted in 35 communities and states across the country over a 4 year period, ending in July of 2011. The NPLI continues with the work of Dr. Lenny Marcus and Dr. Barry Dorn at Harvard now.

On page 44 and 45 of the 2011 annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, The Trust for America’s Health ( Ready or Not, Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism 2011 ), Mr. Charlie Stokes, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation, provides an excellent overview of the Meta-Leadership for Preparedness initiative. Whether the FEMA, Whole Community initiative originated from the Meta-Leadership for Preparedness initiative, I am not sure, though I agree with your assertion that this idea of preparing for disasters, cross sector, where ever it originated from, is a powerful idea and one that can inherently strengthen a community’s ability to respond in the face of the next, ‘incident without precedence.’

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 16, 2012 @ 8:42 am

Perhaps I should have mentioned in the context of Whole of Community or resilience that the Obama Administration requested NO funding repeat NO funding for predisaster Mitigation and I have recently learned there will be no push back from the HILL on this decision.

In reality the Whole of Community and resilience concepts seem now to be largely a blame shifting strategy to mask the fact that these are really hopes and prayers type of actions not any grounded in the reality of the budgets.

AS I have written elsewhere, given the default in efforts, or ineffective efforts, or waste, fraud, and abuse in various levels of government, the Hurricane Katrina response, including the growing numbers of transportation dependent population in the USA including special populations, means that Katrina was prologue for the standard of care in catastrophic situations in the USA. And cutbacks in the Active Forces, North Com, and the Reserves and National Guard will in fact reduce the fall back capability of the USA in disasters and crisis. Still no domestic crisis chain of command or domestic crisis management system.
I do note that John Brennan continues to give speeches pretending out of his self importance that that will make believers that the king does have clothes.

Of course time will tell. The USA Fukishima will occur sometime somehow but perhaps and hopefully long off. But maybe not. Drought could also be catastrophic but because somewhat slower in unfolding perhaps will escape documentation for a while.

And perhaps Haiti’s apocalyptic situation is also prologue for the USA.

I sense that the DHS and FEMA are now in the posture of hoping not to be called on how little real capability exists in the STATES and their local governments. Most are run by Governors that hope and pray that catastrophe will pass them by during their term of office. Perhaps as long ago in FEMA preparedness is now more in the realm of faith than science, engineering, or Public Safety and EM.

I have heard that the Administration hopes to publish revisions to EO 12656 before they leave office. Review of that order and its assigned lead and support functions even while over two decades old can lead one to conclude that its assignments are merely hortatory and not mandatory.

In that order DoJ fought desperately during its preparations to not be designated the lead on domestic terrorism. WOW!

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 16, 2012 @ 8:45 am

By the way the picture of WH staff running away from the WH on 9/11/01 will always stick in my mind as how little preparedness had accomplished prior to that date. And now after a decade little more.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 16, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

Bill, I truly appreciate your focus on a few key issues and the ability to bring them up for a wide array of posts. Seriously. A past boss was the same way in terms of nuclear terrorism–believed it was a threat before 9/11, after 9/11, and today.

Mark, thanks for mentioning the Meta-Leadership program. I’m actually pretty well acquainted with it and many of the instructors. What’s interesting is that until you mentioned it I forgot that I knew a lot of people in homeland security leadership positions went through the program. There is a very good chance that the seeds of the Whole of Community tree were planted there. And I very much liked the “incident without precedent” phrase….

Phil, can’t you ask some easy questions? Like World Series predictions (Red Sox over Nationals in 6, btw…)? In terms of your actual questions: (1) I believe engage and probably recruit are must haves, while fund is a nice have–but one that demonstrates intent to be serious about involving non-governmental partners. A community can take it upon itself to engage in a wide array of related activities, but in any less than catastrophic event the local authorities can choose to ignore that incredible resource they have on hand and follow their own SOPs. While the existing community preparedness will help, it will be under utilized without government buy-in. I think. So the community doesn’t have to wait for an invitation to dance, but unless it wants to pull a Billy Idol it would be best if the local government was a willing partner (if not leading).

(2)I think your first description is apt–it has a lot to do with self-realization and whatnot. Though I think your private sector guy has it wrong. I can’t think of a particular forcing function for Boston preparing in the manner it does. It seems ahead of the curve in many aspects, but that seems due to leadership rather than prior catastrophe. Going to the opposite end of spectrum, everyone likes to point to New York City for their wide array of homeland security activities. Since 9/11 they have had both public and official support for much of what they do, but they’ve also had an unprecedented amount of federal support. I’d like to know if something like the Securing Cities Initiative would survive if it depended on local funding. I’m not getting into the argument about whether for various reasons they deserve that support or not, just that I sincerely doubt the breadth of efforts would survive if they depended on the same level of local funding on which other cities subsist. 9/11 or not.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 17, 2012 @ 12:21 am

The USA will be lucky if it can get a whole of neighborhood approach. Apparently Romney in an aside stated he might eliminate HUD. That won’t happen for several reasons. The main reason is that HUD is a captive of the FIRE sector and just implements that sector’s desires after Treasury has determined HOUSING policy! After 10 years running for President he does not realize that HUD is not about providing decent, safe, sanitary housing for Americans but instead shelter for largely unregulated builders, developers, mortgage bankers, and corrupt public housing officialdom. The home mortgage deduction needs to be capped on principal residences and eliminated for second homes.

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