Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 4, 2012

A tale of two cities… two sectors… two mindsets… stronger together

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on May 4, 2012

A few weeks ago I attended a regional summit of emergency managers, firefighters, law enforcement and related public officials for a major city and its metro region. My task was to invite these jurisdictions and their agencies to participate in an exercise program that would feature a catastrophic event in another large city a few hundred miles away.

In case of such a horrific event,  the creative assistance of those at the summit would be needed. The exercise would especially focus on the movement of supplies toward the impact zone.

First question, “Why should we share our supplies?”

My response, “Thanks for the chance to clairfy, I’m not talking about sharing your emergency inventory or anything owned by your agencies. The focus would be on facilitating a surge of private sector supply chains, private sector goods — water, food, and pharma, for example — that either originate in this area or need to move through this area.”

“I understood you the first time,” the questioner stated. “Why should we do that? If there’s a real catastrophe in (insert city name) we’ll probably need everything we can get here.”

While I offered some answers and justifications, my responses were not persuasive. Several agreed with the need to keep what they had. Others probably disagreed, but they were quiet. If there is ever a real need, I fully expect the first urban area will move mountains to help the second urban area. But for a whole host of reasons, they were not at all interested in thinking through the problems and process in advance.

Last week I was in another meeting in a different urban area, this time with private sector leaders from power, communications, water, food, pharma, banking, trucking, medical care and other key sectors. The issue was more or less the same: it is a very bad day in the big city. Your local capability is offline, even flattened. Will you work with us and participate in some exercises to think through the problem of re-supply?

The response was enthusiastic. “It’s a very interesting problem,” one offered. “Thinking through this worst-case will help us with other everyday issues,” another said. After a wide-ranging conversation one of the private sector leaders at the table stated, “This is in our self-interest. It is also in the common interest. We should have done this a long time ago.”

In each case there are back-stories, details that help explain the very different reactions. This is not an issue of good versus bad. But it is a story of two very different mind-sets.

After a few years –a lifetime? — of such contrasting experiences, I have a heuristic, a rule of thumb: Humankind is divided between those who are inclined to control and those who are inclined to create. There is a continuum with nearly everyone suspended somewhere between these two extremes (among other axes).  Where do you fall?

Those who seek to control tend to be more pessimistic. Those who seek to create tend to be more optimistic.

Pessimism may have roots in the past, but is expressed prospectively.  Optimism is mostly a matter of how the future is expected to unfold.  Each is an orientation that can skew observation and as a result be self-fulfilling.  At the extremes, both pessimism and optimism are probably forms of psychological self-protection.  Some recent research seems to suggest genetic predispositions are also in play.

The two mind-sets can be complementary, but more often clash and compete. The “control-freak” is an idiot. The “innovator” is a fool.

Any meaningful homeland security strategy must find a way to blend and benefit from both mind-sets and apply them in the here-and-now. Doing so systematically is something that requires much more attention than we currently invest.


Late Thursday afternoon I received a copy of the National Preparedness Report, the first annual as required by PPD-8.  It deserves a closer read and more complete analysis.   But even on a first read, it is easy to perceive the struggle between control or create.  In raw form  the tension of these worldviews warps the strength of each.  When the tension is synthesized, the resilience of the whole system is enhanced.


IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“… I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2012 @ 7:00 am

The National Preparedness Report was a statutory mandate to FEMA in PKEMRA 2006 effective March 31, 2007. Three have been issued so far but in fact an argument could be made that 5 should be out as of today.

All three existing reports should be read together. The first issued in January 2009 by the Bush Administration as it departed. Note that this was years late by my count.

Once again no indication of who exactly worked on the report, who cleared it, who signed off on it in final.
Arguably this required signoff by OMB the NSC and the President. The nation is not prepared IMO. It is like DoD hoping that nothing will disrupt its tiers of contractors preventing money from delivering in time.

In the case of FEMA it is the hope that STATES and locals will be prepared. This feeds back into the discussion of mutual assistance and mutual aid between jurisdictions even within the same states. Basically the Governor operate on a “hope it does not happen on my watch” philosophy on crisis management.

In a legal opinion required by statute OLC in 1984 issued a lengthy opinion discussion the power of all levels of government to deal with an energy crisis. Notably excluded from the Bush Crisis scenarios and not dealt with by any administration yet, again IMO. That legal opinion concluded that some Governors had more emergency energy authority than the President. But of course few understand exactly the nuances of our federal system in which at least theoretically the Constitution provides for a limited federal government with other powers not expressed in that document left to the STATES. That is why the Obamacare litigation is so monumental and the fact that the Solicitor General defended it throught the appeals system on a defective Constitutional analysis. Well SCOTUS says it will rule before departing this term. I would argue they could well postpone the decision since even for SCOTUS of monumental import to how that highest court is viewed.

So where does this leave us. An interesting aspect of the NPR just issued is its heavy analysis of public health preparedness which is appropriate even though stovepipes exist between DHS and HHS that may cause huge problems in health care emergencies as they have in the past.

John Brennan and his NSS lack health preparedness expertise [they also lack STATE and local expertise] but they are continued to be diverted to things like writing speeches for Brennan on the drone strike program. Actually Brennan has given two speeches on that subject, not as the NY Times and WAPO reported just one, the most recent in last 10 days.

There is still NO repeat NO domestic crisis management system or domestic crisis management chain of command. This should be a basic finding of each NPR until that happens.

Let’s take my example! An energy crisis–who is in charge and who can do what? Still a complete unknown.

And a large scale energy crisis, largely man made, now impacts Japan. Who is studying the lessons learned there even as India passes Japan and becomes the world’s third largest economy based on purchasing power.

Again the HS committees on the HILL have proved almost worthless in tackling tough issues. Expect the new Republican Senate to reorganize the committee structure.

Comment by John Comiskey

May 4, 2012 @ 9:52 am


I sense that we generally prepare for that which mostly recently happened and exposed vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

To William’s point, re: NSS lack health preparedness expertise. I sense that a lack of a recent past public health crisis (a good thing) has left public health low on the policy agenda.

Neither the optimist nor pessimist has thought much about sharing or not sharing vital public health supplies in a crisis.

How about a pre-event analysis of a catastrophic public health crisis rather than a post-mortem?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2012 @ 10:19 am

Each STATE and Local government should have a dedicated individual responsible for mutual aid and mutual assistance whether as donor or recipient and of course FEMA should have the same. Despite my best efforts a complete inventory of all funded and unfunded MOUs and MOAs and IAAs was never accurately compiled or completed in FEMA from 19790-1999. IN other words FEMA has no real understanding of what its staff had either agreed to or committed to in advance of any particular event. I do know that the formal MOU with DoD was terminated in 1993 and never renewed. I have posted on the Vacation Lane Blog website a copy of that terminated MOU! And in my time FEMA had no formal relationships with HHS or CDC.

One could argue that the NSC should have a staffer dedicated to mutual aid and mutual assistance but that kind of work is probably not considered important enough for a staff largely dedicated to trying to be foreign relations experts.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2012 @ 10:27 am

Responding to John’s comments. Certainly SARS and H1N1 awakened many to pandemic flu issues. It was fun to watch Secretary DHS in the H1N1 effort tell the WH press that she had declared a Public Health Emergency. In fact absent a Secretary DHS at that time, the Assistant Secretary for Health Preparedness had in fact declared such an emergency as he was designated by statute and delegation to do.

Even more fun was watching Secretary HHS Tommy Thompson blame the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001 on a disease vector from streams in N.Carolina.

Would people please understand that HS and EM is not for amateurs. Solid trained professionals need to be in a position to prevent Cabinet level officials from major blunders. Of course the Obama Administration does not know that several CAT 5 hurricanes will landfall before the election, the Big One will finally be hitting California, and H1N1 will again reappear in a more virulent form. And of course terrorists will strike simultaneously from Canada and Mexico. Being facetious of course. The good news–no repeat of last April 2011 tornadic activity. See I can be positive.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

Many who read my comments know that I believe a building block approach is the best for national preparedness. On that basis I challenge readers and analysts of the NPR to discern how (1) family reunification; and (2) family decontamination; is the subject of effort and risk analysis in the report. These two factors are crucial in family preparedness issues. In Hurricane Katrina the largest separation of minors from parents in USA history occurred. The book has yet to close on some of these separations. And hurricanes typically don’t result in widespread contamination but that could occur. What monitoring and decontamination equipment is available for each of the 90,000 communities or even in any of the 50 states. Food, water, shelter and other aspects of mass care now led by FEMA in ESF 6 are also of concern but my two specific tasks give insights as to actual preparedness.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 5, 2012 @ 5:28 am

Bill: This week as I give closer attention to the National Preparedness Report I will organize my thinking around family reunification, family decontamination, and mass care in catastrophe. Thanks for the framing.

John: In March the Institute of Medicine released a helpful report: Crisis Standards of Care: A Systems Framework for Catastrophic Disaster Response. The report may confirm your concern and indicate some are trying to think-it-through.

Gentlemen, back to the focus of my original post, I perceive that, in fact, there is a great deal of expertise related to preparedness. But those with expertise are clustered at two ends of the control-or-create continuum. Those with the most practical experience prepare, as John suggests, for the “last war”. Those with more imagination than experience are attracted to “novel problems.” Both clusters have expertise, but they tend not to listen to or learn from each other.

As a result, we are considerably less prepared than we might otherwise be. There are customized methods for facilitating greater engagement between the clusters and across the full continuum. I have not found a systematic approach that seems anywhere close to self-sustaining.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 6, 2012 @ 4:02 am

Bill and John:

You have each expressed concern regarding the attention and expertise given to public health. Some facts and some impressions:

1. The National Security Staff has 14 positions committed to resilience, four of those have well-credentialed and well-experienced medical/public health backgrounds. Three are physicians.

2. It is my experience that the Department of Health and Human Services has a significant role in homeland security. There is increasingly a kind of HS first tier, consisting of DHS, DoD, and HHS. The CDC and ASPR are especially prominent.

3. It is my impression that epidemiological principles (and expert practitioners) have an increasing influence across the HS spectrum. This has been in the mix for most of the last ten years, but has really stepped out front in the last three or so.

In the HS context, health care expertise is a bit like love. Can you ever have enough? Maybe not. But too often we may also take love for granted.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 6, 2012 @ 7:17 am

Actually Phil IMO the health care preparedness types are eating the lunch of the EM, Public Safety, and HS types based entirely on their competence and understanding of what may be arcane or unknown to others. The problem of course is that there is NO reals systemic integration of preparedness and now just as incident command was in part an effort to avoid fistfights between police and fire chiefs as to who was in charge of a major incident it is likely to be two members of the medical training with different mindsets, training and competencies. One example! It would be helpful if the medical profession, which largely avoided vaccination in the recent H1N1 outbreak and in some cases threatened or did sue to prevent vaccination, came out with a single voice that vaccination is to protect the herd not the individual and therefore all, repeat ALL, should be vaccinated. Medical history is replete with cover ups and ignorance just like other sectors of human life. There is substantial evidence that the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 and 1919 killed over 65% of all trained medical professionals in the USA and that work force not rebuilt until just in time for WWII. Just one example. WHO has now adjusted its pandemic scale for virulence of the virus. One may ask why it was not part of the warning process long ago.
And as to human folly, perhaps the need for understanding of various PRION diseases and delayed in time evidence might be a start.

So in fact we have a highly compartmented medical world where the individual patient often has a ream of specialists with no single medical profession understanding what all the others are doing.


That stovepipe could well result in many injuries. By the way I have talked to highly trained nurses who are in ORs and Instensive Care ops or others who think the masking of themselves is to protect themselves, not to protect the patient. Well progress over human folly is slow and glad the profession has learned tt some degree that washing and personal hygiene can lower infection rates even in large hospitals which are dangerous places where those with compromised immune systems as I qualify stay away except for absolute needs for serious medical attention. Bedside visits by families to those in hospitals probably not a great idea but still allowed.

AS to the four physicians on Brennan’s resilience staff perhaps we could learn more as to what they have contributed to resilience. Have any visited Haiti? if so what did they conclude about this failed state 700 miles offshore?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 6, 2012 @ 7:52 am

Bill, Strategic integration is a constant challenge. The current situation needs improvement. I perceive there are plenty of folks at NSS, DHS, HHS, and elsewhere that agree. I read the National Preparedness Report as agreeing and attempting to advance integration. Specific to Haiti, there was considerable engagement specifically by the resilience directorate. Please see: Richard Reed: White House’s eyes and ears when crises erupt.

Are our different takes on this reality another expression of the optimist-pessimist dichotomy originally referenced? Same objective facts, different attitude toward the facts?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 6, 2012 @ 8:49 am

Thanks for the Richard Reed link. A book could be usefully written about US and Haiti and post Earthquake dynamics.

It would be of interest if the Resilence Staff at NSC believes they were a postive factor on any Haiti involvement by the USA and whether that involvement assisted Haiti long or short term. My assumption with respect to NSC staff is they always want to make a difference–but the question is did they in the post-Earthquake trauma of Haiti. My belief is that the fundamental flaw in USA policy towards Haiti is its continued pretend treatment as an independent nation-state. It is my understanding that remittances from Haitian residents and Haitian Americans to Haiti falls in the top category per capita in the world for a dispora supporting their homeland. Perhaps wrong.

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