Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 18, 2012

Three issues, thirty posts, can we improve homeland security?

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 18, 2012

If you haven’t noticed, Fridays are my responsibility here.

Daily blogging — most blogging — tends toward multiple short pieces.  Whether news or commentary,  unpaid (and many paid) bloggers seldom have enough time to do much more than aggregate, trying to make interesting connections that might otherwise go unnoticed.

With more contributors — one for each weekday — HLSWatch has morphed toward analysis and advocacy.  It will probably seem a strange analogy, but drafting these weekly contributions is for me a bit like attending church.  It is a discipline that I find helpful in focusing attention to aspects of reality I might otherwise neglect.

In this vein, I perceive the need for a bit more continuity between weekly services: a kind of lectionary.   Since beginning to post in 2009 my choice of topics has been opportunistic, even impressionistic.  Over the next few months I intend to give more consistent attention to three issues:

Catastrophes –  I am increasingly persuaded the federal role in homeland security should mostly be focused on preventing, preparing for, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from very high consequence events.  I also perceive the federal government has a key role in encouraging some modest, but consistent attention to catastrophic potential by other levels of government and the private sector.  Catastrophes and potential catastrophes are, I will argue, complex events that unfold in distinct ways, different than emergencies or disasters.  Some of the skills that are essential to managing emergencies and disasters can be profoundly counterproductive in potential catastrophes.   At least these are my current perceptions.  Can these claims hold up to my own analysis and your criticism?

Private Resilience – There’s lots of talk — often empty talk — about private-public partnerships.  I’m all in favor of meaningful and practically focused private-public relationships. I am, though, much more interested in readiness and resilience that does not depend on the public sector.  There is some intriguing evidence that many resilient neighborhoods have emerged in contention with the public sector.  Is resilience a synthesis of a private antithesis engaging a public thesis? My interest in private resilience is related to my focus on potential catastrophes.  In the very worst events private need will exceed public supply by several multiples. What are the characteristics of systemic resilience?  How is such resilience engendered?  Resilience can wither, how and why? My colleague Arnold Bogis has been clear that he perceives “resilience” to be little more than an intellectually sloppy buzz word.  Can I convince him otherwise? Will he convince me?

Civil Liberties – Since 9/11 several legal measures have been undertaken that challenge — even directly assault — freedoms that were previously taken for granted. Other than various indignities at the airport, the narrowing of our liberties has not seemed to elicit sustained citizen concern… and even at the airport the protests have more often been whines than something more substantive. The explosive expansion of digital commerce and sociability provides the government (and others) unprecedented opportunity for intruding into civil and private “space.”  There are reasonable motivations — preventative and protective — for this intrusion.  The long-term consequences for our civil liberties are worth careful consideration and active engagement.  Related, at least for me, is the issue of individual responsibility and the role of citizenship.  Perhaps the government is not so much taking away civil liberties as the citizens are trading them away.

I have other homeland security-related interests — religious conflict and supply chains, to name two — but I have chosen these three topics for some sustained attention because I wonder if these three may, in combination, point us to an overarching reality.

Is there a persistent cascading complexity that we perpetually endeavor to deny?  Do we regularly walk the edge of chaos, one step from catastrophe, but choose not to notice?  What might be the outcome of noticing?  Are the key components of resilience — flexibility, agility, adaptability, what else? — more effective than command-and-control to deal with cascading, unpredictable consequences?  Is the active application of our civil liberties an essential  tool for effectively engaging this complexity?

I will not post next week.  Between the first Friday in June and Christmas there are 30 Fridays.  In thirty posts, no more than 30,000 words — plus our discussions — can these questions be meaningfully answered?  Will you participate?  Argue with me?  Propose your alternatives?  Can we co-create an enhanced understanding of homeland security through our engagement with these three issues?

Claire Rubin has suggested blogs are not the best format for such extended considerations.  Claire is one of the wisest women I know.  But I have often found creative benefits in gentle foolishness.  So, I will try.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 18, 2012 @ 1:56 am

Interesting choice of topics and tough ones. One of my focuses ties the first two together but not the same way as Phil I am sure. I believe anytime any level of government is knocked out for whatever reasons from doing its job in any crisis or catastrophe that becomes the lead problem in that incident event. So my focus is on governmental resilience being adequate to strive for 24/7/365 operational capability and the ability to expand from any planning basis up to those that will require reestablishment of minimum capability and hopefully more.
What is odd is the few academics or researchers or organizations like CRC or GAO have actually conducted studies of situations where governments did not or could not perform their jobs. I criticize most of the Hurricane Katrina reports for focusing on what happened but not why and how in fact improvements could be made. Theoretically, the “new FEMA” is more capable and so are most of the states since the middle of the last decade! Proof–very slim pickings until we face another large scale event where government itself is prevented in some way from doing its job.
And of course critical infrastructure involves not just private sector resources, that may or may not be 85% of critical infrastructure, but also governmental resources.

One question to answer is whether budgetary cutbacks have impacted actual capabilities? And resilience?

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

May 18, 2012 @ 3:33 am

I think selecting 3 topics is a good idea. I look forward to your proposed effort.

My personal take on blogs is that postings should be short and pithy. I am not sure what popular social medium is the best one for extended comments and discussion. I am open to suggestions.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 18, 2012 @ 7:41 am

Perhaps the leading example wherein the FEDS state formally that should STATEs and/or their local governments fail to adequately prepare or respond to any particular situtation is E.O. 12657 issued in November [after the election] 1988 by the Reagan Administration and dealing with the potential for or actual nuclear power core melt accidents. Relying in part on a repealed Civil Defense Act of 1950 [Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress] that Executive Order mandates that FEMA will make up for any difficiencies in STATE or Local Government planning or response for a core melt accident. Tragically of course FEMA has never been able to do that by itself.
And in responding to a Presidential Commission on Response to a Catastrophic Nuclear Accident, the FEMA witness before the Commission, as was reported to Congress by the Commission as its position also, stated that the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act [Public Law 100-707] had no applicability to nuclear power station core melt accidents. That resulted in a number of STATES and local governments asking their MEMBERs of Congress to add radiological accidents and incidents specifically to the Robert T. Stafford Act. That has never been done.

Then in a panic NRC issued a document signed off by FEMA officials oddly stating on the record that the STAFFORD ACT could in fact be utilized in a nuclear power core melt accident.

Why even post this comment? Because the so-called Price-Anderson Act, sunsetting periodically, provides a cap on the nuclear power industries liability and some would believe allow coverage adequate for any such accident or incident.

With each new General Counsel arriving at the then independent Executive Branch Agency called FEMA when I worked there this was the number one issue I briefed to those new lambs to the slaughter. I suggested they request the DoJ/OLC rule on the relationship of the two statutes in a formal opinion [suggesting that OLC would take several years to finalize it] but they refused to request it.

Of course this leaves it to the actual response as to how this will be worked out.

So Phil, why not given FUKISHIMA start with the category of how local governments, upon which you state resilience relies, will respond to a nuclear catastrophe or radiological incident? Perhaps even a NUDET? Recently RAND issued a report paid for by FEMA that documents the effects of a 10KT event in DC. Wondering how FEMA planning for that event has gone since the report published last year?

And with the forced retirement of Senator Lugar one of the key voices in the SENATE on proliferation issues and nuclear surety and safety will be gone as of next January. He should be interviewed at length on the record as to his thoughts post-Senate on nuclear issues. Perhaps he will join former Senator Sam Nunn at the Nuclear Threat Initative.

AS always hoping that a large scale event does NOT occur should there be a change of administrations during that change over.

The first transition reports under the Presidential Transition Act will be coming due between now and Labor Day and should be an interesting read. The last such report by FEMA is posted on my blog at the VACATION LANE BLOG!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 18, 2012 @ 7:47 am

By the way Phil a Federal District Judge has ruled that any notion that the 2012 NDAA allows indefinite detention of US citizens is UnConstitutional. See Secrecy News or Lawfare.com!

Comment by John Comiskey

May 18, 2012 @ 7:58 am

In this blog, I have aggregated what I perceive to be wise analysis of post-9/1l-Huricane Katrina interpretations of how American society should secure the homeland.

I am working on a theory (an aggregation of others no doubt) of a homeland security paradigm: civic-minded-collaboration. IMHO, it subsumes your focus on catastrophes, private resilience, and civil liberties. It might be strategic collaboration with an emphasis on civics.

Civic-minded collaboration 101 (CMC 101)
1. The world changed and will continue to do so.

2. We (feds, staties, locals, tribals, public/private enterprises, and the people) are inextricably connected. Sometimes vertically, sometime horizontally, sometimes in ways that we never imagined –we do make strange bedfellows.

3. We would be well served to first try to understand our partners and then ask them to understand us(Covey)https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

4. Resilience includes self-reliance (Emerson Self-Reliance).http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/selfreliance.html

Good partners don’t ask others to do for them, when they can mostly do for themselves. Good partners ask for help when needed and/or a collaborative effort is the most efficient AND effective.

5.Responsibility trumps entitlement.

To my fellow bloggers,

IMHO, CMC is a homeland-security imperative.

I ask you to help me [us] build/create CMC 101. I ask for your questions, comments, concerns, and especially your criticisms.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

May 18, 2012 @ 11:34 am

Re: the federal role in preparing for catastrophies, well, you’re going to have to have a better opening statement. Of course the feds should have a significant role there. The question isn’t whether they should, but how is that implemented, given that the majority of state/local requests for federal aid will still be with natural disasters and local emergencies. Even though “all disasters are local,” it seems that state/local governments still have no intention of planning for or funding local response to cover their 25% of the disaster.

Just as one example, do you think the billions being spent on developing and maintaining a Strategic National Stockpile for medical countermeasures in the event of a bio attack are well-spent? Do you know how many thousands of doses of anthrax vaccine the US govt is throwing away every year due to expiration of stock? Saying that the feds have a responsibility to respond to the ridiculous “maximum of maximum” scenario is one thing. Actually finding the funds and deciding to spend it on the “worst case” scenarios instead of what the states/locals truly want is another. Maybe the federal response needs to rely more on plans that use existing resources instead of developing some vast storage of goods that are never used.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 18, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

John! I like CMC concept. Few understand that our federal system is built on COMITY not COMEDY!

I have suggested that Congress create a joint committee on federalism with each new or old federal program, function, or activity reviewed for its implications on federalism. This would become part of the system like the Congressional Budget Offices estimates of Budget impacts of each piece of legislation.

I expect that major impacts on federalism analysis will result from SCOTUS actions between now and the end of the SCOTUS term.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 19, 2012 @ 1:04 am

Note Bene!

Latest Title: Nuclear Disaster Preparedness Act
Sponsor: Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-17] (introduced 5/3/2011) Cosponsors (1)
Latest Major Action: 5/4/2011 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.SUMMARY AS OF:

Nuclear Disaster Preparedness Act – Directs the President to issue guidance on the federal response to any nuclear disaster that: (1) may be caused by a natural catastrophe, an accident, or a terrorist or other attack; (2) occurs initially at a nuclear power plant; and (3) disperses radiation off the reactor site and into the surrounding area.

Requires such guidance to: (1) designate the federal agency responsible for: coordinating the government’s efforts in response to a nuclear disaster (coordinating agency), including making a formal declaration that a nuclear disaster exists, and to identify the circumstances under which such declaration will occur; (2) designate the agency responsible for recommending the evacuation of an area surrounding a nuclear power plant in response to such a disaster and to identify the circumstances under which such recommendation will be made; (3) designate the agency responsible for conducting such evacuation; (4) designate the agency responsible for recommending that evacuees may return following a nuclear disaster and to identify the circumstances under which such recommendation will be made; and (5) designate the agency responsible for conducting cleanup of a nuclear disaster and to identify what cleanup standards will apply.

Comment by Donald Quixote

May 19, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

Should the word be “resilience” or just plain old “responsibility”? If the federal government is going to pay at least 75 percent of the approved Stafford Act disaster costs and hand-out ice, water, food and other precious items during the crisis, why should someone be overly concerned about the personal and civic preparedness costs and assume responsibility? As the federal grants and other funding sources are reduced in the future and the economy continues to sputter, the future is not terribly bright in this environment. More hard choices are coming, very often driven by factors out of our control.

Resilience is no doubt the current buzz word and often utilized to lessen the government of being responsible for services that it cannot produce and/or deliver in a timely fashion or at all during a significant incident anyway; that is exactly the reason why responsibility is such a better word or concept. However, not many wish for responsibility, or more of it, without a significant funding source and wiggle-room for blame-shifting should things go badly.

Resilience sounds great if you really know what it means, if anyone really knows what it means, and how it is measured and evaluated. It is an outstanding concept, but probably just that without clear responsibility and acceptance of it. I’m OK,
You’re Ok.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 19, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

Claire and Gentlemen: Many thanks for the substantive feedbacks and pushbacks. I’m on an assignment with limited access to the Internet… and not much time when it is available. But looking forward to beginning to engage these issues and your concerns in two weeks.

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