Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 28, 2013

Connecting dots in Africa

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2013

Last Friday the President informed Congress that:

Forty additional U.S. military personnel entered Niger with the consent of the Government of Niger. This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region. The total number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger is approximately 100. The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.

The deployment is widely reported as supporting expanded operations from a US drone base near Niamey, Niger’s capital city.

Earlier this week the Strauss Center at the University of Texas published a research brief that concludes:

The analysis shows that the levels of violent Islamist activity in Africa have risen sharply in recent years, both in absolute and proportional terms. While much of this increase has been driven by the intensification of conflict in a small number of key countries,there is also evidence for the geographic spread of violent Islamist activity both south- and eastward on the continent. Differences within and across violent Islamist groups reveal differential objectives, strategies, and modalities of violence across Africa. With ongoing conflicts in Somalia, Nigeria, and Mali among the most violent in Africa – and evidence of the spread of violent Islamist activity across Africa – violent Islamist groups, their activities, and objectives are likely to remain extremely influential both nationally and internationally.

The research was finished prior to recent clashes with French and other forces in Mali.

On February 20, the same day that US Africa Command opened a major exercise with Cameroon’s military, Salafist fighters from neighboring Nigeria crossed the border and abducted a family of French tourists, now being held in an effort to influence the French intervention in Mali.  There are now 15 French hostages being held in North Africa.

The Hollande government has insisted it will not negotiate with the hostage takers.   In January a French hostage in Somalia was killed during an attempted rescue.

Yesterday the French Foreign Minister welcomed the new US Secretary of State by saying,

And it can be said that when France and the United States commit together, they can change things. It is the case in the Sahel, which we discussed, in Mali, where France committed and is determined to restore Mali’s integrity and stop the push of the terrorists. We benefitted from the full support of our American friends both politically and on the field. And I would like to thank the United States of America as well as John Kerry for the support granted to the intervention by France as well as the American forces against the terrorists.

Yesterday Nigeria completed its deployment of 1200 troops to Mali.    Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported,

In vast West Africa, a new front-line region in the battle against al Qaeda, Nigeria is America’s strategic linchpin, its military one the U.S. counts on to help contain the spread of Islamic militancy. Yet Nigeria has rebuffed American attempts to train that military, whose history of shooting freely has U.S. officials concerned that soldiers here fuel the very militancy they are supposed to counter.

In the immediate aftermath of the hostage taking at the Algerian gas facility, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized:

This is a stark reminder, once again, of the threat we face from terrorism the world over. We have had successes in recent years in reducing the threat from some parts of the world, but the threat has grown particularly in north Africa. This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.

February 26, 2013

Teaching what I need to learn

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on February 26, 2013

“What’s that hissing noise?”

It was 4:00 Tuesday morning. I was asleep. I thought my wife was asleep.

“Huh?” I asked, intelligently.

“That noise,” she said, sitting up in bed.

I did hear something. I got out of bed and looked out the window.

I heard hissing sounds. And popping sounds. Lots of them.

And I saw a red glow where there shouldn’t have been one.

A frighteningly ugly and much too close red glow.

“The shop’s on fire,” I said, using the name I gave to my study — a building about 300 feet from our house.

“Is it bad,” my wife asked.

“Yes. Get the kids out of the house.”

“Should I call 911?”

“Yes.”

 

Here’s what the outside of the shop looked like when we moved into our house a few years ago.

Here’s what it looked like from my bedroom window, at 4:16 on Tuesday morning.

My family practiced fire drills a few times a year. My kids took the drills seriously. So everyone was out of the house quickly, maybe under a minute. My wife and son moved the cars away from the house in case the fire spread.

It did not.

Even though our evacuation wasn’t perfect, I would like to believe the drills helped. At least at the margins.

As the preparedness experts suggest, our cars each have 72 hour emergency kits for the four of us, so that was a good thing. We also have a two week supply of food, water, blankets, and other recommended preparedness items.

I should say we “had,” rather than “have.” I kept our main preparedness kit in the shop.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

It also seemed like a good idea to use the shop as a study and library. The shop held something near 5,000 books that I’d started collecting when I was 18 (including the first two books I started with: Webster’s Collegiate and Roget’s Thesaurus). It had papers, notes, writings, and other relics of an academic life.

We used half the 1000 square-foot shop to store out-of-season clothes, tools, bikes, lawn mower, chainsaw, holiday decorations, camping equipment, pictures of the kids growing up, and the other miscellaneous items families keep, expecting to pass along to another generation.

 

I live in rural Oregon, so it seemed like 2 hours before the fire department showed up. Turns out it took them less than 5 minutes to get to my house.

Apparently internal clocks are not to be trusted during chaos.

The 7 or 8 responding fire fighters were calm, methodical, and professional. Even though it was a minor incident (to everyone but me, of course), they used incident command. The commander assigned one team to the north side of the building and the other team to the south side. Not knowing what was in the building, they brought masks, and canisters and lord knows what else with them. They were a credit to their profession. But it was their calmness that I best remember. It was infectious.

Most of the fire was out in an hour. One team remained for 90 minutes to extinguish returning flames.

The fire smoldered for several more days, even in the Oregon rain.

Books and family artifacts do not die quickly.

 

It’s been a week since the fire. A bizarre week.

My wife now defines herself officially as “an empty husk of a woman.” I helpfully remind her that at least she has that going for her.

My 12 year old is happy the internet has returned to our house. But he does hug me every now and then and says he’s sorry I lost everything. I hug him back and remind him he’s mistaken.

My 16 year old son surprised me during the hight of the chaos. He remained composed during the whole incident. He made sure his mother and brother had warm coats when they evacuated into the cold darkness. He wrote down — legibly — our names and contact information for the fire chief. He did a lot of small things that brought comfort and confidence to his mother and brother. I had not seen that part of him before — perhaps a glimpse of the man that he is becoming.

As for me, I look at what’s left of the shop and stagger between “Wow!” and “WTF??”

My professional network consists mostly of public safety and military men and women. I do not have words to describe how supportive they’ve been, offering to do anything I need, realistically knowing at this point the sentiment is enough.

These friends also are a stabilizing influence for me. I have been surprised by that. Yes, it was personally tragic, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

And for many of the people my public safety friends have known, it was worse.

Their emailed condolences indirectly remind me what they’ve experienced: New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Katrina, Haiti, San Bruno, Aurora, Sandy, Iraq, Afghanistan — to say nothing about the day-to-day tragedies that shape the routines of their professional lives.

The subtext of almost all the compassionate messages I received from them during the week was something like, “Sorry it was your turn. Take a little time to regroup. Then get back in the arena.”

Gently, one colleague reminded me he had to leave everything he owned — “except for a couple of suitcases” — when he was forced to leave his homeland.

Another wrote that he knew what I was going through because he’s still trying to recover from what Hurricane Sandy did to his home

Another friend was more direct:

Sorry Hallmark does not appear to make a “So your placed burned down” greeting card.

Maybe my favorite was this message:

No books. Wow. You’re about to try living life like an 18 year old.”

 

Yesterday I came across some words John Borling wrote (Borling spent six and a half years in Hanoi as a prisoner of war):

My view is that our job [like Sisyphus] is to get the rock up and over the hill…. And once you do, the rock rolls down the other side, and what do you see? You see another hill. The essence of life is really just pushing rocks.”

And, I might add, that’s not entirely a bad thing.

 

Note: This post started out to be something about personal and family preparedness. But it got side tracked along the way.

I was going to write about where my preparedness plans succeeded (a few places), where they failed (far too many places) and what I’ve learned in the past week (far too much I should have known and acted on before the fire).

But I’ll write about that another time. I’m still preparing my after action report, and you know how long those things can take.

For now,  I’ll pour myself a glass of wine, get back to being resilient, and contemplate one more picture from a fire of still undetermined origin.


February 25, 2013

You think it’s bad now? Remember the Cold War…

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 25, 2013

It’s popular to think that we live in extremely dangerous times.  Mother Nature seems angrier than in the past — whether due to global climate change or just the random desire to chuck space rocks at us — and man-made threats keep proliferating.

Al Qaeda has established itself seemingly everywhere (at least, anywhere at least one self-described member raises a flag and immediately is welcomed onto the drone target list), our ambassadors are vulnerable and our military unable to react to events anywhere immediately, and small countries lacking ICBMs are slowly taking steps to join the other eight established nuclear powers.

At home our economy is slowly recovering from the worst recession in recent memory (though it is recovering faster than other developed nations) and our citizens are no longer the sturdy frontiersmen of our past but needy supplicants of an ever growing federal government. [Please note the sarcastic tone...]

However, Tom Nichols of the Naval War College (along with Jim Walsh of MIT and others) reminds us that we faced some seriously crazy, apocalyptic stuff during our confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Such as the “Dead Hand,” a computer that was programmed to launch the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal if it ascertained that an American first strike had decapitated leadership in Moscow.

You can’t make this stuff up:

February 21, 2013

No three hour cruise

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Port and Maritime Security,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on February 21, 2013

We are all aboard the Carnival Triumph.  That’s the cruise ship stranded at sea starting on February 10.  Our comfort and survival rest on interdependent systems most do not understand; and some systems many  actively avoid thinking about.

Usually the systems work well. But recently there has been a rash of cascading failures: Carnival Splendor,  Costa Allegra, and Azamara Quest.  The capsizing of the Costa Concordia is a different category, but not not irrelevant.  In the wider world of cascading failures other labels are applied:  Tohoku, Haiti, Lehman Brothers…

According to CNN:

“We know that the fire originated in front of a generator,” Patrick Cuty, a senior marine investigator for the U.S. Coast Guard, told CNN on Sunday (February 17)….  It appears that the fire suppression worked as designed, Cuty said Friday (February 15). The engineer who was on watch around dawn February 10 saw the fire ignite over a video feed and immediately notified the bridge, Cuty said. Based on an inspection of the engine room Thursday, Cuty said the fire did not appear to have been large.

On Monday afternoon February 18, the Associated Press reported, “A Coast Guard official says the cause of the engine-room fire on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was a leak in a fuel oil return line.”

According to the New York Times:

The passengers had left the Port of Galveston in Texas on Thursday (February 7) for what was to be a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. They ended up sleeping for five days on sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited that they were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns. “It’s like being locked in a Porta Potty for days,” said Peter Cass, a physician from Beaumont, Tex., as the ship crept closer to Mobile on Thursday. “We’ve lived through two hurricanes, and this is worse.”

I had hoped by now there might be more public detail on confirmed cause-and-effects.  I can’t find what I consider fully credible information.  But since I am just a blogger — and mostly want to argue an analogy — here’s a rough summary of what I understand:

  • A comparatively small fire — probably accidental in origin — was quickly extinguished.
  • But as a consequence water pumping, air conditioning, propulsion and ship stabilizers were all disabled. The Triumph was left “dead in the water.”
  • The crew was wonderful, according to many.  Most of the passengers were cooperative, collaborative, and creative under stress.
  • But living conditions quickly turned from luxurious to life-threatening.  The second of what will surely be many lawsuits, claims that passengers were “exposed to extremely toxic and debilitating conditions resulting in severe and permanent injuries.”
  • The response, both official and unofficial, was “effective”. No one died. The ship will cruise again.

Toxicity was mostly a matter of ongoing exposure to untreated human waste.  With over 4200 humans in close quarters pitching this way and that, human hygiene was seriously challenged.

This was also a problem at the New Orleans Superdome following Katrina.  This is at the core of the cholera epidemic in Haiti.  It was an issue in several New York high rises for weeks after Sandy.  In the aftermath of any sustained loss of power, pumping, or water, sewage system failure is a secondary — or sometimes tertiary — consequence that can quickly overwhelm densely populated places.

Water is often treated as yet another critical infrastructure.  Water pumping, storage, distribution, and treatment systems are among our most ancient human infrastructures.  But the water system is not just a contributing function, it is also a key supply: for hydration, fire suppression, and hygiene.   We can survive with no electricity, without fuel, and — for a considerable period — even without food.  But lack of water — or the persistent presence of wastewater — can very quickly overwhelm every other human capacity.

I almost headlined this post “Sh*t Happens”.   I am still my mother’s child so I hide it in the final paragraph (raising a multitude of issues related to hypocrisy, passive-aggressive tendencies, and various pseudo-Freudian totems).  But, indeed it does happen, both literally and figuratively, even as we pay our fare and blithely expect a three hour cruise.

February 19, 2013

A dangerous idea that did not make the cut: “We should create a Department of Homeland Security”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 19, 2013

The entry period for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s 6th Annual essay contest closed on Friday.

This year’s question was “What is a dangerous idea you have about homeland security, and why is it dangerous?”

I’m looking forward to reading the essays people wrote.

 

Last week someone copied me on the message, below. It was a response to another email, asking if the recipient saw the essay question, and planned to submit an entry. Here’s the response:

I had seen [the contest announcement] and had already decided I did not have time to put a paper together.

But, yes, I have some dangerous ideas.

Like “We should create a Department of Homeland Security.”

This idea is dangerous because it will be guided by incompetent political appointees (either party, makes no difference), poorly managed by Senior Executives who are largely the rejects of the donor Departments, and guided by horrifically invalid concepts and assumptions (e.g., “One Job, One Agency” by James Carrafano of The Heritage Foundation, the most influential of the conservative Can’t Think Tanks).

Further, it is highly likely that Congress will say its primary mission is preventing terrorist attacks while, at the same time, Congress will leave all of the instruments of government appropriate to that task located elsewhere in government. This will ensure that the most senior leaders and managers in the Department, in addition to being incompetent, are focused on what, for the bulk of the Department, is “Mission Irrelevant.”

Why, with any luck, we can make sure that the new Department of Homeland Security has, year in and year out, the very worst morale of any large Department or Agency in government.

 

The author is not a wing nut, from either side of the nut spectrum. The author is someone who has been involved with the business of homeland security for more than 30 years. The author is one of the smartest, forward thinking, and creative public servants I’ve met in the past decade. The author understand the concept of risk as well if not better than anyone I’ve met in the homeland security enterprise. The author’s knowledge and understanding are grounded in an operational career that spans more than 30 years, and includes leadership responsibilities for some of the nation’s most significant response events.

I contacted the author and asked permission to publish the note.

“Sure,” the author wrote back. “I’m leaving [soon] anyway.”

 

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

But organizations in the public and the private sector frequently abridge their employees’ freedom of speech.  It’s not unconstitutional.

Allowing, encouraging, demanding that public servants in the homeland security organizations speak their mind is a dangerous idea that probably will not make the cut.

Louis Brandeis wrote “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

The author of the “We should create a Department of Homeland Security” is someone who, in my experience, lived Brandeis’ words.

I will be sorry to see him leave the arena.

 

February 16, 2013

Dodging asteroids: compartmentalizing serendipity formed by an underlying synchronicity.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 16, 2013

I’m guessing you’ve probably recovered from all the parties you went to last night to celebrate Asteroid 2012 DA14‘s laughingly inept effort to destroy Planet Earth.

It missed by more than 17,000 miles.

I’m also assuming you’re not one of the 1200 people injured by the meteorite that “streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday….”

The two events were not related, insist scientists from all over the world.  Just a “chilling coincidence.”

But maybe — just maybe — the sterile phrase “chilling coincidence” masks a much more serious warning from the scientific community.

Urban Dictionary defines chilling as “a conscious effort to maintain a calm demeanor or, regain composure;” and  coincidence as “a compartmentalized serendipity formed by an underlying synchronicity.”

Translating, perhaps scientists are only pretending to be calm as a part of what they do to compartmentalize the underlying synchronicity.

Serious homeland security professionals should read these signals and prepare for the worst.  Like this:


 

 

Check your 72 hour kit. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

 

 

February 15, 2013

Does your all-hazard plan include meteors?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 15, 2013

Maybe it should.  Or at least Russians will think so after today:

Nearly 1,000 people have sought help for injuries caused by a meteor that exploded in the sky, blasting out countless windows, a Russian health official said Friday.

Chelyabinsk health chief Marina Moskvicheva, said that 985 people in her city had asked for medical assistance. The Interfax news agency quoted her as saying 43 were hospitalized.

The Russian Academy of Sciences said the meteor — estimated to be about 10 tons — entered the Earth’s atmosphere going at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph). It shattered about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above the ground, releasing several kilotons of energy above the Ural Mountains.

Apparently, Russia is due such an event about once a century:

The arrival of the meteor provoked comparisons to the Tunguska event of 1908, when an apparent meteor exploded over a remote part of Siberia — more than 1,000 miles to the east of Chelyabinsk — and flattened nearly 1,000 square miles of forest. Studies suggest that that meteor was on the order of 300 feet across when it exploded — far larger than Friday’s visitor.

This serves as another reminder that whether it be a flood of molasses or a rock falling from the sky, unless you’re Bruce Willis there will be events that cannot be prevented and are often not included in planning.  I can’t think of a better argument for flexibility and resiliency than rum and meteors.

One of the many videos of the meteor that can now be found on the internet:

 

Bruce Willis describes a common theory of homeland security in the following clip (from the 1:30 to 2:00 mark):

February 14, 2013

State of the Union and implications for the state of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 14, 2013

Neither the phrase “homeland security” nor the Department of Homeland Security were explicit in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, but topics that regularly appear on the homeland security agenda were prominent:

Mitigation of Natural Disasters:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

Resilient Infrastructure and Private-Public Relationships:

Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

(On Tuesday the President also signed-out Presidential Policy Directive 21: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience which sets out a renewed approach to herding several distinct species of very wild cats.)

Border Security and Immigration:

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

International Counterterrorism:

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans. As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Cybersecurity:

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy. That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Gun Violence:

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

The Department of Homeland Security will be significantly involved in the border protection and immigration issue.  Cybersecurity is a high priority for DHS.   The new cyber executive order reaffirms an important role for the Secretary of Homeland Security.   Several DHS components — especially FEMA — have seats at the disaster mitigation table.   There is DHS related resilience work in which I am personally involved that seems promising.  The critical infrastructure effort is… well, critical.

But it seems to me unlikely the Department of Homeland Security or anyone primarily identified as a “homeland security professional” will emerge as the principal change-agent on any of these priorities.   We will occasionally contribute to  – and often impede — the process of change.  I would be amazed to see “homeland security” in the forefront of shaping policy and strategy for any of these issues.

I have some pet theories to explain homeland security’s lack of leadership, but would be interested if you agree or disagree… and why?

February 13, 2013

North Korea’s nuclear test and you

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 13, 2013

So North Korea tested another nuclear weapon the other day.  Bad?  Absolutely.  An issue for U.S. national security? Sure.  A homeland security problem? I’d argue yes…though I realize there will be disagreements.

It certainly isn’t the end of the world–or even something close to anything like an existential threat.  North Korea’s nuclear arsenal (and ability to delivery it) is to Russia like Pee Wee football is to the NFL.  Proliferation is bad.  But it doesn’t signify the end of our FREEDOM!

Primarily because we maintain the most dangerous nuclear arsenal in the world.  Pure numbers do not matter, though of course we rank right up there with Russia in a class of our own.  But more importantly we can currently drop more mega-tonnage on ridiculously small “Circular Error Probable” (CEP) areas that it is almost incomprehensible the amount of civilization destroying damage we could inflict on any adversary.

So what is the issue with this latest North Korean test?  The possibilities that things could very possibly get out of control.  By that I mean, a regime with little to lose might try to make the ultimate sale.  Here is Harvard’s Graham Allison recently in the New York Times:

THE most dangerous message North Korea sent Tuesday with its third nuclear weapon test is: nukes are for sale.

Why?

The real significance is that this test was, in the estimation of American officials, most likely fueled by highly enriched uranium, not the plutonium that served as the core of North Korea’s earlier tests. Testing a uranium-based bomb would announce to the world — including potential buyers — that North Korea is now operating a new, undiscovered production line for weapons-usable material.

This is important, why?

Hence the grim conclusion that North Korea now has a new cash crop — one that is easier to market than plutonium. Highly enriched uranium is harder to detect and therefore easier to export — and it is also simpler to build a bomb from it. The model of uranium-fueled bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was so elementary, and its design so reliable, that the United States never bothered to test one before using it.

So what to do?

Mr. Obama should send Mr. Kim a direct, unambiguous message, with a carbon copy to the Chinese leadership in Beijing, warning that if a nuclear bomb of North Korean origin were to explode on American soil or that of an American ally, the United States would respond precisely as though North Korea itself had hit the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.

The whole piece is worth your time: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/opinion/north-koreas-lesson-nukes-for-sale.html?_r=0

February 12, 2013

Hybrid Targeted Violence: Clearly Defining Complex Attacks

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on February 12, 2013

Today’s post is written by Tracy L. Frazzano, a Lieutenant with the Montclair New Jersey Police Department, and G. Matthew Snyder, a leadership instructor with a federal law enforcement agency. (There’s additional information about the authors at the end of the post.)

 

Nothing captures the nation’s attention more than mass casualty attacks.

These horrific, brutal, heartless, and calculated acts garner international media attention due to the compelling questions of “why” and “how”.

While mass murder rampages are perceived by many to be a modern phenomenon, they are neither new nor are they growing at epidemic rates. Despite being statistically rare events, they dramatically impact countless individuals, communities, and nations. Events involving sophisticated planning, varieties of weapons, and complex tactics will undoubtedly persist globally in highly unpredictable patterns.

The current Department of Homeland Security definition of an active shooter is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” [1]  That definition does not adequately describe for first responders the dynamic crime scenes that involve a variety of lethal weapons and uncontained attackers.

The active shooter label is no longer sufficient to completely describe the enhanced threat that public safety will be called upon to deal with.

We define the term Hybrid Targeted Violence (HTV) as an intentional use of force to cause physical injury or death to a specifically identified population using multifaceted conventional weapons and tactics. This definition based on “hybrid” weapons and tactics better captures the operational range of hazards confronting first responders.

HTV assaults often use a combination of lethal conventional weapons (i.e. fire as a weapon, small arms, improvised explosive devices, etc.) and a combination of well-planned tactics (i.e. ambush, breaching, barricading, maneuver, etc.). The compound effect of this form of violence requires a more complex response strategy. These strategies blur lines between traditional law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical service duties and responsibilities.

Clarity and unity of vision must drive first responder decision making at chaotic HTV events.

(Multiple Weapons) + (Targeted Population) + (Planned Violent Action) = Hybrid Targeted Violence

Example: (Small Arms and Arson) + (School Population) + (Ambush Tactics) = HTV

Targeted violence directed towards innocent and defenseless people, especially children, demands a highly competent, rational reaction. Professionals must extract lessons from past events to better prevent, disrupt, and mitigate future attacks.

Preparation for future HTV events requires an appreciation for historical incidents while maintaining a keen awareness for impending threats. Past events that have involved combinations of ambush strategies, explosive devices, firearms, and other targeted assault tactics are worth analyzing. First responders can glean valuable training lessons from these events by comparing local resources against HTV tactics.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School Attack and the Aurora Colorado Theater Ambush, the New York Police Department published a revised active shooter risk mitigation report. [2]  NYPD’s report is one of many that provides a global analysis of HTV incidents with sufficient detail to permit further research.

Examples of noteworthy tragedies that can serve as the basis of first responder HTV awareness and training include:

  • May 18, 1927: Bath Township Michigan School Massacre: Ambush, bombing, fire as weapon, and shooting. [2]
  • December 30, 1974: Olean New York High School Attack: Ambush, bombing, fire as weapon, and shooting, (NYPD, p. 143).
  • April 20, 1999: Columbine Colorado High School Attack: Ambush, fire as weapon, IED’s, and shooting (NYPD, p. 121).
  • December 9, 2003: Visalia California PrintXcel Plant Attack: Multiple fires as weapons and shooting (NYPD p. 83).
  • November 26, 2008: Mumbai India Coordinated Attacks: Ambush, barricading tactics, explosives, fire as weapon, military maneuver tactics, and shooting (NYPD, p.50).
  • August 27, 2010: McKinney Texas Department of Public Safety Ambush: Ambush, fire as weapon, and shooting (NYPD, p. 13-14).
  • July 22, 2011: Oslo Norway Parliament and Children’s Camp Attack: Ambush, distraction VBIED, maneuver techniques, and shooting (NYPD, p. 175).
  • December 13, 2011: Liege, Belgium Saint-Lambert Attack: Ambush, shooting, and stun grenades (NYPD, p. 34).
  • July 20, 2012: Aurora Colorado Theater Attack: Ambush, chemical weapons, explosive booby traps and shooting (NYPD, p. 33).
  • December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School Attack: Ambush, breaching tactics, and shooting [3] (NYPD p. 91).
  • December 24, 2012: Webster New York Firefighter Ambush: Ambush, fire as weapon, and shooting. [4]

Executive and operational leaders need to make the transition from historical HTV lessons to planning for future HTV attacks. More importantly, these leaders must understand that these events occur with little or no notice, thus testing capabilities and the ability to respond to an unusual event with multiple agencies and multiple disciplines involved.

There is considerable confusion and chaos at the start of these events, so much that the initial first responders rely heavily on training and past experiences to recognize and react to the atypical threats. The problem is that training is historically inclusive of each public safety discipline (police, fire, EMS, etc.).

What is evident in all of these scenarios is a need for change – change in traditional roles of each organization dispatched to an HTV event.

The public, the media, and even first responders look to the law enforcement community solely to manage these events. Television coverage amplifies the visual of police officers and SWAT officers running to the scene wearing body armor and carrying tactical firearms. Initial images of the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings portrayed the fire department and emergency medical community in the “staging” area awaiting the police to deem the area safe or bring patients to them.

A collective paradigm shift in first responder perspectives and cultures must occur to better address hybrid threats and targeted violence.

Discipline-centered basic and advanced training has not fostered a spirit of dynamic cooperation at crime scenes and on the fire ground. For example, police officers are trained to address acts of violence, firefighters are trained to fight structure fires, and EMT’s are trained to care for the injured. These are fundamental roles that are not clearly defined during an HTV event.

When roles overlap, leaders across disciplines must question the methods of interoperability. For example, under the current model, can police officers, firefighters, and EMT’s simultaneously engage an active shooter within a burning building when lethal injuries are being inflicted every few seconds?  Hard questions like these must be addressed with an honest self-assessment.

While in the past, the roles of police, fire, and EMS may have been viewed as independent, HTV events present the need to share resources and alter the response protocols of each discipline. Interdependence and rapid interoperability must replace parochial role specific response strategies.

Effective responses to these events hinge on integrated public safety professionals applying finely tuned skills to perform essential tasks cooperatively in a lethal multi-hazards environment. Joint planning, training, and understanding across disciplines are required to more efficiently neutralize chaos and confusion during the initial response to an HTV incident scene.

The first few minutes of any emergency call for service are the most lethal for both innocent victims and first responders. Quick identification and recognition of an HTV incident insures that first responders request and receive the appropriate resources to engage the threat. Minimizing the damage inflicted by a determined attacker can pivot on a rapid recognition by all responders that a call for service is not a routine gun call, structure fire, or medical request.

The concept behind the term “Hybrid Targeted Violence” is intended to foster a change in mind-set to all first responder disciplines. Achieving that change through multi-discipline training and education will shorten the reaction time between attack initiation and neutralization through a Whole Community response. [5 ]

When lives are being lost during those initial few seconds to a HTV attacker, first responders must be capable of abandoning routine response strategies and adopting synergistic strategies. This paradigm shift will maximize lifesaving forces in the face of danger that is seemingly unimaginable.

 

Notes

1. Department of Homeland Security (2008). Active Shooter: How to Respond. retrieved February 1, 2013 from http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf

2. Kelly, R. W. (2012). Active shooter: Recommendations and analysis for risk mitigation. New York City Police Department, New York, NY. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/counterterrorism/ActiveShooter2012Edition.pdf.

3. Bomboy, S. (2012, December 18). Huge school bombing in 1927 puts Sandy Hook in context. National Constitution Center: Yahoo News. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://news.yahoo.com/mass-school-bombing-1927-puts-sandy-hook-context-185608674.html.

4. Shoichet, C.E. and Botelho, G. (2012, December 24). ‘Chaos:’ Gunman ambushes, kills two firefighters at New York blaze. Cable News Network. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/24/us/new-york-firefighters-shooting/index.html.

5. Federal Emergency Management Agency (2011). A Whole Community approach to emergency management: principles, themes, and pathways for action. Washington, DC. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4941.

 

Tracy L. Frazzano is a Lieutenant with the Montclair Police Department in New Jersey. She was awarded the 2011 Center for Homeland Defense and Security Alumni Fellowship and was detailed to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C. for one year. A 2010 graduate of the Center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, she earned a Master of Arts Degree in Security Studies (Homeland Security and Defense). She also has a Master of Arts Degree in Human Resources Training and Development from Seton Hall University where she was inducted into the academic Kappa Delta Pi and Golden Key International Honor societies. Contact: tfrazzano [at] montclairnjusa.org

G. Matthew Snyder is an Advanced Leadership Instructor with a federal law enforcement agency. He has been employed as a police officer with the City of Waynesboro (VA) Police Department since 1992. Formerly a full time patrol officer, he now serves as a part-time investigator assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division. In 2010, Mr. Snyder retired from the U.S. Army Reserve at the rank of Command Sergeant Major with over 24 years of active and reserve service. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from James Madison University and he recently completed all coursework towards a Doctorate in Education at Liberty University. His ongoing dissertation research is focused on training and education related to Hybrid Targeted Violence. Contact: gmatthewsnyder [at] gmail.com.

February 8, 2013

Cyber Insecurity: Black Swan or Headline?

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Ted Lewis on February 8, 2013

The Iron Triangle

President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term, “military industrial complex” during his farewell address to Congress on January 17, 1961. The phrase stuck and is now used to describe an ironclad triangle binding together private-sector companies, the military, and government appropriations for the purpose of promoting defense spending. According to Wikipedia, the triangle contains, “…relationships includ[ing] political contributions, political approval for military spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and oversight of the industry.”

The military industrial complex grew during the Cold War, but slowed after the fall of the Former Soviet Union. During Eisenhower’s tenure as President, and through most of the 1950s, military spending remained above 10% of GDP; it dropped slightly during the Vietnam War (about 9 percent of US GDP); and then declined even further to about 5 percent through the 1970s. President Ronald Reagan ramped it back up to 6 percent until the fall of the Soviet Union. By 2000, it had settled down to 3% and has inched up slightly to its current level of 5.5 percent – a far cry from its 9-10% level during the “glory days” of the Cold War.

But a new requirement may be emerging to replace tanks, warships, missiles, and airplanes as the next growth area for the complex: cyber insecurity. Cyber insecurity is the term I use to describe real and imagined security gaps in the global information and communication network infrastructure. It is the opposite of cyber security.

Suddenly, vast sums of money are pouring into cyber insecurity because of perceived increases in cyber threats, growing vulnerabilities created by connecting everything to the TCP/IP monoculture (mobile devices and cloud computing), flawed software, and lack of adequate precautions on the part of government agencies, infrastructure companies, and the public.

It seems governments and companies are rushing to the Internet because it improves efficiencies and reduces costs. But this rush also opens up new vulnerabilities. According to eWeek, government spending to combat cyber insecurity was forecast, “to reach $60 billion in 2011 and is forecast to grow 10 percent every year during the next three to five years.”

Financial institutions spent $17 billion on cyber insecurity in 2012. AT&T estimates spending to reach $40 billion annually, and “Frank Kendall, defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, says there is still ‘a lot of money’ to be made in the defense business, despite mounting budget pressures… in cyber security.”

President Obama is seeking $500 million for research into cyber security with emphasis on industrial control systems that control water, power, and transportation systems. Gartner Corp, a market research company, claims total spending on cyber insecurity will reach $86 billion by 2016.

On the surface it would seem that cyber insecurity is emerging as the next big opportunity for the military industrial complex. There is money to be made by extending the military industrial complex to embrace the cyber security industrial complex. With billions of dollars pouring into research and development, how can the iron triangle resist?

 

The Check, Please

A 2012 survey of 56 corporate and governmental organizations conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that cyber attacks cost an average of $8.9 million per organization in the US, $5.9 million in Germany, $5.1 million in Japan, $3.2 million in UK, and $3.2 million in Australia. Most attacks were perpetrated by malicious insiders or through network exploits such as denial of service attacks.

Compare this with exploits committed against consumers, such as phishing ($687 million, globally, according to RSA Inc.) and online fraud (1% of retail sales or $3.4 billion, globally). There are many problems with estimates of cyber insecurity costs, so readers should be skeptical of these estimates.

The Ponemon study raises questions regarding methodology: how were these costs calculated? Generally, costs are associated with loss of productivity — business disruption, information loss or theft, revenue loss, equipment damages, and the cost of detection, investigation, containment, recovery and measures to fend off future attacks.

Contrast these numbers with $4.5 billion in car theft annually in the USA, and 275,000 accidental deaths of patients in hospitals, annually. [Barbara Starfield, J. AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, (July 26th 2000) reports that medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States: 225,000 deaths per year from unnecessary surgery; medication and other errors; infections in hospitals.]

So far, nobody has died from a cyber attack.

Cyber crime, loss of intellectual property due to cyber exploits, and damages done to banks, consumers, and retail web sites may be on the rise, but the consequences barely compare with traditional crime. In 1999, David Anderson estimated the total cost of crime in the US to exceed $1 trillion – a number several orders of magnitude greater than the most pessimistic scholarly estimates of cyber crime.

So we face two questions: how were estimates of cyber insecurity derived, and how do they compare with other threat statistics?

 

The Wrong Questions

The superficial numbers cited above suggest that cyber insecurity is a relatively minor problem as compared with more mundane problems such as car accidents, medical accidents, natural disasters, and plain ordinary crime. In addition, cyber insecurity statistics based on surveys are highly unreliable and often misleading.

Julie Ryan and Theresa Jefferson, scientists at George Washington University, conclude in their paper (The Use, Misuse, and Abuse of statistics in Information Security Research), “In the information security arena, there is no reliable data upon which to base decisions. Unfortunately, there is unreliable data that is masquerading as reliable data. The people using that data appear not to question the reliability of the data, but simply quote it with no caveats or constraints. This is of great concern because it may mean that resources are being allocated inappropriately or ineffectively.”

Are these unsubstantiated claims merely a continuation of the 50-year old military industrial complex iron triangle? Claims of an impending “cyber pearl harbor” are very conducive to increasing government spending. After 9/11, perception of an impending black swan event has gone from remotely possible random events to almost inevitable high-impact events without the benefit of solid research.

Instead of hyping a poorly understood potential threat to stimulate government spending, perhaps we should be asking a different question, “what policies and strategies are there to prevent both imagined and real cyber insecurities?”

In other words, cyber security should be about policies instead of headlines.

——————

Ted Lewis is Professor of Computer Science and National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the director of the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  His most recent book is Bak’s Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World.

February 7, 2013

Everybody, get on the floor, let’s dance! Don’t fight the feelin’, give yourself a chance! Shake, shake, shake…

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on February 7, 2013

More from United States Geological Survey

Earthquakes are precisely unpredictable.  But they can be anticipated with considerable accuracy.

We don’t know exactly when and where the New Madrid fault will shift.  But most (though not all) argue continuing tectonic movements will eventually produce a geologic snap, crackle, and pop.   The last time a major shift began (December 16, 1811) the earthquake is estimated to have been in the upper 7s or low 8s on the Richter Scale.  Here’s how the naturalist and artist John James Audubon described it from 200 miles west of the epicenter.

Never had I witnessed anything like this before, though I had heard of earthquakes. I found myself rocking on my horse and I moved to and fro with him like a child in a cradle, expecting the ground to open at any moment and reveal an abyss to engulf me and all around me. The fearful convulsion lasted only minutes, however. Almost every day or night for weeks shock succeeded shock, but gradually diminished into more vibrations of the earth. The quake ceased, but not until after it had caused serious consequences in other neighboring places, rending the earth and sinking islands.

There are several million more people in the seismic zone today and a huge panoply of modern — and a fair share of pre-modern — infrastructure on which the nation’s economy depends and which was constructed without anticipating such an earthquake.   This has implications for the grid, drinking water distribution, sewage systems, dams, bridges, buildings, river locks and levees, natural gas pipelines, and much more. When it happens we will be surprised and we will suffer.

But today at 10:15 many schools, hospitals, workplaces, and more in nine states are collaborating in the The Great Central US Shake Out.  A reasonable investment in a bit less surprise, a bit less suffering.  As KC and Sunshine Band sang, “Give yourself a chance.”

A local comment caught my eye.  According to the Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), Steve Land with the Williamson County emergency management office, “…encourages Illinoisans to have enough food, water, medicines and other necessities to last two weeks.”   This will not be a 72-hour event.

February 7 was not selected at random.  On this date in 1818 the “last” 7.0 plus (some say 9.0 plus) earthquake hit the region.  From December 1811 until February 1818 the central United States experienced at least four earthquakes above 7.0 and as our little 2011 Virginia trembler demonstrated, the shaking travels farther this side of the Rockies.

Talk about a cascading event.

February 6, 2013

“The Department assumes the rights afforded by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, as well as the Fourth Amendment, attach to a U.S. Citizen even while he is abroad.”

Filed under: Legal Issues,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 6, 2013

As you have probably already seen, Michael Isikoff at NBC News has obtained a Justice Department white paper that argues under what conditions it is lawful for the government to kill a US citizen.

You can download and read the entire document here:  020413_DOJ_White_Paper

The Department of Justice authors conclude, “that where certain conditions are met, a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces — a terrorist organization engaged in constant plotting against the United States — would not violate the Constitution.  The paper also includes an analysis concluding that such an operation would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States…”

The leaked document is only sixteen pages long.  It is thought to  summarize much more extensive legal briefs and studies.  It is worth your careful read before any of us begin our own analysis and commentary.

Here’s the original NBC News story:  Legal Case for Drone Strikes

Here’s a follow-on NBC News report on various reactions to the leaked report:  Legal Experts Fear Implications of Drone Memo

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 7 UPDATE:

According to the New York Times — an many other media — “The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.”

“The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.”

“The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.”

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8 UPDATE:

Further attention — if not much more insight — is available from yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of John Brennan.

Writing in TIME magazine Michael Crowley offers:

In one of the hearing’s most interesting exchanges, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine drew back further, asking Brennan whether some basic assumptions about the fight against al Qaeda should be challenged. Noting that the terror group continues to spread, Collins asked, “If the cancer of al Qaeda is metastasizing, do we need a new treatment?” Collins noted that even an experienced military official like former General Stanley McChrystal have begun wondering aloud whether America has become too reliant on drones, at the expense of breeding resentment and backlash within the Muslim world. (You can read about that and related issues in TIME’s recent drones cover story.)

“We have to be very mindful” of local reactions to drone strikes, Brennan answered. But he insisted that people in al Qaeda-infested areas have “welcomed” American strikes on terrorist leaders. It was another cautious and not terribly revealing answer. But Brennan’s response may have been less significant than the concern expressed by a senior Senator—a Republican no less—about America’s drone war. The Brennan hearing may have shed little light on Obama’s likely next CIA director. But it might have been a sign that, when it comes to our long counter-terror campaign, a long-acquiescent Congress is finally getting restless.

Mr. Brennan’s opening statement, video of the hearing and more is available from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence website.

One brief excerpt from Mr. Brennan’s opening statement:

I have publicly acknowledged that our fight against al-Qa’ida and associated forces has sometimes involved the use of lethal force outside the “hot battlefield” of Afghanistan.  Accordingly, it is understandable there is great interest in the legal basis as well as the thresholds, criteria, processes, procedures, approvals, and reviews of these actions. I have strongly promoted such public discussion with the Congress and with the American people, as I believe that our system of government and our commitment to transparency demand nothing less.

Also available at the Committee website are Mr. Brennan’s answers to several pre-hearing questions.  On pages 24-30 there are several issues raised and responded to which relate to the government’s use of lethal force against US citizens suspected of threatening the United States.

In the February 21 edition of the New York Review of Books, David Cole sets-out thirteen questions for Mr. Brennan to answer.   Happily there are meaningful overlaps between the Cole questions and those posed by the Committee.

Major media is covering the give and take during the hearing, but a video of the entire hearing is also available at the Committee’s website.

Thoughtful people have critiqued Mr. Brennan’s answers to the Committee as demonstrating how to spend hours sounding responsive and say nothing.   To my ear the answers were careful, nuanced, sometimes Talmudic.   Mr. Brennan is especially keen to remind people that, “I am not a lawyer.”  But his answers can be lawyerly.  When the issues are as complex as those under consideration qualified responses are justified.

It was smooth until it wasn’t

Filed under: Catastrophes,Infrastructure Protection,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on February 6, 2013

In reporting on the Superbowl blackout a CBS News correspondent commented, “It was smooth until it wasn’t.”  Which echoes Craig Fugate’s comment, “Our system works really well until it doesn’t.”

Rational, reductionist, predictive, risk-informed, well-tested — and almost always effective — many of our most important modern systems hum along until suddenly they don’t.

From a Tuesday morning front page story in the Times-Picayune:

It’s still unclear exactly what went wrong Sunday. Entergy officials said they are working with the company that built the electrical switchgear, which controls the flow of electricity from the power company to the stadium, to determine if that is to blame.

The equipment, added as part of the upgrades, automatically shuts down when a problem is detected, such as a surge or loss of electricity, potentially signaling — and protecting — against a more protracted power outage.

Ultimately, the equipment worked as it was supposed to. But what caused it to trip Sunday is the central mystery officials are now trying to unravel.

Doug Thornton, senior vice president of SMG, which manages the Superdome, said Monday that the switchgear “sensed an abnormality” and tripped.

“It was a piece of equipment that did its job,” he said. “We don’t know anything beyond that. It’s premature at this point to say what it was or what caused it.”

A cause will be found and a recurrence of that cause will be suppressed.   And probably, unknown and unintended, something even worse will be seeded in the fixing.

If you have not, I encourage you to read Bak’s Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World by Ted G. Lewis.

February 5, 2013

Some new homeland security reading about education, epidemiology, medical needs, and energy insecurity

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 5, 2013

Homeland Security Affairs recently published 4 articles.

The first one is called “Homeland Security Education: A Way Forward.” The authors (William Pelfrey and William Kelley) ask what should homeland security education entail and who will best benefit from such an education? The article summarizes research conducted to arrive at answers to these questions, through surveys of three distinct groups: (1) graduates of the master of arts degree program in National Security Affairs, Homeland Security and Defense, at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS); (2) faculty teaching in the NPS program; and (3) subject matter experts outside of the NPS graduate degree program. The authors found that strategic collaboration, critical thinking and decision-making, the foundations of homeland security, and analytical capabilities are the most important attributes of a graduate level homeland security education. The research found that graduate level homeland security education is most effective in preparing homeland security practitioners in leadership positions to perform complex, cognitive tasks, in ambiguous environments.

The second article highlights a very different homeland security concern. In “Operational Epidemiological Modeling: A Proposed National Process,” Brienne Lenart et al. describe work conducted to determine the requirements of a national operational epidemiological modeling process designed to integrate modelers with operational decision makers during an infectious disease event of national significance. The proposed process is based on research and consultation with a workgroup of interagency and organizational stakeholders.

The response community is concerned about evacuating people with special medical needs. According to Petter Risoe, Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, and James Paturas, targeted planning for this group is hampered by substantial knowledge deficits in defining the population and the potential resource requirements in a disaster. In “Evacuation and Sheltering of People with Medical Dependencies” the authors discuss the knowledge gaps in preparing for this population and propose solutions to fill these gaps to facilitate enhanced preparedness.

Fred Stein proposes a solution to a different kind of dependency in “Ending America’s Energy Insecurity: Why Electric Vehicles Should Drive the United States to Energy Independence.” Arguing that dependence on foreign oil weakens the nation’s security, Stein demonstrates how switching to electric automobiles could eliminate the need for imported oil. Through careful analysis and calculation, he describes a program of taxes, rebates, and incentives that could improve infrastructure and make the United States energy independent in a few short years.

These articles are available to download in a variety of formats at Homeland Security Affairs.

February 4, 2013

Could Hollywood have prevented “Katrina?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 4, 2013

Or, as a great homeland security point of view, “you steal from everything.”

Andrew Sullivan highlighted a recent interview with Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh:

I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. … That’s how art works. You steal from everything.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones would like to disagree:

Hollywood! The place that brought you Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar! The place where a cartoon director was handed $200 million to direct John Carter, no questions asked, because hey, how different can live action be? The place where studio chiefs practically quiver in fear over green lighting a movie that’s not a comic book or a sequel. The place with executives so easy to parody that it hardly even seems worth the bother anymore. The place that spent years trying to ban VCRs. The place that’s spent the past two decades trying to figure out the internet without any notable success.

I’m not going to argue with Drum’s characterization–though Soderbergh presents the same argument I’ve heard from many representatives of private business that insist their operating strategies can be translated to federal government.  What I did like was the “steal everything” idea.

Unfortunately, this concept is sorely lacking at the federal level.  Every department seems to want to roll like Sinatra — “we’ll do it our way.”  Inter-agency cooperation is a favorite phrase, but not a well exercised practice. While I have my doubts that Hollywood would have done better during Katrina, I do hope that at least some decision makers learn to steal all the good ideas they can.