Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 19, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 19, 2013

In addition to the April 19 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and all the gruesome anniversaries noted in my Thursday post, April 15 also marks the sinking of the Titanic and the beginning of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, the worst experience of flooding, so far, in American history. Natural, accidental, or intentional risks abound. What is the role of homeland security? What’s on your mind?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 1:13 am

So perhaps the Ides of April should become a new warning period for humanity?

The EPA has a major role in HS IMO! While before 9/11/01 EPA did not even have any original classification authority and subsequent now has original classification authority up to the SECRET level, EPA was never [erroneously IMO] viewed as part of the National Security apparatus.

The explosion and fatalities in WEST, TX should remind all of the potential targeting of chemical production and storage facilities. DHS has some authority to regulate those but it is a bare minimus effort and would be of interest to know if the recent event involved violation of DHS regulations. Also while fought bitterly by EPA as unnecessary and redundant the CHEMICAL HAZARDS SAFETY BOARD has done some useful post event reporting and lessons learned on various accidents/incidents/events. The NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD is the original organization doing this kind of investigation and reporting.

And as for the accident this time not sure if the President will be asked for a disaster or emergency declaration. Would or could a Bhopal like event be declared? Maybe since fire, flood, or explosion listed categories under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

What might be of interest is how DHS and FEMA relate to the activities of EPA, and the CHSB and NTSB and other investigatory organizations? Do they or should they have more or less formal liaison both ways? Even OSHA might be included. Why OSHA? Well conceptually no FEMA official or employee should ever be sent into a contaminated or dangerous area? And if that did happen under OSHA standards it is a felony for any organization to send untrained, unequipped, and unprepared personnel into a hazardous area. Officials at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, were in fact convicted of felonies for activities in the 1980’s.

So its a complicated world and would be of interest to discuss these complex organizational relationships.

Also note that the Robert T. Stafford Act currently contains NO mandate for the President or his/her delegate to promote/enhance/protect Public Health and Safety during operations under any declaration. And no mandate to promote/enhance/protect the environment while preparing, planning, protecting, mitigiating, responding to, or recovery from covered incidents/events while conducting programs, functions, and activities under a declaration of disaster or emergency or while performing a MISSION Assignment. No are the STATES as grantees.

DHS does house the US Coast Guard one of the co-chairs of the National Contingency Plan published at 40 CFR part 300 and FEMA sits as a member of the National Response Team policy group for that plan. This still did not trigger a declaration under the Stafford Act for the Exxon Valdez [1989] or the Bp predesscurh

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 1:15 am


Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 19, 2013 @ 5:09 am

What is the difference — and how do we explain the difference — in our policy/strategy response to the Boston bombings and the West, Texas explosion?

In terms of the number of deaths, West is worse. In terms of casualties the numbers are comparable. But it seems to me we are (I am) focusing much more of my attention on Boston than West.

Whatever the reasons, on reflection are the reasons justified?

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 8:27 am

Well Phil what is your risk analysis of the two events both before and after their occurrence?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 19, 2013 @ 8:46 am


I assess the threat of a fertilizer (chemical) plant explosion is considerably greater than that of a terrorist attack.

I assess vulnerability to a fertilizer (chemical) plant explosion is considerably easier/more certain to mitigate/reduce than is vulnerability to a terrorist attack.

I assess the potential consequences of a fertilizer (chemical) plant explosion is considerably greater than that of a terrorist attack whenever the plant to proximate to a population.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 8:54 am

Phil! I agree with your risk analysis. Noting that both a nursing home and middleschool close to the plant that exploded.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 8:55 am

And if terrorists were to attack a fertilizer plant?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 19, 2013 @ 10:12 am


When I first heard a fertilizer plant near Waco had blown up on the eve of the Waco Siege anniversary my imagination made the quick leap from accidental to intentional. Such an attack is certainly not inconceivable. There are several places in the United States where residential and commercial tracts have grown up around what had once been isolated agricultural chemical operations. Whether the threat is accidental or intentional, innate vulnerability multiplies the risk.

A few minutes ago I was on a teleconference where someone — very hesitantly — raised the possibility that “locking down” Boston is an over-reaction that amplifies the “success” of the original attack. He was shut-down in a way that will not encourage him or others to raise a similar concern any time soon.

In my judgment right-now at my distance (physically and otherwise) I’m not going to second-guess tactical decisions being made in real-time. But however this phase ends, it is important that we be deliberate, open, and self-critical in our after-action analysis… especially in terms of how our choices influence the choices of future adversaries.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2013 @ 10:44 am

Personally believe lockdown appropriate but wondering to what extent involuntary and what legal authority if so?

Comment by bellavita

April 19, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Bill — I think legal and appropriateness are after the fact judgments — at least in “chaos” (a word used a lot recently) situations.

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