Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 11, 2013

Anticipating reality

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 11, 2013

If you live in the flood plain you (should) anticipate flooding.

If you live in beetle-infested pine forest you anticipate fire.

If there’s railroad track nearby, a derailment is unlikely today but eventually very likely.

With a fertilizer warehouse, oil refinery, chemical plant, pipeline or such nearby, anticipate trouble.

Dams fail.  Planes crash.  Hurricanes hit.  Tornadoes rip-through towns.

Electricity and telecommunications systems will be disrupted.

Deserts experience drought.

When what’s anticipated arrives we typically count our losses. We mourn.  We move on… usually rebuilding in the same place often in the same way.  A few move away,  exchanging risk of drought (or whatever) for risk of earthquake (or whatever).

We usually discount the worst case, but we take a (very roughly) calculated risk, insuring, even preparing (a bit) for the unwinding of randomness that we associate with natural disasters and accidents.

Another kind of randomness is unwinding.

What’s happening in Egypt, combined with what’s happening in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Sudan (south and north), Somalia, Mali, Nigeria — more would be easy to list — is a social low-pressure system heading this way.  Contending realities are colliding as cold envelops heat across the prairies spawning lighting, hail, wind, and worse.

While mostly a minor player in these struggles, the United States will be blamed for sins of omission and commission, no matter what we do or leave undone.  Good intentions will be ignored.   Ignorance multiplied.  Any conceit or miscalculation condemned.

This is the fate of empire.

The brutal and banal will find sufficient cause to claim revenge.   It will happen with the irregular and mostly unpredictable emergence of a tornado outbreak, California earthquake, or explosion on the Deep Water Horizon.

Given what is happening today, we should anticipate a noticeable increase in “violent extremism” in the years ahead.  As with natural and accidental risks, anticipation can produce practical preparedness and socio-psychological readiness.

In regard to all these risks it makes enormous sense to reduce our self-made vulnerabilities.

For many reasons — most of them having nothing to do with risk — we should increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of our human relationships.  On the worst days, these are what make us most resilient.

Awareness of threats can help, but preoccupation with any threat is seldom helpful.  Otherwise I would never drive in Washington DC (the only place I have ever had a car accident) or fly to Rome or enjoy morel mushrooms.  One of my favorite memories was a week in a city the State Department had just warned against visiting.

When the bad day comes we should use the experience to better understand and reduce our vulnerabilities.  When negligence or intention cause harm, we should hold accountable those involved.

Then we should move on as we are able, just as we do after natural or accidental incidents. Much as I perceive has been done since the Boston Marathon bombings.

I am not advocating denial of risk.  I recognize there is some danger in discounting risk.  But too often I perceive our response to intentional threats has been to unnecessarily amplify our risk.  Given what is happening in the political-religious-economic-meteorological environment the risks are already high enough.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 11, 2013 @ 12:34 am

Phil! Nice post. Having just returned from a 1500 mile round trip over two weeks not sure what risks I exposed myself to over that period.

And the $700 Trillion in untaxed and unregulated derivatives that stalk the developed world’s economies and those dependent on it wondering how that risk should be measured? Is that a natural or manmade hazard?

Comment by Security Services

January 29, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad
and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop,
just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad
is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is
totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

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