Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 19, 2013

Homeland security: Policy in Context

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on September 19, 2013

Recently I came into near simultaneous possession of two books.  If not for the coincidence of each being in my bag at the same time, the contrast between them would probably not have been noticed.

They are superficially similar.  Each has “Disaster” in the title.  Each measures  5 1/2 x 8 1/2.  One has 193 pages, the other 244 (with an appendix).  Both are particularly intended to inform and influence public administration of disasters.

But substantively they are profoundly different and, it occurs to me, reflect deep differences in homeland security (and probably beyond).

One is written by an individual, the other by a committee.  One draws heavily on history, as far back as Gilgamesh.  The second is aggressively contemporary, including a few statistics from the mid-20th Century but is otherwise very much a product of the last decade.  One is global in scope, the other almost entirely focused on the United States.

Given their public administration purposes it is not surprising that both give significant attention to institutional frameworks.

One book offers four key approaches: 1) enhancing institutional flexibility, 2) building an appreciation of risk, 3) understanding disasters and crises as part of our reality, and 4) identifying means to continually invest in infrastructure.

The other book sets out six more detailed — narrow, actionable, prescriptive, presumptuous, [insert your preference here] — recommendations:

  1. Federal agencies should incorporate national resilience as an organizing principle to inform and guide the mission and actions of the federal government and the programs it supports at all levels.
  2. The public and private sectors in each community should work cooperatively to encourage commitment to and investment in a risk management strategy that includes complementary structural and nonstructural risk-reduction and risk-spreading measures or tools.
  3. A national resource of disaster-related data should be established that documents injuries, loss of life, property loss, and impacts on economic activity.
  4. The Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local partners, and professional groups, should develop a National Resilience Scorecard.
  5. Federal, state, and local governments should support the creation and maintenance of broad-based community resilience coalitions at the local and regional levels.
  6. All federal agencies should promote and coordinate national resilience in their programs and policies. A resilience policy review and self-assessment within agencies, and the establishment of a strong community among agencies, are keys to achieving this kind of coordination.

The contrasting proposals are good clues to the conceptual origins of each book.

It will not surprise any regular reader that I am more personally predisposed to the historically and globally framed text.  But even when I disagree, I admire the other effort to move from conceiving possibilities to actual action.

These two efforts could have been complementary.  One might have placed our contemporary challenges in context.  Serious engagement with deeper context would likely have produced action recommendations more likely to see action.  The tactical tendencies of the group-effort would have put more meat on the individual’s frame.

But my purpose is not to critique either book.  Each is informative and helpful on its own terms.

It is those terms of self-reference that, perhaps, concern me most.  One is mechanistic — at least Newtonian — in its expectations.  The other is philosophical.  (A colleague recently commented that a publication of mine was “very philosophical”.  He was not being complimentary.)

But whether we love wisdom or just lust after its consequence, we need — especially homeland security needs — to somehow better blend policy levers (mechanisms) with social insight (philosophy).  Yes, it is possible and often helpful to conceive of individuals and neighborhoods and diverse populations as mathematical objects.  But it can also be dangerously reductionist.

I am — perhaps fatally — biased toward the historical and philosophical because of the respect these disciplines have for human failure while (usually) avoiding cynicism regarding human potential.  So much of positivist policy development is either Pollyannish or despairing.  There is a middle way.

A former Speaker of the House once told me Washington DC is the last refuge of Medieval Nominalists; by which he meant it is a city preoccupied with finding precisely the right words to successfully legislate, regulate, adjudicate, and rule. Words matter.  But no set of words, alone, are ever sufficient. Relationships matter more. Working together toward a shared vision even more.

I commend both books to you:

Crisis, Disaster and Risk: Institutional Response and Emergence by Kyle Fambry

Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative by the Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, National Academy of Sciences.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 19, 2013 @ 1:02 am

Interesting and insightful post as usual by Phil! It should be noted that I thoroughly enjoy this blog for many reasons because it allows me to wander down many diverse paths on my thinking as I cross into 14th year of official retirement on October 14th after 34 years as an Army Officer and civil servant.

My test of my thinking is always am I developing solutions to perceived problems [perceived by me of course not always by others]! And as I live this week with a waterfront property within sight creating a riprapped bank almost 15 feet high compared to my 4 footer I realize that my perception of sea level rise and climate change impacts on me and others might well be different. In the days of more heartwood timber bulkheads on the bay used to last for up to 60 years before time and tide required their replacement, now 30 if you are lucky. Riprap of course relatively permanent in that if done right will span more than one person’s lifetime.

Geologically of course the Chesapeake Bay is not a bay at all but an estuary largely of the Sesquehannah River which starts in central NY State and other rivers. And thus silting up between the risings and declines of the Appalachian Mountains over say 400-600 million years the norm. On the DelMarVa peninsula the high ground often about 9-15 feet mean sea level.

So time will tell. What I have always found interesting in Washington DC is the tremendous lack of patience and lack of historical knowledge in policy development, implementation of policy, and actual operation of policy. One thing for example is the very size and complexity of the USA and what makes it tick. Cooperative and collaborative efforts seem to last the longest and promote resilience the most.

One of my great fears is that disasters in many forms challenge cooperative and collaboration yet recovery from them seems best where those skills and competencies are highest.

And I love the use of the word “reform” in Washington when often what is to be reformed is almost completely analyzed without existing norms and operations and results being understood.

Time will tell the merits or lack thereof of Washington policies but some do need time. Seeing issues can be a skill but seeing issues is not policy formulation nor is picking sides.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 19, 2013 @ 7:42 am

Bill, Do you have any specific explanation for why we — Americans — by-in-large seem to either disdain history or embrace weird pseudo-historical conspiracies? Given your comment above, this seems an especially strange inclination for folks who would choose the military or public service, institutions that, compared to most, are products of profound historical accretion.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 19, 2013 @ 9:26 am

Phil! The major reason IMO is ignorance and poor education. I graduated in 1964 with a dual major-history and the then trendy new subject IR–International Relations. In 1970 20% of all undergrad liberal arts BAs were awarded in history. Now under 7%! And clearly our President’s often ignorant even of Presidential history which now is largely shaped by an elite historical cadre that believes all of American history is shaped by its Presidents. Perhaps so by I still find most Presidential histories rather superficial. Leaving a lot to be mined in future if records allow it, which I doubt.
Two current historians that are national treasures IMO are Robert Caro and Edward Jean Smith who largely to escape from academic discrimination in US academia spent 30 years at the University of Toronto.

Each federal department and agency should have a professional history staff just as it does an IG, GC and CFO and other statutory positions.

And NARA desperately needs to be doubled in size and funding if we are not to lose our patrimony of our history. Of course secrecy is also largely taking a huge toll on the ability to understand current and former US Foreign Policy and Domestic Policy.

Current and past blogs may well help historians decipher the past. Perhaps not.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 19, 2013 @ 10:33 am

History and policy continued! Claire Rubin produced a series of charts post-9/11 on both disasters and terrorist events that give some raw data on how those events modified policy in the USA.

What some might find of interest is that I believe the most important domestic events post WWII on US domestic crisis management and policy [and note that not all changes were beneficial to either the American people or their resilience]were the following:
(1) The Texas City TX explosion in 1948;
(2) the catching on fire of a river in Cleveland, OH;
(3) Love CANAL;
(4) 9/11/01;
(5) The intentional destruction of FEMA by the George W. Bush Administration led by Richard Cheney.

Note all of the above manmade and not really within the spectrum that most would think of as natural disasters.

Perhaps what most would find of interest is that with respect to natural disasters there is almost no consensus as to what is a disaster and what is the primary purpose of disaster relief!

The bottom line of course is that without consensus on the above or what is national security or homeland security it is left largely to events and reactions by the powers that be to determine their significance or lack thereof.

The single biggest driver of disaster policy is in the IRC {Internal Revenue Code] with its casualty loss provisions requiring deduction of only those casualty losses exceeding 10% of AGI [Adjusted gross income] that was uninsured! This should be immediately changed to 15%!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

September 19, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

Search Site:

To our beloved Republic besieged from with and in its bankrupt coffers led by the utmost in lawless public servants so easily conveying blatant lie with God witness to all, Ezekiel 5:16 and Revelation 8:4-12 unprecedented forces of nature will continue to be thrust upon the rebelliousness we see among those we “entrust” as public servants, yet see little in attentiveness to the wisdom of our enlightened father, George Washington, “The aggregate happiness of society, which is best promoted by the practice of a virtuous policy, is, ought to be, the end of all government” –

To Ms. Hillary and Barry Obama shoulder to shoulder in the thicket of such blatant lie and to the AG and others from top down, Washington reminds us that “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of the government” and to Ms. Hillary and the likes who cannot see why less than virtuous ways make a difference, after much tribulation as a result of these clodhoppers we have “entrusted with precious vote” as servants to our Constitution and to our lawful ways and Rights as Citizen so willingly trampled on at the whim of such apparently self-serving harlots in their lust for power and tyranny, much travesty and anguish will unfortunately befall us in much greater punishment and to those good and truly righteous, (2 Chronicles 7:13-14) affords us hope in God’s promise to “heal the land” and He “will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessings. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase” (Ezekiel 34:26-27). It is clearly written that even the scorched deserts of the Earth will “rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1).

So to those who read and follow scripture, there is much hope and promise, however caution in the wind for our failed policies and outright ignorance and perverse ways, so limited in scope of judgement continues to prevail and led by this Chicago city slicker and nothing more so intent in his executive orders and leaving our Constitution tattered at its edges and a budget deficit spiraling with such indifference to a fiduciary responsibility as stewards of the people’s monies as evidenced by such scandal deflected as referenced by phoniness….

Humanity’s lawlessness and the corruptness among leadership, the failure to promote principles and family values, well folks and those of us who are genuinely concerned for our first responders and for our fellow neighbors and friends, given the continued partisan ways so truly depicted in the “smug smiles” of Nancy Pelosi et al and by both political aisle of this “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington charade” prepare yourselves and reach out with caring embrace for much is to follow:

May 20th 2013 – 358 tornadoes in 72 hours and 551 tornado fatalities in one season; Worst US fire season Summer 2013 with some 165 acres per fire and some 9.2 mln acres burnt in the US; 129F June 30th 2012 Death Valley, CA; October 2012 Hurricane Sandy spanning some 943 miles with surge height 13.88 feet; january 13, 2012 81.3 inch snowfall Anchorage Alaska; 2012 driest Nebraska year; 2012 1,016 counties in 26 states declaring disaster in single largest drought; march 2013 1,100 flights cancelled as a result of all time record snowfall Chicago O’Hare Airport and the list goes on and on and seemingly the ongoing failure to repent for our ways all strongly pointing to far more anguish and a government so broke in virtue and coffer that far many more will succumb to the travesty being allowed to play out in successive scandals and despite the dedicated, what will become an overburdened Homeland Security incapable in addressing the growing number of calamities….

God Bless us all and especially our dedicated men and women as first responders willing to help us in our desperate moment of need…. Thank you.

Christopher Tingus
cape Cod, MA 02645 USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 20, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

Of possible interest and from the publisher:

by Robert O. Schneider

34.95 (paper), $34.95 (ebook)

Emergency managers are faced with natural and human-made problems that are constantly evolving and changing the footprints of disaster. The complexity of these problems is more than matched by the complexity of the physical and social systems that emergency managers are expected to understand as they offer solutions for the recurring disaster problems that are presented to them in the normal course of their work. The technical skills and capacities that emergency managers have developed over time as they have plied their trade are impressive and increasingly effective and have never been more important. But they are not nearly enough to keep pace with or manage hazard risks and disasters. Something else is needed. This transformation, the “something else” if you will, is a necessity to assure emergency managers that disasters (both natural and man-made) will never exceed our capacities to manage effectively. This transformation, which if successfully completed better enables whole communities to take responsibility for disasters, is needed to promote hazard resilience in particular and sustainable communities in general. There is a need for a worldview that comprehends the connections between hazard threats, disaster resilience, and sustainability. The purpose of this book is to define emergency management as a profession, something that has been discussed much in recent years but not brought to a satisfactory completion. The linkage of emergency management to sustainability, i.e. the defining of it as a sustainability profession, is presented as the necessary linkage that (potentially) orients all of the professional skill development and the work of the “trade” and transforms it into a profession.

PREPARING FOR DISASTER: Building Household and Community Capacity
by Douglas Paton, John McClure

$54.95 (hard) $34.95 (paper), $34.95 (ebook)

Despite the evident advantages that being prepared for natural life-threatening events confers on people and communities, research has consistently found that individual, community, and business preparedness levels are low. This book examines why this is so and identifies what can be done to expedite the development of sustained preparedness, at household, community, and societal levels. The text emphasizes the need for this aspect of social risk management to be based on engagement principles: how people engage with their natural environment, how they engage with each other, and how people and agencies and businesses engage with each other. Following a discussion of how people relate to the environmental hazards they need to prepare for, the book introduces the areas of comprehensive preparedness. Major topics include: Coexisting with a Hazardous Environment; People, Hazards, and Hazard Mitigation; Hazard Readiness and Preparedness; People’s Beliefs and Hazard Preparedness; Predicting Hazard Preparedness and Social Cognitive Influences; Social Influences on Hazard Beliefs; Hazard Preparedness and Community Engagement and Empowerment; Cross-cultural Perspectives; Business Preparedness; and Future Issues with Engaging People, Science, and Practice. This unique text will provide practitioners and academics with a comprehensive account of what can currently be done to increase the capacity of people, communities, societies, and businesses to anticipate what hazard consequences they may have to contend with, cope with, adapt to, and recover from, and also to learn from experiences in ways that contribute to the development of future societal resilience and adaptive capacity.

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