Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 13, 2013

American Blackout: National Geographic imagines a national power outage caused by a cyber attack

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

A National Geographic re-broadcast:

American Blackout imagines the story of a national power failure in the United States caused by a cyberattack ? told in real time, over 10 days, by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You’ll learn what it means to be absolutely powerless. Gritty, visceral and totally immersive, see what it might take to survive from day one, and who would be left standing when the lights come back on.

The program is scheduled to be shown (again) on Wednesday, November 13th at 9 pm Eastern time – and various other times throughout the day.

If you don’t have a television, but do have the internet, there is a copy of the one hour and twenty-seven minute program on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PreJvrljihI


November 12, 2013

Wednesday: Confirmation hearing on the nomination of Jeh C. Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 12, 2013

On Wednesday 11/13 at 10am (EST), the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security.

I am told by a colleague who is in a position to know, there’s a good chance the hearings will be carried by C-SPAN and (for maybe part of the hearings) by some cable news outlets.

I did not see the Johnson hearings on the C-SPAN schedule for Wednesday.  But that could change.

At 10 am on Wednesday, C-SPAN 1 is scheduled to show the House of Representative’s Morning Hour, “during which members speak on a variety of topics.”

C-SPAN 3 plans to broadcast the 10 am House-Senate Conference Committee Meeting on the Fiscal 2014 Budget. Fairly significant.

C-SPAN Radio scheduled its flexibly generic “Public Affairs Programming” in the 10 am slot.  So, who knows.

I thought Al Jazeera might be interested in broadcasting views about the (probably) next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have something called “News” scheduled for 10 AM Wednesday, meaning “Live, breaking and in-depth news coverage reports on America and the world for an American audience. Human-centered reporting reveals how events affect Americans and the interconnectedness of people across the world.” Again, who knows.

My colleague said the hearing will be streamed from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website. As of Monday night, I did not see any information about streaming on the Committee site.  But Monday was, after all, a federal day off for a lot of people.  Maybe tomorrow.

If the hearings are broadcast or streamed, I‘ll do liveblogging of the event on this site.



How Australians are encouraged to learn first aid

Filed under: Education,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on November 12, 2013

How do you get people to pay attention to preparedness?

Here’s how the Australian Red Cross is trying to get people to learn first aid.

The first video is 1:27. The second one is 2:04. (You might not want to watch the second one if you’re eating.)

And yes, that’s really what Australians sound like.


November 11, 2013

Yolanda hits hard (again)

Filed under: Catastrophes,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 11, 2013

Yolanda track

Haiyan — called Yolanda in the Philippines — may have been the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall.

We are now passing the 72 hour inflection point since the initial event.  The President of the Philippines Red Cross has described the situation in the hardest-hit central islands as “absolute bedlam”.

I know several readers are already engaged in helping or preparing to help the survivors.  Godspeed.

For the rest of us there are some potential implications for domestic preparedness and response in the United States:

Water, food, pharmaceuticals, and medical goods are all in short supply. The contamination of local water sources is creating an especially significant health risk.

A US State Department official has told me, “The most crucial need is local logistics. We can get what’s needed into the area. But we’re not able to effectively redistribute from the depots.”

The World Food Program told a CNN reporter, “The main challenges right now are related to logistics. Roads are blocked, airports are destroyed.”  Damaged — or entirely destroyed — port facilities mean freighters with resources can get close but are very slow to disperse cargo.

A national legislator from one hard-hit provincial capital told a Manila television station that fuel shortages are now further complicating the ongoing response and recovery.

Red Cross supplies that were being pre-positioned last week have not been able to secure passage from one island to another.

Power is not expected to be restored to many areas for months. Telecommunications networks are down.

A rather weird coincidence: In late October I participated in a regional exercise that included a CAT-5 Hurricane Yolanda hitting the metro Miami area with catastrophic consequences, reforming in the Gulf and then slamming into the Texas-Louisiana coast taking out several refineries.  Just the secondary and tertiary effects on mid-Atlantic supply chains were similar to what we are seeing now in the Philippines.

For most critical commodities there is significant strategic capacity and resilience in most (not all) supply chains.  As noted above, options exist to ensure sourcing sufficient for survivors.  Connecting this capacity to local tactical capability — especially fuel, trucking, and street-level distribution — becomes a very complex problem-to-be-solved.

In my judgment, our understanding of how to even begin to engage this problem in a catastrophic context is just barely beginning to emerge.

The Philippines rough equivalent to FEMA is providing REGULAR UPDATES HERE.

Yolanda population

Map showing proximity and density of population to hurricane path.  More detailed look available at ReliefWeb.


Our profound debt of gratitude

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



On Veterans Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our Nation’s uniforms. Each time our country has come under attack, they have risen in her defense. Each time our freedoms have come under assault, they have responded with resolve. Through the generations, their courage and sacrifice have allowed our Republic to flourish. And today, a Nation acknowledges its profound debt of gratitude to the patriots who have kept it whole.

As we pay tribute to our veterans, we are mindful that no ceremony or parade can fully repay that debt. We remember that our obligations endure long after the battle ends, and we make it our mission to give them the respect and care they have earned. When America’s veterans return home, they continue to serve our country in new ways, bringing tremendous skills to their communities and to the workforce — leadership honed while guiding platoons through unbelievable danger, the talent to master cutting-edge technologies, the ability to adapt to unpredictable situations. These men and women should have the chance to power our economic engine, both because their talents demand it and because no one who fights for our country should ever have to fight for a job.

This year, in marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, we resolved that in the United States of America, no war should be forgotten, and no veteran should be overlooked. Let us always remember our wounded, our missing, our fallen, and their families. And as we continue our responsible drawdown from the war in Afghanistan, let us welcome our returning heroes with the support and opportunities they deserve.

Under the most demanding of circumstances and in the most dangerous corners of the earth, America’s veterans have served with distinction. With courage, self-sacrifice, and devotion to our Nation and to one another, they represent the American character at its best. On Veterans Day and every day, we celebrate their immeasurable contributions, draw inspiration from their example, and renew our commitment to showing them the fullest support of a grateful Nation.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service members have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2013, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.


November 9, 2013

Wednesday + Thursday = Saturday

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 9, 2013

Did anyone else notice the potential continuity between Chris Bellavita’s Wednesday post and my Thursday post?

It was entirely coincidental.

But — at least for me — my critique of catastrophe “plans” is creatively answered by Patrick Lagadec’s Navigating the Unknown (linked to by Chris)The strategic stance and organizational capacity advocated by Lagadec is a big part of what I perceive is most helpful in preparing for a catastrophe.

If you haven’t already, download and read and think about and talk about Lagadec’s free booklet. Writing about your impressions/reactions here might be an effective way to advance some shared thinking.

A couple of dozen readers, some I know well and some I have never met, have sent me private emails regarding my Thursday critique. Many seem to be in various states of distress.

I will not have the opportunity this weekend to respond personally to each of you.  In an attempt to be generically responsive: I am not trying to eliminate the planning profession in emergency management.   In specific regard to catastrophe planning, I hope you will read Lagadec, review your current plans and assess to what extent your current plans advance what Lagadec is advocating.

If not, why not?

November 8, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 8, 2013

On this date in 1898 the elected (bi-racial) government of Wilmington, North Carolina was overthrown by armed white supremacists.  This is sometimes referred to as the only coup d’etat in United States history. (See more from National Public Radio.)

This day in 1913 was the fourth consecutive day of the Great Lakes “White Hurricane.”  With 90 mph wind gusts and up to 24 inches of snow, the storm was blamed for the deaths of over 250.

On this date in 1988 the Odyssey, a British-owned oil tanker, caught fire and sank in heavy seas 900 miles east of Newfoundland, spilling about a million barrels of oil. All 27 crew members were presumed dead.

Today Typhoon Haiyan came ashore in the Philippines with 195 mph winds and a wind-field encompassing most of the nation of islands.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

November 7, 2013

Preparedness is different than planning

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

A rather small piece in the online version of The Atlantic flooded my in-box last week on the first anniversary of Sandy flooding coastal New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

David Wachsmuth describes how existing response and recovery plans were ignored.  He writes:

… emergency managers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania created a Regional Catastrophic Planning Team for precisely this kind of emergency. But when the storm hit, the RCPT’s plans stayed on the shelf, particularly in New York City. As one NYC emergency manager described it to me, “The federal government spent millions of dollars on [the regional plan] and…we did not do anything. All the planning and all the dollars that were spent on regional planning [and] not once did we open the book to say, ‘Let’s do it this way.'”

Wachsmuth then explains why the book was left unopened.  He also points to other “books” he believes worth reading.  I agree with many of the symptoms Wachsmuth describes.  I doubt we share the same diagnosis (see below).

I especially disagree with the conclusion suggested by the title of his piece (How Local Governments Hinder Our Response to Natural Disasters).  I am too much a disciple of Elinor Ostrom to reduce such manifold problems to jurisdictional diversity.

Full disclosure:  For most of the last four years I have been involved in regional preparedness for catastrophe in the mid-Atlantic, funded by the same FEMA grant as the unopened book in metro New York.  As such I have met with, admired, even envied the NY-NJ-CT and one-county in PA RCPT.   In every interaction I have been impressed by the expertise and commitment of these planners.   The actual plans were (are) thoughtful and extremely detailed.  There was considerable effort to socialize — even evangelize — the planning process and ultimate plans.

I disagree with the strategic predispositions of some of their plans. But by exposing their assumptions planners make possible intelligent discussion, exploration, and evolution.  The RCPT planners have always been open to comments, critique, and improvement.  They have been consummate professionals.

But in my judgement we cannot plan for catastrophe.


plan  noun

1. a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance:battle plans.
2. a design or scheme of arrangement: an elaborate plan for seating guests.
3. a specific project or definite purpose: plans for the future.


Wachsmuth writes that RCPT plans  were “quickly sidelined by the Mayor’s Office.”  This alone suggests that Sandy — as bad as she was — was not the cause of a local, much less, regional catastrophe.  The Mayor’s office still had sufficient command-and-control to assert authority.  One persuasive definition of catastrophe is the total collapse of local command-and-control capabilities. (I think this definition originated with a regular reader and I hope she might comment further.)

Plans typically — though not necessarily — depend on systematic implementation by an authority.  Most emergency-or-disaster-or-catastrophe plans authorize atypical exercise of command-and-control, going well beyond the ordinary.

Yet any thing qualifying as a potential catastrophe has, ipso facto, at least confused if not destroyed most sources of authority and means of coordination.  Catastrophes are not just complicated they are innately complex, easily becoming chaotic.  Indeed some argue that efforts to contain catastrophric complexity accelerate the emergence of chaos.

Please notice that in the prior full-disclosure paragraph my role is identified as being involved in regional preparedness for catastrophe.


prepare  verb

1. to make ready or suitable in advance for a particular purpose or for some use, event, etc: to prepare a meal ; to prepare to go
2. to put together using parts or ingredients; compose or construct
3. ( tr ) to equip or outfit, as for an expedition


Beware of nouns.  Embrace verbs.

There is, of course, a verb form of plan, but even this action is usually focused on developing a noun (the plan).  Preparedness is an awkward noun.  Much better to stay with verbs: prepare, train/educate, exercise, assess, analyze, plan,  implement, prepare, train/educate, exercise, assess, analyze, plan, implement, and again… and again.

Plan as a verb helps. Not as a noun.

You knew it was coming:  To plan was originally to plane.  Ancient armies would plane battlefields to create space to operate chariots or otherwise shape for strategic advantage.  To prepare is derived from the root meaning to parry another sword or spar with another boxer or separate from a source of vulnerability. (The prefix pre- signaling to be ready to do so by what is done in advance.)

I am not opposed to planning.  But to be ready for the truly catastrophic is less about choosing and shaping context to suit your preferences and much more about being ready — psychologically and operationally — to effectively engage the range of surprises a catastrophe will create.

November 6, 2013

Free book: Navigating the Unknown: a practical lifeline for decision-makers in the dark

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on November 6, 2013

Patrick Lagadec is the Research Director at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France. He co-authored one of my favorite papers: How Crises Model the Modern World (available from the Journal of Risk Analysis and Crisis Response, at this link – http://www.atlantis-press.com/php/download_paper.php?id=2458.)

According to his website, (with my emphasis) Lagadec:

is [a] member of: the French Academy of Technologies, the European Crisis Management Academy. His research and expertise focus on crisis prevention and management in increasingly “unconventional” crisis environments; vulnerability and preparedness appraisal; in-crisis steerage – both public and private – of critical infrastructures and vital networks; post-crisis case study, debriefing and training; and the development of sustainable responses to shifting security paradigms and the new challenges of governance that complex systems have to face in the light of global “ruptures”.

Lagadec has made his 22 page book — Navigating the Unknown — available at no cost on the Crisis Response website.  Here’s a link to the book: http://www.crisis-response.com/PDF/Navigating_the_Unknown-Lagadec_2013.pdf

The book:

condenses years of research and field experience in the management and piloting of ‘out-of the-box’ crises. It is not only designed for leaders but also for citizens eager to rethink their own perspectives, visions and paths.

Navigating the Unknown is worth a read. It reminds, asserts, and challenges.

November 5, 2013

“LAX shooting: Does anyone care?”

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

(Posted before the reports started coming in of yet another shooting; this time in Paramus, N.J.  Another day, another shooting.)

This essay, by Joel Silberman, appeared Monday on the Los Angeles Times website.  (my emphasis, below)

LAX is not trending on Twitter. Seventy-two hours after a man opened fire on our gateway to the world, there is no discernible outcry for action, little apparent conversation at all. As I write these words, the latest mass shooting is not on the front page of the left-leaning Huffington Post or the right-leaning Drudge Report. It’s not lighting up the social media outlets where average people exchange points of view, or the op-ed pages where our nation’s elite do the same. The president called the head of the TSA to express condolences, but there will be no presidential visit to console the families of the victims. And that’s probably just as well because it would just make everyone complain about the traffic. Unpleasant though it may be to admit, it seems we’ve become uncomfortably numb.

In fairness, even horrifying attacks are relative: One adult dead and many wounded is not equivalent to the mass slaughter of schoolchildren that we witnessed 10 1/2 months ago. That was worse. And reporters for local news outlets — including The Times — have more than proven that they, at least, are not numb, with their extensive coverage of the LAX story.

But the question remains: Who cares? Literally, who? When people care, the atmosphere is like it was after the Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Can anyone honestly claim that we are in that kind of atmosphere right now? If a body falls — or five of them fall — in a forest of exhausted indifference, do they make a sound?

Of course, our numbness to this kind of violence is born not only of its proliferation but of a rational recognition that our government is not up to the task of addressing it. When even the most moderate legislation on guns faces a filibuster in the Senate and won’t be brought up for a vote in the House, practical people can justifiably conclude that arguing about the issue further is a futile academic exercise. Even those who don’t follow politics know that there’s no change forthcoming, so they throw up their hands. Meanwhile, conservative leaders who insisted on improvements to the American mental health system as an alternative to gun legislation have not been forthcoming with concrete proposals. And so our country is at an impasse, with its citizens caught in the crossfire.

Inevitably, firearms fundamentalists argue that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is a brilliantly empowering slogan, the kind that could lift us all out of our desensitized malaise. After all, it’s fun to imagine that our personal security and well-being are all within our hands, that powerlessness is a malignant fantasy of the weak. But the events at LAX last Friday showed both the truth and the lie of the “good guy with a gun” promise: Yes, because the gunman’s target, a major airport, is one of the most security-heavy facilities in the country, he was brought down quickly by armed police. Even so, he also proved that no matter how many good guys with guns you have around, when a crazy person can spray off 700 rounds in a minute, he only needs a few seconds to do plenty of damage.

In a way, it’s really a shame that the airport shooter wasn’t Arab or Muslim. If he had been, the incident would have been deemed an act of terrorism, and terrorism warrants a serious response. But he was white instead of Middle Eastern and used a gun instead of a bomb, so now it’s not terrorism; it’s the price of freedom.

If there’s any silver lining in all this — and it is a very slim silver lining — it’s that maybe TSA agents will be given a little bit more respect, at least for a while. Perhaps people will be reminded that as annoying as it may be to have someone rifling through their belongings, TSA agents are, at the end of the day, security employees who are worthy of the esteem that designation implies. A few bad apples may make headlines for bad behavior, but the majority are hardworking people who deserve at least as much deference as the guards who work at government buildings or Staples Center .

Ultimately, the increasing frequency of mass shootings has given us a choice: live in panic and despair, or learn to suck it up and deal. Given the options of jitters or jadedness, the impulse to keep calm and carry on is understandable. There is even a sense of something like relief because there was only one fatality at LAX, a foreboding knowledge that next time we might not be so “lucky.”

The thing is, though, LAX was just one of several mass shootings in recent days . Eventually, inevitably, something will have to wake us from our self-protective stupor. I just fear what that thing might be.

Joel Silberman is a Los Angeles-based writer and the producer of such viral Web videos as “Legitimate Rape” Pharmaceutical Ad (TW) and Kids Do The News . Follow him on Twitter @Wordpeggio .

November 2, 2013

Gerardo I. Hernandez

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 2, 2013


On Friday Transportation Security Administration behavior-detection officer, Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, (above) was shot to death at Los Angeles International Airport. He was a husband and father of two.

Two other TSA officers were also shot and wounded in the incident, according to TSA Administrator John Pistole. There are several reports that the gunman was specifically targeting TSA agents.

In my tradition yesterday was All Saint’s Day when we remember those who have especially served the Good. Today is All Soul’s Day when we are encouraged to pray grace for those who have died.

November 1, 2013

LA Times coverage of LAX attack

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 1, 2013

The Los Angeles Times is providing regular updates on the emerging story.

The death of at least one TSA agent has apparently been confirmed and reconfirmed.

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 1, 2013


On this day in 1570 the All Saints Flood swept over the Dutch coast killing many thousands and leaving many more homeless.  It is still considered the worst storm and flooding in Dutch history.

On this day in 1665 the celebration of All Saints Day in London was postponed due to the prevalence of the Bubonic Plague which killed about 15 percent of the city’s population.

On this day in 1755 an estimated 8.5-to-9.0 earthquake devastated Lisbon killing up to 100,000 and having considerable cultural and intellectual implications across Europe.

On this day in 1941 Ansel Adams captures Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (above), one of the most influential compositions in modern photography.  It is referenced here to highlight what seems to me a persistent paralleling of the worst and the best.  From each of the horrific events noted above also arose much that is good.

Beauty  may abide with the beastly. Evil and Good are sometimes neighbors, even siblings, in rare cases identical twins.  How do we meaningfully engage the paradox?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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