Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 9, 2014

Homeland security: A self-definition

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 9, 2014

For the last quarter-century my wife and I — and until the last five years, our children — have engaged in a recurring year-end ritual of visiting family in Kentucky, Illinois, and this year Washington State.  We are usually on the road for ten or more days.

I can and do continue working, usually waking at 4:00 AM Eastern no matter where I am (which is a problem when visiting the Pacific Coast).  This is a flexibility most do not enjoy.  It is a benefit that allows us to have more time with widely dispersed family and friends.  We can travel to them.

But each year this atypical flexibility also prompts questions about, “What does Phil do, that allows him to stay away?” (Away from where? I could ask.) The questions are especially persistent — and usually directed to my wife — if I am suddenly on the phone or lock myself in a room with my computer.

For most of these years I have been an executive with or co-owner of an enterprise and my wife would respond with a largely meaningless title that nonetheless satisfied.  Really, what does it mean to be a banker, lawyer, or even a candlestick maker to a non-banker, non-lawyer, or pyro-paranoid?

But the last five years-plus I have been entirely on my own and she often tries, “Well, he works in homeland security.”  (Which I bet they hear as Homeland Security.)  But when they begin talking about TSA, she is inclined to say, “He’s really not involved in that.”  And so they ask, “Then what does he do?”  Which she always finds tough to explain.

It occurs to me that this is another form of our seemingly perpetual question, “What is homeland security?”

I am not — never have been — part of a legacy profession: not law enforcement, not firefighting, not emergency management.  Neither Defense nor Intelligence have directly paid me one red cent.  I try to practice good habits, but have never “officially” practiced Public Health.  Recently and indirectly, I have done considerable work with the Coast Guard.  But I still get sea-sick.

Maybe I’m just a beltway bandit, a dirty contractor, a lousy vendor.  But this last year I donated more time than I billed.   Some consider me an academic, but I have never held a faculty appointment and have not been regularly employed by a post-secondary institution for nearly thirty years.  After a ten minute conversation a real scholar is sure I am not.

But I agree with my wife, I work in homeland security (not capitalized).

Here are a few things I did from December 30 to January 1 mostly from north of Seattle:

  • Continued drafting a briefing book on supply chain resilience.
  • Took a call from DHS officials on how a pandemic would likely impact the “national supply chain.”
  • Polled several supply chain professionals on the prior question.  Forwarded their answers.
  • Exchanged gifts with my sister’s family.
  • Reviewed and responded to policy drafts by others on an approach to advancing private-public relationships in homeland security (and Homeland Security).
  • Read Judge Pauley’s decision in ACLU v Clapper.  Wrote an HLSWatch post on same.
  • Researched problems UPS had with a Christmas surge in demand.
  • Contributed to an email exchange with scholars and practitioners on a Harvard Business Review article related to supply chain disruption. Forwarded the HBR piece to others.
  • Ate a large piece of rhubarb pie for breakfast and had a mid-morning snack of pecan pie.
  • Worked ahead on a late January conference keynote focused on catastrophic cascades in supply chain disruption.
  • Went with my Dad to get a massage and steam then joined my wife and sister’s family for dinner at a restaurant.
  • At 2:00 AM (Eastern) on New Years Day received an urgent request from a hospital for 10,000 bottles of water, reached out to various private sector sources.
  • Took my Dad to SeaTac Airport.
  • Confirmed delivery of water.
  • My wife and I had local oysters for lunch near Pike Place Market in Seattle.
  • Invoiced my in-kind donations related to a homeland security project, invoiced for a Coast Guard deterrence project, began bringing together some other invoices.  I am paid mostly by private sector clients. In some of these cases the money can be tracked back to public sector funding.
  • Flew back to Chicago into a blizzard.

And every morning I read the Bible and write some poetry.  Most weeks I dabble in art.  I am, at least in my own head, retired because I no longer supervise anyone nor belong to an organization.

I will give my wife a link to this post and suggest she forward to her family and friends. This is a good example of what I do.

It occurs to me that my particular case might be deconstructed into a set of abstractions that could also advance our understanding of homeland security.

What about:  Homeland security is a multidisciplinary perspective and set of skills usually focused on strategic threats and strategic vulnerabilities with regional or national consequences.  Homeland security gives particular attention to understanding and actuating functional and personal relationships to support analysis and action to mitigate risk by local, state, and national entities both public and private.

That’s also what I do.  How about you?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 9, 2014 @ 1:26 am

Well Phil don’t worry be happy! IMO you offer critical thinking skills to many! Thus, IMO you are an INDEPENDENT THINK TANK!

Perhaps wrong but the emphasis in the above IMO is on INDEPENDENT!

An area of huge shortage in HS and/or hs!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 9, 2014 @ 7:21 am

Thanks for your contributions Phil.

A couple of years ago I discovered that a sizeable no. of people retired (sort of) from the full time jobs were donating a lot of time and expertise to the emergency management field.

Often the independents can say and do things that others will not.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

January 10, 2014 @ 12:19 am

First off, you make me feel lazy. Your work ethic surpasses admirable and drifts dangerously close to insufferable…

In all seriousness, I am a bit concerned about the hospital bullet point. Not that you could be called upon to assist, but that you were. If they don’t already, please let the hospital in question know about the HHS/ASPR HPP program that encourages coalition building, where health care systems build partnerships with a range of community partners — not limited to other health care related organizations, but including law enforcement, EMS/Fire, and private sector supply chains. Northern Virginia and the Seattle area are two of the models for this type of public/private partnerships.

And if the entity that requested your help is already in such a “coalition,” the failure of those connections should be shared publicly to ensure that it is not simply swept under the rug.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 10, 2014 @ 4:28 am


The hospital had, in fact, reached out to its local partners and usual vendors. I am almost sure they participate in the sort of coalition you reference. (I have not done a forensic analysis since New Year’s Day.)

In terms of supply chain dynamics, it is not surprising that an otherwise unanticipated need for 10,000 bottles of water could not be automatically supplied by the usual suspects (especially very early on New Years Day).

In this particular case, I was one of at least five non-usual suspects being contacted. One of the others — a large grocery retailer — was able to deliver the product while I was still trying to communicate with other possible suppliers. I’m sure no one thought I had 10,000 bottles in the garage. But they thought I might know who would… and I was contacting folks who did, who the hospital did not know.

I think the good news here is that a whole set of relationships had been pre-cultivated. Resilience emerges from such relationships.

My broader definitional argument was meant to be that being in the middle of these relationships is fundamental to homeland security. The broader and deeper our relationships the better. By being in relationship with you, Claire and Bill — with the hospital, the water wholesaler, the trucking firm, etc. — I am a more capable homeland security practitioner.

Regarding work-ethic: Is it work when you’re having fun?

Comment by Django

January 13, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

How was the pecan pie?

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