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?