Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 28, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 28, 2014

On this date in 1920 there was a tornado outbreak across the southern and middle United States.  More than thirty-five tornadoes were confirmed, resulting in more than 300 deaths and 1200 injuries.

On this date in 1979 a coolant leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station resulted in core overheating and a partial melt down.

On this date in 2011 al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula carried out terrorist attacks in Yemen killing 110 and injuring 45.

What is on your mind related to homeland security?

March 27, 2014

Fragments of a fractured field

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Some bemoan and others exult in the capaciousness of homeland security.  Whatever your attitude, this week you just needed to graze lightly across the top of the news to get a sense of substantial girth:

Dismissing a Russian threat to the United States, President Obama said on Tuesday, ““I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

The new FBI Director told a House Appropriations subcommittee that Westerners fighting with the Syrian opposition represent a “metastasizing threat” to the United States.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith,  Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.  Meanwhile the site of his father-in-law’s brazen attack — still a construction site — was back in the news for security lapses. (and here and here).

In an effort to better preserve the privacy of the people’s “haystack” when trying to find the terrorist “needle”, both the executive branch and the Congress may be ready to establish some further fire-walls between phone records (and other data) and the aggregators and analysts in the Intelligence Community.

Meanwhile the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence accuses the CIA of forsaking an especially high firewall — the Separation of Powers — in hacking Senate computers.

Of coursing hacking is a rapidly growing sport.  Over the last year the federal government has informed more than 3000 private companies that they were being hacked (presumably by entities other than the federal government).

Refining and related industries were slowed when a collision and oil spill shut the the Houston Shipping Channel for three days.  This week the waterway has had a “tapered” reopening under the careful eye of the Coast Guard.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in an effort to prevent future threats to agents and passengers “the Transportation Security Administration is calling for an increased police presence at agency checkpoints after November’s deadly shooting at LAX… The agency’s assessment covers 14 recommendations relating to employee training, improved emergency technology and law enforcement presence that will be implemented at airports nationwide.”

Local, state, and federal emergency management officials are involved in the response to the massive landslide in Washington state.  A 1999 geological study (and more) is said to have predicted a catastrophic landslide.  Several have suggested comparisons to living on the Outer Banks or on top of an earthquake fault. The Seattle Times reports on warnings going back decades. (Implications for the recent reset of flood insurance reform?)

In another — this time retrospective — analysis, the House Homeland Security Committee is expected to release a report today that will detail how opportunities were lost to prevent the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Three Secret Service agents doing advance work for the President’s trip to the Netherlands got totally wasted the night before POTUS touched down.  They were sent back to the States…  It was waaay too reminiscent of another “Spring Break” episode in Cartagena two years ago.

Some would include the Malaysian Airline mystery, others Russian pressure on Ukraine, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa or new reports on climate change.  I am inclined to point toward what I see as threat-precursors in Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria. I am also inclined to see vulnerability-indicators related to the US electrical grid, telecommunications system, water systems, and supply chains.

In any case, there is more and more and more…

Dignity in Disaster

Filed under: Catastrophes,Disaster,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Shigeru Ban has been awarded the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

The Japanese architect’s practice is comprehensive, but he has given particular attention to innovative design, materials, and construction techniques for post-disaster settings.

He was one of the first to use — and creatively adapt — cargo containers for use as human shelter. (See here application in Northeast Japan following 3/11.)

No one else has so beautifully and effectively deployed cardboard.  Originally conceived as a quick and inexpensive means of providing temporary post-disaster housing in Rwanda, Kobe, Haiti and elsewhere, the material is now recognized as a sustainable, resilient, and flexible resource for an extraordinary range of form and function.

Cardboard Cabin_shigeru

Cardboard Cabins (Kobe, Japan) photo found here.

Below is the “Cardboard Cathedral” replacing the much-mourned earthquake pummeled Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand.   It has been found that with regular maintenance — mostly painting — these temporary structures can be long-living.

In response and recovery we often begin at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: water, food, and basic shelter.  Too often we are inclined to ignore the higher reaches of beauty, inspiration, and hope.  Shigeru Ban’s architecture demonstrates attending to biological fundamentals need not exclude engaging the psychological and spiritual.

Cardbaord Cathedral_Stephen Goodenough Photo

Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand) photo by Stephen Goodenough

March 26, 2014

Dirty bombs a left/right issue: left or right of boom

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

One of the headlines to emerge from the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit concerned dirty, not nuclear, bomb material:

Twenty-three nations participating in the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands this week said they intend to comply with international guidelines regarding the security of so-called “dirty bomb” material.

The parties to the multilateral statement — including the United States and countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — pledged to secure all their most dangerous “Category I” radiological sources under guidelines set out by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Specifically, they vowed to follow the IAEA “Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.”

Radiological sources are those that, if paired with conventional explosives, could form a “dirty bomb” that disperses radioactive contamination over an area, but which cannot produce a nuclear detonation akin to an atomic bomb.

Matt Bunn, already referenced once today, isn’t accepting all this apparent progress on face value:

Bunn, however, criticized the transportation gift basket, which does not require the participating countries to utilize any specific security measures. He told Global Security Newswire that the transport-security pledge “is as weak as dishwater,” and he took exception to its suggestion that “the security record of civilian transport of nuclear materials has been excellent” historically.

“Essentially what it means is just that the shipments have not been seized by terrorists so far,” Bunn said. “It used to be legal to send plutonium by regular mail, and the industry complained loudly when the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] started requiring any armed guards at all.”

Yet what he or other critics of the agreement failed to mention is that it is entirely focused on what is referred to as “left of boom.”  These are the prevention, occasionally encompassing preparedness, measures focused on preventing a dirty bomb attack in the first place.

Nuclear terrorism is a left of boom problem.  The part of a nuclear attack terrorists cannot achieve themselves is making the required fissile material.  While a large amount of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material exists (the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia), it is a finite amount that can conceivably be locked down or eliminated.

If a nuclear explosion goes off, you and everyone else in the world will know.  If an attempted attack “fizzles,” it will still result in government action that will make the 9/11 reaction seem tame.  Preparing to respond to a nuclear detonation is important, but once it goes off officials are basically relegated to cleaning up.

A dirty bomb is mostly a “right of boom” issue.  It is incredibly helpful to reduce the access to the potentially worst dirty bomb ingredients, such as cesium, by eliminating or drastically reducing their use in medicine and industry, as well as increasing transportation security standards.

However, unlike a nuclear explosion, the bar to detonating a dirty bomb is extremely low.  Simply add any radioactive material, which exists in countless forms for countless uses in countless fields, to an explosive device and voila!…Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing former administration officials about how this dirty bomb could have happened.  Didn’t we agree to get rid of this stuff at the last nuclear security summit?!?

I jest.  To a point. It is important to secure or eliminate the most dangerous radiological sources.  However, unlike with nuclear terrorism, it will not be possible to accomplish this for ALL radioactive substances.  And the the end product of any dirty bomb is panic and fear of lingering radiation that results in economic damage.  Basically an own goal or touchback if officials and the media emphasize the presence of ANY radiation following an attack, regardless if it included cesium or another isotope considered dangerous (for which these new suggested regulations are attempting to increase the security) or something just barely radioactive that can be measured by local officials on their Geiger counters – if they aren’t simply registering the already existing background radiation.

So what to do?  Concentrate on preparedness, response, and especially recovery.

  • Don’t focus public messages on prevention, but instead on preparedness. 
  • Emphasize the low risk nature of the threat; point out the lack of radiation injuries resulting from Three Mile Island and Fukushima.
  • Prepare succinct talking points for officials in case of a dirty bomb attack.
  • Officials should become comfortable downplaying the fear of radiation.  This should also be instilled in first responders.
  • First responders should have clear, exercised plans for dealing with any radiation-related incident.
  • Federal officials should transfer money from expensive efforts at prevention to developing new technologies for cleaning up.

The only people likely to die in any dirty bomb attack are those injured by the explosion.  The worst damage is caused by a fear of radiation.  The ability to decontaminate an urban area will deter potential dirty bombers in the future.

As long as the experts, currently in and out of government, do not go on cable news to expound on the over-hyped danger of dirty bombs.

Why Japan giving up nuclear material is a good thing

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

The Nuclear Security Summit recently wrapped up in the Hague.  While it was overshadowed by events in the Ukraine, there were several substantial actions reported and pledges made that move the ball forward on nuclear security.

One in particular involved Japan.  While it might seem strange that we should be celebrating Japan sending the U.S. nuclear weapon-usable material, or that we should be worried about their possession at all, Harvard professor Matthew Bunn provided a concise explanation for PBS’ Newshour:

The report Professor Bunn’s references in his interview can be found here. The main conclusions are:

Combat complacency. Developing and sharing a database of incidents with lessons learned, as well as expanded intelligence cooperation, will help those responsible for nuclear security make the case that nuclear terrorism is a real and urgent threat to their countries, worthy of a significant investment of time and money.

Improve protection for facilities and transports. Countries should ensure that all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear material under their control are at least pro­tected against a baseline threat that includes: a well-placed insider; a modest group of well-trained and well-armed outsiders, capable of operating as more than one team; and both an insider and the outsiders working together. Countries facing more capable adversaries should provide higher levels of protection.

Consolidate stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials so that there are fewer sites in need of security investments.

Strengthen security practices “on the ground” through improved training, realistic performance testing and “force-on-force” exercises, new programs to strengthen security culture, and exchanges of “best practices” among organizations responsible for nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities.

Build a more effective global nuclear security framework to help states co­operate on establishing standards and goals for nuclear security, discussing and deciding on next steps to improve nuclear security, confirming that states are fulfilling their responsibility to provide effective security, and tracking states’ progress in fulfilling their nuclear security commitments.  In particular, the authors suggest that for the next nuclear security summit in 2016, a group of states should make a high-level commitment to high standards of nuclear security and invite other states to join them, offering help to those who would like to meet the agreed standards but need assistance in doing so.

Disasters cost money in rich countries and kills people in poor ones

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

Nate Silver, former baseball stat analyst turned political blogger at the New York Times (whose  rise to fame was cemented by very accurately forecasting the results of the last two presidential elections),  has developed a new data-heavy site “FiveThirtyEight.com

Among the articles posted after their recent roll out was by Roger Pielke, Jr. on “Disasters Cost More Than Ever – But Not Because of Climate Change.”

As you might imagine this has stirred a bit of an uproar regarding the connection between climate change and natural disasters.  I’m not looking to get into that fight with this post.  Instead, I find myself dumbstruck at something Mr. Pielke points out that seems both obvious and new to me:

There’s a human toll, too, and the data show an inverse relationship between lives lost and property damage: Modern disasters bring the greatest loss of life in places with the lowest property damage, and the most property damage where there’s the lowest loss of life. Consider that since 1940 in the United States 3,322 people have died in 118 hurricanes that made landfall. Last year in a poor region of the Philippines, a single storm, Typhoon Hayain, killed twice as many people.

It seems obvious. But I have to admit I’ve never made this connection before, nor have seen the hard numbers:

We can start to estimate how countries may weather crises differently thanks to a 2005 analysis of historical data on global disasters. That study estimated that a nation with a $2,000 per capita average GDP — about that of Honduras – should expect more than five times the number of disaster deaths as a country like Russia, with a $14,000 per capita average GDP.2(For comparison, the U.S. has a per capita GDP of about $52,000.)

One possible good news conclusion to draw:

When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control. There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses. As countries become richer, they are better able to deal with disasters — meaning more people are protected and fewer lose their lives. Increased property losses, it turns out, are a price worth paying.

March 25, 2014

Homeland Security reading list – update

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 25, 2014

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security website keeps track of the books used in its master’s degree program.  The list is updated each time a new course begins.

Here is a link to the current book list: https://www.chds.us/?hsbooks

As the screenshot below shows, you can click the link at the upper right of the web page and see the books used in each of ten courses during the past two years.  Click on each book to see the publishing information. (And, in case you are wondering, books are only part of the program’s reading requirements.)

chds reading list March 24, 2014

March 21, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 21, 2014

On this day in 1857 an earthquake and resulting fire at Tokyo, Japan kills over 100,000.

On this day in 2011 a chemical plant explosion and fire in Louisville, Kentucky kills two.

On this day in 1960 South African police open fire at unarmed protesters at Sharpsville, killing 69 and wounding 180.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

March 20, 2014

Syria’s suffering as precursor

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2014

Since 2011 at least 100,000 Syrians have been killed, probably closer to 150,000.  At least one-third have been non-combatants.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have sought refuge outside Syria.  The number of internal displacements is estimated at over 6 million.

The conflict between Sunni and non-Sunni has been amplified and often personalized, each side demonizing the other.

An already volatile region has been further destabilized.  Turkey — a NATO ally — Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq have been especially impacted.

Approximately 12 million Syrians who emigrated over the last century, and their first and second generation descendants, view the continuing slaughter with increasing frustration and despair.

The barbarity of the battle — barrel-bombing civilian neighborhoods, mass execution of men, women, and children, starvation used as a military tactic — has inured many participants to brutality.

Just this week a Sydney man killed in January fighting in Syria’s civil war was identified as a former Australian soldier who went absent without leave from the army in 2010.

On Monday a California National Guard enlistee was arrested at the Canadian border. Prosecutors claim he was on his way to fight in Syria. He has also been accused of planning to attack the Los Angeles mass transit system.

British security officials say at least 200 veterans of the civil war in Syria have returned to the United Kingdom.

Osama bin-Laden and many of his peers were, in part, radicalized by the mass murder of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, horrified by how the world seemed ready to look-on and do nothing.

And again?

A Catastrophic Failure

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Resilience,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2014

Last Friday I finished about four years of work.  I won’t identify the specific work, but it is homeland security-related.

Mostly I failed.

Yes, progress was made:

  • We have a much better understanding of the problem; among other things we recognize a problem that previously was not widely recognized.
  • We have identified most of the key players who are needed to effectively engage the problem.
  • We have established some meaningful relationships among several of the key players.

But the actual problem is as threatening and complicated as it was four years ago.  Maybe more threatening.

After four years of serious, ongoing, and mostly well-received work, I failed to practically advance our security.

I advocate for a distinction between national security and homeland security. But as a wannabe classicist, I embrace “security” derived from the Latin se-curus, se: free from, cura: care.  If anything, today we are less-carefree than four years ago.

Greater knowledge has, if anything, increased our concern:

  • We now recognize there are substantive differences between catastrophic and non-catastrophic.  Enhanced effectiveness dealing with the non-catastrophic has in some cases increased our catastrophic risk.
  • We now recognize the larger an impact area the more likely a catastrophe, even if the “first impact” is less than catastrophic.
  • We now recognize the more interdependencies (power, transport, fuel, supplies, etc.) the more likely a catastrophe
  • We now recognize that self-made vulnerabilities are at least as important — often more important — than external threats.

These aspects of the strategic landscape may seem obvious to you, but four years ago they were anything but.  Even today these findings are taken by some as fightin’ words.

While we now have a much better view of reality, we have not substantively reduced vulnerabilities. An analogy: The thick flat jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan is periodically punctuated by a rise.  Most of these exclamation marks are the overgrown ruins of ancient Mayan structures.  As the vines and trees are cleared from the stonework the threat of erosion — and trampling by tourists — actually increase the likelihood of collapse.

In clearing our problem’s landscape we have also experienced the cultural differences that complicate potential collaboration between the private and public sectors.

In this particular problem-set the private sector tended to recognize the risk earlier than the public sector.   So unlike some homeland security problems, the private and public sectors are in rough strategic alignment.

But to actually do anything together to mitigate risk has been problematic.  A forensic analysis of the multiple problems is not appropriate for a blog.  But at the highest level I think it is fair to say there has been a persistent disconnect between private and public regarding the fundamentals of time and space.

The dimensions of space important to the private sector are usually determined by markets that extend for hundreds, even thousands of miles in every direction.  One private sector participant said, “For our daily operations states are legal fictions.”  Yet on very bad days those fictional creatures become very real… with both good and bad consequences.

Dimensions of time can be even more complicated.  Everyone is busy. Everyone is mostly focused on meeting the calendar for some specific deliverable or set of deliverables.   Private sector success or failure is measured at least once a day and the measures arrive from multiple  players (dozens to tens-of-thousands) across diverse markets.  The public sector calendar tends to be more extended even while the measures-that-matter emerge from a much smaller set of observers/consumers/commanders.

As the private sector experience of time encounters the public sector experience of time reality can be contorted in weird ways.

Over the last four years I failed to practically accommodate these differences of space and time. I am sure private and public share the same reality.  I am sure they depend on one another.   But as I finish this work they remain trapped at different points on a very Newtonian plane.


A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein, Letter to Robert S. Marcus, February 12, 1950

March 19, 2014

California earthquakes or why Jimmy Kimmel is horrible for homeland security

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 19, 2014

I’ll admit up front – I’ve never lived in California and have no direct experience with earthquakes anywhere in that state or the West coast in general.

However, recent news out of Los Angeles following a weak-ish quake has me wondering.  Could LA be really this unprepared for a large earthquake?

As detailed in October by Times reporters Ron Lin, Rosanna Xia and Doug Smith, San Francisco was rightfully alarmed into doing something after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which killed 63 people and injured nearly 4,000. The city established the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety.

Los Angeles was equally alarmed by the 1994 Northridge quake, which killed 57 people, injured 5,000 and caused $20 billion worth of damage. But instead of drafting a plan to be better prepared the next time, city officials went into a deep sleep.

So now San Francisco is in the third year of a 30-year action plan outlining every aspect of preparedness, beginning with structural design standards, the retrofitting of wood-frame buildings and an examination of every private school structure in the city.

And Los Angeles?

We’re starting from scratch after being shamed into doing something by The Times’ earthquake series.

I can understand the incentive to kick the can down the road, however it seems like San Francisco has embraced this challenge:

Nobody loved the idea of shelling out money, San Francisco officials told me. But the mayor called a roundup of building owners and the bankers who finance their businesses and encouraged them to choose safety over risk, protecting lives and their own financial self-interest at the same time.

The point being for LA:

Nancy King, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said: “We live in earthquake country and we can expect earthquakes frequently and the big one, one day. We don’t know when that one’s coming.”

King said she hopes Monday’s earthquake can be used as a teachable event for residents to be better prepared for earthquakes.

“We need to get ready and I think the good news about earthquakes is you can get ready,” she said, adding that residents can do things such as bolting down heavy furniture and securing bookcases that could help dramatically during a strong event.

And the award for biggest schmuck on late night/asking for people to be injured or killed in the next big earthquake, Jimmy Kimmel:

By the way, “diving under your desk” is the right thing to do according to experts.

March 18, 2014

Five homeland security thesis abstracts

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 18, 2014

I had the opportunity this weekend to read five engaging theses, written by people who will graduate next week from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree program.  I’m posting the thesis abstracts below.  The documents will be publicly available in about 6 weeks.  But if you are interested in seeing the thesis before then, please email me (my first and last name [at] gmail dot com), and I’ll put you in touch with the author.  


In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration will open national airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS). Nonmilitary uses for UAS range from agriculture services to entertainment purposes, and include tasks as mundane as inspecting gutters and as consequential as fighting fires.

Outside of the safety issues that accompany many breakthrough technologies, the effort to integrate UAS into national airspace is enmeshed in political, legal and economic policies that require careful navigation. Factors like cybersecurity and technological advancements will continue to influence the way UAS can be used.

This thesis provides an orientation to the key considerations in UAS integration. Policy recommendations include early stakeholder engagement; a national data protection law; no-fly zones around private residences; clearly identifying UAS operators and owners; non-lethal payloads in national airspace; adapting current surveillance laws to UAS; a single, national privacy law to facilitate the free flow of commerce and coordination across state lines; a federal office in charge of monitoring data privacy; accountability of data collectors; limited exemptions for activities conducted in the interest of national security or to protect life and property; and managing cybersecurity risks.


The study of a law enforcement response to a national movement is a homeland security issue. How America polices its population establishes the benchmark for how it treats the world and is worthy of exploration. What can the experiences of four major U.S. cities, in their response to the Occupy Movement, tell us about using emergent strategies for policing protest in the twenty-first century?

In the fall of 2011, the Occupy Movement protests swept across the United States in a matter of weeks. Activists demonstrated against income inequality and the state of the economy, and they established camps in major urban areas, occupying public spaces.

I conducted case studies of New York City; Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; and Dallas, Texas and analyzed the results. That analysis revealed common themes, including a lack of negotiated management, restricting access to traditionally open public spaces by the police and the use of emergent practice in the complex adaptive environment of demonstrations. From this analysis, I am able to provide strategic recommendations for city and police leaders in dealing with protests in the twenty-first century utilizing a sense-making framework that will assist leaders in strategic planning for protests for large and small cities alike.


The United States defines terrorism through the lists it maintains identifying those who are engaged in, support, and/or facilitate terrorism. One such list is the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. Since the FTO designation process occurs without the organization’s knowledge or ability to challenge the evidence relied upon, classified information is used in making the determination, and judicial oversight is limited, concerns have been expressed that the Executive Branch has too much discretion in this process. The concerns are exacerbated by the perception that political motivations dominate the decision-making process.

Using content analysis, the FTO list is analyzed using a quantitative and qualitative approach. First, the terrorist designation processes used in allied countries is examined, and the list is analyzed reviewing FTO decisions made before and after 9/11. Through an analysis of the annual State Department country reports describing the FTOs, the non-statutory factors that influence FTO decisions emerge, and include whether a group attacked Israel or other allied nation of strategic interest to the United States, attacked the United States or its citizens, or is affiliated with al Qaeda. These non-statutory factors and their application to U.S. counterterrorism strategy, is how the United States defines terrorism at any point in time.


The subject of this project is the state of fire service substance-testing policy nationwide, and what it should be. This thesis analyzed 12 substance-testing policies from fire departments across the country. The project looked at the language fire departments were using to convey the intent, process, and consequences of their policy. Common themes emerged as each policy was examined. However, upon closer examination, more inconsistency was found than uniformity. Differences ranged from policy purposes to prevailing guidance to types of substances tested for, threshold levels, and employee treatment; the greatest difference was found in the terminology. As a result of the analysis, this thesis identifies best practices and required components of a standardized national substance-testing policy, and asserts that such a national model should be implemented.


There is a great opportunity for collaborative learning when agencies conduct emergency preparedness exercises together. If different members of the community contribute to the development of these exercises, then this learning benefits the entire population. As it stands, preparedness exercises are being conducted with minimal regard to recommendations from previous exercises and real-world events. Along with the incorporation of intelligence into these exercises, the objectives should promote a more inclusive design process based on focused relevance, encouraging agencies to view themselves more as members of the greater community rather than individual entities.

Terrorist organizations learn from past failures as well as successes, and emergency responders should strive to parallel this learning in order to develop tactical improvements. Emergency responders need to promote the idea of intelligence-driven exercise design in order to support community resilience through collaborative training. Municipalities should spearhead this effort, supported financially by the private sector. With this fusion of intelligence and collaborative exercise design, we can learn from the fires of yesterday and prepare for the emergencies of tomorrow.

March 17, 2014

Boston Globe: checking in on Boston’s evacuation routes on “Evacuation Day”

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 17, 2014

Little known outside of the Boston-area, today is not only St. Patrick’s Day but “Evacuation Day,” marking the retreat of English forces out of Boston during the Revolutionary War:

So what is Evacuation Day? On March 17, 1776, George Washington had fortifications and cannons placed on Dorchester Heights. The British troops occupying Boston at the time realized they were outgunned.

History.com tells us what happened next:

Realizing their position was now indefensible, 11,000 British troops and some 1,000 Loyalists departed Boston by ship on March 17, sailing to the safety of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The bloodless liberation of Boston by the Patriots brought an end to a hated eight-year British occupation of the city.

It also serves as an extraordinarily convenient holiday for Boston city employees (about the only place in Massachusetts, or the country for that matter, that marks the holiday) and Irish bar owners and workers as it falls on St. Patrick’s Day.

However, this year the Boston Globe’s Steve Safran brings up the important issue of evacuation in present day Boston:

Have you ever noticed the “Evacuation Route” signs around Boston? Ever wonder where they lead?

It’s Evacuation Day in Boston, and it’s a good thing the Redcoats didn’t follow our “Evacuation Route” signs, or they might still be here.

In a short article he brings up several important points relevant to cities across the country:

It’s hard enough finding Fenway Park by following street signs. Evacuating the city during an emergency would make our already clogged routes out of town that much more chaotic. The first thing you notice on the city’s official map of evacuation routes is that they all pretty much point the way you’d normally go if you were hightailing it out of town.

And he’s understandably a little pessimistic:

Boston area residents have to be at little skeptical about the plan. We’ve seen snowstorms tie up all the routes out of town for hours. Even regular rush hour traffic comes to regular standstills. It may be that you’d be better off trying to leave not by land, but by sea.

If you can’t escape by sea, perhaps sheltering-in-place is the best option?

Sometimes government regulation is good; or how Medicare/Medicaid increased preparedness

Filed under: Biosecurity,Business of HLS,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 17, 2014

The phrase “government regulation” usually implies something bad.  But sometimes, a few new seemingly minor regulations can have a positive impact. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (cms.gov) provides the latest example:

Describing emergency preparedness as an “urgent public health issue,” the proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services offers regulations aimed at preventing the severe disruptions to health care that followed Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. More than 68,000 institutions would be affected, including large hospital chains, “mom and pop” nursing homes, home health agencies, rural health clinics, organ transplant procurement organizations, outpatient surgery sites, psychiatric hospitals for youths and kidney dialysis centers.

It might seem like common sense, but previously health care organizations and facilities were required to do very little in terms of preparedness. Because of the market share that Medicare and Medicaid holds, that is going to change:

The regulations would require hospitals, nursing facilities and group homes to have plans to maintain emergency lighting, fire safety systems, and sewage and waste disposal during power losses, and to keep temperatures at a safe level for patients.

Those inpatient facilities would also be expected to track displaced patients, provide care at alternate sites and handle volunteers. Transplant centers would need to identify alternate hospitals for patients awaiting organs — a challenge because centers maintain different transplant criteria.

Home health care agencies would be required to help patients create personalized disaster plans. Hospices and others caring for frail, homebound patients would need procedures to help rescuers locate them. And health care employees would have to conduct disaster drills, while administrators might have to coordinate drills and response plans with local business competitors.

What is aggravating is that the seemingly sensible is so strenuously contested:

One of the most contested of the requirements calls for hospitals and nursing homes to test backup generators for extended periods at least yearly rather than once every three years, as is currently recommended. The generators have sometimes failed catastrophically during prolonged power losses.

This is not a narrow effort, but instead applies to a wide range of health care organizations:

The current proposal is unusual because it applies to 17 types of providers at once, which together serve an estimated nine million fee-for-service patients each month, as well as other patients covered by Medicare Advantage and Medicaid. Federal officials said this broad approach was needed to ensure that the health care system pulls together and that poorly prepared institutions do not stress others during a crisis.

You can read more about this effort, including the push back , here: http://nyti.ms/1fndiuP

March 14, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 14, 2014

On this day in 1907 the Ohio River began three days of extraordinary flooding between Wheeling and Cincinnati. More than thirty were killed, thousands were left homeless, economic losses were significant.

On this day in 2011, three days after the initial earthquake and tsunami in Northeast Japan, at about 1100 hours (local time) the Fukushima Unit 3 Reactor building explodes injuring six workers. Two hours later the reactor core isolation cooling system for Reactor 2 stops and water levels within the reactor start falling. At about 1500 hours a major portion of the fuel in Reactor 3 drops to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel. Before midnight core damage is reported in Reactor 2.

On this day in 2004 the Spanish General Elections were held three days after the Madrid train bombings in which 191 died and over 2000 were injured. The electoral rejection of the ruling party was claimed by some to advance terrorist intentions.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

March 13, 2014

The 21st Century Stafford Act

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on March 13, 2014

Today’s post is authored by a member of the homeland security enterprise who would prefer to not be named. The post reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of any particular federal agency or the Federal Government.


In January, a bipartisan group of congressional legislators from Illinois introduced a bill entitled the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014. A few days later, Illinois’ senators would introduce the same bill in the Senate. The ostensive purpose of these bills is to bring fairness to rural communities when competing for federal disaster declarations by altering FEMA’s disaster declaration regulations.

The problem is no President has ever delegated the right to decide disaster declarations to FEMA and Congress has limited the President from establishing disaster declaration criteria based upon arithmetic formulas or a sliding scale based on income or population. Even if this bill would become law tomorrow, it almost certainly would not change the framework of disaster declarations and only make changes to unbinding regulations. So why would these members go through such an effort?

The answer may be the lack of serious discourse about the primary legal framework for federal disaster preparedness and relief, the Stafford Act, over the last 25 years. While the Stafford Act has been amended several times since 1988, outside of the addition of mitigation authorities in 2000, there has been no substantive review of the utility, incentives and disincentives put into motion by its overall structure and purpose. The end result is Congress’ knowledge has atrophied. The nation’s citizens have been deprived of a chance to understand the issues surrounding disaster relief and preparedness that would allow them to set practical expectations for the types and amount of disaster assistance they can expect after a disaster. This includes the lack of debate about how the Stafford Act may, or may not, have affected the role and responsibility of different levels of governments to prepare for disasters and provide disaster relief. Nor has there been a serious debate about the balance between public sector and private sector relief efforts.

Beginning in 1950, the first four decades of the modern era of federal disaster relief saw periods of spirited review about these issues. Four times this evaluation led to significant restructuring of the statutory configuration of federal disaster preparedness and relief, almost always expanding the assistance available through the Federal Government. However, with the exception of emphasizing and incentivizing mitigation in 2000, there has not been a serious study of the utility of the structural foundations for federal disaster preparedness and relief.

This has deprived the nation of the serious study of what disaster preparedness and relief efficiencies need to be reinforced and what deficiencies should be rectified. It has also prevented citizens from understanding how much disaster assistance they should expect and the level of risk and responsibility they should be prepared to assume. We have avoided questions of responsibility for disaster relief from their different levels of government, the private sector and non-profits. While the nation has seen several major disasters since 1988, the debate after each of these events never led to the serious and episodic reappraisal seen in the previous four decades. We are now nearly 26 years past the last serious evaluation of the responsibilities for disaster relief.

It may be that the answers to these questions have changed little over these last 26 years but how do we know? What are the issues that might be debated? The obvious ones are perpetual: The division of responsibility and risk between public and private, federal and state, state and local and the individual responsibility of citizens. The debate over these issues will always ebb and flow with the direction of the country but are the factors that influence this debate static? What about the dramatic changes in technology over the last 26 years? With the profusion of resources and capabilities to individual citizens, much of it relayed through the computer in every pocket, the smart phone, should citizens shoulder more responsibility (and risk)?

Does our increasing reliance on interconnectedness, much of it delivered through the private sector, provide a new role for federal disaster relief to critical infrastructure? How can we harness the capabilities of the newest generation of disaster relief organizations to provide a more efficient and nimble disaster relief response than their predecessors? Are there incentives or resources which could be provided by the Federal Government to incentivize these organizations without impeding their innovation and competences?

Now may also be the time to look back and see where the Stafford Act has created pockets of efficiencies and inefficiencies. What mitigation efforts have, or have not, incentivized states and local governments to become more prepared? Should we, and could we, reward local and state governments who shoulder more of the responsibility for mitigation efforts? Are preparedness efforts better funded locally or more broadly? How do we support growing inter and intra-state regional governments who fall outside traditional federal-state relationships for disaster relief? Should the Federal Government encourage new forms of intergovernmental cooperation? How do we weigh the responsibilities of states – does the Federal Government more actively force them to tax to their risk, or leave it up to them?

Could the Federal Government provide incentives for states to push more responsibility for disaster relief to lower levels of government? Is this wise? What should be done about the clearly anachronistic Cold War era Title VI of the Stafford Act? A decade later, does the relationship between the Stafford Act and the Homeland Security Act need to be clarified? Could the debate over the relationship between these two statutes lead to streamlined Congressional oversight for disaster relief?

We learn by talking, by debating, by the marketplace of ideas. It’s time for a serious and spirited discourse if for no other reason than to reeducate ourselves and reestablish consistent expectations and responsibilities for disaster preparedness and relief.

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