Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 27, 2014

Megalopolistic bedfellows, fire, filters, and eloquent twilight

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 27, 2014

Megalopolis

What do Walmart, the Cheesecake Factory, Wells Fargo, the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the Revelation Network, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Burbank Fire Department, Microsoft and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have in common?

They are members of the “Community Stakeholder Network” (CSN).

You may already know about the CSN.  I just learned about it.  CSA is “a product [sic] of HSAC,” which stands for the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

CSN is

“a collaborative portal designed to support businesses and community stakeholders in developing sustainable community resilience…; a collaborative single point of interaction with enterprise applications, content, processes, and people…; [and] “a consolidated, high-value, trusted source for business and community stakeholders where members can review, share data, and work together to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from man-made or natural disaster events.”

If that production vocabulary does not crystalize the meaning and function of CSN, they have a facebook page that, I believe, illustrates a bit of what they do.  There’s also a video with more explanation:  http://csntoday.org/Pages/ABOUT-US/CSN-Video.aspx.  

Among the interesting ideas in the video, you’ll hear the word “megalopolis” used correctly. I had not heard that word before.

Fire

The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic has a deeply researched article (written by Brian Mockenhaupt) on the 2013 Yarnell, Arizona fire that killed 19 firefighters: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/fire-on-the-mountain/361613/

This year, more than 50,000 wildfires—sparked by lightning, tossed cigarettes, runaway campfires, the occasional arsonist’s match, and even rocks scraping together in a landslide—will rage through forests and shrublands across America. Legions of firefighters will fly, drive, and march to do battle with them. For the most part, the firefighters will win, controlling up to 98 percent of the fires within 24 hours. But the fires that make up the other 2 percent—like the one that started burning in the brush above Yarnell on June 28—are a tougher fight….

This is the firefighters’ conundrum: how to balance risk in the growing wildland-urban interface. Faced with tornados, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes, we do little but let nature run its course, try to limit the damage, and clean up in the aftermath. But when it comes to wildfire, we think we can do more. We think we can fight it. We now spend more than $3 billion a year on that effort, but only a small fraction is used to put healthy fire back on the landscape. Firefighters die each year, even though we now realize fire suppression is a battle we can’t ever win, and in some cases shouldn’t even be fighting. With so many people now living in the wildland-urban interface, we don’t allow forests and shrublands to burn the way they did for millennia. Instead, firefighters battle ever-larger wildfires to protect increasing numbers of homes. The result is a cycle of tragic inevitability.

The online version of the story also includes some remarkable video, including one from the Missoula fire sciences lab.

Filters

The Isla Vista shooting brings to mind a MIT Technology Review story about how the internet filter bubble performs after a controversial, emotionally charged event like a mass shooting.

Danai Koutra from Carnegie Mellon University and two Microsoft researchers, Paul Bennett and Eric Horvitz, analyzed “the Web browsing behavior of people who looked at a wide range of gun-related sites,… seeing how it changed before and after the [Sandy Hook school shooting] massacre.”

Before the event, “… people use the Web to largely access agreeable information;” agreeable means sites that tended to advocate a particular view toward gun rights and gun control. Gun control proponents favored sites that advocated controlling weapons; gun rights advocates frequented sites that supported their views.

When the researchers studied web behavior after the shootings:

The first thing to note is that after the tragedy, there was a sudden increase in the number of people accessing gun-related websites. But [the authors’] conclusion is that whatever content people already accessed, the tendency was to continue to access agreeable content but of a more extreme variety.

Isla Vista-like calamities — if the study results can be generalized – tend to make both gun rights and gun control proponents more calcified.

Twilight

Privacy, local, average and later will soon be obsolete words.

Thomas Friedman makes that argument in a May 20th essay (available here – but perhaps behind a paywall — http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/opinion/friedman-four-words-going-bye-bye.html?):

Privacy: The recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling “underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure — and fair game.”

Freidman quotes Bill Maher:

“Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it’s that there’s a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. … In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world’s ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: ‘If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them.’ Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?”

LocalLocal is over for the same reason.

Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today’s hyperconnected world can immediately go global….  [Last] Monday, Google News carried the following story: “SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter.” It doesn’t get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.

Average: …“average is over.  It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their “extra,” and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can’t be digitized.”

Later: “on May 13,.. scientists [reported] that a large section of the … West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable.

...when we were growing up “later” meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.

One more observation reported by Freidman:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State …  when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

 

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 27, 2014 @ 11:13 am

A brilliant post! Thanks Chris! Jared Diamond asks the question what was the resident of Easter Island thinking as he/she chopped down the last tree? Of course we know that he/she was not thinking and in fact we now know quite well that those opposing reason the discourse of the ENLIGHTENEMENT seem to hold dear the principle that thinking is somehow not human.

My question for the Yarnell fire is why no GPS for all firefighters working fires in the woodland/urban interface?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 27, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

From Wiki:

A megalopolis (sometimes improperly called a megapolis) or megaregion is typically defined as a chain of roughly adjacent metropolitan areas. The term was used by Patrick Geddes in his 1915 book Cities in Evolution,[1] by Oswald Spengler in his 1918 book, The Decline of the West, and Lewis Mumford in his 1938 book, The Culture of Cities, which described it as the first stage in urban overdevelopment and social decline. Later, it was used by Jean Gottmann in 1954, to describe the chain of metropolitan areas along the northeastern seaboard of the U.S. extending from Boston, Massachusetts through New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and ending in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.”

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