Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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 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?

March 12, 2014

The non-Fukushima anniversary

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 12, 2014

I hesitated to post on the anniversary of the horrific Japanese tsunami.  I don’t have anything reasonably intelligent to say about the recovery efforts. And I think Phil summarized related issues quite succinctly in a comment to his post yesterday:

At least 18,000 died, 267,000 remain displaced. Progress in recovery has been made. Enough?

While I hope some portion of grief is reserved for those who suffered and still suffer, my greater concern probably relates to survivors much farther afield.

Tohoku is not Tokyo. Some day the tsunami will roll up Tokyo Bay. Some day the earthquake will shake L.A. Yet we have not, I think, given enough thought to what we might have learned — still might learn — from 3/11.

The only thing I would like to add is my general disappointment with the focus on Fukushima (in the American press almost always referring to the nuclear plant aspect of the disaster and not the larger prefecture). The New York Times fell prey to this inclination in their editorial “Fukushima’s Continuing Tragedy:”

Tuesday was the third anniversary of the triple disaster that struck the eastern Japanese prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima: the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear power plant meltdowns in Fukushima. The catastrophe killed 15,884, with 2,636 still missing. The government’s reconstruction efforts have been insufficient and painfully slow.

There are still 270,000 refugees, of whom 100,000 live in makeshift housing. Since the disaster, more than 3,000 refugees have died from medical problems and suicide. In Fukushima prefecture, more people have died of disaster-related causes after the disaster (more than 1,650) than were killed in the disaster (1,607).

What the editorial doesn’t mention is that none of the the dead in the Fukushima prefecture are a result of the radiation released from the nuclear plant.  Obviously, some if not many of the those that have perished in related causes after the disaster could be evacuees from irradiated areas – though at this point none would be due to radiation exposure.

Andrew Sullivan of “The Dish” falls into the same trap, as he quotes another blogger:

Then there’s the psychological impact. A Brigham Young University study released last week found that a year after disaster, more than half of the citizens of Hirono, a heavily affected town near the plant, showed “clinically concerning” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Two-thirds showed symptoms of depression.

I do not certainly mean to diminish the trauma experienced by those who had to evacuate the area around the damaged nuclear plant.

I only wish to bring attention to all those who died, were hurt, suffered great loss, and can’t return to their homes damaged by the earthquake and/or tsunami.

As a nation we have an unhealthy preoccupation with radiation.  While I wish more would have been done in terms of regulating domestic nuclear power plant spent fuel storage and emergency planning guidelines following the Japanese disaster, the preparations for a true mega-disaster on the scale of the Japanese experience are even more lacking.

March 11, 2014

Remembering March 11, 2011

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on March 11, 2014


A Kanji for Silence

January 30, 2014

The mitigation message

East Rivers Elementary

Cobb County elementary school children sleeping Tuesday night in the gym

Last Tuesday my train pulled into Union Station, Washington DC, shortly before noon.  The station and surrounding city were unusually quiet.  The Federal Office of Personnel Management had given most of its employees liberal leave to stay home.   Most area schools followed this lead.

On Capitol Hill — where I still had some meetings — the snow did not really begin until about 2:00 and was not quite as bad as predicted even into the height of the typical rush hour, which given the OPM decision had much more rush than usual.

By the next morning there was nearly 4 inches of snow at Reagan Airport and over 8 at Dulles.  Wednesday got underway with official delays.

Still some were inclined to second-guess the Tuesday mitigation decision made with the best possible information Monday night.

I hope the second-guessers are giving close attention to the more recent news out of Atlanta.

Even at dawn Tuesday, January 28 the best information available to Georgia decision-makers — very much including the general public — was that the worst weather would track south and east of Atlanta.  Beginning between about 7 and 8 that morning the best information began to shift.  By 10 it was snowing in Bartow County on the northwestern edge of metro Atlanta.  By 11 it was snowing hard and icing.  At 11:23 Cobb County Schools (along the Northwest Atlanta beltway) closed and began busing students home.  At 12:15 Georgia DOT suggested private-sector workers head home.

By 1:00 many Atlanta highways were grid-locked, more the result of sudden volume than — yet — because of the weather.  (Should bring back unpleasant memories of similar events in Chicago and DC in recent years.)  As some of you know, traffic is not an unusual problem in Atlanta, even in fragrant and sunny springtime.

At 1:55 the Governor declared a State of Emergency; the most immediate effect being to pour state employees onto already packed roads.  Across the United States we are predisposed to evacuations.  It is a bad — sometimes, someplaces deadly — habit.

By mid-afternoon the snow and especially ice were adding to the problems.  You have probably seen the videos.  There were several hundred vehicle accidents just in the Atlanta area.

On Wednesday many Tuesday afternoon commuters were still stuck in their cars.  Some had abandoned their vehicles.  In several cases school buses were forced to retreat back to classrooms.  Several hundred children — the numbers are still unclear — spent the night in their schools. (See picture above.) My ten-year-old nephew got home from school, but neither of his parents could.  Shane spent the night at the neighbors.

There will be after-action analyses. There will be studies.  There will be hearings.  There will be blame-gaming. There will be lessons-learned.

What I hope someone will declare clearly and well is that 1) there are many things we cannot accurately predict, 2) especially in unpredictable contexts innate vulnerabilities are exposed, and 3) in densely networked environments, like cities, these vulnerabilities can sometimes meet and mate, propagating suddenly and prolifically.

So… for a whole host of risks we are wise to invest in mitigation and to keep in mind that what will always seem an over-investment before will likely pay profitable dividends after.

This principle applies well beyond the weather, including water systems, supply chains, fuel networks, bridges, and much, much more.

January 16, 2014

Engaging Uncertainty

Filed under: Catastrophes,Disaster,Infrastructure Protection,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 16, 2014

Water-Order     Gov. Tomblin (right) and Jeff McIntyre, West Virginia American Water

Late on January 9 not much was known about the chemical leak into the Elk River. No one seemed to know how much of the chemical had poured into the river or been sucked into the water system. No one could be sure what sort of health-risks might arise from skin contact or ingesting water tainted with the obscure chemical. There was uncertainty about when the contamination had begun and how long it might take to remove the contamination. When 300,000 people might again be able to consume their tap water was beyond reasonable prediction.

Our species survived — and eventually thrived — largely based on our weird ability to imagine the future and recognize steps to achieve (or avoid) what we imagine. When this imagination is anchored in experience or knowledge (indirect-experience) it is a source of confidence, even solace. When the anchor is ripped up and our fragile craft is swept into a cyclone of uncertainty… well, different folks respond in different ways. But there is a tendency for fear to proliferate, which can unwind in atypical behaviors and amplify uncertainty.

In the first two days of the West Virginia water crisis there were many indicators of imagination untethered. Rumors spread. Conspiracies were alleged. Even worse to come was envisioned. But mostly fears were contained, rumors corrected, and a covenant of social trust and mutual concern was, if anything, strengthened.

A 500 word blog — okay, I’m not always so concise — is not the right place to undertake a full analysis of what happened and did not happen in terms of community resilience. But I advocate this being done.

My hypothesis is that what happened mostly involved the expression of preexisting social networks and relationships.

But I also want to credit — and ask others to more rigorously explore — the role of leadership that was courageous enough to embrace uncertainty.

I was in eastern West Virginia (outside the impact area) from Sunday through Tuesday, close enough to get a bit more of the local media angle. I was impressed by the calm, realistic, and consistently understated approach of the Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, and the President of West Virginia American Water, Jeff McIntyre.

I never heard them claim to be in control. I did hear them state clearly the sources of uncertainty. They outlined in writing and in their remarks what was being done to engage the uncertainty. They did not try to distract citizens from the uncertainty with accusatory vents. They did focus on what citizens could do for themselves and their neighbors. They recognized progress. They did not over-promise.

Here is one of the first statements made by the Governor (bold highlights by me).

We urge all residents in the affected areas to follow West Virginia American Water Company’s “do not use” order until it is lifted. This includes water companies supplied by West Virginia American Water in this area. If you live in one of these areas, do not use tap water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing, or bathing. At this time, I do not know how long this will last.

Don’t neglect the use of that personal pronoun.  Next he said:

We ask that all West Virginian’s check on their friends, families, and neighbors—especially those with small children and seniors living in their households—to make sure they have enough water, food, and supplies. If you—or anyone you know–experiences symptoms including: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of the eyes and skin, seek care immediately.

Here’s what a citizen can do, even should do.  The most important action that can be taken is to practically and personally renew the human relationships on which we all depend.  Begin some new relationships if you can.  Then, here’s what  your government is doing on your behalf (he said more, this is one of four paragraphs):

I’ve mobilized and deployed all appropriate government assets and resources, including our Office of Emergency Management, our experts at DEP, DHHR Bureau of Public Health along with our National Guard—who are out doing health and wellness checks across the area along with collecting, testing and monitoring the water. The federal government is also providing assistance. The President has approved my request to issue a federal emergency declaration to provide FEMA resources. County emergency offices are also working 24-7.

Your basic human needs can and will be addressed:

If you are low on bottled water, do not panic. Help is on the way. We are taking every measure to provide water to you. There is no shortage of bottled water. Supplies are moving into the area as we speak. We encourage all West Virginians in affected areas to contact their local emergency management office for water distribution sites.

Please be active in helping yourself and others:

If you or your organization would like to donate supplies, please contact your local emergency center. If you are in the Kanawha Valley Area, we are organizing a call to action drive for needed items—including water, sanitizer, wipes, liquid baby formula, paper plates, plastic utensils, and microwavable meals. The drive will take place on the Boulevard in front of the State Capitol from 2:30 – 6:30 today. It is important to emphasize, water and supplies are available—there is not a persistent shortage of bottled water.

We are grateful for the offers of support from private firms and charities—and our fellow West Virginians—to aid in providing relief.

This is the second time I have listened-in to Governor Tomblin deal with a basically no-notice and hard-hitting disaster.  The first time was the late-June 2012 Derecho.  In that multi-state event I was able to compare and contrast his approach to that of other governors, mayors, and such.   When others were attacking, blaming, and threatening, Governor Tomlin was thanking and encouraging and informing.

I think there are some lessons to be learned.

November 24, 2013

Update on Visayas Event

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2013


Click on the map to open a larger version

As of Saturday evening Philippine time:

Confirmed fatalities: Over 5000

Displaced persons: 4.29 million

Needing emergency food: 2.5 million

A combination of extraordinary international relief and restored domestic supply chains are delivering basic needs — water, food, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and such — to a wide area of the Central Philippines impacted by the November 8 typhoon.  It seems to me that it took roughly eight or nine days to establish sufficient capacity and capability across an area roughly the size of Louisiana.

These crucial elements of near-term recovery have been accomplished while most of the area still does not have electricity.  This is, I suggest, another in those important distinctions between a disaster and a catastrophe.  In a disaster the priority is usually restoration of power after which most other problems can be solved.  In a catastrophe or near-catastrophe the priority is often to deliver basic needs without the grid being operational… with all the complications that involves.

The Visayas are shifting to longer-term issues of recovery.  For example, fishermen who lost their boats to the typhoon are improvising as they can, but at least 1300 fishing craft were destroyed.  Mid-December is the season for rice-planting.  Seed-stocks were lost and need to be replenished and distributed quickly.  A geo-thermal plant — Asia’s largest — in western Leyte was thrown offline by the typhoon.  Cooling towers and controls will require repairs before it can restart.  The plant supplies roughly one-third of the electricity consumed in the Vasayas region.

November 21, 2013

Complex versus complicated

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2013

Sunday I was doing what I could — not much — to deploy barges, boats, anything that could float a truck to the San Bernadino strait between Luzon and Samar in Eastern Philippines.

About the same time several tornadoes were tearing through the area of downstate Illinois  where I grew up.  In Pekin and Washington over 500 homes were destroyed, over 100 were hospitalized, one died.  There was more death and destruction across the Midwest.

In each case — Central Illinois and Central Philippines — the precipitating cause was a cyclonic event with winds exceeding 190 miles per hour. In each case similar critiques have emerged related to risk-awareness, mitigation, warning, and preparedness.

Otherwise the differences are significant.

While there were over 70 confirmed tornadoes across the Midwest on Sunday, tornadoes are episodic. Tropical cyclones are epic.  Survivors in the tri-county region of Illinois talk about two-minutes of hell.  Survivors in the Visayas region of the Philippines experienced hours of assault by rain, wind, and surge. It is now estimated that up to 4 million have been displaced by the typhoon. Over 518,000 houses have been destroyed.  The dead are still being found.

Terrestrial cyclones don’t come with storm surge.  Water kills much more effectively than wind. Only earthquakes are more deadly… especially if they splash up a tsunami.

The scale — specific power at impact — of the EF-4 tornado that hit Washington is comparable to the CAT-5 typhoon that passed south of Tacloban.   In terms of their scope… well, look for yourself.

Haiyan to Washington

But it is a mistake to only see the differences as a matter of scope or scale.  In terms of consequences these events are expressions of entirely different categories.  The Visayas Event was/is complex and very much continuing to unwind.  The Washington Event was complicated and, except for those directly affected, is now mostly finished.

Disasters are contained in recognizable time-and-space, temporarily disrupting patterns that mostly rebound.  Catastrophes are complex cascades marking a fundamental shift in experience and direction.

There is a temptation to focus on size, as if one is a ping-pong ball and the other is a basketball.  Instead, it seems to me, we need to recognize that one is any size ball and the other is a positron: two very different types of reality, requiring two very different strategies of engagement.

For example:

In Illinois it is entirely reasonable to form a security perimeter around the impact site, to focus on evacuating survivors, and to defer mostly to private sector decisions related to recovery.

In the Visayas these same choices are possible, but where in Illinois the velocity and outcome of these choices are reasonably predictable and positive, in the Visayas such choices are likely to make things even worse (especially the next time).   In any case, in the Visayas (the positron) we are dealing with probability not predictability.

Given the catastrophic context in the Philippines instead of perimeters, focus on permeability (e.g. clear debris, repair bridges, expedite convoys).  Instead of evacuation, focus on quick restoration of lifelines (especially water and food, even electricity is secondary).  Private choices will be important in both places, but there are threats and vulnerabilities in Tacloban and elsewhere that would benefit from a much more active role by both government and civil society.

Catastrophes are not just big and complicated, they are an entirely different category of reality.

November 16, 2013

Post-typhoon supply chain: Some preliminary observations

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 16, 2013

The following is tentative, hypothesis-stating and offered for correction. It is written to think-aloud about issues with implications beyond the Philippines, but informed by the concrete consequences observed in the Philippines. It is focused on Tacloban because that is the location for which there is the most current information. I am also of the opinion that urban environments tend to more clearly unveil supply chain vulnerabilities than stress in less densely populated areas.



Prior to the typhoon Tacloban was a city of about 220,000 people. It is located in the Eastern Philippines adjacent the strait separating the islands of Leyte and Samar. It is the principal urban concentration in the Eastern Philippines and a regional center for trade, transportation, education, medical care, and government services.

Leyte Province has a population of roughly 1.6 million (including Tacloban). Neighboring Samar Province has a population of roughly 730,000. The economy is largely based on rice, coconut, and sugar farming, fishing, and commerce.

Tacloban is on the Pan-Philippine Highway. The highway bridge connecting Leyte and Samar was not seriously damaged by the November 8 typhoon. Tacloban is 536 miles by highway from Manila. This usually requires at least 18-26 hours to travel (including a ferry crossing from Matnog to Allen). This week the same distance has required up to 60 hours (sometimes more see update below). Passenger ferries and, especially roll-on/roll-off ferries are key elements in the Philippines transportation system.

Maritime transport from Manila to Tacloban generally requires 30-to-40 hours depending on class of carrier and weather.  Ferry transport to Cebu (now the emergency relief hub for the region) typically takes 13 hours.

Impact and Starting Basis

Tacloban was hit especially hard by the CAT-5 typhoon, perhaps the strongest to ever be recorded making landfall. Sitting at the head of the Leyte Gulf it is likely the storm surge piled up against Tacloban (as was the case at Staten Island). A 12-to-20 foot tsunami-like wave has been described by survivors.


Click on graphic to access larger view (courtesy of the BBC)

Clearly other locations in the Philippines were also hit hard. But given its especially vulnerable geography and population density, it is possible Tacloban will end up being the disaster’s epicenter even as a more complete picture emerges in the days ahead.

There is no indication of acute resource shortages prior to the typhoon. Some interviews and media reports even indicate sufficient supplies of some resources — such as fuel — for several days following the typhoon’s landfall. In other nearby locations — the city of Ormoc, for example — authorities reported at least two days supply of food on hand four days after landfall.

Further, by the end of the first week after landfall there were multiple reports of resources piling up at emergency hubs established to channel official relief supplies. (There was a Thursday post on the status of humanitarian logistics.)

Private Sector Supply Chains

I have found  very little reporting related to private supply chains per se.  But some impressions based on bits and bites reported here and there:

Clean water is a serious problem.  The Tacloban water system was taken off-line by loss of electricity and damage to infrastructure.  As of today, only about 20 percent of the city has had water service restored.  Other potential sources of water were contaminated by the consequences of the typhoon.

Several key transportation nodes, especially the airport, seaport, ferry docks and such, were essentially obliterated by wind and surge. (On Saturday  International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), in cooperation with the Philippine government, announced plans to donate a “mobile” port to Tacloban.  It is expected to begin operations by Tuesday.)

The road network was made impassable by debris and destruction of some infrastructure. (But in most cases bridges and tarmac seem to have held up remarkably well.)

Loss of electricity and communications — as usual, interdependent — seriously compromised situational awareness, operational flexibility, and near-term response and recovery.  Pumping fuel, refrigeration, financial services, and much more collapse or crawl without power.

The horrific impact on residential housing and the deaths of thousands resulted in wholesale and retail operations remaining closed in the days immediate following landfall.  (The inability of local employees to staff operations in the immediate aftermath of a significant disaster is a systemic problem far beyond the Philippines.)

There are spotty reports of retailers — particularly food and fuel retailers — choosing not to re-stock or reopen due to concern over looting and other security problems.   There have been confirmed reports of some looting, but the scope and scale is difficult to discern.   Did actual looting create a response and recovery problem, or did the fear of possible looting repress supply chain resilience, or was the looting that occurred the outcome of a delay prompted by concern about looting?  What is cause and what is effect can be easy to confuse.

Medical supplies were quickly exhausted by a dramatic spike in demand and the absence of a proportional re-supply surge.  It is my impression (what little it’s worth) that medical supplies originate in the Manila metro area and were not moving until assurance of open roads and reasonable security south of Matnog.

There are very mixed — even contradictory — reports related to the availability of fuel.  But whatever the available stock, it is clear that distribution of fuel was a problem over the first week.  The distinction between supply and distribution is crucial and too often neglected.  For some reason public sector folks seem to automatically assume supply is the problem (or simply don’t understand the distribution function).

The most mysterious aspect of what I have been (un)able to access relates to trucking.  The Philippine Minister of the Interior, quarterbacking the relief operation in Tacloban, told NPR that he had sixteen trucks to supply all of Leyte province.  One OCHA report highlighted twenty army trucks finally making it to Tacloban seven days after landfall.   Where did all the trucks go?

In terms of supply chain resilience, in the typhoon’s aftermath there were — and are — obvious physics problems: destruction of infrastructure, impassable debris, disrupted demand signals, diminished local distribution capabilities (caused by deaths of wholesalers/retailers and destruction of facilities).  There were also psycho-social problems: grief, confusion, fear…

With the exception of clean water — certainly a crucial exception — I cannot find compelling evidence of a serious problem with actual sources of supply.  In other words throughout the crisis there has been sufficient strategic capacity to provide the necessary life-sustaining resources.  But there has been a period of several days when connections were lost between that strategic capacity and the local capability to distribute and receive.


As noted above, I don’t feel certain of anything here.  But I hope by making these impressions explicit I will attract more accurate information.

I will pay a reward to the person that tells me what happened to the trucks.



From a Philippines television news outlet, reporting on a private-public supply chain summit held earlier today (Saturday):

Their initiative came amid reports of a logjam in relief distribution, with hundreds of trucks and other vehicles bearing relief goods stranded for days at Matnog port in Sorsogon, as there are not enough ferries to bring them across the sea to Allen town in Samar, from where they can go to Leyte and Samar areas devastated by the super typhoon.

This still doesn’t explain where the local trucks have gone, but this is certainly a big part of the problem. Further, the entire piece (HERE) is an interesting read.  There are also sidebar stories on fuel distribution and other related issues.


According to several reports the municipal water system in Tacloban is again operating at or near full capacity.  Current operations are even characterized as “normal.”

A story in the Inquirer, a Philippine daily, includes:

Dump trucks, payloaders, graders and other road-clearing equipment belonging to private contractors outnumber those deployed by the government in areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

I wonder if prior reports have only focused on “official” trucks.  In any case, there are several reports of trucks being transferred from Manila, Cebu and other locations to assist with resupply in the hardest areas.

(In the United States it is common for major trucking firms to “evacuate” their fleets out of harm’s way in advance of a notice-event, and even to pre-stage for response and recovery.  I cannot tell if anything similar was done in the Philippines.)

The back-up at Matnog continues (see above).  Below is a photograph of the four-to-five mile long line of trucks waiting to access one of the roll-on-roll-off ferries heading south into the impact zone.

matnog truck backup


On Sunday the Philippine military deployed Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) at Matnog and another smaller port between Luzon and Samar.  This has begun to reduce the bottleneck of supplies.

Emergency food packets, bulk rice distribution, and water have been the principal commodities distributed in the first week since the typhoon.  On Monday the Philippine Secretary of Agriculture announced several measures to jump-start (replace? complement? compete with?) the regular food supply chain:

The DA (Department of Agriculture) chief also instructed concerned agency officials to immediately transport frozen chicken, potatoes and other vegetables from Manila and Baguio to Tacloban using three refrigerated vans from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Three more vans, from the Philippine Fisheries and Development Authority will load and deliver food items from Albay in Region V to Tacloban and neighboring areas.

“We will be also utilizing all available closed vans of the Department and its attached agencies to deliver eggs and other dry food items,” Alcala said.

The DA chief has also instructed BFAR Director Asis Perez to deploy a 1,200-tonner vessel, currently anchored in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), to deliver food items to the Region. Smaller ships will ferry food items to smaller islands.

The Department is set to implement market mechanisms to move food items from the production areas to affected communities via the Barangay Food Terminal and local government food trading centers. Functional food warehouses will also be utilized for food stocking.

“We will engage big market players such as the San Miguel Corporation in CDO to supply poultry products to affected areas,” Alcala said.

The National Food Authority in Region VII will begin to supply rice to parts of the region in an effort to augment rice stocks in areas severely damaged by the super typhoon.

Robinson’s Retail, the Philippines second largest grocer, has over fifty retail outlets in the area most impacted by the Typhoon.  Except for their main supermarket in central Tacloban, all were able to reopen on November 9.

As of Monday morning roughly 65% of retail gasoline stations in the impact area have reopened. There is no indication of a fuel supply problem, but distribution remains uneven.

Restoration of wireless communications ranges from roughly 60 percent to over 90 percent in the impact areas.  On Leyte and Samar islands about 75 percent of pre-typhoon service has been restored.

The electrical grid remains offline in Leyte, Samar, and nearby.  On the periphery of the typhoon’s main path brown-outs are being used to manage load.  Generation capacity was reduced by storm damage, so even where transmission and distribution networks are in place power is a problem. With a 1,077 megawatt capacity and a demand of 1,012 megawatts, there is no regulating reserve.  Restoration of the electrical grid to something close to pre-typhoon capacity is anticipated by late December, but in some areas full restoration may take up to six months.

Pan Philippine Map


Just to bring this consideration to a sort of resolution:

First, it is now my judgment that plenty of trucks and fuel were available in the impact zone throughout this crisis.  There was, however, essentially no coordination — or really attempt to collaborate — between private and public networks.   The public sector did not seriously endeavor to engage private sources.   Private sources have been responding to social needs, but in mostly spontaneous ways that neither official or media decision-makers tend to recognize as substantive.  (An analogy to Euclidean and Non-Euclidean geometry comes to mind… and to be explicit, both are real.)

Second and closely related to this non-Euclidean reality, there is now increasing evidence of the resilience of this complex, self-organizing system of private initiative and resources. Please see a report from the Straits Times of Singapore.

We do not give enough attention to this other reality.  Too often official action unintentionally suppresses this crucial source of resilience.

But third — official action is also crucial — especially in opening the space needed by the unofficial to operate.  This is the strategic implication of the following success story.   From the Inquirer:

Matnog, Sorsogon — The line of relief trucks and passenger buses going to typhoon-ravaged Samar island has eased at Matnog port in Sorsogon, after the deployment of additional ships.

Jun Hilbero of the Philippine Ports Authority told INQUIRER.net on Wednesday that more ferries were assigned to the port and that another port in the nearby town of Bulan was also authorized to accommodate special trips to Samar.

“We have eight regular trips a day, which was augmented by another three vessels. And in Bulan there are mercenary trips…Our relief trucks were diverted there,” he said.

Hilbero, officer-in-charge of PPA Matnog, said additional ramps were also in place, allowing more vessels to load simultaneously.

He said that as of Wednesday morning, only 15 buses and 12 trucks were waiting at the Matnog port. Last week, reports said the line going to Matnog port was around four kilometers long. 

Meanwhile, four ferries were deployed at Bulan port on Monday.

“Now we have enough ships…Actually in three to four days we expect operations to return to normal,” Hilbero said.

Among the vehicles waiting to board at Matnog port are trucks carrying gas, aluminum posts and other items to aid and rebuild communities hit by super typhoon “Yolanda.”

November 15, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 15, 2013

According to the November 14 update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the consequences of Hurriane Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Central Philippines include:

Over 921,000 displaced people

Based on initial data, 243,595 houses are damaged (131,106 are totally destroyed
and 112,489 partially damaged).

Damaged water systems are causing limited or no water supply in affected areas. 239 municipalities do not have electricity as of 13 November. Water systems in these areas may not be fully operational as they often rely on power to pump water.

A total of 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance. As of 17:00 on 13 November, 9,804 family food packs for 49,020 people were distributed.

At-risk groups amongst the displaced in evacuation centers include an estimated
112,000 children aged between 0 to 59 months and 70,000 pregnant and lactating
women who urgently require nutrition assistance.

Main roads are clogged with debris, cutting off remote areas and markets away from the population centres. There are increasing reports of fuel shortages.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

November 14, 2013

Healing our addiction to control

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Recovery,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2013

Logistics hubs

The area shown above is a roughly 50,000 square mile region featuring six major and many smaller islands.  The region’s total population is about 11.2 million.

The typhoon made landfall in eastern Samar province early Friday morning November 8. With sustained winds of 195 miles-per-hour and wind gusts of up to 235 mph, the cyclone tore west across the nation of islands for the next twelve hours.

There had been preparations and in many areas evacuations.  But given the cyclone’s reach and Philippine geography one might run but not hide from a storm this size.

The number of casualties is not yet clear. The fate of survivors is clear enough. Tomoo Hozumi, the Philippines’ UNICEF representative, told CNN food, shelter, clean water and basic sanitation are “in a severe shortage, the situation on the ground is hideous.”

The dead have not been buried. Toxic detritus has been splashed across the wrecked landscape. Human waste is accumulating. Simple cuts become life-threatening due to infection and lack of medicine.

More than 11 million people are affected. More than a half-million have been displaced. Up to 2.5 million are in imminent danger due to lack of human essentials.  “Maslow’s pyramid has collapsed,” one Filipino said.

Delivering supplies is the preeminent challenge. As it was in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2010 Haitian earthquake, and 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake. We will see these challenges in the United States following a CAT-5 hurricane or 8-plus earthquake pummeling a dense urban area.

On Tuesday night, nearly five days after landfall, the Philippine national government outlined a “master plan” for supplying the expansive impact area roughly the size of Louisiana. Based on an interview with Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, here’s an overview from the Manila Bulletin:

“This will come out to be one of the largest logistic and relief operations that the Philippine government has ever done in history and the President wanted to make sure that we have aligned everything,” he added.

“There has never been anything at the magnitude of what we are trying to do now—not in size, not in volume, not in even the breadth of it,” he added.

Under the relief plan, Almendras said the government will set up a special processing center in Cebu that will integrate the flow of all relief assistance. From Cebu, the relief goods will be distributed to the typhoon-hit places.

He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will also establish additional repacking centers of relief goods, including in Ormoc, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

He said the government is moving the relief goods to Tacloban City by air, land, and sea transportation. C-130 planes are doing sunrise to sunset operations to bring relief goods to the disaster-hit areas.

He added that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has been designated “transportation guru” to ensure relief goods are moved as fast as possible.

On questions why the goods are not reaching some victims, Almendra said: “That’s really a local issue that we are trying to address now.”

The last — unanswered — paragraph is the crucial concern.  Establishing logistical hubs is certainly a challenge. They may be needed, I don’t know the status of preexisting hubs.  But hubs exist to serve spokes and move energy to the treads. Spokes and treads are how commodities become supplies that survivors actually consume.

In its November 13 situation update the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasizes, “Trucks and fuel are urgently needed to deliver aid. Debris and logistics continue to severely constrain the delivery of humanitarian assistance.” In the same report OCHA estimates that to date about 250,000 survivors have received food assistance (of the 2.5 million noted above).

There have been some — surprising — lessons learned from prior catastrophes.  After the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency Japanese Self Defense Forces spent at least five days trying to self-create sufficient capacity to serve hundreds-of-thousands of survivors. There was never close to enough. Only after the perimeters came down, fuel was available and commercial resources were reengaged did supplies begin to meet demand.   The convenience store sector in Japan became a major engine of localized response and recovery.

A friend who was on the ground soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti says, “Really effective distribution did not take hold until street vendors opened a so-called black market for relief supplies.  Our initial reaction was moral outrage. Our second and very quiet reaction was gratitude.  In a couple of days the street vendors achieved a level of distribution that was far beyond the capability of the international and NGO communities.”

Since their 2011 experience the Japanese have given unprecedented attention to pre-planning and collaboration with the private sector. (There is even a — controversial — proposal to use private sector transportation for  non-disaster-related military missions.)  The emergency-response strategy is now more focused on restoring instead of replacing private sector supply streams.

In both Japan and Haiti — and now the Philippines — the strategic issue might be framed as, “How do you make complexity your friend?”

Some partial, situation-specific answers:  Clear debris, open roadways, restore or replace bridges, do not divert fuel from the commercial economy, keep perimeters reasonably permeable, compensate the private sector (even black-marketeers) to distribute at no-charge what they had previously sold, cherish and support truckers and trucks (especially small trucks), provide security as needed with convoys or otherwise. As much as possible, use whatever relationships, networks, systems, capacities, and capabilities facilitated distribution prior to the crisis. Encourage creative local — even random — adaptation.

I don’t know the Philippines well-enough to be confident of the right answers there and now. I do recognize in the government’s “master plan” familiar strategies that have proven ineffective in previous catastrophic situations.

The front-page of the November 14 Manila Bulletin includes this headline: Despair, chaos grip Tacloban: Survivors Hope To Escape Apocalypse


The “serenity prayer” is, perhaps, most associated with Alcoholics Anonymous:

Give me grace to accept the
things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

We might adopt it for catastrophe preparedness, response and recovery.

Looting or adapting?

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2013

Rice_AP_Aaron Favila

Here is the scene at the looting of a warehouse near Tacloban.  Those are bags of rice being carried away.  (Associated Press photograph by Aaron Favila.)

Major media have been quick to suggest a rapid descent into anarchy.  A report in today’s (November 14) Los Angeles Times begins, “As concerns grew about rampant looting and lawlessness, Philippine security forces sent reinforcements and imposed a nighttime curfew in Tacloban…”

USA Today suggests that security concerns have discouraged some relief efforts.  The most recent OCHA report includes, “Security concerns persist, including harassment and mobbing of people during relief transport and distribution.”

There have also been less prominent reports of something less starkly Hobbesian.  According to NBC News, “Some eight soldiers in the back of a military truck appeared to ignore residents clambering out of the rubble carrying canned food, bags of rice and bottles of water. And in a nearby checkpoint, soldiers waved through residents carrying bags of rice.”

I am not there.  I have only been to the Philippines once, years ago.  I understand that crime has been an increasing problem and there are pockets of armed insurgency.  I don’t pretend to be sure of the situation on the ground.

But I am certain there is a general expectation of panic and mass violence in the aftermath of  disaster.  It is a recurrent theme.  It is usually over-reported.  After-action analysis almost always finds an actual decline in violent crime following a major disaster.  While we look for the bad we often fail to notice the good.

A few years ago Rebecca Solnit examined the aftermath of several catastrophic events and wrote the book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise is Disasters.  She mostly found evidence of altruism, resourcefulness, and courage.

In the picture at the top, what do you see?  Opportunism? Chaos? Greed? Collaboration?  Civil collapse?  Personal initiative?  Crime? Adaptation?

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.


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 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.

October 31, 2013

Prosaic sight and poetic insight

Filed under: Catastrophes,Futures,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 31, 2013


Once Again by Amy Medina

Tuesday an exhibition of photographs related to last year’s assault by the one-time Hurricane Sandy opened at the Museum of the City of New York. It will run through March 2, 2014. I saw a sort-of-preview at the International Center of Photography in September.

The photography critic, James Estrin, headlined his blog post on the exhibition, “A Prosaic View of Hurricane Sandy.” The title provokes several questions, including: Is it possible the results of Sandy point toward a future when similar events will become ordinary, everyday, vapid, humdrum, tedious, tiresome, uninteresting… prosaic?

Based on our behavior, this is how most of us perceive 150 murders a day in Syria (in the US three people are killed by gun per hour) or the continuing suffering in Haiti or the accelerating entropy of US infrastructure or… another choice from a long list of seemingly intractable crises.  Plenty of prose is available on each.  But persuasive insight?


Photojournalism by Matt Nighswander/NBC News

Many — maybe most — of the more than 200 images in the exhibit are amateur color digitals of Americans in the midst of circumstances we still consider far outside the ordinary: destroyed homes, flooded streets, surrounded by mountains of donated clothes, waiting in long lines for water or food or fuel. The images personalize vulnerability (or should I write threat or consequence or simply stick with risk?).

Because you read Homeland Security Watch, you would probably do what I did with most of these photographs: Connect each human face and its context to a policy, strategy, or tactic. Consequence of subsidized insurance. Consequence of delayed maintenance. Consequence of unsolicited donations. Consequence of coordination failure. Consequence of faulty problem analysis. And so it goes, cause and effect unfolding.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Observation and analysis are among the best bets in the human toolkit. Lessons-learned can be very important the next time.  But I suggest this is seeing — and thinking — in prose.


Image_DSC6477b.jpg by Alex Fradkin

Prose is where most of us should spend most of our time and energy.  There are ordinary, everyday, tedious problems and issues to engage.  A bit more time and energy on a disciplined process of risk analysis for fuel distribution in the New York metro area would have paid big dividends twelve months ago.

But there is also a profound need for more poetic seeing, thinking, and doing.

Prose can be good at breaking apart the complicated into its component parts.  Prose alone is usually insufficient for perceiving — in any meaningful way — the whole or envisioning entirely new possibilities.  Prose needs at least a touch of poetry to move from understanding to transforming.

The classical Greeks understood poiesis, from which our poetry is derived, as any kind of creating or making.  Trying to interpret the Greek sense of the term, Martin Heidegger blends making (machen), production (herstellen), and power (macht).  Does anyone anymore even aspire to this sort of poetics?

The problems and opportunities of homeland security need both prose and poetry.  But we are especially deficient in poetry.


Jetstar by Alex Fradkin

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