Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 28, 2015

Exploring a possible strategic analogy: Density = Mass/Volume

Over the last many days an extraordinary volume of water has encountered the structural and human density of the fourth largest city in the United States.  The Greater Houston metropolitan region has a population of 6.22 million and a population density of 630.3 persons per square mile.

During the month of May over twenty inches of rain has fallen across much of East Texas.  In the Houston area on Monday night over ten inches fell in a period of only six hours. Rain continued to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This quantity of rain in a comparatively contained space over such a short period of time would profoundly challenge the equilibrium of most natural environments.  The built environment on which humans depend is seldom as resilient. Pack millions of humans into a dense urban environment and whatever our individual resilience, there will be a range of interdependencies that increase everyone’s risk. We can be surprised.

Extraordinary external volume can seldom be entirely avoided.   This is true for potential threats  beyond precipitation. Denial of service attacks, mass suicide bombings, and uncontrolled oil spills are other examples. Unusual volume, concentrated in time and/or repeating time after time, disrupts and destroys.

Urban population density is a choice, but for the last two centuries it has also been a persistent — and accelerating — choice.  There are real benefits.  Density is likely to increase in the years ahead.

Given the loss of life, destruction of property, and the extent of human misery caused, I am sure some will be appalled at my lack of apparent empathy, but the floods in Texas and Oklahoma have — among other things — reminded me of some junior high physics problems.

Density Volume Mass

If density and volume are each highly elastic and mostly beyond our control, we seem to be left with mass as the input with which we might still hope to influence outcomes.

In seventh grade I was taught that mass is the property of a body which determines the strength of its mutual gravitational attraction to other bodies and its resistance to being accelerated by a force, such as a volume of water. Generally we protect populations and the built environment by increasing the size and weight of dams, walls, and other “resistance” structures that retain, divert, disperse or otherwise reduce the force of any threatening volume.

At least here on earth, we don’t always give much attention to gravity because there’s not much we can do about it.

Mrs. Holman taught me that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear.  Yet despite its comparative weakness, gravity is absolutely necessary to the universe as we know it.  Both gravitation and electromagnetism act over infinite distance to mediate diverse actions.

Both as a matter of physics and as a metaphor for broader application, gravity determines mass through interactions and relationships among multiple bodies.  In addition to adding size and weight to strengthen the built environment, what ought we do in regard to interactions and relationships to reduce the risk of volume and density converging?

In the midst of the flooding in Oklahoma and Texas, as in the recent earthquake in Nepal, as in the aftermath of Sandy and Katrina, and in the ongoing recovery from the Triple Disaster in Japan, there has been a tendency to emphasize “weighty” engineering solutions. Good. Great.

But interactions and relationships are also an important part of the formula.

March 23, 2015

Leaning Towards Stafford 2.0: The FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1471)

Filed under: Disaster,General Homeland Security — by Quin Lucie on March 23, 2015

On March 19th, the Committee leaders for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management introduced a bill that might set the stage for significant changes to the Stafford Act, the primary source of legislation to provide federal disaster assistance.

The proposed law seeks to make important changes to specific federal disaster programs. These include providing protections and benefits to members of the Urban Search and Rescue System, making places of worship that provide essential services to the general public eligible for disaster assistance, providing eligibility for hazard mitigation funds to States receiving fire management assistance, and changing the threshold for utilizing simplified procedures for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

HR 1471 would also provide relief to individuals and States that were incorrectly awarded disaster assistance funds by FEMA, through no fault of their own, and prevent FEMA from seeking to recoup those funds after a period of time had elapsed, forcing the agency to “step up its game” even further to get awarding disaster assistance right the first time.

However, it is the reports and studies required by this proposed legislation that might result in the most significant impact. The reports seek to explore not just the way federal disaster assistance is delivered, but who is in fact responsible to deliver such assistance in the first place.

The first set of reports aims to improve the delivery of federal disaster assistance. FEMA would be required to report how it seeks to improve the transition of case files between rotating reservists, a longstanding issue for the agency. Another provision would require FEMA to report on the assistance available to commercial and governmental housing COOPS and condominiums. A third report would explore the different standards for electric utility facilities between FEMA and the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

A fourth report  might set the stage for fundamental changes to the Stafford Act.

Within 120 days of the passage of HR1471, FEMA, through its National Advisory Council (NAC), would be required to identify trends in disaster costs and contributing factors to these changes such as “shifting demographics and aging infrastructure.” It would also focus on those factors specifically contributing to federal disaster declarations. The NAC would  be tasked to identify all available forms of federal disaster assistance, how quickly these funds were used, and how they were coordinated, while also identifying what disaster costs are borne by the private sector and individuals. The NAC would also be required to look more generally at “mechanisms and incentives to promote disaster cost reduction and mitigation” and to “identify fundamental legal, societal, geographic and technological challenges to implementation.”

The data to be collected sets the stage for what would be the most important part of the NAC’s work: reporting on the “fundamental principles that should drive national disaster assistance decision making, including the appropriate roles for each level of government, the private sector and individuals.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress last looked at these roles. This would be no easy task given the entrenched interests across the spectrum of disaster assistance. Moreover, any serious report would have to confront the difficult issue of whether certain forms of disaster assistance, such as flood insurance, over time, provide adverse incentives to reducing disaster costs.

But just because these questions might be hard to ask, and their answers difficult to hear, it could launch a long overdue, but sorely needed, debate about who is responsible for disaster assistance, who should bear and regulate the risks, and ultimately, who should pay.

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Quin Lucie is an attorney with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and received his masters degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security or the Federal Government.

February 11, 2015

Boston snowstorms an emergent crisis

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Claire Rubin, the Recovery Diva herself, made a very insightful observation regarding the string of snowstorms that have hit the Boston area:

I guess you could consider three major snowstorms in three weeks a slow onset disaster for Boston at the present time.

I must have been too busy shoveling snow and catching up on “House of Cards” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes (no, seriously…that show had very good writing) not to have seen this myself.

Boston is a city that can handle a snowstorm.  Indeed, it can handle any single blizzard.  What is causing problems is the quick succession of substantial snow storms in the past month, along with sub-freezing temperatures preventing melting, that has slowly choked the transportation arteries of this densely built city.  This is leading to an unfortunate set of cascading outcomes that normally would not be a concern during normal winter weather.

This is what Harvard professors Dutch Leonard and Arn Howitt refer to as an “emergent crisis.”  They explain:

But some forms of crisis do not arrive suddenly. They fester and grow, arising from more ordinary circumstances that often mask their appearance. We term such situations emergent crises – a special and especially difficult category.

What makes emergent crises problematic? First, they arise from normally variable operating conditions, making emerging problems difficult to spot as a break from typical operating and response patterns.

When and if the problem is spotted, an individual or group with technical expertise in the issue (as it is understood at the time) is generally assigned to address it.

But what if the diagnosis is not entirely correct? If the standard approach doesn’t work? If the response is too small or too late? A second major challenge of coping with emerging crisis situations is that the initial responder(s), if not immediately successful, either fail to diagnose their inadequacies or resist calling for additional help. Often, experts (and, perhaps even more so, teams of experts) are not adept at recognizing that their approach is not working. Often, they ignore “disconfirming evidence” (i.e., the flow of data tending to show that what they are doing is not working) and “escalate commitment” to their existing approach. The person or team working on the situation may not only believe that they are about to succeed (with just a little more effort and time) but also feel pressure not to lose face if they fail to handle the assigned situation. Moreover, they may resist seeking help.

The third reason that emergent crises are challenging is that they present crisis managers with all of the standard challenges of managing true crisis emergencies—the difficulty of recognizing novelty, the challenge of creativity and improvisation of new approaches and designs under stress, the painful realities of the errors and rough edges that arise when executing new and untested  routines. But these standard challenges now arise in the context of organizations and teams that are already deployed and working on the situation

It sounds like this is what is happening, at least in part, in Boston due to the almost unprecedented buildup of snow.  Specifically in regards to the transportation infrastructure, both for cars and all forms of public transportation.

Confronted with at first just one large storm, city and Commonwealth agencies followed SOP to clear roads and train tracks of snow.  Normally, this is more than adequate to return some semblance of normal life back to the area. Unfortunately, one big storm was followed by another and another (and potentially another again this weekend). Standard plowing and snow removal procedures could not keep up with the amounts, streets became clogged with snow piles, and the aging and underfunded public transportation system (locals refer to it as the “T”) began to break down under the combination of snow and cold.

Five hundred members of the Massachusetts National Guard were activated Tuesday to help with snow removal.

“These men and women will deploy across Eastern Massachusetts today,” Gov. Charlie Baker said, adding MEMA will determine which towns help is most needed.

Baker said the state has purchased two additional snow melters that can process about 25 truckloads of snow every hour.

“We are dealing with unprecedented circumstances here,” Baker said.

Boston-area subways, trolleys and commuter rail trains shut down remained idle Tuesday, with only limited bus service running. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said it needed the break to clear snow and ice from tracks and to assess equipment damaged by the spate of storms.

“The accumulating snow is making it virtually impossible to keep rail lines operational,” the transit agency said.

Boston’s transit system, the nation’s oldest, has been particularly hard hit this winter. The buildup of snow and ice on trolley tracks combined with aging equipment has stalled trains, delaying and angering commuters.

That would be 78.5 inches of snow, so far, in Boston itself.

Buffalo got more than that in just a few days this past November.  Issues of snow removal were more difficult at first, but the impact was very localized and the area benefited from a lot more space where to put the snow.  Once cars were unburied and major roads cleared, a region where almost everyone is dependent on cars for travel began to get back to normal.

Boston is an urban area, densely populated and highly dependent on the public transportation system. There are few places to put snow, and when the T isn’t running it is hard for a large portion of the Boston area workforce to actually get to work.  People don’t get to work, work doesn’t happen.  Work doesn’t happen, the customers of those businesses face difficulties.  When the customers of those businesses are healthcare organizations, than a large part of the population faces difficulties. As the Boston Globe reports:

One Boston hospital administrator called it a crisis: Surgeries canceled because there weren’t enough beds, taxis hired to ferry patients who had no other way home.

At another hospital, stockpiles of linens were running so perilously low that staff began rationing them.

Meanwhile, still other hospitals were forced to rely on the generosity of Boston police officers to deliver essential staff members to work.

With snow piled up to historic levels, and the region’s subways and commuter rail systems halted Tuesday, administrators labored to keep their hospital doors open, hobbled by a stranded workforce and patients unable to get home.

“This has put us in a capacity crisis situation,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, Massachusetts General Hospital’s medical director for preparedness.

The commuting concerns at South Shore Hospital were not as much about hospital staff members — most don’t rely on trains — but on the workers at a Somerville company that cleans the facility’s linens. So many of the linen company’s employees didn’t make it to work that South Shore was worried about running out of clean sheets and towels.

“We have had to conserve linen,” Darcy said. That doesn’t mean the hospital is reusing linens, she was quick to add, but rather that it was keeping a “close eye on the supplies.”

Back in Boston, hospitals in the cramped Longwood Medical Area grappled with a cornucopia of issues.

Several surgical practices at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center canceled sessions for patients who need to be evaluated before and after surgery because staff members simply couldn’t get in. Other employees at Beth Israel Deaconess who had to get to work arrived via sport utility vehicles rented by the hospital, while some others relied on the Boston Police Department to drive them, hospital spokesman Jerry Berger said.

With even more snow on the way, I’m hoping that the experts have realized their standard operating procedures haven’t been up to the task.

December 11, 2014

Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

November 26, 2014

Stafford at twenty-six

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Disaster,Legal Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 26, 2014

Quin Lucie authored this post. Mr. Lucie is an attorney with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and received his masters degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security or the Federal Government.

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A Quarter Century More?

Nearly 26 years after it was passed, it’s time to take another look at the Stafford Act.

November 23, 2014 was the 26th anniversary of Public Law 100-707, The Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Amendments of 1988. Probably doesn’t ring a bell does it? But if you’re reading this, you might know the name of the 1974 disaster relief statute it renamed, The Robert T. Stafford Act, or as most just call it, the Stafford Act.

The Stafford Act was the fifth major change to a series of Disaster Relief Acts beginning in 1950 and amended or replaced in 1966, 1969, 1970 and 1974. The Stafford Act itself has seen at least four significant amendments since 1988. However, none of these later changes was done holistically. They were all crafted in a near vacuum of each other.

In 1993 and 1994, partly in response to the abysmal response to Hurricane Andrew, Congress first amended the powers of the Civil Defense Act of 1950 and then completely removed them. Some of the preparedness authorities of the old act found their way into a new title to the Stafford Act. The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 added significant mitigation authorities. The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA), for the first time, explicitly authorized the activities of FEMA, though those changes appear in the Homeland Security Act, not the Stafford Act. In the Stafford Act, PKEMRA made subtle changes to its response authorities, such as allowing the President to provide assistance, after a declaration, without a specific request from a Governor. The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 made significant reforms to the way public assistance programs are delivered to State, tribal and local governments and made tribal governments eligible to ask for disaster declarations on their own.

The result of these independent, and occasionally improvised changes has been predictable. There are now major parts of the nation’s most important disaster relief authorities that are either forgotten, misunderstood or no longer work as intended. The lack of national dialogue approaches three decades.

Forgotten.

I’m not aware of a single person in FEMA, much less the Federal Government, outside of myself, who has  taken the time to read the legislative history of the Civil Defense Act of 1950, much less understand the factors that led to its demise and reinstatement of part of it in the Stafford Act. Or know why it is the FEMA Administrator, not the President, who was given control over it. There are several parts that could be of significant use to national preparedness efforts, and at least one could provide a very significant source of authority for catastrophic relief efforts. However, these authorities remain outside of the mainstream of planning efforts and the knowledge of emergency managers.

Misunderstood.

“FEMA could develop an updated formula… to determine the capacity of jurisdictions to respond to those disasters.” So stated Mark E Gaffigan, Managing Director, Natural Resources and Environment Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in February of this year. What Mr. Gaffigan failed to realize, even though he correctly labeled these formulas as recommendations, was the reasons they have not been updated in decades (Mr. Gaffigan said these fomulas have not been updated since 1986, I’m not sure that is correct – the particular regulation was last updated in January, 1990). Those reasons, which I spelled out in a post on this blog last year, were a direct result of Congress intentionally not wanting to reign in disaster declarations and to keep the criteria broad enough to allowed affected states and jurisdictions to lobby for a declaration.

No longer work as intended.

At that same February hearing, Collin O’Mara, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, spoke at length about how his state was not rewarded for significant pre-storm mitigation efforts it took, while New Jersey was rewarded with billions of dollars of assistance for failing to make similar efforts before Hurricane Sandy. It was clear from the testimony at this hearing that the Stafford Act, at least in parts, is no longer operating as intended.

In some cases, years of experience extracting Federal dollars under the law may have led to the exploitation of inefficiencies that can promote less than optimal mitigation strategies while discouraging more useful resilience policies. It probably now makes more sense for some state and local governments to avoid taking mitigation measures for certain risks, as they will be penalized or at least lack compensation for those measures, and instead wait for a future disaster and then use federal funding at no more than 25 cents on the dollar. In a future Stafford Act, a way needs to be found to reward the efforts of Delaware and Secretary O’Mara while incentivizing the next New Jersey to act before disaster.

These changes can be seen in real time in the States of Illinois and Pennsylvania. Illinois, who experienced several recent events where they did not receive a Federal disaster declaration, has seen legislation introduced in both its own legislature to provide state disaster assistance, and in the U.S. Senate by its two Senators to amend FEMA’s disaster declaration criteria. The proposed state law, last referred to a rules committee in April, is consistent with years of national disaster relief practice, namely that disasters should be handled locally, and then by the States before seeking Federal assistance. On its face, funds available under this law would be available immediately to local governmental bodies without waiting on the Federal government. If this reflects the consensus of the current Congress, it is this type of legislation that would presumably be encouraged and incentivized in a new Stafford Act. On the other hand, the legislation introduced by the two senators is a bit puzzling as it appears to treat FEMA’s regulations for disaster declarations as binding, when in fact they are only recommendations.

In Pennsylvania, there is a similar debate going on. Unlike in Illinois, Pennsylvania would make funds contingent on the fact areas eligible for assistance are not covered by a “Presidential disaster declaration.” This is different than the approach potentially taken by Illinois and could be seen as making Federal funding the primary source of disaster relief, rather than the State (Considering it was Pennsylvania’s own Tom Ridge who was the primary driver of the Stafford Act, it would be interesting for his perspective). Should this statute pass, the State would presumably then make grant assistance under this law unavailable to those in federally declared disaster areas. (After this post was written, a version of this statute was signed into law the last week of October).

Times change.

During the debate over the first disaster relief act in 1950, members of Congress went so far as to ensure its more cynical legislators that under the act there would be “no new agencies or bureaus” authorized under this new law. In fairness it only took around 24 years before a bureau within HUD was solely dedicated to disaster relief and 29 years before the creation of FEMA.

There are two main questions Congress must ask of itself, constituents, and State, tribal and local governments. First, does the Stafford Act currently reflect consensus national priorities for the mitigation, response, and recovery from disasters and the funding of disaster relief? Second, does the Stafford Act, taken as a whole, incentivize the most (politically feasible) efficient strategies for mitigating for, responding to and recovering from disasters? If not, what are the more (most) efficient strategies and can they be adequately prescribed under the current framework of the Stafford Act, or should the Stafford Act be completely restructured?

While not a primary consideration, Congress should also look closely at the relationship between the Stafford Act and the Homeland Security Act. For instance, the primary agency to carry out the Stafford Act, FEMA, has its primary authorities found in the Homeland Security Act. The danger is that such a discussion might quickly bog down over how changes to these two laws might change committee jurisdictions. It might also fuel the underlying friction between “emergency management” and “homeland security” something that is probably continuation of the debate between what is “civil defense” and “all hazards” from decades before.

After six generations of being taken apart, amended and replaced, the Stafford Act, when seen up close, looks more like something found in the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, cobbled together from years of compromise and improvised in the wake of major disasters. Maybe it’s time to take another peek under the hood and see everything that has been connected to the engine. It’s only been 26 years.

October 30, 2014

Big bad but not even a CAT 1

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

Sandy Track

Sandy taught important lessons.  Maybe not every student who encountered her teaching has learned as much as she offered, but few went home without a bit more wisdom.

There are several of Sandy’s students — especially after a couple of beers — who will explain the difference between a local emergency and a regional disaster.  Some will admit that after Sandy they see how a disaster, especially in a dense urban context, can detonate the whole web of modern interdependencies.  Just a few more two years ago and very bad might have become catastrophic.

A tough teacher in the school of hard knocks.  But some — enough? — are better prepared for the worse still to come.

August 27, 2014

3,287 Days Ago

Filed under: Disaster — by Jerry Monier on August 27, 2014

This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 with the title of 2920 Days Ago.  Since then, the essay has been updated to reflect the passing of an additional year since Hurricane Katrina.  The views represented in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer.

Any random date on a calendar represents an important personal or professional milestone.  Birthdays commonly represent another year of personal maturity and growth.  Wedding anniversaries represent the passing of another year of sharing the ups, downs, struggles and celebrations of life with a significant other.  In other instances, a specific date reminds us of the significant tragedies that have influenced the collective resilience of the United States of America.  The date December 7, will always be “a date which will live in infamy” influencing the builder and baby boomer generations of American society.  The date 9/11 will always memorialize the sacrifices of persons who fell victim to the terror attacks of that day having given rise to an American enterprise known as Homeland Security.  The personal perspectives and memories of these events change with the passing of each year.  This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 and represents the author’s observations in the years following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line on August 29, 2005.

It is about 9:10 PM Central Time on August 29, 2013. I have just finished reading a bedtime story to my seven-year-old daughter. As I lay with her and watch her fall asleep, my mind wanders back to the night of August 29, 2005.  My location at that time was the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I was tasked with executing a plan developed the previous week, during the now well-known Hurricane Pam exercise. Our goal was to establish a field hospital at this facility. Over the upcoming days, our facility would treat an estimated 6,000 survivors requiring medical intervention,  An additional 18,000 survivors were triaged and then transported to various mega-shelters located throughout the United States.

In the short time spent with my daughter that evening a year ago, I closed my eyes and listened to her calming bedtime lullabies.  My mind began to shift between the past and present. Earlier in the week, a professional colleague had commented in an email about the “Big 8” coming up this week. That email, coupled with my own thoughts, brought me to realize how much has and has not changed in the days, months, and years since August 29, 2005.  This Friday, August 29, 2014, represents the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the passage of 3287 days.

3287 days has spanned three presidential terms.

3287 days has spanned the terms of three Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security.

3287 days has spanned the tenure of three FEMA Administrators.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Louisiana.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Mississippi.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Mayors in New Orleans.

3287 days has included three significant tropical weather systems making landfall or affecting the same Louisiana coastline affected by Hurricane Katrina.

3287 days has included two significant tropical weather systems making landfall near New York City, and impacting the Northeastern states of the United States.

3287 days has included the largest oil spill in American History impacting the same coastal communities and social economies affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.

3287 days has spanned four Directors of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness or the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

3287 days has included countless reports published by the GAO and Congressional Research Service on the preparedness of the United States.

3287 days has included acts of terror committed in the United States.

3287 days has included a school shooting in Newtown, CT.

3287 days has included congressional fact finding and the publishing of A Failure of Initiative.

3287 days has included the passing of PKEMRA legislation.

3287 days has included the development of homeland security to an all hazards environment.

3287 days has included the expansion of homeland security’s focus.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 14 plus billion dollars to build hurricane protection levees around the metropolitan New Orleans area.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 17 plus billion dollars in recovery aid to the State of Louisiana.

3287 days has included the development of catastrophic response plans for major metropolitan areas.

3287 days has included the production of Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews-each having their own characteristics and personalities and political spin.

3287 days has included the development of several Homeland Security or National Security Strategies.

3287 days has included the development of National Frameworks for Prevention, Response, Preparedness, and Mitigation.

3287 days has included numerous policy changes, defining how we as a nation respond to and recover from catastrophes.

3287 days has included the birth of two beautiful daughters.

3287 days has included the earning of an undergraduate degree.

3287 days has included the earning of a prestigious graduate degree.

3287 days has included many memories.

3287 days has included five career moves.

3287 days has included the rebuilding of Louisiana’s emergency management culture in the face of constant adversity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience in an enterprise known as emergency management.

3287 days has included an unknown number of reports, academic papers, research, and the development of think tanks based on the premise of resilience.

3287 days has included the deaths of 1,836 US residents due to Hurricane Katrina

3287 days has included an influenza pandemic.

3287 days has included a significant natural disaster in Japan with numerous cascading effects, including the loss of fixed nuclear reactors.

3287 days has included the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

3287 days has included a national recession.

3287 days has included detrimental budget cuts to government agencies in the state of Louisiana, potentially impacting their ability to respond to the needs of their residents in the future.

3287 days has included the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

3287 days has included the development and implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 8.

3287 days has included the development and introduction of THIRA.

3287 days has included the consumption of numerous bottles of whiskey.

3287 days has included the process of healing.

3287 days has included a synthesis of interaction, experience, and complexity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience by multiple stratums of society.

As my daughter fell asleep I realized just how much can actually occur in the span of 3287 days. By the same token, I also realized how much can be lost over 3287 days.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of partisan politics on American society.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of finger pointing and blame on the homeland security enterprise of the US.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the success of the homeland security enterprise is only as good as the most recent catastrophe.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed attempts to define the concept of homeland security.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the struggle to define an all hazards approach to resilience.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the physical, social and political attributes of the term risk reduction has been negatively applied to public policy.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed an increase in dependency upon the federal government.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed a political desire to “not be the next Katrina.”

In the past 3287 days, I have observed hundreds, if not thousands of applicants and speakers describe their “Katrina Story.”

It is now 9:46PM in the evening, and I have come down from the attic where my personal notes from the “Katrina Days” are stored in a fireproof container.  I open my notes from late August of 2005 and begin to process the emotions of eight years ago, and how my thoughts and perceptions have changed over the past 3287 days.

As the clock approaches 10PM, I locate a picture of an elderly couple and a golden retriever.  A colleague took the picture on the morning of August 31, 2005 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC).  The couple arrived as part of the initial push of evacuees from the New Orleans area.  This picture has had a place of prominence in every office that I have occupied over the past 3287 days.

Jerry M picture

As I recall, the only belongings the couple had with them were several days of food for their golden retriever. I remember how I checked on them constantly while they were at the PMAC. I remember making sure they had water and food while they waited on metal chairs outside the PMAC in the dense, late summer humidity of Baton Rouge. I remember walking outside in the late evenings and early morning hours 3287 days ago and seeing the couple sleeping in those folding metal chairs, each with their head on the other’s shoulder. I remember the golden retriever staying awake and observant while his masters slept. I remember walking outside and noticing the couple was missing. 3287 days since then, and I still wonder what happened to that couple.

As I continue through my notes, I remember the promises of federal assistance and how a community embraced those who needed assistance with or without government direction.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the student body of LSU adopt survivors rescued from a nursing home as their own grandparents.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a medical community embrace volunteerism and their professional oath to serve those in need.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a new football coach and his players move pet crates to establish a pet shelter for companion animals who had evacuated with their owners.

3287 days ago, I witnessed my wife, sister-in-law, and father-in-law come to my aid and staff what would become one of the largest companion animal evacuation shelters in America.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a dog named Ollie become the first pet evacuee housed at this shelter.

3287 days ago, I witnessed employees of the State of Louisiana demonstrate and renew a level of energy and commitment to the people of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of a community.

3287 days ago, I witnessed what is now termed “self-organizing communities” prior to it becoming another buzz word of this emerging enterprise of homeland security

3287 days ago, I witnessed resilience.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the resilience of America.

3287 days ago, I determined that I was PROUD to be a Louisiana responder and emergency manager.

It is now 10:30 PM in the evening and the memories of that night and the days to follow continue to flow.

3287 days ago, at this time, I was told to expect the first wave of evacuees from New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I looked a minimal staff of medical volunteers, state employees, and 100 or so LSU students in the eyes and told them that I didn’t know what to expect.

3287 days ago, we accepted our first wave of nursing home evacuees.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would eventually receive the patients and heroic medical practitioners from Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would hear the first-hand stories of orderlies feeding hospital patients semi-frozen peas one pea at a time to maintain their nutritional intake and survival.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that something as simple as a beacon light on a crane would shut down the evacuation of patients from New Orleans area hospitals.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that I would experience the emotional roller coaster of planning for the dead, while rejoicing each birth that occurred at our makeshift campus hospital.

3287 days ago, I never thought that I would reach a point of acceptance, and see those following days in an entirely different perspective.

A lot has happened over the past 3287 days. 

In the past 3287 days, the people of Louisiana have demonstrated resilience throughout various natural and man-made adversities.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise should not be about resilience, rather resilience has and continues to be the strong narrative of this enterprise known as the United States of America.

In the past 3287 days, I have wondered what happened to that elderly couple and their golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise has emphasized processes and frameworks rather than focusing on the social networks and community empowerment.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise should be focused on helping that elderly couple with a golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise is a service industry.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that there are those who need our help.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that no matter the governmental policy, citizens will help others, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the significance of citizen responsibility

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that in the absence of political motivation, people will help people.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an overabundance of partisan politics will gum up the works of our enterprise.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the righteousness of our society.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an elderly couple with a golden retriever, an expectant mother, or a dog named Ollie will be taken care of by our “Great Society.”

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that regardless of media biases, this is a great country, and that the resilience of this country is truly dependent upon its citizens.

As for the next 3287 days, I am not sure what lies ahead. 

I know that in the next 3287 days, my daughters will be sixteen and thirteen years of age, respectively.

I know that in the next 3287 days, my wife and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary.

I know that in the next 3287 days, I will have aged nine years, and be that much closer to retirement.

I know that in the next 3287 days, the people of Louisiana will continue to demonstrate resilience.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will have eight more opportunities to reflect upon those days following August 29, 2005.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will continue to ponder the gains and losses made to better the emerging enterprise known as homeland security.

———-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Monier is a Spring 2013 graduate of the CHDS Masters Program. In the past 3287 days, Mr. Monier has served as a national level homeland security consultant, public health preparedness manager for the State of Louisiana, and most recently, the Chief of Preparedness for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana. During Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Monier was employed by Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and was assigned to establish a field hospital at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The PMAC Field Hospital provided medical care to 6,000 survivors and triaged an estimated 18,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

June 3, 2014

High-tech, low-tech, and no tech: communication strategies during blackouts

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on June 3, 2014

“High-tech, Low-tech, and No tech: Communication Strategies During Blackouts” is the title of a homeland security master’s thesis I’ve been meaning to write about here.

It was written by Diana Sun Solymossy in late 2013, and is available at this link: http://calhoun.nps.edu/public/bitstream/handle/10945/39020/13Dec_Sun_Solymossy_Diana.pdf?sequence=1

Here’s a synopsis of her research.  I’ve also posted a video of Diana talking about her research.

The Problem:

Communicating important information to the public during disasters is a core objective for emergency managers. But how can emergency managers communicate with their community when plugged-in forms of communication are not available to a large number of people?

The Context:

Power outages frequently occur, and often accompany major crises, particularly natural disasters such as severe weather events. Thus, during crises, communications are often severely hampered – just when emergency managers have the greatest need to communicate with the community.

Despite the preponderance of power outages, coupled with this important communications need, a review of the literature revealed few existing recommendations on what tactics could help emergency managers communicate with the public when the lights go out.

In fact, a number of reports concluded that “something else” would be needed when the power goes out, but few, if any, went on to suggest what that “something” might be.

The Data:

[The research looked at what] specific solutions have successfully been used to communicate critical information to the public during emergencies involving major blackouts.

This … project reviewed and analyzed three crises that involved major blackouts and subsequent communications problems:

1. Multi-state blackout, northeast U.S., 2003

2.  Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast, U.S., 2005

3. Triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear), Japan, 2011

The Findings:

[The research identified] a three-tiered framework [for communicating during disasters], consisting of “high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech” communications strategies.

High-tech — Emergency managers can leverage the high usage of mobile devices and exploit it for emergency communications purposes. Assuming emergency managers have access to backup generators, they can send out messages via social media channels. Governments in the disaster-affected areas of Japan’s triple disaster now consider social networks to be a valuable communications tool in disasters.

Low-tech — It was clear across the three cases that, whatever the situation, what people needed most was extremely localized information. Across the cases, hyper-local community radio stations were among the top sources of extremely local information that people needed most. In addition, as conditions improved, hyper-local radio transitioned to sources of support and comfort, thus serving as vital lifelines to connect communities.

No-tech — When all else fails, local governments must be prepared to go backward and use old-fashioned methods to reach people with information. In all three cases, people used their ingenuity to figure out ways to get information out, including handwritten posters, old-school flyers, and bullhorns. The focus should be on getting information to the places where people naturally gather following disasters, e.g., corner stores, evacuation centers, gas stations.

The Conclusions:

None of these methods is revolutionary, so what is new here?

What is new is the proposal that emergency managers in local jurisdictions proactively prepare for the worst scenarios, by making preparations for communicating with their public, via the “high-tech, low-tech, no-tech” combination.

Key elements for success include:

- Focusing on the hyper-local information that people need.

- Flexibility to quickly adapt and use those tools and channels that are up and working.

- Nurturing and encouraging private efforts to help in response and relief efforts.

- Preparing for the worst.

- Not relying on a “techno-fix.”

 

March 27, 2014

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

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.

January 14, 2014

Private-public collaboration essential to water restoration effort

watermap142way-e979d8fbc348e91bc7f6b4dc09e00da25d6b0f94-s6-c30

With the active, coordinated, nearly  synchronous involvement of neighborhoods and individuals across the region the Kanawha Valley is currently engaged in a process of flushing and restoring a 1700-mile water network.  A continually updated map is available here.

This is an amazing example of “whole community” in action.

November 6, 2013

Free book: Navigating the Unknown: a practical lifeline for decision-makers in the dark

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on November 6, 2013

Patrick Lagadec is the Research Director at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France. He co-authored one of my favorite papers: How Crises Model the Modern World (available from the Journal of Risk Analysis and Crisis Response, at this link - http://www.atlantis-press.com/php/download_paper.php?id=2458.)

According to his website, (with my emphasis) Lagadec:

is [a] member of: the French Academy of Technologies, the European Crisis Management Academy. His research and expertise focus on crisis prevention and management in increasingly “unconventional” crisis environments; vulnerability and preparedness appraisal; in-crisis steerage – both public and private – of critical infrastructures and vital networks; post-crisis case study, debriefing and training; and the development of sustainable responses to shifting security paradigms and the new challenges of governance that complex systems have to face in the light of global “ruptures”.

Lagadec has made his 22 page book — Navigating the Unknown — available at no cost on the Crisis Response website.  Here’s a link to the book: http://www.crisis-response.com/PDF/Navigating_the_Unknown-Lagadec_2013.pdf

The book:

condenses years of research and field experience in the management and piloting of ‘out-of the-box’ crises. It is not only designed for leaders but also for citizens eager to rethink their own perspectives, visions and paths.

Navigating the Unknown is worth a read. It reminds, asserts, and challenges.

September 29, 2013

Yarnell Fire Investigative Report

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on September 29, 2013

On Saturday September 28 the Arizona State Forester released the Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report analyzing the circumstances leading to the June 30 entrapment and deaths of 19 firefighters of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. The report and accompanying documents are available at:

https://sites.google.com/site/yarnellreport/.

July 2, 2013

Where The Heck’s My Dec?

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Disaster,Legal Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on July 2, 2013

The post for Tuesday, July 2, 2013 was removed at the author’s request.

June 30, 2013

19 firefighters reported dead in Yarnell wildfire

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on June 30, 2013

http://www.kpho.com/story/22724064/19-firefighters-dead-in-yarnell-wildfire

NETC

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