Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 14, 2016

Clinton and Trump on terrorism – in their own words

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on June 14, 2016

Following the horror in Orlando, I feel it is appropriate to share the entire reaction speeches of the two individuals running to be our next president without comment or analysis.

In chronological order:




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 6, 2012

Occupy the Three Little Pigs

Filed under: Events,Futures,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on March 6, 2012

Here’s a weatherman talking:

“We have no idea what’s going to happen [in the weather] beyond three days out.”

Here’s an explanation about why it’s so difficult to get weather forecasts right:

“Weather forecasting is complex and not always accurate, especially for days further in the future, because the weather can be chaotic and unpredictable…. Moreover, the earth’s atmosphere is a complicated system that is affected by many factors and can react in different ways.”

As difficult as it is to predict what is going to happen in a system where the material parameters are known,  imagine trying to predict how human systems will behave several months from now.


Imagine you are sitting on top of a mountain and you can see:

Organizers calling on “redeemers, rebels, and radicals” to occupy Chicago during the the G8 and the NATO summit in Chicago in May.

The G8 summit switching its location (on Monday) to Camp David.   Administration officals explain “the prospect of the antiglobalization protests common to such gatherings was not a factor in the decision to change locations.” But folks are still coming to Chicago anyway.

Republican and Democratic political conventions coming this summer to Tampa and Charlotte.

Some Americans demonstrating to exercise their First Amendment rights. They don’t like what’s going on in the country and they want their voice to be heard. Other people demonstrating to smash windows and throw urine on police officers. Cities trying to figure out how to pay for all this.

The Occupy Movement in several cities issuing Good Neighbor policies, trying to guide behaviors for the next incarnation of the movement.

Sophisticated police departments who experienced Year 1 of Occupy increasingly able to identify “the good guys” from the “bad guys.”

Anonymous and Occupy join hands.

A growing domestic intelligence network sharing information about potential threats from a stutteringly resurgent occupy movement.

Popular uprisings in other countries continue to be routine news.

Both houses of Congress agreeing to the provisions of HR347, innocently titled the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.”  (According to one of the few representatives who voted against the bill,  it should be called “the ‘First Amendment Rights Eradication Act’ because it effectively outlaws protests near people who are ‘authorized” to be protected by the Secret Service.”  Apparently that also includes restricting protests at National Special Security Events, like political conventions.)

Social media tools — hardware and software — making it even easier than it was a year ago to spread information and rumor, truth and lies, and streaming video.

Add to those terrain features, the pressure gradients of unemployment, gas prices, a fragile global and national economy, the 1% versus 99% meme, terrorists looking for a win, a congress that seems unable to agree on much, stuff we have no clue about right now, and a presidential campaign.

With those images in mind, as you sit on top of your imaginary mountain, watch this 121 second video from The Guardian.


Now make a forecast: what will happen in Chicago in May, in Tampa in August, Charlotte in September, Oakland tomorrow, and other America cities any day now?

If a nation knows there’s a good chance a storm is coming, how does it prepare?  What does the 72 hour kit for that look like?


January 25, 2012

SOTU: ‘Osama’s dead, GM’s alive’

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Events — by Mark Chubb on January 25, 2012

A short time before President Obama delivered the annual state of the union address to a joint session of Congress, a media outlet I follow Tweeted a summary attributed to Vice President Joe Biden: “Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” The president spoke for more than an hour this evening, but that just about sums it up from a homeland security perspective.

The elimination of bin Laden and the routing of al-Qaeda’s leadership since President Obama took office is arguably the singular foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency. His administration achieved much of its success on this front by all but ignoring promises it made to its political base and taking actions even his Republican predecessors seemed to shy away from in scale if not necessarily in scope.

It might not be fair to suggest that President Obama’s admiration for the military expanded with his ascendence to the office of commander-in-chief. The two most significant role models in his young life beyond his own mother were his maternal grandparents in Kansas. His grandfather, he reminds us, served in Patton’s army while his grandmother assembled bombers back home. The experiences that shaped them clearly left an indelible impression on him as a young man and inspire his sense of duty even today.

The president’s address tonight made it clear that he sees the armed forces as a model of what America can be when it tries to be its best. In many ways, I agree. The U.S. armed forces are truly a model of diversity, innovation and adaptability. But what can be said of the armed forces cannot necessarily be said of the armed services.

Of those American institutions that did not atrophy from lack of attention or loss of investment, many have become sclerotic as money, influence-peddling and political polarization have conspired to clog the arteries of our democracy. The resulting death spiral threatens the American Dream and has all but snuffed out our faith in a better future. From his opening remarks to his conclusion, the president called upon Americans to see in the can-do example of our fighting forces the inspiration to revive our democracy and the incentive to renew our nation.

As with previous addresses, the president emphasized the need to establish clear priorities and make smarter choices. He called on Congress to work with his administration to create an America “built to last.” To do this, he called for the restoration of an economy “where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”

Calls for renewed investments in education, energy innovation and infrastructure took center stage once again this year despite the president’s acceptance of the need to make further spending cuts in other areas, including entitlements. At several points, he noted how government investment had created the very opportunities our men and women under arms have fought to protect and that have benefited the wealthiest among us.

The president’s address not only displayed the rhetorical strengths for which he is rightly admired by supporters and reviled by opponents. His remarks also revealed a growing sense of pragmatism and purpose. The president made it clear that he will meet Congressional obstruction with action. One particularly clear indication of his intentions come from his emphasis on regulatory reforms that will enable some of the savings from defense cuts to be put to work on “nation-building right here at home.”

Before President Obama arrived on Capitol Hill tonight, Speaker of the House John Boehner remarked to the media that the president’s address would amount to little more than a campaign stump speech. Clearly, this president knows the campaign has already begun. And he knows too that re-election is no certainty. But he also seems more committed to reinforcing his accomplishments and taking the fight to his opponents than he did last year.

Something tells me any effort by Republicans to prematurely rewrite Biden’s pre-SOTU summary to serve as an epitaph for this administration — “Obama’s dead, America’a alive” — have another think coming.

November 9, 2011

This Is Only a Test

Filed under: Events,Technology for HLS — by Mark Chubb on November 9, 2011

Today at 2:00 pm EST/11:00 am PST the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System was conducted. Many wonder why it took this day so long to come, but I suspect most who experienced it wonder whether it did any good.

These days, EAS like its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System, seems more like a relic of our Cold War past than an essential element of a resilient national telecommunications infrastructure designed to keep people informed. With so many people receiving information on demand through smartphones, tablet computers, their desktop machines, and other “screens,” it’s worth wondering how many people missed the test entirely and remain as blissfully unaware of the system’s efficacy as they were yesterday.

Plans to conduct today’s test have been in development for months (many more months, that is, than we have in a year or maybe even several years). As the date approached, many broadcasters complained the date was coming too quickly. In the end, when it came, the test did little to prove that the technical investments made in recent years to upgrade the system to the latest digital technology and make it compatible with the Common Alerting Protocol will pay dividends, since many participating broadcasters have still not fulfilled the FCC mandate to make changes to their equipment.

I am sure that many of those who did hear today’s test thought it was the same one they hear every week or every month and paid little attention. These local and regional tests, although mandatory for most broadcasters, have never ensured that the system will perform one of its primary functions in the event of a major disaster or national emergency. This test remedies only part of that problem.

Broadcasters are under no obligation to carry most local and regional messages. Beyond installing and testing EAS equipment, participation — with the exception of relaying messages from the national command authority — is essentially voluntary. As such, today’s test really was the first practical test to see whether these investments might really pay-off.

Broadcasters and cable companies have 45 days to report results of the test. Early returns suggest mixed results. That said, it is not too early to ask, what next?

Efforts to rollout a next-generation Commercial Mobile Alert System via wireless (cellular telephone) carriers is already well underway. At least one service provider, it seems, has leaked test messages into the wild. Does this suggest the EAS test is too little and too late?

As citizens become more comfortable exchanging information via smartphones equipped with SMS, MMS, social media, streaming video, and GPS technology, the capacity of public safety and homeland security agencies to both transmit and receive important messages by means other than voice is increasingly outmoded as well as outdated. Investments to catch-up will likely run into the billions of dollars.

Public expectations already exceed public safety communications capabilities, especially when it comes to 911 and public warning and notifications systems. In the current fiscal and political environment, we should be asking not what we need to do about this situation, but how we will get the needed work done.

October 26, 2011


Filed under: Events — by Mark Chubb on October 26, 2011

It should come as no surprise that the Queen of Soul was onto something.

The past few weeks I have been pondering the growth and spread of the Occupy Movement and the related undercurrent of political disquiet sweeping across the political spectrum here and abroad, and have wondered aloud what they might mean from a homeland security perspective. This week I am in New York to attend the Northeast Conference on Public Administration, which will be focused on the theme “Building Trust and Confidence in the Public Service.”

The paper I am presenting at this conference draws on several themes I have already explored in greater detail in this forum for many months. Drawing on these themes, I question whether the high public trust and confidence typically shown in public safety officers, particularly firefighters, translates into anything meaningful when it comes to public policy and effectiveness. After all, governors and state legislators enjoy incredibly low public trust and confidence ratings, but nevertheless managed to muster the political capital in several states needed to overcome objections by public employees unions and a small but committed band of supporters to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Given my interest in the Occupy Wall Street movement and its spin-offs, it only seemed reasonable to conduct some field research last night in Zuccotti Park. When I arrived shortly before 9:00 p.m., the protesters were still going strong. A police cordon was established around the park perimeter and a strong police presence was evident, including representatives from NYPD’s community affairs unit. The south side of the park was populated by TV satellite trucks from CNN and a couple local stations.

Although activities in the park were lively and loud, they certainly weren’t out of control. Small groups were in evidence amidst the tent city, and small groups of people could be found engaged in conversation. A few protestors on the east end of the park and someone dressed in a Santa suit made sure the TV cameras had something to shoot. At a teach-in or lecture in the southeast corner of the park, the crowd could be heard repeating the speaker’s main points in unison as a means of amplifying the message and projecting it beyond the reach of the meagre sound system.  Tables of leaflets and a lending library at the northeast corner of the encampment provided a large a diverse assortment of propaganda and reading material consistent with unfocused themes filtering through the gathering.

To be certain, the presence of anarchists, truthers, and cannabis legalization activists amidst the throng was clear. But so too were people from 18 to 80 years of age from what seemed a wide range of social, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. This was not simply a student protest or a protest led by unemployed workers or one promoting any single social agenda. The unifying theme, to the extend one could be found, seemed to be the overwhelming sense that the vast majority of Americans have grown disaffected with and disconnected from the social and economic system they once believed would ensure their success in exchange for hard work and good behavior.

Probably the most striking characteristic of the gathering was the utter absence of evidence that it was organized in any way. That said, posters at the main entry points promoted what passed for community standards. They seemed more like a plea or a pledge than any kind of command.

As I completed my walk around the perimeter of the park, I stopped for a moment to speak with one of the NYPD officers on the cordon. Officer Sheehan seemed young, but by no means naive or inexperienced. When I asked him whether he was yet to the point of having dreams that he came to work and found the park empty and the protesters dispersed as if nothing had happened, he smiled wanly and said he didn’t think the protesters were that much trouble. “They don’t want a piece of us, and we don’t want to mess with them,” he said.

As we talked, I explained that I was intrigued by his response in light of both my reason for visiting New York this week and coming to the park on this particular night. I told him I was more and more doubtful that public trust and confidence were helpful in implementing public policy even if they are useful to its making. As we talked candidly, I wondered aloud whether the best if not the most we could hope for in the near term was respect for government and its agents as opposed to genuine trust and confidence in their intentions and actions.

As we ended our conversation, Officer Sheehan sighed and said, “Yeah, respect. That would be nice.” Maybe the Occupy protesters are onto something after all.


October 21, 2011

Economic Terrorism

Filed under: Events,Radicalization,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on October 21, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I questioned the meaning of the growing protest movement that started with Occupy Wall Street and its relationship to the economic discontent expressed in other quarters by the Tea Party Movement. This angered at least a few readers who claim to have moved on from reading this forum regularly.

In a follow-up comment, I noted that despite my sympathy for their message, I was less than sanguine about what the rising tide of discontent on display around the country (and now the world for that matter) might portend for the nation as disaffection spreads from those angry with the government to those who work for the government in our public safety services.

Recent media commentary on the Occupy movements has questioned their sustainability in the absence of clear leadership, a coherent direction, and some sort of decisive action beyond sign-waving and chanting. Others have noted that the movement is doing just fine without these things, and, in fact, has articulated a clear and convincing objective: Ending capitalism as we have known it, at least in the United States. This leads some observers, particularly those who see themselves targeted by the movement, to believe the group is anything but benign and probably not as disorganized as it might seem to some.

This makes me wonder, does this make the Occupy protestors economic terrorists? Some might think so, especially if their activities begin having a destabilizing effect on markets or market actors. The Geneva Center for Security Policy defines economic terrorism as, “varied, coordinated and sophisticated, or massive destabilizing actions [undertaken by transnational or non-state actors] to disrupt the economic stability of a state, groups of states, or society.”

Clearly, the Occupy protestors see themselves quite differently. They have been telling us for weeks now that the real terrorists are the bankers, hedge fund managers, and barons of international high finance who have so thoroughly coöpted and corrupted the engine of democracy that it no longer serves the interests of ordinary people.

Occupy protestors and their supporters have noted with disgust that the number of people arrested at rallies now far exceeds the number charged with crimes arising from the financial debacle that has so ruined our economy. The tactics employed to enforce local ordinances against such misdemeanors as curfew, camping in public parks, excessive noise, interfering with traffic, and tramping through flower beds have often involved the application of force to detain or remove protestors. These actions stand in stark contrast to those used in the detention and prosecution of those accused of felony financial crimes.

Despite police actions in quite a few cities, the American protests seem mild compared to the unrest sweeping some European cities as instability accompanying the debt crises in Greece, Italy and other nations continues. As the frequency and intensity of strikes and riots mounts, one can only speculate as to whether the mood here will turn from gloomy and overcast to stormy.

As we watch the drama unfold here and abroad, wondering what will happen next, it’s worth remembering: One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

October 5, 2011

That Might Be Us

Filed under: Events,Futures,Private Sector — by Mark Chubb on October 5, 2011

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but things are getting a bit tense out there. If life inside the Beltway was making you anxious, you might not want to avert your gaze. The view farther afield is not such a pretty sight these days.

With the Tea Party on one hand and the Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 percent protestors on the other, a growing proportion of our fellow citizens are actively expressing disgust with the status quo. And this doesn’t even include all the others like No Labels, the Coffee Party Movement and more who in their efforts to re-establish a middle-ground have ended up — often from the comfort of their home computer or smartphone — on or near the edge of a growing disquiet.

This morning I listened in a state somewhere between fury and amazement as Bill Frezza, a venture capitalist and fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, complained bitterly on NPR that those making more than $250,000 a year were being unfairly cast as “whipping boys” for failing to pull the economy out of its tailspin by creating jobs. His full-throated defense of free market capitalism worked about as well as sending the fire department to pour gasoline on a blaze.

If Frezza and his ilk are to be believed, the country has it all wrong: executives are just like entrepreneurs; consumption always precedes production, and employment is an input to a healthy economy not a byproduct of it. And, oh yeah, corporations are citizens too. Of course, Frezza and his friends are the same folks who creatively destroyed not only some of the nation’s biggest corporate brands, but also brought us the savings and loan scandal, the dot.com bubble, and collateralized debt obligations.

After 30 years of vilifying civil servants and public policies aimed at protecting much less expanding the middle class, these economic elites want us to believe that consumers have only themselves and the left-leaning political pawns they elected to blame for the lack of jobs, growth and real competitiveness.

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum have another take on this. Their book, That Used to Be Us, contends that four trends underlie our current situation (summary taken from ‘That Used to Be Us’: Tom Friedman’s Rx for America to Get Its Groove Back at Yahoo! Finance):

  1. Misreading the end of the Cold War, which was not a military “victory” but the start of a very big challenge to U.S. hegemony.
  2. Taking a bad course after 9/11 by focusing on the losers of globalization vs. the winners.
  3. Underestimating the impact of technological change which has made the world “hyper-connected.”
  4. A generational shift from the “Greatest Generation” who believed in thrift and “sustainable values” to the Baby Boomers who use “situational values” and prefer to ‘borrow and spend’, instead of save.

Friedman and Mandelbaum suggest that the remedy to our current ills lies in what they call the ‘Five Pillars of Success,” outlined as follows:

  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Immigration
  • Regulation
  • Research and development

In all five areas, the government, they argue, plays the key role, not just in jump-starting our economy, but in restoring confidence in our greatness as a nation. They make a compelling case that without competence in these five areas, the nation cannot expect to reclaim much less retain its position as the world’s preeminent power.

About the same time Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book hit the stores last month, James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, was discussing a damning essay by former GOP Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren and conveying some pretty salient observations himself (see herehere, and here) about the degree of unrest emerging around the country as a consequence of the growing distrust of our political elites.

More than a few commentators have begun to suggest in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the Arab Spring could be followed by an American Fall. As homeland security professionals, we might rightly ask ourselves what this means for us. Which side are we on? Do we stand with the state or the citizens?

I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not eager to play the part of the Egyptian Army if Zuccotti Park becomes the new Tahrir Square.

July 24, 2011

[Repost] Security Theater Lessons From Utøya

Filed under: Events — by Christopher Bellavita on July 24, 2011

I saw the following commentary on a Swedish blog called Falkvinge & Co. on Infopolicy.  The author is Rick Falkvinge.

I thought his ideas were worth republishing since the implications of his argument extend beyond Utøya.  What would happen if a multi-event like Oslo and Utøya happened in the United States, and if the person or people who committed the act were not affiliated with our usual ideological suspects?  Does our political genetic code allow us to see through the ideologies that mask terrorism’s explicit goal: to create fear.  Fear, and a profoundly deep sadness that lures us to abandon who we are as a nation.

Falkvinge’s post has been lightly edited; the original, along with links, can be found here.


As the shock passes into reflection of the Utøya massacre — could anything have been different? — and the grief for and honoring of  the missed and wounded, people will start asking questions as to how this could possibly happen.

Having gone through the methodology used … we can examine one step after another of Breivik’s plan.

I frequently say that power in society is about information advantage. If you know more about your opponent than your opponent knows about you, then you will have the advantage. In this case, Breivik knew how to not look like the nutjob he was.

It’s not even particularly hard. As long as you do whatever horrible deed you plan to do alone, you will evade all wiretapping and data retention. The largest civilian spy program in history is useless against people like Breivik.

It’s a matter of knowing what sets off red flags in the system, and taking active steps to not have them pop up.

Breivik had guns. Three of them: a Glock handgun, a scoped hunter rifle and a shotgun.

Well, yes. So maybe you should have gun controls and strict background checks.

Except Norway has that already. Strictest on the planet, even; same as Sweden. You need to be a flawless, regular and standing member of a licensed shooting club for a full year to get a 9mm handgun license, with a spotless criminal record (Breivik had just a ten-year-old traffic ticket). A hunting license is separate, with extensive and different tests, and apparently Breivik had that too. This doesn’t redflag in itself.

Nobody would imagine that the handgun was planned to be used for point-blank executions with the scoped hunter rifle being planned for teenagers who tried to swim to safety. No program would catch it. Doing so would require mind reading.

Breivik could make tons of explosives. Metric tons.

Well, yes. The nutjob literally bought an entire farm to stay under the radar on this one. Nobody is surprised that farms buy tons of fertilizer; ammonium nitrate, specifically. Nor is anybody surprised that farms need diesel fuel. This was all that was needed, and with a minimum of 8th grade chemistry.

If you are going to prevent either one of these, where do you want your food to come from in the future? Or should we ban the knowledge of chemistry, or perhaps license it? Remove the books on basic chemistry from libraries and censor web pages that mention that knowledge?

Again, it is a matter of information advantage. If you know how to blend in, you will survive in an environment hostile to your intentions.

Which brings us to the last part:

Breivik intended to kill — no, execute — people.


As despicable as that is, how would you like to catch it, the key word being “intend”? He didn’t speak to anybody about it. Even his parents were caught completely off guard. He planned it alone; for nine full years, according to some sources. We have neither mindreading nor precrime technology.

And yet.

We now have wanton en-masse ubiquitous wiretapping in Europe (specifically Sweden), explicitly for national security purposes, which would pick up a lot of what is said and spoken in Norway as well. We have individual location tracking of all citizens. Still, for all this surveillance which is the most extensive in human history, it was utterly and totally useless.

If we cannot prevent an event like Utøya, the worst killing spree ever in world history and the worst terrorist act in entire Europe in two decades, by any means conceivable — why are we playing this security theater and giving up hard-won civil liberties one after another?

The only thing that would have caught Breivik would have been frequent police raids turning his farm inside out, leaving no room to hide his experiments in chemistry. Turning all industries and homes inside out with sharp regularity might have prevented this. Even still, a person as determined as Breivik would likely have been able to blend in even under such circumstances.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, that “a people who gives up its freedom to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither”.  But now that it has been shown in the most gruesome, in-your-face way that we don’t even gain a little security by giving up these freedoms, then why are we doing so?

Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is absolutely right when he says we must fight antidemocratic lunacy with more democracy and more humanity. His quote from one of the young on Utøya, “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together,” is one of the most statesmanworthy I have seen in my entire life. Both when it came from the young surviving lady right off the island, and from Stoltenberg on repeating it in his official capacity.

It brings me to tears, and to something more important: hope.


June 21, 2011

Hurricane Lesson: Riot Watch

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on June 21, 2011

Nick Catrantzos, who writes at http://all-secure.blogspot.com, contributed today’s post.  His writing has appeared several times before in Homeland Security Watch:


In the pantheon of devastating events, hurricanes rank high. One of the few handles a hurricane offers defenders for at least mitigating loss — if not taking charge — is that you can see it coming, hence the benefit of hurricane watch and hurricane warning. Indeed, official sites exist to explain the difference between the two (such as www.nhc.noaa.gov/HAW2/english/basics.shtml).

Why not apply similar lessons to riots, such as the sore loser Stanley Cup riot that Vancouver experienced June 15th?

Some fundamental differences compel attention, however. First, a hurricane is a natural disaster. A riot is an induced catastrophe. (Mayer Nudell first breathed life into this distinction for me in his classic Handbook for Effective Emergency and Crisis Management, available at www.amazon.com).

Consequently, there are fewer political impediments to declaring a hurricane warning — an announcement that a hurricane is imminent — than to declaring a riot warning. After all, to declare a riot warning is to admit to failures of planning and prevention — something that Vancouver’s (or any jurisdiction’s) leadership would hesitate to do for fear of inspiring lawsuits and removal from office.

But what about a riot watch? Wouldn’t this be more benign and easier for a police agency or merchant’s association to announce every time a public event is likely to produce crowds, the sine qua non for mobs and riots?

Assuming this to be the case, what is a merchant to do? Again, transferring a lesson from hurricanes to riots may avail.

Everyone has seen certain supplies run out as people prepare for hurricanes, including plywood and duct tape. If I were a merchant in downtown Vancouver, I would anticipate the destructive impact of a possible riot the same way a Floridian counterpart would try to minimize damage to the store in the face of an approaching hurricane. Seal off the shop. Affix plywood panels to cover the display windows, under the likely assumption that if any crowd is transiting the area in large numbers after being stoked on high emotions, liquor, or drugs, the best of glass-break sensors and intrusion alarms will never summon any response force that will be able to arrive in time to defend your property and source of livelihood.

Private security will not be able to reach your store and police will have other, life safety priorities taking precedence over protecting your inventory. So, if you do not see to your own defenses, looters and vandals will likely face no impediment to stealing and destroying your shop and any others in their path. Under the circumstances, making access to your business just a little more difficult than to the next shop may make all the difference between staying in business and going broke.

Here is where I would veer a bit off the hurricane preparations, though. Paint the plywood in the colors of the local sports team, whatever it might be, and then stencil across these plywood window protectors a message of support for the local team. In Vancouver’s case, the message would be, “Go Canucks!” Then, affix a small sign on your front door saying, “Closed for the game. Go Canucks, go.”

What does this do?

For rioters whose inspiration or pretense for mayhem retains even the thinnest connection to the sporting event that drew them to congregate in the first place, your sign is the equivalent of a metaphorical cross before a vampire. Attacking your shop so adorned takes on the symbolic appearance of attacking one’s own team — sacrilege to even a drunken sports fan.

Best of all, this serves your interests equally regardless of whether the home team wins or loses. Remember that riots increasingly break out among exuberant crowds even when they are celebrating home team victories as much as when they are lamenting home team defeats.

Do I have research-supported data guaranteeing this defense will work? Not at all. But compared to the high cost of insurance and potential exclusion of coverage for riot-related damage, a business owner may well feel there is more to gain than lose by trying it out.


June 14, 2011

Getting out from under God in the Pledge of Allegiance

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 14, 2011

“Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.”

Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress, June 14, 1777


June 14th is Flag Day.

According to the National Flag Day Foundation,

On June 14th, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19 year old teacher at Stony Hill School, placed a 10 inch, 38- star flag in a bottle on his desk then assigned essays on the flag and its significance. This observance, commemorated Congresses adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777.

[On] May 30, 1916, [President Wilson]issued a proclamation calling for a nation wide observance of Flag Day. Then in 1949, President Truman signed an Act Of Congress designating the 14th day of June every year as National Flag Day.

You can read this year’s presidential Flag Day proclamation here.

In part, you will see President Obama urges:

… all Americans to observe Flag Day and National Flag Week by displaying the flag…. and to publicly recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.


When I was in grade school, I remember we started each day standing by our desks, placing our right hands over our hearts, and in one voice saying:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I think it was the first poem I memorized.

When I entered sixth grade in 1955, after summer vacation, we all had to learn a slightly different poem:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I was eleven years old at the time. I was not troubled the state required me to start each school day saying I believed the nation was under God. It didn’t bother me because I had no idea what those words meant.


A month ago I attended a public meeting that began with the Pledge of Allegiance.

For reasons of my own, I left the “under God” part out.  I thought back to sixth grade, and realized I had no idea why the words changed from 1954 to 1955.

In the depth of my historical ignorance, I suppose I figured the Pledge emerged whole from the ferment of the Continental Congress during or shortly after the Revolution.



According to several sources (here, here and here), the original pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy as an expression of patriotism. (Bellamy was a socialist or a christian socialist, depending on who you listen to.)

The first Pledge read:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1923, concerned the new crop of American immigrants might interpret the phrase “to my Flag” to mean their previous country, a clarifying amendment was added:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


In the early days, the Pledge was accompanied by a military salute.

Here’s how that salute was described in an 1892 magazine article :

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

In case you have a difficult time visualizing what the words “the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation” look like in practice, here’s a picture:

In December 1942, the salute was changed.  People were instructed to keep their right hand over their heart.


In 1954, President Eisenhower heard a minister called George M. Docherty give a sermon encouraging the US to add “under God” to the pledge.

The minister said,

“…I could hear little Muscovites repeat a [pledge similar to the US pledge] to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity, for Russia is also a republic that claims to have overthrown the tyranny of kingship…. [What is missing in our pledge is the] one fundamental concept that completely and ultimately separates Communist Russia from the democratic institutions of this country. … Once [we add] ‘under God,’ then we can define what we mean by ‘liberty and justice for all.’ To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive character of the American way of life.

Congress eventually agreed with Docherty and Eisenhower and the Knights of Columbus and gave us the current version of the Pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The bill changing the language was signed by Eisenhower in 1954, on Flag Day

There has been a lot of criticism over the years about the Pledge of Allegiance.

But in case anyone has problems with the “under God” logic, Congress in 2002 thoughtfully included 16 Findings — as a part of Public Law 107-293 — demonstrating why “under God” just acknowledged the historically obvious.

My favorite finding is Number 16: ignoring the nation’s history with God could “lead to the absurd result that the Constitution’s use of the express religious reference ‘Year of our Lord’ in Article VII violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, and that, therefore, a school district’s policy and practice of teacher-led voluntary recitations of the Constitution itself would be unconstitutional.”

Some people are still not convinced. They want the Pledge to be restored to the way it was said during World War Two. Others think the language should read, “…one Nation, Under the Constitution….”

Still others do not believe we need any pledge:

No truly peace-loving nation would ask its people to pledge allegiance to any flag. Flags are for battlefields: potent symbols of a nation’s military power and prowess. Currently, our nation’s government seems infinitely more committed to the well-being of a piece of colored cloth than it is to the welfare of its own people,

I am disturbed by the claim that we are a nation under God.  I think the assertion is too small.

If we want to bring God into the national discussion, I have a difficult time understanding why we don’t hedge our bets and acknowledge our entire planet is under God — especially as we evolve from a nation state to a market state.

But if we are not ready to surrender the nation state — and I think I’m still in that group — then I much prefer “one Nation, under the Constitution.”

Our nation has a history of the occasional anti-Catholic, and anti-Mormom and anti-Jewish hysteria. The anti-sharia law movement in this country continues our unfortunate tradition of I-am-anti-your-version-of-god-because-it-is-not-the-same-as-my-version-of god rhetoric.

I do not think God approves of this.

I would like to see Congress remove “under God” from the Pledge and replace it with “under the Constitution.”

When the Supreme Court ruled in 1962 it was unconstitutional for public schools to allow prayer, President Kennedy suggested [see a brief clip here] people who disagree with the Court’s ruling have “a very easy remedy, and that is to pray ourselves and I would think that it would be a welcome reminder to every American family that we can pray a good deal more at home, we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity, and we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of all of our children.”


While I am waiting for Congress to act on my suggestion, I will still fly the American flag on Flag Day. I will talk to my children about the history of Flag Day and the history of the Pledge. I will invite them — encourage them — to say their version of the Pledge with me.

Happy Flag Day



June 1, 2011

New Generations Aspiring to Greatness

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Events,Futures — by Mark Chubb on June 1, 2011

Stock and commodity markets reacted negatively today to news that sluggish private sector hiring, slipping domestic manufacturing and sliding Greek sovereign debt ratings. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans met with President Obama to discuss legislation to raise the debt ceiling following a show-vote on Tuesday meant to signal their resistance to any measure that fails to herald a new era of fiscal discipline in Washington. (Which, it should be noted, they regard primarily, if not solely, as cuts to domestic discretionary spending and entitlement programs.)

Although the economic situation in Germany and Japan are not much better than here in the United States (and some would argue much worse), the stories grabbing the biggest headlines in these countries are very different from those here at home. Indeed one might wonder whether the tables have now truly turned since the end of the Second World War.

Those Americans who worked to defeat the axis powers in World War II have come to be known as the Greatest Generation for their willingness both to make difficult decisions and to make significant sacrifices at home and on the battlefield for the sake of future generations. Their leadership benefited not only our generation, but those too of the nations they fought.

The turnabout decision this week by Germany to abandon nuclear power by 2022 and invest heavily in renewables with a target of supplying at least 80 percent of their domestic demand by 2050 reflects nothing short of a payback on our nation’s post-war investment in rebuilding war-ravaged Europe. Germany’s decision and the actions that must follow are no less ambitious than the mobilization of labor and capital required in the United States to supply the war effort 60 years ago. The German people will only succeed in reaching their goal through a combination of expanded capacity, technological innovation and significant reductions in demand through energy conservation and increased efficiency.

A segment of the population of that other great power of the war era has shown a different kind of foresight and fortitude that reflects a more personal sort of sacrifice. The lingering crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has fueled the loss of faith in the government and is now mobilizing a segment of Japanese society that one might assume has every right to sit back and wonder what happened to the country they helped build as the successors to the generation defeated by our grandparents. Instead, this generation of retirees and grandparents is volunteering to expose themselves to dangerous levels of radioactivity by helping cleanup the damaged nuclear reactors rather than leaving the job to younger workers who would be more likely to suffer the long-latent effects of such significant radiation exposures.

In both instances, the decisions and actions we see taking center-stage overseas reflect the sorts of values that made our forebears great. At the same time, their presence, even prominence in the news from abroad makes their absence from our own political debate that much more glaring and indeed worrying for our stability, stature, security and future prospects of success.

What sacrifices are we willing to make to maintain our greatness? How hard are we willing to work? How much would we pay to remain an exemplar of the can-do spirit for other nations to follow?

Judging by the crisis of confidence afflicting both the political and economic spheres, it seems the answers to these questions are “not so much.” Our crisis will continue, if not deepen, unless those who can start doing. Americans should not expect leadership of the sort displayed in Germany and Japan this week to come from politicians alone. As the examples of our former rivals aptly illustrate, we need leadership at every level of our society if we are to restore our greatness.

May 4, 2011

Opening But Not Ending

I must admit that like most of you (I assume) the news that U.S. special forces had killed Osama bin Laden and recovered his body from a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan came as a bit of a surprise. But my surprise at that fact pales in comparison to my impressions arising from the openness displayed by the administration in discussing details of the operation and its implications on future policy options.

Much of what needs to be said about the skill and courage of the President and those who conceived and carried out the mission has been said many times over in the past few days. How salient is it, however, that we can acknowledge and discuss the basis for our opinions about the performance of these individuals rather than relying solely on our predispositions to trust the opinions of others? In light of the consequences of public opinion on ongoing support for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it strikes me a particularly important that people not only can reach conclusions of their own about these actions, but also that they seem to be doing so without any particular help from the punditocracy. (This, of course, in no way deterred the talking heads from babbling, often incoherently, about the whole affair. Despite substantiation of leaks about the subject of the President’s remarks, their distracting dialectic diminished in quality as the interval between the scheduled start of President Obama’s address and his actual appearance became increasingly delayed.)

The policy environment surrounding national defense and homeland security are filled with discontinuities and uncertainty despite bin Laden’s demise. How will we end our involvement in Afghanistan? Will the government of Iraq to extend agreements for the U.S. military to continue advice and support arrangements? How will the administration and Congress resolve their pitched political differences over fiscal restraint and debt reduction without undermining our ability to meet commitments here and abroad?

Notwithstanding the release of some erroneous information that has required correction and elaboration today, the administration seems to have done itself (and us) a huge favor by making as clear as possible the basis of its assessment that al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain a threat to the U.S. and its interests. They have also made it clear that lessons about cooperation and information sharing have been learned. And perhaps most important of all, they have demonstrated the potency of patience, confidence, determination and resolve when exercised in the right proportions.

These lessons reinforce one last point: The success of this operation was not so much the product of superior technology or the investments of vast sums of money (although both undoubtedly helped ensure the careful and skillful execution of this mission), but rather the diligent and precise application of human and social skills in gathering, processing and acting on intelligence, which included precise and scrupulous attention to the most minute details.

Much more of this story remains yet to be told. But this should not hinder our understanding of the extraordinary efforts that led to this achievement nor discourage us from continuing the work required to protect our country and others affected by the threat of violent extremism.

April 28, 2011

Event Alert: OIL SPILLS, EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS & MELTDOWNS: Acting In Time Against the Next Disaster

Filed under: Catastrophes,Events,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on April 28, 2011

Speaking of Juliette Kayyem, she will be appearing this evening on a panel at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on “OIL SPILLS, EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS & MELTDOWNS: Acting In Time Against the Next Disaster.”

In addition to Juliette there is an impressive list of participants:

Juliette Kayyem
Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs,
Department of Homeland Security (2009-11)

General Craig R. McKinley
Chief, National Guard Bureau

Admiral Robert Papp
Commandant, US Coast Guard

The Hon. Bart Stupak
Member, US House of Representatives (1993-2011)
Chair, House Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

Admiral James Winnefeld
Commander, US Northern Command &
North American Aerospace Defense Command

David T. Ellwood (Moderator)
Dean, Harvard Kennedy School

The event will be streamed over the internet live and can be viewed here beginning at 6pm:


A day or two following the event, a recorded video will be made available on the Kennedy School website.  I will update this post with the relevant information when it is made available.



Here is the link to the video of the event:


And here is a summary of the remarks:


April 27, 2011

Innovating with Integrity

Filed under: Events,Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on April 27, 2011

Yesterday and today I am attending the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference organized by Washington State University in Tacoma. This annual event is well-attended and attracts a particularly progressive cross-section of public, private and non-profit sector practitioners as well as academics.

As you might imagine, the topics on offer at this year’s conference include several that might be considered “hot,” including social media, public-private collaboration, catastrophic event planning, and resilience. Most presenters seem to have taken account of the impact of the ongoing economic situation in addressing their topics, but none so far as I have seen or heard have explicitly addressed how we might measure the performance of our efforts in these areas.

Yesterday, Chris Bellavita let us in on a discussion he’s been having with a couple of his colleagues about the power of narrative as a means of expressing if not assessing the effectiveness of our efforts, especially those related to innovation or improvement. As this discussion illustrates, narrative has the advantage of distilling a great deal of complexity without losing context. Narrative also appeals to our rational sensibilities (order, structure, content) without overlooking the importance of our emotions (context, texture, feeling) in imprinting them on our individual and collective memories.

Unfortunately, despite its relatively concrete nature, narrative leaves us wonting when it comes to discreteness. How do we judge the relative value of competing or conflicting narratives? Doesn’t their very existence make it harder for us to know what’s really happening?

I got a glimpse of how we might address this dilemma even if we cannot resolve it completely from one of the final presenters on Tuesday. Tracy Connelly is an emergency preparedness training specialist for the Seattle Office of Emergency Management. Despite her self-admitted diminutive stature, “gender confusing” appearance, and “eighth grade reading ability” due to a life-long struggle with dyslexia, she’s a dynamo who really knows her subject yet is still unafraid to get to know the communities she wants to reach on their own terms.

Tracy’s presentation made it clear that she measures her own effectiveness in how many new people and groups her existing contacts help her reach and by the extent to which the communities she engages shape her own thinking and in doing so transform her program and its message. As a result, she’s managing to develop and deploy really innovative and successful interventions in some of Seattle’s most vulnerable, under-served and often hard-to-reach communities.

In a nutshell, Tracy’s outreach program and the effectiveness of her efforts rely on her personal integrity. Something as seemingly intangible as integrity can be measured simply by considering whether the people she’s reaching welcome her back and share her message with others. Now that would be a pretty good start all by itself, but Tracy also demonstrated the added value she gets from the new contacts and partnerships that develop from her relationships and the ways in which they have shaped her approach.

Most programs count the number of individuals or groups they reach. But they seldom consider what any small business could not afford to ignore: How many customers return? How many refer their friends and acquaintances? And how many new product or service offerings developed from the feedback these new and returning customers gave?

Just as no effective business can afford to rely solely on customer counts or gross sales to assess its performance, no effective public service can afford to ignore its impact on human and social capital. Stories help us get a handle on how our programs shape what people think and do. But the real test of our effectiveness comes down to what we do with the information that comes back to us through their interaction with us.

March 15, 2011

Do you know what your MOM is?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Events,Preparedness and Response,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on March 15, 2011

Carl Sagan’s words about science echoed today as I tried unsuccessfully to think about what is going on in Japan.

“We have … arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

If what happened in Japan were a table top exercise, no one would allow the scenario to be used.

“OK, first we’ll do a huge earthquake; bigger than anyone has ever seen before.”

“Right. Then comes the tsunami.”

“Excellent, and we make sure the waves also hit another continent.

“Perfect. And the earthquake is so massive it knocks the earth off its axis.”


“Right. That’s too much. How about this. We blow up a nuclear power plant.

“Outstanding. Make it three power plants and maybe we really have something.”


Quotes from one of the hundreds of news reports:

“People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls.”

“Not much was left when search-and-rescue teams finally reached Natori on Monday. There was searching, but not much rescuing. There was, essentially, nobody left to rescue.”

“People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming.”

“We have repeatedly asked the government to help us, but the government is overwhelmed by the scale of the damage and the enormous demand for food and water.”

“We are getting around just 10 percent of what we have requested.”

“We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don’t have enough.”

“We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It’s just overwhelming.”

“We are patient because everyone in the quake hit areas are suffering.”

“I’m giving up hope.”

“I never imagined we would be in such a situation.”

“I had a good life before. Now we have nothing. No gas, no electricity, no water.”

“All my other relatives are dead. Washed away.”


I was on the US east coast when the earthquake hit. I heard that by 11 AM eastern time, the US west coast would get hit by waves that traveled 500 miles an hour. I live about an hour from the Pacific Ocean. My family will be ok.

But still. How could that be?

Then Sagan’s voice again: “… almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.”


More quotes from news reports:

“…radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months…. More steam releases also mean the plume headed across the Pacific could continue to grow. The White House sought to tamp down concerns, saying modeling done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had concluded “Hawaii, Alaska, the US territories and the US West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity.”

I am never comforted by passive voice sentences. But it’s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). They ought to understand this stuff. I certainly don’t.

So I went to the NRC’s website, because people who read blogs go to websites to learn things.

The site is http://www.nrc.gov/. The home page had a picture of 3 men in ties and one woman staring at paper on a desk. Maybe its a stock photo. The caption under the photo says:

“The NRC has been monitoring the Japanese reactor events via its Headquarters Operations Center in Rockville, Md., on a 24-hour-a-day basis. MORE

Click on MORE and you download a one page press release that says toward the end:

“The NRC will not comment on hour-to-hour developments at the Japanese reactors. This is an ongoing crisis for the Japanese who have primary responsibility.”

Good policy decision. For 1955 maybe.

But I want to give the NRC the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure they are busy.

They do offer a link to their “Emergency Preparedness and Response” page:

The vapidity of the prose on that page makes me long for ready.gov (whose main page provides links to information about tsunamis, flooding and the 2011 national level exercise).

I’ll look at that later. Right now I want to know more about how the west coast is “not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity.”


I know water traveled from Japan to Oregon at 500 miles an hour. I know weather travels from west to east. I know something called “radioactive steam” is being released and may continue to be released “for weeks or even months.” I also know first reports are frequently wrong. But I want to do my part as a prepared citizen.

What if the modeling and the passive voice sentences are wrong?

What if some crap in the atmosphere modified by the word “radioactive” makes its way across the Pacific?

I know with almost moral certainty that’s not likely to happen. Just as I know with almost moral certainty terrorists will not attack the elementary school a mile from my house. And the creek in my backyard is not going to flood and sweep my house away. One — a person, a community, a nation — accepts certain low probability, high consequence risks.

“We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces,” Carl Sagan tells me.


The NRC’s “Emergency Preparedness and Response” page seems to be mostly information for people who live near nuclear power plants.

In 2011, does living on the same planet as Japan mean I now live near a nuclear power plant?

No, says the NRC.

I have to be within a 10 mile radius before the page will speak to my concerns.


I do a little more reading on the NRC page and see something about potassium iodide.

You can learn about obtaining potassium iodine, which reduces the absorption of radioactive iodide, by contacting your State or local government’s emergency organization (see FEMA’s State Offices and Agencies of Emergency Management ). Potassium iodide can also be purchased from local pharmacies. You can learn more about the Use of Potassium Iodide on NRC website.

“Reduces the absorption of radioactive iodide.” OK. That’s got to be a good thing.

So I follow that link and read:

If taken properly, potassium iodide (KI) will help reduce the dose of radiation to the thyroid gland from radioactive iodines, and reduce the risk of thyroid cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidance on the dosage and effectiveness of potassium iodide.

The NRC provides this link to a PDF document on the FDA website.

Click on that link and this is what you see:

Page Not Found

Our apologies. The link or location you used does not exist or was moved.

Clicking on the other NRC links does not immediately provide any more useful information — whether from federal resources or from my state.

I know as this “event” continues to evolve, the national knowledge construction machine will triangulate a coherent story about any radiation threat and what to do — if anything — about it.

But I want to do something now.  See something, do something.


I’m not panicking. But I am being ignorant — in (I hope) a good way. I lack knowledge about the potential effects of radioactive stuff mixing with the Oregon rain and falling on my children.

Probably never going to happen. Not in a million years. But still, I do like to be prepared. Just in case.

One of the mantras from my special event days came back to me: “It’s better to have something and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

I’ve done enough research for today. Time to get some potassium iodide.


I know I’m never going to need it, but the NRC site did say “Potassium iodide can also be purchased from local pharmacies.”

I went to the health food store first. Then one pharmacy. Then another. Then a third.

All out.

Seems there may have been a small run on potassium iodide.

“We have more coming in tomorrow,” one guy told me. “I’ll call you when we get it in.”

A pharmacist at a national chain store stuttered when I asked.

“People have been asking about that. It must be for that…. that thing”

She couldn’t think of the word. Or maybe she didn’t want to say it. I didn’t say anything either.

Then — like the first time you go through a back scatter device at a TSA checkpoint — I surrendered.

“That ‘radiation’ thing?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “That radiation thing. We don’t carry it. You want me to call the store manager?”

“No thanks,” I said, wondering why she asked me that.

I checked its availability on Amazon.

Crooks! Gouging!” shouted one (somewhat factually inaccurate) reviewer published on Monday. “This is OBSCENE! These pills go for 5 dollars per pack. Even l0 would be too much. Just this morning they jacked it from 9 to 49 and 10 minutes later… jacked it up to l00 dollars. They jacked it up twice in less than an hour.”

Interesting.  An internet panic?

Am I contributing to prudent preparedness or ignorant panic?


Since last autumn, FEMA has been talking about changing planning assumptions from whatever they are now (I think all hazards) to something called “whole community” and “maximum of maximums.” For an example, see http://blog.fema.gov/2010/12/70-earthquake-in-midwest-planning-for.html

The slightly Freudian acronym for “maximum of maximum” is MOM. Perhaps MOM was meant to be somewhat comforting. Or disturbing.  Or confusing.

The National Level Exercise in May will use a maximum of maximum assumption to simulate a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

FEMA’s whole community strategy “is built upon a foundation of a meta-scenario consisting of the maximum of maximum challenges across a range of scenarios.”

Maximum of maximums (or maximax) is also a decision science term, referring to a “strategy … that prefers the alternative with the chance of the best possible outcome, even if its expected outcome and its worst possible outcome are worse than other alternatives.”

That definition takes a bit of unpacking before meaning emerges.

FEMA is less abstract about MOM. They are talking about an event that

– Affects about 7 million people

– Covers 25,000 square miles

– Affects several states and FEMA regions

– 190,000 fatalities in initial hours

– 265,000 citizens require emergency medical attention

– Severe damage to critical infrastructure

– Severe damage to essential transportation infrastructure

– Ingress/egress options limited.


I went to a conference last week where FEMA leaders talked about their new strategy. I think they are waiting for President Obama to sign a new national preparedness directive before they make a really big deal about this change.

There were a few dozen experienced emergency management and homeland security professionals in the room when the FEMA representatives talked about “whole community” and “maximum of maximum.”

My sense was some people did not understand it. Some people understood it and liked it. Other people understood it but were concerned that now states and cities would have to change their planning assumptions (again).

I’m not sure I understood all of it. But today, FEMA’s definition of MOM does not go far enough for me.

It says nothing about the earth moving off its axis.

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