Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 27, 2015

Strategic whiplash: fire to flood

Filed under: Climate Change,Futures,Mitigation,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on October 27, 2015

California is now in its fourth year of drought. In a state this big precipitation varies widely, but for example, in Bakersfield the average annual precipitation is 6.4 inches and through the end of September roughly 4.5 inches.  This year’s total at the end of September was 2.8 inches. The winter snowpack was almost non-existent this year.  The lowest in 500 years according to some.

The State of California reports reservoir levels as of October 15 are roughly two-thirds below capacity and less than half historic averages. Some examples: Castaic Lake 31% of capacity (40% of year to date average); Don Pedro 31% of capacity (47% of average); Exchequer 8% of capacity (18% of average); Folsom Lake 17% of capacity (31% of average); Lake Oroville 29% of capacity (48% of average); Lake Perris 36% (47% of average); Millerton Lake 35% of capacity (90% of average); New Melones 11% of capacity (20% of average); Pine Flat 12% of capacity (34% of average); San Luis 18% of capacity (35% of average); Lake Shasta 33% of capacity (56% of average); and Trinity Lake 21% of capacity (32% of average).

Since early this year Californians have cut their total water usage. For June, July, and August the cumulative statewide savings rate was 28.7% equal to 611,566 acre-feet of water saved. The Governor’s office has set a goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet of water by February 2016. Some are seeing signs of a long-term shift in cultural attitudes toward water use.  Last week the LA Times advocated public shaming of Southern California water hogs.

Since January 1 there have been 5942 wildfires in California, consuming 307,335 acres, almost triple a five year average.

All of which further complicates the already tough job of selling flood insurance in California.

Yet last week Accuweather reported accumulating evidence for a powerful 2015-2016 El Nino, beginning to impact California in late November into December.

The most likely, and most impactful, scenario during this winter is that California will get significant precipitation in the form of both rain and snow.

“California will be much more active weather-wise this winter than last winter,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Ben Noll said.

Copious amounts of rain from systems over the same area, a theme which occurs often during this type of weather pattern, can lead to problems for California.

Locals may be faced with flooding and mudslides, which could prove devastating for home and property owners. This will be especially problematic over recent burn scar areas, where rampant wildfires have charred millions of acres.

According to the Census Bureau there are 12,542,460 households in California.  According to FEMA there are 229,538 flood insurance policies in force.  Hmmm?

Last week NOAA and FEMA made a concerted effort across California to raise-the-warning and encourage preparations, including purchasing flood insurance.  I happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time.  City, county, and state officials are taking the flood risk very seriously.  But it does require a particular exercise of the will to prepare for floods in the midst of drought.

And selling flood insurance in these conditions: How about ice to Eskimos or sand in Timbuktu or coal to Newcastle?  There must be a better way to recognize and mitigate the risk.

September 1, 2015

“Devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue”

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes,Climate Change,Futures,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 1, 2015

Thanks to the Alaska Dispatch News, here’s a transcript of the speech President Obama gave Monday evening (9PM Eastern) in Alaska.

The phrase “homeland security” was never uttered.  But I perceive a considerable connection.  One excerpt:

We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue.  That is not deniable.  And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime.  We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow. 

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively.  People will suffer.  Economies will suffer.  Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems.  More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict. 

That’s one path we can take.  The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it.  This is within our power.  This is a solvable problem if we start now. 


August 20, 2015

Conflicting or complementary?

Filed under: Biosecurity,Climate Change,Futures,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 20, 2015

Each month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases a review of weather data.  What the accumulating data demonstrates are increasing departures from historic means, much more extreme weather of every sort.

While some continue to argue the cause for this shift, there is more and more consensus that the data confirms an emerging climate much different than that experienced by recent generations. (Monday I received a briefing on the so-called Kankakee Torrent of 14,000 to 19,000 years ago.  This suggests that even extremes are relative).

So far the impact of the extended California drought on agricultural production — and prices — has been modest.  According to a late-June analysis by the USDA Economic Research Service,

The current outlook for 2015 is for slightly lower than average retail food price inflation, with supermarket prices expected to rise 1.75 to 2.75 percent over 2014 levels. Despite drought conditions in California, the strength of the U.S. dollar and lower oil prices could have a mitigating effect on fresh fruit and vegetable prices in 2015. As of June, ERS predicts fresh fruit prices will rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent and fresh vegetable prices 2.0 to 3.0 percent in 2015, close to the 20-year historical average. 

But if the current drought would extend for another several years, and especially if drought in one agricultural region is combined with destructive extreme weather in other agricultural regions (e.g. the 2010 drought in Ukraine, Russia, China, and Argentina), the combined consequence can be dire.

While an understanding of cause is usually crucial to prevention and many kinds of mitigation, it is possible to disagree as to cause and develop plausible projections of consequence. In most of life there is a “cone of uncertainty” of some sort, but even when we cannot precisely predict, we may be able to reasonably anticipate.

Over the last several months a UK-US team has attempted to anticipate the impact of extreme weather on global agricultural capacity.  They recently released a report, concluding:

... the global food system is vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather, and… this risk is growing. Although much more work needs to be done to reduce uncertainty, preliminary analysis of limited existing data suggests that the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040. Additionally, recent studies suggest that our reliance on increasing volumes of global trade, whilst having many benefits, also creates structural vulnerability via a liability to amplify production shocks in some circumstances. Action is therefore needed to improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks, to mitigate their impact on people.

I find the binational report especially interesting for reasons that go beyond the explicit factual analysis.  The organization and rhetoric of the report seems a bit bipolar… unable to resolve a persistent tension between two policy/strategy perceptions.  One angle tends toward greater redundancy and centralization.  The other tends toward greater diversity and decentralization.  The authors do not seem self-aware of the tension.  It would be interesting, at least to me, to see a principled strategic process for engaging these two alternatives… or possibly complementary approaches.

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.

January 27, 2015

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead….”

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on January 27, 2015

What to be vigilant about?

Sometimes something huge. Sometimes not.

Monday night it’s oceans of snow spilling onto the northeast, painted green and yellow by the Weather Channel radar.

Monday morning it was 2 pounds of drone crashing into a White House tree, invisible to the best radar money can buy.

What to be vigilant about?

Someone credible guesses that by 2016, 1% of the world’s population (about 7 million people) will own more wealth than the other 99% combined.

I’m guessing  many of the people who attended last week’s World Economic Forum  in Davos  represent the interests of the 7 million.


Samuel P. Huntington (the “Clash of Civilizations” guy) called these people Davos Men, or “gold collar workers”:

…these transnationalists have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations. In the coming years, one corporation executive confidently predicted, “the only people who will care about national boundaries are politicians.”

If you’re looking for something else to be vigilant about, you can read more of Huntington’s warning in the 2004 National Interest article joyously called “Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite.”

[End of Break]

The Davos Men issued their 2015 Global Risks report a few days ago describing what they believe we should all be vigilant about.

Here’s a excerpt from the report’s conclusion:

Our lives are very different today from when the first Global Risks report was published a decade ago. Little did the world imagine the possibility of the implosion of global financial markets that plunged the world into a socioeconomic crisis from which it is still struggling to emerge. The “real world” was nowhere near as interconnected with the virtual one: Twitter did not exist, Facebook was still a student-only service, and the iPhone and Android were still one and two years, respectively, away from their commercial release. The power of interconnectivity has since shown itself forcefully – be it from the convening power of the Arab Spring, the revelation of massive cyber espionage around the National Security Agency, or fast moving developments in new disruptive business models that are fundamentally changing the global economic landscape.

… [As] people’s lives are becoming more complex and more difficult to manage, businesses, governments and individuals alike are being forced to decide upon courses of action in an environment clouded by multiple layers of uncertainty. … [D]ecisionmakers … are recognizing that risks are no longer isolated but inherently dynamic in nature and crossing many spheres of influence. Against this backdrop, the need to collaborate and learn from each other is clearer than ever….

Ten years of “doing risks” has also led to the recognition that a short-term vision prevents addressing long-term issues. Some slower-moving trends have continued inexorably: the last 10 years have brought conclusive proof that the earth’s climate is changing and that human activities are to blame – yet progress to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions remains frustratingly slow. …

Indeed, our self-perception as homines economici or rational beings has faltered in the aftermath of the financial crisis, whose effects are still unfolding socially, as persistent unemployment, ever-rising inequality, unmanaged migration flows and ideological polarization are among the factors stretching societies dangerously close to the breaking point. Social fragility is even threatening geopolitical stability, as breakdowns in cooperation within states make relations between states more difficult. And a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, interstate conflict is once again one of the key risks in terms of likelihood and impact. Yet the means through which conflicts can be pursued are growing more varied, … – from geo-economic tools, such as trade sanctions, to cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, to the potential for a new arms race in lethal autonomous weapons systems. …


Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!

— Walter Scott, 1805

October 9, 2014

Retrospectively, it is often so clear

The Ebola outbreak is, almost certainly, a precursor for a future pandemic that will be much worse.

The current California drought is, almost certainly, a precursor of more to come.

The recent series of cyber-attacks are, almost certainly, a precursor of many more — and much worse — to come.

The intention of Australian terrorists to undertake random attacks is, almost certainly, a precursor for such attacks there and elsewhere.

In each case a current threat-vector is amplified by human behavior, especially increased population density and mobility.  Ebola is naturally occurring. Until the last four decades its natural range was isolated from humans and, especially, human networks.  Drought is naturally occurring in the American West and Southwest. Until the last six decades, this region was sparsely populated. Never before has so much monetary value been so concentrated and (at least virtually) proximate. Violence is naturally occurring in human populations, its mimetic mutations now facilitated by many more of us in communication, contact, and perceived competition.

In the case of Ebola, the rapidly increasing population of Guinea (Conakry) —  up 220 percent since 1960 —  has created substantial ecological and economic stress.  This has been especially the case in the forested uplands of Eastern Guinea neighboring Liberia where the current outbreak first emerged.  With about 70 people per square kilometer this region has twice the density of the Virginia county where I live.  It’s less than 300 miles to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, which has a population density of 600 per square kilometer.  No wonder Monrovia has been hit so hard.

Macenta Epicenter

We don’t know precisely when or how the virus was transferred to humans in this epidemic, but consumption of bushmeat infected with the virus is a good guess.  That has been the origin in several previous — but much smaller — outbreaks in Congo and Gabon.

Mid-March is when I first read about what has unfolded into the Ebola outbreak:

(Reuters) – An outbreak of hemorrhagic fever has killed at least 23 people in Guinea’s southeastern forest region since February when the first case was reported, health authorities in the West African nation said on Wednesday.

At least 35 cases have been recorded by local health officials, said Sakoba Keita, the doctor in charge of the prevention of epidemics in Guinea’s Health Ministry.

“Symptoms appear as diarrhea and vomiting, with a very high fever. Some cases showed relatively heavy bleeding,” Keita said.

“We thought it was Lassa fever or another form of cholera but this disease seems to strike like lightning. We are looking at all possibilities, including Ebola, because bushmeat is consumed in that region and Guinea is in the Ebola belt,” he said. No cases of the highly contagious Ebola fever have ever been recorded in the country. (March 19)

Well into summer I assumed this Ebola outbreak would be contained as others have been contained.  I neglected to notice that this  time the threat had emerged in a region much more densely populated than previous outbreak zones (and with much easier access to even more densely populated areas).  I overestimated the vigilance and capacity of the World Health Organization. I underestimated the power-amplifiers of human need and social interaction and fear… multiplied exponentially as the vector penetrates more deeply into the matrix.

This is how it happens.  Prior success encourages undue confidence.  And maybe you’re  a bit distracted. The threat morphs and emerges into — then out of — a different context.  So it may not initially be recognized. The critical contextual cues are unnoticed.  The threat is given time and space to strengthen.  This is especially likely to happen with places or people already neglected.

What worked last time is not quite calibrated with the new context.  Besides, for many of those engaging this threat, this is their first time.  Former lessons have not been learned, are being re-learned.  This threat in this place is in many respects unique — at least in the experience of those who confront it this time.

It is a threat that, if recognized early-on, might be quickly suppressed or contained. But instead it proliferates, filling the void opened by neglect. Thus amplified the threat is much more likely to find and exploit vulnerabilities; even those that until the threat’s  emergence were seen as strengths. Which is typically how tragedy unfolds, when what had been strong makes us weak.

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.

October 31, 2013

Prosaic sight and poetic insight

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


Once Again by Amy Medina

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

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

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


Photojournalism by Matt Nighswander/NBC News

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

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

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


Image_DSC6477b.jpg by Alex Fradkin

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

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

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

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

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


Jetstar by Alex Fradkin

May 2, 2013

Catastrophe: Should’a, Would’a, Could’a

“I should prefer Mozart. Mostly I listen to 70s hits.”

“I should eat a hot breakfast, but usually have a powerbar instead.”

“I should work-out three or four times a week, maybe I walk around the block twice.”

Should has become moralistic.  It is typically used as a kind of anti-verb, ascribing — often anticipating — non-action.

I have heard a lot of “shoulds” in regard to the explosion of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility. The April 17 blast killed 14 and injured more than 190 in the town of 2700.

“We should regulate better.”

“We should put buffer zones in place.”

“We should be more realistic about the threat.”

“We should do a better job sharing what we know about the risk.”

“We should focus more on pre-event prevention and mitigation.”

More plural pronouns than singulars it seems.

According to a November 2012 analysis undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, 6,985 chemical facilities self-report they pose a risk to populations greater than 1,000. There are 90 that self-report a worst-case risk affecting up to 1 million people.

The West facility was not included in the CRS analysis.  They did not self-report — or evidently self-conceive — a worst case scenario that would seriously harm anyone.

As regular readers know I have for a few years worked on catastrophe preparedness.

One of the most remarkable — and absolutely predictable — aspects of this gig is the readiness — preference really — by nearly everyone to define catastrophe as something non-catastrophic.  I saw it again last week and this.  It extends across the public-private divide and every level of government.  When a few of us argue otherwise we are being pedantic, unrealistic, and wasting people’s time.

We should give regular time and energy — maybe five percent of overall effort — to truly catastrophic risks: Global pandemic, significant earthquakes and cyclonic events hitting major urban areas, sustained collapse of the electrical grid whatever the cause. Each of these could have far-reaching secondary and tertiary effects.  In some regions I would include wildfire and flooding. If you have a chemical storage or processing facility nearby that is absolutely worth worst-case thinking now not later.

In many cases the most important issues relate to the mitigation of systemic vulnerabilities that are threat-agnostic.  “Fixing” vulnerabilities can reduce consequences for a whole host of threats, including non-catastrophic threats.

USA Today editorialized, “The Boston Marathon bombings overshadowed the disaster in Texas, but what happened in West was deadlier, and preventing the next fertilizer accident should command serious attention.”

There’s that anti-verb again.


And how I wish I’d, wish I’d thought a little bit more
Now shoulda, woulda, coulda I means I’m out of time
Shoulda, woulda, coulda can’t change your mind
And I wonder, wonder what I’m going to do
Shoulda, woulda coulda are the last words of a fool

Can’t change your mind
Can’t change your mind

Beverly Knight

June 27, 2012

Coming Soon to a City Near You

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Futures,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on June 27, 2012

If all went as expected last night, Stockton, California is now on its way to becoming the latest and largest American city to seek bankruptcy protection. This news comes a little more than a week after North Las Vegas, Nevada declared a state of emergency in a desperate (and some say illegal) attempt to mitigate financial catastrophe by forcing concessions from its unions. Meanwhile, cities across the nation are preparing to layoff firefighters and police officers, including Detroit, which expects to cut 164 fire department positions in the very near future.

To those cops, firefighters and public safety administrators to whom these headlines do not seem all that shocking, they certainly are depressing. I am not, however, among those in either camp. I know that this too shall pass. The sooner we get started, the sooner things will get better.

Here’s a case in point: A few years ago, Vallejo, California declared bankruptcy. Today, citizens and elected officials alike have renewed pride in their community by investing in new ways of doing business and restoring a shared sense of commitment to one another’s welfare and their city’s future. This vision is grounded in the understanding that the obligations of citizenship extend well beyond paying taxes or voting in elections.

My uncle is among the Vallejo residents who pitched-in, spoke up and helped reinvent this solidly blue-collar community. We’ve spoken at length about his experiences, which have also informed his critically-acclaimed novels and short stories.

Like many of his neighbors, my uncle took up residence in Vallejo over fifteen years ago when the cost of housing drove him out of San Francisco where he worked and Berkeley where he lived. Vallejo was affordable and accessible if not upwardly mobile or particularly happening and hip.

The U.S. Navy’s closure of the Mare Island Shipyard a few years earlier meant the city had already seen its salad days. That said, jobs paying a reasonable wage could be found relatively easily. Median salaries covered the mortgage for modest homes that afforded residents a toehold on a middle-class lifestyle.

As home values began appreciating with the loosening of lending practices, city revenues shot up. People were no wealthier than before. Salaries had not increased all that much, but the ability to live beyond one’s means had.

Mandatory collective bargaining and binding-interest arbitration with public safety employees meant civil servants saw regular and healthy pay increases as city coffers remained full. The year before Vallejo entered bankruptcy, the median firefighter salary and wages (with overtime) exceeded $157,000 and the contract awarded employees a nine percent pay increase. (Most cops were doing even better.) Great work if you can get it, eh? But a hard nut to cover if your citizens’ median household income is around $59,000.

In the years since, housing prices and middle-class incomes from employment in the private sector have both collapsed. Unequipped to respond flexibly like their private sector counterparts, public employers trimmed positions and services until they had no easy choices left.

I am neither anti-employee nor anti-union. But I would like to think I am pro-common sense. And my sense of the situation is that too many cities and their public safety employees are on the same slippery slope Vallejo was. If so, this week’s headlines suggest many are now losing their footing.

The problems confronting public safety agencies and their employee unions is simple: Structural deficits are inevitable when contracts award employees wage and benefit packages whose costs exceed the rate of increase in revenues, often by a rate of three, four or five-to-one. The precipitous decline in property values has only exacerbated and sometimes accelerated the inevitable conflict between what was promised and what is possible.

When public entities enter bankruptcy, employees become creditors. The citizen-owners’ ability to pay determines what creditors will get. And citizens’ willingness to do for themselves determines their future — that of the community as a whole and the employees who once assumed the community depended upon their intervention alone.

Communities across the country are rediscovering their ability to do for themselves what they reckon they cannot do without. What most communities discover after entering the bankruptcy process is that they were not nearly as dependent on firefighters or cops as they once thought.

Even in those few instances where time really makes a critical difference to the ultimate outcome, sudden cardiac arrest for instance, communities like San Jose, California are finding ways to mobilize citizens as first responders. CPR-trained citizens can (and do) download a smartphone app that notifies them when a cardiac arrest call is received near them. The app not only alerts them to respond, but also advises the location of the nearest publicly accessible automatic external defibrillator.

The efficacy of this approach is already clear. In a few short months since its release, several citizen “saves” have been documented. Statistical evidence of effectiveness will come in time.

We may not want to encourage people to use this sort of technology to enable them to fight fires or enter dangerous environments to perform rescues without training or protective equipment, but we can take advantage of their proximity and access to technology to inform how public agencies respond.  By doing so, we can clearly achieve improved efficiencies even if we do little to increase effectiveness.

Communities across the country face hard choices. Stockton, Detroit and North Las Vegas share little in common besides their parlous fiscal circumstances. If they are lucky, their citizens will find it increasingly acceptable to reduce their expectations of public servants and increase their expectations of one another.

If public servants want to avoid the inevitable outcome of such a reckoning, their choice is just as clear: Forget about maintaining the status quo and find ways to engage communities, increase efficiency and reduce costs by leveraging not just levying citizens. As more communities confront the harsh realities of their unsustainable fiscal practices and union contracts, it will become clearer to all that communities exist for their own welfare, not that of public employees.

May 1, 2012

Water challenges and US national security

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on May 1, 2012

Time out for a moment from our regularly scheduled cyber issues and al Qaeda commentary for a word from the future, sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Global Water Security is a report published in February by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The 30 page intelligence “product” is available here.

The document tries to answer the following question (for the State Department): How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years?

Here is the Report’s answer:

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

The Report mostly focuses on the relationship between water security and US global interests.  But the future of water has domestic implications also.

Although most of the Colorado River originates in the basin’s upper states (i.e., Colorado, Utah, Wyoming), a 1922 Colorado River Compact allocates most of the water to the lower states (i.e., California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico).

Unfortunately, the agreement was based on data from the unseasonably wet five years prior to 1922, estimating the average flow to be 17.5 million acre-feet (maf). The actual average flow over the last 100 years has been nowhere near this number, averaging about 13 maf, with high variability ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.

A 2009 study by the University of Colorado projects that all reservoirs along the Colorado River—which provide water for 27 million people—could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. More recently, drought and low Lake Mead water levels have resulted in a multi-billion dollar plan to build a 285-mile pipeline to pump groundwater to the Las Vegas area from as far away as Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah state line.

A 1944 agreement between the United States and Mexico stipulates the terms of water-sharing between the two countries, with water delivery obligations on each side.

The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, as well as their major tributaries, are covered in the agreement. The agreement allows the United States access to tributary contributions from Mexican rivers, and no Mexican access to contributions from US tributary rivers, and therefore many view the agreement as unfair. Delayed water deliveries, and even efforts to reduce canal water leakage, have occasionally complicated broader relations but have not been a major source of stress.

Not yet anyway.

Thanks to Dr. James Tindall for telling me about this report.


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 17, 2012

Ending America’s Energy Insecurity: How Electric Vehicles Can Drive The Solution To Energy Independence

Filed under: Futures,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 17, 2012

Today’s post was written by Fred Stein.  It is based on his recently completed homeland security master’s degree thesis.

Fred’s central conclusion — a surprising one to me — is the U.S. would basically become energy independent if we stopped using gasoline to power our automobiles.

Information about obtaining the complete thesis (including the evidence supporting his argument) can be found at the end of this post.

Fred’s analysis begins with a look at some common perceptions about this country’s dependence on foreign oil.


Common Perception Validity Explanation
America is heavily dependent on foreign countries for oil. True Net oil imports are 50% of America’s use.
America is dependent on oil because it does not produce much oil. False America is the world’s third largest producer of oil.
America’s dependence on oil is undesirable because it supports our enemies. True Military experts decry that we are actually funding both sides of the war on terror.
There is no immediate threat from America’s dependence on foreign oil. False Oil prices could triple overnight and oil supplies would be inadequate to meet the most basic needs of the U.S.
Increasing production of energy from wind, solar, hydro-electric, nuclear, coal, etc.  can end America’s energy dependence. False Only about 2% of the oil consumed in the U.S. is used for producing electricity.  Until there is a mechanism that transfers the energy produced from those sources to a form usable for transportation and the other uses of oil, increased electricity production will not affect U.S. energy dependency.
Plug-in electric vehicles use electricity generated from the above named sources. True
Electric vehicles require significant technical innovation before they are capable of providing transport equivalent to internal combustion vehicles. False The Tesla roadster has a range of about 300 miles on a single charge.  Though it is expensive, the driving experience is equivalent to an internal combustion vehicle.

Dependence on foreign oil is the Achilles heal of the United States’ security.

While the direct economic costs are staggering with an oil trade deficit of $1 billion per day, the security threat posed by that dependence is an even greater disaster waiting to happen.

Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut supplies of oil to the United States.  Al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals have identified the world oil supply as a prime target.  As Iran proceeds inexorably towards nuclear weapons, U.S. and European policy makers must temper their responses to counter this threat for fear of driving up oil prices.  Iran has the ability, and espouses rhetoric about its desire, to close the straits of Hormuz to interrupt the supply of oil in certain circumstances.

Every U.S. President since Richard Nixon has denounced America’s dependence on foreign oil.  Discussions abound regarding increasing U.S. oil production or efficiencies, but no real measures have been seriously considered that would truly end America’s dependence on foreign oil by simply eliminating the need for that oil.

Though the consequences of energy dependence are complex, the solution is simple.  The amount of oil used by the U.S. for motor gasoline, about 50% of total oil consumption, is the same as the net amount of oil imported by the U.S., about 50% of total oil consumption.

If the U.S. stopped using gasoline to power its automobiles, it would essentially become energy independent.


Adding nuclear or clean coal facilities, building wind farms, installing solar panel fields, etc., would do little to foster energy independence.  Those technologies increase the generation of electricity, but not in a manner that can currently be utilized by most of the transportation sector that depends almost exclusively on the combustion of oil.

Electric vehicles (EVs) bridge that gap. The price of EVs and the lack of a recharge infrastructure is all that stands in the way of their full integration into the automobile market.

It has been demonstrated before that as the price of gasoline increases, consumers respond in large part by purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles.  A detailed analysis of historical gasoline prices, car prices, car sales, and other factors, allows for creation of a model that predicts the EV car sales as it relates to the price of gasoline.

A model developed here, predicts the rapid growth of EV sales if an excise tax on gasoline of $2/gallon, incrementally rising to $5/gallon were to be imposed on the retail sale of gasoline, and simultaneously a $15,000 rebate on the sale of new EVs were to be introduced.  The results are illustrated graphically below.

An excise tax of that magnitude would raise sufficient funds to provide for the EV tax rebate, to mitigate the effects from the regressive nature of the tax, and to provide monetary incentive for the development of a nation wide recharge infrastructure.   The funds that would be collected under such a scenario are described in the table below.

There is a cost to achieving energy independence.  That cost is two to five dollars on each gallon of retail gasoline sold, paid by drivers continue using internal combustion vehicles.  With conviction and determination, the United States can achieve energy independence in a few short years.

For a copy of Fred Stein’s thesis providing in-depth analysis of the ideas expressed in this paper, go to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in February 2012.  You can also contact Fred Stein at chdsstein[at]gmail.com


January 6, 2012

Dear Jeff: Network Like Crazy

Filed under: Education,Futures — by Philip J. Palin on January 6, 2012

In his Tuesday post Chris Bellavita introduced us to Jeffrey M. Cottam a twenty-something homeland security professional who is not contributing as much as he perceives he could contribute.  Jeff told Chris that after earning good grades at respected undergraduate and graduate programs, “(I did) expect that after 18 months or so I’d be an agent somewhere.”

Mr. Cottam’s circumstance seems to crystalize many recurring hopes, doubts, and dreams of homeland security.  Here’s my unsolicited advice.


Dear Jeff:

You have earned helpful educational credentials. (May your student loans be modest.)  You are in your late twenties.  You have a job. You are dissatisfied.

Count yourself lucky.

Bureaucracies are bad places for entry level people; even — perhaps especially — bureaucracies that call their employees “agents.”

Compliance is typically the easy and rewarded path in most bureaucracies.  Compliance is the enemy of creativity.  Creativity is the most valuable long-term skill.

Avoid bureaucracies until you have creative skills sufficiently strong to resist the soul-devouring maw of bureaucracies.  With that strength secured bureaucracies can be conducive to soul-growing, but mostly as a source of resistance training.

Claim and craft opportunities to be creative.  Fail more than a few times and learn from your failures.  Succeed and give particular attention to the most ephemeral elements essential to your success.

Any time before you die is a great time to be dissatisfied.  Be especially suspicious of self-satisfaction.

Responding to your letter sent to Homeland Security Today the editor David Silverberg advised, “Network like crazy.”

Yes.  Absolutely.

Attend the meeting no one else wants to attend. Volunteer.  Take a title and role for a dollar-a-day (in addition to your current employment).  Put yourself in the most difficult circumstances possible.   Contact the Red Cross — or a dozen other agencies — and get yourself the training and launch-pad to be deployed for the next Katrina, Haiti, Tohoku…

Network for others.  It will benefit you too.

Network to recognize and engage reality.  What’s really going on?  Network to recognize needs.  Network to recognize solutions to needs.  Network to apply solutions to needs (that’s the toughest networking).   What kind of networking works?  What kind of networking fails?  When? Where? With who?  Why?

What skills do you have in networking?  What deficiencies do you have in networking?  With whom can you network that will balance your deficiencies?  Who needs you?  Who do you need?

The social network has been the principal human experience for several millenia.  Our networks are increasingly dense, complicated, complex and evolving with increasing speed.  Never before has malevolent networking been more a threat. Never before has gratuitous self-involved networking been such a waste of time.  Never before has wise and effective networking been more valuable.

Especially in homeland security.

In my judgment the traditional public safety professions — firefighting, law enforcement, emergency management, public health, and others — are and will be fundamental to the homeland security mission.   The same is true of related private and civic functions.

If homeland security has any comparative advantage it is networking proactive prevention, mitigation, and preparedness across public, private, civic, jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries.  Homeland security is about the big picture or it is redundant… or even worse.

This is much more than a job.  It is a calling to be creative when most others are satisfied to comply.

May you be in a constant state of creative dissatisfaction.  May you always be weaving webs of relationships.  May you walk, even dance the cusp of chaos.

November 21, 2011

Shortchanging the future

Filed under: Futures,Organizational Issues — by Arnold Bogis on November 21, 2011

The news out of Washington, DC this week is likely to focus on the failure of the “Supercommittee” to agree on a plan to cut the federal debt. Finger pointing has already begun and there is talk of undermining the automatic triggers put into law that were designed to cajole both sides into cutting a deal lest significant cuts into treasured programs and departments are made in budgets following 2012.

The focus of concern is the Defense Department and not entitlement programs, which troubles me for two reasons: (1) I’ve yet to read a non-biased argument (to give the most public of examples, it does seem to me that the opinion of the current Secretary of Defense is somewhat biased) explaining how even with the planned deep cuts into the Defense budget as called for in the triggers what near or plausibly near-peer competitor will leap ahead of us across any set of security parameters and seriously threaten our national security.  The cuts may drive a strategic reconsideration of our military footprint and national policies around the globe (for deeper thoughts on that subject, I would recommend Harvard professor Steve Walt’s blog: http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/), but I do not see how they lead to North Korea, Iran, or even China coming to represent an existential threat.  That is not to say I favor this outcome–I would much rather see a considered package of defense and entitlement cuts in addition to sensible new revenue–but I am not concerned that it represents the end of U.S. military hegemony.

Oh yeah, (2): while obviously our national security is of utmost importance, the imbalance between publicly displayed concern by politicians about cuts in defense vs. entitlements saddens me at some level.  As a citizen of such a powerful nation I wonder, where is our concern about those among the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens?  How many additional fighter aircraft provide a return on defense investment in comparison to helping to provide for the health of a poor child who can perhaps then realize his or her full potential and contribute to our society? Or the health of those who have spent a lifetime contributing?

While these are general, and somewhat philosophical, observations a more concrete example of shortchanging the future recently occurred in…wait for it…Congress:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to reshuffle its offices to establish a National Climate Service akin to the agency’s National Weather Service. It asked for no new funding to do so.

But in a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.” Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.

Climate change is a particularly hot topic (pun intended), so this decision is not surprising. That does not make it any less disappointing.

Who would find such an office helpful?  Most likely some latte-drinking hippies:

Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.

The proposal has drawn wide-ranging support. NOAA’s administrator from 2001 to 2008 under Bush, Conrad C. Lautenbacher, urged Congress to approve it this year. So did scientific, weather and industry groups, including the Reinsurance Association of America, which represents huge firms that backstop home, car and life insurance companies.

This matters to homeland security because it impacts a wide range of risk areas:

Franklin W. Nutter, president of the RAA, said insurance companies are increasingly relying on the predictions of a changing future that NOAA provides. “It’s become clear that historic patterns of natural catastrophes — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods — are not good predictors of future risks,” he said. In other words, the future’s looking rougher.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change buttressed that message last week. A report from the world’s top climate science group warned of more extreme weather, more frequent droughts, worse downpours and more dramatic flooding.

Sometimes relatively small investments now can contribute to significant future savings.  Is this an example of preparedness, mitigation, or both?  Whatever box one wishes to throw it in, this decision seems to undercut our resilience.

At the very least, this decision must contribute to cutting government spending, right?

After the deal, which passed Congress last week, a House Appropriations Committee news release implied that Congress had saved $322 million in fiscal year 2012 by nixing the climate service.

The reality: Congress is still giving NOAA those funds for climate research and data delivery. But they’ll be distributed across the agency instead of consolidated under an umbrella climate service. The hundreds of millions in savings trumpeted by the Republican-led Appropriations Committee are an illusion.

Perhaps later this week there will be news that for which one can feel thankful.

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.

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