Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 13, 2015

Goaltending: National Preparedness

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 13, 2015

Last week a second edition of the National Preparedness Goal was released.

The Goal itself has not changed since the 2011 original:

A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.

There is also considerable continuity between the original details and the new details.  According to a FEMA Information Sheet on “What’s New”:

The refresh of the National Preparedness Goal centered on discrete, critical content updates based on lessons learned, real world events and the results of the National Preparedness Report. In working towards development of the second edition of the Goal, FEMA and its whole community partners focused on assessing the existing core capabilities. Resulting updates to the core capabilities include changes to select titles and definitions and the addition of one new core capability – Fire Management and Suppression.

The National Preparedness Goal is part of the policy/strategy apparatus emerging from Presidential Policy Directive 8 released in late March 2011.  In the PPD the President directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to coordinate federal — even “all-of-nation” — implementation.  For richer or poorer, the Goal is widely perceived as FEMA-centric. (As noted below, I don’t think this is healthy or necessary.)

Thursday I intend to give particular attention to one change from the 2011 edition that I consider a potentially important positive.

But first a comment on the context and limitations of this sort of document: In my experience the homeland security professions — federal, state, or local — tend to receive the vast majority of “national” policy and strategy statements with skepticism at best and more often with disdain.

The story is told of a First Responder delegation meeting with a President’s Homeland Security Adviser.  After an hour-long discussion of policy, strategy, operations and tactics, the Senior Official encouraged one of those who had not contributed to share his thoughts.  The Big City professional responded, “With all due respect sir, just tell us what we have to say to get the money.”

The defense, foreign policy, and intelligence communities are also interested in money.  But they self-consciously engage in making and critiquing policy/strategy in order to shape their budget and spending context.  This can sometimes be cynical.  In some cases, even corrupt. But by-and-large the nexus of policy, strategy, and money is a crucial arena for thinking through and refining where resources will be spent and why.

It is an entirely fallible process, but in the traditional national security space the active participation of a wide array of professional, academic, political, commercial and other interests can generate substantive benefits across the strategy-to-tactics continuum.

President Obama has been very clear from the beginning, “I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately.”  As some readers may recall, I disagreed with the President on this matter.  But in any case, for this policy formulation to be effective, the homeland security professions are required to engage the policy-strategy-budget process with a skill and resolve equal to national security veterans.

This “refresh” of the National Preparedness Goal offers another opportunity to do so.

October 9, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 9, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

October 8, 2015

Cry me a river

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 8, 2015

The radar loop above starts on Thursday evening, October 1 and runs through Sunday evening (thanks to Matt Daniel at WMAZ in Macon, Georgia).

A similar video — showing a narrow band of intense moisture — could be shown for the 2010 mid-Atlantic “Snowmageddon”.

Some have suggested that Japan’s extraordinary flooding in early September reflected meteorological conditions similar to what we saw last week over the Carolinas.

Detailed data does not exist to show the unfolding of the 1861 California megaflood. According to Scientific American, this 43-day storm, “turned enormous regions of the state into inland seas for months, and took thousands of human lives. The costs were devastating: one quarter of California’s economy was destroyed, forcing the state into bankruptcy.”

“Geologic evidence shows that truly massive floods, caused by rainfall alone, have occurred in California every 100 to 200 years. Such floods are likely caused by atmospheric rivers: narrow bands of water vapor about a mile above the ocean that extend for thousands of kilometers.”

The emergence of so-called atmospheric rivers is well-established, but not widely understood. NOAA explains, “Atmospheric Rivers (AR) are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics. While ARs come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor, the strongest winds, and stall over watersheds vulnerable to flooding, can create extreme rainfall and floods.”

In 2011 USGS, FEMA, CalEMA, and others collaborated in the ARkStorm exercise focusing on a recurrence of the historic pattern in California.  Scenario elements include, “The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide. Serious flooding also occurs in Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, and other coastal communities. Windspeeds in some places reach 125 miles per hour, hurricane-force winds. Across wider areas of the state, winds reach 60 miles per hour.”

What is important to recognize is that this is not worst-case thinking, but historically demonstrated risk.  It is not so much a matter of if, but where and when.

And by the way, this winter’s El Nino is predicted to be strong, especially in Southern California.

October 2, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 2, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

October 1, 2015

Security versus Liberty and a third option

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 1, 2015

Johnson-at-Podium_Westminister College

Above, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security speaking on September 16

A couple of days after I began this most recent hiatus, Secretary Johnson spoke at Westminster College in Missouri.  An old friend happened to be in the audience.  I have not seen any media coverage.  I’ve since found a transcript.

In his speech the Secretary tells a personal story that I had not previously heard.  For me it is compelling because the story is–at least as the Secretary renders it–a parable of a compromised hero, principles long-defended but ultimately forsaken, and an early death.  This is an interesting parable for a Secretary of Homeland Security to choose to tell.  I hope you will read his story and the entire speech.

Here are a few lines from toward the end, well after the personal story was concluded.

I can build you a perfectly safe city, but it will amount to a prison. 

I can guarantee you a commercial air flight perfectly free from the risk of terrorist attack, but all the passengers will be forced to wear nothing but hospital-like paper smocks, and not be allowed any luggage, food, or the ability to get up from their seats. 

I can do the same thing on buses and subways, but a 20 minute commute to work would turn into a daily, invasive two-hour ordeal. You’d rather quit your job and stay home.

I can guarantee you an email system perfectly free from the risk of cyber attack, but it will be an isolated, walled-off system of about 10 people, with no link to the larger, interconnected world of the Internet. 

I can profile people in this country based on their religion, but that would be unlawful and un-American.    

We can erect more walls, install more screening devices, and make everybody suspicious of each other, but we should not do so at the cost of who we are as a Nation of people who cherish our privacy, our religions, our freedom to speak, travel and associate, and who celebrate our diversity and our immigrant heritage.

In the final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strengths as a Nation.

More and more I perceive that true security — like happiness? — is most likely to be achieved as the result of effort primarily focused elsewhere. Viktor Frankl wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

There are interesting lacunae in the Secretary’s speech, especially interesting for a lawyer with a reputation for detail.  It goes beyond what the Secretary actually says, but in those pregnant spaces I hear something similar to, “Security cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it does so mostly as the side effect of a peoples’ dedication to a cause greater than their own safety.”

September 25, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 25, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

September 24, 2015

Holy Hatchback – an open thread on the Pope and homeland security

Filed under: Climate Change,General Homeland Security,Immigration — by Arnold Bogis on September 24, 2015

Pope Fiat


Perhaps the largest “event” security operation ever in our history is unfolding before our eyes in real time on cable news and I still can’t help get over that this Pope is being transported around in a small Fiat hatchback.  Would anyone, can anyone, remark on the choice of vehicle in terms of security?

My (half) joke aside, I do want to elicit your opinions, views, and even random thoughts concerning Pope Francis’ visit as it impacts homeland security. I origninally thought to ask to keep remarks focused on the security aspect of his trip.  But it occurred to me that many of the subjects he has or is expected to talk about – immigration, climate change, financial inequality – are homeland security issues.

Much has already been written on the security efforts involved in each of the cities he will be visiting.  Has enough been done in terms of security?  Too much?

What about the impact of his words on homeland security related topics? Can he move the needle regarding these subjects, or will everyone listen politely and then go back to their previous thoughts/beliefs/opinions as soon as he leaves?

Picking one of his favorite topics, can income inequality/concern for the poor become a homeland security topic? Should it?

So…what do you think?

September 18, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 18, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

September 11, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

September 4, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 4, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

August 28, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 28, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

August 25, 2015

George Will on immigration policy

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 25, 2015

The following is a brief excerpt from the George Will column that appeared in the Sunday Washington Post.  You can read the full commentary HERE.


It has come to this: The GOP, formerly the party of Lincoln and ostensibly the party of liberty and limited government, is being defined by clamors for a mass roundup and deportation of millions of human beings. To will an end is to will the means for the end, so the Republican clamors are also for the requisite expansion of government’s size and coercive powers…

The policy is: “They’ve got to go.”

“They,” the approximately 11.3 million illegal immigrants (down from 12.2 million in 2007), have these attributes: Eighty-eight percent have been here at least five years. Of the 62 percent who have been here at least 10 years, about 45 percent own their own homes. About half have children who were born here and hence are citizens. Dara Lind of Vox reports that at least 4.5 million children who are citizens have at least one parent who is an illegal immigrant.

Trump evidently plans to deport almost 10 percent of California’s workers and 13 percent of that state’s K-12 students. He is, however, at his most Republican when he honors family values: He proposes to deport intact families, including children who are citizens. “We have to keep the families together,” he says, “but they have to go.” Trump would deport everyone, then “have an expedited way of getting them [“the good ones”; “when somebody is terrific”] back.” Big Brother government will identify the “good” and “terrific” from among the wretched refuse of other teeming shores…

Trump’s roundup would be about 94 times larger than the wartime internment of 117,000 persons of Japanese descent. But Trump wants America to think big. The big costs, in decades and dollars (hundreds of billions), of Trump’s project could be reduced if, say, the targets were required to sew yellow patches on their clothing to advertise their coming expulsion. There is precedent.


August 21, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 21, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

August 14, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 14, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

August 13, 2015


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 13, 2015

Natural:  Drought, wildfires, flooding, possible hurricanes, eventual earthquakes, tsunami, sea rise, climate change, epidemics and pandemics… what else?

Accidental: Contamination or destruction.  Spills, leaks, and other unintended releases, mechanical and structural failures, collisions and other explosive combinations, random and persistent expressions of entropy.

Intentional: Absence, alienation, anger, dismissal, exclusion, fear, mistrust, neglect, prejudice, abuse, suspicion, dehumanization, displacement, hostage-taking, militancy, murder, mass-murder, terrorism, torture, tribalism, war, xenophobia… much more.

When does intention or lack thereof cause/amplify natural or accidental hazards?

Strategy (strategies?): Prevention, preparation, mitigation, resilience, response, recovery… enough?


On July 25 Wilma Sturgeon, age 97, died.  Mrs. Sturgeon served as the Fulton County (Illinois) Public Health Nurse from 1946 to 1980. For most of this period she was the entire county health department. Three personal memories:

  • She worked with nurses and physicians to organize Sunday after-church whole community polio vaccination drives.  Health care workers associated with every church in town shepherded whole congregations to schools or American Legion Halls or other central locations for mass inoculation. She did the same thing at several coal mines and at the International Harvester plant. Sophisticated social physics.
  • Each August she instructed football coaches at every school in the county on the fundamentals of avoiding and treating heat exhaustion. Prevention, preparedness, mitigation, resilience, response, and (in every case I heard about) recovery… including my own heat stroke.
  • She worked with teachers, pastors, and others to temporarily relocate children with evidence of physical abuse — and discreetly work with families to alter behavior and facilitate reunification — without the involvement of law enforcement (other than in a few repeat cases).  She was not deterred from seeking the best out of the worst.

It was a different time and a particular place, but I perceive our times and many of our places (see above) could benefit from Mrs. Sturgeon’s sort of  very practical and persistent care… multiplied.

August 7, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 7, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

Next Page »