Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 23, 2014

New DHS Secretary tackles “Unity of Effort”

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2014

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson yesterday issued a memo to the senior leadership of the Department entitled “Strengthening Departmental Unity of Effort.”  The memo establishes the strategic objective of making DHS “greater than the sum of its parts” and a Department “that operates with much greater unity of effort.”  The memo then identifies a number of key initiatives and tasks in support of this objective, including (a) an assessment of options for a joint requirements process, (b) a review of the Department’s primary acquisition directive, MD 102-01, (c) an effort to harmonize analytic capabilities within the Office of Policy and the Management Directorate, (d) the development of a new strategic framework for the security of the U.S. Southern Border, and (e) a new review of the Department’s international footprint.

You can read the full memorandum here.

A copy of initial thoughts on this:

First, I am glad that the new Secretary is taking on these issues, which were the key imperative for why Congress created DHS in 2002.  As my former boss Sen. Lieberman noted in the Senate floor debate on the Homeland Security Act:

“…the holistic design of a new Department.  By that I mean the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.  Indeed, since the very beginning, the entire purpose of formulating this Department has been to create a cohesive and unified organization in which all of the pieces fit together tightly with all of the other pieces.”

Unfortunately, these issues have received insufficient attention in the first eleven years of the Department’s history.  When they have received attention, too often it has been episodic and ad hoc, due to the direct and positive leadership of people such as former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen (who stood up and led a joint requirements process, as he discusses in 2012 testimony) and former Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider.   What has been missing in the last decade has been a sustained and institutionalized set of processes for addressing these “unity of effort” issues.  A key challenge of this new initiative will be building and institutionalizing these internal management and decision-making processes, so that they can be maintained and sustained across leadership teams and Presidential transitions.  This may require new legislative authority, particularly with respect the authorities of the DHS Office of Policy, Office of Operations Coordination, and Management Directorate vis-a-vis similar offices within the operational components of DHS.

Another key challenge will be ensuring that DHS is staffed appropriately – both at headquarters and at the component level – to carry out the strategic intent of this memorandum.  Does DHS have enough people with the right kind of practical experience (in terms of knowledge of analytic methodologies, operational background, budget and financial experience, etc.) to fulfill the objective of this memorandum?  If not, how can it address these gaps?  Does DHS need a new Department-wide professional career track, akin to the Foreign Service at the Department of State?  (Something I proposed in a blog post here in 2006).   Does it need to increase or refocus its investment in professional development?   Hopefully an evaluation of these issues will be the focus of a complementary review by the Secretary.

Overall though, this memorandum is a good first step for the DHS leadership team at tackling a set of critical issues that have a direct impact on the Department’s effectiveness and its stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

April 21, 2014

“We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Resilience,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 21, 2014

Today, nine thousand more people are running the Boston Marathon than last year.  Officials expect over one million spectators – roughly double the average. Hotels have been booked for months, and people looking to volunteer have been turned away for weeks due to the crush of applicants.

I take a couple of points away from this and all the other outpouring of support for today’s race, runners, and the Greater Boston area:

  • To steal NSFW terminology from Big Papi, this is basically a big fuck you to terrorism.  It doesn’t work if people aren’t scared, and the people of Boston, Massachusetts, and runners and spectators from across this country and world are obviously not scared.
  • Not only do Bostonians (and Cantabrigians and Watertown-ians(?) and etc.) not scare easily, Americans in general do not scare easily.  So I hope pundits leave behind flawed concerns that the unprecedented shelter-in-place order on the Friday following the Marathon bombings was a sign of underlying weakness rather than determined strength born out of  in-the-moment operational necessity.
  • We as a society are resilient.  Yes, there are significant concerns about infrastructure and emerging threats.  Things can and should be improved across a range of sectors and issue areas.   However, I simply have not read nor heard convincing proof that our current society is any less resilient than in decades past.  Stephen Flynn I’m looking at you. Instead, we live in a different world with different vulnerabilities but also different strengths.

Leading up to today, there has been much said about the potential of missed clues or signals that could have led authorities to prevent this attack.  There has also been much shared about the resilience of those directly affected by the bombings. Rightly so.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit to being a little concerned.  The medical response to the attack has been lauded.  It has not been sufficiently explained.  It should not be taken for granted.

The concept of a “dry run disaster” has been advertised.  Lessons learned from the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israeli experience have been explored. It is easy to point out that the explosions occurred yards away from a medical tent, and that Boston is blessed with an overabundance of world class hospitals just minutes away from the scene.

Yet the underlying strength of the Boston response originated from years of planning, practice, and collaboration.  Similar examples of which are difficult to find across our nation. Boston was, and is, strong because it has, and continues to, work on preparedness.

Boston Strong because Boston Ready.

This should be noted and shared.

All I have to offer in addition is a few suggestions:

  • The Federal goverment, both the Administration and Congress, should increase funding to such programs as the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) that aims to instill the cross-sector collaboration that was so successful in Boston.  It would also be nice if top Administration officials not only talked about resilience but actually did something to drive actual change in their departments.
  • State and local governments should embrace the “whole of community” approach.  This would require that first responders embrace the possibility of a robust civilian response in their plans, as well as encouraging cooperation among private stakeholders.
  • Those private stakeholders, hospitals and healthcare systems and etc., should understand that cooperation and collaboration with others should not be viewed as a net loss on the ledger books, but as an overall positive contribution to their business model.
  • And finally, the individuals among us should realize that having health insurance is a good thing.  Not unduly burdening the emergency medical system during times of unexpected stress, such as the Marathon bombing, could save lives. Learning what to do to help our neighbors would be even better.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - -

Recently, NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a segment on “Boston Strong: The Marathon Bombing, One Year Later.”

You can watch a video of it here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-strong-marathon-bombing-one-year-later-n79161

It was a round table discussion with an audience of Boston first responders.  The individual making the incisive observation I took as the title of this post was Senator Ed Markey.  His full quote:

And, you know, we were prepared. We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready. The city was ready. And the commissioner has a lot to do with that. The people who were here. There was a lot of cooperation at the local level. And then we needed the bravery of people then to respond on that day. And they did. And the resilience of people afterwards.

He makes a subtle and often overlooked point.

April 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2014

On this date in 1906 an earthquake and fire destroy much of San Francisco.

On this date in 1912 the RMS Carpathia arrives in New York with 705 survivors of the April 15 sinking of the Titanic.

On this date in 1983 a suicide bomber destroys much of the US Embassy in Beirut, killing sixty-three.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again? Edna St. Vincent Millay asks in “Spring.”

Time has come to remember tragedy.

On Sunday a scrubby heil hitler spitting septuagenarian hatewad clawed tears into Kansas.

A year ago the madness shrouded Boston.

T.S. Elliot wrote

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.


Mixing memory and desire. Stirring dull roots.

But to what purpose, April?

Walt Whitman — grieving a Lincoln whose April 15 death few any longer commemorate — thought also of the lilacs

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

To mourn with ever-returning spring?

1. marathon 10


1a marathon 8


2 marathon 3



3  marathon 1


3 marathon 13



Bramhall's World - Boston NY - New York Daily News 4/16/20135 marathon 4



7 marathon 6

8 marathon 5Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

9 marathon 9a

11 marathon 12

12 marathon 11

It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify? ….
Life in itself
Is nothing
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs,
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. — Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2014

On this date in 1861 Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.  Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused.  At about 4:30 AM on April 12 Confederate artillery commenced firing on the fort.

We persist in the light and shadow of that bombardment.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 9, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing Roundup

With the Boston Marathon quickly approaching, along with the one year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, you can imagine there has been a surge of related events and releases.

Here are some of the more informative, in case you missed them.

Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.” It mostly focused on the law enforcement-related decisions, and served as a podium to denounce the Administration’s stated plans to consolidate homeland security grants into one block grant to states.  However, it also contained interesting questions and answers/testimony on the current and future state of NIMS in disaster response.

The Committee’s page for this hearing can be found here: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearingthe-boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-look-back-look-forward

A better quality video can be found here (apologies, but I couldn’t find one I could post on this blog): http://www.c-span.org/video/?318765-1/boston-marathon-bombings-anniversary-review

The Witness list with links to written statements:


Mr. Edward F. Davis, III

Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]


Mr. Edward P. Deveau

Chief of Police

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]


Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese


Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]


Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard

Professor of Public Management

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Two of those testifying, Dutch Leonard and Edward Davis, participated in the development of the report, “Why Was Boston Strong, Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.” Among it’s conclusions:

 The report highlights a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors urge responders:

•    To quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post — with dedicated space for strategic, tactical and logistical teams — that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.

•    To provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.

•    To develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.

•    To critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.

•    To design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days.

•    To consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint Harvard Kennedy School and Public Health School venture, just released their preliminary findings on “Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From the Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence.” What’s it about?

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately. These rules include: 1) unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders; 2) generosity of spirit; 3) deference for the responsibility and authority of others; 4) refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame; 5) a foundation of respectful and experienced relationships that garner mutual trust and confidence. That confidence, both personal and systemic, bolstered these leaders individually and as a coordinated force over the 102 hours between the attacks and the conclusion of the incident. They handled difficult decisions in the face of credible risks: Whether to keep public transit open? Whether to release blurry pictures of the suspects? The study found that over the course of the week, they learned how to lead and lead better, so that by the time they reached the chaotic conclusion of the event, they acted as a coordinated and unified cadre of crisis leaders.

Finally, 60 Minutes aired a segment several weeks ago about the decisions made behind the scenes during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

April 7, 2014

Nostalgia – a key component of resilience?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2014

My oldest daughter and I were having a conversation which led to talk about my grandfather.  We were discussing the toughness and ruggedness of him and his era.  Born at the turn of the 20th century “Gramps” was everything I thought a man should be.  He was a boxer, slept in jails during the depression, worked in the Brooklyn Navy yard during World War II and did whatever he needed to do in order to provide.  I have yet to meet the man who I respected as much as my grandfather. He embodied what I thought all men of his age and Americans were: strong, smart, capable, dutiful, and unafraid.

I reminisced about one day sitting on a school bus with a bunch of cub scouts going to a New York Mets game for a father and son night.  My grandfather, then in his mid-70s, and another “grandpa” began to talk.  I listened agape as he described how he played against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during barnstorming games.

In the conversation I realized that this reminiscence, this idea of nostalgia has a powerful effect on expectations, performance and point of view.  In my maturation I recognize what I saw in him was probably not completely accurate, but was my interpretation of him. His characteristics, in my nostalgic point of view, are tantamount to what I need to return to when things and life are not ideal.  His actions in my nostalgic recollections are tantamount to resilience.

Resilience — as has often been mentioned in this blog — has many formulas and definitions.  It’s an overused aphorism in many instances and somewhat nebulous in others.  Resilience is part of a broader definition of panarchy and biodiversity.  Resilience is many things to many people and I think very easy and at the same time very difficult for some to define.

From the metaphorical point of view, I see resilience as the owed narrative of our nostalgic past.  We often speak about the Greatest Generation, the Depression, the Right Stuff, the American way.  All those phrases are versed in nostalgic virtue and have a theme of returning to something.  The return is part of the resilience definition.

In many of my postings over the years I notice I have an “I owe” theme.  I believe in my heritage and to a large extent the nationalist themes of exceptionalism and my time in the Marine Corps.  That said, it’s a bit abstract to shape ones actions on a subjective past.  Marines don’t want to let down marines of the past, those that came before them. It is certainly a bit weird, but then again not.

Our history, our expectations, and our belief system are shaped by a narrative of nostalgia.   To channel Phil Palin for a moment, the word nostalgia is a formation of a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and álgos, meaning “pain, ache”; the word was coined by a 17th-century medical student.    Nostalgia can also be seen in that aching for home and the past as a purported ideal. That idea, the longing for a return, has a resilience theme in it.   Nostalgia may reflect an ambivalence of sorts, but it is a positive emotion.

Nostalgia, whether captured in history books or propagated in Frank Capra pictures, is part of the American experience. Maybe America has always been nostalgic, whether from our multiple immigrant pasts or simply the fringe of the empire creating a culture that embraced such reminiscence.  We often read and hear today that our online, nearly virtual lives and cultural shifts have eroded the sense of community and togetherness that we once experienced. Maybe more nostalgia at work!

In some psychological circles it is believed that nostalgia is necessary for people to be resilient.  Nostalgia may have a restorative function amongst resilient people and also bolster mental health.  Several studies indicate that it is a key attribute in returning to some type of mental symbiosis.   If the key to resilience in social-ecological systems is diversity, as some researchers present, than perhaps our national resilience and personal resilience would benefit from a diverse and rich nostalgic discovery .

The homeland security aspect of resilience is spoken of regularly and often in this blog.  Perhaps that’s an ingredient that we have overlooked: the narrative, with its distorted warts and all is a decidedly important aspect of building a resilient nation.

I was never unsafe, unprotected, or fearful in the presence or company of my grandfather.  He was easily the toughest, bravest, and most fearless man I have ever met.  He’s been gone now a good while, but his legacy and my remembrance of him lives on by what he would expect of me and how he lived his life.  If that is not nostalgia, than I do not know what it is.

Nostalgia is an important and often overlooked aspect of a personal and national resilience. It is based not in myth but in narrative shaped by two perspectives kluged together.  Maybe it’s time to reinforce who we are and where we come from as a key component of resilience.

April 4, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 4, 2014

From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states, including thirty F4/F5 tornadoes.

On April 5, 2010 there was an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners were killed.

On this date in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 1, 2014

Sustainable agriculture as a homeland security issue: sometimes the old ideas are the best

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 1, 2014

Resource sustainability insistently encroaches onto the homeland security agenda.

Regardless of the causes — climate change, increasing global demand for a middle class life, depletion of available land and water, ethical norms — the throw-away culture is itself being tossed into the recycling bin.

Not long ago, Pope Francis told reporters

“We’ve become a little accustomed to a throw-away culture, … we do it far too much. With all these young people out of work, the throw-away culture is reaching them too. We must get rid of this throw-away mentality.”

The sustainable agriculture movement is one manifestation of this cultural shift.

Sustainable agriculture weaves these ethical traditions together. It requires rigorous science and reverence for nature. It treats plants, animals, and human beings with care and respect. Sustainable agriculture arises out of concern for the health and wellbeing of individual farmers, farming communities, and the public at large. It replaces the prevailing economic and technological models of “more, bigger, faster, and more efficient” with utmost concern for quality. Above all, it replaces the norms of extraction and exploitation with the norm of sustainability.

 While the language may sound like a neo-new age hash, sustainable agricultural practices are not a new idea.

…if sustainable agriculture is defined as the ability to maintain productivity, one can find hints of attempts at “sustaining” agriculture since its inception some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In fact one could contend, as some do, that since we have ably maintained productivity, agriculture as we know it is sustainable. The real question is whether current agricultural practices can be sustained much longer.

Some people look to technology and innovative institutional practices as the keys to achieving a sustainable future.  See, for example, the discussion of The Farmery, on the always informative Resilient Communities website:

The Farmery is designed to be an innovative grocery store where produce is grown and sold under one roof.  The modular design of the structure is created from shipping containers.  These are cheap and easily accessible building materials making nationwide construction a very real possibility.

But we also have a great deal to learn from our grandparents, the people who lived sustainably before it was culturally correct.

The two minute, and now declassified, British video below shows one technique the Swiss practiced, presumably during the food shortages of the 1930s and 1940s.

Among other things, the video illustrates that sometimes the old, simple ideas remain the best.  One wonders how many other antediluvian solutions to 21st century threats are also filed away — like this video — in dusty, all but forgotten storage rooms, patiently waiting to be rediscovered.



March 28, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 28, 2014

On this date in 1920 there was a tornado outbreak across the southern and middle United States.  More than thirty-five tornadoes were confirmed, resulting in more than 300 deaths and 1200 injuries.

On this date in 1979 a coolant leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station resulted in core overheating and a partial melt down.

On this date in 2011 al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula carried out terrorist attacks in Yemen killing 110 and injuring 45.

What is on your mind related to homeland security?

March 27, 2014

Fragments of a fractured field

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2014

Some bemoan and others exult in the capaciousness of homeland security.  Whatever your attitude, this week you just needed to graze lightly across the top of the news to get a sense of substantial girth:

Dismissing a Russian threat to the United States, President Obama said on Tuesday, ““I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

The new FBI Director told a House Appropriations subcommittee that Westerners fighting with the Syrian opposition represent a “metastasizing threat” to the United States.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith,  Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.  Meanwhile the site of his father-in-law’s brazen attack — still a construction site — was back in the news for security lapses. (and here and here).

In an effort to better preserve the privacy of the people’s “haystack” when trying to find the terrorist “needle”, both the executive branch and the Congress may be ready to establish some further fire-walls between phone records (and other data) and the aggregators and analysts in the Intelligence Community.

Meanwhile the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence accuses the CIA of forsaking an especially high firewall — the Separation of Powers — in hacking Senate computers.

Of coursing hacking is a rapidly growing sport.  Over the last year the federal government has informed more than 3000 private companies that they were being hacked (presumably by entities other than the federal government).

Refining and related industries were slowed when a collision and oil spill shut the the Houston Shipping Channel for three days.  This week the waterway has had a “tapered” reopening under the careful eye of the Coast Guard.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in an effort to prevent future threats to agents and passengers “the Transportation Security Administration is calling for an increased police presence at agency checkpoints after November’s deadly shooting at LAX… The agency’s assessment covers 14 recommendations relating to employee training, improved emergency technology and law enforcement presence that will be implemented at airports nationwide.”

Local, state, and federal emergency management officials are involved in the response to the massive landslide in Washington state.  A 1999 geological study (and more) is said to have predicted a catastrophic landslide.  Several have suggested comparisons to living on the Outer Banks or on top of an earthquake fault. The Seattle Times reports on warnings going back decades. (Implications for the recent reset of flood insurance reform?)

In another — this time retrospective — analysis, the House Homeland Security Committee is expected to release a report today that will detail how opportunities were lost to prevent the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Three Secret Service agents doing advance work for the President’s trip to the Netherlands got totally wasted the night before POTUS touched down.  They were sent back to the States…  It was waaay too reminiscent of another “Spring Break” episode in Cartagena two years ago.

Some would include the Malaysian Airline mystery, others Russian pressure on Ukraine, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa or new reports on climate change.  I am inclined to point toward what I see as threat-precursors in Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria. I am also inclined to see vulnerability-indicators related to the US electrical grid, telecommunications system, water systems, and supply chains.

In any case, there is more and more and more…

March 26, 2014

Disasters cost money in rich countries and kills people in poor ones

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

Nate Silver, former baseball stat analyst turned political blogger at the New York Times (whose  rise to fame was cemented by very accurately forecasting the results of the last two presidential elections),  has developed a new data-heavy site “FiveThirtyEight.com

Among the articles posted after their recent roll out was by Roger Pielke, Jr. on “Disasters Cost More Than Ever – But Not Because of Climate Change.”

As you might imagine this has stirred a bit of an uproar regarding the connection between climate change and natural disasters.  I’m not looking to get into that fight with this post.  Instead, I find myself dumbstruck at something Mr. Pielke points out that seems both obvious and new to me:

There’s a human toll, too, and the data show an inverse relationship between lives lost and property damage: Modern disasters bring the greatest loss of life in places with the lowest property damage, and the most property damage where there’s the lowest loss of life. Consider that since 1940 in the United States 3,322 people have died in 118 hurricanes that made landfall. Last year in a poor region of the Philippines, a single storm, Typhoon Hayain, killed twice as many people.

It seems obvious. But I have to admit I’ve never made this connection before, nor have seen the hard numbers:

We can start to estimate how countries may weather crises differently thanks to a 2005 analysis of historical data on global disasters. That study estimated that a nation with a $2,000 per capita average GDP — about that of Honduras – should expect more than five times the number of disaster deaths as a country like Russia, with a $14,000 per capita average GDP.2(For comparison, the U.S. has a per capita GDP of about $52,000.)

One possible good news conclusion to draw:

When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control. There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses. As countries become richer, they are better able to deal with disasters — meaning more people are protected and fewer lose their lives. Increased property losses, it turns out, are a price worth paying.

March 25, 2014

Homeland Security reading list – update

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 25, 2014

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security website keeps track of the books used in its master’s degree program.  The list is updated each time a new course begins.

Here is a link to the current book list: https://www.chds.us/?hsbooks

As the screenshot below shows, you can click the link at the upper right of the web page and see the books used in each of ten courses during the past two years.  Click on each book to see the publishing information. (And, in case you are wondering, books are only part of the program’s reading requirements.)

chds reading list March 24, 2014

March 21, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 21, 2014

On this day in 1857 an earthquake and resulting fire at Tokyo, Japan kills over 100,000.

On this day in 2011 a chemical plant explosion and fire in Louisville, Kentucky kills two.

On this day in 1960 South African police open fire at unarmed protesters at Sharpsville, killing 69 and wounding 180.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

March 19, 2014

California earthquakes or why Jimmy Kimmel is horrible for homeland security

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 19, 2014

I’ll admit up front – I’ve never lived in California and have no direct experience with earthquakes anywhere in that state or the West coast in general.

However, recent news out of Los Angeles following a weak-ish quake has me wondering.  Could LA be really this unprepared for a large earthquake?

As detailed in October by Times reporters Ron Lin, Rosanna Xia and Doug Smith, San Francisco was rightfully alarmed into doing something after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which killed 63 people and injured nearly 4,000. The city established the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety.

Los Angeles was equally alarmed by the 1994 Northridge quake, which killed 57 people, injured 5,000 and caused $20 billion worth of damage. But instead of drafting a plan to be better prepared the next time, city officials went into a deep sleep.

So now San Francisco is in the third year of a 30-year action plan outlining every aspect of preparedness, beginning with structural design standards, the retrofitting of wood-frame buildings and an examination of every private school structure in the city.

And Los Angeles?

We’re starting from scratch after being shamed into doing something by The Times’ earthquake series.

I can understand the incentive to kick the can down the road, however it seems like San Francisco has embraced this challenge:

Nobody loved the idea of shelling out money, San Francisco officials told me. But the mayor called a roundup of building owners and the bankers who finance their businesses and encouraged them to choose safety over risk, protecting lives and their own financial self-interest at the same time.

The point being for LA:

Nancy King, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said: “We live in earthquake country and we can expect earthquakes frequently and the big one, one day. We don’t know when that one’s coming.”

King said she hopes Monday’s earthquake can be used as a teachable event for residents to be better prepared for earthquakes.

“We need to get ready and I think the good news about earthquakes is you can get ready,” she said, adding that residents can do things such as bolting down heavy furniture and securing bookcases that could help dramatically during a strong event.

And the award for biggest schmuck on late night/asking for people to be injured or killed in the next big earthquake, Jimmy Kimmel:

By the way, “diving under your desk” is the right thing to do according to experts.

March 18, 2014

Five homeland security thesis abstracts

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 18, 2014

I had the opportunity this weekend to read five engaging theses, written by people who will graduate next week from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree program.  I’m posting the thesis abstracts below.  The documents will be publicly available in about 6 weeks.  But if you are interested in seeing the thesis before then, please email me (my first and last name [at] gmail dot com), and I’ll put you in touch with the author.  


In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration will open national airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS). Nonmilitary uses for UAS range from agriculture services to entertainment purposes, and include tasks as mundane as inspecting gutters and as consequential as fighting fires.

Outside of the safety issues that accompany many breakthrough technologies, the effort to integrate UAS into national airspace is enmeshed in political, legal and economic policies that require careful navigation. Factors like cybersecurity and technological advancements will continue to influence the way UAS can be used.

This thesis provides an orientation to the key considerations in UAS integration. Policy recommendations include early stakeholder engagement; a national data protection law; no-fly zones around private residences; clearly identifying UAS operators and owners; non-lethal payloads in national airspace; adapting current surveillance laws to UAS; a single, national privacy law to facilitate the free flow of commerce and coordination across state lines; a federal office in charge of monitoring data privacy; accountability of data collectors; limited exemptions for activities conducted in the interest of national security or to protect life and property; and managing cybersecurity risks.


The study of a law enforcement response to a national movement is a homeland security issue. How America polices its population establishes the benchmark for how it treats the world and is worthy of exploration. What can the experiences of four major U.S. cities, in their response to the Occupy Movement, tell us about using emergent strategies for policing protest in the twenty-first century?

In the fall of 2011, the Occupy Movement protests swept across the United States in a matter of weeks. Activists demonstrated against income inequality and the state of the economy, and they established camps in major urban areas, occupying public spaces.

I conducted case studies of New York City; Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; and Dallas, Texas and analyzed the results. That analysis revealed common themes, including a lack of negotiated management, restricting access to traditionally open public spaces by the police and the use of emergent practice in the complex adaptive environment of demonstrations. From this analysis, I am able to provide strategic recommendations for city and police leaders in dealing with protests in the twenty-first century utilizing a sense-making framework that will assist leaders in strategic planning for protests for large and small cities alike.


The United States defines terrorism through the lists it maintains identifying those who are engaged in, support, and/or facilitate terrorism. One such list is the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. Since the FTO designation process occurs without the organization’s knowledge or ability to challenge the evidence relied upon, classified information is used in making the determination, and judicial oversight is limited, concerns have been expressed that the Executive Branch has too much discretion in this process. The concerns are exacerbated by the perception that political motivations dominate the decision-making process.

Using content analysis, the FTO list is analyzed using a quantitative and qualitative approach. First, the terrorist designation processes used in allied countries is examined, and the list is analyzed reviewing FTO decisions made before and after 9/11. Through an analysis of the annual State Department country reports describing the FTOs, the non-statutory factors that influence FTO decisions emerge, and include whether a group attacked Israel or other allied nation of strategic interest to the United States, attacked the United States or its citizens, or is affiliated with al Qaeda. These non-statutory factors and their application to U.S. counterterrorism strategy, is how the United States defines terrorism at any point in time.


The subject of this project is the state of fire service substance-testing policy nationwide, and what it should be. This thesis analyzed 12 substance-testing policies from fire departments across the country. The project looked at the language fire departments were using to convey the intent, process, and consequences of their policy. Common themes emerged as each policy was examined. However, upon closer examination, more inconsistency was found than uniformity. Differences ranged from policy purposes to prevailing guidance to types of substances tested for, threshold levels, and employee treatment; the greatest difference was found in the terminology. As a result of the analysis, this thesis identifies best practices and required components of a standardized national substance-testing policy, and asserts that such a national model should be implemented.


There is a great opportunity for collaborative learning when agencies conduct emergency preparedness exercises together. If different members of the community contribute to the development of these exercises, then this learning benefits the entire population. As it stands, preparedness exercises are being conducted with minimal regard to recommendations from previous exercises and real-world events. Along with the incorporation of intelligence into these exercises, the objectives should promote a more inclusive design process based on focused relevance, encouraging agencies to view themselves more as members of the greater community rather than individual entities.

Terrorist organizations learn from past failures as well as successes, and emergency responders should strive to parallel this learning in order to develop tactical improvements. Emergency responders need to promote the idea of intelligence-driven exercise design in order to support community resilience through collaborative training. Municipalities should spearhead this effort, supported financially by the private sector. With this fusion of intelligence and collaborative exercise design, we can learn from the fires of yesterday and prepare for the emergencies of tomorrow.

Next Page »