Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 3, 2015

Community Policing at Work in Boston

Obviously, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the Boston Police and FBI shooting of a suspected ISIS sympathizer. Recent reporting indicates he and co-conspirators were planning on attacking Boston police personnel, after discarding an earlier plot to behead anti-Islam political activist Pamela Geller.

Putting aside the details of a quickly evolving case (the specifics of which will likely take some time to become clear and final), what I found interesting about today’s development’s was the vivid dividends of Boston Police’s community outreach efforts.

Police showed a surveillance video of the shooting to Boston-area religious leaders Wednesday. They said in a news conference that they did not see Rahim shot in the back or talking on the phone.

“What the video does reveal to us very clearly is that the individual was not on a cell phone, was not shot in the back, and that the information presented by others not on the case was not accurate,” Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts said.

Other faith leaders said the video was not high quality, but that they could tell Rahim was pursuing the Boston police officer and FBI agent who had approached him.

Imam Abdullah Faaruuq of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah called the video “vague,” but said that at least part of the investigators’ account was supported.

This outcome is not a happy coincidence or random gathering of community leaders.  Instead it is the result of years of engagement by the Boston Police with various communities.  It is work that takes time, leads to little immediate results, but is vitally important in the long run for situations such as this.  A video of a portion of this press conference:


You can watch more of Boston Police Commissioner William Evans in the following talk on “Latest Trends in Big City Policing,” recently given at a conference hosted by Rave Mobile Safety. While I should warn you it is not the most succinct presentation, it manages to be both informative and funny.  Commissioner Evans talks a lot about community policing, sharing stories about Occupy Boston, the Marathon Bombings, and sharing his opinion on issues such as the use of body cameras.  He also might mention casing Patriot owner Robert Kraft’s house with the current Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh…


Erroll Southers reminds us that not all terrorism is related to Islam

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on June 3, 2015

Recent and not so recent events in Boston notwithstanding, I think it is important to be reminded that the definition of terrorism does not include “Islam,” “Islamic,” “radical Islam,” etc.  That is obviously not to say that there is no such things as Islamic terrorists, but it also means that you can have a wide range of actors such as Christian terrorists, racist terrorists, anti-government terrorists, environmental terrorists…well, you get the point.

However, I often worry that many in the media and even homeland security professionals have missed or forgotten this concept.  Earlier today the folks at Security Debrief pointed out a recent TED talk by homeland security expert Erroll Southers where he deftly makes the case for recognizing the wider nature, and danger, from homegrown violent extremism.  You can catch the highlights at Security Debrief or watch his entire talk below.

Just my opinion, but I would recommend sharing this with any colleagues, friends, and/or family that might think that if it ain’t related to Islam it’s not terrorism.


June 1, 2015

Rafe Sagarin: 1972-2015

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 1, 2015

In 2002, Rafe Sagarin worked in Washington, D.C. as a science advisor to a California Congresswoman.

Sagarin was a marine ecologist. He looked at the barricades, armed guards, and other security features of post 9/11 Washington through an ecological frame.  He described what he saw as an ecology of fear.

That observation led to one of the few fundamentally creative insights in homeland security thinking. Sagarin asked what biology had to contribute to homeland security. His answer: “plenty.”

Sagarin argued biology offers 3.5 billion years of experience and more than 20 million answers to the question of how one survives and thrives in a hostile and unpredictable world.

He wrote several books and numerous articles amplifying that theme. See, for example, “Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease,”  and an article in Foreign Policy called “Adapt or Die.”

Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote for Homeland Security Affairs:

The most famous line of the 9/11 Commission report was that 9/11 represented a “failure of imagination” and this was certainly an apt description of the security situation up until 9/11. However, now that we imagine almost anything to be a threat to our security, a more pernicious problem faces all of our security systems: a failure of adaptation.

Adaptation is the process of changing structures, behaviors, and interactions in response to changing conditions in the environment. Adaptability is the capacity to adapt to these changes—something that despite an unprecedented amount of attention, financial resources and human lives sacrificed in the name of security since 9/11, has still largely eluded us.

Fortunately, we have at our disposal a vast storehouse of largely untapped knowledge that could guide us in developing adaptable security systems. It is a massive set of proven solutions, and teachable failures, to the very same problem that unites all of the threats we face—that is, how to survive and thrive in a risky, variable and uncertain world. Remarkably, this database is completely unclassified and free to use by anyone.

The solutions I’m referring to are all contained in the staggering diversity of life on Earth—millions of individual living and extinct species, and countless individuals within those species—which have been developing, testing, rejecting, and replicating methods to overcome the challenges of living on a continually changing planet. These organisms have been experiencing security challenges and developing solutions since long before the latest Presidential administration or Congress has been working on their security agenda, since long before 9/11 finally woke most of us to the new post-cold war reality, since long before industrialization pushed our biogeochemical cycles into chaos, and since long before humans ever walked the Earth.

Indeed, the 3.5 billion year history of life imbues biological systems with more experience dealing with security problems than any other body of knowledge we possess. And because we ourselves are biological creatures, our own species’ evolution and the modern manifestations of that evolutionary process, is not only an integral part of this natural database, but perhaps the most important set of data to consider.

This means that in addition to the ecologists, paleontologists, virologists and evolutionary biologists that have something novel to contribute to our security debate, so too do anthropologists, psychologists, soldiers and first responders who have extensive behavioral observations of people and societies under the stress of insecurity in an uncertain environment.

Last Thursday, Sagarin was riding his bicycle after work. He was hit by a truck and died.  He was 43 years old.

rafe sagarin

May 29, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 29, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 25, 2015

“Let no vandalism of avarice … testify … that we have forgotten….”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 25, 2015

memorial day

memorial day 1

memorial day 6

memorial day 4

memorial day 5

memorial day 2

May 22, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 22, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 15, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 15, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 13, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 6

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

Tuesday several strong aftershocks hit Nepal. One measured 7.3 on the Richter Scale.  The new quakes come after a 7.8 earthquake on April 25, sixteen intervening seismic events measured above 5.0, and three days of significant rainfall.  Tens of thousands are living without shelter or under tarpaulins.

(As I post this on Tuesday night a US Marine helicopter that was operating in Nepal is missing along with its crew of six and two Nepalese soldiers.)

The death toll from these earthquakes will almost certainly exceed 10,000.  According to the Government of Nepal over 280,000 homes have been destroyed and nearly as many have been seriously damaged.  The lack of shelter and sanitation pose an urgent threat to public health that will only increase as the monsoon season begins in the next two to three weeks.

The April 25 earthquake was centered northwest of Kathmandu.  The epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake was northeast of the capital.  In each case, there has been especially significant destruction and disruption at higher elevations.  Stone and masonry structures have collapsed.  Landslides have covered entire villages.

The modern transportation network in Nepal is mostly contained in the more urban valleys, and has, so far, survived mostly intact. As you ascend into the Himalayas scattered settlements are often connected by very primitive roads or foot-paths. In many cases these networks have been seriously disrupted and are simply unknown to outsiders.

Most of the highland inhabitants are subsistence farmers.  The Spring harvest of wheat and barley has been interrupted by these disasters.  The rice crop needs to be planted in the next three weeks or so.  Storage and seed stocks have been decimated.  The government of Nepal — operating largely through the Nepal Food Corporation — has long provided subsidized access to supplementary foodstuffs through a diverse locally-driven distribution system.  The NFC has continued to operate, but it’s current capacity and effectiveness are not clear.

In the immediate aftermath of the April 25 event there was significant hoarding of food.  In the first week both private and public relief efforts delivered resources wherever possible. Some of the hardest hit areas were not accessible. Hoarding behavior continued and resulted in accessible areas accumulating a significant stock of food.  Some estimate that many communities immediately west of the capital may have received up to six months normal supply in the ten days after the initial quake.

It is my impression that relief supplies were just beginning to systematically penetrate the most remote regions in the last five days or so.

India has been very forward leaning in providing resources.  So has the United Nations, China, United States, United Kingdom, international NGOs, and multinational corporations.  Writing in the Kathmandu Post Shujeev Shakya describes how Nepalese are responding as individuals:

It was really interesting to see volunteers purchase their own food and water, fill up their fuel tanks with their own money, and make zero overhead relief work possible… Most of the volunteerism was a spontaneous networking to get through to the supply chain, demand identification, and get zero overhead delivery right. The processes were transparent, as most of the demand and supply was broadcasted over social media, taking accountability and transparency to the next level.

As usual for a hard-hit like this, there does not seem to be a systemic shortage of supply (supply is more often a problem with slow-onset disasters, such as drought or ongoing extreme violence).  There are, however, a whole host of  very serious distribution problems.

Serving the immediate needs of survivors usually requires the intervention of significant and specialized logistics. This is especially the case where preexisting supply capacity — in the form of roads, warehouses, retail outlets, trucks, truckers, fuel, availability of cash and/or household inventory — has been destroyed.

But the bigger the event — bigger in terms of time, space, and population affected — the more necessary it becomes to quickly restore some semblance of pre-existing supply chains and/or allow complex-adaptive behavior to emerge (such as those described by Shujeev Shakya).  We know how to feed the nodes. Connecting the nodes with those who urgently need the supplies in order to be fed is even more complicated.

A key issue is how the technical capacity of humanitarian (or commercial) logistics can be integrated with the social connections that are innate to communities and regularly operating supply chains.  In many major disasters the biggest deficits are not related to supply capacity, but instead involve a lack of knowledge related to demand: who, where, what and — especially in Nepal — how to get there.

Based on observations in Haiti, Japan, and other post-disaster contexts, Professor Jose Holguin-Veras, Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, describes this phenomenon as “a crisis of connectivity, not of supply.”

I also like how Shujeev Shakya, a businessman in Kathmandu, describes it as “networking to get through to the supply chain.”  This is different than procurement and delivery of  humanitarian logistics.  The use of social media for “demand identification” — even in Nepal, even after a major earthquake — is, for me, both fabulous and a bit scary.  How much worse it could have been if the telecommunications network had collapsed. (More on the social media aspect at Wired.)

None of this is meant as a critique of humanitarian logistics. But it is meant to suggest a potentially important complementary strategy of giving more attention to “networking to get through to the supply chain” both before and after a major disaster. Especially before.  And networking not just as a social activity but a socio-technical activity.

This is not, by the way, just an issue for a poor country like Nepal.  The triple disaster in Japan demonstrated many of the same lessons.  It would be helpful for the US to learn these lessons before the New Madrid or San Andreas faults decide to take us to the school of hard knocks.


UPDATE: OCHA released a situation update late on May 13.  It is available here.

A personal impression: I do not yet have sufficient evidence.  But based on several media reports and official documentation, I perceive more and more priority is being given to the replacement shelter “pipeline”.  This suggests sufficient food supplies are available (if not necessarily distributed to the most remote locations).  This signals that some form of the preexisting food supply chain is being reestablished.  The preexisting pipeline — different than supply chain or supply and demand network — for tarpaulins and other components of emergency shelter barely pre-existed at all. So this is a supply system that must be created from scratch… and with great difficulty.  If any of these early observations have any accuracy, they suggest the potentially differentiated role — and sequencing — of humanitarian logistics in combination with supply chain resilience.

May 11, 2015

“Please Tase Me, Bro”: Could American Police Give up the Gun?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 11, 2015

This post was written by Eagle Eggs, and originally appeared at this link: https://medium.com/homeland-security/please-tase-me-bro-could-american-police-give-up-the-gun-a2b8f19461de

600 years ago the Japanese gave up the gun…could American police?

Firearms came to Japan in 1543 via Portuguese traders. “The gun,” says technological historian David Nye “would appear to be the classic case of a weapon that no society could reject once it had been introduced. Yet the Japanese did just that.” Japanese manufacturers began producing high quality weapons, they proved decisive in key battles, and yet the Japanese abandoned them for almost two hundred years, until Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to the West in 1853. The reason for this rejection was cultural. The efficiency of the gun did not align with the samurai class notions of honor, and the gun vanished from Japanese culture for more than 300 years. The social meanings of technology, it seems, matter as much as technology.


16th C. German Firearm


Weapons are an expression of the cultures that produce them. As instruments of violence, they tell us about the values and structures of the societies that invent them. In the hands of police officers, they are about the way a culture authorizes its agents of order to use force, and the tools it permits them to use. Where the 16th century Japanese did not accept firearms, guns evidently reflect American values, and are attuned to the rhythms of American culture. Perhaps guns are as integrally American as Sikh chakrams (hoop-like throwing knives worn around the turban). No turban, no chakram.


A Sikh, with a Chakram, like a boss


This year in Garland, Texas, a badly outgunned traffic cop with a Glock heroically took down two would be mass murdering terrorists packing assault rifles and body armor. Scarcely a month earlier, a police officer in Charleston South Carolina shot and killed an unarmed man in the back after a traffic stop.

 These two episodes display an American bargain: lethal force authorized, used for good, and abused. And each highlights the central role of the firearm in American policing.


But what about non-lethal force?

 In feudal Japan, Samurai police officers carried specialized, non-lethal tools for controlling suspects. Check out the sodegarami (sleeve entangler) below. It looks sinister, but it was a non-lethal control weapon. An old timey taser. And it is uniquely reflective of Japanese culture — designed specially to be thrust into kimono sleeves and twisted to control the subject and distance the police officer. The spikes on the shaft prevent the subject from disentangling himself. The use of swords was highly regulated in Japanese society as well, making the sodegarami, and other control weapons essential alternatives for Samurai.

Japanese sodegarami

 Like the Japanese sodegarami, the taser was designed as a non-lethal alternative. But not as part of a strictly regulated culture of honor. Jack Higson Cover invented the taser stun gun in 1972 as a means to save lives. It is a weapon that expressed a value. But the thing that Americans seem to dislike about the taser is also contained in its non-lethality. If it does not kill, perhaps the bar for using it is considerably lower. In other words, police will use a taser a lot more than they would a lethal weapon precisely because it isn’t lethal. And we don’t like that. Do we like the alternative?


The X26 Taser


A May 2011 study by the Department of Justice found that using controlled energy devices (like tasers) reduced injuries in both suspects and officers.

So what makes a culture accept or reject a weapon? History is instructive. The crossbow was widely used in medieval warfare, but very little was said about it. You won’t find accounts of knights using it in battle (though they almost certainly did) or of the numbers killed by crossbow. According to historians, that’s because it was considered a shameful, and even sinful weapon.

The moral objections, according to sociologist Rodney Stark, were about social class. Says Stark:

“…this revolutionary weapon allowed untrained peasants to be lethal enemies of the trained soldiery. It took many years of training to become a knight, and the same was true for archers.”

Weapons like this are great democratizers. And this may explain part of the reason that the firearm is so quintessentially American. It’s a democratic weapon. Like the American preference for the automobile over the train, the gun is a tool of the individual, an asset and armory to personal responsibility, self direction, liberty.

Guns have been an integral part of the American experiment, and with good reason — they were tied to both liberation from tyranny and survival. But it’s worth asking, even in a culture that values guns, why we insist that our police officers have them. The Japanese emphasis on the sword included limitations on the kinds of weapons police carried. Can our culture imagine an America where the police do not carry guns? Probably not. The bad guys have guns.

Still, the use of lethal police force is under intense scrutiny at the moment, in the wake of horrifying and highly publicized fatalities. In some ways, it seems that our national relationship with non-lethal means of police control is more complicated than the way we think about police having guns.

America is a gun culture. Is it also a taser culture? The taser, like the baton or the sodegarami, is a tool of control. Perhaps perversely, this is somehow less American than the authorization to use lethal force. What meanings are we going to give to relatively new technologies, and what will we make of older ones? If we can properly understand what guns and tasers mean to our culture, then we’ll better understand whether our police should have them.


May 10, 2015

Nepal Humanitarian Logistics: Number 5

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 10, 2015


On Saturday Rajesh Khanal reported in the Kathmandu Post on the “logistical nightmare” that is causing deadly delays in resupplying remote areas hit hardest by the April 25 quake.  Instead of summarizing or cherry-picking quotes, I encourage reading the full report.

I will provide some context:

The “worst affected” area shown above is roughly comparable to Washington DC to New York east of Interstate 81.  This encompasses very rugged terrain.  Kathmandu sits at 4900 feet above sea level.  Many of the most remote villages are at 10,000 feet or higher.  Of the 3.5 million survivors in need of sustained support, roughly 20 percent (perhaps more) are not directly connected to commercial centers by all-weather roads.

The earthquake hit areas and populations that are typically not food sufficient and depend on supplies of grain, especially rice, from the Nepal Food Corporation (NFC). This is a government owned and controlled entity that buys and sells food commodities with the aim of providing affordable foodstocks to the most vulnerable populations in Nepal. Before the earthquake, roughly 15-to-20 percent of Nepali’s were considered “food insecure.”

According to Ansu Tumbahangfe’s 2010 thesis at Erasmus University,

Once the grains are procured, they along with food aid supplied by donor countries are stored amongst the 155 godowns or storehouses owned by the NFC. In total these godowns have a capacity of 94,770 MT . From there, the grains are then transported through via private transport operators to various parts of the country, through various modes such as air lifting, roads and even mules . For remote areas, which have been classified as “inaccessible” by the GoN, transport subsidies are provided.

The report in the Kathmandu Post suggests the NFC was ill-prepared for a disaster of this scope and scale. Structural reforms of the NFC since 1999 may have undermined the capacity of the organization in a disaster. The organization is also criticized for a lack of creativity and urgency since the earthquake.

I will also note that as I have tried to monitor OCHA, Logistics Cluster, and NGO response documentation (Examples: Logistics Cluster, May 8 minutes and the USAID 5/8 SitRep), I have not seen any mention of coordination or collaboration with the Nepal Food Corporation.  Perhaps it is a sufficiently dysfunctional organization that it is wise to avoid it.  Even more likely, my modest efforts at a distance have missed what is going on. But it is also my observation that too often disaster logistics is organized to replace — rather than restore and reinforce — existing supply chains.  Supplementation is typically needed.  But full-replacement is — it seems to me — mostly an expediency that serves the interests of external parties more than survivors and an expediency that can suppress effective long-term recovery.

That’s not — yet — a conclusion related to the situation in Nepal.  It is a hypothesis to test.

May 8, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

May 7, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 4

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

In the last forty-eight hours surveillance operations have completed an initial accounting of the entire impact region.  This has found even greater devastation in remote communities than had been anticipated.  The death toll is now over 7500, but likely to increase.  In the ascent to the High Himalayas whole villages have disappeared beneath landslides.

The United Nations Logistics Cluster is releasing detailed maps of these areas.  Many show several place-names entirely detached from even tertiary roads.  Long-used foot trails are impassable.  In many places pedestrian suspension bridges have been lost.  Already treacherous terrain is now totally changed and even continuing to shift.

Over 284,000 houses have been destroyed.  More than 200,000 have been seriously damaged.  This has also reduced foodstocks, seedstocks, agricultural tools, and other resources needed for recovery.  The May 6 OCHA update notes:

Many people have lost their homes and livelihoods and will require time and support to access relief ahead of the monsoon season. People might have also lost their documentation which can make it difficult to settle land issues, if they arise. In addition, in some areas, recently harvested wheat and barley crops have been lost together with seeds required for the upcoming rice planting season. Ensuring that adequate support reaches those in need before the monsoon season begins is a top priority, thus, securing the pipelines and prepositioning of goods is critical…

2,693 metric tons (MT) of food has been dispatched and is currently being distributed in 15 districts.  34 MT of high energy biscuits were distributed across the affected districts. Food assistance activities using cash are being planned in Makawanpur based on the market functionality assessment… Rice seed needs to be procured and distributed to farmers within the next three weeks.

Distributing cash — often through hiring focused on community recovery tasks — is one way to begin to replace the “push” of humanitarian logistics with the “pull” of supply chain recovery.

May 6, 2015

Garland or Gorkha?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2015

Early this morning I received the following note from a friend and colleague.  He has made a couple of edits since I asked his permission to post, but nothing substantive has been changed.


The situation in Nepal deserves sustained attention.  It has already disappeared from most broadcast media.  I also know that supply chains are “your thing.”  Still, given the key place of terrorism in homeland security, it’s a problem that HLSWatch has not even made mention of the Sunday shooting in Garland, Texas.  Not even links?

Garland also strikes me as a story especially well-suited to your point-of-view.  Two equally dark and angry forces encounter each other outside Dallas. There’s got to be a quote from Niebuhr or Eliot or Aristotle that would appropriately frame this collision of self-righteous hubris?  How about some meditation on the deadly violence visited on the self-conceived Salafist  heroes?  Does one pistol against two automatic rifles a hero make, or is something else going on?

If you are known for anything, it is for flushing out the idiocy that travels with self-certainty.  Two tribes of idiots met in Garland.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

The writer has asked I protect his anonymity.

Mostly I agree with the critique.  I especially like his questions. I wish I had the perfect quote on the tip of my tongue.  In addition to the situation in Garland, there have been important issues related to the Tsarnaev sentencing process, French counter-terrorism policy, Syrian military operations, the civil war in Yemen.. and lots more.  I apologize.  Mostly it is a matter of time.  But it is also a matter of what is getting attention elsewhere.  My basic approach at HLSWatch is to amplify, aggregate, analyze, and sometimes advocate. At the very least I want to amplify important issues that are not getting much attention elsewhere.  Weirdly, that has very quickly included the situation in Nepal.  And my friend is right, I have a particular interest in how networks behave under duress.

I will make this offer:  When HLSWatch seems to be absent on an issue, I would welcome receiving a missive in the comments that might be escalated to the front page (as here).  Not promising anything.  Some days I don’t even look in after 6AM.  But a diversity of topics is absolutely welcome.

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 3

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2015

Nepal Market Functionality

Over the last several days the United Nations World Food Program has tried to assess the recovery of ordinary commercial operations in the impact zone.  Their complete report is here.  The WFP recognizes this is merely a high-elevation snapshot of a rapidly changing situation.  But as of the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours, here’s what seems to be the case:

Ninety-one markets were assessed in 10 districts, 50 percent were reported as not functioning, with shops damaged/destroyed, food stocks completely depleted or ruined, or shopkeepers and traders displaced or affected. Forty percent were reported as showing early signs of recovery. These markets are currently not fully functioning and would be unable to support local demand, with a few shops open but most closed due to fear of aftershocks, structural collapse, security, or depleted stocks. Ten percent were reported as functioning, with shops open, food stocks available, but price increases and some commodities not available.

Nepal is a poor country where most of the population survives on near-subsistence agriculture.  Even in the best of times, Nepal is a food-deficit economy.  A 2010 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization found, “Food insecurity and hunger remain pervasive in Nepal, not only in food deficit districts but also within marginalized communities in districts with surplus food production.”

In rural areas — many not connected by roads — food stocks are maintained by individual farmers in their homes.  In many cases, these homes were destroyed in the earthquake.  This has seriously reduced available food stocks.  The WFP report states that in the northern districts of Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Sindhupalchok preexisting foodstocks have been “completely destroyed.”  The population of these three districts is over 300,000.

In many of these areas anything remotely similar to what most of us mean by a “supply chain” did not exist prior to the earthquake.


Following are emerging impressions — not final conclusions — that are prompting questions and further research.  I am asking for readers to help.  I am not offering a confident analysis.  But at this point in time:

  • It appears that Nepal’s road network, while not extensive, has largely survived the quake.  There have been problems caused by landslides.  But bridges and basic infrastructure have, for the most part, survived.
  • Fuel deliveries have continued mostly uninterrupted.  As noted in prior posts, there is a history of fuel shortages brought on by financial and organizational challenges.  For the fuel network to — basically — continue at capacity in the aftermath of this quake is very helpful.
  • Several Nepalis or expats returned from Nepal have told me they are surprised the telecommunications network has recovered quickly from some outages (or over-use?) immediately after the quake.

An engineer friend notes that ferro-cement is generally resilient up to an 8.0 quake.  This was 7.8.  Is that the crucial threshold at which modern systems cascade toward catastrophe?

None of this is meant to underplay what happened on April 25 and the terrible task ahead — as suggested by the loss of foodstocks noted above.  Hundreds of thousands remain vulnerable to lack of clean water, basic sanitation, sufficient food, and minimal shelter.

But in the midst of the death and destruction are there some unexpected lessons-to-be-learned related to mitigation, resilience, and potential catastrophic thresholds?

May 5, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 2

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 5, 2015

Logistics Conops_May 4

United Nations, World Food Program, Logistics Cluster, Concept of Operations

The death toll is now over 7000 and continuing to climb.

The May 4 OCHA Situation Report notes,  that 1.4 million people have been prioritized for immediate food support. “Distribution of a total of 2,094 metric tons (MT) of food has begun across 15 districts. Since 29 April, some 52,000 tarpaulins have been distributed in 29 districts while an additional 234,161 tarpaulins are en route to Nepal.”  The monsoon season typically begins in late May/early June.  According to the most recent updates, over 191,000 homes were destroyed and more than 175,000 were damaged.

As the map above shows, the international   community is attempting to reduce the current dependence on the air-hub at Kathmandu. The Conops released yesterday notes, “The foremost objective of the Logistics Cluster in Nepal is to support the Government-led response by coordinating with International and National NGOs, the UN system and the Private Sector in order to optimize logistics efforts, and hence, the delivery of various humanitarian assistance programmes.”

Sounds reliably bureaucratic and almost meaningless.  But especially in Nepal, the implications of “Government-led” may tee-up one of the principal impediments to effective humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery.  Here’s the close of an editorial in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post:

With few exceptions, the state has so far performed miserably in the aftermath of the earthquake. While there is a real need to not undermine state authority, and indeed to build state capacity, it must be made clear that rebuilding/strengthening a feudal state is not the goal. The feudal legacy embedded in an antiquated bureaucracy and reinforced by a political elite centered on power and its preservation, must be fiercely critiqued and resisted by all citizens. Prioritisation of the lives of citizens—not the policing of restrictive rules in a time of emergency—should be central. The expedient delivery of relief materials from the airport and other locations to citizens in need must take precedence.   

Reuters has a good overview of some important mitigation measures that were taken before the earthquake.

The Hindustan Times has a helpful round-up of critiques and counters regarding “official” preparedness for and response to the quake.

May 2, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 1

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

This is the first in what may be an irregular series of posts on humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery in Nepal.   I am, in part, using this to gather links and information for future analysis.  If readers see related stories or resources, please share in the comments.

The initial 7.8 earthquake struck a few minutes before noon local time on April 25.  Several aftershocks have exceeded 5.0.

More than 6250 are confirmed dead.  At least 160,000 houses have been destroyed.  Many more are damaged.  The May 2 OCHA Situation Report indicates it is likely the number of lost houses could eventually exceed 500,000.  The number of displaced persons is roughly estimated at 2.8 million.

Over 3 million people are thought to be in urgent need of food assistance.

Many of the principal overland routes to India have been reopened.  The United Nations Logistics Cluster has released a current map.  Tons and tons of relief supplies have arrived at the international airport outside Kathmandu. A unit of US Marines will be assisting with airport flight operations and receipt of relief supplies.

Effective reception of goods at the airport has been aided by the establishment of a disaster staging area that opened in March.  This has allowed goods to be more rapidly relocated from the air-hub’s apron than is often the case in major disasters. There are still problems, but it would have been much worse without this strategic investment.

There are various reports of relief goods not being effectively distributed.  This is typically the result of local truckers, wholesalers, and retailers being victims themselves.  There are occasional media reports of this being the case in Nepal, but I have not seen what I consider an authoritative analysis.  The World Food Program has announced contracting with a fleet of 25 trucks.  Whether these are local assets or not is not clear.

The trucking/transport industry in Nepal is heavily self-organized.  So-called Transport Entrepreneurs Associations (TEA’s) dominate most regional markets.  It is not clear if these private sector syndicates were “pre-wired” into the staging area strategy and operation.  Now out-of-date figures (2001) report there are over 20,000 larger trucks in Nepal.

I have been surprised by media reports that fuel distribution is largely returning to “normal”.  Recently Nepal has suffered from sometimes acute fuel shortages without the complication of a major earthquake.

Earlier today, Saturday, a United Nations official complained that distribution of some relief goods is being delayed by Nepali customs officials. (UPDATE: Since Saturday there have been contradictory reports on this potential impediment.  Major media are giving the criticism more and more attention.  But when organizations gathered at a recent meeting of the Logistics Cluster were asked about the problem, none reported any specific instances of delays caused by customs procedures.   The Government of Nepal has admitted that some land-based customs officials had been slow to adjust to regulatory waivers, but have insisted customs clearance at the airport has been consistently expedited.  A guess: major organizations with Nepal-based experience know how to operate within the system, smaller organizations and “humanitarian tourists” do not.)

The Nepal Logistics Cluster site is a good place for ongoing updates and details.

In previous efforts by this blog to monitor logistics and supply chain operations — especially in Japan and the Philippines — there has been a strategic/operational disconnect between local truckers/trucking and national/international relief operations.  Any information in this regard on the situation in Nepal would be especially appreciated.

Other logistics lessons-learned from prior disasters, in the context of Nepal, are featured by the Globe and Mail.

More as I find it.


A couple of interesting bits, mostly gleaned from Logistics Cluster minutes.  As of late Saturday:

Bharatpur is where most of the commercial road transport capacity of the country is established. Bharatpur hub will be used as forward logistics base for the incoming road-transported cargo from India,to avoid all cargo transiting through Kathmandu before re-dispatching to affected locations… Discussions are ongoing with the transporter association in order to control transport rates, and expand the transport network to the affected areas, where possible… No issues in the availability of fuel were reported…

Quick comment: An airport is NOT typically a commodities hub. By giving more attention to Bharatpur the relief operation should increasingly be able to connect into pre-existing distribution networks and capacity. Roads between Bharatupur and India are mostly open and it is well-placed to supply hard-hit areas west of Kathmandu.  I will be looking for similar attention to be given to Birgunj, once roads have reopened between the border with India and Kathmandu. Regarding “transport rates” what is the difference between “gouging” and an “efficient market response”?

More reports are becoming available on the situation in the more remote areas of the impact zone.  (See excellent NYT maps.) As surveillance increases the recognized scope-and-scale of this disaster is likely to expand significantly… and the real challenge facing supply chain recovery will be more fully understood.  An issue that I perceive is too often obscured: humanitarian logistics is a crucially important step in serving survivors.  But depending on how humanitarian logistics is conceived and implemented this process can either expedite or suppress supply chain recovery.

(A piece in the May 3 edition of The Indian Express combines coverage of the current situation with implications for longer-term recovery.)

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