Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 19, 2014

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 19, 2014

This afternoon the QHSR has been released.  It is available for your consideration at:

http://www.dhs.gov/quadrennial-homeland-security-review-qhsr

The document will be the focus of my post next Thursday.  I hope we can generate some thoughtful discussion.

As you will see, the QHSR highlights some key issues — especially related to risk and collaboration — that will certainly frame how both Homeland Security and homeland security unfold in the years ahead.

It is worth your careful consideration and some further conversation here (and elsewhere).

June 16, 2014

Monday Musings

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on June 16, 2014

Just a couple of random thoughts for a Monday.

  • Why is the discussion around preparedness framed in such a binary manner? Personal preparedness is important, both for one’s self and loved ones regardless of the situation as well as to lessen the burden on any official response in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. However, I am just wondering if it should be thought of as such a zero-sum situation. The standard frame is that if we (i.e. citizens/non-professionals) are not prepared to take care of ourselves for some period of time following a disaster than we shouldn’t expect immediate help and are responsible for placing additional burden on the government or other dedicated professional responders (such as the Red Cross or other trained volunteers).Yet we live in a democracy.  So should it be us/them rather than just simply we? Those professionals are our neighbors, friends, relatives, and fellow Americans.  Would it be at all useful if instead the frame is a discussion about the social compact involved in preparedness, response, and recovery rather than personal responsibility vs. big government? I’m thinking along the lines of the debate about healthcare.  Here it is predominately about personal choice vs. socialized medicine or government intervention, while in most other democratic, rich, industrial nations  it has long been decided as a community that some above basic-level of care is a responsibility of the entire society and the questions involve what form and how to pay for it. Bad stuff happens.  Let’s not focus on assigning blame or roles but rather collective responsibility.

 

  • There are a whole mess of issues wrapped up in the ISIS/Iraq/Syria/Middle East situation goings on. One that I find particularly interesting is the conventional wisdom that if ISIS is somehow able to carve out an independent area from land formerly part of Iraq and Syria that the odds of a 9/11-scale attack on the United States would dramatically increase. Putting aside questions about the possibility of them winning, holding on to the land, the short to medium term viability of such a state, etc., why is it such accepted dogma that Bin Laden living in Afghanistan made the attacks on 9/11 possible?  Does it matter that the pilots were trained in U.S. flight schools?  Or that vital planning took place in Germany and Malaysia? Or the plan was hatched by KSM, who had previously traveled the globe planning and attempting various terrorist attacks? Bin Laden at the time had refuge in Afghanistan, but I don’t believe that was central to the viability of the plot. Failed states and ungoverned spaces can lead to increased chaos and provide refuge for terrorists and other bad actors.  However, they are not essential to any large scale plot against the U.S. homeland or any other nation for that matter.

 

  • Despite today’s U.S. World Cup victory against Ghana, I wonder why are we so (comparatively) bad at soccer?  Putting aside the more American-centric sports for the moment, we still do well at the Summer and Winter Olympic sports that aren’t usually celebrated nightly on SportsCenter. Why hasn’t this translated to the football pitch yet? Oh well…go U.S.A.!

 

 

 

June 13, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 13, 2014

Fridays that fall on the thirteenth of the month have, since at least the 19th Century, been considered unlucky in many Western countries.  There are several theories related to the origin of the superstition, including the combining of older superstitions that all Fridays and the number thirteen are ill-omens.  Double your fun.

On this day in 2011 one in a series of significant aftershocks hit Christchurch, New Zealand, already suffering from a significant February earthquake.

On this day in 2010 the Gulf Oil Spill entered its fifty-fourth day.  The release of oil from the damaged well-head continued until August.

Today strikes me as a potentially quite consequential day for terrorist activity on an arc extending from at least Abuja, Nigeria to Islamabad, Pakistan.  There is a mirror image of this arc that crosses the Euphrates just north of Baghdad.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

June 10, 2014

Every 86 hours

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 10, 2014

Last year, one police officer died in the line of duty every 86 hours.  Sunday, two more died. Las Vegas police officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were murdered while they ate.

LCPD Alan Beck

 

 

“The Final Inspection”

The policeman stood and faced his God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining.
Just as brightly as his brass.

“Step forward now, policeman.
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My church have you been true?”

The policeman squared his shoulders and said,
“No, Lord, I guess I ain’t,
Because those of us who carry badges
can’t always be a saint.

I’ve had to work most Sundays,
and at times my talk was rough,
and sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the streets are awfully tough.

But I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep….
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.

I know I don’t deserve a place
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fear.

If you’ve a place for me here,
Lord, It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t…..I’ll understand.

There was silence all around the throne
Where the saints had often trod.
As the policeman waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.

“Step forward now, policeman,
You’ve borne your burdens well.
Come walk a beat on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in hell.”

– Author Unknown

June 6, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on June 6, 2014

The Daily Show recently aired a great segment on the consequences of the anti-vaccine movement:

All the commentary on the recently released Taliban prisoners about them being the “worst of the worst” and so hardcore, as well as the absolute fear by some to even transfer any of the prisoners from Guantanamo to the States, makes me wonder if we are really facing a group of super warriors ripped from “Game of Thrones.”  An Oberyn Martell or Gregor Clegane?  Should we be releasing prisoners who can crush skulls with their bare hands?

(I’ll only provide a link, due to the graphic nature of the video:

http://youtu.be/adPHllOqkIE)

And yes, I am being entirely facetious.

On a much more serious and somber note, today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

June 4, 2014

Keep your government hands off my Medicare! – unless, maybe, if ASPR wants to help you during a disaster…

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on June 4, 2014

The New York Times recently ran an article by Sheri Fink, author of Five Days at Memorial (which is about a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina), titled “U.S. Mines Personal Health Data to Find the Vulnerable in Emergencies.”

The phone calls were part Big Brother, part benevolent parent. When a rare ice storm threatened New Orleans in January, some residents heard from a city official who had gained access to their private medical information. Kidney dialysis patients were advised to seek early treatment because clinics would be closing. Others who rely on breathing machines at home were told how to find help if the power went out.

Those warnings resulted from vast volumes of government data. For the first time, federal officials scoured Medicare health insurance claims to identify potentially vulnerable people and share their names with local public health authorities for outreach during emergencies and disaster drills.

The article mentions several other similar uses of medical data — from text message reminders about vaccinations to identifying ambulance “frequent fliers” — but I’d like to focus on this use of Medicare data to identify patients that rely on power-reliant medical equipment.

Were privacy concerns addressed?

“There are a lot of sensitivities involved here,” said Kristen Finne, a senior policy analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services. “When we started this idea,” she said, referring to using Medicare data for disaster assistance, “there was a lot of ‘are you crazy?’ ”

Ms. Finne noted that the program was painstakingly designed to comply with privacy laws.

Have they tested it?

Aspects of the Medicare program were tested in New Orleans; in Broome County, N.Y., which includes Binghamton; and in Arizona.

Sounds good, right?  Any concerns?

Others find the program troubling, however well intentioned. “I think it’s invasive to use their information in this way,” said Christy Dunaway, who works on emergency planning for the National Council on Independent Living, which supports disabled people living at home.

She and others said they were worried that identified individuals could be forced to evacuate to shelters that cannot accommodate people with disabilities, or that incomplete data could provide false assurances of government rescue.

On balance I think this is a good use of data held by the federal government (in this case CMS) for preparedness/response that originally was collected for other purposes. It represents a type of flexibility that is often called for in homeland security missions.  An added benefit is a bit of shaking of the obstinate bureaucracy — government agencies are loathe to change or deviate from SOP.  An ingrained belief that “this is the way it’s done/this is the way the law is written/etc.” despite almost constant production of new strategic planning documents.  CMS is especially guilty of this behavior, institutionally worried about earning any sort of new Congressional attention or even wrath.

Here ASPR (the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in HHS) is not only looking at the granular level of identifying individuals who Medicare has paid for certain medical equipment that is especially vulnerable in the aftermath of disaster, but providing tools to local agencies to help in the development of general response plans:

The Department of Health and Human Services also plans to release an interactive online map this year indicating how many Medicare beneficiaries have wheelchairs and other medical equipment in various ZIP codes, in part to help health officials think about where to place shelters, stockpile supplies, and inform hospitals and power companies about potential needs.

“Even that information is light-years ahead of what they have currently,” Ms. Finne said.

This article brings up two related, if not obvious, issues regarding ASPR.  First, the office is getting slightly better at advertising if not explaining their work.  In my view ASPR has been dismal in both regards over the last couple of years.  It plays a central role in domestic preparedness and response (while beginning to work in recovery and talk a lot about resilience while waving their collective hands…), with a direct focus on perhaps the most important mission of the health of people following a disaster. Yet institutionally it has a difficult time communicating its work outside of the medical and public health communities.  There is a bias towards publishing in peer reviewed journals rather than reaching out via alternative venues to a range of potential stakeholders. Essentially doctors writing for other doctors.

Fink’s article is both a good example of simultaneously trying to get out of this practice, albeit with a reporter naturally inclined toward reporting on such a topic, while at the same time hewing close to their established SOP.  The initial exercise took place in New Orleans a year ago.  As Fink mentions, they published a description of the underlying method in the Federal Register…last April. While I might understand a desire to cement the program in place and test it in various locations before rolling it out to the public, it wasn’t a secret.  At least not to the local New Orleans press who reported on the exercise a year ago:

On Friday, the city and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services embarked on a new pilot project — the first of its kind in the country — to take a more systematic approach to identifying people with medical needs and helping them during disasters.

During the three-day “emergency preparedness exercise,” focused on New Orleanians with at-home oxygen tanks or ventilators, the two agencies are looked at whether federal Medicare data can be used to track down people on electricity-dependent machines after the power goes out.

If the New Orleans exercise is successful, the model can be rolled out across the country, said Dr. Nicole Lurie, an assistant secretary with the federal health agency.

The exercise was successful.  A year ago.  It has been rolled out.  To state and local public health officials.

The program was presented to state and local public health officials last month. “We are now moving to scale this really across the country,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, the assistant health secretary for preparedness and response.

“Last month” was literally last month.  A year after the successful exercise in New Orleans.  I suppose slow and steady wins the race?  Just not the race for implementing government innovation or altering ingrained SOPs.

The second issue is an unfortunate characterization of local responsibilities and/or capabilities.  In the Fink article, THE ASPR, Dr. Lurie, is quoted:

The idea for the program began in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after a tornado struck in April 2011. An ambulance rolled up to one of the houses left standing to take a woman to the hospital because she had run out of oxygen. “That’s kind of crazy, why can’t somebody bring her an oxygen tank?” Dr. Lurie recalled thinking after watching the scene.

She witnessed a similar phenomenon in New York after Hurricane Sandy. Patients who relied on medical equipment needed a place to plug it in before draining the batteries. Many crowded into emergency rooms, stressing the health care system. Others had no way to call for help. Eventually, emergency teams knocked on every door of darkened high-rises, because officials did not know where the people who needed assistance were.

“All of these people just came out of the woodwork,” Dr. Lurie said one public health official told her after a disaster in New England.

“I started to seethe,” Dr. Lurie said. “It’s your job to know who lives in your community.” And if local officials did not, she added, it was the federal government’s responsibility to help.

All good until the point she “started to seethe.” Exactly how should local public health officials know “who lives in your community?” What mechanism exists to make that possible? What information do they have access to that makes it possible? Under what circumstances, when state and local budgets have long been under stress and the federal agencies – such as the one Dr. Lurie works for – helpfully suggests new requirements and capabilities while cutting funding at the same time?

I’m not arguing against the concept of having situational awareness at the local level.  Just that outside of  programs involving voluntary self-identification from at-risk groups, what are local officials not doing that cause her to “seethe.” What programs, if she worked at the local or state level, would she implement to do her job to know who lives in her community? What money and manpower would she take away from other programs to accomplish these goals?

A federal program such as Medicare presents unique opportunities for the type of data mining accomplished on at-risk communities described by Fink.  I think it is time and money well spent.  However, federal officials should refrain from seething at the limitations faced by state and local officials. These days they aren’t exactly helping matters.

May 30, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 30, 2014

The National Academies Press recently sent around a newletter that collected much of their recent work on preparedness and resilience.

We’re halfway through Hurricane Preparedness Week, but how prepared are we really? We’ve pulled together a dozen of our reports on disaster preparedness to evaluate how ready we are for hurricanes and other disasters, and what we can do to improve our response and resilience.

There is a lot of good stuff – Crisis Standards of Care, children in disasters, alerts and social media, community disaster resilience, flood maps, etc. You have the option to buy a hardcopy or download free pdf copies.

You can read it online here.

(Thanks to Bill Cumming for sharing this link.)

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 28, 2014

President Obama’s West Point Commencement Address

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on May 28, 2014

Earlier today President Obama gave the commencement address at West Point, describing his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Here are some of the homeland security-related points.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed. This presents opportunity, but also new dangers. We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.

 

It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American citizens.

As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.

 

The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.

In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just. International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.

 

This leads to my second point. For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate. And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi. It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.

We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us. And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al-Qaida core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.

But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring, those forces — those Afghan forces — secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history. And at the end of this year, a new Afghan president will be in office, and America’s combat mission will be over.

Now that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces. But as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence there allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. So earlier this year I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.

Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers there, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do, through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice, or drone strikes, like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.

 

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem with cyberattacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.

That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change, a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food, which is why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

 

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.

And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo, because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.

 

The full transcript of the speech can be found here.

The video of his remarks, courtesy of PBS NewsHour:

 

Should first responder drills include ice cream socials?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on May 28, 2014

Perhaps ice cream socials aren’t the first thing that spring to mind when you think about a first responder drill. But it’s something that journalist Chris Faraone thought of during the recent “Urban Shield” exercises in Boston. He writes in a recent article in the Weekly Dig:

I arrived at the presser in time to hear Mayor Marty Walsh welcome delegates from the Metro-Boston Homeland Security Region–a network that includes the Hub and eight surrounding municipalities–plus emergency medical and fire personnel. In his comments, Walsh extolled the spirit of collaboration, while Office of Emergency Management Director Rene Fielding touted the relationships built through two prior Urban Shield runs.

Wondering if organizers added anything to this year’s schedule to bolster inter-agency communication, I asked Fielding and the uniforms beside her if they’d planned any meet-and-greet activities besides the mock trainings. “Something like an ice cream social,” I queried (they hadn’t). I was serious. Officials said that people “shouldn’t be alarmed” about the presence of 2,000 first responders in helmets and riot gear. That’s not possible–those visuals are inevitably frightening–but it might be reassuring if their interpersonal relationships were more than merely militant.

Mr. Faraone is what one would call a progressive journalist — my father might lean toward the term “leftist commie” — and the article generally addresses the militarization of law enforcement. I share some of the same concerns that he and those quoted in the piece have on this issue, though unfortunately while aiming at the right target he hit this exercise instead.  While the natural tendency to see every problem as a nail when you’re only holding a hammer is real enough, the scenarios included in the Urban Shield exercise are not driven solely by the desire to pull out the guns.

That criticism aside, what Faraone suggests in terms of an ice cream social points to an underlying truth.  As he put it:

As for first responders intermingling … for logistical purposes, they were mostly clustered with their own–transit fuzz with transit fuzz, triage officers with triage officers, and so forth.

I’ve noticed the same behavior in the few exercises I’ve observed.  Am I missing something?  Or are the participants basically all playing their assigned departmental roles with little to no overlap at the levels under leadership positions? While the higher ranks are “swapping business cards before game day,” i.e. leadership planning and responding together, are the rank-and-file actually getting the opportunity to meet and understand the roles of their opposites in the other responder disciplines?

This was an issue identified by a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Government report, “Why Was Boston Strong:”

Public safety organizations should develop improved doctrine, better training, and practice through exercises to ensure effective “micro-command” in crises. While officers typically look for command authority when operating at a scene with groups from their own agencies, they are less likely to do so when they have deployed as individuals and arrive at an emergency site on their own. Except for situations when near-instantaneous action is required to preserve life, doctrine should be developed and officers should be trained to look for authority at a scene of mass action, even if command is taken by someone from another organization.

One of report’s authors, Dutch Leonard, referred to this in Congressional testimony where he broke down the different experiences of responders:

By virtue of doctrine and years of joint planning and practice and work on multiagency events, the senior leaders of the relevant organizations for the most part knew one another personally and had knowledge of and confidence in each other’s capabilities – and they were able rapidly to form unified commands, both on Monday afternoon and again in Watertown in the early hours of Friday morning.  Individual police officers arriving from other jurisdictions at the scene of the gunfight at Dexter and Laurel Streets Watertown had none of those advantages to help them form a coordinating structure.  We need better doctrine, procedures, training, and practice to aid in the more rapid development of a command structure among people from different agencies arriving more or less independently and not under a preexisting overarching command structure.  We refer to this as the problem of establishing “microcommand,” and dealing with this requires that the doctrine that is now working well to coordinate agencies at the senior level needs to be cascaded downward so that it functions at any level where the agencies may encounter one another.

It is this problem where Faraone’s ice cream socials, or some other equivalent, might actually help.  The issue isn’t one of militarism, but understanding and recognition among tactical-level operators. Not just of mission, but role and structure.

On a final note, though I may disagree with the sentiments of some quoted in Faraone’s article about the nature of the Urban Shield exercises, I have to admit that criticism of terrorism preparedness drills so soon after an actual terrorist attack in the same city strengthens my admiration of our system of democracy. Always question – never simply accept.  Even when it seems to fly in the face of those protecting the public, this sentiment helps preserve our underlying freedoms.

May 27, 2014

Megalopolistic bedfellows, fire, filters, and eloquent twilight

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 27, 2014

Megalopolis

What do Walmart, the Cheesecake Factory, Wells Fargo, the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the Revelation Network, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Burbank Fire Department, Microsoft and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have in common?

They are members of the “Community Stakeholder Network” (CSN).

You may already know about the CSN.  I just learned about it.  CSA is “a product [sic] of HSAC,” which stands for the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

CSN is

“a collaborative portal designed to support businesses and community stakeholders in developing sustainable community resilience…; a collaborative single point of interaction with enterprise applications, content, processes, and people…; [and] “a consolidated, high-value, trusted source for business and community stakeholders where members can review, share data, and work together to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from man-made or natural disaster events.”

If that production vocabulary does not crystalize the meaning and function of CSN, they have a facebook page that, I believe, illustrates a bit of what they do.  There’s also a video with more explanation:  http://csntoday.org/Pages/ABOUT-US/CSN-Video.aspx.  

Among the interesting ideas in the video, you’ll hear the word “megalopolis” used correctly. I had not heard that word before.

Fire

The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic has a deeply researched article (written by Brian Mockenhaupt) on the 2013 Yarnell, Arizona fire that killed 19 firefighters: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/fire-on-the-mountain/361613/

This year, more than 50,000 wildfires—sparked by lightning, tossed cigarettes, runaway campfires, the occasional arsonist’s match, and even rocks scraping together in a landslide—will rage through forests and shrublands across America. Legions of firefighters will fly, drive, and march to do battle with them. For the most part, the firefighters will win, controlling up to 98 percent of the fires within 24 hours. But the fires that make up the other 2 percent—like the one that started burning in the brush above Yarnell on June 28—are a tougher fight….

This is the firefighters’ conundrum: how to balance risk in the growing wildland-urban interface. Faced with tornados, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes, we do little but let nature run its course, try to limit the damage, and clean up in the aftermath. But when it comes to wildfire, we think we can do more. We think we can fight it. We now spend more than $3 billion a year on that effort, but only a small fraction is used to put healthy fire back on the landscape. Firefighters die each year, even though we now realize fire suppression is a battle we can’t ever win, and in some cases shouldn’t even be fighting. With so many people now living in the wildland-urban interface, we don’t allow forests and shrublands to burn the way they did for millennia. Instead, firefighters battle ever-larger wildfires to protect increasing numbers of homes. The result is a cycle of tragic inevitability.

The online version of the story also includes some remarkable video, including one from the Missoula fire sciences lab.

Filters

The Isla Vista shooting brings to mind a MIT Technology Review story about how the internet filter bubble performs after a controversial, emotionally charged event like a mass shooting.

Danai Koutra from Carnegie Mellon University and two Microsoft researchers, Paul Bennett and Eric Horvitz, analyzed “the Web browsing behavior of people who looked at a wide range of gun-related sites,… seeing how it changed before and after the [Sandy Hook school shooting] massacre.”

Before the event, “… people use the Web to largely access agreeable information;” agreeable means sites that tended to advocate a particular view toward gun rights and gun control. Gun control proponents favored sites that advocated controlling weapons; gun rights advocates frequented sites that supported their views.

When the researchers studied web behavior after the shootings:

The first thing to note is that after the tragedy, there was a sudden increase in the number of people accessing gun-related websites. But [the authors’] conclusion is that whatever content people already accessed, the tendency was to continue to access agreeable content but of a more extreme variety.

Isla Vista-like calamities — if the study results can be generalized – tend to make both gun rights and gun control proponents more calcified.

Twilight

Privacy, local, average and later will soon be obsolete words.

Thomas Friedman makes that argument in a May 20th essay (available here – but perhaps behind a paywall — http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/opinion/friedman-four-words-going-bye-bye.html?):

Privacy: The recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling “underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure — and fair game.”

Freidman quotes Bill Maher:

“Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it’s that there’s a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. … In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world’s ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: ‘If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them.’ Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?”

LocalLocal is over for the same reason.

Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today’s hyperconnected world can immediately go global….  [Last] Monday, Google News carried the following story: “SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter.” It doesn’t get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.

Average: …“average is over.  It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their “extra,” and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can’t be digitized.”

Later: “on May 13,.. scientists [reported] that a large section of the … West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable.

...when we were growing up “later” meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.

One more observation reported by Freidman:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State …  when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

 

May 26, 2014

Making meaning of memory

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 26, 2014

Some archaeologists argue humans have practiced burial rituals for up to 300,000 years.  Most agree there is clear evidence of ceremonial activity associated with death for at least 100,000 years.  Some careful observers suggest an extended period of grief — and even particular social behavior — associated with the death of elephants, dolphins, and some primates.

In any case, an acute awareness of and respect for death seems co-indicated with cognition.  Rather than cogito, ergo sum,  we might say cogito, ergo non esse scio.  Non-being (non esse) is also of concern to us.

Elie Wiesel opened his 1986 Nobel Lecture with a fable on the place, purpose, and power of memory:

A Hasidic legend tells us that the great Rabbi Baal-Shem-Tov, Master of the Good Name, also known as the Besht, undertook an urgent and perilous mission: to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people, all humanity were suffering too much, beset by too many evils. They had to be saved, and swiftly. For having tried to meddle with history, the Besht was punished; banished along with his faithful servant to a distant island. In despair, the servant implored his master to exercise his mysterious powers in order to bring them both home. “Impossible”, the Besht replied. “My powers have been taken from me”. “Then, please, say a prayer, recite a litany, work a miracle”. “Impossible”, the Master replied, “I have forgotten everything”. They both fell to weeping.

Suddenly the Master turned to his servant and asked: “Remind me of a prayer – any prayer .” “If only I could”, said the servant. “I too have forgotten everything”. “Everything – absolutely everything?” “Yes, except – “Except what?” “Except the alphabet”. At that the Besht cried out joyfully: “Then what are you waiting for? Begin reciting the alphabet and I shall repeat after you…”. And together the two exiled men began to recite, at first in whispers, then more loudly: ”Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth…”. And over again, each time more vigorously, more fervently; until, ultimately, the Besht regained his powers, having regained his memory.

I love this story, for it illustrates the messianic expectation -which remains my own. And the importance of friendship to man’s ability to transcend his condition. I love it most of all because it emphasizes the mystical power of memory. Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque, like a prison cell into which no light penetrates; like a tomb which rejects the living. Memory saved the Besht, and if anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.

Today we pause to remember.  In the words of the President, “It’s a time to remember the heroes… Because every time we cast our votes or speak our minds without fear, it’s because they fought for our right to do that.  Every chance we get to make a better life for ourselves and our families is possible because generations of patriots fought to keep America a land of opportunity, where anyone – of any race, any religion, from any background – can make it if they try.  Our country was born out of a desire to be free, and every day since, it’s been protected by our men and women in uniform – people who believed so deeply in America, they were willing to give their lives for it.”

Earlier this month we dedicated the lower Manhattan museum built to memorialize the horror and heroism of September 11, 2001.  In it and with it we remember the men and women in NYPD and FDNY uniforms and no uniform at all who confronted the chaos of that day with courage, compassion, and creativity.  This week the USS Cole is in New York for Fleet Week.  Somehow this physical link between what happened at Aden with what happened Downtown helps make positive meaning. But I’m not sure I can precisely explain why. We mourn our losses.  We are inspired by the memory of those who on the edge of death demonstrate devotion to life and love.  In memory’s matrix we weave together otherwise separate strings.

And sometimes, like Wiesel’s rabbi, out of neglect or pride or distraction we forget.

Last week a leading-light in homeland security chastised me.  For the second year in a row, he said, HLSWatch had failed to mention the April 19 anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.   Next year it will be twenty years since Timothy McVeigh, with the help of others, killed 168 and injured more than 600 others.  It remains the most deadly incident of domestic terrorism in United States history.

This year April 19 happened to fall on Holy Saturday. According to my day book I worked on a contribution to a new British textbook on self-organizing complexity. (An excerpt quoting Bak and Paczuski: “Thus, if the tape of history were to be rerun, with slightly different random noise, the resulting outcome would be completely different. Some large catastrophic events would be avoided, but other would inevitably occur.”)  I went to church.  (From the Easter Vigil liturgy: “In the midst of life we are in death… Thou shalt show me the path of life; in thy presence is the fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure evermore.” There is no mention of McVeigh or his victims.  I did not, evidently, give them an even momentary thought.

Like the rabbi, in my forgetfulness I am reduced to grief.  But with the help of my colleague’s better memory, I am restored to memory and with him — and you — to the possibility of positive meaning.  Memory alone is not sufficient.  For a hundred and more millennia we have adorned our dead with ochre sea shells or bleached animal bones or other talismans of meaning.   With these rituals we seek to redeem memory from despair and claim renewed strength for living.

According to my written record of this just past April 19, while entirely neglecting the death of so many innocents, I did read a poem by Thylias Moss that concludes with:

… Besides every

ritual is stylized, has patterns and repetitions

suitable for adaptation to dance.  Here come toe shoes,

brushstrokes, oxymorons.  Joy

is at our tongue tips: Let the great thirsts and hungers

of the world be the marvelous thirsts, glorious hungers.

Let heartbreak be alternative to coffeebreak, five

midmorning minutes devoted to emotion.

On this Memorial Day may we each find at least five minutes for emotion and heartbreak; may we thirst and hunger greatly, marvelously, gloriously long after the picnic is done.

Thanks for reminding me.

May 23, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 23, 2014

The 2014 hurricane season is here and NOAA is forecasting a “near-normal or below-normal season.”

As the Veterans Affairs scandal unfolds, keep in mind that department plays an important homeland security role with its role in the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

May 22, 2014

DHS – No hope for a home?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Washington Post dumps an Olympic-size swimming pool’s worth of cold water on the future of a (relatively) consolidated headquarters for DHS at the St. Elizabeth site in Southeast D.C.:

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

It has been a bipartisan affair:

A decade after work began, the St. Elizabeths venture — the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and received only lackluster support from the Obama administration, according to budget documents and interviews with current and former federal officials.

Delays are only making the final price tag rise:

The crippling shortfall in funding has created a vicious cycle, causing delays that in turn inflated the projected price tag as construction costs escalated over time and DHS agencies — still scattered in more than 50 locations across the Washington area — have been signing expensive temporary leases.

The article is full of details regarding difficulties connected with the site.  Also, interesting to at least me, it deploys two narratives about DHS.

The DHS was born at a time when the wounds of Sept. 11 were still fresh and homeland security was the top national priority. The new department melded agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aiming to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

By 2004, department officials were complaining that their headquarters on Nebraska Avenue in the District was one-quarter of the size needed. The operations center was small, with limited infrastructure. And with various DHS components dispersed as far as Herndon, Va., the department was wasting millions on leased office space and transportation costs.

These logistical problems slowed the government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to a 2006 terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives, Chertoff recalled. “People were shuttling back and forth in those critical days after the plot was exposed, and that just made it much more difficult and time-consuming,” he said.

Most of the poor communication and coordination gaps preceding 9/11 existed between agencies not included in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  To over simplify things, the intelligence community and the military take the lead in fighting terrorism overseas and the FBI generally is out front domestically.  Not to take one iota of importance away from the work of DHS, but it does not get much positive Congressional attention as those entities unless it is politically convenient. And spending billions of dollars on a new headquarters complex for DHS is currently not very politically convenient. Want to bet that the FBI will get a new building before DHS?

The comments regarding logistical problems affecting the Katrina response and the response to the airliner plot are new to me.  I think its a given that having offices spread out over the DC area didn’t make things any easier, but is it a stretch to suggest that the response in New Orleans would have gone that much smoother if only there was a unified headquarters building?

May 20, 2014

“A punch in the gut”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 20, 2014

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will open to the public on Wednesday, May 21st.

You can learn about the memorial at this link: http://www.911memorial.org/

I received an email  from a colleague, Robert Mahoney, who had the opportunity to visit the memorial yesterday.  Robert is a retired FBI agent. “He served as the national manager for all FBI Special Operations Groups, assistant legal attaché for terrorism in London and acting assistant special agent in charge in New York. Mahoney was in the World Trade Center on 9/11, leading an FBI search team into the site between collapses, and a supervisor in the FBI Crisis Command and Recovery Center thereafter, working at the World Trade Center and Fresh Kills Recovery sites.”  You can read his article “Preparing the Fire Service for Terrorism” at this link (registration required).

Here’s what he wrote in his email:

I went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum today as part of a pre-dedication period for people who were involved before it opens to the public later this week. They did an excellent job.

The spaces are very well done from large open areas to small intimate rooms. The collection and displays are almost too much to absorb. They have been very, very complete about all aspects of the attack and the aftermath. Pictures, artifacts, video, audio, victims biographies, displays, rescuers, individual stories, etc. It just goes on and on, each item leading you to the next, and from gallery to gallery.

You must go. It took over four hours, but I could use another visit to really take it all in.

There is very little about the rebuilding, but after all, the story they are telling is about the attack itself.

I’m sure once it opens to the public, the lead time for tickets could be months.

Having been deeply involved in the design and rebuilding, it’s also great to see how all the parts of the footprint out on the memorial plaza and in the museum really came together. It’s a very moving experience, and for each of us who had the privilege of participating in any aspect of this it’s also very rewarding. If you weren’t involved directly, it will certainly make you understand the experience.

With my lectures and writing about 9/11 and more importantly the lessons learned from it, I never cease to be amazed at how you do not need to go very far from NYC or Washington, before people think this whole terrorism thing is someone else’s problem.

On the one hand I came home last night thinking everyone should be made to go through this museum to understand the price of their detachment, but on the other hand it might only reinforce the idea that it’s a New York issue.

Have you ever been to a museum with chaplains and grief counselors moving among the visitors, or permanently installed boxes of tissues in the exhibits, or its own bomb sniffing dogs? It’s a strange experience. A friend who had also been there described it to me as a “punch in the gut”, and it really is.

Most memorials don’t begin to show up until after the war is over. This one is not only here while the war continues, but on the site of its biggest event, and from the security that’s evident, is accepted to possibly be a target again. So it’s a valuable ‘punch’ that absolutely  achieves its mission to cause remembrance but also to … everyone … in this homeland security effort, it’s a reminder to keep pushing the message.

I’m including a couple of photos I took of the new tower rather than focus on the past alone since it’s the rebuilding that contributes so much to the overall sense about the Trade Center.

 

9:11 memorial 1

 

 

9:11 memorial 2

9:11 memorial 3

May 16, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 16, 2014

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Administration’s nominee to be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, testified this week and last. While all the attention is obviously on “Obamacare,” do not forget that if/when confirmed she will be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) that has the lead for ESF #8 as well as civilian medical countermeasure development through the office of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).  This is an important homeland security-related position.

Speaking of public health issues, cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are popping up at an alarming rate outside of the Middle East, including the U.S.

These are the issues I’ve been thinking about.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 9, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 9, 2014

Apologies for being a little late today.

In the interest of saving time, let’s just assume that something related to homeland security happened on this date at some point in the past.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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