Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 11, 2014

Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

March 13, 2014

The 21st Century Stafford Act

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on March 13, 2014

Today’s post is authored by a member of the homeland security enterprise who would prefer to not be named. The post reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of any particular federal agency or the Federal Government.

–+–

In January, a bipartisan group of congressional legislators from Illinois introduced a bill entitled the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014. A few days later, Illinois’ senators would introduce the same bill in the Senate. The ostensive purpose of these bills is to bring fairness to rural communities when competing for federal disaster declarations by altering FEMA’s disaster declaration regulations.

The problem is no President has ever delegated the right to decide disaster declarations to FEMA and Congress has limited the President from establishing disaster declaration criteria based upon arithmetic formulas or a sliding scale based on income or population. Even if this bill would become law tomorrow, it almost certainly would not change the framework of disaster declarations and only make changes to unbinding regulations. So why would these members go through such an effort?

The answer may be the lack of serious discourse about the primary legal framework for federal disaster preparedness and relief, the Stafford Act, over the last 25 years. While the Stafford Act has been amended several times since 1988, outside of the addition of mitigation authorities in 2000, there has been no substantive review of the utility, incentives and disincentives put into motion by its overall structure and purpose. The end result is Congress’ knowledge has atrophied. The nation’s citizens have been deprived of a chance to understand the issues surrounding disaster relief and preparedness that would allow them to set practical expectations for the types and amount of disaster assistance they can expect after a disaster. This includes the lack of debate about how the Stafford Act may, or may not, have affected the role and responsibility of different levels of governments to prepare for disasters and provide disaster relief. Nor has there been a serious debate about the balance between public sector and private sector relief efforts.

Beginning in 1950, the first four decades of the modern era of federal disaster relief saw periods of spirited review about these issues. Four times this evaluation led to significant restructuring of the statutory configuration of federal disaster preparedness and relief, almost always expanding the assistance available through the Federal Government. However, with the exception of emphasizing and incentivizing mitigation in 2000, there has not been a serious study of the utility of the structural foundations for federal disaster preparedness and relief.

This has deprived the nation of the serious study of what disaster preparedness and relief efficiencies need to be reinforced and what deficiencies should be rectified. It has also prevented citizens from understanding how much disaster assistance they should expect and the level of risk and responsibility they should be prepared to assume. We have avoided questions of responsibility for disaster relief from their different levels of government, the private sector and non-profits. While the nation has seen several major disasters since 1988, the debate after each of these events never led to the serious and episodic reappraisal seen in the previous four decades. We are now nearly 26 years past the last serious evaluation of the responsibilities for disaster relief.

It may be that the answers to these questions have changed little over these last 26 years but how do we know? What are the issues that might be debated? The obvious ones are perpetual: The division of responsibility and risk between public and private, federal and state, state and local and the individual responsibility of citizens. The debate over these issues will always ebb and flow with the direction of the country but are the factors that influence this debate static? What about the dramatic changes in technology over the last 26 years? With the profusion of resources and capabilities to individual citizens, much of it relayed through the computer in every pocket, the smart phone, should citizens shoulder more responsibility (and risk)?

Does our increasing reliance on interconnectedness, much of it delivered through the private sector, provide a new role for federal disaster relief to critical infrastructure? How can we harness the capabilities of the newest generation of disaster relief organizations to provide a more efficient and nimble disaster relief response than their predecessors? Are there incentives or resources which could be provided by the Federal Government to incentivize these organizations without impeding their innovation and competences?

Now may also be the time to look back and see where the Stafford Act has created pockets of efficiencies and inefficiencies. What mitigation efforts have, or have not, incentivized states and local governments to become more prepared? Should we, and could we, reward local and state governments who shoulder more of the responsibility for mitigation efforts? Are preparedness efforts better funded locally or more broadly? How do we support growing inter and intra-state regional governments who fall outside traditional federal-state relationships for disaster relief? Should the Federal Government encourage new forms of intergovernmental cooperation? How do we weigh the responsibilities of states – does the Federal Government more actively force them to tax to their risk, or leave it up to them?

Could the Federal Government provide incentives for states to push more responsibility for disaster relief to lower levels of government? Is this wise? What should be done about the clearly anachronistic Cold War era Title VI of the Stafford Act? A decade later, does the relationship between the Stafford Act and the Homeland Security Act need to be clarified? Could the debate over the relationship between these two statutes lead to streamlined Congressional oversight for disaster relief?

We learn by talking, by debating, by the marketplace of ideas. It’s time for a serious and spirited discourse if for no other reason than to reeducate ourselves and reestablish consistent expectations and responsibilities for disaster preparedness and relief.

January 13, 2014

Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

MONDAY EVENING UPDATE:

Several media outlets — and some private emails — indicate some areas of the Kanawha Valley are being told their tap water is again safe to consume.  Different areas are being “cleared” in a step-by-step process of flushing and multiple-testing.

–+–

Last week an unknown amount of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia (one estimate referenced 5000 gallons, another estimate is 7500 gallons). About one mile downstream from the discharge is the intake for a water system serving most of nine counties and up to 300,000 persons.

By Thursday evening a “Do Not Use” order was announced. Water customers were instructed to avoid bodily contact with tap water. Water has continued to flow for sanitation and firefighting (and to flush the system).

Even 24 hours after the spill the contamination risk was not well-understood. While not thought to be toxic, the chemical can cause irritation of the eyes and skin. Ingestion could cause nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and liver damage.

The chemical is known to be harmful in concentrations of 500 parts per million. By Friday evening levels of the chemical’s concentration in the Elk River near the water intakes had dropped from 2 to 1.7 parts per million.  On Saturday it was announced the “Do Not Use” order would not be lifted until a comprehensive testing process found concentrations of less than 1 ppm throughout the Kanawha Valley water network.  On Monday morning several spot-checks are reporting levels below 1 ppm.

The water network involves over 100 storage tanks and 1700 miles of pipeline.  On Saturday the water company explained, “Concentric flushing beginning at a central location and moving out to the far ends of the distribution system is expected to take several days but will not be simultaneous based upon the construction of the system. The timeline may vary based on geographic location, customer demand and other factors that impact water usage and availability.”

Retail supplies of bottled water quickly sold out on Thursday night and Friday.  But by Saturday most stores had been resupplied and some major retailers were providing customers water at no charge.  Several public distribution locations had also been established.  FEMA has shipped over 1.5 million liters into West Virginia.  Proactive efforts are being made to ensure drinking water distribution to the elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable populations.  Both private and public supply chains will continue to surge water into the greater Charleston area.

This is a still developing situation.  Lots of lessons — and pseudo-lessons — are likely to emerge.  With appropriate trepidation, let’s begin to gather some observations and hypotheses.

Prevention and Mitigation

In my personal experience secondary-effects on water systems are especially consequential. I have seen urban areas emerge from a detailed analysis of a nuclear detonation in what seemed a survivable condition only to have the water system fail and unwind an entire region.

As with many — most — modern systems of supply urban water systems are nodal networks.   These networks are innately more efficient on good days and innately predisposed to catastrophic cascades on bad days.  Trouble at any node is likely to propagate to other nodes.   The nodes — electrical, logistical, water, whatever — are especially susceptible to no-notice concentration stresses.   (This is what is currently speculated to have happened at the UPS Worldport on the weekend before Christmas causing one of the best supply chains in the world to nearly collapse.)

A significant aspect of the problem in West Virginia is that the — largely unknown — chemical was released in considerable quantity so close to the node.  There was not sufficient time-and-space for dilution to do its magic before the whole system was contaminated.  Electrical, computing, fuel, and other networks are vulnerable to analogous risk.

Response

West Virginia is on the edge of four regional supply chain networks.  This is so rough to be at least a bit misleading, but think of large circles radiating out from Washington-Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Charlotte/Roanoke.  Depending on the commodity or sector, these circles overlap in West Virginia.

I expect — but it is only an informed guess — that the spike in demand signals began emerging after Thursday orders and Friday morning deliveries were processed.  So it took until Friday morning to seriously engage the unexpected explosion in demand.  Then it was late Friday or early Saturday before sufficient commercial stocks of bottled water could be redirected into the network.

Again just an informed guess, but Kroger, Walmart, Sysco, and  McLane are probably the principal distributors of bottled water in West Virginia.  They will also be the principal sources for sanitizers, baby wipes, paper plates, and related products  For players this size, there is an existing strategic capacity to surge supply.  While 300,000 with a no-notice loss of drinking water is non-trivial it does not exhaust capacity… especially because this is on the edge of four regional supply networks, each with very deep resources. The challenge is more an issue of transport than supply.  So… by Saturday the commercial supply chain was aware of the problem, reorganizing to supply the problem, and largely successful doing so.

Provision of water by local fire departments, state emergency resources, and FEMA is a crucially important complement to the commercial supply chains.  Red Cross, churches and similar organizations are especially important to filling the demand-and-supply gap for non-mobile populations.

My off-the-cuff analysis would not be nearly so benign if a similar event hit a much more densely populated area that was served by a less diverse supply chain.

Recovery

Contamination events are especially challenging.  How do you prove a negative?  Rumors will fly faster than facts.  Bottled water is going to be more popular in the Kanawha Valley than ever before, enjoying sustained demand long after chemical concentrations fall below 1 part per million.

Nodes are important here too.  What and who are the psycho-social nodes in this (these) communities?  What relationships have already been established?  How can those relationships be energized in this instance to deal with this issue?  Will these communities respond as victims, as survivors, as heroes? And what, in retrospect, will they decide to learn?

One of my West Virginia friends who contributed to this report offered,  ”Tell your readers that if they want to help they need to plan their next vacation or convention for Charleston.” Basic human needs are being addressed, but the long-term economic consequences will be very troubling.

Much more to come.  This crisis continues. But in any case, Coleridge was right:

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink….

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

November 21, 2013

Complex versus complicated

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2013

Sunday I was doing what I could — not much — to deploy barges, boats, anything that could float a truck to the San Bernadino strait between Luzon and Samar in Eastern Philippines.

About the same time several tornadoes were tearing through the area of downstate Illinois  where I grew up.  In Pekin and Washington over 500 homes were destroyed, over 100 were hospitalized, one died.  There was more death and destruction across the Midwest.

In each case — Central Illinois and Central Philippines — the precipitating cause was a cyclonic event with winds exceeding 190 miles per hour. In each case similar critiques have emerged related to risk-awareness, mitigation, warning, and preparedness.

Otherwise the differences are significant.

While there were over 70 confirmed tornadoes across the Midwest on Sunday, tornadoes are episodic. Tropical cyclones are epic.  Survivors in the tri-county region of Illinois talk about two-minutes of hell.  Survivors in the Visayas region of the Philippines experienced hours of assault by rain, wind, and surge. It is now estimated that up to 4 million have been displaced by the typhoon. Over 518,000 houses have been destroyed.  The dead are still being found.

Terrestrial cyclones don’t come with storm surge.  Water kills much more effectively than wind. Only earthquakes are more deadly… especially if they splash up a tsunami.

The scale — specific power at impact — of the EF-4 tornado that hit Washington is comparable to the CAT-5 typhoon that passed south of Tacloban.   In terms of their scope… well, look for yourself.

Haiyan to Washington

But it is a mistake to only see the differences as a matter of scope or scale.  In terms of consequences these events are expressions of entirely different categories.  The Visayas Event was/is complex and very much continuing to unwind.  The Washington Event was complicated and, except for those directly affected, is now mostly finished.

Disasters are contained in recognizable time-and-space, temporarily disrupting patterns that mostly rebound.  Catastrophes are complex cascades marking a fundamental shift in experience and direction.

There is a temptation to focus on size, as if one is a ping-pong ball and the other is a basketball.  Instead, it seems to me, we need to recognize that one is any size ball and the other is a positron: two very different types of reality, requiring two very different strategies of engagement.

For example:

In Illinois it is entirely reasonable to form a security perimeter around the impact site, to focus on evacuating survivors, and to defer mostly to private sector decisions related to recovery.

In the Visayas these same choices are possible, but where in Illinois the velocity and outcome of these choices are reasonably predictable and positive, in the Visayas such choices are likely to make things even worse (especially the next time).   In any case, in the Visayas (the positron) we are dealing with probability not predictability.

Given the catastrophic context in the Philippines instead of perimeters, focus on permeability (e.g. clear debris, repair bridges, expedite convoys).  Instead of evacuation, focus on quick restoration of lifelines (especially water and food, even electricity is secondary).  Private choices will be important in both places, but there are threats and vulnerabilities in Tacloban and elsewhere that would benefit from a much more active role by both government and civil society.

Catastrophes are not just big and complicated, they are an entirely different category of reality.

November 14, 2013

Healing our addiction to control

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Recovery,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2013

Logistics hubs

The area shown above is a roughly 50,000 square mile region featuring six major and many smaller islands.  The region’s total population is about 11.2 million.

The typhoon made landfall in eastern Samar province early Friday morning November 8. With sustained winds of 195 miles-per-hour and wind gusts of up to 235 mph, the cyclone tore west across the nation of islands for the next twelve hours.

There had been preparations and in many areas evacuations.  But given the cyclone’s reach and Philippine geography one might run but not hide from a storm this size.

The number of casualties is not yet clear. The fate of survivors is clear enough. Tomoo Hozumi, the Philippines’ UNICEF representative, told CNN food, shelter, clean water and basic sanitation are “in a severe shortage, the situation on the ground is hideous.”

The dead have not been buried. Toxic detritus has been splashed across the wrecked landscape. Human waste is accumulating. Simple cuts become life-threatening due to infection and lack of medicine.

More than 11 million people are affected. More than a half-million have been displaced. Up to 2.5 million are in imminent danger due to lack of human essentials.  “Maslow’s pyramid has collapsed,” one Filipino said.

Delivering supplies is the preeminent challenge. As it was in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2010 Haitian earthquake, and 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake. We will see these challenges in the United States following a CAT-5 hurricane or 8-plus earthquake pummeling a dense urban area.

On Tuesday night, nearly five days after landfall, the Philippine national government outlined a “master plan” for supplying the expansive impact area roughly the size of Louisiana. Based on an interview with Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, here’s an overview from the Manila Bulletin:

“This will come out to be one of the largest logistic and relief operations that the Philippine government has ever done in history and the President wanted to make sure that we have aligned everything,” he added.

“There has never been anything at the magnitude of what we are trying to do now—not in size, not in volume, not in even the breadth of it,” he added.

Under the relief plan, Almendras said the government will set up a special processing center in Cebu that will integrate the flow of all relief assistance. From Cebu, the relief goods will be distributed to the typhoon-hit places.

He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will also establish additional repacking centers of relief goods, including in Ormoc, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

He said the government is moving the relief goods to Tacloban City by air, land, and sea transportation. C-130 planes are doing sunrise to sunset operations to bring relief goods to the disaster-hit areas.

He added that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has been designated “transportation guru” to ensure relief goods are moved as fast as possible.

On questions why the goods are not reaching some victims, Almendra said: “That’s really a local issue that we are trying to address now.”

The last — unanswered — paragraph is the crucial concern.  Establishing logistical hubs is certainly a challenge. They may be needed, I don’t know the status of preexisting hubs.  But hubs exist to serve spokes and move energy to the treads. Spokes and treads are how commodities become supplies that survivors actually consume.

In its November 13 situation update the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasizes, “Trucks and fuel are urgently needed to deliver aid. Debris and logistics continue to severely constrain the delivery of humanitarian assistance.” In the same report OCHA estimates that to date about 250,000 survivors have received food assistance (of the 2.5 million noted above).

There have been some — surprising — lessons learned from prior catastrophes.  After the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency Japanese Self Defense Forces spent at least five days trying to self-create sufficient capacity to serve hundreds-of-thousands of survivors. There was never close to enough. Only after the perimeters came down, fuel was available and commercial resources were reengaged did supplies begin to meet demand.   The convenience store sector in Japan became a major engine of localized response and recovery.

A friend who was on the ground soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti says, “Really effective distribution did not take hold until street vendors opened a so-called black market for relief supplies.  Our initial reaction was moral outrage. Our second and very quiet reaction was gratitude.  In a couple of days the street vendors achieved a level of distribution that was far beyond the capability of the international and NGO communities.”

Since their 2011 experience the Japanese have given unprecedented attention to pre-planning and collaboration with the private sector. (There is even a — controversial — proposal to use private sector transportation for  non-disaster-related military missions.)  The emergency-response strategy is now more focused on restoring instead of replacing private sector supply streams.

In both Japan and Haiti — and now the Philippines — the strategic issue might be framed as, “How do you make complexity your friend?”

Some partial, situation-specific answers:  Clear debris, open roadways, restore or replace bridges, do not divert fuel from the commercial economy, keep perimeters reasonably permeable, compensate the private sector (even black-marketeers) to distribute at no-charge what they had previously sold, cherish and support truckers and trucks (especially small trucks), provide security as needed with convoys or otherwise. As much as possible, use whatever relationships, networks, systems, capacities, and capabilities facilitated distribution prior to the crisis. Encourage creative local — even random — adaptation.

I don’t know the Philippines well-enough to be confident of the right answers there and now. I do recognize in the government’s “master plan” familiar strategies that have proven ineffective in previous catastrophic situations.

The front-page of the November 14 Manila Bulletin includes this headline: Despair, chaos grip Tacloban: Survivors Hope To Escape Apocalypse

–+–

The “serenity prayer” is, perhaps, most associated with Alcoholics Anonymous:

Give me grace to accept the
things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

We might adopt it for catastrophe preparedness, response and recovery.

August 29, 2013

New Orleans at 8

Filed under: Recovery — by Philip J. Palin on August 29, 2013

The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center offers an analysis of economic and demographic trends since Katrina.  The full report is here.

In assessing progress or lack of Progress the Data Center compares ”indicators for the New Orleans metro with that of a peer group of postindustrial metros with which New Orleans was identified pre-2000, and separately with a group of aspirational Southern metros that have experienced enviable economic growth since 2000.”

Following are a few excerpts:

As of July 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated New Orleans’ population at 369,250, or 76 percent of its 2000 population of 484,674. The metro area, with 1,205,374 residents, has 92 percent of its 2000 population of 1,316,510.

By 2012, the New Orleans metro had recouped all its recession-era losses and reached 1 percent above its 2008 job level, close to the aspirational metros which had reached 2 percent above their 2008 job level. In contrast, the nation and weaker post-industrial metros remained more than 2 percent below their 2008 job levels.

While median household income in the New Orleans metro fell 8 percent from 1999 to 2011, it fell more sharply (11 percent) nationwide over the same time frame.

As the metro’s minority share of the population fell post-Katrina, our share of all businesses that are minority-owned continued to rise, maintaining our advantage over the rest of the nation at 27 versus 21 percent.

Crime rates have declined to lower than pre-Katrina levels, but the city’s 2011 crime rates remain significantly higher than the national averages for both violent and property crimes.

Since 2004, the share of renters in the city of New Orleans paying unaffordable housing costs has spiked from 43 percent to 54 percent. City renters have historically struggled to afford housing costs compared to their national peers. As incomes declined during the 1980’s oil bust, the share of renters paying at least 35 percent of their household income on housing — a threshold considered unaffordable — increased. As incomes increased during the 1990s, that share declined. Since Katrina and the onset of the Great Recession, higher rents compounded by lower household incomes have contributed to a spike in the share of city renters paying unaffordable housing costs. As of 2011, a full 54 percent of city renters were spending more than 35 percent of their household income on housing and utilities compared to 44 percent of renters nationally.  New Orleans homeowners also struggle more than their national peers to afford housing costs. In the city, 27 percent of homeowners spend more than 35 percent of pre-tax household income on their mortgage, taxes, utilities, and insurance compared to only 23 percent of homeowners nationwide.

Between 1932 and 2010, the New Orleans region lost 948 square miles of coastal wetlands, which is nearly 30 percent of the wetlands that protect the New Orleans area from hurricane storm surge. Coastal wetlands in the Breton Sound, Barataria Basin, Mississippi River Delta Basin, and Pontchartrain Basin are the primary line of defense against hurricanes for New Orleans area residents. However, 78 years of recorded measurements reveal that nearly 30 percent of these protective wetlands have been lost — due in part to flood control projects on the Mississippi River that have starved the wetlands of sediment deposits and fresh water. Hurricanes and the construction of navigational canals by the oil and gas industry have also damaged wetlands. The slight increase in coastal wetlands from 2009 to 2010 may indicate recovery from recent hurricanes. However, it is too soon to determine if these gains are permanent or environmental variability.

Much more in The New Orleans Index at Eight.

August 22, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: The government’s role in fostering resilience

Filed under: Recovery,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 22, 2013

sandyrebuildingstrategy_0

Here’s the lead paragraph from Monday’s Department of Housing and Urban Development news release:

President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, today released a rebuilding strategy to serve as a model for communities across the nation facing greater risks from extreme weather and to continue helping the Sandy-affected region rebuild.  The Rebuilding Strategy contains 69 policy recommendations, many of which have already been adopted, that will help homeowners stay in and repair their homes, strengthen small businesses and revitalize local economies and ensure entire communities are better able to withstand and recover from future storms. 

Here’s a link to the full report.

Excellent overview of impact and consequences.  The sixty-nine recommendations are all reasonable and, if even partially implemented, will advance resilience and readiness.

As my once teen-aged son commented, “When you open with praise is when I really get nervous.”

This is very much a government-to-government document.  How do various federal agencies coordinate? How do federal, state, and local jurisdictions coordinate or at least avoid conflict? The interagency and intergovernmental challenges are real.  This document should help with these issues.  Every recommendation is doable and assigned out for doing.

But if a broader mandate was intended, it has certainly gotten lost.

One example from a section giving priority to “restore and strengthen homes, providing families with safe, affordable housing options.”

34. RECOMMENDATION: Bring together the Housing RSF and Emergency Support Function six partner agencies to review and integrate existing housing plans, as well as existing statutes, regulations, and policies for potential changes (statutory, regulatory or policy) to improve the delivery of housing solutions for future disasters.

Might it also be a good idea to bring together major builders and managers of housing?

Someone reading the Task Force Report might be excused for thinking the private sector had been totally obliterated by Hurricane Sandy and has not returned.  Housing is not the only place where the absence of private players is remarkable.

Toward the end of the report I thought, aha here we go most of the reach-out to the private sector has been consolidated under a single title.  There is a section called, “Facilitate Opportunities for Community and Non-Profit Engagement in Capacity Building and Actively Engage Philanthropy to Fill Capacity Gaps.”  This tees-up precisely one recommendation:

61. RECOMMENDATION: Facilitate and expand opportunities for philanthropic and non-profit engagement in recovery, including opportunities for organizations that work with vulnerable populations. The CPCB RSFs in New York and New Jersey should actively support funder collaboratives that provide grants to nonprofits working in coordination with government. This should include encouragement of sub-grants to NGOs that would assist in accomplishing the Federal outreach requirements, including those specific to vulnerable populations to ensure they are included in the recovery planning process.

To be fair there are a couple of recommendations that seem to involve elements of the community beyond the government. Further, there is evidence the Task Force actively reached out to consult with a broader cross-section… though contact with the commercial sector is not explicit.  There are other initiatives that have featured robust private-public engagement in conceiving post-Sandy priorities.

Still, a Stalinist apparatchik awaking from a seventy year nap might read the Task Force report and find good cause to believe central planning had also been adopted by the United States.

Precisely because centralized planning is not our reality, some greater attention to the private — individual, family, neighborhood, not-for-profit, and commercial — domain would have strengthened what is a helpful report.

June 13, 2013

NYC recovery — and resilience — plan

Filed under: Recovery — by Philip J. Palin on June 13, 2013

Tuesday afternoon Mayor Bloomberg unveiled New York’s multi-year strategy and plan to recover from Hurricane Sandy and be better prepared for the next — potentially worse — climate-related event.

You can read the complete document here:  A Stronger More Resilient New York.

I found the press release from the Mayor’s office an informative quick read.  You can see the press release here:  Mayor Proposes How to Protect City from Climate Change.

It strikes me as an entirely reasonable mainstream effort.  It is a mix of several different strategies customized to particular sectors, specific geographies, and — I’m guessing — what it is perceived most citizens are willing to accept.

It is “just” a plan.  Funding, sequencing, and execution of individual pieces will determine what is really achieved.  If you’re a resilience nerd (like me) you’ll probably find it lacking imagination.  But if you’re in favor of “git’ur done” recovery, you’ll probably see it as a whole series of non-market-based complications.   There are surely some New York property developers who see a whole host of new opportunities, and maybe that’s the implicit answer to my critiques below.

The report is organized (mostly) by threat, sector, and geography.  There is a section on community preparedness, but it is probably the weakest in the entire document.  The report is further evidence that governments are willing to build stuff and regulate more stuff.  But there is very little attention to politics: the purposeful practice of living together in a city.

(I can just hear my NY buddies laughing that there is not enough politics in something Mayor Bloomberg is pushing.  But this report — and the news conference at which it was released — sounds/reads more like a systems engineering study than anything involving people.)

This political anemia may contribute to my second impression: Significant elements of the plan depend on working with private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, but I don’t see anything outlined to suggest how this shared public-private responsibility will be effectively advanced.

I recommend reading the Utilities section.  This is especially well written systems engineering.  When you come to the “Initiatives for Increasing Resiliency in Utilities”, notice the how involves private-public collaboration and creativity.  But there is no rhetorical or systemic case made for why tomorrow will be different than the day before Sandy hit in regards to these crucial relationships.   I have been involved in private-public dialogue related to electric power.  It can be tough even when everyone is operating in good faith.

I assume it’s just a digital glitch.  But on Wednesday when I was reviewing the plan the Telecommunications section was missing… just as wireless was “missing” across large areas during much of Sandy.  The wireless communications industry is currently expending significant resources to resist new efforts at government regulation.  This has seriously complicated private-public collaboration on emergency preparedness involving the wireless sector. I would love to read that Mayor Bloomberg — with his personal background in the private sector working in an area closely related to telecommunications — has cracked the code for engaging the telecom companies.  For the moment, I find the report’s missing piece richly ironic.

In any case, at least read the news release.