Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 20, 2013

Private and Public Cultures: Communicating

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 20, 2013

Two weeks ago I started thinking-out loud regarding the sometime tension between public and private cultures, especially related to homeland security.  I suggested the two sectors are divided by contrasting perceptions of context.   Given the difference in context, it is not surprising two very different concepts of operations emerge. Last week I gave specific examples related to planning.

This week I look at communications.   The differences here are especially profound, but as far as I can determine have nothing to do with my context-and-concept framework.  Today no theoretical notions, just observational reports.  If you have a hypothesis that explains the differences, please let us know.

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Scheduling, Size, and Agenda

If I am doing private sector meetings in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco I begin setting up the schedule four to six weeks before.  I can usually do three or four meetings a day. Typically I exchange notes on agenda and key questions or purposes about two weeks prior.    The most important meetings are usually a working lunch or dinner.  These are set aside for two-hours plus and are conceived as encouraging non-linear conversations.  The vast majority of meetings are one-on-one or, perhaps, four or five altogether.  Early in my private sector career I was instructed to seriously discount the potential of any meeting involving more than seven people (myself included).

If I am doing public sector meetings — especially in Washington DC — it is risky to set up more than one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  It is not unusual for me to make an appointment and have it shifted two or three times on the scheduled day.  It is typical to make a meeting with one person and for a team of twelve to show up.  Eating together is seldom involved, but it is a signal of unusual intimacy.   Most of the public sector meetings to which I am invited have also invited dozens of others, but often less than a dozen show up.  More –sometimes many more — are on the phone (teleconferences are less common, involve smaller numbers, and are generally less interactive in the private sector). I almost always have an agenda in my mind, but I have learned that being explicit is seldom helpful and often hurtful.  Many of my most productive public sector meetings are totally spontaneous pop-ups.

Participation and Purposes

A private sector meeting usually begins with either a problem or a purpose (hence the prior discussion of agenda).  Some sort of previously prepared product is presented that either defines the problem/purpose or purports to solve/advance the problem/purpose.  Questions are asked.  Criticisms are offered.  Answers and explanations are attempted.  There is a conversation, often facilitated by the most senior person or an outside consultant. Adjustments in the original product are made.  Action steps are assigned. Who is assigned what is especially important.  What is the A Team assigned?  What is given the soon-to-retire guy and why? This signals the real priority associated with the product.  Some sort of follow-on measure or meeting or such is targeted.   Someone almost always follows up immediately in writing with what the meeting covered and decided. Who sends the follow-up and the proportion of CYA to advance-the-plow is significant. Corrections or “clarifications” to the follow-up can become very complicated. The product may be badly conceived.  The conversation can be stilted and non-productive.  The action assigned may be anemic and have the half-life of a May Fly, but this is a regularly repeating pattern.

A public sector meeting usually begins late, almost always ten minutes late.  It is not unusual to have a significant number of participants showing up thirty minutes late.   The meeting is often designed to generate a big piece of a product and it may be designed and constructed in the open meeting.  Positions are staked out. Pennsylvania is interested in X. HHS is insistent on Y.  Red Cross won’t play unless ABC is assured.  The product is accordingly adjusted, sometimes on a big screen in front of everyone.   Questions may be asked.  I have seen effective questioners transform meetings and products.  But when questions are answered it is much more reminiscent of a thesis-defense than a dinner conversation. Another version of the product is distributed claiming to reflect the meeting outcomes.  Sometimes it does, often by padding the product and making it even more unwieldy and unreadable, occasionally in an integrative way.  But in any case, the authors can claim to have consulted key stakeholders and peers.

In the private sector “products” — as used above — are usually a collection of research, production, organizational, and/or marketing actions.   In the public sector products are as often written documents of some sort.

Rhetoric

Private sector meetings are more and more informal.  This trend has been especially pronounced over the last ten years.  Casual Fridays have overtaken the whole week.  The discussion ranges from family to a couple of cells on the spreadsheets to purposeful (very short) stories.  There is — in many, though not all, private sector settings — a deep bias toward “blending.”  Private and professional are blended.  Numbers and narrative are blended.  Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation in a balanced happily blended way. Courtesy counts. Cool counts.  Generation Y has a serious claim on the culture.

There is — at least to my taste — a persistently paramilitary flavor to most  public sector meetings.  Many more ties are worn in the public sector.  Many more PowerPoints are shown.  There are many more formal presentations and “official” interventions.  The size difference between private and public meetings, noted above, probably has a considerable influence.  Command Presence counts. Baby boomers continue to define the culture.

When these two cultures come together the rhetorical results can be dramatic, especially when there is numerical parity.  Private sector conversations seem off-point or ill-informed or glib to many in the public sector.  Public sector interventions seem long, defensive, and bossy to many in the private sector.

At a private-public session a few months ago a senior government official attempted to direct the discussion by asserting his (and his organization’s) greater knowledge of the situation.  It was an extended comment punctuated with just a tad of table-pounding.  It was followed by uncomfortable silence.  I was trying to conceive a follow-on question that might open up some shared space.

A younger private sector guy broke the silence with, “I don’t believe you.  You may be absolutely right, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t believe you.”  The following is a paraphrase, “I don’t believe you because you are claiming more knowledge of your world than I have of my world.  You are claiming to have more control of the world than I believe is possible.  And you are speaking to me as if I was a child.”

I wish it was possible to report that this was an epiphany that unlocked greater understanding on both sides.  Instead it seemed to deepen the chasm.

June 13, 2013

Public and Private Cultures: Context, concepts, communication, action (Part II)

Filed under: Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 13, 2013

Last week I launched an analysis of private-public tensions in homeland security.  I argued — very broadly (perhaps too broadly to be meaningful) — that the private and public sectors experience two very different contexts.  

The private sector context is perceived as  having significant opportunities for growth, where failure — especially when recognized and jettisoned — can be a key contributor to ultimate success.  The public sector context is perceived as (and often is) resource static or declining and failure is seen as wasteful and/or a source of personal humiliation.

With the exception of an exception by Bill Cumming, this analysis did not prompt comment.  In some cultures silence is a signal of disagreement.  In the United States silence is more often a matter of tacit agreement or apathetic disengagement.  In this instance, I assume the latter but would value your input to challenge or refine these reflections.

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Different Contexts produce Different Concepts of Operation

If reality is static then planning (derived from the Latin for flat or plain or easy to be seen) is not only logical but is reasonably likely to work well.

Moreover if reality is static and failure is “not an option” then planning needs to be — and can be — very detailed.  It becomes the operational analogy of a symphony score.

In the military, emergency management and related public sector domains the score (plan) will often seem similar to an early 20th Century orchestral composition by Schoenberg or Berg or Eisler where excruciating detail unfolds from many pages of careful notation.  It is almost impossible to perform, but  with enough practice serious professionals can pull it off.  Audience reaction varies from wild applause to rioting in the aisle.

Planners are certainly aware they are planning for a non-static situation.  But their current reality — in terms of budget, assignment, measures, and more — is mostly static.  Their own success or failure is much more likely to emerge from the ongoing stasis than the anticipated non-stasis for which they are planning.

(Which reminds me of a Niels Bohr aphorism: “You’re not thinking, you’re just being logical.”)

Meanwhile the private sector — because it perceives expansive opportunity — is inclined to much looser plans, much more jazz than symphony.  This does not mean it is undisciplined, but it is a very different kind of discipline. “To the uninitiated, jazz seems like chaos, whereas the reality is that it’s very ordered,” according to Deniz Ucbasaran. “Underpinning the structure is a long tradition of education and practice.”

In the public sector a great deal of perceived value is embedded in the plan itself.  Developing explicit guidance for future execution is the goal. The private sector tends to focus more on the planning process.  Private value is generated by bringing together individuals and teams from across the enterprise with customers and suppliers and other stakeholders for problem-seeking discussions that emphasize choosing strategic predispositions.  Developing implicit understanding is a frequent goal.

Because private sector context is perceived to be ever-changing it is assumed most tactical decisions cannot be made until real-time is unfolding.  But strategic advantages can be recognized and claimed to better support tactical choices.

Both private and public planning is focused on an anticipated future.  Both private and public recognize the future is not precisely predictable.  But there is a tendency for the public sector to perceive that unpredictability is best engaged through systematically conceived pre-decisions, while the private sector is more inclined to identify present action and shared strategic objectives.

(In a future post I will try to describe what is actually done by the two sectors when the anticipated future unfolds.  It often seems to me counter-intuitive given these predispositions.)

Recently I was involved in a mostly public sector planning process for an unlikely but very consequential event.  There was a private sector guy having his baptismal experience in public-private joint planning.  It was a much better-than-average  public sector planning activity.  There was a substantive discussion of risks. It focused helpfully on meaningful objectives and how the plan should be amended before the next meeting of the inter-jurisdictional, inter-agency, (sort of ) private-public group.

But after the session the newbie private sector participant shared his frustration with the lack of immediate operational/functional action.  He was not referencing planning actions.  He wanted to know when actual changes in personnel, financial or operational commitments would be made to reflect the substantive discussion.  Of course such actions are almost never within the purview of public sector planners.

In a static — or receding — universe, planning relates to what should be done in the future.  In an expanding universe planning is mostly about what will be done now to shape the future.

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Another Niels Bohr quote (can you guess who I am reading?): “Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.”  While the rhetoric above may sound confident, I am not. This is written out as a kind of discovery learning.  I hope you have some corrections or, at least, alternatives.

June 6, 2013

Public and Private Cultures: Context, concepts, communication, action

Filed under: Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 6, 2013

I recently completed a homeland security project with a significant private-public element.  I have begun the assessment process and intend to include a personal note on the issue of “cultural tensions” between the private and public sector.

Following is the first of an expected three or fours posts where I am trying to think through my impressions.  There are empirical findings, but the data can reasonably be interpreted in a variety of ways.  We are left with analysis or interpretation or persuasion.  I would very much value your feedback.  What seems sound and what sounds wrong?  Given your own experience of private-public engagements, what are your questions or alternative answers?

Clearly this is radically reductionist.  At best this is an effort to identify some helpful heuristics.  At worst — well, heuristics are always double-edged.

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Perceived Context as a Source of Cultural Differentiation

I am the son and grandson of grocers.  Over the last three decades I have not been employed by an organization I did not create or co-create.  I have worked with various public sector entities and have been compensated for this work, but I have never been employed by the public sector.

I have never been employed by a large organization of any sort.  I have been a consultant to large organizations, but my professional home has typically been an enterprise of 10-to-40 persons.  Very early in my career I was part of a  global consulting firm of a few thousand, but we were organized in mostly independent small offices and teams.  It was a much looser arrangement than I encountered among our Fortune-100 client-base.

I share this personal background because it no doubt influences the following findings.  As my Dad often says, “We are who we are because of where we were when.”  Our understanding of context influences every other understanding.

Fundamental to private sector context is failure: competitors fail, customers fail, colleagues fail.  Start-ups fail.  Market-dominating firms are killed off in a couple of CEO-cycles.  I have mostly failed.  Even when the organizations I have created have continued they have never achieved what those present at the beginning envisioned.

Private sector culture anticipates failure.  Hitting 300 is very good, especially if you are regularly up to bat, even more if you can hit when the bases are loaded.   Knowing that failure is likely you look for back-up opportunities, maintain exit plans, and cultivate an ecology of opportunity.  Many private sector enterprises use failure much as an organic farmer uses waste to fertilize the next generation of crops.

This is because the U.S. private sector is heavily oriented toward growth.  Good growth from a minority of successful initiatives will more than cover the losses generated by failures… especially failures that are brought to an early demise.  Know when to hold them and when to fold them.  Walking away from failure at the right time — and learning from the failure — is a key characteristic of the most resilient private sector enterprises.

As an outsider looking in on the public sector I do not perceive this creative anticipation of failure plays a similar role.  Rather, avoiding failure seems a regular characteristic of public sector clients and colleagues.

This may be related to a lack of growth opportunities within the public sector.   In an essentially static resource context failure is seen as waste rather than exploration or innovation or investment.

There is at least as much diversity within the private sector and public sector as between them.  The US Coast Guard and the Navy Chaplain Corps are among the most entrepreneurial of organizations I have had the pleasure to encounter.  Education and training organizations are — weirdly — often the most bureaucratic regardless of their private or public status.  I have watched up-close as proud private sector brands have stubbornly avoided taking reasonable — much less market bending — risks.

But as a general rule, public sector organizations are loathe to fail.  In some cases it is precisely the prospect of imminent failure that generates “growth” opportunities for the public sector.  Just when the private sector would probably be walking away is when the public sector is tempted to double-down to ensure success — or at least avoid failure.  The public sector too often succumbs to this temptation.

The temptation to avoid-failure-at-all-cost is reinforced by the way public sector failure is framed (in a couple of meanings of the word) by the media and elected officials.  There is a cult of personal accountability that practices a cruel liturgy of public humiliation.

For the private sector failure can also come with considerable personal costs, but it is balanced with upside possibilities.  In the public sector the outcomes of failure are heavily weighted toward all-costs and almost no incentive. Culturally the private sector has mythologized reality as a space/time where possibilities abound, failure is temporary, and the universe is expanding.  The mythology of the public sector is much more a matter of light and dark, success or failure, and the universe is static.

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Next week — maybe — the operational concepts that emerge from these alternative contexts.

May 24, 2013

Terrorism and the greater threat of perpetual war

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 24, 2013

Below is an extended excerpt from the prepared remarks for a speech the President gave Thursday afternoon.  I have removed a historical preface and about the last fifth which addressed the situation with Gitmo and offered an eloquent closing.  The bold highlights are what on first reading struck me as especially interesting.  You can read the entire prepared remarks at the White House website.

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With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP –the most active in plotting against our homeland. While none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11 they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. Here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we confront state-sponsored networks like Hizbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Others are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. That means we will face more localized threats like those we saw in Benghazi, or at the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives – in loose affiliation with regional networks – launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.

Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City – America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time. Deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens or legal residents – can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.

Moreover, we must recognize that these threats don’t arise in a vacuum. Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.

Nevertheless, this ideology persists, and in an age in which ideas and images can travel the globe in an instant, our response to terrorism cannot depend on military or law enforcement alone. We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas. So let me discuss the components of such a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.

In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.

In some of these places – such as parts of Somalia and Yemen – the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action. It is also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians– where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities that pose no threat to us, or when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.

To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense; the likelihood of capture, although our preference, was remote given the certainty of resistance; the fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties, or embroiled in an extended firefight, was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our Special Forces – but also depended on some luck. And even then, the cost to our relationship with Pakistan – and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory – was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important partnership.

It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions – about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.

Let me address these questions. To begin with, our actions are effective. Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, “we could lose the reserves to the enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.” Other communications from al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.

Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it. That’s why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.

In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. However, by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.

Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.

This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted, lethal action is the use of conventional military options. As I’ve said, even small Special Operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies; unleash a torrent of unintended consequences; are difficult to contain; and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict. So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths, or to create enemies in the Muslim world. The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

So yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life. Indeed, our efforts must also be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action, nor waiting for attacks to occur, offers moral safe-harbor. Neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services – and indeed, have no functioning law.

This is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies, and impacts public opinion overseas. Our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.

For this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team

That’s who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.

Of course, the targeting of any Americans raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes – which is why my Administration submitted information about Awlaki to the Department of Justice months before Awlaki was killed, and briefed the Congress before this strike as well. But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life. Alongside the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way, the decision to use force against individuals or groups – even against a sworn enemy of the United States – is the hardest thing I do as President. But these decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people.

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better. But our security and values demand that we make the effort.

This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements – because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism. We are working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians – because it is right, and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship – because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with peoples’ hopes, and not simply their fears.

Success on these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.

America cannot carry out this work if we do not have diplomats serving in dangerous places. Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.

But even after we take these steps, some irreducible risks to our diplomats will remain. This is the price of being the world’s most powerful nation, particularly as a wave of change washes over the Arab World. And in balancing the trade-offs between security and active diplomacy, I firmly believe that any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run.

Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement and assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas. As we guard against dangers from abroad, however, we cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders.

As I said earlier, this threat is not new. But technology and the Internet increase its frequency and lethality. Today, a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat, two years ago my Administration did a comprehensive review, and engaged with law enforcement. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.

Indeed, thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That’s why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.

The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

May 23, 2013

Synergistically Shifting the Resilience Paradigm

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

The following post is by Andrew J. Phelps. I invited Mr. Phelps to “respond” to my post above which was a reaction to his comment last week. His response is considerably more than a response-to-a-response and deserves this separate posting. (Philip J. Palin)

–+–

I have no idea what the title of this post means. I don’t know if I could accurately define or describe “synergy”, “resilience”, or “paradigm”. I have ideas of what they may mean and I have used them all, probably incorrectly, in talks, presentations, and my writing. I have a problem, however, with the word resilience. So much so that I jumped at the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my derision for that word when asked by the folks at Homeland Security Watch.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s recently announced 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge is aimed at creating 100 local CROs (Chief Resilience Officers) “to oversee the development of a resilience strategy for (their) city”. Reading about this well-intentioned initiative made me wonder if the concept of “resilience” is truly understood by the policy-makers asking communities to become more resilient. I do not believe it is. My two-part understanding of resilience in the context of disasters and catastrophes in a community is this:

  • One, the ability of a community to quickly begin recovering from a disaster and continue the provision of services;
  • and two, a community’s capacity to return to its pre-disaster “shape” (a rubber-band is resilient, in that as it is pulled and stretched, it always returns back to its original size and shape. Unless it breaks.  In which case, it is beyond repair and perhaps lacked sufficient “resiliency”).

My first understanding of resiliency speaks to two critical components of emergency planning: Recovery (both short and long-term) and Continuity of Operations/Government. My second understanding just sounds like a bad idea to me and one I would not be comfortable explaining it as an optional path following a disaster to my elected officials:

Governor: Our state has been devastated by XYZ disaster. We need to show we are resilient.

Emergency Manager: How would you like us to demonstrate that?

Governor: By returning everything to how it was before the disaster.

Emergency Manager: Okay. But doesn’t that mean we will remain vulnerable to this same disaster in the future? Apparently “normal” wasn’t doing the trick and we had this horrible disaster. Maybe “normal” isn’t where we want to be…

Governor: Good point. So… we need to show we are beyond resilient; that we are forward-thinking and vow to re-build stronger than before so we won’t have to go through this again. I shall convene a blue-ribbon panel of experts to devise a strategy that will allow-

Emergency Manager: Governor, if I may, we have already done that. It’s our Hazard Mitigation Plan, full of project ideas designed specifically for that purpose. Why don’t we look at some of those projects that will allow us to be “beyond resilient” and rebuild our community so there is less of an impact next time and we don’t need to do as much “bouncing back”?

I think the idea of a resilience officer duplicates the current efforts of emergency managers to build a collaborative space in which subject matter experts from government agencies across all levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and the community served by the emergency manager develop plans, strategies, training and exercise initiatives, and resource acquisitions to address what it sounds like the Rockefeller Foundation envisions being addressed by a Resilience Officer.

Here is what I believe:

Communities are inherently resilient.

Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been recovering, even in light of a national economic down turn and a second disaster, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil leak. I understand New Orleans has not fully recovered, however a study released in February, 2013 showed that between 2010 and 2011 it was the fastest growing city in the US and as of July, 2011 (5 years after the disaster) had 90% of its 2000 population. That same study showed the New Orleans metro area had a 0.6% increase in jobs while the rest of the country had a 3% decrease between 2007 and 2012. The referenced study does show some areas where New Orleans is not doing so well, especially in terms of violent crime and affordable housing, but it certainly is not allowing itself to wash away into the Mississippi delta. I imagine that New Orleans is not seeking to resiliently return to its pre-Katrina condition, but to recover to a state better than its pre-Katrina condition.

There is no community in the US that I can think of that has been impacted by a disaster in the last 100 years that has not recovered. After a disaster, our communities are not abandoned. They come back. Some quickly, some slowly, but they come back. West, Texas will come back. Moore, Oklahoma will come back. Who will be leading those comebacks? It won’t be a Chief Resilience Officer. It will be planners, SMEs from all corners of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and members of the community.

Resilience is the new All Hazards

Most every profession has a short-hand (even the NIMS-indoctrinated, plain-text homeland security crowd). As I began my pursuit of a career in Emergency Management everyone was talking about an All Hazards approach. Of course, it didn’t mean we were planning for every hazard under the sun; it is shorthand meaning that we were planning for all of the hazards that could impact our community. I recently mentioned the all-hazards planning approach while giving a talk to a community organization where I live and work in New Mexico. A puzzled audience member asked why we would be preparing for all hazards when things like tsunamis and hurricanes wouldn’t really impact us. It occurred to me that the words we use and concepts we understand are not necessarily understood by people outside of our field, though that does not prevent elected officials, policy makers, or philanthropists from using them, regardless of their own lack of understanding. The further we get from the meaning of our own shorthand, the more cloudy our mission becomes, both to us and our communities. Instead of throwing around a term like “resilience” or “all-hazards” and assuming people know what we are talking about, let us break those concepts down into its individual parts and really explain the role of hazard and risk identification and assessment, mitigation, recovery and operational continuity planning and its importance. People are smart and don’t need us to “Reader’s Digest” everything into small words. These are big and important ideas. Let’s not throw them away.

I do not know that a CRO is sustainable, but believe sustainability is critical to resiliency.

The Rockefeller Foundation wants to distribute $100 million among 100 cities with the goal of making communities more “resilient”. My math can be shaky, but since I have time to use a calculator I have figured out that this comes to $1 million per community. The idea is that this money will be used to fund a Chief Resilience Officer charged with overseeing resiliency initiatives like a resilience plan and improvements to infrastructure to increase their resilience. If the recent FEMA Community Resilience Innovation Challenge is any indication of what some of those projects may be, we will see the creation of mobile communication vehicles and the purchase of emergency generators, but likely with even less accountability than current homeland security grant programs that have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to projects just like those. And in the blink of an eye, the community has blown through their million dollars, has a new position they either need to pay for or get rid of, and another plan tucked onto its already-too-full shelf; a plan that is in all likelihood a mash-up of existing continuity of operations, hazard mitigation, recovery and emergency response plans. And Harold Hill has moved on to the next town.

I also question how a community could assess the return on investment of a CRO, but I suspect that it could be measured in much the same way the return on investment can be measured for emergency managers (grant funds brought in to a community, contact with citizens during preparedness presentations, more efficient response times, etc.), in which case, what would be done by a CRO that is not already being done by someone. We also need to be adaptable to a changing world and maintain our ability to improvise to dynamic situations like disasters, but I don’t think we need a Director of Adaptability or Improviser in Chief.

Blog posts are the new psychotherapy, a chance to work through demons. The difference is the opportunity for strangers to comment on how well, or how poorly, you’ve done. I am grateful to Philip Palin and the HLS Watch for providing me an opportunity to have worked through my deep-seated hatred for the word resilience. I look forward to a continued exchange of ideas. We emergency managers, mayors, governors, fire and police chiefs, urban planners, corporate executives, community organizers and concerned citizens need to incorporate the concepts that are commonly understood as contributing to a community’s resilience into our planning. This means looking at climate change as a hazard to be mitigated and above all else, ensuring our communities can continue to progress, not regress or remain static, following a devastating tornado, wildfire, or pandemic. Many communities already do this formally, I believe all do informally.

Resilience is not a bad word, and the Rockefeller’s Resilience Challenge is not a bad idea. It has perhaps given emergency management a hair cut, so now people will look at emergency management in another way and say “you look… different. Good, but different.” And emergency managers should say “thank you” and keep doing what we are doing, but perhaps with a little more money in our budgets and, even better from the perspective of my office chair, more understanding and support of what we are trying to accomplish.

May 22, 2013

Even in our grief, applying the algorithm

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 22, 2013

Plaza Tower Elementary Before After

Plaza Towers Elementary School, Moore, Oklahoma. Before and after

My mother’s family mostly live around Oklahoma City.  As far as I know all my cousins are okay.  But it is a huge clan, much more prolific than my father’s.  I have not met most of the youngest generation.

Even without a personal connection — including childhood memories of  my grandpa’s storm cellar — the outcome of what happened in Moore and nearby prompts many of us to quietly, respectfully ask some questions; and listen patiently and non-judgmentally for answers at the right time.

Threat 

Is the frequency of the threat increasing?

Is the innate energy of the threat increasing?

Can we do anything to reduce the threat?

Vulnerability

Since the 1999 tornado has new construction reasonably reflected the nature of the threat? (For example, safe-rooms, basements, other “protective action”)

Since the 1999 tornado has there been any retrofitting to reflect the nature of the threat? (For example, construction/designation of safe-rooms)

What is the nature of public training, exercising, messaging and other aspects of threat preparedness?

Consequences

Does this event — and similar events — have implications for residential density?

Does this event — and similar events — have implications for preventive actions? (For example, there was at least some talk late Sunday and early Monday — before the tornado struck — of canceling schools across a wide area of Central Oklahoma.  Those involved in snow-closings will recognize the treacherous nature of such decisions.)

How do we best mitigate the worst risks?

Or as a friend wrote yesterday how do we — allow ourselves, discipline ourselves, empower ourselves — to “think-differently” about such risks?

May 2, 2013

Catastrophe: Should’a, Would’a, Could’a

“I should prefer Mozart. Mostly I listen to 70s hits.”

“I should eat a hot breakfast, but usually have a powerbar instead.”

“I should work-out three or four times a week, maybe I walk around the block twice.”

Should has become moralistic.  It is typically used as a kind of anti-verb, ascribing — often anticipating — non-action.

I have heard a lot of “shoulds” in regard to the explosion of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility. The April 17 blast killed 14 and injured more than 190 in the town of 2700.

“We should regulate better.”

“We should put buffer zones in place.”

“We should be more realistic about the threat.”

“We should do a better job sharing what we know about the risk.”

“We should focus more on pre-event prevention and mitigation.”

More plural pronouns than singulars it seems.

According to a November 2012 analysis undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, 6,985 chemical facilities self-report they pose a risk to populations greater than 1,000. There are 90 that self-report a worst-case risk affecting up to 1 million people.

The West facility was not included in the CRS analysis.  They did not self-report — or evidently self-conceive — a worst case scenario that would seriously harm anyone.

As regular readers know I have for a few years worked on catastrophe preparedness.

One of the most remarkable — and absolutely predictable — aspects of this gig is the readiness — preference really — by nearly everyone to define catastrophe as something non-catastrophic.  I saw it again last week and this.  It extends across the public-private divide and every level of government.  When a few of us argue otherwise we are being pedantic, unrealistic, and wasting people’s time.

We should give regular time and energy — maybe five percent of overall effort — to truly catastrophic risks: Global pandemic, significant earthquakes and cyclonic events hitting major urban areas, sustained collapse of the electrical grid whatever the cause. Each of these could have far-reaching secondary and tertiary effects.  In some regions I would include wildfire and flooding. If you have a chemical storage or processing facility nearby that is absolutely worth worst-case thinking now not later.

In many cases the most important issues relate to the mitigation of systemic vulnerabilities that are threat-agnostic.  ”Fixing” vulnerabilities can reduce consequences for a whole host of threats, including non-catastrophic threats.

USA Today editorialized, “The Boston Marathon bombings overshadowed the disaster in Texas, but what happened in West was deadlier, and preventing the next fertilizer accident should command serious attention.”

There’s that anti-verb again.

–+–

And how I wish I’d, wish I’d thought a little bit more
Now shoulda, woulda, coulda I means I’m out of time
Shoulda, woulda, coulda can’t change your mind
And I wonder, wonder what I’m going to do
Shoulda, woulda coulda are the last words of a fool

Can’t change your mind
Can’t change your mind

Beverly Knight

April 18, 2013

Expecting Evil

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2013

On Monday two “pressure cooker bombs” exploded in Boston killing three and injuring more than 180. Eighteen years ago Friday a 5000 pound bomb exploded in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring 450.

On the same day as the Boston attack at least 50 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of early-morning car bomb explosions in cities across Iraq.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday (April 17) at least 44 non-combatants and over 200 combatants were killed in that civil war. Among yesterday’s dead were four children, bringing the total number of children killed since March 2011 to over 5000.

We have been taught to view such attacks as self-conscious tactical choices endemic to certain kinds of violent political (or religious) conflict. The legal definition of terrorism usually involves the application of indiscriminate violence with the intention to influence political decisions. In this conceptualization we demonstrate some of the same preoccupation with self that characterizes the “terrorist”. It must be about us. Not always or even often.

April 15 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth claimed political purposes. It was too late in the war to have any realistic hope of reversing confederate fortunes. But it was a ripe moment for a megalomaniacal if mediocre actor to make a very real claim on immortality as a latter day self-proclaimed Brutus.

On April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. This year’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the memory of those killed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Saturday is the anniversary of Columbine.

Such attacks are not about the victims or those of us who survive or our political choices. Whoever constructed, delivered, and detonated the Boston bomb had no specific intention to kill Martin Richard, age 8, or injure Martin’s seven-year-old sister and mother. If a political manifesto is ever found or offered, give particular attention to how — if — the attack is explained as a change-agent. Is it even minimally persuasive? Usually not.

The justifications typically range between self-aggrandizing and deeply delusional. Timothy McVeigh characterized his bombing of the Murrah Building as, “borrowing a page from U.S. foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile.”

These sort of attacks are an effort by the attacker to express power: to most-of-all convince himself (almost always a him) that he has power. Similar attacks by so-called “terrorist” groups also seek to reinforce and extend self-assertions of power. Victims are much more tools — totems of inadequacy overcome — than targets, in any traditional understanding of target.

Too often we inadvertently feed these delusions in how we magnify the risk and in this way inflate the ego of the attacker and those similarly predisposed. Most of these pathetic men (and a few women) are thrilled to be seen as a somehow existential threat to the most powerful nation on the planet.

On Tuesday President Obama spoke of how Boston is responding to the attack, he said, “if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”

Thirty-or-so years ago President Reagan unexpectedly involved me in a quick but intense discussion of the Holocaust. I had a difficult time keeping up with where the President was going and what he was trying to work out. But I very clearly remember one line: “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”

We should do a great deal to prevent attacks. We are making an extraordinary effort to identify and hold accountable whoever is behind the Boston attack. But in this important work we will sometimes fail. Where we can be more certain of success is in engaging with courage and compassion those who have been abused as tools of another’s self-assertion.

Evil is persistent. Evil will recur. Fear feeds evil. Courage starves evil. Love confuses, confounds, and contains evil.

March 6, 2013

Our secular Trinity: supply chain, critical infrastructure, and cyber security

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Infrastructure Protection,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 6, 2013

Above from the conclusion to Zorba the Greek, please don’t watch and listen until reading post, then it might make some sense.

–+–

Late Tuesday a third key component in an emerging national strategic architecture was highlighted on the White House website.  The Implementation Update for the National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security outlines progress made (and if you read carefully between the lines, problems experienced) over the last twelve months since the Strategy itself was released.

This update — and the original National Strategy — should be read along side Presidential Policy Directive: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience (February 12, 2013) and the Executive Order: Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (February 12, 2013).

Together these documents frame a new Trinitarian order: three distinct strategies of one substance, essence, and nature. Trade depends on production, transport of goods and communication of demand.   We can also say economic vitality depends on these factors.  Often  life itself depends on these mysteriously mutual movements.

The Supply Chain is a particular manifestation of the mystery that benefits from specific attention.   Most minds will not immediately apprehend the wholeness of  cyber, critical infrastructure and supply chains.   A purposeful focus can help. But the Implementation Update is explicit regarding the connections and — much more than connections — the interdependence and indivisibility of the Strategic Trinity:

Priority actions include… building resilient critical infrastructures by creating new incentives… to encourage industry stakeholders to build resilience into their supply chains, which then strengthens  the system overall; mapping the interdependencies among the supply chains of the various critical infrastructure sectors (such as energy, cyber, and transportation); and creating common resilience metrics and standards for worldwide use and implementation.

There are, however, heretics.  Personally I tend toward a Unitarian perspective.   Others insist on the primacy of Cyber or of Critical Infrastructure. Some others recognize the relationship of Cyber and Critical Infrastructure but dismiss equal attention being given to Supply Chain. There are also “Pentecostals”, especially among the private sector laity, who celebrate Supply Chain almost to the exclusion of the other aspects of the Trinity.  I might extend the analogy to principles of Judaism, Islam, and other worldviews.  I won’t. (Can I hear a loud Amen?)

If this theological analogy is not to your taste,  then read the three policy documents along side a fourth gospel: Alfred Thayer Mahan’s  The Influence of Seapower Upon History.  Admiral Mahan wrote:

In these three things—production (with the necessity of exchanging products) shipping (whereby the exchange is carried on) and colonies (which facilitate and enlarge the operations of shipping and tend to protect it by multiplying points of safety)—is to be found the key to much of the history, as well as of the policy, of nations…

The functional benefits of colonies have been superseded by the signaling capabilities of multinational corporations, global exchanges and transnational communication, but the Trinitarian structure persists. Mahan called the Sea the “great common” from which and through which “men may pass in all directions, but on which some well-worn paths show that controlling reasons have led them to choose certain lines of travel rather than others.”

Around these lines of travel, civilization is constructed, information is exchanged, and trade is conducted.   A bridge (critical infrastructure) may determine the direction of trade (supply chain), but the information and money exchanged (cyber) in the village beside the bridge may send supply in previously unexpected directions.   Today the bridge may be a digital link, the village an electronic exchange, and the product an elusive formula for the next new wonder drug.  But still the three must work together.  Corruption or collapse of one aspect will unravel the other two.

Our secular trinity is not eternal. There are ongoing sources of corruption.  There are prior examples of collapse.

I was involved in some of the activities and consultations noted in the Implementation Update.   Some personal impressions:  Many government personnel are predisposed to control.  Many in the private sector have a deep desire for clarity.  Each tendency is understandable.  Each tendency is a potentially profound source of dysfunction.   I know this is not exactly a surprise.

But… the desire for clarity can easily become reductionist, even atomist.  Imposing such radical clarification leads to a kind of analytical surrealism.   Some “lean” supply chains are absolutely anorexic.    The desire for control is justified by (sometimes self-generated) complication.  The more complicated the context, the more — it is said — that control is needed.   The more the laity seeks to deny complexity, the more the priests justify the need for their control.   Both tendencies miss the mark. (Sin in Hebrew is chattath, from the root chatta, the Greek equivalent is hamartia. All these words mean to miss the mark.)  The purpose of our secular Trinity is to hit the mark when, where, and with what is wanted.

There is at least one explanation  of the sacred Trinity relevant to our secular version.  John of Damascus characterized the Trinity as a perichoresis — literally a “dance around” — where, as in a Greek folk dance, distinct lines of dancers (e.g. men, women, and children) each display their own steps and flourishes, but are clearly engaging the same rhythm,  maintain their own identity even as each line dissolves into the others… in common becoming The Dance.

Rather than obsessive control or absolute clarity, the Trinity is a shared dance.  We need to learn to dance together.

Just getting private and public to hear the same music would be a good start.

February 28, 2013

Connecting dots in Africa

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2013

Last Friday the President informed Congress that:

Forty additional U.S. military personnel entered Niger with the consent of the Government of Niger. This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region. The total number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger is approximately 100. The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.

The deployment is widely reported as supporting expanded operations from a US drone base near Niamey, Niger’s capital city.

Earlier this week the Strauss Center at the University of Texas published a research brief that concludes:

The analysis shows that the levels of violent Islamist activity in Africa have risen sharply in recent years, both in absolute and proportional terms. While much of this increase has been driven by the intensification of conflict in a small number of key countries,there is also evidence for the geographic spread of violent Islamist activity both south- and eastward on the continent. Differences within and across violent Islamist groups reveal differential objectives, strategies, and modalities of violence across Africa. With ongoing conflicts in Somalia, Nigeria, and Mali among the most violent in Africa – and evidence of the spread of violent Islamist activity across Africa – violent Islamist groups, their activities, and objectives are likely to remain extremely influential both nationally and internationally.

The research was finished prior to recent clashes with French and other forces in Mali.

On February 20, the same day that US Africa Command opened a major exercise with Cameroon’s military, Salafist fighters from neighboring Nigeria crossed the border and abducted a family of French tourists, now being held in an effort to influence the French intervention in Mali.  There are now 15 French hostages being held in North Africa.

The Hollande government has insisted it will not negotiate with the hostage takers.   In January a French hostage in Somalia was killed during an attempted rescue.

Yesterday the French Foreign Minister welcomed the new US Secretary of State by saying,

And it can be said that when France and the United States commit together, they can change things. It is the case in the Sahel, which we discussed, in Mali, where France committed and is determined to restore Mali’s integrity and stop the push of the terrorists. We benefitted from the full support of our American friends both politically and on the field. And I would like to thank the United States of America as well as John Kerry for the support granted to the intervention by France as well as the American forces against the terrorists.

Yesterday Nigeria completed its deployment of 1200 troops to Mali.    Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported,

In vast West Africa, a new front-line region in the battle against al Qaeda, Nigeria is America’s strategic linchpin, its military one the U.S. counts on to help contain the spread of Islamic militancy. Yet Nigeria has rebuffed American attempts to train that military, whose history of shooting freely has U.S. officials concerned that soldiers here fuel the very militancy they are supposed to counter.

In the immediate aftermath of the hostage taking at the Algerian gas facility, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized:

This is a stark reminder, once again, of the threat we face from terrorism the world over. We have had successes in recent years in reducing the threat from some parts of the world, but the threat has grown particularly in north Africa. This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.

January 24, 2013

Supply chains: Density increases distance which favors specialization and concentration spawning vulnerabilities

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 24, 2013

Three recent reports offer related insights.

Building America’s Future: Transportation Infrastructure Report 2012 (4.8 mgb) tells us,

We have let more than a half-century go by without devising a strategic plan on  a national scale to update our freight and passenger transport systems. The size of our federal investment in transportation infrastructure as a share of GDP has been dwindling for decades, and most federal funds are dispersed to projects without imposing accountability and performance measures. This lack of vision, lack of funding, and lack of accountability has left every mode of transportation in the United States—highways and railroads, airports and sea ports—stuck in the last century and ill-equipped for the demands of a churning global economy.

Building Resilient Supply Chains (6.48 MB) tells us,

…concerns have remained about external threats to supply chains (such as natural disasters and demand shocks) and systemic vulnerabilities (such as oil dependence and information fragmentation). Additionally, growing concern around cyber risk, rising insurance and trade finance costs are leading supply chain experts to explore new mitigation options. Accenture research indicates that more than 80% of companies are now concerned about supply chain resilience.

Gallup Survey finds:

One in four Mississippi residents report there was at least one time in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed — more than in any other state in the first half of 2012. Residents in Alabama and Delaware are also among the most likely to struggle to afford food… In 2012, the worst drought since the 1950s has affected nearly 80% of agricultural land in the United States, which may drive up the cost of food in the months ahead. While Americans are no more likely to struggle to afford food thus far in 2012 than in the past, more residents may face problems as the drought-related crop damage results in a shortage of inputs in the food supply and begins to affect retail prices.

So… sources of supply for basic commodities — including water and food — are under stress.  The infrastructure by which supplies are transported is aging and ill-maintained.  The system through which needs/demands are expressed and fulfilled is increasingly vulnerable to disruption.

For at least 10,000 years humans have developed infrastructures to facilitate the meeting of supply with demand, source with need.

Especially in the last 200 years our infrastructures have allowed us to depend on supplies from greater and greater distances.  Our supply lines – our lifelines – have gotten longer and longer.  This has been crucial to our ability to supply increasingly dense population centers.  Increasing population density is supported by our ability to facilitate supply over great distances.

This distancing of lifelines has also encouraged an increasing specialization and concentration of supply – mostly in search of comparative price advantage.  So we see the concentration of pork production in Iowa and North Carolina, fruits and vegetables in California, dairy is increasingly concentrated in a few regions,  mushrooms in Southeast Pennsylvania.

While this is at least a 150 year trend, it is important to recognize how the trend has accelerated and changed over the last half-century. As recently as the 1950s New Jersey truck farms were still the principal source of fresh fruits and vegetables for the New York metro market.

As demand density accelerated in the last half of the 20th Century, we experienced an increased distancing of lifelines.  This distancing also encourages a tendency toward specialization, concentration, and reduced diversity of sources.  Specialization, concentration, and reduced diversity are common characteristics of fragile systems.

In the last thirty years, the distancing of many supply chains has become so extreme that the ability to reasonably balance supply and demand is only possible as a result of sophisticated methods of tracking and anticipating demand well-in-advance.

For most of human history supply has been pushed by suppliers toward where they hoped there was demand.  Today, especially for food, pharma, and most consumables supply is pulled by digital demand signals. If the demand signals stop , so does supply.  This has crucial implications for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

It is worth recognizing that what seems “normal” today would have seemed magical as recently as thirty years ago.  We are enjoying supply chain benefits unprecedented in human history.  Are there also unprecedented risks?

January 17, 2013

Post-Sandy: Investing in resilience

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2013

Last Friday the NYS 2100 Commission released its report: Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure.   It is a helpful contribution and provides a very constructive level of detail.

The report also offers a meaningful framing for investing in resilience in New York and well beyond. The following long quote is from the c0-chairs’ foreword:

While the response to Sandy continues, work needs to begin now on how we build back better – in a way that increases New York’s agility when responding to future storms and other shocks. Building back better demands a focus on increased resilience: the ability of individuals, organizations, systems, and communities to bounce back more strongly from stresses and shocks. Resilience means creating diversity and redundancy in our systems and rewiring their interconnections, which enables their functioning even when individual parts fail.

There is no doubt that building resilience will require investment, but it will also reduce the economic damage and costs of responding to future storms and events, while improving the everyday operations of our critical systems. In a time of fiscal constraints, the positive sign is that inexpensive policy changes will be as critical as the financial investments we make. Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure and other resilience measures, for example, improving our institutional coordination, public communication, and rapid decision making abilities will make us better able to recover from the catastrophic effects of natural disasters. In many respects, New York is ahead of the game in this regard. In recent storms, including Irene and Sandy, we have successfully embraced the notion of “failing safely,” accepting the inevitability of widespread disruptions and tucking in to protect our assets to the extent possible.

We cannot prevent all future disasters from occurring, but we can prevent failing catastrophically by embracing, practicing, and improving a comprehensive resilience strategy. As New York and our neighboring states continue to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy, we have a narrow but distinct window of opportunity to leverage the groundswell of consciousness.

I have delayed and hesitated to post on this report because, with all its strengths, it fails to sufficiently address a fundamental aspect of resilience.   The co-chairs foreshadow this issue in writing, “Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure…”

Achieving resilience involves a different way of thinking, choosing, and behaving. There are a whole host of trade-offs. I agree with the report’s authors that the trade-off’s are worthwhile. But this will not be obvious to everyone. Resilience emerges — or not — from families, neighborhoods, and communities. It unfolds from dialogue and relationships, or not at all.

The NYS 2100 Commission report does a great job identifying and seeding the hard infrastructure topics that need to be discussed and engaged. But how will the dialogue be started and sustained? How will a soft infrastructure be cultivated that is sufficient to enable hard infrastructure decisions?

The current report reads as a set of recommendations to be implemented by the widely-respected and honored philosopher-kings of a latter day Kallipolis (Plato’s “Beautiful City” in The Republic).  New York is, for me, a beautiful place, but last time I looked its politics were more complicated than this.

January 10, 2013

What was, what is, and what will be

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy,WMD — by Philip J. Palin on January 10, 2013

Earlier this week the World Economic Forum released its annual report: Global Risks 2013.

According to the WEF survey of 1000-plus “global experts”, over the next ten years the most serious risks by potential impact are:

  • Major systemic financial failure
  • Water supply crises
  • Chronic fiscal imbalances
  • Food shortage crises
  • Diffusion of weapons of mass destruction

Of these most consequential risks the expert survey — complemented by a series of workshops — found that water supplies and fiscal balance are already widely in crisis (What a surprise!). The risk of food shortages and systemic financial failure will increase as water and fiscal problems worsen. Increased diffusion of WMD almost seems simple in comparison.

Combined with the November release of Global Trends 2030 by our friends at the National Intelligence Council, we now have even more excuses for bad dreams.

In his preface to the report, Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF comments,

I think you will agree [the report] makes a compelling case for stronger cross-border collaboration among stakeholders from governments, business and civil society – a partnership with the purpose of building resilience to global risks. They also highlight the need for strengthening existing mechanisms to mitigate and manage risks, which today primarily exist at the national level. This means that while we can map and describe global risks, we cannot predict when and how they will manifest; therefore, building national resilience to global risks is of paramount importance.

The report offers suggestions related to definitions of resilience and good practice in resilience.

I was one of those contributing to the WEF survey and workshops. WEF does a great job of bringing together a broad mix of public and private policy makers, academics, and fellow-travelers. The report is helpful and I look forward to the follow-on work. The Davos Summit, January 23-27, focuses on “resilient dynamism” and will kick-off several important initiatives.

–+–

I paused while reading of the WEF report to take a call from the operations manager for a grocery chain in the New York metro area. I will do a case study on their Hurricane Sandy preparedness and response. One store on Staten Island was flooded under three feet of water. It reopened within a week. Another store within three blocks of the New Dorp Beach inundation zone — the deadly ground zero for Sandy — stayed open without interruption. There are a range of smart, heroic and almost miraculous tales.

There is also a very open, practical self-criticism in how the grocers are working to prepare for and adapt to the likelihood of something-worse-than-Sandy.

I perceive a yawning gap between the analysis and attitude encountered at the grocery chain and that revealed in the WEF report. It is a contrast often found between the theoretical and the operational.

The point is not that the operators are hubris-free and the theoreticians — including me — abide with such overabundant pride (though the thought does occur and recur). Rather, it seems to me, that this gap is where many of our vulnerabilities originate.

The WEF report (and many more) is in the future tense. These are issues we can reasonably anticipate will influence the operational environment for the next ten years or more.

Operational thinking and even planning is considerably more present tense. The possibilities of now — both opportunity and threat, strength and weakness — are at the heart of the operational worldview.

Past, present, and future are characteristics of English. Other linguistic systems focus much more on action being finished or unfinished. Any meaningful notion of homeland security will remain unfinished (and perhaps worse) until we can more effectively communicate across the operational-theoretical continuum.

–+–

Through me what was, what is, and what will be, are revealed. Through me strings sound in harmony, to song. My aim is certain, but an arrow truer than mine, has wounded my free heart! The whole world calls me the bringer of aid; medicine is my invention; my power is in healing.

Metamorphoses, Ovid: Book I:521-523, Apollo begging Daphne to yield to him. I realize that quoting a Latin poet, even in translation, will not help bridge the gap. But it is beautiful, is it not? The Latin is luscious. And doesn’t it evoke an image of homeland security begging for affection? A big part of the challenge is to respect the insight that exists across the continuum, learning how to fully engage different dialects.

December 28, 2012

Some Far Rockaway of the heart

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 28, 2012

So many others are giving such expert attention to the recovery from Sandy — and its implications for preparedness and response — that I have not found much to add.   It’s too soon to tell what will actually happen, but much that is being said strikes me as prudent, wise, even prophetic.

Reading the Times, Observer, New Yorker, Daily News, and even the Post — talking with friends and colleagues on return visits — I have been reminded how rough realism and real romanticism are coequals in most New Yorkers.  They know the City must constantly change, they are proud of their ability to navigate the constant turmoil, and they embrace most improvements with weary regret.

Some of that attitude — both resilient and adaptive, it seems to me — is captured in this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. New York, here’s wishing you a Happy 2013.

–+–

A native-born New Yorker
I was from the Lower Inside
a part of town much favored by
addicts of the subjective
(a subversive group always being investigated)
as well as buddhists
and their lower chakras
and others seeking salvations
from various realities
virtual or actual
And losing track
of where I was coming from
with the amnesia of an immigrant
I traveled over
the extrovert face
of America
But no matter where I wandered
off the chart
I still would love to find again
that lost locality
Where I might catch once more
a Sunday subway for
some Far Rockaway of the heart

–+–

January 1, 2013 Update: There is a great companion piece to the Ferlinghetti poem — and a wonderful bit of post-Sandy reporting — by Michael Greenberg in the just published New York Review of Books.  Please see Occupy the Rockaways!

December 26, 2012

Disaster Amnesia

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 26, 2012

From the December 26 Jakarta Post, an Op-Ed by Syamsidik, head of applied research at the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center (TDMRC) and a lecturer in the civil engineering department of Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh.

–+–

The eighth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami will fall on Dec. 26. The disastrous event effected many changes not only in Indonesia, but also in the international disaster management paradigm.

Nevertheless, eight years after the event, unintentional or intentional actions by communities and government agencies seem to have led to a downgrade in the awareness of and preparedness for future disasters.

Although a less focused effort on disaster risk-reduction in official documents might not be apparent, the underlying concerns are real.

Intensive measures on disaster prevention and mitigation are only visible when major disasters occur with an overwhelming impact on human life. It is only natural that people tend to forget things after years have passed and the grieving and fear are gone.

The only way to fight this disaster amnesia is to be bold in promoting disaster risk-reduction at community level and in government policies and programs.

Unfortunate lessons obtained from past disasters notwithstanding, experience should be the key guide in increasing community and regional preparedness for future disasters. Past disasters do provide some basis for prediction of future disasters.  MORE

December 20, 2012

Proximate solutions to insoluble problems

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2012

I am in the bad day business.  Whether the cause is natural, accidental or intentional my role is preparing for bad days.  My specific role has become helping others prepare for very, very bad days.

It is my impression most readers of HLSWatch are in a similar business.

While personally most of my days are fine — even very fine — I know bad days will come.   I have experienced them.  I have been with others shortly after their experience of such days.

One of my favorite memories from when I was 8 or 9  is of laying upside down on the backyard slide on a bright summer day reading about Vesuvius burying Pompeii and the tsunami swamping Lisbon.  History books are mostly about somebody’s bad day.

A few years ago I was in the prevent-bad-days business.   In some ways that was a better job.  But no matter how good you are: prevention will fail.  The bad day will come. Very bad days seem to be coming more often.

Last Thursday I reported on an “emerging threats forum” that had decided the best strategy for the most serious threats is to:

  • Inform the public of the threats,
  • Explain that government is not capable of prevention or timely response regarding many threats,
  • Encourage and facilitate enhanced individual, neighborhood, school, and workplace (other) preparedness to be self-sustaining.

Arnold Bogis asked that I give more details.  I promised I would.  In the seven days since there have been several very bad days in Newtown, Aleppo, Karachi, Davao, Goma, Suva, and elsewhere.

I was surprised the emerging threats forum chose a “public engagement” strategy.  In my experience, these sort of sessions are usually dominated by men (mostly) who want to exercise control and prefer developing systems and methods subject to their control.  At a similar session the week before there had been an extended discussion regarding how to ensure the persistent appearance of control (even though being out-of-control was the implicit reality).

Maybe it was the list of emerging threats that discouraged the usual symptoms of homeland security’s own version of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  The facilitators chose largely novel or large-scale threats that dwarfed even the biggest ego.

Maybe it was the age of the participants.  It was a bifurcated group.   There were several “older” (apologies) folks like me and a roughly equal number of young.   The young are accustomed to not being allowed to exercise control.  The old have often discovered control can be an illusion.  Those in-between — perhaps still fighting for control — were a distinct minority (probably because that age group mostly remained in the cockpit while we were in the seminar room).

Maybe it was an increasing recognition of and respect for complexity.   The discussion gave considerable attention to linkages, signals, and unpredictability.

In any case, one of the younger people was the first to suggest there is a problem with unrealistic expectations related to government capabilities in major disasters.   Sandy was still on the mind of many and mostly there was the sense of a bullet dodged.  ”It could easily have been much, much worse,” seemed the consensus.   “This was not even a hurricane when it came ashore and look at the consequences.”  And still it was and is plenty bad.

Unrealistic expectations enable individual, family, and private sector choices that increase vulnerability.   Government responsiveness on a typical bad day sets up unrealistic expectations for response on a very, very bad day.

While there seemed to be considerable consensus that  ”unrealistic expectations” is a key strategic insight and “public engagement” could be an effective solution, the group perceived public engagement would be very difficult to achieve.  Among the problems discussed:

  • Many in government perceive public engagement as a political, not an administrative task.  Many government officials are reluctant  and uncomfortable engaging the public and nearly as uncomfortable with politicians.
  • When government does engage the public there is a tendency to over-organize the process.  It is difficult for  many officials to admit weakness to the public (One participant said, government officials tend to “talk at rather than with the public.”
  • The public is not listening and tends to deny or discount risk until it is too late.

There was not time at last week’s meeting to seriously engage these challenges.  But for what it’s worth, I will list some personal suggestions.

Government — and especially the homeland security professions — need to give more attention to hiring and using brokers, facilitators, relationship-builders and others skilled at bridging the private-public divide.   Politicians are, by the way, often very skilled in these methods.

Government needs to find existing networks of private-public and private-private connections.  These preexisting connections are much more likely to persist than anything created and managed by government.  Politicians are often expert navigators of these networks.

Within these existing networks there is a need to identify or recruit independent champions of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery, or whatever other purpose.   Once again, politicians can be very effective champions within their preexisting networks.

Government should ask and listen about twice as much as it tells.   Politicians are usually not good at this skill.

In my experience when the foregoing preconditions are in place up to 80 percent (occasionally more) of individuals, families, and private organizations are very willing and interested to be in meaningful dialogue with the government.   The public is more likely to listen when they perceive the public sector is listening to them.  The public sector is more likely to listen to and engage with a neighborhood or business group or similar organization.

In my experience the public is surprised when told what the government cannot do in a disaster and about 10 to 20 percent will initially strongly resist what they are hearing.  But most are able to quickly recognize their own unrealistic expectations and begin to shift, especially if they get some informed help making the shift.

This is, I suggest, a model that extends beyond homeland security to a wide range of social, economic and political concerns.   Fantastic success in implementing all of my suggestions will not reduce the number of bad days, though I think consequences can often — if not always — be mitigated.

–+–

Maybe this is already clear enough, but to be sure I will add: What all these tactics and techniques are really about is making and maintaining meaningful human relationships that happen to engage disaster risk among other matters.  Other matters will usually be more important. But disaster risk is worth including among the concerns around which the relationships emerge and move.  It is kinship with each other and our shared prospects.  Get the relationships right and the rest will be much easier to engage.

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