Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 26, 2014

Embracing diversity

Filed under: Biosecurity,Border Security,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 26, 2014

obama pham(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

None of us much like what we perceive as mixed messages.  But many of us seek out diverse sources of information.

I am — as regular readers know too well — a big fan of diversity.  It is an intellectual and aesthetic preference, almost certainly a personality predisposition.

Diversity is also a key characteristic of resilience.  The more diverse a system the less prone it is to catastrophic collapse, the more creative combinations that exist the more likely the system (or sub-system) is to resist and, if necessary, rebound from challenges.

I am personally skeptical of most efforts to reduce variance, increase consistency, and especially any tendency to reserve decisions for some centralized authority.  I am aware such approaches can generate benefits.  But there are also trade-offs and I perceive we too often accept the trade-offs without recognizing what we are giving away.

Since Thursday I’ve been in Newark and New York.  The confirmation of Ebola in a physician who returned to New York after treating patients in West Africa has caused concern.  On Friday Governors Christie and Cuomo, acting more on their political instincts for advancing the common good than expert medical advice, announced a strict quarantine requirement for health care workers returning to JFK and Newark International airports.  This exceeds federal requirements. (Illinois soon followed for those arriving from West Africa into O’Hare.)

I was busy, but as I watched the local news a bit and read the reports I was pleased to see this diversity emerge.  I like it when state and local leaders exercise their best judgment and authority.  I respect political judgment, especially when it relates more to how human social systems actually operate and less about the next election.  I found the non-partisan, reasoned rhetoric of the Governors and Mayor de Blasio mostly helpful.  Medical therapies and social therapies can diverge.

At just about the same time, or at least during the same news cycle, President Obama was purposefully — and a bit awkwardly to my eyes — hugging nurse Nina Pham (above) who has recovered from the Ebola she contracted at her hospital in Dallas.  The intended message was, I hope, clear enough.  For the more literal minded, the President followed up explicitly in his weekly media message.

Meanwhile… Kaci Hickox a nurse arriving at Newark from Sierra Leone, asymptomatic, and according to a preliminary test virus-free, is nonetheless being kept in a 21-day quarantine against her will.  She writes in the Saturday Dallas Morning News:

I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone – an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine… (The nurse continues with a rather horrific story of her welcome to the United States.  You should read it.)

The epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that as many as 15,000 people have died from Ebola. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa.  The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.

The ACLU has announced it will take action challenging the New Jersey quarantine order.

Then as if to put into even sharper contrast the different angles on reality alive in Trenton, Albany, and Washington DC, on Sunday morning I read our UN Ambassador Samantha Power is in West Africa.  She has already visited the Ebola wards.  Should she be quarantined in isolation on her return?  Or in deference to separation of powers, will a sanitary cordon of the Ambassador’s residence at the Waldorf be sufficient?

Thursday and Friday I was mostly impressed with how New York local-media was handling the story. Saturday I was too otherwise engaged to notice. Now early on Sunday morning there is a nearly palpable urgency to take sides… or, if one does not feel confident/competent to choose sides, to bitterly complain regarding the incompetence of the “authorities” who should have had this sort of risk fully thought-through.  ”It’s not tight”, the President himself has complained.

In my experience reality is seldom tight. At a certain point working to make it tight strips the threads and even breaks the head.  Can we learn to engage diversity affirmatively, creatively, even systematically, as a potentially positive — in any case, persistent — aspect of reality?  In dealing with complex risks, I have found this to be an especially productive option.

MONDAY UPDATE:

According to several news sources, New York will “loosen” its screening protocols.  Here’s a bit of the AP report:

Gov. Cuomo back peddled Sunday on his insistence that medical workers returning to New York from Ebola-stricken countries would have to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine at a government-regulated facility

The governor, in a joint news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio, said health care workers and citizens who have had exposure to Ebola patients in West Africa will be asked to stay in their homes for the 21-day quarantine.

During the 21 days, the quarantined person will be checked on twice a day by health care professionals to take their temperature and evaluate their condition, Cuomo said.

Here’s the official statement from the Governor’s office.

Constant change in response to feedback, adapting to new information (new expressions of reality) is another feature of diverse and resilient systems.  And just to be clear: in the most resilient systems while change is constant a core-coherence persists.  Which highlights the big difference between consistent and coherent, between control and collaboration…

SECOND UPDATE:

According to NJ.com and other news outlets, Nurse Kaci Hickox will now be allowed to quarantine at home in the state of Maine. The New Jersey Governor’s office released a transcript and video to provide context for this shift.

October 21, 2014

Ebola, Fantasy Documents and Our Collective Inability to Tolerate Ambiguity

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on October 21, 2014

Todays post is written by Jeff Kaliner. Kaliner is a public health emergency preparedness professional with twelve years in the field. For the last few years he has spent an unreasonable amount of time considering the intersection between complexity science, lessons that never get learned and homeland security. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Science in Education from Northern Illinois University.

Over the last few days the media has suggested that hospital emergency plans and procedures are basically unsuccessful with respect to the ongoing Ebola event.  The narrative lays out that hospitals (and in effect the larger public health system) have failed to plan properly and in turn are now reaping the consequences of poor preparation. The evidence is apparent: one dead Liberian national and two infected Texas nurses.

Connecting these dots in a linear fashion gives us the proof we need to believe what this narrative suggests: The last twelve years of federally fueled funds to enhance emergency health and medical programs at the state and local levels have not worked.  The implication is easy to understand; better planning and procedures (and more money?) would have prevented this very serious situation.

Although the story seems to have a tidy and easily understood cause and effect relationship, it is wrong.

The problem with this tale is the dirty little secret that a well-crafted plan or procedure cannot and will not be enough to manage a complex event. When implied that they can, these documents take on a symbolic quality that suggest they are somehow able to control reality.  As Lee Clarke (in his book Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster) points out, plans in this realm “…are rhetorical devices designed to convince others of something.”  The “others” in this case might be federal or state grantors, the public, the media, response agencies, etc.  Clarke goes on to state:

It seems that fantasy documents are more likely to be produced to defend very large systems, or systems that are newly scaled up. When they are proffered as accurate representations of organizational capabilities then the stage is not only set for organizational failure but for massive failure of the publics those organizations are supposed to serve.

Sound familiar?

In other words, the plans the media have been referring to are fantasy documents.  They were partly crafted to give an illusion of safety and security.

To be clear, I am not arguing that plans should not be written and that capabilities should not be exercised.  What I am saying is that the best we can ever do in the face of an increasingly complex catastrophe is write a bad plan and admit that a capability that was pulled off flawlessly during an exercise will probably not produce the same results during the actual bad day. This is not an indictment of all the dedicated and committed emergency planners across the world.   This is an invitation to acknowledge what the best of them already know: response documents become more useless as the event becomes more complex.

Maybe one possible solution to the plan as fantasy document is to conceptualize an emergency situation as an unfolding set of unpredictable events in a unique eco-system. Every eco-system has a pre-determined elasticity or resiliency that allows it to bend a certain distance before it breaks. In this narrative, instead of asking whether or not our plans have worked (and in turn placing blame on a variety of systems) we might wonder if the resiliency of our current health and medical system has actually been compromised and to what extent by an emergent event.

This idea has become clearer to me as I have been reading The Age of the Unthinkable  by Joshua Cooper Ramo.  Ramo suggests that one way to think about the resiliency question is to visualize the eco-system of a lake.  He writes

“The stability of a lake ecosystem can’t possibly be reduced to a few variables. What matters isn’t something you can score quickly but rather the strange mesh of interactions that make a lake resilient or not….  What you can easily measure in these systems matters much less than what you cannot: How strong are the relationships between different parts of the lake ecosystem? How fast can it adjust to shocks? How far can you bend the food chain on the lake before it breaks? In short, how resilient is it?”

What if we tried to apply aspects of this idea to how we define, manage and evaluate emergency response? What if instead of trying to bend reality to our whims by absurdly trying to measure the potential success or failure of our plans, procedures and capabilities (before the event), we looked a little deeper at the complex set of variables that make up a health and medical eco-system during an event and drew conclusions about how well we were doing based upon a more nuanced and admittedly ambiguous set of factors?  Factors including our ability to adapt, learn and change in real time.

As Ramo states: “Resilience allows us, even at our most extreme moments of terror (in fact, precisely because we are at such a moment), to keep learning, to change. It is kind of a battlefield of courage, the ability to innovate under fire because we’ve prepared in the right way and because we’ve developed the strength to keep moving even when we’ve been slapped by the unexpected.”

Preparing in the right way certainly means developing plans and procedures.  But that’s just where it starts. Ultimately there is no one playbook or plan that will quickly solve the multitude of problems that occur during complex events. In an unordered world, we all will have to become more comfortable with the messy reality that there is not just one factor that means we have won or lost the battle (think: Mission Accomplished).

In the book Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life, Miller and Page write, “Complexity arises when the dependencies among the elements become important.”  Certainly there are many elemental dependencies involved in the current Ebola outbreak.  Understanding and learning how these dependencies interact with one another to create new and unexpected aspects of this ongoing situation is critical to an effective response.

We can no longer reduce the negative events (the death of a Liberian national and the infection of two Texas nurses) that take place within quickly evolving eco-systems to simple platitudes. In this respect, false narratives (such as the ineffectiveness of a magical plan) need to be quickly identified and confronted as the simple and all too easy explanation for a very complex set of events that will probably never be truly understood.

If we do not identify these narratives for what they are, we diminish the two critical capabilities that we will need to consistently practice if we are to truly be prepared for 21st century challenges:

1) an emergency response system that has the political will and ability to quickly learn and adapt during the course of an emergent event; and

2) a media and public that will provide a type of unconditional support and understanding to let it happen.

Regardless, until we are all prepared to think about and understand the world in ways that reflect a more interdependent and non-linear sensibility, our reliance on simple narratives will remain. That reliance certainly works well for the media, but it’s just bad news for the rest of us.

September 24, 2014

AmeriCorps: “When did you serve?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on September 24, 2014

This past weekend as I sat on the T (that’s shorthand for the subway in Boston) three young ladies sporting City Year jackets took seats across from me. From the snippets of conversation I could hear it was easy to tell they were excited about some ceremony they took part in earlier that day.

All of a sudden a voice was raised from the end of the subway car, “Congratulations girls.  How big was your class?” A little surprised by the question, one of them slowly answered “270.”  Picking up on the situation rather quickly, another of the City Year participants asked the woman who questioned them, “when did you serve?”

That struck me. Throughout my life, and especially since 9/11, that particular question has always been wrapped up with military service.  Not to take anything from those who serve in that capacity, but I was moved to consider that perhaps AmeriCorps/City Year participants deserve some of that same respect. These young people are serving our country in their communities, strengthening our collective resilience everyday from the ground up.

So don’t stop saying thanks or buying a round for the men and women who serve(d) in the armed forces.  Perhaps just consider doing the same for AmeriCorps members too.

Some background on AmeriCorps:

AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 900,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1.2 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve.

AmeriCorps Programs

AmeriCorps programs do more than move communities forward; they serve their members by creating jobs and providing pathways to opportunity for young people entering the workforce. AmeriCorps places thousands of young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for citizenship.

This is the broadest network of AmeriCorps programs. These groups recruit, train, and place AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.
VISTA provides full-time members to nonprofit, faith-based and other community organizations, and public agencies to create and expand programs that bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty.
AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based, residential program for men and women ages 18-24. Its mission is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.

A little bit of information on City Year:

At City Year, we’re working to bridge the gap in high-poverty communities between the support the students in the communities actually need, and what their schools are designed to provide. In doing so, our model is designed to support students as they progress from elementary through high school in order to continue to build the nation’s urban graduation pipeline.

Our progress can be attributed to a unique, holistic approach, which we call Whole School Whole Child. It’s based around a group of carefully selected, highly trained young adults—our corps members—who provide individualized support to at-risk students, while also establishing an overall positive learning environment in the schools throughout America that need us the most. It’s their dedication and hard work that’s helping students reach their full potential, while also having a positive effect on the community as a whole.

If you haven’t had enough yet, I’ve embedded a couple of videos below.  Former Presidents Clinton and Bush taped videos in celebrations of the program’s 20th anniversary this year, and President Obama spoke at this year’s swearing in ceremony in Washington, DC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 18, 2014

Johnson testimony: Worldwide threats to the homeland

Yesterday — Constitution Day BTW — the Secretary of Homeland Security testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security.  He was joined in giving testimony by FBI Director James Comey and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olson. (Video and transcripts here)

Below is most of Secretary Johnson’s opening statement.  I hear a domestically-focused harmonic to the main counterterrorism melody performed by the President at MacDill (see prior post, immediately above).

Counterterrorism is the cornerstone of the DHS mission. And thirteen years after 9/11, it’s still a dangerous world. There’s still a terrorist threat to our homeland.

Today the terrorist threat is different from what it was in 2001. It is more decentralized and more complex. Not only is there core al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – which is still active in its efforts to attack the homeland – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Shabaab in Somalia, the al Nusrah Front in Syria, and the newest affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. There are groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which are not official affiliates of al Qaeda, but share its extremist ideology.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, previously known as al Qaeda in Iraq, is now vying to be the preeminent terrorist organization on the world’s stage. At present, we have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland of the United States.

But that is not, by any means, the end of the story.

ISIL is an extremely dangerous organization. It has the elements of both a terrorist organization and an insurgent army. It kills innocent civilians, and has seized large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, which it can utilize for safe haven, training, command and control, and from which it can launch attacks. It engages in 30-40 attacks per month, has more than 20,000 fighters, and takes in as much as a million dollars a day from illicit oil sales, ransom payments, and other illicit activities. Its public messaging and social media are as slick and as effective as any I’ve ever seen from a terrorist organization.

Though we know of no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland at present, we know that ISIL is prepared to kill innocent Americans they encounter because they are Americans – in a public and depraved manner. We know ISIL views the United States as an enemy, and we know that ISIL’s leaders have themselves said they will soon be in “direct confrontation” with the United States…

From the homeland security perspective, here is what we are doing:

First, to address the threats generally emanating from terrorist groups overseas, we have in recent weeks enhanced aviation security. Much of the terrorist threat continues to center around aviation security. In early July, I directed enhanced screening at 18 overseas airports with direct flights to the U.S. Several weeks later, we added six more airports to the list. Three weeks ago we added another airport, and additional screening of carry-on luggage. The United Kingdom and other countries have followed with similar enhancements to their aviation security. We continually evaluate whether more is necessary, without unnecessarily burdening the traveling public.

Longer term, as this committee has heard me say before, we are pursuing “pre-clearance” at overseas airports with flights to the U.S. This means inspection by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and enhanced aviation security before a passenger gets on the plane to the U.S. We now have pre-clearance at airports in Ireland, the UAE, Canada and the Caribbean. I regard it as a homeland security imperative to build more. To use a football metaphor, I’d much rather defend our end-zone from the 50-yard line than our 1-yard line. I want to take every opportunity we have to expand homeland security beyond our borders.

Second, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, NCTC and other intelligence agencies are making enhanced and concerted efforts to track Syrian foreign fighters who come from or seek to enter this country. The reality is that more than 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria over the last three years, including approximately two thousand Westerners. We estimate that more than 100 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join the fight there one way or another. We are concerned that not only may these foreign fighters join ISIL or other violent extremist groups in Syria, they may also be recruited by these violent extremist groups to leave Syria and conduct external attacks. The FBI has arrested a number of individuals who have tried to travel from the U.S. to Syria to support terrorist activities there.

Third, we are working with European and other governments to build better information sharing to track Syrian foreign fighters. Whenever I get together with my European counterparts, this topic is almost always item number one on the agenda. The importance of this issue is also reflected by the fact it will be a singular topic of discussion at a U.N. Security Council summit that the President will chair in two weeks. In the history of the U.N., this is only the second time a U.S. President has personally chaired a Security Council summit.

We are increasing efforts to track those who enter and leave Syria, and may later seek to travel to the United States from a country for which the United States does not require a visa from its citizens. There are in fact a number of Visa Waiver Program countries that also have large numbers of citizens who are Syrian foreign fighters. Generally, we have strong information-sharing relationships with these countries. But, with their help, we will enhance this capability. We need to ensure that we are doing all we can to identify those who, by their travel patterns, attempt to hide their association with terrorist groups.

We are encouraging more countries to join the United States in using tools like Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Record collection, which will help to identify terrorist travel patterns.

Fourth, within the U.S. government, DHS and our interagency partners in law enforcement and the intelligence community, are enhancing our ability to share information with each other about suspicious individuals.

Fifth, we are continually on guard against the potential domestic-based, home-grown terrorist who may be lurking in our own society: the independent actor or “lone wolf” who did not train at a terrorist camp or join the ranks of a terrorist organization overseas, but who is inspired here at home by a group’s social media, literature or violent extremist ideology. In many respects, this is the hardest terrorist threat to detect, and the one I worry most about.

To address the domestic “lone wolf” threat, I have directed that DHS build on our partnerships with state and local law enforcement in a way that enhances community relationships. The local police and fire departments are the first responders to any crisis in our homeland. The local police, more than the federal government, have their finger on the pulse of the local community from which a domestic terrorist may come.

To address the home-grown terrorist who may be lurking in our midst, we must also emphasize the need for help from the public. “If You See Something, Say Something” is more than a slogan. For example, last week we sent a private sector advisory identifying for retail businesses a long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors, and the types of suspicious behavior that a retailer should look for from someone who buys a lot of these materials.

Within DHS, we have outreach programs with communities who themselves are engaging youth in violence prevention. I have directed that we step up these programs and I personally participate in them. In June I met with a Syrian-American community group in a Chicago suburb. Next week I will meet with a Somali community in Columbus, Ohio. In October, the White House will host a summit on domestic efforts to prevent violent extremism, and address the full lifecycle of radicalization to violence posed by foreign fighter threats. The efforts highlighted at this summit are meant to increase the participation of faith-based organizations, mental health providers, social service providers, and youth-affiliated groups in local efforts to counter violent extremism.

Over the last 13 years, we have vastly improved this Nation’s ability to detect and disrupt terrorist plots overseas before they reach the homeland. Here at home, federal law enforcement does an excellent job, time and again, of identifying, investigating, arresting and prosecuting scores of individuals before they commit terrorist acts. But we continue to face real terrorist enemies and real terrorist threats and we must all remain vigilant.

Community-based, regionally — even globally — engaged, collaborative efforts to prevent, protect, prepare, mitigate, and respond.  Recovery and resilience are implied, but — as usual —  given a bit less attention.

September 3, 2014

DC Event: “Lessons in Resiliency from the Civilian Front in Israel: Operation Protective Edge”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 3, 2014

Just a heads up. If you are in the DC area, this Friday, September 5, the George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute is hosting an event on Israeli lessons for resilience:

Featuring Meir Elran of the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv, who will discuss the successful resilience demonstrated by the Israeli civilian front during Operation Protective Edge. Elran will discuss the factors which contributed to this success and how they are applicability to future threats including active and passive defense, the performance of the IDF Home Front Command and local government as well as public reactions and conduct during emergencies.

If interested, you can RSVP here: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e9qapd2m6c713350&llr=mysjo9cab

I’d like to expect the best, but I fear that ultimately the Boston Marathon bombing response will come up.  Through the Israeli lens, closing down the city in an attempt to apprehend the suspects was the wrong thing to do. Yet the difference in experience is rarely brought up in terms of lessons learned.

The Israeli experience included a campaign of terrorist attacks on a temporal scale the U.S. hasn’t seen.  Combined with a small geographic area the effort to minimize the impact on the community in Israel took a very problem-specific approach.  However, that does not mean that it will or should work in the U.S.  Conditions are different.  Social constructs and relations with government at all levels is different.  What appears to be foolish choices by U.S. authorities in the minds of Israeli officials can actually be quite efficient and appropriate to the American context.

That is long way around to saying that at this particular event if the idea that Bostonians are less resilient for the actions of one particular Friday then the speaker in question HAS NO IDEA OF WHAT HE HIS TALKING ABOUT.

And I stand by that statement.  Friends in Boston kept living their lives during that period and in fact look upon that Friday as an event that brought the community even closer together.

Boston is stronger due to the choices made during that eventful week. I hope voices forged in a different fire do not influence what should be perceived as a victory here at home.

August 27, 2014

3,287 Days Ago

Filed under: Disaster — by Jerry Monier on August 27, 2014

This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 with the title of 2920 Days Ago.  Since then, the essay has been updated to reflect the passing of an additional year since Hurricane Katrina.  The views represented in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer.

Any random date on a calendar represents an important personal or professional milestone.  Birthdays commonly represent another year of personal maturity and growth.  Wedding anniversaries represent the passing of another year of sharing the ups, downs, struggles and celebrations of life with a significant other.  In other instances, a specific date reminds us of the significant tragedies that have influenced the collective resilience of the United States of America.  The date December 7, will always be “a date which will live in infamy” influencing the builder and baby boomer generations of American society.  The date 9/11 will always memorialize the sacrifices of persons who fell victim to the terror attacks of that day having given rise to an American enterprise known as Homeland Security.  The personal perspectives and memories of these events change with the passing of each year.  This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 and represents the author’s observations in the years following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line on August 29, 2005.

It is about 9:10 PM Central Time on August 29, 2013. I have just finished reading a bedtime story to my seven-year-old daughter. As I lay with her and watch her fall asleep, my mind wanders back to the night of August 29, 2005.  My location at that time was the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I was tasked with executing a plan developed the previous week, during the now well-known Hurricane Pam exercise. Our goal was to establish a field hospital at this facility. Over the upcoming days, our facility would treat an estimated 6,000 survivors requiring medical intervention,  An additional 18,000 survivors were triaged and then transported to various mega-shelters located throughout the United States.

In the short time spent with my daughter that evening a year ago, I closed my eyes and listened to her calming bedtime lullabies.  My mind began to shift between the past and present. Earlier in the week, a professional colleague had commented in an email about the “Big 8” coming up this week. That email, coupled with my own thoughts, brought me to realize how much has and has not changed in the days, months, and years since August 29, 2005.  This Friday, August 29, 2014, represents the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the passage of 3287 days.

3287 days has spanned three presidential terms.

3287 days has spanned the terms of three Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security.

3287 days has spanned the tenure of three FEMA Administrators.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Louisiana.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Mississippi.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Mayors in New Orleans.

3287 days has included three significant tropical weather systems making landfall or affecting the same Louisiana coastline affected by Hurricane Katrina.

3287 days has included two significant tropical weather systems making landfall near New York City, and impacting the Northeastern states of the United States.

3287 days has included the largest oil spill in American History impacting the same coastal communities and social economies affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.

3287 days has spanned four Directors of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness or the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

3287 days has included countless reports published by the GAO and Congressional Research Service on the preparedness of the United States.

3287 days has included acts of terror committed in the United States.

3287 days has included a school shooting in Newtown, CT.

3287 days has included congressional fact finding and the publishing of A Failure of Initiative.

3287 days has included the passing of PKEMRA legislation.

3287 days has included the development of homeland security to an all hazards environment.

3287 days has included the expansion of homeland security’s focus.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 14 plus billion dollars to build hurricane protection levees around the metropolitan New Orleans area.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 17 plus billion dollars in recovery aid to the State of Louisiana.

3287 days has included the development of catastrophic response plans for major metropolitan areas.

3287 days has included the production of Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews-each having their own characteristics and personalities and political spin.

3287 days has included the development of several Homeland Security or National Security Strategies.

3287 days has included the development of National Frameworks for Prevention, Response, Preparedness, and Mitigation.

3287 days has included numerous policy changes, defining how we as a nation respond to and recover from catastrophes.

3287 days has included the birth of two beautiful daughters.

3287 days has included the earning of an undergraduate degree.

3287 days has included the earning of a prestigious graduate degree.

3287 days has included many memories.

3287 days has included five career moves.

3287 days has included the rebuilding of Louisiana’s emergency management culture in the face of constant adversity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience in an enterprise known as emergency management.

3287 days has included an unknown number of reports, academic papers, research, and the development of think tanks based on the premise of resilience.

3287 days has included the deaths of 1,836 US residents due to Hurricane Katrina

3287 days has included an influenza pandemic.

3287 days has included a significant natural disaster in Japan with numerous cascading effects, including the loss of fixed nuclear reactors.

3287 days has included the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

3287 days has included a national recession.

3287 days has included detrimental budget cuts to government agencies in the state of Louisiana, potentially impacting their ability to respond to the needs of their residents in the future.

3287 days has included the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

3287 days has included the development and implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 8.

3287 days has included the development and introduction of THIRA.

3287 days has included the consumption of numerous bottles of whiskey.

3287 days has included the process of healing.

3287 days has included a synthesis of interaction, experience, and complexity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience by multiple stratums of society.

As my daughter fell asleep I realized just how much can actually occur in the span of 3287 days. By the same token, I also realized how much can be lost over 3287 days.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of partisan politics on American society.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of finger pointing and blame on the homeland security enterprise of the US.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the success of the homeland security enterprise is only as good as the most recent catastrophe.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed attempts to define the concept of homeland security.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the struggle to define an all hazards approach to resilience.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the physical, social and political attributes of the term risk reduction has been negatively applied to public policy.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed an increase in dependency upon the federal government.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed a political desire to “not be the next Katrina.”

In the past 3287 days, I have observed hundreds, if not thousands of applicants and speakers describe their “Katrina Story.”

It is now 9:46PM in the evening, and I have come down from the attic where my personal notes from the “Katrina Days” are stored in a fireproof container.  I open my notes from late August of 2005 and begin to process the emotions of eight years ago, and how my thoughts and perceptions have changed over the past 3287 days.

As the clock approaches 10PM, I locate a picture of an elderly couple and a golden retriever.  A colleague took the picture on the morning of August 31, 2005 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC).  The couple arrived as part of the initial push of evacuees from the New Orleans area.  This picture has had a place of prominence in every office that I have occupied over the past 3287 days.

Jerry M picture

As I recall, the only belongings the couple had with them were several days of food for their golden retriever. I remember how I checked on them constantly while they were at the PMAC. I remember making sure they had water and food while they waited on metal chairs outside the PMAC in the dense, late summer humidity of Baton Rouge. I remember walking outside in the late evenings and early morning hours 3287 days ago and seeing the couple sleeping in those folding metal chairs, each with their head on the other’s shoulder. I remember the golden retriever staying awake and observant while his masters slept. I remember walking outside and noticing the couple was missing. 3287 days since then, and I still wonder what happened to that couple.

As I continue through my notes, I remember the promises of federal assistance and how a community embraced those who needed assistance with or without government direction.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the student body of LSU adopt survivors rescued from a nursing home as their own grandparents.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a medical community embrace volunteerism and their professional oath to serve those in need.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a new football coach and his players move pet crates to establish a pet shelter for companion animals who had evacuated with their owners.

3287 days ago, I witnessed my wife, sister-in-law, and father-in-law come to my aid and staff what would become one of the largest companion animal evacuation shelters in America.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a dog named Ollie become the first pet evacuee housed at this shelter.

3287 days ago, I witnessed employees of the State of Louisiana demonstrate and renew a level of energy and commitment to the people of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of a community.

3287 days ago, I witnessed what is now termed “self-organizing communities” prior to it becoming another buzz word of this emerging enterprise of homeland security

3287 days ago, I witnessed resilience.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the resilience of America.

3287 days ago, I determined that I was PROUD to be a Louisiana responder and emergency manager.

It is now 10:30 PM in the evening and the memories of that night and the days to follow continue to flow.

3287 days ago, at this time, I was told to expect the first wave of evacuees from New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I looked a minimal staff of medical volunteers, state employees, and 100 or so LSU students in the eyes and told them that I didn’t know what to expect.

3287 days ago, we accepted our first wave of nursing home evacuees.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would eventually receive the patients and heroic medical practitioners from Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would hear the first-hand stories of orderlies feeding hospital patients semi-frozen peas one pea at a time to maintain their nutritional intake and survival.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that something as simple as a beacon light on a crane would shut down the evacuation of patients from New Orleans area hospitals.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that I would experience the emotional roller coaster of planning for the dead, while rejoicing each birth that occurred at our makeshift campus hospital.

3287 days ago, I never thought that I would reach a point of acceptance, and see those following days in an entirely different perspective.

A lot has happened over the past 3287 days. 

In the past 3287 days, the people of Louisiana have demonstrated resilience throughout various natural and man-made adversities.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise should not be about resilience, rather resilience has and continues to be the strong narrative of this enterprise known as the United States of America.

In the past 3287 days, I have wondered what happened to that elderly couple and their golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise has emphasized processes and frameworks rather than focusing on the social networks and community empowerment.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise should be focused on helping that elderly couple with a golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise is a service industry.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that there are those who need our help.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that no matter the governmental policy, citizens will help others, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the significance of citizen responsibility

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that in the absence of political motivation, people will help people.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an overabundance of partisan politics will gum up the works of our enterprise.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the righteousness of our society.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an elderly couple with a golden retriever, an expectant mother, or a dog named Ollie will be taken care of by our “Great Society.”

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that regardless of media biases, this is a great country, and that the resilience of this country is truly dependent upon its citizens.

As for the next 3287 days, I am not sure what lies ahead. 

I know that in the next 3287 days, my daughters will be sixteen and thirteen years of age, respectively.

I know that in the next 3287 days, my wife and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary.

I know that in the next 3287 days, I will have aged nine years, and be that much closer to retirement.

I know that in the next 3287 days, the people of Louisiana will continue to demonstrate resilience.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will have eight more opportunities to reflect upon those days following August 29, 2005.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will continue to ponder the gains and losses made to better the emerging enterprise known as homeland security.

———-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Monier is a Spring 2013 graduate of the CHDS Masters Program. In the past 3287 days, Mr. Monier has served as a national level homeland security consultant, public health preparedness manager for the State of Louisiana, and most recently, the Chief of Preparedness for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana. During Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Monier was employed by Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and was assigned to establish a field hospital at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The PMAC Field Hospital provided medical care to 6,000 survivors and triaged an estimated 18,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

August 20, 2014

William Cumming on emergency management as an organizational process in governance

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues,Resilience — by Arnold Bogis on August 20, 2014

Long time (perhaps the longest?) HLSWatch commentator William Cumming has a guest blog up on Eric Holdeman’s Disaster Zone blog. And he doesn’t nibble around the edges:

Increasingly, I am supportive of the notion that emergency management is not a contrived subject or profession but in fact underlies much of organizational process that leads to various forms of governance.

I’m not sure if I accept this notion, but it is a big idea. However, I do think his opinion on the use of the military in most other nations for emergency management responsibilities is an important insight.

Well in my opinion, emergency management is the worst form of organizational response to crisis management and resilience (that includes elements of preparedness, planning, prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery) except all others. What alternative choices are there?

One big one is a military command and control system that actually can prevent effective collaboration and cooperation, whether among individuals, NGOs, governments or other spontaneously developing post-disaster organizations. Since more than 90 percent of the nation-states have vested their EM function in their military, organizationally designed to inflict maximum organized violence on some other group or nation-state, I find that this approach is largely vested in a leadership’s desire for control and resurrecting the status quo ante. These factors are not absent from emergency management but seem more likely not to dominate when the civil sector is dominate.

He goes on to provide five building blocks for emergency management going forward.  Please see Holdeman’s blog for the full text as it is well worth your time to read. It is also worth pointing out here his summary:

In summary, perhaps the system of emergency management must promote collaboration and cooperation so that the system is supportive of the best resilience. And while individual brilliance will from time to time appear and needs to be utilized, systems and processes must reflect the collective wisdom of those involved with the emergency management process in any crisis or disaster.

What I like here is the focus on process and system.  Often, at least it seems to me, leadership development and education is held up as the holy grail of homeland security development.  I believe Bill is pointing out that while when you get exceptional, or even adequate, leadership good things follow but the most important thing is to develop an overall system within which best practices are developed, shared, and implemented.

August 12, 2014

Obesity, Homeland Security, and the National Preparedness Goal

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 12, 2014

Here’s the national preparedness goal:

“A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.” 

Some people (e.g., several hundred retired admirals and generals) argue obesity threatens both the security and resilience of the nation.

A few years ago, in a document titled Too Fat to Fight, they claimed

Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight….

[At] least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are too fat to serve in the military. That is 27 percent of all young adults. Obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten not only the overall health of America but also the future strength of our military. 

Obesity threatens more than the nation’s ability to staff its armed forces. It’s an economic threat. And, as the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review report points out (p. 31), “homeland security is inseparable from economic security.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (still acronymized as CDC):

• More than one-third (or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese.

• Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.

• The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

What can be done to “prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover” from obesity?

Among the hundreds of answers offered to that question, here a suggestion from a 1:41 youtube video I saw a few weeks ago.

Homeland security starts at home.

 

July 29, 2014

“Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” – a disappointing sequel

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 29, 2014

“Nobody pays any attention to these reports. But you still keep printing them.”

The quote is from a prominent (former) intelligence official. He was talking about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. But he could have been referring to the “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” released last week (available at this link: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/rising-terrorist-threat-9-11-commission)

One wishes to be fair to the people who wrote the Reflections. No doubt it was as well intentioned as any sequel. But in my opinion it doesn’t come anywhere close to being a worthwhile read. The assertions and arguments in Reflections are as fatigued as the authors claim the America people are.

And that’s unfortunate.

The Commission missed an opportunity to help reinvigorate the homeland security project they were instrumental in shaping.

——————————

The 9/11 Commission Report (available here: http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/) starts with the most memorable sentence of any government report I’ve ever read:

“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the Eastern United States.”

Here’s the opening sentence in Reflections:

“With temperatures in the low 50s, April 15, 2013, promised to be an almost ideal day for the 23,000 runners competing in the 117th Boston Marathon.”

This artless effort to draw a parallel between the Boston Marathon and the September 11 2001 attacks comes off sounding, at best, tone deaf. At worse, offensive.

But it’s only the start.

Instead of the thoughtfulness, balance, and bipartisanship of the original 9/11 Commission Report, we get a repetitive rehash of banal assertions: The terrorists are coming and they are really dangerous. Cyber threats are growing and they also are really dangerous. Congress is dangerous too. Their refusal to reduce the number of homeland security oversight committees is making the country less safe.

And by the way, the Director of National Intelligence (not dangerous) should control the budget of the Intelligence Community.

——————————

Unlike the hundreds of thorough and informative endnotes supporting the claims in the 9/11 Commission Report, Reflections backs up its assertions with a handful of anecdotes, a few charts, some quotes from unnamed experts and eight seemingly haphazardous endnotes.

The 9/11 Commission Report did not shy away from discussing at length alternative interpretations of “facts” they uncovered. See, for example, the extensive discussion of the intelligence wall.

That balance and realism is missing in Reflections on every significant issue discussed.

Is there no credible argument that the nation continues to overblow the terrorist threat? How about this one: http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Security-Money-Balancing-Benefits/dp/0199795762

Assuming the nation will not take the cyber threat seriously until we have a cyber version of the 9/11/01 attack, what can we do now to mitigate that attack?

Is there a case for having 92 congressional committees looking at homeland security issues? Are all those committees unnecessary?  Did Reflections speak with anyone who defends the current congressional oversight structure? Could it be an example of the messiness that is republican democracy? Is DoD really the efficiency model to be emulated by homeland security?  Are there no substantial downsides to having only a handful of committees looking at Defense matters?

——————————

I appreciate this was not supposed to be another 9/11 Commission Report. But I’m guessing – hoping? – it was supposed to be a serious analysis.

The commission members were “struck by how dramatically the world has changed” in a decade.

Struck? When was the last time a decade went by without dramatic world changes?

What about the current terrorist threat? It’s evolving, says Reflections.

“The forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade…. The absence of another 9/11-style attack does not mean the threat is gone: As 9/11 showed, a period of quiet can be shattered in a moment by a devastating attack.”

Reflections continues to press the importance of connecting dots, even if one has to wait years. They ask,

Is the April 2013 rifle attack on an electrical substation in Metcalf, California, a harbinger of a more concerted assault on the national electrical grid or another component of critical infrastructure? What might we be missing today that, three years from now, will prove to have been a signal, a piece of a larger mosaic?

What if it’s not? Or is this report only reflecting things to be afraid of?

——————————

If you stop reading after the first two dozen pages of Reflections you’d think the nation is hanging by an existential thread, worse off now then it was ten years ago.

You have to get to page 25 of the 44 page report before learning:

There is no doubt that the country is better equipped to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks than in 2001. …The mass-casualty attacks many feared in the wake of 9/11 did not materialize. Today, in large part because of … many [security-related] reforms, the United States is a much harder target.

Senior leaders agree that America’s layered approach to homeland defense, which recognizes that no single security measure is foolproof, has improved our security….  At its best, a layered system integrates the capabilities of federal, state, and local government agencies. America’s resilience has improved as well. Federal, state, and local authorities have absorbed and applied the lessons of 9/11 over the last decade…. The country must continue to prepare for the unforeseen, but it appears to be moving in the right direction….

I think that’s called “burying the lede.”

Later:

There is a consensus among the senior officials with whom we spoke that information-sharing has improved significantly since 9/11.

And right before Reflections concludes (page 37):

As we reflect on the last ten years, we believe the government’s record in counterterrorism is good. Our capabilities are much improved, while institutional vigilance and imagination are both far better than before 9/11. Good people in government have absorbed the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, are tracking the evolving threat, and are thinking one step ahead in order to prevent the next attack.

Lest one think that gives us permission to be complacent, Reflections ends with this less-than-upbeat anecdote:

One former senior national security leader told us recently that he expects that his children and grandchildren will be carrying on this fight.

I wonder if there is another former senior national security leader, somewhere, who thinks about his children and grandchildren the way John Adams did:

I must study … war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

If there are any such national security leaders, they were not interviewed for Reflections.

Young Americans need to know that terrorism is not going away. And they need to know that many of our military personnel, intelligence officers, and diplomats on the front lines in the most dangerous parts of the world are like them—young people with dreams of bright futures.

——————————

In addition to the full court press strategy (that includes a congratulations-9/11-Commission youtube video from tired-looking President Obama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIA2iiWkvKY), how are young Americans and the rest of the nation to learn “how dramatically the word has changed?”

It’s simple, says Reflections.

Senior leaders, including the President, have to make the case about terrorism and cyber threats and all the myriad things that go (or might go) bump in the night “in specific terms, not generalities.”  

One hoped Reflections would model some of the transparent specificity they want others to provide. Instead, what we get are statements like this one:

“If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent [cyber] threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive.”

——————————

Don Marquis wrote that “a sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself.”

I found Reflections to be a disappointing sequel.

July 10, 2014

Needing your help: Core readings in homeland security

Filed under: Education — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2014

I have been asked to prepare a reading list for a graduate symposium in homeland security.  The purpose of the symposium (as I understand it) is to facilitate a meaningful introduction to the field by those approaching the end of graduate studies in other fields: especially law, international affairs, public administration, business, and public health.

I perceive the founders of the symposium have at least two goals: First, to provide the graduate students with sufficient grounding in homeland security that they can reasonably assess their interest in homeland security-related careers and, if interested, have a head-start in engaging and networking within homeland security.  A second goal may involve offering homeland security some non-traditional, even provocative insights emerging from this interdisciplinary consideration.

Especially given these goals the symposium does not seek to “teach” as much as “stimulate”.  The reading list should helpfully suggest major issues and trends.  It should prompt conversation and critique by soon-to-be PhDs, lawyers, and executives.  It is a foundation more than a framing.

It has not yet been finalized, but the symposium will probably meet once every 90 days for roughly six to seven hours of sustained engagement. Four sessions are anticipated.  There will be the opportunity for additional informal engagement, online and otherwise.

I have decided the reading list should be available free online.  I am inclined to give attention to the unfolding nature of homeland security law, policy, and strategy since 9/11.   I would prefer to have no more than ten core readings.  Right now I have fifteen and am tempted to list even more.

Readings that I most regret leaving off the list include the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, some of the better (and worst) Presidential Policy Directives, the OLC memorandum on “contemplated lethal operations”, Federal District Court decisions in Klayman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper, and several of the Federalist Papers at about which point I lose all restraint, the universe of reading expanding quickly into quantum and complexity theory.

What else would you insist be on the list?  What would you remove from my list without a second thought?

Potentially helpful to persuading me — and probably a subtext for the missive below — I am a product and practitioner of Higher Criticism.  The written word is sacred and mysterious, context-sensitive, layered, open to reason, enlightened by analogy, beyond full understanding while richly rewarding affirmatively critical engagement.

Thanks for your help.

July 2, 2014

QHSR: tension between HS and hs

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on July 2, 2014

I’m a week late to the QHSR discussion and while I don’t have any big thoughts, I do have a few small ones.

- – - – - – - -

There are some problems at the foundation of the QHSR. Issues that point to underlying confusion of what homeland security is, or at least an unclear characterization of what it should be, at the federal level. However, this isn’t the fault of the DHS staff who put together the review, but rather the direction of Congress. As readers are reminded of in the report itself, the scope of the QHSR is:

Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities,budget, policies and authorities of the Department.

Soooooo…the Department of Homeland Security (let’s call it capital HS) is mandated by Congress to review the current Administration’s homeland security strategy that includes the work of other agencies (counter-intuitively, I’m going to refer to the whole enchilada encompassing what anyone might wish to include in homeland security as lowercase hs), while at the same time providing DHS-specific recommendations on force structure, authorities, budget, etc. I haven’t checked the authorizing language, but on a quick review of the last DOD QDR (which is supposedly the model for the QHSR) , it pretty much focused entirely on the last half of that charge.  There was little to no language that pointed to the concerns of their national security “partners” or the military’s analysis of the National Security Strategy. Instead it focused on questions of force structure and the impact of sequestration on the military.

In this matter, the important difference between DOD and DHS is that DOD has a long tradition, and specifically, a mature relationship with Congress.  DHS, on the other hand, seems to be generally regarded by many (if not most) lawmakers as the sole actor in the hs sphere.  The consequence being that anything that is considered a hs issue by Congress often becomes a HS issue by default.  A dumping agency.  Even if it is a topic long worked by experienced professionals elsewhere in the government.

- – - – - – - – - -

Contrasting examples of this can be seen in the chapters on bio and nuclear threats. At it’s creation, I do not believe any of the agencies or offices brought to DHS a primary role in either arena (outside of FEMA’s responsibility post nuclear attack).  But in the wisdom of a few, since that time the agency has grown both an Office of Health Affairs (OHA) and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).

I can see the utility of a health office for the protection of the DHS workforce, not unlike the equivalent in DOD.  Perhaps over time they develop particular expertise to contribute to the larger efforts of the government as a whole.  Instead, projects such as the never-quite-right Biowatch placed them in a bureaucratic competition with agencies with long-standing expertise in public health, such as the CDC (the center of biosurveillance), and those newer offices with a concentration of expertise and responsibility, like ASPR (ESF-8 lead, partner in the National Disaster Medical System, and the government developers of new medical countermeasures through BARDA). The QHSR seems to acknowledge this, as it stresses a whole of government approach to public health and bioterrorist threats. DHS went hs rather than HS in addressing biological threats.

The reverse is true for nuclear terrorism. After identifying the issue and stressing the importance due to the possible consequence of such an attack (if this is so important to HS you’d think FEMA would have gotten it’s act together by now regarding planning for such an event…but I digress), the QHSR takes an entirely parochial view of the subject.

We prioritize a sustained, long-term focus on preventing nuclear terrorism through two foundational capabilities: (1) nuclear detection and (2) nuclear forensics. These capabilities are aimed at preventing our adversaries from developing, possessing, importing, storing, transporting, or using nuclear materials.

In stark contrast to bio-events, nuclear terrorism can and must be prevented.  And that prevention is likely not to occur along the pathways of the “Global Nuclear Detection Architecture” or due to forensic capabilities. It happens because while large, the amount of special materials required for a nuclear terrorist attack are finite, thus possible to secure or eliminate at the source.  Hoping that THE major plank in preventing such an attack is detection of very hard to detect materials with the cooperation of others sitting along a spectrum of competence, corruption, and cooperation would be unwise.

I am not suggesting detection and forensics are unimportant, only that they are secondary to securing and eliminating fissile material.  Yet the QHSR focuses on these capabilities because that is what the DNDO does.  So DHS went HS for addressing the nuclear terrorism threat.

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

One last small quibble with the Review: why did they have to include a “Black Swans” section?  I don’t mean addressing potential future events that could have a significant impact on homeland security.  Rather, why did they have to attempt to co-opt the term itself?  Hasn’t the mess everyone has made with “resilience” taught us anything?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the book “The Black Swan” that popularized the term, summarizes the attributes of these events: “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” The QHSR has already violated the third attribute, and their list of four potential Swans have been previously suggested and analyzed elsewhere.  They are neither unforeseen or unexpected.

Personally, I’d prefer to think of Natalie Portman when considering Black Swans.

June 26, 2014

QHSR: Translating the archetypes (especially anima/animus)

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 26, 2014

FRIDAY, JUNE 27 EDITORIAL NOTE:  The Friday Free Forum is on vacation this week, luxuriating in the quiet of a cool mountain glade beneath a sweep of stars, seeking to reclaim social and spiritual equanimity.  You are invited to join the QHSR discussion that is already underway below.

–+–

ORIGINAL THURSDAY POST:

How do we anticipate what we cannot predict?  That question animates the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. Strategy generates benefits to the extent it accurately anticipates.  An effective strategy generates an initial — sometimes persisting — advantage in dealing with whatever specific challenges unfold unpredictably.

The QHSR is a bureaucratic document. This description is not meant as pejorative.  There are various DHS components, other national security agencies, White House and Congressional concerns, and many other stakeholders.  While the QHSR wants to accurately anticipate, it is not a prophetic text.  Rather than speaking truth to power, this is power in search of truth.  It can be cumbersome.

Meaningful interpretation recognizes the limitations — and opportunities — of the bureaucratic genre.  Much must be said. Where have the authors moved beyond the minimum requirements? Bureaucracies tend toward girth, but are sensitive to hierarchy.  What or who is given more attention?

The QHSR reviews previous challenges and outlines what it considers important shifts in the risk environment.  It gives particular priority to the following (page 28):

  • The terrorist threat is evolving and, while changing in shape, remains significant as attack planning and operations become more decentralized. The United States and its interests, particularly in the transportation sector, remain persistent targets.
  • Growing cyber threats are significantly increasing risk to critical infrastructure and to the greater U.S. economy.
  • Biological concerns as a whole, including bioterrorism, pandemics, foreign animal diseases, and other agricultural concerns, endure as a top homeland security risk because of both potential likelihood and impacts.
  • Nuclear terrorism through the introduction and use of an improvised nuclear device, while unlikely, remains an enduring risk because of its potential consequences.
  • Transnational criminal organizations are increasing in strength and capability, driving risk in counterfeit goods, human trafficking, illicit drugs, and other illegal flows of people and goods.
  • Natural hazards are becoming more costly to address, with increasingly variable consequences due in part to drivers such as climate change and interdependent and aging infrastructure.

Lots on the plate even here.  But these six risks are segregated from the rest. There is also a full page text-box highlighting Black Swans.  Words are carefully chosen to avoid accusations of being alarmist, but the visual rhetoric is emphatic. When push comes to shove, here are the risks  that this QHSR seems intent to especially engage.  How?

At different places in the document (especially page 16 and again in the conclusion) the following “cross-cutting” strategic priorities are articulated:

  • An updated posture to address the increasingly decentralized terrorist threat; 
  • A strengthened path forward for cybersecurity that acknowledges the increasing interdependencies among critical systems and networks; 
  • A homeland security strategy to manage the urgent and growing risk of biological threats and hazards; 
  • A risk segmentation approach to securing and managing flows of people and goods; and 
  • A new framework for strengthening mission execution through public-private partnerships.

What does “updated posture” mean?  Read pages 33-38. Compare and contrast with QHSR vers. 1.0 and your own counter-terrorism experience.  There are others better able to read-between-these-particular-lines.  I hope you will do so in the comments.

The attention to biological threats is not new, but concerns related to pandemic are even more acute. (“Of the naturally occurring events, a devastating pandemic remains the highest homeland security risk.”)  Urgent and growing are almost prophetic terms.  But once again, others are better prepared to give you the close-reading of how we are to be biologically battle-ready.

In my reading the most notable shift in this QHSR, and on which the rest of this post will concentrate, is the priority given so-called public-private partnerships (which I strongly recommended be amended to “private-public relationships”).

I perceive this enhanced priority emerges from a confluence of cyber-threats, disaster-management, and catastrophe preparedness.  In each of these domains the public good largely depends on private sector capacities and potential collaboration between private and public.

Flows of people and goods are given significant analytic attention. Flow-of-goods is treated mostly as a matter of economic security.  In time of significant crisis this is also the source-of-life.  The capacity to maintain a sufficient flow resides almost entirely with the private sector. In case of crisis, the public sector may be able to lead.  But in many cases the public sector will do better to follow and support.  Sometimes the best possible is for the public sector to get out of the way.  The latter alternative is most likely when there has been minimal private-public efforts in joint preparedness.  Leading or supporting require much more joint engagement than currently anticipated.

Being strategically prepared to — depending on context — lead, follow or get out of the way does not come easily.  Even the insight is atypical.  In advancing this insight the QHSR is making a potentially major contribution to safety, security and resilience.

Here is how the QHSR frames the issue (page 60):

At a time when we must do more with less, two guiding principles help public-private partnerships maximize the investment by each partner and the success of the partnership: (1) aligning interests and (2) identifying shared outcomes.

By focusing on how interests align, we can provide alternatives to costly incentives or regulations and help ensure a partnership is based on a solid foundation of mutual interest and benefit. There are many examples of public and private sector interests aligning in homeland security. Common interests include the safety and security of people and property, the protection of sensitive information, effective risk management, the development of new technology, reputation enhancement, and improved business processes. New ways of thinking about corporate social responsibility—in which societal issues are held to be core business interests rather than traditional philanthropy—also present an opportunity to identify shared interests.

Where interests do not directly align, potential partners can often be motivated by shared desired outcomes, such as enhanced resilience; effective disaster response and recovery; and greater certainty in emerging domains, such as cyberspace and the Arctic.

Aligning interests and identifying shared outcomes are absolutely a big part of effective collaboration.  But behind this reasonable rhetoric is a complicated, often treacherous cross-cultural tension.  I once spent a few years brokering decision-making between Japanese and Americans.  The intra-American — and perhaps global — private-public cultural divide is at least as profound.

The QHSR helpfully identifies five “archetypes” for framing relationships between private and public (see page 60-61).  A “Partnerships Toolkit” has also been developed.  All of this is potentially constructive.  When DHS folks started talking to me about archetypes I immediately thought of Jungian archetypes.  This matches my sense that to really work together private and public will usually require the institutional equivalent of long-term joint counseling.  But this analogous leap seemed to make some of my DHS colleagues uncomfortable.

Some were even more uncomfortable when I suggested private/public is the equivalent of the anima/animus archetype. C.G. Jung wrote, “The anima gives rise to illogical outbursts of temper; the animus produces irritating commonplaces.”  I’ll let you guess which I associate with private and which with public.

But C.G.’s most important insight regarding these contending archetypes is that each depends on each, each is fulfilled in relationship with the other, and robust elements of both are required for ongoing creativity and growth.  The recurring clinical problem is an inclination to diminish, suppress or oppress one or the other.

In the life of an individual failure to meaningfully engage both anima and animus is self-subverting and can become tragic.  Our current failure to effectively engage private and public presents a similar social threat.  To suggest why — in less than another thousand words — here’s yet another analogy:

I happened to be reading about the Battle of Austerlitz when the QHSR was released last week.  In the summer of 1804 the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, accurately anticipated Napoleon’s expansionist ambitions.  He effectively forged a strategic alliance with Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Sweden. In October 1805 the British Fleet soundly defeated a combined French and Spanish naval force at Trafalgar.  It was the right strategy and the strategy was proving effective. But then in early December on a cold fog-drenched Moravian bottom-land the entire strategy unraveled.  Europe was, once again, transformed.

There are many reasons for the Third Coalition’s failure at Austerlitz. My particular author focuses on a clique of over-confident young nobles around the Russian Czar who seriously underestimated the practical requirements of deploying two emperors and their very different armies into actual battle.  The practical requirements of a national capacity for effective private-public collaboration in crisis are much more complicated.

The QHSR has articulated the right strategy.  We will undermine the strategy by minimizing challenges involved in making the collaboration operational.

On July 16 there will be an early signal of our operational readiness and sophistication.  That’s when new applications for the Homeland Security National Training Program: Continuing Training Grants are due.  This includes Focus Area 4: Maturing Public-Private Partnerships.  Will be interesting to see what’s submitted.

Brian, please be very cautious of any proposals received from twenty-something Russian princes.

June 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were privacy concerns addressed?

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

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

Have they tested it?

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

Sounds good, right?  Any concerns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 30, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

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

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

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

You can read it online here.

(Thanks to Bill Cumming for sharing this link.)

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 27, 2014

Megalopolistic bedfellows, fire, filters, and eloquent twilight

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

Megalopolis

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

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

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

CSN is

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

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

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

Fire

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

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

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

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

Filters

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

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

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

When the researchers studied web behavior after the shootings:

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

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

Twilight

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

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

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

Freidman quotes Bill Maher:

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

LocalLocal is over for the same reason.

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

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

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

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

One more observation reported by Freidman:

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

 

April 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Strong because Boston Ready.

This should be noted and shared.

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

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

- – - – - – - – - – - – - -

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

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

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

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

He makes a subtle and often overlooked point.

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