Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 20, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 20, 2014

On this day last year the Canadian province of Alberta experienced the start of a period of sustained flooding that displaced more than 100,000 and caused damage exceeding $5 billion.

On this day, also last year, the Colorado Black Forest Fire was declared 100 percent contained after burning more than 14,000 acres, destroying 486 homes, and resulting in two deaths.

Symantec, the computer security firm, has released a warning related to cyberattacks planned for today.  According to the warning the target will be the global energy industry.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

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June 19, 2014

What’s a comma worth? Or “Re-visioning the homeland security vision”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 19, 2014

As Phil noted, it is now time for the commentariat to dig into the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

My initial spoonful is hope.  Someone fixed the comma problem with the 2010 Vision.

Here’s the 2010 vision for homeland security:

 

2010 QHSR homeland security vision

 

 

Here’s the 2014 vision:2014 qhsr homeland security vision

 

Thank you to whoever  fixed that.

Or is it whomever?

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Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warlords, tribes, contending gods, battles and a besieged city

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 19, 2014

mask_of_agamemnon

In the midst of mayem and deep uncertainty, as nations tremble and empires flail, it may be worth revisiting the Iliad.

But if you do, resist (briefly) the poetic allure.  Instead give more attention to the convoluted plot, human psychology, and social anthropology of the Great Tale. (I prefer Robert Fagles translation.)

Is Abu-Bakr al-Bagdadi our new Agamemnon? Is ISIS the Mycenaean wedge at the fore of loosely assembled Sunni tribes? Is Maliki a misunderstood Priam or is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani more analogous? Who is your Hector? Who is the Paris we can all agree to blame.

Instead of playing Baghdad for Troy, you might want to consider Kabul or Bangui or Bamako.  Dare we imagine Islamabad or Abuja?  Damascus or Jerusalem?  Some shining city on a hill. Maybe Troy is Kurdish. Your hometown?

Who are your heroes?  Your villains? In Homer’s telling every god and mortal — Greek and Trojan — is capable of conceit, self-delusion, and brutality… and their opposites.

Are we so different now?  There are many more of us. Our weapons are surely more horrible.  Has our heroic capacity matured with our capability to kill?  Achilles is the best known of Homer’s so-called heroes.  But he spends much of the war sulking. When vengeance pushes him furious into battle he sadistically sullies his win; as we have seen this week in Mosul and many places before.

That this story has in some form persisted these — what, 3000? — years must reflect some realism and recurring relevance of the text.

Especially in its current form the Iliad is a product of the Axial Age. Looking back five (or 30) centuries the supposed casus belli — Helen’s kidnapping — is as absurd as the assassination of an Archduke. Battle is opportunity for personal valor, compelling comradeship, and even stirring pageantry.  But warring is also reduced to the reality of individual encounter and inglorious gore, any alleged greater purpose somehow receding.  Socrates fights valiantly at Delium, but Sparta still wins the war.  Socrates saves the life of Alcibiades at Potidaea and he, who will drink hemlock rather than depart his homeland, becomes teacher, friend, perhaps lover, of that most ambiguous of men. Awareness of — even comfort with — such ambiguity Homer offers as civilizing: probably a Fifth Century theme added to older, less self-critical verse.

The Axial Age, at least as conceived by Karl Jaspers, brings us greater integration and more alignment of belief and behavior.  Quarreling gods, random warlords and associated violence are gradually supplanted by purposeful principles and imperial command: Cyrus, Ashoka, Alexander, Qin Shi Huang, Augustus and their successors.  Certainly we continue to pillage, rape and murder. But we are rather more organized about it. Boundaries —  political, physical, philosophical — are put in place (with significant exceptions, some extending over thousands of miles and centuries).

According to Stephen Pinker, Joshua Goldstein, Norbert Elias and others we can measure — despite all the bloody brutality — real long-term reductions in violence. The Westphalian consensus retrieved and strengthened Axial values. The survivors of the European wars of religion deciding  that violence ought be a State monopoly has been especially hard on warlords.  Until recently.

Maybe it is the result of that Archduke’s assasination, but however it happened we seem to have entered a transaxial, post-Westphalian period.  Era or interlude?

By transaxial I mean the once-upon stand-alone axes which cultures use to mitigate internal strife now intersect and conflict and — so far — no Frank Gehry is emerging to transform multiple axes into beautiful torque (think Bilbao Guggenheim or LAs Disney concert hall).  The contradicting lines are dramatic just now along the Tigris, Indus,  Niger  and Nile rivers.  But something similar can erupt even along the Danube or Ohio or Dnieper or James.

This crossing of axes made more dangerous as violent capabilities are more widely distributed.  In many cases, the State being only one of many deadly players.

All of which is difficult enough.  But what — even in this long-view — has recently caused me particular concern is for transaxial and post-Westphalian to merge with what might be neo-Manichean.

At the heart of the Axial transformation was a rough sense of shared humanity.  Whether it was Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, Deutero-Isaiah, or Socrates/Plato each recognized in others a reality deserving respect.  In the Treaty of Westphalia the signatories pledge to honor their heretical adversaries and solemnly undertake “Universal Peace, and a perpetual, true, and sincere Amity.”  Whatever they felt toward lousy Lutherans or corrupt Catholics, they were encouraged in what came to be known as Humanism.  It could and did fail, but as Pinker might say, “It could have been — had been — much worse.”

Today with Boko Haram, the Anti-Balakas, ISIS, and others — some closer to home — there is a growing conception of being engaged in cosmic conflict between “us” and “them” — Good and Evil — that justifies, even galvanizes mass murder.  This is not just ancient tribalism, but apocalyptic wish-fulfillment.  This is an ideology of annihilation.  It is Achilles mocking Hector’s offer of mutual honor.  It is a shrill chorus of pre-historic savagery.  It must be rejected… especially if noticed in ourselves.

–+–

Overpowered by memory
Each man gives way to grief.
Priam weeping for man-killing Hector
Throbbing crouching before Achilles’ feet
As Achilles himself also weeps
Now for his father
And again for Patroclus
Their sobs rising and falling throughout the house.

(Book XXIV)

May we be able to share, even with our enemies, more than grief.

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June 18, 2014

House Homeland Security hearing: “The Critical Role of First Responders: Sharing Lessons Learned from Past Attacks”

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Arnold Bogis on June 18, 2014

Earlier today the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on “The Critical Role of First Responders: Sharing Lessons Learned from Past Attacks.”

What I thought was particularly interesting was in the current political climate this hearing is not about any contentious issue or other fodder for cable news pundits.  Rather, it actually seems to be a relevant review of local responder knowledge.

Okay…there might have been an underlying current regarding potential changes to homeland security grant funding.  But considering the low bar set these days, this hearing actually suggested that Congress was doing it’s job.

Witnesses

Deputy Commissioner John Miller
Intelligence and Counterterrorism
New York City Police Department
New York City, New York
Witness Statement [PDF]

Chief James Schwartz
Arlington County Fire Department
Arlington, Virginia
Witness Statement [PDF]

Chief James Hooley
Boston Emergency Medical Services
Witness Statement [PDF]

Dr. Brian A. Jackson
Director
RAND Safety and Justice Program
The RAND Corporation
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Jackson Lee, Representative from Texas, noted that first responders are not only providing homeland security but should be considered national security.

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June 17, 2014

A Smart Practice: How two California police departments use social media to engage with their communities

Filed under: Social Media — by Christopher Bellavita on June 17, 2014

I came across a presentation — below — describing how two police agencies in California’s Silicon Valley use social media.

Their strategy is not the run-of-the-mill advice to  ”Get a facebook account and start tweeting.”

It is about a philosophy, instead of a program. It’s about selecting a voice, defining your engagement strategy, seeing social media as an ecosystem, conducting virtual ride-alongs, shaping how people make sense of in-progress events, rumor control, and more.

The presentation identifies what needs to happen for the strategy to succeed, what can go wrong, and how to anticipate and mitigate potential downsides.

The presentation was developed by Lt. Zach Perron (Palo Alto PD) and Capt. Chris Hsiung (Mountain View PD).  It probably works better when one of the officers is presenting the slides. But the slides also work on their own.

I consider what they propose as a smart practice (http://bit.ly/1i7335R) instead of a best practice.  Few agencies will be able to adopt all elements of the social media strategy, but every public safety agency should be able to take something away from the ideas in the presentation.

Here’s the presentation: (or go to this link). Use the on-screen arrow to advance the slides.

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June 16, 2014

Monday Musings

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

Just a couple of random thoughts for a Monday.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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June 13, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

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

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

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

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

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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June 12, 2014

Foxes, hedgehogs and homeland security

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

                                                                                         Archilochous

PART I: COUNTERTERRORISM

On May 21 the Secretary of Homeland Security affirmed that counterterrorism is the primary mission of the Department.  But speaking to a large crowd of mostly state and local officials, Mr. Johnson evidently felt compelled to — or did not have the energy to do more than — review the many activities of the Department and, at least to my ears, focused particular attention on the challenge of illegal immigration (See Part II below).  The DHS website does not provide a transcript.  I wonder if whoever prepared the read-out was actually there.

On May 28 the President told West Point graduates:

For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy…  So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. 

The domestic analog of this strategy also needs to empower its partners.  Our homeland security framework should be especially attentive to vulnerabilities and creative regarding strengths. This is certainly important in terms of counterterrorism, but applies across most other hazards as well… if we will take the opportunity to notice.

Neither this White House nor its predecessor has given anything close to the same quality of attention to partnering with the private sector or the states or other crucial domestic players that is given to collaborating with NATO or the G-7 or key individual allies. The diplomatic-military-intelligence triad enjoys an advantage of clout, connections, and intellectual capital that far exceeds what we call homeland security.  Counterterrorism and cybersecurity are just about the only aspects of HS that earn any sustained attention by policy elites.

And this is no longer the elite of yore: foxes ala Isaiah Berlin moving from investment banking to the OSS to the Herald-Tribune to an embassy or two and then decamping for a few years at the Ford Foundation.  More and more our modern masters are process managers, mathematicians, and other rather wonky hedgehogs “who know one big thing”.  And they are inclined to leave other big things — if any might emerge — to someone else.  They notice what they know.

Since mid-May I have had two separate conversations with recently retired senior counterterrorism guys.  One has been out for about a year.  The other just retired last month.  They sounded alot alike.  Most of what they said you already know.  What struck me was what they did not say — seemed unwilling to seriously address — even in an informal setting and with their official duties behind them.  (But then again, look what I am doing with the conversations.)

The potentially meaningful silence I observed related to terrorist motivation. Americans currently fighting in Syria were mentioned by both.  Domestic terrorist trends were discussed. Recent events in the Sahel were reviewed.  In each exchange there were similar references to “behavioral indicators” and “spatial analysis” and “antecedent conduct” and “heuristics” and “covariance” and “probability”.   There was considerable reluctance to engage any questions related to ideology, religion, tribal-identity, grievance, or social, economic, and political “co-indicators”.  When these questions were asked both experts bridged-back to statistics as quickly as possible.

Speaking of statistics, an N of 2 is seldom significant.  But still the similarity was striking.  Rather than discussing fleshy and potentially very bloody human beings, my conversation partners might have been describing Brownian physics: The random motion of particles suspended in flux.

PART II: IMMIGRATION

I considered Secretary Johnson’s May 21 remarks misaligned with his audience.  He had a crowd with rather specific priorities.  He gave a generic speech.  Lost opportunity.

The somewhat greater focus I heard him give immigration may have been more the result of narrative punch than proportion or intention.  The Secretary mentioned that on Mother’s Day his wife joined him to visit a hosting center in Texas for detained unaccompanied minors (UAMs in trade-talk).  I was not taking notes, but his brief description was sufficient to imagine the kind of purgatorial scenes widely reported this week.

Immigration Center

Holding area for unaccompanied minors in Nogales, Arizona (USAToday).  Please note portable toilets in the far ground. Those are cots in the fore ground.

Mr. Johnson shared being profoundly affected and having since taken several steps to mitigate the troubling situation. This was more than three weeks ago.  I have wondered how much the Secretary’s action might be cause of (or only coincident with) this week’s media blitz.  I also wonder if our attention to this issue will be any more long-lasting or effectual than that given the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.  The crucial difference may be that Secretary Johnson is paying attention and has the authority to ensure others notice and act as well.

In the case of both Nigeria and Nogales a “policy problem” has been personalized.  In each case the “others” — even the “its” — who are victims have reclaimed their humanity. Or more accurately many of us have acknowledged what was always the case, but we had neglected to notice.

We are usually as effective depersonalizing victims as we are dehumanizing terrorists.

III. (IN)ATTENTION, INTENTION, AND INFLUENCE

Behavioral indicators and other more objective analytic techniques have emerged, in part, to discourage unthinking, unhelpful, misleading, gross profiling of potential terrorists; such as most Muslims or at least those with beards… or Sikhs who wear beards and turbans (but are not Muslim and at least in the United States have only been the target — not the source — of terrorism).

I am in favor of science, social science and statistics. I very much depend on hedgehogs and have tried to be better at burrowing into a hedge myself.

But this need not — ought not — exclude the knowledgeable, mindful, insightful application of the humanities (e.g. languages, literature. art, philosophy, religion, history).  We should especially avoid excluding our humanity.

In dealing with homeland security problems we need to recognize cause and effect.  This can often be done with a decidedly disinterested stance.  But there are other contexts when subjective human insight can play an important role. There is a place for empathy even in counterterrorism.

At West Point the President also said, “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.”  We might begin by recognizing that many of our most precious values are disruptive to more traditional societies… as well as some neighbors down the street.  Being disruptive is often — even accurately — perceived as threatening.  Living our values with integrity while defusing the unintended threat to others is a task requiring both fox and hedgehog, as many as we can get with eyes and ears wide open to the unexpected.

In Philadelphia Secretary Johnson saw a thousand state and local leaders and he didn’t seem to fully recognize their potential.  In the particular moment he was unable to differentiate this crowd from other crowds. He only saw what he was prepared to see. But fortunately when Secretary Johnson saw a thousand illegal immigrants crowded into a detention center in McAllen, Texas he recognized: these are children.  Not just UAMs. His observations and  actions were informed by being a father as well as a cabinet secretary.  Solutions will remain elusive, but much more likely when the problem is engaged as a whole.

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June 11, 2014

The scariest news from an eventful week

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on June 11, 2014

A lot of bad things occurred this past week. Real bad things.  Perceived bad things.  Real people died.  Real cable news pundits produced not-so-real outrage.

In regards to foreign terrorism those Afghanistan Taliban prisoners recently released and the situation in Iraq are getting most of the attention, and obviously given our country’s recent history in shaping events in both of those nations. However, I’d argue what transpired in Pakistan is much more worrisome.

Gunmen attacked Pakistan’s international airport in Karachi Sunday night, and the fighting continued into Monday morning.

The reported death toll has been rising: The latest from Pakistan media is that at least 23 are dead, including airport guards and the 10 militants said to be behind the attack.

A spokesman for the Airport Security Force told The Associated Press that the military was called in, but after that the fighting is now over.

The New York Times reports:

“Security forces sealed off the airport, and flights began being diverted away from Karachi within minutes of the fighting. Witnesses saw smoke rising from the airport’s old terminal, and one Pakistani news channel showed footage of a fire burning close to a plane.”

The AP notes that Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, “has been the site of frequent militant attacks in the past.”

Just for a moment, let this sink in.

Pakistan is a nuclear power.  It produces a lot of nuclear weapons.  This requires producing a lot of nuclear weapons-useable material.

This nuclear power cannot keep it’s largest international airport in it’s largest city safe. This was not a small airfield in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.  This was JFK or O’Hare or LAX being attacked by armed militants.

Any insurgency in a nuclear weapons state should be worrisome.  Since they are able to assault the most important airport in perhaps the most important city in a nuclear weapons state should be especially worrisome.

In my opinion, ignore the loud voices worried about the situations easiest to explain/blame someone. Worry about the ones few are talking about but that include nuclear weapons and material.

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The Atlantic hosts “Going Viral: Keeping Communities Healthy Through Public Health Emergency Preparedness”

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on June 11, 2014

By the time you read this post, you are likely too late to go to this event (sorry…I just learned about it yesterday).  However, there is a live webcast involved and I am hoping for a video to post when it ends. See the end of the following announcement from The Atlantic for video and twitter information.

The program will feature a one-on-one interview with Irwin Redlener, MD, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute and Professor of Health Policy & Management and Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University.  Following the interview, Redlener will join with Eric Toner, MD, Senior Associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, for a broader conversation on how public and private sectors can support each other to reduce risks, respond to crises, and enable healthier living. GSK is the underwriter of the event.

Media interested in attending the event should contact The Atlantic’s Alexi New (anew@theatlantic.com). For those unable to attend in person, the event will be webcast live via The Atlantic’s Events Channel.  Follow the conversation on Twitter via @Atlantic_LIVE#GoingViral.

AT A GLANCE:
Going Viral: Keeping Communities Healthy Through Public Health Emergency Preparedness

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
8:30 – 10:00 AM (8:00 AM Guest Arrival and Registration)

National Press Club
529 14th Street, NW – 13th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20045

Webcast Link:http://bit.ly/1hyM7iR
Follow the conversation on Twitter:@Atlantic_LIVE#GoingViral

AGENDA

8:30 am Welcome Remarks

  • Emily Akhtarzandi, Managing Director, The Atlantic
  • William Schuyler, Vice President for Government Relations, GSK

8:35 am Interview

  • Irwin Redlener, Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute; Professor of Health Policy & Management and Professor of Pediatrics, Columbia University
  • Moderated by: Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic

9:00 am Panel Discussion

  • Andrew GarrettDirector, National Disaster Medical System, Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Irwin Redlener, Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute; Professor of Health Policy & Management and Professor of Pediatrics, Columbia University
  • Robin Robinson, Director, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Eric Toner, Senior Associate, UPMC Center for Health Security
  • Moderated by: Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic

UPDATE: Video of the event is now available here: http://www.theatlantic.com/live/events/going-viral/2014/

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June 10, 2014

Every 86 hours

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

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

LCPD Alan Beck

 

 

“The Final Inspection”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Author Unknown

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June 6, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/adPHllOqkIE)

And yes, I am being entirely facetious.

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

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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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.

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June 3, 2014

High-tech, low-tech, and no tech: communication strategies during blackouts

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on June 3, 2014

“High-tech, Low-tech, and No tech: Communication Strategies During Blackouts” is the title of a homeland security master’s thesis I’ve been meaning to write about here.

It was written by Diana Sun Solymossy in late 2013, and is available at this link: http://calhoun.nps.edu/public/bitstream/handle/10945/39020/13Dec_Sun_Solymossy_Diana.pdf?sequence=1

Here’s a synopsis of her research.  I’ve also posted a video of Diana talking about her research.

The Problem:

Communicating important information to the public during disasters is a core objective for emergency managers. But how can emergency managers communicate with their community when plugged-in forms of communication are not available to a large number of people?

The Context:

Power outages frequently occur, and often accompany major crises, particularly natural disasters such as severe weather events. Thus, during crises, communications are often severely hampered – just when emergency managers have the greatest need to communicate with the community.

Despite the preponderance of power outages, coupled with this important communications need, a review of the literature revealed few existing recommendations on what tactics could help emergency managers communicate with the public when the lights go out.

In fact, a number of reports concluded that “something else” would be needed when the power goes out, but few, if any, went on to suggest what that “something” might be.

The Data:

[The research looked at what] specific solutions have successfully been used to communicate critical information to the public during emergencies involving major blackouts.

This … project reviewed and analyzed three crises that involved major blackouts and subsequent communications problems:

1. Multi-state blackout, northeast U.S., 2003

2.  Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast, U.S., 2005

3. Triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear), Japan, 2011

The Findings:

[The research identified] a three-tiered framework [for communicating during disasters], consisting of “high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech” communications strategies.

High-tech — Emergency managers can leverage the high usage of mobile devices and exploit it for emergency communications purposes. Assuming emergency managers have access to backup generators, they can send out messages via social media channels. Governments in the disaster-affected areas of Japan’s triple disaster now consider social networks to be a valuable communications tool in disasters.

Low-tech — It was clear across the three cases that, whatever the situation, what people needed most was extremely localized information. Across the cases, hyper-local community radio stations were among the top sources of extremely local information that people needed most. In addition, as conditions improved, hyper-local radio transitioned to sources of support and comfort, thus serving as vital lifelines to connect communities.

No-tech — When all else fails, local governments must be prepared to go backward and use old-fashioned methods to reach people with information. In all three cases, people used their ingenuity to figure out ways to get information out, including handwritten posters, old-school flyers, and bullhorns. The focus should be on getting information to the places where people naturally gather following disasters, e.g., corner stores, evacuation centers, gas stations.

The Conclusions:

None of these methods is revolutionary, so what is new here?

What is new is the proposal that emergency managers in local jurisdictions proactively prepare for the worst scenarios, by making preparations for communicating with their public, via the “high-tech, low-tech, no-tech” combination.

Key elements for success include:

- Focusing on the hyper-local information that people need.

- Flexibility to quickly adapt and use those tools and channels that are up and working.

- Nurturing and encouraging private efforts to help in response and relief efforts.

- Preparing for the worst.

- Not relying on a “techno-fix.”

 

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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?

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