Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 28, 2012

Dedication

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on March 28, 2012

I once thought dedication to duty was the hallmark of public service. especially among public safety professionals. Dedication seems to have taken on a different connotation though these days.

When people speak of dedication to public safety now, it usually refers to the commitment of resources without the need for justification, evaluation or competition. Dedicated resources are preferred. Competition for resources is not. The only thing worse than having to compete for resources is having to prove the resources allocated were spent well.

Fire services, unlike police, often have the luxury of dedicated funds if only because many of them operate outside county or municipal governance under special purpose districts. Most of these districts are funded by ad valorem taxes on real property. Since the beginning of the Great Recession or Great Reset or Whatever We’re Calling It Today — which led to the collapse of home prices — these special purpose fire districts have found their revenues not only constrained but falling for the first time in decades.

Some of these districts have managed to scrape by on reserves accumulated before the crash. Others have raised incremental tax rates to make up for the shortfall. But the revenues available from such quick-fixes and meagre cost-cutting gestures are running out. Now they are looking for alternatives.

The most popular alternative to the labor unions is amalgamation of fire service agencies. Contracting out administration of a fire district is preferable it seems to contracting out firefighting or ambulance transport services because it doesn’t affect bargaining unit members.

Union advocates of mergers and consolidations tell anyone who will listen that such moves will achieve scope and scale economies for citizens who will benefit from maintenance of existing staffing levels and response times. The experience of jurisdictions that have actually gone through the merger or consolidation process tells a different story.

Most combined fire service agencies achieve little economic benefit in the short-term. In fact, they often see short-term cost increases as the affected organizations struggle with integration (sound familiar, DHS?). Just as the turbulence begins to give way, these organizations often see the increased influence of combined bargaining units and new demands on the organization make it more difficult to settle labor agreements without experiencing increased operating costs. In the end, the best most combined fire agencies can achieve is reducing the rate of growth in their expenditures, which buys them time before the need for another reorganization.

It’s overly simplistic to assume that either the economy or the unions are to blame for this situation. Clearly, both parties played their parts. Elected officials and many administrators acted out supporting roles along the way too.

Cities and counties have been struggling with these problems for a bit longer. The power of the fire department to play on emotions for its share of the budget pie has been consistently and credibly eroded. Fire incidents and deaths are down. But the costs of providing fire service keep going up. Efforts to demonstrate any credible relationship or correlation between fire service inputs and fire outcomes has proven consistently elusive. Paying more for fire service does not generate better outcomes, especially when most of the increased cost goes into pay and benefits for employees who live outside the locales they protect.

In this context, merging municipal fire departments with fire districts often does little to improve the quality of fire service for either entity even when it secures the jobs of firefighters. More often than not, cities use resources from adjacent suburban and ex urban areas to prop up service delivery in the urban core. Competition among municipal departments for scarce city revenues makes it difficult if not impossible to balance the books so both cities and adjacent ex urban areas support their own weight despite any efficiencies achieved through joint oversight.

Scholarly studies of the situation paint conflicting pictures. Two impressive exposés on the effects of fire service cutbacks in New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s do demonstrate, however, what happens when cutbacks send a clear signal to the community that its protection is no longer a priority of government. In The Fires, Joe Flood chronicles the effects of the RAND Fire Project on urban policy. Flood paints a sympathetic picture of firefighters and the victims of urban blight. Although he would have readers believe that the effects of disinvestment in fire services were bad for cities, his analysis suggests a gradual shift in focus from services to outcomes led to better building codes and more attention to land use patterns that produced many other benefits.

An earlier work by Deborah Wallace, A Plague on Your Houses, presents compelling evidence that this withdrawal of urban fire services from the South Bronx and other neighborhoods under Mayor Lindsey sparked an underclass diaspora that spread drug abuse, crime and communicable disease across the city, if not the country. Wallace’s account is grounded not in sociology or urban policy, but rather public health and epidemiology. Clearly, forcibly uprooting and transplanting an entrenched urban underclass proved misguided and disruptive for both communities — those displaced and those receiving them. But the effects of these changes on fire service are less clearcut.

If the case for not cutting fire services seems clear enough — it can produce severe unintended consequences, consider three other scholarly efforts that look more closely at the fire service itself. The first, Crucible of Fire by Bruce Hensler suggests the form and function of today’s urban fire services is more the reflection of firefighters’ influence upon their service than the imprint of the urban environment and its demands upon them. Like their brothers and sisters-in-arms, firefighters it seems are always fighting the last war. In contrast, two other efforts, Eating Smoke by Mark Tebeau, and The Fireproof Building by Sara Wermiel, suggest that most of the credit for improvements in urban fire safety should go to engineers and fire insurance underwriters, not firefighters.

Social and political activism among firefighters is not new. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that accumulating and exercising social and political influence was always one of the primary purposes of these organizations. In Cause for Alarm, Amy Greenberg, follows this thread backwards several decades and illustrates how placing fire services under municipal governance was intended to curb rampant abuses of process and power. Alas, as we see today, these efforts have ultimately proved futile.

As I write this, the International Association of Fire Fighters is holding its legislative action conference in Washington, D.C. At the opening plenary session, IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said it as clearly as anyone could. Commenting on the union’s political priorities following last year’s efforts by governors and legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana to repeal collective bargain rights for public employees, “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” He equated the effort to defend public employees from attack by politicians to a fight for the very survival of the middle-class. A parade of speakers, including politicians, political activists and union leaders followed to reinforce the message: Firefighters must be active politically to prevent further erosion of pay and benefits.

If this is the litmus test for fire service political support, then I can see why we have a problem. Looking at the problem critically and considering the evidence for and against continued investments in fire service based upon past precedents is not an option. Firefighters will tell you they already know the right answer, they don’t need more evidence much less debate. (See a recent blog post by former deputy fire chief, lawyer and physician’s assistant John K. Murphy for example.)

These days, it seems, firefighters are dedicated to putting whatever effort is required into protecting their jobs, pay and benefits. We can only hope citizens and elected officials are equally dedicated to constructively shaping public priorities to reflect their interests in efficiency and accountability.

 

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March 27, 2012

Fixated by “Nuclear Terror” or Just Paranoia?

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Alan Wolfe on March 27, 2012

President Obama visited Seoul, South Korea, for a three-day nuclear security summit that involved discussions with officials from 53 countries and four international organizations, following up on actions initiated at the 2010 nuclear security summit hosted in Washington DC.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has this fact sheet that describes the event and its agenda.

  • Cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism
  • Protection of nuclear materials and related facilities
  • Prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials

These are all worthy goals, although I might quibble with the idea of “combating the threat of nuclear terrorism” since many other people have pointed out the foolishness of trying to conduct a “war on terror.” It doesn’t really work any better for liberal internationalists who want to fight their own “war on terror” than it does for the neoconservatives who created the slogan. But I digress.

What I dislike about these summits is the inevitable rhetoric that flows out of the politicians and is dutifully repeated by journalists who understand how to sensationalize a story with just a few quotes.

Stephen Collinson of Agence France-Presse (AFP) has this article online with the racy headline, “US still fixated by nuclear terror.”

“What we have seen is increasing evidence of intentions… it is not just Al-Qaeda, it is other organisations as well,” said Sharon Squassoni, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It is pretty shocking how much material is out there. 1440 tonnes of highly enriched uranium, 500 tonnes of separated plutonium (which is) weapons ready.”…

You have dozens of nations coming together behind the shared goal of securing nuclear materials around the world, so that they can never fall into the hands of terrorists,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor.

Failure, he said, would result in “frankly, … the gravest national security threat that the American people could face.”

Now it is an election year, and there is bound to be the usual ridiculous rhetoric coming from the offices of those who are intent on becoming a political leader. That’s to be expected. But the fixation isn’t on the actual capability of terrorists to cause a nuclear incident; rather, the fixation is on the possibility that it could someday happen.

This is the difference between fact-based risk management on existing hazards and paranoid overreaction to perceived threats.

If one were to read the most recent unclassified report to Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional munitions, it does have a section on CBRN terrorism (note, not WMD terrorism).  The intelligence community has a very toned down statement that says “several terrorist groups … probably remain interested in [CBRN] capabilities, but not necessarily in all four of those capabilities. … mostly focusing on low-level chemicals and toxins.”

They’re talking about terrorists getting industrial chemicals and making ricin toxin, not nuclear weapons. And yes, Ms. Squassoni, it is primarily al Qaeda that the U.S. government worries about, no one else.

The trend of worldwide terrorism continues to remain in the realm of conventional attacks. In 2010, there were more than 11,500 terrorist attacks, affecting about 50,000 victims including almost 13,200 deaths. None of them were caused by CBRN hazards. Of the 11,000 terrorist attacks in 2009, none were caused by CBRN hazards. Of the 11,800 terrorist attacks in 2008, none were caused by CBRN hazards.

And yet, somehow, the United Kingdom’s government now believes that there is a significant likelihood that “some day,” terrorists will acquire CBRN weapons.

“Al Qaeda has a long-held desire to obtain and use CBRN devices. Without continued global efforts to reduce vulnerabilities in the security of material and information, there is a significant likelihood that terrorists will at some point acquire CBRN capability,” the document, approved by Britain’s National Security Council, said.

“Nuclear terrorism is now a real and global threat,” British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who will lead Britain’s delegation in Seoul, said in a statement.

No, Mr. Clegg, it is not a “real and global threat.”

Yes, nuclear terrorism could happen, and certainly there are logical steps that responsible governments need to take in order to reduce that possibility. But it’s disingenuous to say that nuclear terrorism is the “gravest national security threat” or a “real and global threat” when there are zero indications that terrorist groups are succeeding in obtaining any fissile material or in building an improvised nuclear device.

It’s just not that great a threat, when one considers the very real threat of nuclear weapon states that have actively developed and deployed weapon systems that could be used against United States or United Kingdom security interests.

I’m all in favor of securing nuclear material and cooperating with other nations on the issue of terrorism in general. It’s a responsible thing to do. But I suggest that it can be done without overly hyping the threat to be a virtual sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

It just isn’t that significant a threat as compared to public health threats or the dangers of conventional warfare and terrorism.

And if President Obama is serious about securing nuclear materials, I would love to see him start at home – by opening up the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository and securing the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste that currently exists at more than a hundred nuclear power plants within the United States.

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March 26, 2012

Nuclear Security Summit

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2012

The big national security event this week is the Nuclear Security Summit being held in South Korea. A few stories and opinion pieces have made the funny papers in the run up to the event.  Unfortunately, for such a serious issue there has not been an equal amount of attention paid.  I understand that those who do not believe in the nuclear terrorism threat will feel justified, but that ground has already been covered in depth on this blog.

Instead, for those interested I’d just like to point out a link that provide background information I feel is useful going into the Summit:

Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has set up a website that includes a threat briefing, scorecard, Q&A, and more: http://www.nuclearsummit.org/

What I personally hope for is some attention paid to the idea that increased investment in recovery can help counter both the intentional radiological threat and nuclear accident issues: http://www.hlswatch.com/2011/03/06/dealing-with-dirty-bombs/

 

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Healthcare as a national security issue

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2012

There is no escaping that the big news item this week will be that President Obama’s healthcare legislation is up for review at the Supreme Court.

I have my personal opinions about the law in question, but no legal expertise upon which to offer any serous analysis of the issues relevant to events this week.

Instead, I’ll leave it up to the lawyers at Lawfare to share this interesting perspective from everyone’s favorite homeland security author, Philip Bobbitt:

The consequence of these developments is that the healthcare of all persons living in America is bound together: the protection of every American is no stronger than the weakest protection of any American.  Yet the most frequent reason cited by persons who do not present themselves to hospitals for treatment is a lack of medical insurance.  Without such presentment, medical authorities are unable to accumulate the data necessary to warn of a biological attack in the timeliest way.  In the case of the anthrax attacks of 2001, the determining factor whether the victims lived or died was whether the treating physicians recognized the cause of infection.  Unalerted, many did not; their patients died.

Basically, as Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare notes, ““it can be persuasively shown that Congress could rationally have concluded that [the law] was an appropriate method of providing for the ‘common Defence … of the United States.”

So Obamacare need not depend on the Commerce Clause, but instead the fact that health care is in fact a national security issue.

I can’t argue that, never mind prove it.  But I do like the idea…

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It shouldn’t matter…but it does

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2012

Sometimes, what should be an inconsequential detail can hold enormous weight.  The impact of such knowledge is likely to be subtle, but once made public it cannot help (hopefully) but make a positive impact.

When it wasn’t so long ago that a proposed community center near the site of the 9/11 attacks was branded the “Ground Zero Mosque,” reporting had the NYPD canvassing Muslim public gatherings of all types, and some states have charted the brave course of passing anti-Sharia laws…despite the lack of evidence that Sharia law poses any threat whats so ever…some new facts are refreshing.  In this case, that one of the most important counterterrorism officials in the government today is a convert to Islam.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday:

As chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years, he has functioned in a funereal capacity for al-Qaeda.

Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, may be the most consequential but least visible national security official in Washington — the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In many ways, he has also been the driving force of the Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killing as a centerpiece of its counterterrorism efforts.

Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam.

The entire article is worth a read, if for nothing else a look at the “inside baseball” of our counterterrorism efforts.

Normally, the alter at which “Roger” worships would not matter in the least.  Only his effectiveness and ability to operate within the legal boundaries established in this nation.

Yet, considering the often hyperventilated discussion around the supposed threat of a radicalized minority residing in our country (cough…what about American fundraising for the IRA Representative King…cough), I find it extremely refreshing that one of at least the top five most important officials in terms of keeping our nation safe from terrorism is Muslim.

This fact put a smile on my face. I hope it does the same for you.

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March 23, 2012

The John D. Solomon Fund for Public Service

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on March 23, 2012

John Solomon was a man who cared deeply about citizen preparedness. Though he held a job that had nothing to do with homeland security, he volunteered on a New York City CERT team and spent free time interviewing government officials and non-governmental leaders.  He learned about threats to the United States, both natural and man-made, and endeavored to match them with actions every citizen could take to become more resilient.  John blogged about it all on his site, “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog – A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness,” wrote op-eds, and worked on a book.

Tragically, John passed away on November 1, 2010.  He was only 47.  To honor his memory and passion for citizen preparedness, a fund to support the next generation of citizen-leaders in homeland security has been established in New York City.  It was set up by John’s family and friends in cooperation with the Fund for the City of New York.  This program aims to pair graduate students from New York City schools with various city agencies.

The deadline for application appears to be April 1, 2012.  So if you are or know someone who is eligible and interested, it would honor the memory of a great homeland security leader to apply.

A website contains all the relevant information and describes the fund:

The John D. Solomon Fund for Public Service was established by the family and friends of the late John D. Solomon, who was an accomplished journalist on homeland security and other public policy issues and who was devoted to public service. He was also an active member of his local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and a passionate advocate of emergency preparedness and resiliency. He originated “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog – A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness.” In recognition of his contributions to these areas, the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have each established annual awards in his name.

The John D. Solomon Fellowship Program is the first student fellowship in New York City government devoted specifically to emergency management. This Program provides the opportunity for graduate students in New York City universities to have a nine-month paid fellowship (approximately 20 hours per week) in an agency of New York City government that is charged with helping the City be prepared for all types of emergencies. Each fellow will receive a $2,500 stipend for the year, will be assigned an agency mentor, and will participate in special programs with other fellows.

For more information regarding eligibility, selection criteria, participating agencies, example projects, and the online application go to: http://www.fcny.org/fcny/core/jdsf/

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New NCTC guidelines for non-terrorism information

Thursday the Attorney-General signed out a 32 page document entitled: GUIDELINES FOR ACCESS, RETENTION, USE, AND DISSEMINATION BY THE NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER AND OTHER AGENCIES OF INFORMATION IN DATASETS CONTAINING NON-TERRORISM INFORMATION.

You can access the unclassified (thank goodness) document at the link embedded in the title.

The details deserve much more attention than I will have time to give until the weekend.  But previous limitations (see here and here) have clearly been softened.  The following paragraph from page 4 seemed to leap from the page:

These Guidelines permit NCTC to access and acquire United States person information for the purpose of determining whether the information is reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information and thus may be permanently retained, used, and disseminated. Any United States person information acquired must be reviewed for such purpose in accordance with the procedures below. Information is ’1″easonably believed to constitute terrorism information” if, based on the knowledge and experience ofcounterterrorism analysts as well as the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent persons act, there are facts giving rise to a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the information is terrorism information.”

For your reading pleasure.

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March 22, 2012

Attribution error, actor-observer bias, correspondence bias, and counter-terrorism

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2012

Why did US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales apparently massacre sixteen Afghan villagers, including nine children?

Why did 17 year-old T.J. Lane by all accounts kill three and wound three other Chandon High School classmates he may have barely known?

Why did someone, probably Mohammed Merah, dismount  from his scooter, chase an eight-year old girl into a  school courtyard, grab her hair, and shoot her point-blank in the face?  One of four he killed that day.

Why do I — perhaps you too — bring rather different predispositions to each of these events?

One Washington state neighbor said of Sergeant Bales,  ”A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Financial troubles, family troubles, brain-injury and more have been offered as possible explanations.

“We are all shocked and horrified by the actions of T.J.,” his aunt, Heather Lane, said in an email posted online Tuesday by The News-Herald in Willoughby (OH).  ”We wish we could offer some answers concerning this horrific act. We have none.”

According to The Telegraph, Mohammed Merah “told police he was acting in revenge at Israel for killing Palestinian children and at France for having troops in Afghanistan.”

The more we self-identify with the perpetrator the more we are inclined to empathize —  even excuse — his actions.   If we recognize ourselves or something we value in the act or actor we are ready to consider context as a contributing factor.  We may speak softly of justice with mercy.

The more an accused murderer — or other miscreant — looks, sounds, or behaves unlike us the more we perceive purposeful evil emerging from the very otherness — racial, ethnic, religious, political, or whatever — that differentiates us from them.  We may speak gravely of avenging justice.

This differentiated  judgment depends on the proposition that I am good.

We may admit, “I make the occasional mistake.”  I have  unintentionally hurt others. I can be careless, distracted, sometimes self-absorbed.  I have been forced to make some tough choices.  But certainly none of this undoes my essential good-ness.  What I value…  the way I engage reality… my essential worldview is good and true and beautiful.

Someone with different values, understandings, or worldview is therefore bad, false, and ugly proportional to their deviation from me.

Whatever else happened with Bob, T.J. and Mohammed, this self-justifying logic had a role in the sub-strata of murderous motivation.  For an awful hour or more the “other” — man, woman, or child — became little more than a troubling antithesis to be removed to make way for more truth, more goodness, more beauty as defined by Bob, T.J., or Mohammed.

I feel this way more often than I like to admit, sometimes regarding comments to this blog.  When another’s take on an important aspect of reality (important to me) differs fundamentally from my own it is tempting to push the “trash” button conveniently placed beneath each comment.  It is especially tempting because I have a trash button and they (you) don’t.

Pulling the digital kill trigger may seem to pale in comparison to murder. But the ethical distance is not huge.  Either I recognize and honor the dignity of the other — especially the irritating, annoying, even frightening other — or I don’t.

In a highly mobile and digitally networked world we increasingly encounter otherness.  How we choose to engage the other calls for something far beyond the tourist’s easy tolerance.

Based on what little we know of Merah, it is tempting to dismiss him as heartlessly as he dispatched seven victims.  In doing so I reinforce my own differentiation, my own claim to being good.  Assuming Merah’s murders are confirmed, he deserves to be condemned.   Am I willing to hold myself equally accountable?

I am unlikely to commit murder.  But when I do not listen carefully or purposefully ignore or fail to notice — even worse, if I twist the other’s intention in a self-interested way — I propagate a virus of violation.

The proposition I am good is a deception.   Often I am not good.  Usually my understanding and actions are flawed.

I recognize myself in Bob Bales and T.J. Lane and Mohammed Merah.   We share the same narrow wire and are in relationship… whether we like it or not.

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March 20, 2012

“About the stupidest thing anyone could ever do.”

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 20, 2012

Here’s a thought a friend sent me:

“Three stories about arrests at airports for trying to carry a gun through a checkpoint.  This happens about 4 times a day on average and it is up to state/locals to press charges, even though it’s a Federal offense.

Sometimes they tell Bubba to put the gun back in the car.  Some authorities book ‘em.

I find it interesting in Texas the middle aged white guy is released on $5,000 bail, while in Chicago the 61 year old African American woman has bail set at $75,000. Do you find this odd?”

 

TSA: Man tries to take gun through airport security

[March 19th]

A man has been accused of trying to take a gun through security at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Transportation Security Administration officials said an agent noticed the weapon at checkpoint on Sunday.

[The man], 45, was arrested and charged with possession of a prohibited weapon. He was booked into the Harris County Jail with bond set at $5,000.

 

Woman charged with trying to bring gun on plane at Midway

[March 16th]

A 61-year-old Chicago woman was ordered held today on $75,000 bail after she was charged with trying to bring a gun on to an airplane at Midway International Airport, officials said.

[The woman was arrested} Thursday after a Transportation Security Administration agent noticed a gun in her carry-on bag as it went through a security checkpoint and X-ray scanner, police said.

The .25 caliber RG Industries semi-automatic handgun was unloaded, police said. After the agent spotted the gun, the woman told authorities that  that the gun was hers but said she was unaware that the gun was in the bag, police said.

She appeared in bond court today, officials said. She was charged with trying to board an aircraft with a weapon.

 

Man charged with trying to carry loaded gun onto a plane at Midway

[February 19th]

A Chicago man was arrested at Midway Airport on Saturday morning after an X-ray scan of his luggage showed he was carrying a loaded handgun in his laptop bag, prosecutors said.

[The man] said he forgot the chrome semiautomatic .25-caliber Beretta pistol, loaded with eight live rounds, was in his bag when he went to the airport to board a flight to Atlanta to visit family, said his attorney…

[The man] was charged with attempting to board a plane with a weapon, and Cook County Judge … ordered him held on $30,000 bond Sunday.

The gun formerly belonged to [the man’s] deceased aunt, his lawyer said, and a police report indicated he has a valid state firearm card.

[The man, a public employee in the city], would not have intentionally carried a loaded gun to the airport, [the man's attorney] said, because that would be “about the stupidest thing anyone could ever do.”

———————

And in a completely unrelated and totally fabricated story–

Potential Matchup Between Black Man and Mormon Poses Dilemma for Bigots. Nowhere to Turn, Disgruntled Haters Say

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – With a fall presidential contest between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney seeming increasingly likely, America’s bigots are finding themselves in a quandary over which candidate to support, prominent bigots confirmed today.

Across the U.S., voters who describe themselves as bigots are complaining that a first-ever matchup between a Black man and a Mormon, while historic, is forcing them to ask a difficult question: which group do they hate more?

“I’ve always seen myself as pretty versatile, bigotry-wise,” said Herb Torlinson, a hardware salesman from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “But I guess this is going to be an election that really puts my different hates to the test.”

At the Clapboard Corner Café in Youngstown, Ohio, a group of bigots who gather for breakfast once a week to discuss their dislike of various racial and religious groups echoed Mr. Torlinson’s sentiments.

…[David]  Colehurn said that his bigotry towards both Black people and Mormons was making him entertain thoughts of voting for a third-party candidate, but that he was “turned off” by the possibility of a bid from Texas congressman Ron Paul: “I hate old people.”….

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Worth Another Look: The application of cost management and life cycle cost theory to homeland security national priorities

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on March 20, 2012

I have no idea how many articles, reports, books, opinion pieces, news stories, journal articles, videos, tweets, or other data and information products have been generated during homeland security’s first decade.

Whatever the number, topic or quality, they represent homeland security’s literature.

As a part of my day job, I’m interested in learning what we know about homeland security, and what we don’t know about it that we should know.

Starting a year or so ago, I asked friends and colleagues to tell me about interesting reading and related materials they believe are worth a second look. Thanks to their efforts, I’ve gathered a collection of about 100 brief reviews of items worth another look. And by brief, I mean less than 500 words.

One day I hope to gather the reviews under a single cover (or whatever the eEquivalent of “cover” is) and make them available to people who care about homeland security.

Until (and if) that happens, I plan to post a few of them occasionally on this blog.

———————

Arnold’s “being sent to the minors” post reminded me of the following article, suggested by Robert Giorgio, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, fire chief.

The article first appeared in May 2009.  Some of the context and language has been overcome by events.  But Robert and I agree the life cycle cost idea continues to have merit — probably even more than it did 3 long years ago.

———————

The Application of Cost Management and Life Cycle Cost Theory to Homeland Security National Priorities.

By Robert Hall and Erica Dusenberry Dimitrov

The homeland security enterprise remains unable to identify the total costs to acquire and sustain specific homeland security target capabilities or national priorities over fixed periods of time. This problem has persisted since the start of federally supported DHS grant funded programs.

Homeland security officials realize that initial DHS investments did not consider the cost of wear from use, maintenance expenditures, rehabilitation costs, and replacement funding streams. Many local governments also neglected sustainment costs in their homeland security fiscal planning.

Once the excitement of a new capability has worn off, sustainment issues emerge.  The costs of maintaining new capabilities have to be compared with other core expenditures. Knowing the full cost of a capability provides decision makers and analysts with a more accurate fiscal picture as they debate local policy choices.

Hall and Dimitrov do more than agree it is critically important to determine the costs associated with achieving and sustaining target levels of capability. They suggest how to do it.

They recommend using life cycle cost theory (LCC), a methodology for assessing the total cost of owning an asset. LCC is intended to aid decision makers understand the full costs of obtaining and sustaining preparedness capabilities.

LCC helps quantify the costs of the people, planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise that make up a capability.

The Government Accountability Office supports using LCC to determine what agencies and jurisdictions can afford, to prepare coordinated spending plans, and to develop lifecycle cost practices.

LCC can help local, state, and federal officials forecast annual support and replacement costs for homeland security programs. LCC can also generate data necessary to monitor the cost drivers that waste limited investment funds. The authors claim adopting LCC will assist in maturing cost management practices and help to avoid what they term unprofitable pitfalls.

To illustrate their claim, Hall and Dimitrov apply the LCC methodology to the Explosive Device Response Operations (EDRO) target capability.

The authors conclude the article by identifying next steps needed to develop and apply LCC methods to national preparedness. These actions include:

  1. Focusing on capabilities aligned to the national priorities in the National Preparedness Guidelines.
  2. Conducting a national-level LCC analysis for each national priority capability.
  3. Creating and sharing prototype tools with jurisdictions to facilitate use of this methodology.
  4. Creating a central Web-enabled database to share cost models among jurisdictions.
  5. Incorporating LCC tools into future grant management systems for use by state and local jurisdictions.

The article is three years old.  I wonder what, if any, progress has been made employing LCC or something close to it to homeland security.  If limited progress, why?  If something like this has spread within the homeland security enterprise, I wonder what effect it’s had.

 

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March 19, 2012

Being sent to the minors can be a good thing – even in homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues — by Arnold Bogis on March 19, 2012

As most fans of baseball could tell you, Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper is a potential star in the making.  He took his GED to leave high school early and enrolled with a junior college to jump start his professional baseball career.  At the age of 16 he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  In 2010 he was picked first in the baseball draft by the Nationals, switching positions from catcher to right field to speed his arrival to the major leagues.  Going into this year’s spring training, one of the most discussed story lines was whether he would be sent back down to the minor leagues to begin the season or break camp with the Nationals.  The baseball-obsessed community (of which I count myself a member) now has an answer:

The Nationals optioned 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper to Class AAA Syracuse, ending his longshot pursuit to make the opening day roster. Harper will play mostly center field at Syracuse, with some right mixed in, and the Nationals see him as a center fielder when he reaches the majors this season. The position represents a shift for the Nationals, who have been trying to solve a long-standing center field issue.

News that will undoubtedly disappoint a legion of sportswriters (who may only be second to political reporters in regards to trying to stir the pot with stories that stretch credulity). Yet to serious baseball analysts, the idea of promoting such a young player with such great future prospects so soon didn’t make sense.  In essence, the team would be trading a full year in the future when Harper is at the height of his skills for a few months this season when his production is likely only to be marginally better than the expected replacements.  On a cost/value basis, optioning him to the minor leagues for at least a few months makes sense.

If only most homeland security programs could be so analytically managed.  Too often, especially in the years immediately following 9/11, programs and initiatives were approved and funded without serious thought or analysis of details, capabilities, and consequences.

One specific example is the Biowatch Program that aims to quickly detect any pathogens released in a terrorist attack.  Nuclear and biological terrorism were (and remain) big concerns after 9/11 and this program aimed at achieving quick recognition of such an attack that would allow relevant agencies at all levels to begin to respond before the first cases are identified in the emergency room.  The problem has been that the technology never lived up to the promise of the program–filters that required manual replacement each day, added to a delay in getting results from the laboratory tests.

The story is that the situation is improving, but one is left to wonder if a push for prevention above all other potential measures for dealing with the same issue, such as syndromic monitoring and improved communication capabilities between emergency rooms/hospitals and public health officials, could not have provided a better capability at this point for responding to an attack or outbreak of a natural pandemic.

Along the same lines would be many of the difficulties experienced by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) in DHS.  Analysts with deep experience in the issue of nuclear terrorism have long recognized that securing weapons and fissile material is the sweet spot for this particular problem.  Detection technologies artfully deployed can play useful roles in deterrence and occasionally detection of illicitly trafficked material.  However, they are not an answer to this threat by themselves.  While never officially characterized as such, DNDO efforts often seemed as grasping at technological solutions to diplomatic problems.

In other words, the nuclear terrorism problem could only be marginally affected by detection technologies, while efforts at securing fissile material worldwide represents the real game.  But the “away” game is much messier than the “home” game, and less attractive to officials who believe we should only rely on ourselves for our own security.

Each of these examples deserve their own posts (or papers) to properly characterize their pros and cons. What I imagine as a potential lesson learned is that both initiatives deployed equipment and programs before their time.  Early detection of biological and radiological/nuclear materials is a more than constructive goal, and one that seems not too far out in the future (to a point). But the push following 9/11 for these capabilities resulted in deployment of technology that more likely than not damaged the prospect of future use.  Rushing ahead when the technology wasn’t ready will have innoculated local officials in the usefulness of future systems.

Put another way, will systems exhausted of responding to false alarms now react differently in the near future even if improved technology is in place?  Or, in the language of baseball, why waste a few years early in the development of a significant player if it will truly have an impact in the short term future?

 

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March 16, 2012

Crossing the chasm in preparedness… and homeland security

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 16, 2012

Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8) is nearly one year old.  On Tuesday Chris Bellavita pointed to the emerging collection of frameworks intended to advance the policy.

I have given particular attention to the proposed mitigation framework.  PPD-8 gives mitigation much more priority than previous presidential policies.

The mitigation framework is well-conceived, well-written, and helpfully describes the role of mitigation and its relationship with other core capabilities. I don’t know who authored the current draft, but s/he has done a good job.

I also finished each reading a bit more depressed.  I stopped after my third review.

The following, taken from pages 17-18, specifies how community resilience is cultivated as a context for effective mitigation.  This contributed to my dark mood:

Objectives and Key Actions:

  • Inspire and empower accountable action. Individuals and private organizations engage with government at all levels to make resilience happen.
  • Foster social, environmental, and economic resilience in every community to increase the capacity of the community to thrive through all kinds of change.
  • Know how your community works and how to build partnerships and affect change.
  • Understand the full gamut of risks facing a community, including physical, social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities to all hazards.
  • Foster sustained communication, civic engagement, and the development and implementation of long-term risk reduction actions in the whole community.
  • Convince communities of the value of mitigation for reducing the impact of disasters and the scale of response and recovery efforts.
  • Identify and promote incentives, not just regulatory compliance. Reward sound choices and identify bad ones.
  • Recognize the interdependent nature of a community’s domains. Community resilience is expressed through a holistic approach to risk reduction, and the success of one element relies upon the resilience capacity of other elements. For example, when a large business facility is retrofitted to account for wind and flood hazards, the community also strengthens area schools, employee housing, and transportation infrastructure to ensure that workers will be able to quickly rebound from an event and return to work.
  • Acknowledge that the skill sets and leadership structures for different hazards and communities of practice (law enforcement, local businesses) may change, but the need for leadership, collaboration, and partnership is the same.
  • Build relationships before disasters or incidents occur.
  • Learn from the past and from what is working in the present.
  • Educate the next generation of community leaders and resilience professionals.
  • Acknowledge and seek out naturally occurring relationships within communities.

I don’t disagree.  In most instances I strongly agree.  But taken together… wowzer, that’s quite an incline.  And that’s just stage-setting for actual mitigation work.

The mitigation framework is packed with several more lists of ambitious objectives and key actions. But there is a missing link, a crucial missing link.

Peter Drucker argued there are only two sources of value: innovation and sales.  Everything else is a cost.

In the PPD-8 process we can recognize innovation.   But where is the sales plan?  Who are the sales people?  Only with effective sales will the potential value of the innovation be realized.

Resilience, whole-community, mitigation have their enthusiasts.  Each and all have their visionaries.  So do many innovations that fail to achieve broad market appeal.   Most innovations fail.

But a few fabulously succeed.   In 1991 Geoff Moore characterized what separates winners and losers as consisting of three chasms:

1. Crossing the chasm from visionaries to pragmatic early adopters will only happen if the innovation is recognized as generating some form of comparative advantage for the user. (Does the mitigation framework make this case? I don’t think so — not yet, but it probably could.)

2. Crossing the chasm from pragmatists to conservatives can fail if too much effort is required to use the product/service.  (The current description, as above, sounds hard.  In my experience it is difficult.  What can be done to authentically simplify or, at least, chunk and sequence the work to avoid discouraging adoption?  There is still time to do this.)

3. Crossing the chasm from conservatives to skeptics is especially tough, but this tends to characterize truly transformational products.  There can be a big pay-off from creatively listening  to the Eeyore’s.

The biggest, baddest chasm is coming up soon for PPD-8.   What is the compelling comparative advantage for adopting the policy and its frameworks?   Will enough pragmatists be persuaded to pull resilience, whole-community, mitigation and more across the chasm from the early market into the mainstream market?

Can an innovative public policy be sold?  Should it be marketed?  It probably depends on your definition of selling.  I define selling as knowing the needs of the customer and honestly, positively, persuasively demonstrating how a product fulfills those needs.  Co-development of the product with the customer is golden.

Where are the demonstration projects? Where are the exploratory pilots? Where are the shared opportunities for private-public discovery-learning? Where is the inter-governmental professional development and research? Where is the interdisciplinary action research?  These are all strategic, substantive means of selling.

Drucker once wrote, “You need four things.  You need a plan.  You need marketing.  You need people.  And you need money.”

With the frameworks finalized the PPD-8 innovations will have a plan.  There will be money — both administrative and grants — to execute the plan.   There will also be people, especially public sector people, to execute the plan and spend the money.

But Drucker’s second source of value — marketing (and people to do the marketing) — is not yet on the scene.   This is the bridge across the widest chasm.  This is the link to communities, civic organizations, and the private sector.  There is no bridge. There is not even a marketing rope thrown across the gap.  Right now we have Steve Wozniak‘s innovations without Steve Job’s marketing.

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March 14, 2012

Brothers and Others

Filed under: State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on March 14, 2012

Does anyone else find it ironic that cops and firefighters (but firefighters especially) refer to themselves as “brothers”, when this term connotes something very different and entirely sinister when applied to government and its officials by the general public?

George Orwell’s Big Brother in the dystopian novel 1984 was an intimidating and invasive presence in the lives of people deprived of freewill. Nevertheless, cops and firefighters see brotherhood and its virtues as practically unrivaled. Loyalty to many is the essence of integrity because it defines consistency of action with respect to one’s peers.

Consider this conception of integrity in contrast to the values of equity or justice, which to most of us demands consistency of action with respect to others – in essence requiring us to treat others as we would our brothers. Cops and firefighters use the concept of brotherhood to exclude, not include, others.

The other is humankind’s oldest device for defining and projecting the presence of evil in the world. As Elaine Pagels’ groundbreaking scholarship on The Origin of Satan makes clear, the essence of evil is fear. We see “evil” in others in direct proportion to the “self” we see in others. Evil reflects our fear of embracing, if not becoming, that which destroys our current sense of self.

This is the point at which I find the tendency of cops and firefighters to rely on the notion of brotherhood begins to diverge as well as unravel. In both instances, it is brothers who provide the primary defense against the other. But in the case of cops, it is the very existence of others that defines brotherhood, for we would not need cops if it not for the presence of evil in others. But firefighters oppose a different foe. To be sure, fire can produce evil effects, but it also is a great source of good when properly harnessed. Those affected by fire as well as those who fail to keep its power under proper control are both seen not as villains but rather as victims. Why then should firefighters see a need for protection against those who call upon their services?

Firefighters seem to cling to the concept of brotherhood even more fiercely than most cops. Who then is the other whom firefighters fear? What’s going on here?

Most firefighters I talk with take a paternalistic perspective when referring to their relationship with the public. To many of them, the public is a body of people who want or need services they cannot anticipate, do not fully appreciate and cannot understand, which makes it the responsibility of fire service leaders to inform (read this as “educate” or “convince”) the public about their need for or dependence upon firefighters. A good fire chief, then, is someone who stands up for firefighters against the public, and who convinces them to give firefighters what they want.

This perspective has made me a “bad” fire chief and a traitor akin to Judas Iscariot in the eyes of many firefighters. What I find peculiar is not that they believe this but that they do not see in others, much less me, a figure more like that of the Apostle Thomas.

I have sat through many meetings lately where articles of faith in respect of fire service delivery are defended as reasonable despite the utter lack of objective evidence to support them. I consider myself a skeptic about most things, but most especially about the virtues of a notional brotherhood that conditions acceptance on adherence to articles of faith about things like fire company staffing and response times when reasonable doubt exists as to whether they influence aggregate outcomes.

Don’t get me wrong, faith and reason each have their place. One need not conflict with the other. I believe in many things I cannot possibly prove. But I remain skeptical that they cannot be proven at all, and as such remain unconvinced they are completely much less innately true. Where reason provides me with a portal to understanding, I find it only bolsters my faith.

I believe what we do as public safety professionals makes a great deal of difference to the communities we serve. I think I can prove what makes this difference in some, but not all cases. And where I can prove it, I almost always find that it is what and how we do things rather than how fast, how much, or how many, that makes the biggest difference.

To many firefighters, I am now the other as opposed to their brother. I will not take on the role of father, protector and defender of the faith, largely because I am unprepared to become the Big Brother people fear and despise. I would like to believe that taking the position I am will ultimately help the firefighters I work with see the brothers in others, and adapt to the new realities of our economy that emphasize what and how we do things over how many and how much.

I believe this is what needs to happen. And I accept that it remains to be seen whether I am right or wrong.

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March 13, 2012

DRAFT National Frameworks and the Recovery Interagency Operational Plan Available for Comment through April 2nd

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on March 13, 2012

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is looking for public comment on several documents mandated under Presidential Policy Directive 8.

As readers of this blog know, PPD 8 is intended to strengthen

the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation, including acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.

FEMA posted “working drafts” of several documents on its website for review and comment. The documents include:

• the revised National Response Framework,

• the Prevention Framework,

• the Protection Framework,

• the Mitigation Framework, and

• the Recovery Interagency Operational Plan

You can download copies of the drafts (and the appropriate feedback forms) at this link: Working Drafts

According to the FEMA site:

Everyone is encouraged to review the working draft National Frameworks and the initial draft of the Recovery Interagency Operational Plan posted above, and provide comments using the accompanying feedback submission form. The feedback submission forms should be sent to PPD8-Engagement@fema.dhs.gov (feedback must be submitted via the provided feedback submission forms). Feedback will be received through April 2, 2012

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Preparedness means “we have each others’ backs.”

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on March 13, 2012

“People do weird things when they’re hungry. You might run into cannibals at that point.”

Jason said that.

Slightly more than a year ago, one writer on this blog discussed the less than ideal state of citizen preparedness:

Government officials at all levels decry the public’s lack of preparedness, citing a combination of self-delusion, apathy and sheer stubbornness.

Whether it is called civil defense, a culture of preparedness or the latest catch phrase, “resiliency,” personal preparedness remains an elusive goal for emergency management officials across the nation.

But some people take personal preparedness more seriously than others.

“If the grocery shelves are empty, you’re only 9 meals away from anarchy.”

Mike said that.

“I still love high heels and fashion, but I am also thinking… is there anything I can conceal a weapon in?

Megan said that.

Jason and Mike and Megan are preppers. People who are really prepared.

Their words made the “most memorable prepper quotes” section of the National Geographic Channel’s “doomsday Preppers” website.

National Geographic describes preppers as “otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it. … [Preppers] will go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties.”

The Discovery Channel is not to be outdone by National Geographic. Last week they started a series of programs called Doomsday Bunkers.

According to the website, each week will feature the design and construction of survival units.  Then the fun starts.

From sizable underground bunkers with safety measures that include outside hand rails with hidden flame throwers, to special safety structures that include the Pyramid and Tsunami pods, each unit is tested using a battery of attacks that include firearms, fire, and falling vehicles.

Neil Genzlinger wrote a wonderful review of both programs in Monday’s New York Times.  (Thanks for the tip, cw) Here are some examples of Genzlinger’s prose:

Watch either show for a short while and, unless you’re a prepper yourself, you might be moderately amused at the absurd excess on display and at what an easy target the prepper worldview is for ridicule. Watch a bit longer, though, and amusement may give way to annoyance at how offensively anti-life these shows are, full of contempt for humankind.

….These prepers live all over the country, in rural areas, suburbs and cities. Each has a different reason for turning a perfectly adequate home into a canned-food warehouse or building an escape hideaway… in the mountains. One expects the North and South Poles to swap place, one a global economic collapse, one “an electromagnetic pulse that will disable the transportation system of the United States.”

… The unmistakable impression left by these programs is that what these folks want most of all is not to protect their families–the standard explanation for why they’re doing what they’re doing–or even the dubious pleasure of being able to say to the rest of us, see, I told you the world was going to end. What they want is a license to open fire. The number of bullets sprayed around in these shows, by adults and even their children, might give Rambo pause.

But not every prepper is an arm-yourself-dig-a-huge-hole-in-the-ground-stock-up-on-freeze-dried-and-standby-for-the-apocalypse kind of guy.

Kathy Harrison, described by the Discovery Channel as “The Dorris Day of Doom,” has a different attitude about preparedness and resilience. As quoted by Genzlinger, Harrison says

It’s easy to feel a little left out of the prepper community if you live in New England and if you’re not fairly right wing and conservative politically.… But I just don’t spend my time worrying about stockpiling guns and ammunition, because our security comes not from stockpiling weapons but from having a community that respects each other, supports each other, and we have each others’ backs.”

Prepper or not, there’s a measure of preparedness for you.

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March 12, 2012

Remembering the Madrid Bombings

Filed under: International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on March 12, 2012

The focus, of both the homeland security community and general news media, over the last week has been on the anniversary of the earthquake-tsunami-radiation disaster that struck Japan one year ago.  Numerous reports timed to this remembrance have been released. Pre-and-post photo galleries abound on the web.  All for good reason.  A terrible event with horrible consequences that serves as an almost perfect example of a Maximum of Maximums (MOM to you EMA folks) event or “Complex Catastrophe” to those more DOD inclined.

Before this terrible tragedy, this past weekend would have marked yet another anniversary: the Madrid train bombings.  I thought it important to at least bring that particular event up again and ask a few questions (that in all honesty I don’t expect answers to…):

  • I’m guessing that the whole “see something, say something” campaign was inspired by this event.  Bombs were left by terrorists who exited the targets in question.  Yet the London Tube/Bus bombings should have reminded officials that not every terrorist aims to survive the event.  Seeing something and saying something may (or may not) have saved people in Spain, but the situation would not have been altered in London.
  • Talking about Mass Transit security, many ideas have been put forth.  In particular, the idea of randomness appeals to many.  Most likely because it allows a small group of mission dedicated individuals to be seen as doing something about the threat.  Yet I can’t help but think that every time I’ve encountered the heavily armed police at stations randomly checking bags, I could have turned around and left.  Perhaps walking to the next station.  Perhaps altering the attack pattern.  Yet not really preventing the attack itself.
  • Since we haven’t seen an attack on mass transit in the United States, should we assume that our counter-terrorism efforts are to credit?  Is it not as soft a target as we thought?  Or perhaps we shouldn’t worry at all?

I can’t say where I think the security/prevention implications of the 3/11 (and London Tube) bombings will eventually come out.  Just because I can’t fathom a guess.  However, this terrible incident did at least provide the impetus for a serious review of U.S. medical surge plans in the event of a similar incident.

A small example of relevant documents:

A collection of BBC articles on the Madrid bombings:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/europe/2004/madrid_train_attacks/

An “on the ground” perspective of the response:

http://www.taleofourcities-houston.com/presentations/Fernando%20Turegano_Madrid-November-2011.pdf

And the U.S. government review of the incident:

http://emergency.cdc.gov/masscasualties/pdf/surgecapacity.pdf

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