Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 25, 2013

What if you could talk about homeland security without using the words homeland security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 25, 2013

In her latest Boston Globe column, Juliette Kayyem discusses the official recognition that the effects of climate change will impact national security.

Now, in this year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, issued last week by the office of the director of national intelligence, a new risk has been highlighted, marking a historic shift in how we think about our enemies: the weather — more specifically climate change. And the fact that America’s entire national security apparatus has embraced it as a threat is, in the end, good news for local communities.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.”

And we are not the only ones:

The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

Yet this isn’t a challenge for what is currently understood as our national security apparatus.

Unlike responses to most other national security threats, those that guard against climate change are local in nature.

And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable.

So she talks about weather, critical infrastructure, resilience, and local action.  Sounds like a lot of topics that come up in conversations about homeland security definitions and education.  But the phrase “homeland security” appears nowhere in the piece.  I’m certain that is not out of ignorance of the topic or an aversion to the field–she is a former Massachusetts homeland security adviser and DHS Assistant Secretary.

Instead she frames the topics of climate change, natural disaster, critical infrastructure, and resilience as “national security” issues.  On one hand, this can be interpreted as weakening the notion of a distinct field of homeland security, as well as the need to precisely define it.  On the other, it represents an opportunity to focus attention on those areas that have been considered as not directly related to traditional national security.

Since 9/11 and the resulting evolution of the general field of homeland security, there has existed a tension between the security side and (for the lack of a better term) the rest.   Terrorism, border security, and other activities carried out by law enforcement personnel has existed in a not always smooth relationship with emergency management, non-police first responders, and the broad array of disciplines interested in building resilience.  Immediately after the Katrina’s and Sandy’s much hang wringing is accomplished concerning our preparedness for natural disasters.  However, the security side of the house (across departments and levels of government), with its connection to the military and intelligence worlds, always seems to retain cachet and policy priority.  Protecting us from the bad person rather than the bad weather is more exciting.  For example, there has been more ink spilled concerning the TSA’s decision to allow some sharp objects to be carried on planes versus the opportunities to build resilience in those communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Protecting us from terrorism at home has always been considered a part of both homeland and national security.  Protecting us from natural disasters and pandemics, building resilience, etc. was often left to those  without security clearances.  Instead of proposing definitions that only build walls between disciplines, might it be better to expand the idea of what we consider important to security and future of our country?

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March 22, 2013

Open-mike at Homeland Security Watch

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2013

When Christian began HLSWatch, Bill Cumming emerged from primordial Logos fully formed. When Jonah invited me here, Bill Cumming welcomed me to what was much more his home than mine. While writers on the front page come and go, Bill persists with questions, analysis, and (sometimes trenchant) commentary. When the cosmos is recumbent in quiet, Bill will eventually speak. He is the Higgs Boson of this parallel universe.

So… when Bill has the good idea of using Friday for an open thread, I am happy to begin the sewing…

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March 21, 2013

The homeland security conversation

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 21, 2013

This afternoon I’m giving a presentation to the Virginia Emergency Management Association.  My topic is the strategic capacity of supply chains in potentially catastrophic events.  A Virginian heard me give a similar presentation on the West coast and asked for an update.

In mid-December I was pushed onto a stage in front of a bunch of scientists.  From the (lack of ) questions and the open-mouth stares encountered, I must have lapsed into glossolalia… their reaction perhaps being similar to your reaction to my use of glossolalia.  In any case, they were paying attention, but I failed to make a relevant connection.

I prefer open-mouth stares to dropped-dead heads working on their texts. This is my principal recollection of a session with “senior leadership” of an important organization.  The only person actually making eye-contact with me was the Big Guy.  Later he and I had an interesting conversation.  When I sought out the executive responsible for the core of my presentation she mostly wanted to talk about the weather.

Dead-heads are increasingly common, despite a colleague’s description of my presentation style as being “as much dancing as talking.”  The senior guy who put me on the agenda was sure the audience was listening. “We’re expert multi-taskers,” he explained.  Maybe.  I perceived a strong intellectual force-field seeking to exclude anything that might pierce the current consensus.  I left plenty of time for questions, there were none.

This afternoon I’ve been given 60 minutes.  I intend to present some supply chain findings specific to Virginia.  In rehearsal I’ve been able to do this in 17 to 20 minutes.   I think there are some provocative findings.  Then I plan to give the rest of the time to questions and answers.  I would prefer to focus on issues that are relevant to the audience.

Related to relevance: I hope a conversation might begin.  Supply chain is not — yet — a typical EM issue. I would like to hear some local supply chain stories and respond with stories of my own.  I would like to hear some catastrophe stories and ask some questions of the audience.  I would like to hear some questions I have not previously considered. Conversation is derived from root words meaning “to turn”.  In a conversation we are turning a topic upside-down, right-side-up, and every which way, thinking together about all the different angles.  Questions are the keys to the kingdom of new knowledge and potential wisdom.

There is too much information (at least too much for me).   There is an amazing amount of knowledge (information-in-context).    There is too little wisdom (ability to apply knowledge), which I perceive is one of the outcomes of too little conversation.

We gather information, analyze, report, present, argue.   We defend hypotheses and theories.  We marshal arguments and propose solutions.    There are times and places for all these.

But without a parallel process of conversation — including the casual give-and-take of uncertainties and unknowns — the analytical process leaves us with little more than separate pieces and divided lives.

Conversation is, I perceive (argue?), especially important to homeland security.   If there is any value-added to homeland security it is as an integrative, questioning, creative influence on disciplines related to the field.   Disciplines seem naturally — and rather helpfully — inclined to reductionism.  What works?  What’s the best formula for success?  Define, train, exercise, and deploy it.  In other words, be disciplined.

And even in the most hard-core disciplines, conversations are a regular part of life in the firehouse, police precinct, and at other grass-roots.   But these are usually discipline-specific (or community-specific) conversations.  The homeland security conversation, if it happens at all, is mostly the outcome of inter-disciplinary conferences; where we have often adopted an anti-conversational approach.

About two-thirds of the presentations I have heard over the last 120 days might accurately be entitled: “Let me introduce myself/my workplace/work assignment/tribe/INSERT”.  Even when their work clearly had merit, the presentations often communicated navel-gazing self-absorption (and defensiveness).  In several cases I know the presenters were specifically invited to present on topics other than their organization, were coached through mini-presentations to emphasize the other purposes, but once they were given the stage they defaulted to the cult of self-aggrandizement.  Not a very effective conversation-starter.

After one recent conference a female colleague commented, “None of these guys seem to know the way to get attention is to pay attention to what the other person considers important.”  I had a sense she might have been making a broader critique.

At one recent multi-disciplinary conference there were no breaks scheduled, so as not to interfere with the “transfer of information.”  Stop with the inert and self-referential information! Give me an opportunity to engage, question, and play with your knowledge.   Schedule more coffee-breaks, not fewer.  Have more small groups and fewer keynote speeches.  TED talks have their place.  But I would rather talk with Ted.

Mark Twain offered, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”

I’ll let you know how it goes this afternoon.

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March 20, 2013

Our context: Five of hundreds

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2013

Here are a few bookmarks that caught my attention today:

Sun Storm Forecast (Tuesday New York Times): “Scientists say it is impossible to predict when the next monster solar storm will erupt — and equally important, whether Earth will lie in its path. What they do know is that with more sunspots come more storms, and this fall the Sun is set to reach the crest of its 11-year sunspot cycle.”

US Earns a D+ on Infrastructure (American Society of Civil Engineers): “The 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.”

Terrorism is an Expression of Middle Class Frustration (Sultan Mehmood writing in DAWN): “The simple positive relationship between poverty and (material) crime could not be extrapolated… Not a single study could make a cogent case that terrorism had economic roots. This lack of evidence culminated in a recent review of the literature by Martin Gassebner and Simon Luechinger of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute. The authors estimated 13.4 million different equations, drew on 43 different studies and 65 correlates of terrorism to conclude that higher levels of poverty and illiteracy are not associated with greater terrorism. In fact, only the lack of civil liberties and high population growth could predict high terrorism levels accurately… It is not that most terrorists have nothing to live for. Far from it, they are the high-ability and educated political people who so vehemently believe in a cause that they are willing to die for it. The solution to terrorism is not more growth but more freedom.”

More Boko Haram Bombings in Nigeria (AFP): “A series of blasts targeting buses full of passengers in Kano, Nigeria has killed at least 20 people and sources say the toll is expected to rise. Initial reports indicated that two suicide bombers drove a car packed with explosives into a bus at the New Road station in Sabon Gari, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood in the majority Muslim city. Several explosions were heard following the initial blast, sparking panic as bloodied bystanders including some with serious injuries fled the scene as soldiers arrived to cordon off the area. Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north, was repeatedly targeted by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, blamed for killing hundreds in the region since 2009.  (See related stories in sidebar.)

Pyongyang Pushes Buttons:   Last week several Washington D.C.  (aka as “Hollywood for ugly people”) luminaries took time out for the premiere of Olympus Has Fallen, a film featuring a North Korean terrorist attack on the US capital.  This week the real North Koreans (apparently, but not yet confirmed) launched a cyber attack on South Korea and a YouTube attack on Washington.  Frankly,  I preferred last month’s North Korean YouTube attack on New York… especially the musical soundtrack.

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March 19, 2013

Environmental InSecurity and Cognitive Dissonance

Filed under: Climate Change — by Christopher Bellavita on March 19, 2013

Homeland Security Watch welcomes Terry O’Sullivan to our group of occasional authors.  Terry is Associate Director, Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy Research, at the University of Akron

 

Many scholars cite the infamous 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei as the end of the Italian Renaissance. As is commonly known, Galileo was tried by the Catholic Inquisition for challenging the Church’s centuries-old, Earth-centric view of the solar system/universe with the alternative sun-centric, Copernican model, which had been first proposed in 1543.

In part, Galileo was led to this challenge because of the 1609 invention of the telescope, a new technology he believed would change the minds of educated Florentian society, given the overwhelming, meticulous celestial scientific evidence he had gathered over the ensuing 20-plus years.

But, of course, Galileo was almost dead wrong.

His new evidence actually worsened, not improved, the counter-reaction to what had previously been only an abstract Copernican challenge. The Pope saw his 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems book as a direct affront to Church power and authority. Galileo was tried before the Inquisition, and forced to renounce Copernicanism, saying “I affirm, therefore, on my conscience, that I do not now hold the condemned opinion and have not held it since the decision of authorities… I am here in your hands–do with me what you please.” His book was banned, and he died a broken man less than ten years later.

Nearly 400 years after Galileo’s trial by Inquisition, modern society would generally prefer to believe that we would not so blithely reject scientific evidence, merely because it challenged the convention wisdom.

But scientific “apostasy” continues to be punished, hounded, and denounced, as numerous politicians and climate scientists have discovered to their dismay in recent years. Some of the challenges have to do with sincere but misguided doubts about the science, some with politically and economically cynical and self-interested positions by the fossil fuels industry and its allies.

But much also has to do with the way people handle cognitive dissonance, and other ways new information is individually, societally, and politically processed.

I Think, Therefore I Sort
Cognitive dissonance is the often intense, emotional and intellectual discomfort caused by simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, values, or information. As the psychology literature has repeatedly shown, cognitive dissonance can lead to “irrational” thinking; people’s emotional response to conflicting information or ideas motivates them to reduce conflict/dissonance by rejecting disconfirming thoughts or ideas that don’t fit their position or even world view, or adding new ones to create a consistent belief system.

Two other classic identified human cognitive frailties appear to combine with cognitive dissonance and contribute to our inability to process the enormity and complexity of problems such as climate change: the difficulty of seeing connections across boundaries of time and space, and an inability to see the full impacts of our actions due to delays in the system. When you push the first domino, you may not understand where, what, or when the result will be.

These are common human traits, and we all experience them to some extent in our personal and professional lives, no matter how intellectually honest and analytically rigorous we may be. The power of conflicting human emotions and intellect is vast – particularly as that influences current and historic political and science discourse, and as it pertains intensely – even painfully – to what may yet turn out to be the gravest “slow disaster” security issue in human history.

Extreme weather-related natural disasters, increasing ocean-level rise, food and water supply disruptions, and other results of changing climate are national security, and homeland security issues.

Far from being fabricated or exaggerated, as some critics maintain, the rapidly accumulating evidence – reflected in dozens of high-level scientific and security institutions’ reports, including the U.S. DoD Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and various Intelligence Community-commissioned analyses – shows increasingly that the worst-case climate change scenarios of only a few years ago are now becoming seen as the most probable outcomes, absent concerted efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change is Security
Commander of U.S. Pacific Forces (PACCOM) Admiral Samuel Locklear met recently with academic national security experts in Boston. Afterwards, in response to a reporter who wondered what the top security threat was in the Pacific Command, instead of citing North Korean nuclear saber rattling or Chinese muscle-flexing, Locklear insisted that geopolitical disruption related to climate change “…is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” “People are surprised sometimes…” that he emphasizes this, he said, but global warming-related destabilization will occur in part because so much of the world’s population lives near coasts: “The ice is melting and sea is getting higher… I’m into the consequence management side of it,” the Admiral said.

These climate stresses will create a worsening interplay of social, economic, and political disruption, and contribute, ultimately, to more weak and failed governments, and potential political violence – including terrorism. Climate change is already having an economic impact worldwide – costing, by one estimate, $1.2 trillion dollars annually, equal to 1.6% of global GDP.

These human disasters are all potential futures – but may already be having an impact. For instance, some observers believe the Arab spring/Arab-awakening may have been triggered in part by climate-related crop failures and food price spikes that led to Tunisian protests. The rest is ongoing history – leading all the way through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria – so far.

There is no legitimate scientific debate about the two pivotal facts of global warming: First, the planet has been warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution; and second, this has primarily been caused by the human burning of fossil fuels and the atmospheric release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases – especially carbon dioxide.

This is a scientific consensus supported by 98% or more of climate scientists, and over 120 years of increasingly vast and sophisticated evidence. Thus, the current “debate” is mostly a political, not a scientific one.

Disasters like Superstorm Sandy, the ongoing southwestern American drought and wildfire cycle, and new projections of rising sea levels (now projected to likely rise three feet by 2100 if global trends remain unchanged) all must be a wakeup call for Americans. The science is growing more robust and conclusive every year, and the news is bad. The famous so-called temperature “hockey stick” graph is becoming a climate scythe, as recent evidence indicates the world had been cooling over the last several thousand years, before temperatures shot up with the Industrial Revolution’s burning of fossil fuels.

Yet climate change skepticism and denial remains a powerful force in the American political debate. Despite the fact that both 2008 presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, affirmed the existence of global warming and the need for American policy response to mitigate it, resistance has grown in the years since then.

While no one is being literally burned at the stake, some have been politically and metaphorically burned – which has served to strike fear into those who might otherwise step forward in support of the basic facts, and of effective solutions.

The basic scientific facts are settled, even if there are many details still uncertain. But the fact is that as trillions of dollars have been spent on pursuing international terrorism, other things critical to the long-term security and resilience of the United States and the world are being neglected – falling prey, in part, to societal cognitive dissonance and failures of imagination.

Climate change is likely the biggest homeland and national security issue of our lifetimes. Yet it confronts powerful forces, including human cognitive dissonance, and the tendency to miss time-and-space connections and “slow disaster” situations where the results are not seen until much later. Sadly, some of the results are already here.

We deny and dither at our growing peril.

Explanation of Climate Change Sea Level Rise [15 minutes]:

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March 14, 2013

Cyber framing of reality

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on March 14, 2013

From James Clapper’s Tuesday testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

We are in a major transformation because our critical infrastructures, economy, personal lives, and even basic understanding of—and interaction with—the world are becoming more intertwined with digital technologies and the Internet. In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks.

State and nonstate actors increasingly exploit the Internet to achieve strategic objectives, while many governments—shaken by the role the Internet has played in political instability and regime change—seek to increase their control over content in cyberspace. The growing use of cyber capabilities to achieve strategic goals is also outpacing the development of a shared understanding of norms of behavior, increasing the chances for miscalculations and misunderstandings that could lead to unintended escalation.

Compounding these developments are uncertainty and doubt as we face new and unpredictable cyber threats. In response to the trends and events that happen in cyberspace, the choices we and other actors make in coming years will shape cyberspace for decades to come, with potentially profound implications for US economic and national security.

A major hospital system has delayed deploying an extensive (expensive) digital patient record system.   Everyone agrees the new system will produce significant financial and clinical benefits.   But no one has figured out how to ensure an effective non-digital capability persists.   This was not a design specification.

There are multiple digital redundancies.  But what if electric power is lost beyond the capacity of back-up generators? How can patient records and status be accessed and updated if the digital system is dead for days?

This is more than a technical problem.  Many of the efficiencies generated by the ready-to-go system depend on collecting digital signals from various diagnostic tools and displaying integrated clinical outcomes.  Today the sub-systems feeding these displays — and their strengths and weaknesses — are understood by clinical staff.   Today it is not uncommon for an experienced nurse or lab tech to recognize that a specific data source  can be “screwy” and should be rechecked.   The new system will sufficiently obscure data sources  to make this nearly impossible.

One hospital administrator comments, “As long as we have clinical staff who remember how to use pre-digital systems, we can probably recover capabilities.”  But given staff turn-over this sort of human redundancy is expected to disappear within seven years.

My auto mechanic recently said, “When computer diagnostics first came out it was a big help, but I could still do most of my work without it, just not as quick.  Now if the computer is on the fritz I can’t do anything.”  He suggests younger mechanics are just “playing electronic games with your car,” and don’t understand any of the underlying systems. The hospital is trying to avoid this outcome.

I was talking to the manager of a large municipal water system.  ”Actually I feel pretty good about our resilience,” he said. “We’re a collection of several largely separate legacy systems built over the last century-plus: lots of innate redundancy, mostly gravity fed, almost all of it requires a human to turn a valve somewhere.  Not nearly as efficient as the newest systems, but take out one piece and the rest just keeps on flowing.  Bad planning has had some unintentionally good results.”

Meanwhile without digital scanning and communications most retail, wholesale, and shipping would suddenly stop.  This includes food and pharmaceuticals.   When the March 11, 2011 earthquake-and-tsunami hit Northeastern Japan the digital voices of those inside the impact zone went silent.   The voice of hoarders hundreds of miles away became a shout.  The supply chain responded to expressed want, not silent need.

The digital world has become the frame and filter on which many of us depend to engage the real world.  Humans have long depended on frames and filters to simplify what would otherwise be too complex.  Mathematics, religion, law and more are all tool-sets for framing and filtering.

There is often a temptation to mistake form for function. Framing reality has always included the risk of warping reality.  We have experienced the consequences of these risks. (I seem to experience them daily.)

But never before has access to water, food, and other essentials for such large populations been so dependent on the quality and survivability of our frames.

–+–

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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March 13, 2013

This Year’s Opportunity to Apply for the John D. Solomon Fund for Public Service

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 13, 2013

I am a little late this year advertising this opportunity, as the deadline for applications is March 15.  Nonetheless, if you know someone eligible it sounds like a great opportunity for individuals in the New York City area who want to serve their community.  I cannot come up with a better description of the history behind this fund than what I wrote last year:

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.

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.

website contains all the relevant information and describes the fund:

The John D. Solomon Fellowship for Public Service is the first student fellowship in New York City government devoted specifically to emergency management. This program provides the opportunity for up to seven graduate students in New York City-area universities to have a nine-month paid fellowship (approximately 20 hours per week) in an agency of New York City government, including OEM, that is charged with helping the City be prepared for all types of emergencies. Each fellow will receive a $4,000 stipend, will be assigned an agency mentor, and will participate in special programs with other fellows.

Sponsored by OEM, the John D. Solomon Fellowship Program 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. An active member of his local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and a passionate advocate of emergency preparedness and resiliency, John originated “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog — A Citizen’s Eye View of Preparedness.” In recognition of his many contributions, in 2011, OEM created the John D. Solomon CERT Award for Exemplary Service in Emergency Preparedness Education and in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the national John D. Solomon Preparedness Award.

Participating Agencies

  • The NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is the main New York City agency charged with preparing and educating New Yorkers about emergencies and helping City, state and federal agencies coordinate their responses.
  • The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one of the largest public health agencies in the world, has critical responsibilities in any emergency that threatens the health of New Yorkers from bioterrorism to viral epidemics.
  • The NYC Department for the Aging, responsible for protecting the health and safety of the City’s 1.3 million older adults, is on the front lines in reaching low-income and the vulnerable elderly during times of emergency.
  • NYC Service was created by Mayor Bloomberg in 2009 to drive volunteer activity to where New York City’s needs are greatest. In the areas of emergency preparedness its goal is to nurture volunteer activities to increase business, individual and household “readiness.”
  • The NYC Digital Project-NYC Digital, launched in 2011 by Mayor Bloomberg, provides opportunities for New Yorkers to engage with City government digitally and for City government to engage with New Yorkers through Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr and Twitter, which are key channels during emergencies.
  • The NYC Department of Youth & Community Development, which is joining as a participating agency for 2013, was established in 1996 to provide the City of New York with high-quality youth and family programming.
  • The NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is joining as a participating agency for 2013, promotes the well-being of immigrant communities by recommending policies and programs that facilitate successful integration of immigrant New Yorkers into the civic, economic, and cultural life of the City.

Eligibility & Selection Criteria

Who’s Eligible
Graduate students who will be entering their first or second year in fall 2013 and who are specializing in the following fields:

  • Public Health
  • Public Safety
  • Communications
  • Journalism
  • Emergency Management
  • Social Work
  • Community Organizing
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Education

Selection Criteria
Fellows will work on projects that involve collaborating with many individuals in their own agencies, in other City agencies, with community organizations and New Yorkers. Therefore, in addition to academic achievement and prior work experience, the selection process will take the following into consideration:

  • Fluency in using major social media platforms, especially for marketing and communications;
  • First-hand knowledge of New York City’s neighborhoods and its community based organizations;
  • Experience writing for a wide audience;
  • Experience in working collaboratively and communicating clearly;
  • Commitment to New York City and serving the public;
  • The ability to speak at least one foreign language (is desirable).

Please note that New York City residency is not required for this fellowship. Additionally, students enrolled at universities within the New York City metropolitan area, including Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut, may apply for this fellowship.

To apply:
The application period for the 2013-14 academic year has begun. The deadline to apply is March 15Click here to apply

At the same website you can read thumbnail sketches of the impressive first batch of fellows and read about their experiences on a blog.

 

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A day in the life of the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 13, 2013

A friend sent me a link to the info graphic below:  A Day In the Life of Homeland Security. [Thanks, jr]

I think it has the wrong title.  I believe the image more accurately describe an average day for DHS elements, not homeland security.

Homeland security is much more than what DHS does.

An arresting graphic, nonetheless — even without mention of anything having to do with buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition (4.4 million rounds a day, if you’re doing the math).

Another friend said the picture could provoke a conversation about input, output and outcome measures. [Thanks, lsf]


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March 12, 2013

Resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 12, 2013

Three weeks ago a fire destroyed a lot of things my family and I used to own.

Life goes on, fortunately.

We are now in the recovery phase of managing our personal disaster.

When I’ve talked with colleagues about work related issues during the past three weeks the conversation frequently turns to the fire — usually at the end of whatever we’re talking about.

“How are you doing?” I’m asked.

I am unable to express how engulfingly supportive people have been to me and my family. But when I am asked how I’m doing, I really don’t know the answer.

My unthinking analytical default is to parse the sentence and ask, “How am I doing what?”

But that would be a jerk response. I know the question is meant in a socially sincere context. It deserves an equally sincere response.

“I’m fine, thanks,” doesn’t cut it because it is untrue.

“I’m devestated,” also doesn’t work, for the same reason.

I’m left with selecting something from the broad middle between stiff upper lip and what my son calls a pity party response.

I’ve discovered, however, that at least with homeland security folks, I can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m being resilient.”

I’m not sure what I mean when I say that, but it feels like an authentic response.

 

I think I first came across the word resilient (as I’m latching on to it) in Steve Flynn’s 2007 book The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation. Since then, oceans of words have been poured into explaining what resilience is, how to do it, how to be it, and how to measure it.  Individuals can be resilient, and so can communities and nations and economies.   There are very simple definitions of resilience in the literature and tortuously complicated definitions. But I am increasingly aware of the chasm between the language of resilience and the experience of it.

I’ve started asking first responders I know what their experience of resilience has been. Not their experience of the concept, but their experience of the experience of resilience.

I had a work-related conversation a few days ago with a police official I know, Pat Walsh. After the work part was finished, we started talking about resilience.

Here’s a note Pat sent me on Monday. I like what he wrote.  I had not seen it expressed quite like this in the resilience literature.   It resonated with my current experience.  I have his permission to share it.

 

I thought about the resiliency question after I hung up and I still had a mile or so to go [on my walk] so I started to think. My out of breath thoughts are sometimes the best, or so I think.

I have seen people lose everything in fires, accidents or to violence. I am always amazed at how calm the women in the situation are once they have their head wrapped around the situation. But then the things that make or break those affected is always interesting to me.

Some can handle the actual incident, but the aftermath, insurance claim, rebuilding, restarting is the last straw and is what actually breaks them.

Other people are a wreck with the event, but healing for them is the process of rebuilding.

I do not have the answer to why this is, but I have a hypothesis.

I think the people who handle trauma are the ones who are surrounded by family and friends (or kind strangers). We are all self reliant and stubbornly hang on to the idea that we can do it without the help of others (or we think we need too).

I wish I had a dime for every time someone said, “Why did this happen? What is the point?”

Well if you believe in God I would say the point is so you learn this is a fleeting life, and so that others can be tested to step up and help their fellow man.

If you are not a believer, I would say, the point is so others may learn what it is like to stop thinking about themselves and help another in need. It is in helping others that we are most fulfilled.

We can teach resilience all day long, but at the end of the day it is how one reacts to the incident and how others come to the aid. Both benefit, some more than others.

[A firefighter friend] did a video for [a course]…. It is worth watching. In his video he expresses disgust with himself for turning away a homeless man who wanted water. It haunts him to this day. I have those demons as well, and I would say we all do.

So in short, resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.

 

Pat wrote about individual resilience. I want to believe the idea can be expanded to communities and to a nation.

Maybe it already is.

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March 11, 2013

Remembering 3/11

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 11, 2013

Our life in this world –
to what shall I compare it?
Its like an echo
resounding through the mountains
and off into the empty sky.

Original by Ryokan, translated by Steven D. Carter

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March 9, 2013

The answer to that (specific) question is no

Filed under: Legal Issues — by Philip J. Palin on March 9, 2013

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March 8, 2013

Snowquester: Prevention was wise (as far as human wisdom goes)

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on March 8, 2013

On Wednesday the threat of snow shut down much of DC.  Very little snow penetrated the Beltway.   In the wake of the “unnecessary” shut-down has come a blizzard of second-guessing.

I perceive three broad critiques:

Bad Intelligence Analysis (in this context called weather forecasting):  From a late February blogpost by weather-geek Cliff Mass, “U.S. numerical weather prediction is lagging behind the European Center and others–a diagnosis pretty much universally accepted in my field. I listed some of the reasons: inferior computers, poor management, lack of effective leadership, inability to tap the large U.S. weather research community, and others.” (At the Cliff Mass Blog you will find thoughtful self-critical analysis of the weather profession specific to the Snowquester).

Poor Communication between Intelligence Community and Decision-makers: “We made our decisions based on, unfortunately, faulty weather predictions,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). “You can’t really blame the government officials for using the data the scientists gave them.”  More self-critique from the Weather Gang, “Communication of uncertainty is something the entire weather forecasting community should strive to improve… One of the reasons, as we get closer to the onset of the storm, that we drop some uncertainty information is that some readers want to know the bottom line, without qualification. They view scenarios and percentages as “cop-outs.” Ultimately, there has to be a sweet spot, where we can effectively communicate uncertainty concisely and effectively while also presenting a most likely forecast. We’re constantly working to find that and came up short in this last case.”

Over-dependence on Signal Intelligence (weather models) contrasted with Human Intelligence (common sense):  A reader comment posted on the Weather Gang’s blog, “Driving my car on Tuesday afternoon I listened to dire predictions of snow for Wednesday. Somehow I couldn’t equate the fifty six degree reading on my dashboard thermometer with the supposed 5-10 inches of snow set for the next day. Do weather forecasters ever engage in predictions that include going outside?  Sorry, my mistake I referred to them as weather forecasters and of course we know it’s weather guessers.”

Meanwhile about thirty miles west of the Beltway– and admittedly a thousand feet higher — the snow accumulated to over ten inches and power was out for tens of thousands.

Uncertainty can be denied, but it persists.  There is no “sweet spot”.  Humans cannot communicate clearly enough for everyone to accurately hear.  Many will not even listen.

Randomness is fundamental reality.  Perceiving patterns is possible, but precise prediction should not — cannot — be depended upon.  We have some important control along the margins, but we should not fool ourselves into overestimating  our capacity.  On a global scale a thirty mile margin is pretty impressive.

We will fail in both directions.  This time we seem over-cautious.  Some day soon we will seem neglectful.  There are consequences both ways.

The readiness to self-critique demonstrated in this instance is encouraging.  We should learn what we can.  But it is a profound error — the ultimate in tragic hubris — for any of us to expect perfection of ourselves or others.

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March 7, 2013

Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 113th Congress

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on March 7, 2013

Congressional Research Service (CRS) published its outline of homeland security issues facing the 113th congress.  You can find a copy of the 70 page CRS report on the Federation of American Scientists’ CRS homeland security reports page.

Here is a direct link to the report:  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42985.pdf

From the Introduction:

This report outlines an array of homeland security issues that may come before the 113th Congress. After a brief discussion of the overall homeland security budget, the report divides the specific issues into five broad categories:

• Counterterrorism and Security Management,

• Border Security and Trade,

• Immigration,

• Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, and

• Departmental Management.

Each of those areas contains a survey of topics briefly analyzed by Congressional Research Service experts. The information included only scratches the surface on most of these issues.

More detailed information can be obtained by consulting the CRS reports referenced herein, or by contacting the relevant CRS expert.

 

On a related topic, here’s my favorite Doonesbury report on CRS (click for a larger image):

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March 6, 2013

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

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

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

–+–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 5, 2013

Knives on planes again. Well, some knives.

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 5, 2013

The Transportation Security Agency blog says some knives and some sporting equipment will be allowed back on planes, in late April.

According to the announcement,

…the following items [will be permitted] in carry-on bags [and presumably -- for knives -- in one's pocket] beginning April 25th:

  • Small Pocket Knives – Small knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than 1/2 inch in width will be permitted
  • Small Novelty Bats and Toy Bats
  • Ski Poles
  • Hockey Sticks
  • Lacrosse Sticks
  • Billiard Cues
  • Golf Clubs (Limit Two)

The change “is part of an overall Risk-Based Security approach” whose hermetically mysterious internal analytics can distinguish between the risks associated with a 6 centimeter, half inch wide, non-locking blade; and the risks created by a 7 centimeter, three-quarter inch wide, locking blade.

Maybe there is some science behind the metric.  But if the decision process was similar to many of the early TSA decisions Kip Hawley described in his book Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security, there may have been more BOGSAT involved than science.

Whatever the rationale, for those who look at carrying knives as a 2nd Amendment right, a bit of pre-9/11 freedom is coming to an airport near you on April 25th.

It’s probably not a coincidence April 25th was selected to allow knives to return to flight. It is the 329th anniversary of the first patent for a thimble.

The date may also reflect the sense of humor of whoever at TSA decided small knives are an acceptable risk. On April 25th, 221 years ago, Nicolas Pelletier became the first person to be executed by guillotine – a different kind of knife.

 

Here are the TSA-provided pictures outlining the new rules (click on the image to make it bigger):

 

 

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Eight homeland security stories

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 5, 2013

Here are the first sentences from eight homeland security-related stories that got my attention last week.

 

1. Watch the New and Improved Printable Gun Spew Hundreds of Bullets (by Robert Beckhusen)

Late last year, a group of 3-D printing gunsmiths developed a key component for an AR-15 rifle that anyone with a 3-D printer could download and make at home. The problem: It only lasted six shots before snapping apart. Now the group is back with a new and improved receiver that can fire more than 600 rounds….

2. US hackers attacked military websites, says China’s defence ministry (Security Law Brief)
02/28/13: The BBC reports hackers from the US have repeatedly launched attacks on two Chinese military websites, including that of the Defence Ministry, officials say. The sites were subject to about 144,000 hacking attacks each month last year, two thirds of which came from the US, according to China’s defence ministry….

3. The Best Books About Biotechnology (by Alexis Madrigal)

I’ve spent the last few weeks creating a syllabus for myself on the world — people, techniques, theory, history — of biotechnology. I’ve talked with some scholars, accepted some Amazon recommendations, and done some rummaging around in bibliographies, but I’m only getting started. I thought I’d list my recent acquisitions here in hopes that you’ll help me flesh my little self-taught course out. You know how to get a hold of me: comments here, @alexismadrigal, or amadrigal[at]theatlantic.com. (Oh, and I’m also looking for journals and blogs that I should be keeping an eye on.)….

4. Climate Change and the Arab Spring (by Will Rogers)

On [February 28], … Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia of the Center for Climate & Security …[released] a new study on “Climate Change and the Arab Spring” that “outlines the complex pressures exerted by the effects of climate change on the convulsions which swept through the Middle East in 2010 and 2011, exploring the long-term trends in precipitation, agriculture, food prices, and migration which contributed to the social instability and violence which has transformed the region, and offering solutions for progress.”…

5. NJ Plans Mediation of Disputes Between Consumers and Insurance Companies (by recoverydiva)

One of the impediments to recovery often is due to disputes between homeowners or business owners and insurance companies. We saw that after Hurricane Katrina and we saw it more recently in Christchurch, NZ. This article explains a pending action by Gov Christie of N.J: N.J. to launch mediation program for Hurricane Sandy insurance disputes

6. Phishing Has Gotten Very Good (by Bruce Schneier)

[Ok, more than a few sentences]

This isn’t phishing; it’s not even spear phishing. It’s laser-guided precision phishing:

One of the leaked diplomatic cables referred to one attack via email on US officials who were on a trip in Copenhagen to debate issues surrounding climate change.
“The message had the subject line ‘China and Climate Change’ and was spoofed to appear as if it were from a legitimate international economics columnist at the National Journal.”
The cable continued: “In addition, the body of the email contained comments designed to appeal to the recipients as it was specifically aligned with their job function.”
[...]
One example which demonstrates the group’s approach [to phishing] is that of Coca-Cola, which towards the end was revealed in media reports to have been the victim of a hack.
And not just any hack, it was a hack which industry experts said may have derailed an acquisition effort to the tune of $2.4bn (£1.5bn).
The US giant was looking into taking over China Huiyuan Juice Group, China’s largest soft drinks company — but a hack, believed to be by the Comment Group, left Coca-Cola exposed.
How was it done? Bloomberg reported that one executive — deputy president of Coca-Cola’s Pacific Group, Paul Etchells — opened an email he thought was from the company’s chief executive.
In it, a link which when clicked downloaded malware onto Mr Etchells’ machine. Once inside, hackers were able to snoop about the company’s activity for over a month.

Also, a new technique:

“It is known as waterholing,” he explained. “Which basically involves trying to second guess where the employees of the business might actually go on the web.
“If you can compromise a website they’re likely to go to, hide some malware on there, then whether someone goes to that site, that malware will then install on that person’s system.”
These sites could be anything from the website of an employee’s child’s school – or even a page showing league tables for the corporate five-a-side football team.

[Schneier] wrote [the following] over a decade ago: “Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people.” And the professionals are getting better and better.

This is the problem. Against a sufficiently skilled, funded, and motivated adversary, no network is secure. Period. Attack is much easier than defense, and the reason we’ve been doing so well for so long is that most attackers are content to attack the most insecure networks and leave the rest alone….

7. Why Sequestration Could Be Good For Airport Passenger Screening (by Justin Hienz)

… the length and speed of security lines at airports are a function of the TSA’s inefficient security methodology, not its budget and staff. Reduced federal funds will magnify this inefficiency, but to claim longer lines are purely a result of budget cuts is a cop-out. Sequestration is actually an opportunity for the TSA to abandon its insistence on screening all airline passengers, which demands extraordinary resources and manpower, and instead adopt a more efficient and effective approach. If it does, budget cuts might be the best thing that ever happened to airport screening….

8. Feds Say Man Deserved Arrest Because Jacket Said ‘Occupy Everything’ (by David Kravets)

A Florida man deserved to be arrested inside the Supreme Court building last year for wearing a jacket painted with “Occupy Everything,” and is lucky he was only apprehended on unlawful entry charges, the Department of Justice says.

The President Barack Obama administration made that assertion in a legal filing in response to a lawsuit brought by Fitzgerald Scott, who is seeking $1 million in damages for his January 2012 arrest inside the Supreme Court building. He also wants his arrest record expunged.

What’s more, the authorities said the former Marine’s claim that he was protected by the First Amendment bolsters the government’s position … because the Supreme Court building’s public interior is a First Amendment-free zone [sic] ….

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