This one has been on the back burner a while. In June 2006 the Vera Institute of Justice published a report that addressed the relationship between law enforcement and the Arab American community. From 2002-2005, they surveyed "community leaders, local law enforcement officials, and field office agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 16 representative sites around the country," then as a follow-up they did more in-depth, face-to-face study in 4 locations.
A lot of their findings are not too surprising (though I admit to not knowing that U.S Census figures indicate that 2/3 of Arab Americans are Christian rather than Muslim). Essentially the report comes down on the side of greater community policing and trust-building. Following are a few highlights.
Ironically, even though the FBI has done more to develop relationships with Arab American communities, the communities themselves are generally more trusting of local law enforcement. (The report attributes this mostly toward federal policy, especially immigration policy and enforcement.)
Toward local police agencies, Arab Americans reported a fair amount of goodwill, even in jurisdictions where the two had little interaction. Where departments invested resources to cultivate this goodwill, the evidence points to dividends in the form of reduced tension. Community perceptions of federal law enforcement were less positive. Even though most of the FBI field offices in the study had reached out to Arab American communities, many Arab Americans remained fearful and suspicious of federal efforts.But despite this apparent advantage, local law enforcement generally lags the FBI in developing active relationships with the Arab American community:
Overall, we found that communities tended to be more engaged, that is, more active in reaching out, than local police departments. Only five police departments (less than one-third) had tried to develop contacts with the Arab American community in their jurisdiction. Where they had, the communities were similarly engaged. Almost twice as many FBI agencies were engaged with Arab American communities: nine FBI sites qualified as active, compared to five active police sites.Still, the study found that, in general, both law enforcement and the Arab American community wanted to improve relations:
[O]ur research found that community members and law enforcement respondents alike wanted improved relations. Given the popularity of community policing principles in recent times, however, surprisingly few jurisdictions were active in this regard. Where such measures had been adopted, we found meaningful partnerships that, consistent with community-oriented policing philosophy, suggested better success at addressing concerns about local and national security alike.Specifically, the FBI sees improved relations as an important means of intelligence-gathering:
[N]early all of FBI respondents (14 of 16) indicated that outreach and relationship-building with Arab American communities were valuable intelligence gathering efforts. As a head of a local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) stated, “[T]he natural by-product of [developing relationships] is intelligence building.”Both the Arab American community and law enforcement professionals (local and federal) identified "distrust" as the primary barrier to better cooperation between Arab Americans and law enforcement.
For the Arab American community, other barriers are also present:
[Arab-American] community members frequently cited language barriers, immigration status, cultural norms, and previous experiences with police in their home countries as barriers to reporting.Their reaction has generally been two-fold:
[Arab-American community] participants’ most frequently cited concerns, shows immigration enforcement at the top of the list.
[Arab-American] community participants suggested that September 11 sparked two polar reactions within the community: organizing and activism among some residents and further withdrawal among others. ... Those with greater political capital were more likely to increase engagement than those with less.So ... what to do? The report offers some suggestions and reason for optimism:
We found that community representatives and law enforcement officials—including the FBI—largely agree on the steps that ought to be taken.If you agree with the premise of community policing, then this is your kind of report. (The 2006 Terrorism Annual from the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism called this approach "countersubversive policing.") It is certainly true that in some cases, both in the U.S. and in other countries, information from the Arab/Muslim community has revealed threats of jihadists in their midst.
Steps local law enforcement can take:
Like any trusting relationship, these things have to be built over time. This is especially true when there are barriers of language and culture to be overcome. But it can be done, slowly, painstakingly, and with due care.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
This one has been on the back burner a while. In June 2006 the Vera Institute of Justice published a report that addressed the relationship between law enforcement and the Arab American community. From 2002-2005, they surveyed "community leaders, local law enforcement officials, and field office agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 16 representative sites around the country," then as a follow-up they did more in-depth, face-to-face study in 4 locations.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
A relatively brief report by the Citizens for Rail Safety highlights the threat of a catastrophe on the nation's railroads. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some highlights:
Just one 90-ton rail car of chlorine, whether involved in an accident or act of terrorism, could create a toxic cloud 40 miles long and 10 miles wide and could kill as many as 100,000 people in 30 minutes.Making the problem more serious is the vulnerability of the railways. Rail cars pass through cities day and night, and it is not possible to physically secure all railways.
Railroads in the United States transport 1.8 million shipments of hazardous materials every year, using 100,000 tank cars, filled with such chemicals as chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, cyanide compounds, flammable liquids and pesticides. The result is one million tons of hazardous material being moving across the nation daily.
Between 1988 and 2003 there were 181 acts of terror, worldwide, involving railroads and related rail targets.
Though the vast majority, 99.98 percent according to the railroads, of Hazmat shipments arrive safely and without major incident, there are fatalities, hospitalizations, and/or evacuations every year from the escape of a large quantity of gases or liquids.
Rail cars, tracks, yards, and basic infrastructure are not sufficiently secure. They are not only poorly protected from possible terrorists, but often in poor maintenance, making them more vulnerable to accidents.So, while perfect security for this sector is not possible, the report argues that improved training is not only essential but possible. The current state of training is "inadequate":
Rail Hazmat cars are extremely vulnerable when they sit for hours and even days and weeks, unattended and unsecured, along track sidings and in yards.
In-depth quality training for rail workers and community members is essential for saving lives and health. It is currently inadequate.One solution is better collaboration between railways and first responders in local communities:
The typical emergency responders are poorly trained in responding to Hazmat incidents, especially involving rail, and usually have little knowledge of the rail infrastructure in their communities or the chemicals moving through by rail.
Citizens in “rail communities” generally know little about the Hazmats moving through their towns and do not know what to do should there be an emergency. Rail Hazmats often run through densely populated areas.
There are few forums that bring together rail workers, emergency responders, and citizens to learn about and plan for rail Hazmat incidents. There are very few joint training exercises.This is an important threat to consider. Safe, secure rail traffic is essential to protect lives. It has significant economic implications as well.
Many communities are without emergency action plans for rail emergencies.
Hazmat safety and health training saves lives. ... In Graniteville, South Carolina in 2005 a conductor lived because his military training taught him not to run, but to walk out of a cloud of chemical gas. Chlorine killed his engineer partner, who without training, ran and because of his deep inhalation of chlorine gas, ran to his death.
In a speech by DHS Secretary Chertoff at the 2006 Grants & Training National Conference, Chertoff reasserted some of the department's priorities. First, Chertoff again stressed a collaborative approach across levels of government: I'm going to repeat something I've said a lot in the almost two years I've been on this job, which is the core principle that animates what we do at DHS, and that is risk management. It is a recognition of the fact that management of risk is not elimination of risk. There is no elimination of risk in life, and anybody who promises every single person protection against every threat at every moment in every place in the country is making a false promise. One of the critical insights we've had is that we have to do, not only a better job of horizontal sharing, as we have succeeded, I think, in doing over the last five years, but we have to do more in terms of vertical sharing. And that's, by the way, not a one-way street. It's not just us pushing information down to you; it's you -- helping you collect and push information up to us because increasingly the threats we have to worry about are not merely those that come from overseas, but homegrown threats of the kind, for example, that the United Kingdom has lately faced in 2005 and 2006 with some of the homegrown plots that came to light over there. One of the keys to moving this vertical pathway in information sharing -- are fusion centers that are now being created in many of the states and the major urban areas in this country. We see a tremendous value in having a national network of linked intelligence fusion centers to facilitate the two-way sharing of information, and we look forward to enabling and assisting the creation and development of those fusion centers. One of the things, for example, we're in the process of doing is deploying DHS intelligence and analytic personnel to all the major fusion centers, and getting that done by the end of 2008. We're already getting that done in a number of major cities. This will allow us to build a vertical network to match the horizontal network of intelligence and information sharing for all of our communities across the country.
Effective preparedness requires teamwork across all levels of the government and society, and it requires joint planning, coordination, training and execution. We have to have a common approach, a coordinated approach, across all of the phases of what we have to do to create homeland security -- prevention, protection, response and recovery.In the grant process, this will mean more two-way communication between local authorities and DHS:
It's going to be an iterative back-and-forth process in which you will have an opportunity to absorb our suggestions and come back for a second round before we finalize these arrangements. I'm convinced that this kind of two-way communication is going to go a long way to alleviating some of the frustration that you have rightly expressed in past years.Chertoff also repeated his emphasis on risk management as a guiding principle for Homeland Security:
Chertoff stressed the primacy of state and local government:
I also want to say, before I discuss what we're going to do, that we have a very keen recognition of the primacy of state and local government in developing the skills and capabilities for preparedness. State and local governments know communities the best. They know their communities much better than the federal government in Washington knows their communities. And therefore, the expertise to tailor planning and capabilities to specific needs best resides with the lowest level of government.Chertoff, matching the tone of the Information Sharing Environment Implementation Plan, emphasized state and local fusion centers as a primary means of "vertical" information sharing (also see Monday's post on the ISE plan):
Chertoff identified interoperable communications systems as one of the department's goals for the coming year:
[W]e are determined to ensure that the Urban Area Security Initiative cities, the major cities, have inter-operable communications in effect by the end of this coming year, and that all states have inter-operable communications in effect by the end of 2008. ... The bottom line is we have to be able to communicate during a disaster, and this remains a priority for all of us. We're going to get it done.He also stressed NIMS compliance:
Another goal is NIMS compliance. We're well on our way to NIMS compliance all across the nation. Also, DHS and DOD have collaborated on plans for responding to the 15 disasters in the National Planning Scenarios:
And perhaps even more important, we have begun working with DOD what we call a deliberative planning process for 15 major catastrophic national planning scenarios, which we would need to plan against if there were truly a catastrophe in this country.
I'm going to repeat something I've said a lot in the almost two years I've been on this job, which is the core principle that animates what we do at DHS, and that is risk management. It is a recognition of the fact that management of risk is not elimination of risk. There is no elimination of risk in life, and anybody who promises every single person protection against every threat at every moment in every place in the country is making a false promise.What we do have to do is identify and prioritize risks -- understanding the threat, the vulnerability and the consequence. ... So we have to invest our resources that balance the need to give the most to the high risk areas, but also to make sure that everybody is getting a basic level of capability to do what they need to do to protect Americans in our towns and our rural areas from sea to sea.
One of the critical insights we've had is that we have to do, not only a better job of horizontal sharing, as we have succeeded, I think, in doing over the last five years, but we have to do more in terms of vertical sharing. And that's, by the way, not a one-way street. It's not just us pushing information down to you; it's you -- helping you collect and push information up to us because increasingly the threats we have to worry about are not merely those that come from overseas, but homegrown threats of the kind, for example, that the United Kingdom has lately faced in 2005 and 2006 with some of the homegrown plots that came to light over there.
One of the keys to moving this vertical pathway in information sharing -- are fusion centers that are now being created in many of the states and the major urban areas in this country. We see a tremendous value in having a national network of linked intelligence fusion centers to facilitate the two-way sharing of information, and we look forward to enabling and assisting the creation and development of those fusion centers.
One of the things, for example, we're in the process of doing is deploying DHS intelligence and analytic personnel to all the major fusion centers, and getting that done by the end of 2008. We're already getting that done in a number of major cities. This will allow us to build a vertical network to match the horizontal network of intelligence and information sharing for all of our communities across the country.
The most recent Terrorism Focus includes a brief article describing how jihadists are using the Internet for recruiting. It's one of the ways they turn sympathizers into active participants:
If preaching and disseminating fanatical and extreme ideas on the internet is itself a concern, the use of jihadi forums to entice potential terrorists is even more threatening and must be addressed before the young and pious are lured into extremism.These websites are one of the main means by which sympathetic audiences anywhere in the world can be radicalized. The decentralized jihadist movement encourages the development of "freelance" terrorists and supporters throughout the world.
It only takes a quick glance at a handful of these websites to realize how effective and appealing they are to young Muslim men and women who seek to practice correct Islamic ideology and who wish to rid the Muslim world of "infidel colonizers."
The requisites of jihad and field operations are correlated to the jihadi media objectives in the sense that jihadis need money and manpower to sustain terrorist operations. Therefore, the jihadis chat with sympathizers of the jihad on Islamist forums, show them video clips of successful operations against the "occupiers" and provide religious lectures on the virtues of either participating in jihad or donating money to the mujahideen.
In some cases, the requests to take part in jihad are straightforward, where the forum user asks to go to a specific country for jihad.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy recently released a "Militant Ideology Atlas," which attempts to define the context in which the United States' terrorist enemies operate.
The report contextualizes the jihadists within a broader set of Muslims (see image). The widest set, the broad Muslim community, includes Sunnis, Shia, and Sufis - from secularists to fundamentalists. Most of these people are not compelled by or attracted to the jihadist agenda.
The Jihadis lose credibility among mainstream Muslims when they attack women, children, and the elderly; damage the sources of a nation's wealth (such as tourism and oil); kill other Muslims; and declare other Muslims apostates.The next circle in, the Islamists, are "people who want Islamic law to be the primary source of law and cultural identity in a state."
Next come the Salafis, Sunni Muslims who want to establish and govern Islamic states based solely on the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet as understood by the first generations of Muslims close to Muhammad. ... Salafis now constitute a majority or significant portion of the Muslim population in the Middle East and North Africa.At the core (or perhaps on the fringe) are the jihadists - those who seek to establish a broad Islamic state through violence. The main themes of jihadist writings are:
The report also makes a special note about the meaning of "moderation" in this context:
Finally, a word about “moderate” Muslims. The measure of moderation depends on what type of standard you use. If by “moderate” one means the renouncement of violence in the achievement of political goals, then the majority of Salafis are moderate. But if by “moderate” one means an acceptance of secularism, capitalism, democracy, gender equality, and a commitment to religious pluralism, then Salafis would be extremists on all counts. Then again, there are not many Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East that would qualify as moderates according to the second definition. Until there are, the international community should focus on alienating Jihadis from the broader Salafi Movement.The report concludes that the jihadist program can be best undermined from within - and ironically, by those closest to it, those non-jihadist Islamists and Salafists who reject violence.
The GAO issued a report for the upcoming 110th Congress on issues that the GAO thinks will require Congressional attention. Not surprisingly, many issues deal with homeland security. They include:
Ensure the Effective Integration and Transformation of the Department of Homeland Security:
After its creation in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department. ... The areas GAO identified as at risk include planning and priority setting; accountability and oversight; and a broad array of management, programmatic, and partnering challenges.Enhance Information Sharing, Accelerate Transformation, and Improve Oversight Related to the Nation’s Intelligence Agencies:
Since September 11, 2001, the nation has made some progress in fixing a major vulnerability—intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ failure to “connect the dots” and share information on the terrorists. ... But progress has been slow in some key areas, including implementing the policies needed to govern information sharing. ... Without continued congressional oversight of these issues, the progress and results of the many requirements and initiatives will remain unclear.Enhance Border Security and Enforcement of Existing Immigration Laws:
[S]uccessful implementation of these steps has often been hampered by inadequate planning and guidance, misaligned priorities and resources, and outdated information technology systems. Additional congressional oversight can help ensure that travel document, border security, and immigration enforcement initiatives are yielding improved national and economic security for our nation’s citizens.Strengthen Efforts to Prevent the Proliferation of Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Weapons and Their Delivery Systems (Missiles):
Additional congressional oversight can help assess the effectiveness of these activities and how U.S. resources might be better planned and managed to achieve nonproliferation goals.Ensure the Effectiveness and Coordination of U.S. International Counterterrorism Efforts:
[T]he Congress has an important role to play in overseeing the implementation of these [9/11 Commission] recommendations and in assessing the effectiveness and coordination of U.S. diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism abroad.Ensure a Strategic and Integrated Approach to Prepare for, Respond to, Recover, and Rebuild from Catastrophic Events. (Notably, the GAO emphasizes risk management as a guiding principle for dealing with catastrophic events):
Recent events—notably Hurricane Katrina and the threat of an influenza pandemic—have illustrated the importance of ensuring a strategic and integrated approach to catastrophic disaster management. ... Managing risk is also a key component of GAO’s model for managing risk provides a tool to assist the Congress, Department of Homeland Security, and other key players in preparing for and responding to such events.A lot of these issues seriously affect state and local homeland security. It will be interesting to see how new leadership in Congress tackles these issues, and what differences emerge from the approaches taken since 9/11.
Key Topics Needing Congressional Oversight
The Boston Globe reported that the response to the Nov. 22 chemical plant explosion and fire in Danvers, Massachusetts was marked by good cooperation among responding agencies: Jay Bourgeois , a Newton fire lieutenant who served in New York after Sept. 11 and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina [said] there was one big difference between the emergency response to the Danvers explosion and those other calamities: a spirit of cooperation. It took in pictures transmitted by police helicopters and acted like a high-tech translator, allowing agencies operating on different communications frequencies to speak with each other. "There's no question," Coan said, "we're all better organized because of the lessons that came from 9/11." Good news all around.
The blast turned into a major test of emergency response in the post-Sept. 11 era and, by all accounts, the response was swift, comprehensive, and coordinated.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan ... dispatched two hulking response vehicles from his headquarters in Stow, including a 44-foot red-and-white van that served as the locus of activity for emergency workers at the scene.
Jay Bourgeois , a Newton fire lieutenant who served in New York after Sept. 11 and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina [said] there was one big difference between the emergency response to the Danvers explosion and those other calamities: a spirit of cooperation."The response out here, it's impressive, and everybody really played well in the sandbox," said Bourgeois, a member of the Massachusetts Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue unit, a squadron commissioned by the federal government to respond to emergencies. "There used to be a turf battle with different agencies. Now, everybody's singing to the same sheet of music."
It took in pictures transmitted by police helicopters and acted like a high-tech translator, allowing agencies operating on different communications frequencies to speak with each other.
"There's no question," Coan said, "we're all better organized because of the lessons that came from 9/11."
Good news all around.
Monday, November 27, 2006
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) recently released its plan to implement the nation's Information Sharing Environment (ISE). From the beginning, it's clear that this is a preliminary plan and not a detailed blueprint of the ISE:
[T]he Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) submits this Implementation Plan as the preparation for making a fully functional and useful Information Sharing Environment a reality for the struggle against terrorism.As a result, much of the doc is still in future tense – the ISE will be this, the ISE will be that. There is some discussion of steps taken so far, but this is a relatively minor percentage of the text.
The document outlines the vision for the ISE. In doing so, it certainly says the right things about information sharing. The question is whether the actual information-sharing environment will develop as planned, or if it drowns in bureaucratic squabbles and turf battles.
We envision a future ISE that represents a trusted partnership among all levels of government in the United States, the private sector, and our foreign partners, to detect, prevent, disrupt, preempt, and mitigate the effects of terrorism against the territory, people, and interests of the United States of America.The doc recognizes the increasingly important role that fusion centers are playing in state, local, and tribal (SLT) homeland security:
The ISE will enable the rapid exchange of terrorism information whether collected, produced, or distributed by intelligence, law enforcement, defense, homeland security, foreign affairs, or other communities, including the private sector and foreign partners. It will provide access to and accommodate all types of data, including structured and unstructured data and finished intelligence products, at all levels of security. Whenever possible, the ISE will include data provided from multiple sources to build a composite picture of the terrorist threat.
Because the ISE crosses three security domains, it must support access to and handling of both classified and unclassified information. Wherever possible, classified terrorism information should be made available in unclassified versions to assure the widest distribution while still protecting sensitive sources and methods.
Since 9/11, over 40 states and major urban areas have established statewide and regional fusion centers to deal with terrorist threats. Moreover, a growing number of localities, particularly in major urban areas, are establishing similar fusion centers to coordinate the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of law enforcement, public safety, and terrorism information. These fusion centers—and other SLT and regional initiatives—represent enormous financial, human, and technical resources at the State and local levels to combat the threat of terrorism.Fusion centers are recognized as forums for sharing information on "all-crimes and all-hazards" – not just terrorism:
Further, this operating environment recognizes the “all-crimes and all-hazards” nature of State and local sharing, where SLT organizations may share and fuse together multiple types of information to address a variety of needs including law enforcement, preparedness, and response and recovery.The new ISE will attempt to improve the relationship between the federal government and state and local fusion centers by standardizing the way that federal agencies relate to fusion centers:
[N]o national strategy or protocols [currently] define how Federal departments or agencies will collaborate with these centers. Accordingly, each center has developed its own way of interfacing with the various Federal departments and agencies involved in terrorism prevention and response. At the same time, those same Federal departments and agencies have established protocols with different fusion centers in a manner that varies across the States.For state, local, and tribal (SLT) homeland security professionals, the salient point in the implementation plan is that the fusion centers are envisioned as the primary avenue through which information will be shared. This was also emphasized in recent comments by DHS officials.
Designated fusion centers will serve as the primary points of contact within states or regions for further disseminating terrorism information consistent with DOJ/DHS Fusion Center Guidelines and applicable State, local, and tribal (SLT) laws and regulations.There will be a "hub" fusion center per state or region:
Fusion centers will become the focus—but not exclusive focal points—within SLT governments for receiving and sharing terrorism information.
DOJ and DHS will work with Governors or other senior State and local leaders to designate a single fusion center to serve as the statewide or regional hub to interface with the Federal government and through which to coordinate the gathering, processing, analysis, and dissemination of terrorism information.Local officials will receive most of their information through the fusion centers. Local officials will also use the fusion centers to relay information to the federal government:
Consistent with their respective roles and responsibilities, Federal departments and agencies will provide terrorism information to SLT authorities primarily through these fusion centers. Fusion centers will collaborate with such organizations as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs), and Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs).Importantly, the ISE plan suggests that it will continue to encourage information sharing among fusion centers. That's far preferable to setting up a system where information has to travel up the chain before it can come back down again:
It is envisioned that locally generated information that is not threat or incident related will be gathered, processed, analyzed, and interpreted by those same fusion centers—in coordination with locally based Federal officials—and disseminated to the national level via the FBI, DHS, DoD, or other appropriate Federal agencies.
Collectively, [fusion centers'] collaboration with the Federal government, with one another (State-to-State, State-to-locality), and with the private sector represents a tremendous increase in both the nation’s overall analytic capacity and the multi-directional flow of information.One danger seems to be that fusion centers could become a bottleneck, or (perhaps worse) a series of information stovepipes in their own right. But at this point they seem like the best option for sharing information between federal and state/local authorities. A good system is better than ad hoc sharing, but even ad hoc sharing is better than nothing.
The [planned ISE] framework also preserves and maintains the roles and responsibilities of participating Federal departments and agencies, and mandates a coordinated and collaborative approach to sharing terrorism information with SLT officials and the private sector.
Update (2006-11-28): A recently issued GAO report on issues for the 110th Congress says that Congressional oversight will be important to ensure that the ISE remains on track:
Key Topics Needing Congressional Oversight:
Government Executive published a long article that examines the means by which governments at all levels train themselves for disasters. The article finds the training lacking: Problems also can be excluded or hidden if participants are less than honest. ... That was a problem during [the] Hurricane Pam [simulation, prior to Hurricane Katrina]. FEMA turned out to be unable to deliver on many of the promises it made during the simulation. "It happened a lot - the conversation would stop over something like generators or ice, and a FEMA guy would say, 'Look, don't worry about that, we've got contracts in place, you'll get your million gallons of water a day or whatever,' " recounted one Pam participant in Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security by Christopher Cooper and Robert Block (Times Books, 2006).
"Exercises are not all created equal," says Michael Wermuth, director of homeland security programs at the nonprofit RAND Corp. "There are a lot of different kinds of exercises, a lot of different methodologies used to conduct exercises. There are exercises that sometimes seem to be destined to ensure success or at least a successful outcome in the exercise."Two thoughts on this: First, the lack of follow-up after a simulation is an all-too-real occurrence, in all fields of endeavor. This is what happens when you use a training exercise as an opportunity to check off an item on a "to-do" list rather than as an opportunity to really improve what you're doing. Second, it makes sense to me that a significant benefit of these exercises is the simple opportunity for responders to get to know one another and work with one another. Creating collaborative relationships is not something you can do easily. An expensive and time-consuming training exercise may sometimes be necessary.
All but the first TOPOFF have occurred with advance warning. Emergency responders learn more valuable information for free from real-life false alarms - for example, a nerve gas scare in the Senate in February 2006 or a student pilot flying within three miles of the White House in May 2005 - critics say.
Despite the notorious response failures during Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Pam had some success. According to Cooper and Block, contraflow schemes - reversing one side of a divided highway so all lanes lead out of the city - historically had worked poorly in Louisiana, but evacuations improved markedly after Pam.
And others say that in addition to raising general awareness of potential threats, these exercises are successful because enduring a simulated crisis is a more effective way of learning than reading a lengthy evaluation or report. The most important benefit, they say, is the opportunity for first responders and public health workers to meet and get to know those with whom they would be working during a crisis. "Ninety percent of what you learn in an exercise you learn before the day of the exercise," says Fosher. "Sitting down with sister agencies and going through each other's plans, expectations and assumptions: 'I thought you were bringing the N95 [gas] masks.' 'No, it says you bring the N95 masks.' "
Problems also can be excluded or hidden if participants are less than honest. ... That was a problem during [the] Hurricane Pam [simulation, prior to Hurricane Katrina]. FEMA turned out to be unable to deliver on many of the promises it made during the simulation. "It happened a lot - the conversation would stop over something like generators or ice, and a FEMA guy would say, 'Look, don't worry about that, we've got contracts in place, you'll get your million gallons of water a day or whatever,' " recounted one Pam participant in Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security by Christopher Cooper and Robert Block (Times Books, 2006)."All these exercises don't mean anything unless there is some type of after-action report, [but] some people in some agencies see the exercise as the end in itself rather than a means to an end," says Carl Osaki, a clinical associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, who has designed several simulations. "A lot of times the findings of the after-action reports require additional training or policy. Sometimes [producing the reports is] time-consuming, or they're costly. So once they hit some of those barriers, the after-action report is sometimes seen as an academic exercise." That appears to have been a large problem with Hurricane Pam. Though many envisioned the tabletop simulation as the beginning of a conversation, according to Cooper and Block, FEMA canceled much of the follow-up work - including answering questions about moving emergency evacuees from short-term housing at the Superdome - for lack of funds.
OSHA and the Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) are offering a Disaster Preparation Resources CD that features a compilation of resources from OSHA, ASSE, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on ensuring safe and healthful response and recovery operations. OSHA says the CD will help employers review, develop and update their emergency preparedness plans.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Two recent reports focus on the risk of pandemic flu, as well as the steps being taken to prevent and/or mitigate it.
The first, a report from the Financial Services Roundtable, addresses the risk and current vulnerabilities. It also makes a number of recommendations for the federal government to prepare for a pandemic. (Its recommendations are focused on the national level because of the national and international scope of a pandemic.) A lot of the information about the threat is widely known. Below are some salient points from this particular report.
First, the report discusses the nation's state of readiness and finds it lacking.
No one is ready if the pandemic occurs within the next several years.The report also discusses some of the potential effects of a pandemic.
[T]he U.S. federal government plans to be able inoculate all Americans within six months of an outbreak -- by 2011. In other words, not only will it take six months after the outbreak of a pandemic to produce sufficient vaccine, this isn’t scheduled to be possible for another five years. This is not a workable plan – a pandemic could occur at any time.
In particular, there is broad consensus that most local health care systems – hospitals in particular – do not have the excess capacity of beds, equipment, and trained personnel to handle a large influx of patients seeking medical care in a moderate to severe pandemic.
[W]hen asked as recently as this summer if their city was prepared to meet a crisis on its own without federal assistance, only 30 percent of 183 Mayors’ offices responded affirmatively.
Unlike the seasonal flu, the avian flu has struck most heavily amongst prime-age individuals, or those between the ages of 20 and 40 ...A second report, this one released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has a generally more optimistic tone. This is, after all, a report from a government department that is summarizing its own activities. It's not surprising that it accentuates the positive:
The mortality rate during the 1918 pandemic, which killed at least 500,000 in the United States and perhaps as many as 50-100 million worldwide, was 2 percent of those infected. The mortality rate for the small number of identified avian flu cases has been something on the order of 50 percent. There seems to be some consensus, however, that a variation of H5N1 or a similar virus that is easily transmissible among humans would not be nearly as lethal.
A significant fraction – perhaps as many as 40 percent of the working population – will stay at home for extended periods of time in the event of a future pandemic ...
Although some business would be transferred to the Internet, the magnitude of this offsetting impact could be muted by the impact of the pandemic on the Internet itself ... [T]he surge in Internet traffic that might result from an increase in telecommuting would slow upload and download times, perhaps to the point at which the network could not function effectively. This would dampen use of the Internet for commercial purposes.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a pandemic similar in severity and scope to the 1918-19 pandemic would reduce Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by about 4.25 percent during the year of the pandemic.
Vaccines have been developed for the two known variants of H5N1 and we have already stockpiled enough vaccine to treat more than some 3 million people.Although these vaccines are not "perfect match" vaccines that would best protect against a mutated future form of the virus that's easily transmissable among humans.
The goal is to have 26 million courses of antivirals on hand by the end of 2006 and a total of 50 million courses in the SNS by the end of 2008. The Federal stockpile, in addition to State purchases of 31 million courses of antivirals, will ensure that we have enough antivirals for 25 percent of the population. We are on target to meet those goals. Sixteen million courses of antivirals have already been warehoused, and we will have 36 million courses on hand by March 2007.The antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, are effective at treating flu symptoms. It is unknown how effective they would be against a particularly virulent form of bird flu. Indications are that they would be helpful.
[E]very state, every county, every community will be affected, and they could be affected over a short period of time. There would be little opportunity to shift resources from one part of the country to another, highlighting the priority of preparedness at all levels and by all sectors of society.This last line, I think, is the key for preparedness professionals everywhere. The Financial Services Roundtable even recommends "live tests" of vital systems that would likely be affected by the flu (and more directly by the enormous absences from work that the flu would necessitate). These include vital networks such as healthcare, electricity, water, telecommunications, financial networks, etc.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Virginia is going beyond NIMS requirements that mandate the use of common language during mutual aid incidents. The commonwealth has developed a protocol for using common language, as opposed to 10-codes, in everyday use. Government Technology reports:
The State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) and Commonwealth Interoperability Coordinator's Office (CICO) determined a common language protocol that allows the use of plain English for most transmissions.
While the National Incident Management System (NIMS) requires common language for mutual aid situations, the state went a step further by encouraging common language usage on a day-to-day basis for all responders.
"If responders do not use common language on a daily basis they will revert back to the codes they have always used in a crisis situation," said Charlottesville Fire Chief and SIEC Chairman Charles Werner.
The SIEC and the CICO will continue to obtain endorsements from Virginia's public safety community and work with training academies across the state to begin training on the protocol.
Friday, November 10, 2006
The threat of jihadist terrorism in the UK is growing, as London's Telegraph reports:
[MI5 head] Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said Islamic militants linked to al-Qa'eda were recruiting teenagers to carry out suicide attacks ...It's not a surprise that radicals would target young, impressionable people. Terrorist recruiters generally seek those who are looking to give their lives meaning. Young people are vulnerable to this type of call, as are the recently converted.
The nature and gravity of the threat was deepening, fuelled by the rapid radicalisation of young British Muslims – some still at school, yet prepared to join the ranks of the suicide bombers.
''These plots often have links back to al-Qa'eda in Pakistan and through those links al-Qa'eda gives guidance and training to its largely British footsoldiers here on an extensive and growing scale."
In response, the British are appealing to the nation's peaceful Muslims to help intercept these threats. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said:
"The Muslim communities in this country did not ask the terrorists to act in their name," she said. "The vast majority are sickened by the slur on their great and noble faith. They make a huge and vital contribution to the life of this country. And they, the Muslim communities, have a special ability to make a difference in the struggle against extremism ... We should let the extremists bark in the night while we, the vast moderate majority, find a common way to defeat them and the terrorism they espouse."On the local level, developing trusting relationships with the local Muslim population makes sense. They are in a good position to point out jihadist threats, as they have done in a number of cases before, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Such relationships have to be crafted carefully, as some individuals and groups may represent themselves as moderate when they are not.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Phoenix is doing something interesting: transferring its police chief into a higher-level post that would oversee all of the city's vital homeland security functions. Sort of a "chief of local homeland security":
Phoenix is ratcheting up homeland security efforts by transforming the traditional police chief post into a higher-profile job that consolidates security oversight of aviation, transit, water and emergency operations.Phoenix's intent seems to be to adopt a centralized model of collaboration. Presumably, all of the agencies will work together better, since they will be under the same boss. The danger is if Harris becomes the single point through which all information flows. That's an inefficient model of information-sharing.
And officials want retiring Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris to fill the newly created position.
Harris essentially would take on responsibility for all aspects of homeland security, not just the Police Department, and he would be tasked with snagging more federal homeland security grants for the city ... Under the new structure, which is unique among Arizona's law enforcement agencies, a traditional police chief would not be hired.
The recent discovery of syringe casings around the production line at a meat packing plant in Canada is a reminder of the threat of food and agricultural terrorism.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Maple Leaf Foods have recalled some ham and sliced meat products after police were called in to investigate a small number of syringe casings found at an Ontario plant ... Police said it was the third such discovery reported by employees in the past two weeks.This type of terrorism involves a vast array of potential access points. The food industry is inherently vulnerable.
So far, there have been no reported illnesses associated with eating the products, and no tampered meat has been found on shelves.
For the local homeland security professional, preparedness and collaboration are vitally important. In the event of a widespread threat, public health officials and law enforcement would have to work closely. Communications planning is also vital. The public will have to be kept informed of the exact nature and extent of the threat.
One final thought: The selection of ham as the target (if this was in fact an act of tampering/terrorism) raises eyebrows. Could certain food products be more attractive to certain types of terrorists? For example, I could see jihadists being attracted to ham as a target, because Islam forbids the consumption of pork. Or radical animal-rights groups might be attracted to meat products of all kinds.
With Democrats in the majority in the House, and maybe in the Senate, they will push for their proposals on Homeland Security. This generally means an increase in domestic expenditures, which would affect homeland security professionals at local, state, and federal levels. Government Computer News reports:
With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives next January for the first time since 9/11, the nation is likely to see changes in anti-terrorism policy and increased domestic spending.Specifically, they are likely to push for full implementation of the 9/11 Commission's proposals, both international and domestic.
Other anti-terrorism areas of emphasis for Democrats in Congress have included urban and mass transit security; chemical security, port security, first responders, disaster preparedness and privacy.It is certain that the Democrats will be eager to push for an approach that differentiates them from the Bush Administration. But as always, it won't be the amount of money they spend. It will be how smart they spend the money.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Nothing new here, but the agricultural threat of foot-and-mouth disease got some notice in the recent comments of a DHS official, GovExec reports:
The Homeland Security Department's senior adviser for weapons of mass destruction said late last week that the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease on American soil would have a tremendous effect on the U.S. economy, whether the outbreak is intentional or accidental.Agricultural terrorism is a potentially major vulnerability. Collaboration with state and federal veterinary services is an important part of being prepared.
Maureen McCarthy, the weapons adviser, on Friday told attendees of the Association for Intelligence Officers' annual convention that such an outbreak would cost the American agriculture economy "hundreds of billions" of dollars and could shutter some trade borders for "years" if officials deem it necessary.
"It will happen instantly," she said of the financial and trade impact, "even if there are no deaths."
During a discussion that in part focused on how biological agents might be used against the United States, McCarthy said foot-and-mouth disease could be used by terrorists.
Federal Computer Week reports on the General Services Administration's new, centralized office for emergency response:
Emergency workers who need General Services Administration services in fast-moving disasters have a new resource. GSA announced today that it has consolidated its emergency procurement services into a new Office of Emergency Response and Recovery (OERR).In the National Response Plan, GSA is the coordinating agency for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #7 - Resource Support. This includes:
The office puts all of GSA's emergency resources into one central office for first responders, emergency workers and recovery teams.
- Emergency relief supplies
- Facility space
- Office equipment
- Office supplies
- Contracting services
- Transportation services (in coordination with ESF #1 – Transportation)
- Security services
- Personnel required to support immediate response activities
Monday, November 06, 2006
Government Executive is reporting that DHS plans to embed a team of intelligence officers at each of its fusion centers, to foster information sharing with state and local agencies: It's hard to argue against reinvigorated efforts to improve information-sharing. Regarding the HSIN, though, DHS needs to make sure they get it right. They've said they're going to fix the HSIN, but if DHS really wants to improve information-sharing with state and local authorities, they can't afford to get this wrong again. I think they're making things harder by doing this in a two-step process - first, doing an interim fix on the HSIN, then replacing it completely. They need to show clear improvement in both iterations; otherwise they'll lose credibility. You can't just build new systems and hope that one eventually works. If each iteration isn't better, then they won't have a fix, but just a cumbersome annoyance.
The Homeland Security Department hopes to improve information sharing with state and local government fusion centers by giving those centers intelligence officers and an advanced communications network for classified information, a senior official said Friday.
Department Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen said he plans to have intelligence officers embedded at 18 fusion centers by the end of fiscal 2007 and at all other centers by the end of fiscal 2008.
"My plan is to embed in these centers -- every one of them -- a team of intelligence officers whose responsibilities include ensuring robust, two-way sharing of information," he added.
He said the department is retooling the Homeland Security Information Network at the secret level to communicate with centers on an interim basis until a more capable system is developed. Allen called the network "a weak system" that he is "going to get rid of" by replacing it with the Homeland Security Data Network.
He added that he plans to have the new network installed by January at every center where he has intelligence officers.
It's hard to argue against reinvigorated efforts to improve information-sharing. Regarding the HSIN, though, DHS needs to make sure they get it right. They've said they're going to fix the HSIN, but if DHS really wants to improve information-sharing with state and local authorities, they can't afford to get this wrong again.
I think they're making things harder by doing this in a two-step process - first, doing an interim fix on the HSIN, then replacing it completely. They need to show clear improvement in both iterations; otherwise they'll lose credibility. You can't just build new systems and hope that one eventually works. If each iteration isn't better, then they won't have a fix, but just a cumbersome annoyance.
Friday, November 03, 2006
In a new report, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials highlights some recent successful interventions taken by state health departments to prevent and prepare for serious health threats. Most of the efforts involve improved collaboration and/or information sharing. Some highlights of the report:
The Arizona Department of Health Services ... has created a working network of food professionals from all segments of the food industry to increase food security awareness.The report also highlights some other examples, but I found these to be the most intriguing. Especially interesting to me are the ways that South Carolina and New York City have improved their situational awareness by using information-sharing technology.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services contracted with the Missouri School Boards Association to create a secure, web-based tool to assist schools in planning and training for emergency events. Beginning April 1, 2006, all schools in the state could upload critical information such as floor plans, students with special needs, staff information, and utility shut-off locations to aid the response to events such as infectious disease outbreaks and hazardous materials incidents.
In South Carolina, the Division of Acute Disease Epidemiology at the Department of Health and Environmental Control summarizes daily epidemiological reports for the state’s intelligence fusion center ... Health data such as summaries of calls to the state poison control center, reports on over-the-counter retail sales of certain medications, calls handled by the 24/7 consultant on-call, and chief-complaint information from hospitals are analyzed each day and summarized by the department prior to submission.
In New York City, the Emergency Data Exchange Network (EDEN) allows different agencies to share environmental health monitoring data. Using wireless Bluetooth technology, field staff are able to collect and automatically transmit environmental information including air and radiological monitoring data. The environmental handheld project is just one of the many data sources for EDEN.
The Ohio Department of Health used its public health communication system to rapidly establish a secure, Web-based reporting system for Clostridium difficile infection. Beginning January 1, 2006, more than 120 local health departments have weekly access to the system and the capacity to provide and update reports for the hospitals and long term care facilities within their own jurisdictions.
Tennessee ... merged tabletop and full-scale exercise activities of its public health, animal health, homeland security, and emergency management agencies under one umbrella. By doing so, the state has improved overall collaboration and gained a better understanding of how efforts are integrated during an emergency response.
DHS has released a new guide for private sector businesses regarding planning for pandemic flu. For someone well versed in the threat, there is not much new information in the document. It primarily focuses on the potential severity of the threat, in the interest of motivating those who have not adequately planned for a pandemic. Here are some selected highlights:
The primary purpose of this Guide is to stimulate the U.S. private sector business community to act now.The guide includes a checklist for private-sector entities to develop continuity-of-operations plans pandemic flu. (See Section 5 of the guide.) The checklist is thorough, though somewhat general in that it must apply to all types and sizes of businesses.
The mounting risk of a worldwide influenza pandemic poses numerous potentially devastating consequences for critical infrastructure in the United States. A pandemic will likely reduce dramatically the number of available workers in all sectors, and significantly disrupt the movement of people and goods, which will threaten essential services and operations within and across our nation’s CI/KR sectors.
In each pandemic [during the 20th century - including the devastating Spanish Flu of 1918], about 30 percent of the U.S. population developed illness, with about half of those Americans seeking medical care. Children under the age of 18 have tended to have the highest rates of illness, though not of severe disease and death. Geographical spread in each pandemic was rapid and virtually all communities experienced outbreaks.
Implications of pandemic flu:
Unlike geographically and temporally bounded disasters, a pandemic will spread across the globe over the course of months or over a year, possibly in waves, and will affect communities of all sizes and compositions. In terms of its scope, the impact of a severe pandemic may be more comparable to that of war or a widespread economic crisis than a hurricane, earthquake, or act of terrorism.
- Dramatic worker absenteeism (40 percent or more) will occur at all levels due to illness, family member care, death, childcare, and “worried well” (otherwise healthy people who avoid the workplace for fear of exposure).
- Pandemic disease spread will be rapid and unpredictable, likely precluding shifting personnel, resources, and emergency operations centers to “safe” areas.
- Movement restrictions and/or quarantines will disrupt the supply chains and municipal services.
- Social distancing requirements will affect business operations, especially when public contact is unavoidable (e.g., retail food) or workers share a common workspace (e.g., plants).
- Business closures and furloughs for prolonged periods may cause extensive financial harm or even ruin, increasing demand for social and welfare support.
- Lost income and competition for remaining skilled workers and scarce supplies and materials will dramatically affect business response and recovery.
- Reduced worker availability among first responders may result in greater risk of social and security disruptions.
- Disruptions and failures at essential businesses will cause localized economic and social challenges and may affect other businesses in the sector, region, and, perhaps, the nation.
A pandemic “wave” may linger in a community for six to eight weeks.
An estimated 50 percent of those who get the flu may require medical intervention, and the burgeoning throng of patients and “worried well” may overwhelm our healthcare delivery system.
Shortages of and disruptions to basic commodities and municipal infrastructure may cause localized security challenges for businesses and communities.
To survive a pandemic, all businesses must plan to collaborate with members all along their supply chain network, key customers, and business competitors.
DHS plans to use the National Infrastructure Coordinating Center (NICC) [one of the four sub-elements of the National Operating Center (NOC)] as the hub for all CI/KR private sector information sharing needs during all phases of a pandemic.
The Scotsman reported today: Investigators found that one employee was believed to be a friend of Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber now serving a life sentence in Colorado, while another is believed to be close to a senior figure in an Algerian terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda. One French baggage-handler allegedly spent three years in Yemen and attended a military training camp run by Islamic militants. Ten workers who were stripped of security clearance - nine baggage-handlers of North African descent and a French security guard who converted to Islam and is married to a Moroccan woman - are suing the airport authorities on the grounds that they have been discriminated against because of their religion.
More than 70 Muslim workers at France's main airport have been stripped of their security clearance, after an investigation claimed staff had visited terrorists' training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Investigators found that one employee was believed to be a friend of Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber now serving a life sentence in Colorado, while another is believed to be close to a senior figure in an Algerian terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda.
One French baggage-handler allegedly spent three years in Yemen and attended a military training camp run by Islamic militants.
Ten workers who were stripped of security clearance - nine baggage-handlers of North African descent and a French security guard who converted to Islam and is married to a Moroccan woman - are suing the airport authorities on the grounds that they have been discriminated against because of their religion.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
The LA Times reports that the CIA is using Wikipedia technology to build a dynamic storehouse of intelligence information.
The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have created a computer system that uses software from a popular Internet encyclopedia site to gather content on sensitive topics from analysts across the spy community...I wonder how many state and local agencies could consider this kind of system, assuming that the necessary precautions were taken. Generally, this sounds like a really good means of information sharing. Not only does it invite widespread participation, but a Wikipedia-type system has a built-in advantage, in that many people are already familiar with it.
The system allows analysts from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to weigh in on debates on North Korea's nuclear program and other sensitive topics, creating internal websites that are constantly updated with new information and analysis, officials said.
The system, which the public cannot access, is divided into classification categories starting with "sensitive but unclassified" and ending at "top secret."
More than 3,600 analysts and other intelligence officials have registered to use the service since it was launched in April, officials said.
So far, the number of registered users sounds promising. My only question is how many of them are actually using it. A separate info-sharing network, the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) has more than 16,000 registered users, according to a June 2006 report by the DHS Inspector General, but only a small fraction of them actually use the system on a regular basis (around 450, according to my calculations). DHS is trying to fix it, as I indicated recently.
From the "it may be nothing, but..." department:
National Geographic reports that a new strain of bird flu is spreading rapidly in China, and this strain is resistant to the vaccine that has been used so far in poultry.
A newly discovered bird flu strain has emerged in China and has spread rapidly through poultry in Southeast Asia. Human infections by the new strain have also turned up in several locations, including both farms and urban centers, intensifying fears of a worldwide flu pandemic that could kill millions.Disaster plans for pandemic flu are essential. Whether the culprit turns out to be bird flu or some other strain, it's not a question of "if" but "when."
Magnifying those concerns is the vaccine-selective nature of the new strain, which means that existing animal vaccines are less effective on it than they are on previously known bird flu types.
"However, we don't have any evidence to show whether this virus is more dangerous or less dangerous than any other H5N1 [bird flu] viruses," said Yi Guan, director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong in China.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
The Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight has issued an audit that raises concerns with Massachusetts' homeland security response plans:
The Committee found the following general areas of concern:The committee places most of the blame on the Executive Office of Public Safety, the state agency responsible for homeland security. It notes that police and fire departments have lost 1,124 personnel since 9/11.
The Boston Globe reported that:
I think the state is on the right track when they talk about distributing funds by region, as Missouri is also doing. But the rancor around this report seems to smack of partisan sniping. It's particularly disheartening to see that they can't even agree on the number of police officers and firefighters in the state.
Executive Office of Public Safety spokeswoman Kelly Nantel rejected many of the report's findings and said the state has dramatically improved preparedness.Nantel said the state has added more than 2,000 police officers since 2003 and has been praised by federal homeland security officials as one of 11 states that had "sufficient" preparedness plans.
A spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said the Democrat-led Legislature is to blame for "the only real gap in the state's emergency planning," the lack of a better response for the outbreak of a pandemic flu.