Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It is rather disappointing to find out that a good phrase may be nothing more than a literary invention, never the less it still has some interesting implications as we go into the New Year. The economy is in the worst shape it has been in 20 years (although on the plus side it has kept fuel prices low). The first ever African American president was elected on a platform of change (although despite Ellen Goodman’s gushing article to the contrary, it appears to be business as normal). Earlier it looked like Ohio had a lock on dumb ass politicians that don’t understand they serve a higher purpose (i.e. former governor Taft and his buddy Tom Noe, and of course former AG Marc Dann to name a few) but now Illinois has reclaimed the top spot with Governor Blagojevich. Iran and Russia seem to be taking turns for the worse and now the Gaza Strip has reignited.
Although my field of expertise causes me to follow all of the above, I am not racked with dread for the New Year. Instead there is the possibility of new discoveries both on a personal as well as a national level. I look forward to new friends that I will meet or the chance to reconnect with old friends that I’ve lost touch with. There will be new discoveries in health and technology that will allow us to live longer, and hopefully, more meaningful lives. The Bearcats will most likely come home Orange Bowl champions. The Reds may even start winning. The economy has cost many people their jobs and their homes but with a new year comes the chance for new jobs and people to regain what they have lost.
Most of the stories that are unresolved as we go into the new year deal with prosperous people. It therefore seems appropriate to end today’s blog with a quote. Mark Twain once said (according to the Yale Press website), “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The village of Arlington Heights (pop. 899) was forced to close its volunteer fire department. The city of Reading (pop. 11,292) will provide fire/EMS response to the village. The volunteer department closing was due to budgetary reasons. Hamilton county has over 42 separate fire departments, which means there is likely to be some redundancy in the county. The closing of Arlington Heights makes fiscal sense but what remains to be seen is how Reading will be able to handle the additional runs. Reading, Lockland, and Wyoming fire departments are close enough together that often the responding unit comes from the adjacent town. Essentially what is going on is a regional fire/EMS department in practice but with separate municipalities paying the bills. Even if Reading has the budget to handle the additional load of Arlington Heights, this was done in reaction to a budget shortfall and not as a proactive measure. Now is the time to seriously start looking at more fire/EMS departments combining into a regional department. It saves money in the long run and helps improve response times but combining departments should be done as part of a long range plan and not in response to a financial crisis.
Related to fire/EMS service, front page today in the Enquirer was a story about CSX hauling chlorine through Cincinnati and other major metropolitan cities in Ohio. According to PPG Industries spokesperson, CSX hauls through major Ohio cities rather than alternate routes because they don’t want to lose revenue. CSX counters that rail is a very safe means of hauling hazardous materials (which I don’t disagree with), however choosing routes through major metropolitan areas seems to be inviting disaster. Out of 13 criteria listed in the article, only two dealt with issues outside the influence of the railroad. The weights for these criteria were not given. Emergency response and proximity to landmarks and major cities, the two that were outside the influence of the railroad, may or may not have enough weight to change a route. Given the number of state and county budget reductions to public safety, CSX needs to show more concern about running any type of hazardous materials through metropolitan areas. It may be in the interest of revenue to use these routes but one major spill or terrorist attack to could lead to lives lost and millions of dollars in liability.
The worrisome thing about both of these stories is the decision making all seem to be made in a vacuum. One municipality loses funding for fire while another picks it up without much apparent thought to the impact to the whole region. Railroad routes are selected based primarily on revenue without considering the impact of the economy on local emergency response services. Department of Homeland Security has been sending out warnings now for some time that the US is overdue for a major terrorist attack. Damaging a rail line used to haul hazardous material is less complicated than say hijacking an airliner. Decisions need to include input from all stakeholders, private sector as well as public, whenever services are reduced or when risky activities need to be conducted. Unfortunately, this process is time consuming and may result in being told “no” therefore it remains unlikely that such procedures will be adapted on a wide scale. The next best solution is for community leaders to take an strategic view of the risks to their communities and what resources they need (or have) to deal with those risks.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Read the article here.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Chris Van Gorder at EMS Responder published an article last week on emergency training at hospitals.
Reports of a suspected bioterrorism attack have sparked panic in the community. Worried residents swarm the region's major hospital for diagnosis and treatment and confusion quickly turns to chaos. Military helicopters thunder onto the hospital's helipad, where dozens of police officers disembark to battle a disaster within a disaster—pandemonium on hospital grounds in the midst of a public health emergency.
This was just part of the action-packed script for a landmark emergency training event in San Diego in summer 2008. Believed to be the first large-scale disaster event to link federal, state and local government agencies with private-sector healthcare officials, the drill enabled participants to practice what it really takes to secure the campus of a major hospital during a crisis.
Led by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the San Diego Police Department, the Golden Phoenix '08 hospital protection event also included personnel from San Diego County's EMS system, the U.S. Marine Corps, FBI, DEA and Department of Homeland Security. What differentiated this exercise from previous events was the involvement of the host, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, part of the nonprofit Scripps Health system in San Diego.
The Golden Phoenix '08 exercise was specifically designed to test the operations, communications and security capabilities of multiple agencies and Scripps working together in an emergency on a major hospital campus. It served as a bellwether for future emergency and disaster training efforts by breaking through old assumptions that hospitals are self-sufficient during disasters—somehow fortified against a public surge and the disruption to care this would cause. This drill served notice that private healthcare personnel must work shoulder to shoulder with other first responders in the community to ensure hospitals are protected as key community assets during times of disaster….
Reading about more and more agencies having to make cuts to personnel or services due to funding shortfalls, it makes sense to plan on a multi-agency response to disasters. Hospitals will be facing increased admissions simply due to patients who have run out of prescription medications. Local municipalities will be laying off staff or cutting back on services. Major disasters will require support from other regional assets or federal agencies.
Advances in genetics and bio-enigneering increases the chance of a terrorist group of developing a biological or chemical weapon that could lead to mass casualties. Hospital staff could be quickly overwhelmed in trying to manage patient care with federal agencies swarming all over the ward. Practicing for this before it becomes necessary makes good sense. However, given the mood of the country now with a disastrous economy such exercises may be seen as an attempt by the federal government to take over.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The events over Lockerbie make it seem even more incredible that American Airlines Flight 11 (which crashed into the North Tower), United Airlines Flight 175 (which crashed into the South Tower) and American Airlines Flight 77 (which crashed into the Pentagon) could all simultaneously be seized and used as weapons. From most accounts, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside as a result of the passengers fighting back.
Times are becoming very interesting. The attacks in Mumbai serve as a reminder that not all attacks have to come in the form of airliners. The Bush Administration is in its last 30 days in office and the Obama Administration takes over in the midst of one of the worst economies ever. The Big Three automakers were bailed out because they are too big to fail. In a global economy, the effects of the Big Three aren’t limited to the USA but to companies throughout the world. How many other groups will launch attacks in retaliation for the perceived economic impact to their countries caused by the failing American auto industry?
Ohio Governor Ted Stickland just announced a $640 million dollar cut to this year’s budget. Layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes to public safety agencies will mean a reduced response capability in addition to the individual economic hardships facing those effected by the proposed cuts. More and more people are losing their jobs and their homes creating a desperate situation for some potentially leading to increased crime and violence.
The increased stress of losing one’s job will lead to increased health problems. The sale of nutritional supplements has increased as people try to cope with the increased stress of life under such circumstances. As people lose health care insurance, more uninsured emergency patients will be seen at hospitals. More EMS runs will occur responding to medical emergencies brought on by people running out of their prescription medication. Increased EMS runs will further depleted dwindling municipal budgets and with increased unemployment, local governments will not be able to generate the necessary tax revenue.
As though this isn’t enough, I just saw a trailer for a movie entitled “2012”. The Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and some believe this indicates an end of times. The economy may be seen as further proof of these beliefs and could create a wide scale panic even more pronounced than that experienced during the Y2K scare.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Another example, as reported in the Enquirer yesterday Cincinnati is spending $140K on a climate protection coordinator and $291K on a bedbug inspection program. I don’t claim to know the merits of either of these decisions but I do know Hamilton County and Cincinnati are short on road salt. Keeping roads clear of snow and ice helps reduce traffic accidents and fatalities. Accidents cause police and fire runs which cost money. Reducing the amount of salt produces a short-term gain on the spreadsheet but in the long run will cost the city and county more money in responding to increased accidents.
This morning councilwoman Leslie Ghiz said on the radio the city plans to hire laid off Hamilton County deputy sheriffs. These individuals will go through the police academy next year. If it happens, this would be an excellent example of working a well coordinated strategy. It shouldn’t be limited though to just this instance, now with economy is such a downturn the time is now to start relooking at how we fund public safety. Instead of duplicating police, fire, and EMS at each township why not look at a regional concept? Why have 42 different fire departments in Hamilton County alone? Combining some departments to create regional fire departments could help reduce costs and decrease response times.
Speaking of redundancy, I’m temporarily driving a Pontiac Vibe while my car is in the repair shop. The Pontiac Vibe is simply the Toyota Matrix with different decals. Why do we have two automakers selling the same vehicle? Or perhaps a more harsh question is why is GM asking for a bailout when at least one of its brands, Pontiac, is merely reselling a Toyota with Pontiac markings? Either Pontiac needs to reduce their offerings or be combined with another GM brand. Ever notice how Chevy trucks are also offered under the GMC brand as well? Each brand creates its own dealerships, overhead and logistics. No wonder the big three are in such a mess!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Biological weapons, for the most part, have always had the problem of the dispersal mechanism (such as a explosive device) destroying more of the agent than it spreads. Winds and rain have also created dispersal problems for sprays or aerosols as they tend to dilute or destroy the pathogen. Genetic engineering may be able to produce a strain of pathogen that is hardy enough to withstand a blast or having a high enough lethality that only a small amount is required to spread.
The Commission made the following observation:
“Prevention alone is not sufficient, and a robust system for public health preparedness and response is vital to the nation’s security. In order to deter biological attacks, we need to demonstrate—through effective preparedness measures and public exercises—that we are capable of blunting the impact of an attack and thus thwarting the terrorists’ objectives.”
The commission reports goes on to say that nonproliferation have been geared exclusively towards nuclear weapons to date. Nuclear weapons, even dirty bombs, take a lot of sophistication to acquire and assemble to necessary components. A third party nation would have to hand the terrorists the weapons or components in order for this scenario to occur. Why then haven’t we seen it? You have no guarantee that once you hand over the nuclear weapon/material that the group won’t use it on your people or allies.
Balancing a response capability with an intelligence network nimble enough to detect a possible attack is challenging. Overhead imagery and intercepts of voice and data traffic may be unable to determine intent (something intelligence analysts are constantly trying to gauge). Creating a robust response capability to deal with a biological attack, especially one using a synthesized super bug, may not be feasible in these austere economic times.
Given this news, it would seem natural for the city and county to focus more on public safety. However, in this morning’s Enquirer we learn that the 800-bed Queensgate jail will close. The county could not find the $10 million to maintain this facility (more prisons are likely to be closed in Ohio as the governor tries to eliminated the state’s $7 billion deficit). The city budget proposes eliminating police and fire recruit classes until 2010. Incredibly, the city at the same has found money for: bedbug inspection ($291,000), climate protection coordinator ($114,000), and a small-business loan for a second location of Goodies Barbecue.
Funding during a budget cut is much like medical triage; hard choices have to be made and some patients may not survive because of those choices. Comparing what the county and city have cut and have chosen to fund leave me bewildered. How does one justify eliminating fire or police recruit classes yet choose to fund a restaurant? I’ve seen this same reasoning used in the military; reducing the number of new recruits to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as starting a new recruiting class back up once the budget improves. Those new fire and police officers were programmed to offset losses due injury or retirement in the respective departments. Cincinnati Fire and Police will lose a large number of personnel in 2012 due to similar measures during previous budget cuts. Losing a recruiting class also means it will be harder to recruit new applicants in the future; they will fear their class may also get cancelled.
There needs to be a better coordination of budget cuts between city and county agencies. We are going into some very interesting times and economic resources will be very constrained. More than ever, these agencies need to work smarter and not harder.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The economy has been on everyone’s mind lately. First mortgages, then the brokerage firms and now the big 3 automakers have all had to go to the federal government for financial bailouts. Locally DHL is pulling out leaving 7,000 people without jobs. Hamilton County may have to lay off 900 employees. The news keeps getting worse. There really is no good time for such events to occur but in the weeks preceding the Christmas holidays is especially difficult for many.
Over the last few days, several acquaintances at work have shared that their homes have been burglarized. No real pattern, these people all lived in different neighborhoods and don’t know each other. I don’t believe in coincidence and see this as symptom of the economic times. People are becoming desperate and in some cases allowing their fears to override civility towards their fellow citizens. Look at the man who was trampled to death by aggressive shoppers on Black Friday. Civility went out the door when people’s concerns for material goods outweighed their concern for another human being.
More than ever, safety and well-being of yourself and your family needs to be at the forefront. It isn’t just remembering to lock your doors; it is making sure your friends and family get home safely. Don’t let a friend go home alone who may be impaired. Check on elderly family members or neighbors. Keep constant vigilance whenever you go outside; keeping thinking about escape routes or places to take cover. Mumbai was only the most recent example of a no-notice threat. Be vigilant at your workplace for suspicious packages; most people have already forgotten about the anthrax that was mailed out after 9-11. The holidays and economy can mean a brutal one-two combination for people with mental health issues. If a co-worker or friend looks like they are having trouble coping, try to get them to talk to someone. If their behavior appears threatening (either to themselves or others), alert the proper authorities.
The county emergency management director, William Turner, is under fire again. During the blackouts back in September, the director was criticized for failures in county preparedness. Now several county police chiefs have a signed a letter point the director’s shortcomings in leadership, coordination, communication, direction, resources for the county. Two county commissioners wrote a separate letter saying, “It now appears to us that Director Turner’s service has become a divisive force instead of a unifying force in Butler County” (note Butler county Commissioner Furmon, who has supported director Turner in the past, did not sign the letter). Many counties are looking to cut their workforce in order to balance their budgets. I hope that however Butler county chooses to deal with Director Turn that they don’t end-up eliminating position. The county emergency management director serves important function and can act as a disinterested third party over fire and law enforcement services. Eliminating the position may unfairly tip the scales in the direction of the fire service or law enforcement to the detriment of the other.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The constant drone about preparing for an attack using WMDs was temporarily halted after the attacks in Mumbai. Nearly 200 were killed by attackers armed only with rifles and handguns. It also highlighted the vulnerability of cities to small, highly mobile groups attacking open public areas. Now a demonstration highlights another misconception of the WMD scenario-based planners; you don’t need a weapon to create havoc. Case in point, more than 50 members of the group Plane Stupid chained themselves together just yards from the runway at London Stansted Airport. The protestors were demonstrating against a second runway at the airport. The protestors, mainly students under 25, used bolt cutters to breach the security fence. It took police over 5 hours after the students breached the security fence to finally cut the protestors free and restore operations to the airport. Thousands of passengers were stranded and, needless to say, wickedly pissed about missing their flights. Police also had to respond to the terminals to try and maintain peace and order as the passengers became quite unruly.
The protestors highlight that a simple plan that is well executed still can defeat all of the high-tech security systems at airports. They didn’t use any weapons but were able to bring the airport to a standstill. Airport police were unable apparently to stop the students from breeching the fence and then chaining themselves. The students weren’t particularly stealthy either; they arrived in an old fire engine! 'We do not run a fortress, we run an airport. Security staff and police intercepted the protesters and no-one got on to the runway,' a spokesman said. True enough but how could a group of students approach the perimeter of an airport in an old fire engine at 3:30 in the morning and not attract a security team?
The success of the Plane Stupid groups causes me to think we will see copycat protests at other airports. The majority of US airports have fairly large security perimeters; it would be difficult to intercept a group breaching one of the fence lines. Removing a number of protestors who chain themselves to fence lines or other permanent structures near active runways could really cause headaches for airport police.
The incident at Stansted should serve as a reminder that it isn’t always about dirty bombs and biological agents. It isn’t even about small teams of highly trained operatives with rifles. It is about causing disruption and chaos to our normal way of going about our lives. President-elect Obama and his administration will really have to create something more fluid and flexible to deal with asymmetrical threats. Whether they be terrorists or protestors, active groups are only limited by their imagination as to how best get their group and its agenda to be front page news.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Defeating Global Terrorism
• Update strategies/ capabilities to fight terrorism
• Re-equip, retrain, and expand armed forces
• Improve public diplomacy
This seems consistent with his pledges during the campaign to refocus the war on terror more in Afghanistan. These were developed before the attack in Mumbai and the advent of Somali pirates. The attacks in Mumbai could be launched anywhere without the tell-tale signs associated with weapons of mass destruction. The increase threat of pirates means the role of the Navy will have to shift from less of a force-on-force role to something akin to its earlier role of protecting commerce shipping.
• Secure and control fissile materials
• Build international capacity to prevent theft and spread of nuclear materials
• Appoint White House Coordinator for Nuclear Security
• Set the goal of a nuclear-free world
These are very laudable goals but other than the coordinator, have a low probability of success. Other administrations have tried to reduce or eliminate the spread of nuclear weapons. Russia, China and now Iran will prove especially challenging in trying to meet these goals. Both Russia and China see the United States as a waning superpower, they more than others will not be interested in reducing or eliminating their nuclear weapons programs.
• Build capacity to mitigate consequences of bio-terror attacks
• Speed development of drugs used to fight bio-terror attacks
• Lead international effort to diminish impact of major biological epidemics
Biological agents are inherently difficult to use. Those producing the weapons face contamination or death before the weapons can be employed. The dissipation of the biological agent once the weapon is used reduces concentration levels. Winds and rain may prevent airborne biological agents from being effective. Chemical agents and high explosives are easier to handle and most likely will be the preferred choice of terrorists seeking WMDs.
Information Network Protection
• Protect IT infrastructure needed for U.S. economy
• Develop comprehensive cyber security and response strategy
• Prevent corporate cyber-espionage
• Mandate private data security standards
The big challenge for IT security lies in that either an external or internal agent can launch attacks. We hear often of lone attackers in India or the Philippines but the real threat of course comes from employees who may be plants or turned by the attackers. Technology moves faster than our ability to legislate standards and develop strategies. Perhaps no other area requires eternal vigilance than in the IT arena.
• Improve the efficiency and security of the U.S. electricity grid
• Invest in recapitalizing transportation infrastructure
Of all of the areas, this one perhaps holds the most opportunity to help our economy. I’ve advocated before the need to improve mass transportation. Developing light rail systems between cities and revamping our long neglected long-haul passenger rail lines will increase jobs as well as help reduce the number of cars on the road.
Critical Infrastructure Protection
• Revamp national infrastructure protection plan
• Improve chemical plant security
• Track spent nuclear fuel
• Improve airline security
• Bolster port security and cargo screening
• Protect public transportation
• Protect local water supplies
• Improve border security
I’m only guessing here but with President-elect Obama’s selection of Governor Napolitano as his Secretary of Homeland Security, border security will see a dramatic increase over some of the other critical infrastructure areas. I also don’t’ see the new Secretary of Homeland Secretary erecting static barriers as much as trying to develop policies to reduce immigration issues.
Intelligence Activities and Civil Liberties
• Improve information sharing and analysis
• Revise the PATRIOT act to preserve civil liberties
• Update FISA to provide greater oversight for warrantless wiretapping
• Restore habeas corpus to those deemed enemy combatants
I’ve not been a fan of the Patriot Act since it was first crafted because of the circumstances surrounding its creation. The emotions immediately following 9-11 did not permit proper discourse to be conducted. The same for FISA and terming those suspected of terrorism as “enemy combatants”. It was an expeditious means during the days and months after 9-11 but it is time to relook at these policies.
Emergency Preparedness and Response
• Allocate funds based on risk
• Emergency response plan improvement
• Improve communications systems interoperability
Allocating funds based on risk sounds perfectly sound but is fraught with political angst. I’m not certain how you improve emergency response planning beyond what is already known; getting agencies to sit down together and start planning and then practicing their plan. The one constant is the lack of time agencies can devote to exercises and joint planning sessions. Communications interoperability remains one of the common threads in after action reports. The problem isn’t so much in the upgrade of systems; it is in getting everyone on compatible systems at the same time.
If President-elect Obama can keep his administration focused on accomplishing the above, the country will certainly be better prepared to respond to a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Monday, December 1, 2008
First, there is a summit of college and business leaders today at the University of Cincinnati the brain drain “discovered” by Governor Stickland during a recent visit to Taft High School. Nine out of ten students indicated they would be pursuing academic careers outside of Ohio because that is where the jobs are. I put quotation marks around discovered because this situation should not have been news to the governor. Ohio has one of the worst tax schemes anywhere for business. Business owners get to pay state, county, city and/or township taxes. In addition, businesses pay a variety of licenses. All of this is paid on top of the normal expenditures for employee benefits, insurance, pension funds, etc. There are only so many ways to trim costs and before long the only option left becomes to relocate your business. The Mead Corporation was a homegrown company in Dayton, Ohio but eventually relocated their corporate headquarters. The decision did not have anything to do with an inability to find qualified workers, rather the costs associated with keeping their corporate headquarters here in Ohio (where the Mead family is from) became just too expensive.
Governor Strickland is focused on creating jobs through revamping Ohio’s high educational system. He envisions luring companies to Ohio by having a highly trained workforce in place. A test of his theory has already hit the local area in the form of the DHL closure in Wilmington. Seven thousand jobs have been cut creating a huge pool of employed workers. Many of these workers have technical skills and college degrees, if the governor’s theory is correct then another company should be willing to relocate here and hire the DHL employees. However, I doubt this is likely to occur without revamping Ohio taxes to create incentives for a major employer to relocate to the Wilmington area. The meeting at UC today may provide some great ideas but without also creating economic incentive for business, these will remain just great ideas.
The second issue was on Cincinnati Blogs concerning impending budget cuts in Hamilton County. Typically public sector agencies cut budgets by postponing expenditures on equipment or facilities. Training is cancelled or postponed. Another strategy involves some combination of furloughs, early retirements, hiring freezes, or eliminating positions. These measures are short-term at best, as the requirements for these expenditures didn’t change. Assuming the agency has done due diligence in creating these positions, reducing the workforce may help balance the books but it increases the workload of the employees left on the payroll. Incidence of sick leave, absenteeism or resignations will increase.
Eventually they will become frustrated and eventually may look for work elsewhere. The end result of these budgetary actions is an overall diminished effectiveness of the agency to perform its mission. In Hamilton County, we see the sheriff’s office painting a grim picture of rampant crime as patrols are eliminated and criminals will have to be released due to over-crowding in the jails. I have no way of knowing what analysis the sheriff has conducted to arrive at his decisions. I do wonder if these decisions were made in coordination with the city of Cincinnati to see which agencies could pick up the slack for other agencies? For instance, some of the patrols provided by the sheriff’s office were in the Other the Rhine area which is (I believe) in District 1 of the Cincinnati Police, could these patrols not be conducted by the police? Law enforcement agencies usually have mutual aid compacts in place, could these be modified to augment the reductions by the sheriff elsewhere in Hamilton County? Of course that assumes these patrols are required in the first place, if they are then a compromise of some kind needs to be reached. If they aren’t required, then they can be eliminated and funding used to conduct other critical functions.
Hamilton County is facing a budget crisis in part because of the economy but also because of the loss of tax revenues. I submit that Ohio has some of the highest taxes of any of the states, yet our tax revenues are plummeting. Higher taxes create disincentives to spending which in turn reduces tax revenues. We’ve all heard about business relocating their operations overseas. Wages are often pointed out as the reason which inevitably leads to finger pointing between labor and management. What gets overlooked is the need for workers to be able to earn a certain level in order to pay their taxes. Employers have to not only meet the need for a fair and competitive wages, they too have to pay taxes on their facilities and profits. Combined the situation creates a major disincentive to operate business locally and leads to employers leaving Ohio. Our college and tech school graduates have no choice but to follow those jobs out of the state.
Creating jobs in Ohio leads not only to a better quality of life for our residents, it will lead to safer communities as our public sector agencies (fire, EMS, law enforcement, public works) will have the funding they need to operate.