Monday, May 26, 2008

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Trains, planes and the rising cost of gas

The airlines have scored some of the their lowest figures ever for customer service. As I write this, Ohio is facing the very grim possibility of $4.00 for gas next week. Airfares are increasing even as customer satisfaction are decreasing. The legacy carriers are trying to merge (Delta and Northwest have already announced, United and US Airways may be next) to manage costs associate with pensions, skyrocketing fuel costs and demands from unions for better wages. Air travel now has become a pale shadow of its former self. Security lines, long waits, cancelled flights, and cramped cabins combine to make air travel one of the least enjoyable means to travel within the continental United States.

Increased prices at the pump should mean increased air travel but due to increased fares and decreased comfort air travel is also suffering. Articles covering increase fuel costs are usual accompanied by stories suggesting ways to reduce energy consumption. More people are turning to motorcycles or bicycles for commuting. These are great options for short trips, weather permitting, but these are only stop gap measures for a much greater issues. The United States has been woefully negligent in maintaining a viable transportation system. In Ohio, which has seven major metropolitan areas, has no system for commuting amongst these population areas. You can drive from the two furthest points in Ohio (Cincinnati to Cleveland for example) in five hours. If you don’t want to drive, you only other option is Greyhound.

If this were say Germany instead, a modern and efficient rail system would exist and could move several thousand passengers throughout the day cheaply. The railroad was invented in the United States yet we are the least modern system of any modern nation. You can’t for instance take a train from Cincinnati to St Louis (unless you go through Chicago. An 18 hour trip for a distance that can be driven in under 6 hours).

Revitalizing our train system would not only reduce dependence on oil, it would reduce congestion in our airspaces as well as increase jobs. Ohio especially has a stagnant economy that isn’t showing much signs of recovery in the near future. Building, operations and maintaining a rail system amongst the three C’s (Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland) would be a tremendous boost to our economy. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical to our security. Trains offer a safe and effective way of accomplishing this goal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drugs, terrorism and security

Today one of the talk shows on NPR was dealing with the drug situation and the recent shooting of a Mexican police officer. I then found an entry on Hometown Security about the first arrest in connection with drug trafficking and terrorism. Both of these stories caused me to reflect on the 7 years of commanding the Ohio National Guard Task Force. The National Guard supports law enforcement agencies in drug interdiction efforts as well as supporting community-based organizations in drug demand reduction efforts. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) or more commonly known as the drug czar’s office directed this dual-approach. Drug law enforcement agencies (federal, state and local) spend a large amount of money investigating drug crimes, arresting suspects and seizing illegal narcotics (as well as guns, cash and other property associated with drug activity). Administrators and elected officials need to be able to justify the expenditure of time and resources by these agencies so often the amounts of drugs seized, the number of arrests or the dollar value of assets are quoted. Unfortunately, the numbers only tell part of the story. Each time a drug dealer or organization is arrested, there are several more ready to take over. For every ton of illegal drugs seized, many more are being smuggled in or are being manufactured.

In the mid-90s, it became apparent that interdiction efforts weren’t going to be enough. So long as people kept buying drugs, there would always be people willing to smuggle or manufacture those drugs for sale. ONDCP began to suggest drug demand strategies theorizing that by reducing the demand for drugs it would curtail the drug traffickers. Every community has some type of drug demand reduction program, either through their police department or some local community based organization interested in reducing drug crime. There have been many excellent programs but even so the demand for drugs has only been to a minor degree (some may even argue not at all). The problem with drug demand strategies is a very basic one. Maintaining behavior learned during these programs once they end is almost impossible. The programs also assume that most people don’t want to use drugs. This assumption may not always be the case for the attendee or the assumption may change over time. In either event, demand reduction and interdiction efforts have yet to reduce the drug problem.

The illegal drug business generates billions of dollars in revenues for those at the very top. And make no mistake, the illegal drug trade is very much a business. During the late 90s, the Colombian drug cartels had pretty much hit saturation of the US market for cocaine and crack. The cartels decide to look at new markets and began marketing a higher grade of heroin. Previously, heroin sold on the street was of such a low concentration it had to be diluted and then injected to effect the user (the prototypical junkie). The cartels found out that potential new users didn’t have problem with abusing heroin but did not want to become “junkies”. The higher grade heroin could be snorted or smoked and thus avoided the junkie image. It was a hit and new market was created.

At the same time, other drugs started to become prevalent to include ecstasy and methamphetamine. These drugs became popular at clubs and especially raves. While methamphetamine (or meth) can be manufactured virtually anywhere by anyone, ecstasy can only be manufactured in a lab. Most of the ecstasy found in the United States is manufactured in Europe and is trafficked almost exclusively by the Russian mob. The Russian mob first made their appearance on the East Coast in the early 90s. The Russian mod was primarily made up of former Soviet Army soldiers or KGB agents. One of the effects of the Soviet Union demise were thousands of unemployed soldiers and secret police. They found new careers using their skills in illegal activities and the drug trade seemed ready made for most of them. They are well trained and absolutely ruthless.

When the Soviet empire fell not only were their soldiers left without paychecks, so were the numerous terrorist organizations that had benefited from Soviet sponsorship. Terrorists did not stop their various campaigns but they did have to find a new source of funding. Drug cartels had plenty of money and needed operatives willing to kill their enemies. Colombian drug cartels had for years played on anti-American feelings by locals who felt North America had forsaken them in favor of European or Asian trading partners. Afghanistan poppy growers are equally adept at fanning anti-American feelings to support their burgeoning heroin business. Even home grown terrorists have turned to drugs as a way of funding their efforts. Many of the militia groups that were opposed to the federal government in the late 90s turned to the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine as a means of generating revenue for the actions.

The United States has tried for the last 20 years to arrive at a solution to the drug problem. Perhaps it is time to look at things differently if we hope to increase the security of our homeland. First it appears that regardless of what we say, there are people who still want to abuse drugs. I am NOT suggesting we legalize drugs, merely recognize that we may be making a faulty assumption that people don’t was to abuse drugs. The other problem is mandatory sentences for drug convictions. People are being sent to prison in untold numbers resulting in overcrowding at a huge expense to the taxpayer for merely possessing drugs. I’m not sure that a drug addict is the same as a murderer By mandating a prison sentence for drug possession, other more dangerous criminals are being let go early. Rather than require a prison sentence for drug convictions perhaps it would be better to view addiction as a medical problem. Yes, I know our medical system may not be up to the task either but we have to try something different otherwise we will never be able to reduce the revenues for drug trafficking.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Healthcare Security

√Hospitals, clinics and other healthcare centers face a number of challenges from the disaster response/crisis management point of view. Patient care must remain paramount as areas are secured or evacuated depending on the response required. Patients may require protection from the crisis or they may in some cases be the cause of the crisis. Patients with mental health issues may try to injure themselves or others prompting a response action to mitigate the situation without escalation or the potential for the patient to be injured. Case in point, many health care facilities have some type of isolation room for mentally ill patients that have not been admitted yet. The room itself presents a challenge as fire codes necessitate the door to open inwards making it easy for a patient to barricade the door shut. A solution is a double hung door, the main door opening inwards to meet fire codes but with second door mounted within that opens outwards. The second door can be used be hospital staff to gain access to barricaded room.

The staff members likely to be entering a room under such circumstances would be the healthcare security officers. Security officers working in the healthcare industry face some of the most unique challenges of any security specialist. Hospitals and clinics must admit patients who may be in a variety of physical as well as mental states. In addition to suffering from various physical traumas, patients may be under influence of drugs (including alcohol) as well as suffering from some mental illness. Security officers have to be able to minimize the risk to healthcare providers and staff without interfering without adversely effecting patient care.

Patients present the most obvious challenges but the threats don’t stop there. Distraught family members, jealous spouses, angry acquaintances are just some who may show up at the hospital with less the noble intentions. Security personnel have to be able to respond without disrupting other critical functions of the healthcare facility. The security staff may face a disgruntled current of former employee who wants to demonstrate their displeasure through an act of violence. Then there is the ever-present risk posed by the hundreds of visitors, vendors and contractors roaming through the facility at any given time.

Unlike other branches of security, healthcare security officers vary in qualifications and training from facility to facility. While this allows each facility to address its needs, it creates a challenge for officers looking to transfer and may lack the requisite qualifications thus resulting in reduced pay. The healthcare facility is challenged to properly recruit those with the necessary background to senior positions on their security staff. Yet many healthcare security officers, along with the International Association of Healthcare Safety & Security (IAHSS), are working to create standards for their officers on a state level.

We in Cincinnati State have launched a new Leadership in Healthcare Security Certificate to help in the creation of standards for officers in Ohio. The certificate is a 24 credit hour program that will allow officers to build on their IAHSS certification and earn a college certificate. The certificate course work counts towards the associate’s degree in Healthcare Security. By partnering with a local healthcare alliance, we are able to offer these courses on the hospital facilities. The partnership allows officers to go directly to class after their shift is completed. Officers from several major hospitals in the vicinity are expected to be able to take advantage of this unique opportunity.