Sunday, July 26, 2009
Interesting choice given the news that H1N1 (swine flue) is likely to spread and cause 40 percent of the workforce to stay home. The impact of H1N1 is far more likely to impact Americans even if there isn’t an outbreak in the immediate area. A 40 percent reduction in the workforce means across the board, not just selected industries. Imagine if 40 percent of all truckdrivers being infected with the H1N1 virus. Food, fuel, medical supplies, toilet paper, lumbers, etc. would all be delayed as a result of just one sector calling in sick. Now imagine first responders, sanitation workers, school teachers, daycare workers, hospice workers, even pizza delivery workers all staying home at the same time. The effects will be cascading impacting more than just one or two particular job sectors. The effects would also be long-term as it will take time for workers to recover. Even if the worker isn’t sick, he or she may be forced to stay home to take care of a family member.
Yet the Department of Homeland Security is going after illegal aliens instead of assuming an advocacy role in having employers and communities dust off their continuity of operations plans. DHS Secretary Napolitano sounds like she is rehashing the old policies first espoused by the “drug czar”; the flow of drugs and weapons through the Southwest border is the scourge of society requiring all of our law enforcement efforts to focus on this area.
The “drug czar”, otherwise know as the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), was first established by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Twenty-one years later, cocaine and marijuana are still flowing through the Southwest border despite the reallocation of law enforcement and military efforts to stem the flow of drugs. DHS Secretary Napolitano’s efforts seem unlikely to succeed as well. It is already illegal for businesses to hire aliens without work permits or visas. Redirecting more law enforcement agencies will to this new initiative is the same as throwing a boulder in the river; the water merely adjusts course around the obstruction but the flow doesn’t stop.
The other problem with this direction is the number of DHS agencies that do not have a role on the Southwest Border. The Secret Service, US Coast Guard, FEMA and TSA have no direct border control role. The US Border Patrol and ICE are already focused almost exclusively on the Southwest border, what else are they supposed to do in response to Napolitano’s policy?
The Department of Homeland Security still has to identify a clear role for itself and seems to be more of a bureaucratic impediment than a coordinating entity. I hope President Obama reconsiders the role for DHS with an eye towards eliminating it altogether.
Friday, July 24, 2009
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Thursday, July 23, 2009
States are responsible for the preparedness of their agencies. I'm not sure what FEMA can bring to the table with the economy forcing budgets cuts across most states.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This week, the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate met with several of our nation's governors to discuss emergency preparedness and ensure that as many resources and plans as possible are in place prior to any potential emergency.
"FEMA is committed to protecting and assisting our states and citizens during disasters," said Administrator Fugate. "By working together and strengthening relationships at the state level, we can continue to build the national emergency response team which includes FEMA, as well as state, local, tribal and federal partners, the private sector and faith-based organizations. The work we are putting in now to build this team will go a long way during the next disaster."
This past Sunday Fugate addressed governors from across the country at the National Governors Association conference in Biloxi, MS, where he discussed how FEMA can best support the states and their citizens as we prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. While in Biloxi, Fugate met privately with Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as well as Iowa Governor Chet Culver. After returning to Washington, Fugate met Monday with Governor John deJongh Jr. of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Tuesday with North Dakota Governor John Hoeven.
The NGA meeting, as well as the individual meetings with governors, built on efforts already underway to strengthen the national emergency response team. FEMA's primary responsibility as a member of this team is to support governors and ensure that all members of the team work together to better prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies. As part of the meetings, Administrator Fugate stressed the key role the public plays in these preparedness efforts. The more Americans do now to prepare their families, including developing a family emergency plan, the more effective our response team will be.
Prior to this week's meetings, Administrator Fugate had already met with a number of governors from across the country, including participating in a video teleconference with governors and officials from over a dozen hurricane prone states on his first day as Administrator.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.
Monday, July 20, 2009
On the BBC News website, there is an article announcing that the UK threat level has been reduced from “severe” to “substantial”. It was raised to “sever” in 2007 and although the Home Secretary says there is still “a real and serious threat”, it was felt the intents and capabilities of terrorist groups were such the level could be lowered.
Reading this I was reminded that I couldn’t recall the last time our own Homeland Security Advisory System had changed. According to DHS, the last time the entire system setting changed was in January 2004 when it was lowered from Orange (High) to Yellow (Elevated). There have been changes for specifics areas (such as transportation and finance) since then but the system as a whole remains at Yellow.
The problems with such an advisory system are numerous. Each color is supposed to represent a different level of perceived threat; and what are you supposed to do?
A threat to a target in New York City means what to a fire chief in Cincinnati? If the level goes from yellow to orange, what steps are taken by which agencies (if any)? Can the required agencies afford to take any preventive measures? How effective will those measures actually be in preventing an attack?
Contrast the Homeland Security Advisory System with the recent Cincinnati Enquirer article stating the city manager is now facing a $28 million deficit. Basic city services will have to be cut, including police and firefighters being laid off. If daily tasks can’t be executed it seems ridiculous to expect these same agencies to react to an elevated threat level based on a threat to an area outside their jurisdiction.
The news of late is focused on the increase prevalence of swine flu, the political unrest in Iran as well as their burgeoning nuclear program, and the North Koreans desire to shoot a missile at the Hawaiian Islands. These events may or may not present a threat to American citizens but the current Homeland Security Advisory System would not react to these events as they are not “terrorist” related. While there had been some discussions under the Bush Administration to label North Korea and Iran as part of an “axis of evil”, this seems to have fallen by the wayside.
The above events point to another flaw with the DHS advisory system, it focuses only on terrorist events. Unless a “terrorist” group threatens the United States, then the system remains unmoved.
I think the current system should be abandoned for it really doesn’t give a true assessment of what is going on in the world. The State Department is perhaps in the best position to assess situations for Americans travelling or living abroad. Local law enforcement, in conjunction with the regional FBI office, is in the best position to determine local terrorist threats. It is impossible to establish one national system for a country the size of the United States. It can only be concluded that the Homeland Security Advisory System was for public relations and not really a tool for local community leaders to use.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The other day I was in a meeting (something I had hope to give up once I retired from the military) discussing ways to improve communication at the college. I will spare you the gory details, suffice to say many suggestions were proposed but nothing was really decided.
I remained silent throughout the meeting more out of curiosity than a lack of input. It was illuminating to watch a group of educated professionals, most having at least a bachelor’s or even master’s degree, shout out ideas only to have them shot down by another colleague. The phenomenon was amazing, without realizing it all members were insuring the status quo remained.
One member of the group congratulated the rest of group for being on the right track but strongly suggested a survey be conducted before we went any further. The group had already agreed on a relatively simple project to demonstrate this wasn’t going to be another committee that was just going to sit around and talk about things. I’ve always felts surveys a fraught with errors. The question may not solicit the information that you think it does. The audience may not understand the purpose of the survey, should they even chose to answer it. The results are always subject to who received the survey, meaning a particular section may have been overlooked. Finally surveys lack the ability for a dialog to be established between the audience and those conducting the survey. I’m not saying surveys are bad just there are some significant limitations.
I started dwelling on this more and it occurred to me that the desire to have a survey before we went any further was a product of the consensus –building mentality that has permeated since the 1980s. Consensus building (also known as collaborative problem solving or collaboration) is a conflict-resolution process used mainly to settle complex, multiparty disputes. On the surface, consensus building seems to be the epitome of inclusiveness allowing all members to have a say in resolving a problem. To some degree, consensus building is an excellent tool so long as the group consists of more or less equals who posses the same understanding of the problem. For instance, using consensus building to improve the process for taking over the phone orders would be an excellent use of this tool. However, using consensus building to write a strategic plan for the organization that reflects ALL of the employees might be overreaching. Not all of the employees have a strategic view of the organization. Yes, the consensus-building gurus will argue that it is exactly these people that need to be included but that ignores the fact that in every organization there are some that resist change. To me, consensus building becomes a watered down substitute for leadership.
Leadership was lacking in our meeting and I don’t mean from the group but rather from the college. No one was given the authority to act on a recommendation therefore the fallback was to rely on consensus built through a survey. Modern Western society has grown extremely thin-skinned. The overarching concern is not to move ahead but to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Look at our political process, no one is question abilities but instead focusing on how they feel left out or injured by the particular individual in question. Sonia Sotomayor may or may not become the next Supreme Court Justice because of how she did not follow consensus building in her decisions.
Officers in the United States military are required throughout the careers to attend professional development courses where we read about great military leaders of the past. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Shaka Zulu, Grant, Patton, MacArthur…the list is endless of great leaders that did not worry about consensus. They understood what needed to be to achieve the goal and pursued it without hesitation. Think about Shaka Zulu, the great Zulu warrior who lead his nation against the greatest modern army of the time, the British. Consensus building would have deterred them from engaging such a technologically superior foe. Yet he not engaged the British but defeated them with a less technologically advanced force.
Modern Western society is heading to the point of becoming incapable of acting decisively anymore. The Chinese are focusing all of the efforts towards the next super power. They aren’t looking for consensus from their citizens or neighbors, they are going through with their vision. India is also attempting to ascend into the void left by the former cold war but in my opinion finds itself mired in the bureaucratic legacy leftover from British Imperialism. Iran is attempting to regain its former Persian dominance. Venezuela realizes there is an opportunity to unify South and Central American countries and is doing it without regard to how its actions may be viewed by others. I’m not saying their intentions are just, only that they are moving ahead without worrying about surveys or consensus.
I’m reading a book now about General Grant. He took heavy losses during the battles of Shiloh, Cold Harbor and Vicksburg yet he persevered because he knew what it take to win over the Confederacy. By and large, he did not receive favorable reviews even from President Lincoln but in the end he was the only general to be able to execute a successful campaign and ultimately win the war. In the modern age of consensus building have we lost the ability to accept certain consequences in the pursuit of a greater good? In short, where are the leaders?
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
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The radio talk shows were abuzz about this the other day. According to the hosts, Powell can't be a Republican for he endorsed a Democrat and now questions that same Democrat's policies. So much for political discourse in our country. I've refrained from commenting on politics except as where it impacts homeland security or emergency management. I'm making an exception here. I am sick of the talking heads trying to fill air time over this subject. I have tremendous respect for Colin Powell, first as a the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then as the former Secretary of State. He brought brought a noble resolve to some of the hotheads he had to work with. The conservative, Republican pitchmen (and women) all want Colin Powell to be just like them. Well he isn't. He is widely respective by both blacks and whites and until last year, was widely thought to be the frontrunner to become the first black president in history.
Powell's critics are all white and as such fail to understand why he had to endorse President Obama. The election of the first black president transcended political parties and agendas. The first black president being elected was extremely important to all people of color in this nation. Not since the civil rights movement has anything of such magnitude occurred in the modern era.
Forget all of the political posturing for a moment. Forget the non-sense about "well Presdient Obama is only half black". Forget about his economic policies. Forget political dogma. The United States, a nation that enslaved black people and then segregated them from society, finally elected a black president. If you can't understand the significance of that then you can't understand why Colin Powell could not stand to look at himself if he did not endorse President Obama. Failing to support President Obama would not only have been a personal disgrace to him, it would have been a disgrace to all of his ancestors.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Malone character was getting Ness to understand that once he decided to go after Capone, he would have to go after Capone without any reservations. In reading books about disaster preparedness, most talk about physical preparations (stockpiling food and medicine, back-up generators, etc.) yet few ever address the mental preparations one must undergo to survive a disaster.
An exception is the book “When All Hell Breaks Lose” by Cody Lundin. He is one of the few authors writing about disaster preparedness that talks about how surviving is more about your mental outlook versus physical preparations. Mr. Lundin talks about how the first step towards surviving an event is deciding that you ARE going to survive the event. Sounds simple, right?
Think about Katrina and how many residents did not decide to evacuate until it was too late to evacuate. Most will argue that those people were let down by the government who failed to tell them to evacuate in time. If you stop and think about that for a moment though, doesn’t that mean they had not decided to take their survival into their own hands? The people who did not evacuate were waiting to be told what to do; they had not made up their minds to survive.
Well of course they wanted to survive, didn’t they? Yes but they had not made up their minds to survive. In USAF survival school, you are taught to first overcome your fear and then decide on how you are going to survive. You aren’t going to be told where to go or how to survive; you have to figure that out on you own.
The economy and outbreak of H1N1 has caused people to start carrying around their own supplies of Tamiflu and breathing masks. I guess running around with their own personal formulary makes them feel prepared. But who is going to tell them when to take the Tamiflu?
Waiting to be told what to do is similar to students who read course materials without understanding how or when to apply it. The have the physical materials but are waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Modern technology has removed some of the need to figure out what to do next. Cars now tell drivers when its time for maintenance. Your computer software tells you when it’s time for to update.
In order to survive, the best tool you can possible have requires no batteries or instructional manual. You aren’t likely to leave it at home or back in your office. The best survival tool is your brain and you willingness to survive. Regardless of the situation, a determination to survive will take you further than the latest survival technology.