Monday, December 31, 2007

Of text messages and avian flu

There have been two things in the news over the last few days of interest to those in the safety and security management career field. First, there was a story about how rumors about student’s alleged plans to commit suicide were spread via text messages over cellular phones. A student had in fact committed suicide several days prior to the incident in Augusta, Arkansas. Originally, concerned parents had contacted the school when it was thought a student was planning on a shooting spree. Police responded by conducting a search of the school with metal detectors. The search turned up no weapons but did start the rumors flying in earnest over the students cell phones. The text messages began to create a whole separate reality where 10 – 12 students had made a pact to commit suicide over the holidays, according to rumors. Panicked parents headed to the campus, and by 10 a.m. only 25 students remained at the 335-pupil elementary school.

Police in nearby Searcy called asking if Augusta police needed help, saying they had a report of a shooting at the school. Ambulances were diverted to the area. All of this of course because of students who claimed said they had received threatening text messages. On Jan. 7, the first school day of the New Year, school officials will institute a zero-tolerance policy on cellular phones. The school also plans an investigation into who caused the panic and promises to push for expulsions.

The story illustrates a very difficult challenge for the safety and security professional. There is no ability to determine the validity of a text message and if parents or students become panicked, you have to respond appropriately. Students may only be spreading urban legends or rumors they’ve heard in school without much regard to the accuracy of the information. Students have always spread rumors and it is only the advent of cell phones and incidents such as Columbine or more recently Virginia Tech that safety and security professionals are forced to take action. Even the merest hint of something going amiss can’t be ignored, the merest scrap of information may be all of the warning police or school officials may receive before a violent act occurs. Of course, the information may prove to be nothing more than a rumor. If discovered prematurely, the guilty parties can try to deny all knowledge of such intentions and may try to cover up any evidence.

Angry parents and school officials may not appreciate what they perceive as a false alarm in the event the potential attackers are never identified or prosecuted. What is often overlooked during such emotional times is that by preventing a potential attack, lives were saved. It is impossible to prove a negative (how can you show there was going to be an attack with no arrests?) but the opposite is far more grave should the indications of an impending attack be dismissed for a lack of evidence or credibility on the part of the source. Parents, school officials, security personnel and even students all need to be involved in identifying and reacting to potential violence before it occurs.

The last point is what concerns me about the reaction by the school officials in Augusta. A rumor got out over a technology that I suspect the majority of school officials there are uncomfortable with and instead of trying to use it to their benefit, they will completely eliminate cell phones. The unfortunate consequence of course is in the event of a hostage or shooter situation, students will have no means of emergency communication. It seems to be an overreaction to a situation that requires a comprehensive emergency response plan and not draconian measures of eliminating cellular phones. Students can still spread rumors after school via text messages and by traditional methods (such as notes and verbally) while in school. The problem isn’t the technology, the real key is getting students to understand an appreciate the gravity of the environment they now live in where such rumors cannot be ignored. Denying students a means of communication during an emergency or disaster situation seems to contrary to the best interests of the safety and security of the students as well as the school and community.

On a different note, four women in Egypt died in less than a week of H5N1 or avian flu. The women appeared to have been infected with the virus as a result of handling dead or diseased birds in their backyards. It wasn’t reported if the women were related or lived in the same area. The cases in Egypt bring up a disturbing problem, even though the Egyptian government has implemented a poultry vaccination program it is impossible to enforce. Over 5 million Egyptian households keep birds on hand for food and there is no way to positively identify and inoculate all of the birds. Humans will continue to be exposed to potentially sick birds as they handle them increasing the likelihood of infection. The close proximity of families in Egypt means the infected person will be exposed to other humans increasing the chance for the virus to mutate. Such a mutation could become a variant that is sustainable via human to human contact. If poultry inoculation programs are not able to be consistently carried out, then humans will continue to be infected by the virus and eventually it could mutate to a strain that could spread from human to human. While it may sound like crying wolf all of the time, it is important for those in the safety and security field to remain vigilant over avian flu and not become complacent merely because it hasn’t happened yet. A migratory bird could spread the disease or a traveler could be exposed to a variant of the virus that is communicable and the first case could appear somewhere where we least expect it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More Thoughts on Disaster Preparedness

FEMA Region X Administrator Susan Reinertson posted some excellent suggestions on preparing for disasters. She is responsible for coordination FEMA mitigation, preparedness and disaster response and recovery activities in four states in the northwest -- Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As such, she really understands the challenges the winter weather can pose (as was recently seen with the Dominguez family who were lost for four days in Northern California). The list is very good for families to prepare really for any time of natural disaster including floods, earthquakes or fire. The list includes:

  • Create family disaster communications plans - and schedule biannual practices.
  • Install smoke detectors, freshen batteries and mark your calendar for routine inspections.
  • Keep serviceable fire extinguishers in kitchens, garages, risk areas and autos.
  • Re-evaluate flood insurance coverage to make sure it is adequate to your current needs. If you don't have flood insurance, get some!
  • Consider back-up generators, but be sure to provide for safe operation.
  • Buy a NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Build Pet Disaster Kits (food, water, leashes, dishes and carrying case or crate).
  • Teach all responsible family members how to shut off water, gas and power in case of emergencies.
  • Stock emergency supplies for 72-hour independent action-and rotate stock to keep supplies fresh.
  • Stock or restock disaster kits for home, office and auto (first aid kits, food, water and prescription medications for 72 hours, extra clothing, blankets, flashlights).

The communications plan is perhaps one of the most important things you can do. In the event of an emergency, you need to be able to notify your family members who may be at work or at school. Cell phones and other personal communication devices allow for a quick text message to be sent letting everyone know what is going on. You need to have a plan both to warn family members of impending danger or to let them know you status should you find yourself in the middle of a disaster. Texting seems to be second nature to those under 30, if you are older you may find it difficult at first. Texting has advantages over a voice message as it is succinct and doesn’t require much bandwith. You can have pre-canned messages on your phone or you can use something like Twitter to forward one text message to all of your family members.

New batteries in your smoke detector and flashlights should be done twice a year at the minimum. Many experts recommend during around the time when we switch between daylight savings time and standard time. Even so, I bet any number of readers have flashlights with dead batteries or smoke detectors with batteries that are running out. Take the time to maintain these important pieces of emergency preparedness equipment. If you haven’t had to buy a flashlight lately, many now come equipped with argon or LED bulbs which are many times brighter than older incandescent bulbs. These can provide excellent emergency lighting. There are many excellent pocket flashlights with similar bulbs that produce amazing candle-power for their size. These lights are easy to keep on your person at all times.

Fire extinguishers are one of those ubiquitous pieces of equipment that you should have on hand but many do not. Make sure you have fire extinguishers at a minimum in your kitchen, garage and automobile. Check to make sure your fire extinguisher is current and easily accessible. If you have use a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym P.A.S.S. which stands for

Pull the pin

Aim at the base of the fire

Squeeze the lever

Sweep from side to side

Insurance, especially flood coverage, needs to be reevaluated from time to time. People tend to overlook their insurance as their families and possessions change. Not does this risk having too little insurance in the event of a disaster, it also may mean paying more than you actually need. Flood and earthquake coverage are two that many people overlook unless they live near water or around an active fault line. However, all homeowner should check to make sure their coverage is appropriate to their locality. Many who live in Southwestern Ohio, for example, don’t have earthquake insurance even though we live close to the New Madrid fault!

Back-up generators are always something to think about. Especially if you live in an area with an energy co-op, getting damaged power lines or transformers back on line take time. Homes with electric furnaces definitely want to consider back up power even if power outages are rare. If you do decide to have an back-up generator, make sure that it is regularly serviced and checked. You need to make sure the generator is fueled and ready for use on a moment’s notice. You will be surprised at the number of commercial properties that have back-up generators that are empty!

Regarding a NOAA radio, you may want to consider one with a hand-crank for power. There are several on the market but my choice is the Eton FR400. It is weather resistant and receives AM/FM radio, TV bands (2-12) as well as NOAA weather stations. It is relatively inexpensive and will allow you to keep up on news and other emergency messages during a disaster.

If you own pets, you certainly need to consider their needs as well. Keep an emergency supply of their food on hand as well as additional water for your pets. Develop a plan for how you will travel with your pet in the event you have to evacuate your home for another location. In the event of an evacuation, make sure you and the rest of your family know how to shut off water, gas, and power. The rest of Ms. Reinertson’s list was covered in an earlier blog. I would just recommend that you have the necessary prescription medication on hand BEFORE you need to evacuate and remember some medications require refrigeration. You can get a small travel cooler that plugs into you care cigarette lighter so you don’t have to worry about getting ice before leaving the area.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Soft Targets

Soft targets are an especially challenging situation for safety and security experts to protect. Soft targets are basically any facility or location that may be attacked by a terrorist but lacks the surveillance and security systems to be considered hardened (such as a military base or nuclear power plant). The recent shootings in Omaha and Colorado Springs brought all of this to mind the other day. We have been so focused on protecting targets of national significance (Wall Street, the Hoover Dam, the Statue of Liberty, the Sears Tower, etc.) we tend to overlook other targets of opportunity for a terrorist to attack. To illustrate my point, allow me to use the city of Dayton which is about 50 miles north of Cincinnati with a population of around 160,000. At first look, it doesn’t appear to be much of a target for a terrorist with its relatively small population and distance away from a major metropolitan area such as Chicago or New York. However, there are many reasons why Dayton (and other small or medium sized cities) could become the next target for a terrorist attack.

Dayton hosts several festivals in its downtown area around the Five Rivers MetroPark each year. Thousands of people stroll along the streets and river during the Spring and Summer months walking amongst city streets that have been blocked off. Such a large mass of people out in the open and defended by a relatively small police force could be attacked with any number of chemical or biological agents. The terrorist motive of course is to induce panic so the weapon doesn’t even have to be a real chemical or biological agent as long as the populace becomes afraid and chaos ensues. Despite its small size Dayton has two major universities, Wright State University to the east and University of Dayton located immediately south of the downtown. The combined student enrollment of the two universities is over 20,000. Colleges and universities are designed to be open and thus are especially susceptible to attack. We saw earlier this year what one lone gunmen can do at Virginia Tech, it would not take much to launch a more concerted effort to produce even higher casualties at either of the Dayton campuses. The would-be terrorist need not be successful in executing the attack in order to be effective. The fear and panic caused by what MIGHT happen could seriously cripple university life for many weeks. Many cities such as Dayton have a minor league baseball team. Fifth Third Field (there is also a ballpark by the same name in Toledo) seats over 7,000 fans and is located just north of the downtown. It would not be difficult to fly a small aircraft either over the crowd (with the intent of dropping some type of weapon on to the field) or to actually fly the aircraft into the stands. Of course, I have intentionally left the biggest target in the Dayton area until last. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has a combined workforce population of over 13,000 according to latest U.S. Census figures. Many large military installations exist near small communities (Offut AFB near Omaha or Scott AFB near Belleville, IL come to mind).

The natural tendency is to assume the attack will be directed at the base. However, as most military installations are hardened with a highly trained security force and sophisticated surveillance systems other targets associated with the base are much easier to attack. Rather than go after the base itself, a potential terrorist may target a neighborhood with a large base population. Most base personnel have DoD decals (or other military decals) on their windshields making it easy to identify large concentrations of military families. Launching an attack against a neighborhood presents few deterrents compared to attacking a military installation. A frightening scenario related to attacking a neighborhood is to target a school with a large population of children whose parents work on base. It is not feasible to hardened either of these targets to the degree of a military base nor would most citizens want to live on a military styled compound.

What makes any of these attacks especially alarming is the size of Dayton. A quick search on Google shows only four major hospitals in the Dayton area (not including the hospital on Wright-Patterson). A terrorist attack that produces multiple casualties could quickly overwhelm the medical treatment facilities in the Dayton area. Fifth Third Field alone could produce several thousands casualties in the event of a terrorist attack during a game. The efforts for first responders to treat and transport all of the casualties out of the ballpark would take hours. The traffic problems could grid-lock the city for many more hours or even days. Merely the threat of an attack could create many problems for the city. Funding for homeland security is not sufficient to deal with all of these potential targets and Dayton has to compete with targets in the six other major cities in Ohio.

Department of Homeland Security, as well as other federal agencies, take the position that protecting soft targets is strictly a state or local responsibility. Those familiar with FEMA guidance for dealing with the avian flu know not to expect any assistance from agencies outside the state, basically each state will be on their own. Protection of soft targets in areas outside of New York or Washington, D.C. are in a similar situation, namely the federal government is not resourced to cover every potential soft target. Dayton and other similarly sized cities have multiple targets that could be the subject of attack, yet their national significance is such that little in the way of federal assistance can be expected. More than ever, cities like Dayton need to collaborate with other cities in developing strategies to best prepare and protect their residents from terrorist attacks. Local law enforcement agencies in conjunction with citizens are perhaps the strongest preventive mechanism available to a city. Police officers and the citizens they protect know who belongs in the area and who doesn’t. Citizens know when people in the neighborhood are up to suspicious behavior or activities. Building and fostering this cooperation isn’t always easy. In many communities relations between police officers and local citizens are poor. Even in those neighborhoods were police and citizens cooperate, there is still a stigma of “snitching” to the law or fear of retribution should they report suspicious activity to the police. Fire and EMS personnel are also becoming part of the eyes and ears of counter-terrorism. Exactly because they aren’t law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel may learn of suspicious activity which can they be used to prevent an attack.

All of this of course is pointless without a strategy to coordinate all of these agencies efforts along with a mechanism to share the information. Many states now have intelligence fusion centers to cross-reference information from multiple agencies within the state. The centers are an important step in creating an environment where information can be shared. The personnel in these centers are highly trained but even so are unable (usually) to add the local perspective to a particular report. Thus it is so critical to develop and enhance the cooperation at the local level between citizens and responding agencies. They are the ones who will first note a change in behavior or activity. None of this will matter though if the information isn’t used to help citizens prepare to deter or protect themselves from an attack. Virginia Tech did not have a strategy in place to quickly inform students that a shooter was on a rampage and such a strategy may have prevented additional deaths. Similarly a community has to have a way to communicate a potential threat exists and must communicate to the residents what steps to take to prevent or reduce the likelihood of attack. City officials of course may be reluctant to share information for fear of creating a panic and most likely this would occur if residents have not been involved with the process previously. There are many challenges to implementing a cooperative strategy between local government and residents on this level. The education and training to make this actually work would have to be well-planned out and continuous. There are many challenges to such a strategy and it may ultimately prove too difficult to implement in some cities. However, if the city officials accept the threat to their soft targets than in becomes a matter of principle and honor to do something about it. When you think about it, this isn’t much different than what Civil Defense was used for back in the 1950’s although this will be a much more pro-active model with the goal of not just surviving an attack but outright prevention.

Monday, December 17, 2007

National Emergency Responder Credentialing

The National Emergency Responder Credentialing System was recently published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The document establishes a baseline for 43 different medical and public health job titles most likely to be requested in the event of a major disaster response. The baseline criteria was developed by the Public Health/Medical Working group looking to identify relevant education, training, certification, etc. for medical and public health professionals to participate Incident Management System. The baseline lists the necessary Incident Command System (ICS) and FEMA courses required.

It should come as no surprise that professionals under the credentialing systems will be required to have ICS-100 (Introduction to ICS), ICS-200 (Basic ICS) and IS-700 (Introduction to National Incident Management System). In addition, individuals are to have training in basic HAZMAT Awareness Training. The baseline also goes on to identify, by job title, the necessary experience, certification and licensing required. The standards are to allow professionals to respond under mutual aid compacts which may take them into different states. Some positions have very extensive training requirements beyond the basics but no at least health care workers have some national standard to use for disaster preparedness training. The one omission that jumps out is the lack of a language requirement. Going into a neighborhood or an area primarily inhabited by non-English speaking residents adds another challenge to mitigating a disaster particularly when trying to administer medical treatment. It is still rare to find American born health care providers with proficiency in another language. In the Columbus area, for example, we have a very large population of residents from Somalia. Local exercises should identify language requirements and those most likely to respond should have identify some individuals with the requisite language skills.

The baseline follows the early publication of the National Preparedness Guidelines. In Section 4.7, Strengthen Medical Surge and Mass Prophylaxis Capabilities, these capabilities are identified as the first line of defense against bioterrorism, pandemic flu, and other health emergencies. Surge capacity in these terms means individuals with the highest levels of training and equipment. However, as these individuals tend to little depth to their ranks, they often are depleted after the first 48-72 hours of a disaster. Hospitals likewise are ill-equipped to handle large number of patients requiring immediate hospitalization following any type of incident. The increased possibility of a terrorist attack using some type of chemical or biological agent, or the increased possibility of a pandemic illness striking, increases the possibility that a hospital may be quickly overwhelmed by casualties. Hospital and other medical treatment facilities must be able to collectively handle different types of injuries, including physical and psychological trauma. While some hospitals specialize in treating burns, the number of cases facing their staffs at any one time is usually low. Imagine the flood of burn victims in the event of a refinery explosion. Surprising few facilities train for and are equipped to deal with any kind of injury due to exposure of radiation. Treating patients injured due to chemical or radiological exposure requires additional decontamination procedures for operating rooms and medical personnel that are not normally practiced (due to time and costs).

In anticipation of a mass casualty event that exceeds the capability of local hospitals, medical and public health professionals should conduct regular table top exercises to identify gaps in their capabilities. Hospital staffs s need to have practiced working with an influx of medical health care providers arriving from other facilities or even other parts of the country. Everything from familiarization with local procedures to room and food services needs to be planned out in advance. Such exercises take time and depending on the complexity of the exercise can be costly. A mass prophylaxis campaign, especially one in response to a biological agent or rapidly spreading pandemic illness, could quickly overwhelm local public health professionals. In order to bridge such a shortfall in staffing, it will become necessary to bring in additional personnel from first responders, non-governmental organizations and volunteer organizations. The sheer magnitude of such an effort cannot be conducted on the fly, these needs to be planned and coordinated well in advance of the outbreak.

Working in a collaborative environment is something that is almost alien to many medical professionals. Specialization requires years of training and concentration on one particular task or function. To start talking about a surge capability is to almost go back in time and have individuals focus on basic medical tasks (such as inoculations, taking blood samples, administering IVs) which many don’t practice in their daily routines. Medical professionals are also not immune to institutional biases that may prevent them from wanting to work in a collaborative environment. Hospital administrators may question such exercises or strategies sessions since it doesn’t produce any immediate return on investment. Of course in the event of a major disaster it is revealed the institution was NOT prepared, the financial liability could be huge.

The baseline contained in the National Emergency Responder Credentialing System is an important step in overcoming some of these challenges. It is still rare to see ICS or NIMS taught in the typical healthcare curriculum (and to be sure, adding courses on this material may increase time and expense that the students don’t have). Therefore it would seem to expose healthcare workers early in their academic careers to these topics and require refresher training as part of their continuing education. Most of the courses are available on-line through the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) or local community colleges. Many county emergency management agencies conduct ICS and NIMS training for first responders. They may be another resource for hospitals to insure their staff has the necessary training to respond to major disasters.

Proposed National Emergency Responder Credentialing System

National Preparedness Guidelines:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Civil Defense

While today most people associate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with disaster relief, one of the agencies that formed FEMA was the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. The DCPA Coordinated and directed federal, state, and local civil defense program activities, including fallout shelters; chemical, biological, and radiological warfare defense; emergency communications and warning systems; post-attack assistance and damage assessment; preparedness planning; and government continuity. Under President Carter, FEMA shed its civil defense role for a more aggressive role in disaster response. Almost 25 years later, FEMA became part of the Department of Homeland Security which is challenged with some of the same responsibilities as the former DCPA.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, civil defense was an effort to prepare citizens to survive a military attack. In many countries, civil defense is usually based around a fire brigade. Citizens became concerned about another sneak attack on U.S. soil after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1942 President Roosevelt created the Office of Civilian Defense (which in 1972 would become DCPA). Civil defense in the U.S. during WWII was conducted by volunteers who, for example, made sure their neighbors had their lights off during mock air raids. Thousands of chapters across the country were formed due to the exceptionally high sense of volunteerism that was focused on winning the war. After the WWII, it would have seemed that the reasons for civil defense would have been eliminated but this wasn’t the case.

The Soviet Union did not waste any time catching up the U.S. in detonating its first nuclear weapon. The Korean War was seen by many as a prelude to all out war with the Soviet Union. Civil defense evolved into preparing citizens for surviving and the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The Eisenhower administration distributed survival information and created a Federal Civil Defense Administration (later the Office of Civil Defense) to educate the public about protection. Survival literature was written primarily for a suburban audience since it was assumed that cities would be targets and most urban dwellers would not survive. Because Cincinnati was an industrial giant (General Electric jet engine manufacturing, Cincinnati Milacron machine tool, etc) and was located near Wright Patterson AFB, southwestern Ohio would be a likely bomb target. In addition to these targets, many Ohioans have only recently learned of the large part National Cash Register (NCR) of Dayton played in a super-secret project to build the machines that were used to break the German “Enigma” machine.

Civil defense is mostly associated with “duck and cover” movies used to train school children. Survival manuals stated citizens could emerge from fallout shelters after two weeks. Civil Defense suggested plans for these structures in basements, converted cisterns, or other below ground surfaces. Suggested equipment included air filtering systems, generators, chemical toilets, waste disposal bags, water storage drums, cots or beds, Geiger counters, portable radios, first aid kits, auxiliary escape hatches, and a variety of foodstuffs - including "survival biscuits". More elaborate family foxholes had heat and air conditioning units. Some owners of fallout shelters kept guns inside--to stop unwanted intruders or looters. In Cincinnati, private bunkers existed within the Village on Kugler Mill, Given, Redbirdhollow, Councilrock, and Indian Hill Roads. Some were architect-designed, but many residents simply kept a basement corner supplied. These were based in part on designs from the Federal Civil Defense Administration (as the Office of Civilian Defense was known during the 1950’s.

Cincinnati had plans during the 1920’s to build an underground subway system and hired a Chicago transit planner to design the system. Issues in obtaining the necessary right-of-way from adjacent cities (Cincinnati proper is surrounding by much smaller cities including St Bernard, Norwood, Elmwood Place) Two miles were finally constructed but no track was ever laid. Those familiar with Cincinnati can imagine the route that follows Central Parkway along the I-75 corridor up to what is now the Norwood Later. The line would have come back down to what is now I-71 and ending at Fourth Street. The tunnels came back into prominence as part of a civil defense plan to shelter citizens. It thought the unused subway tunnels in Cincinnati would make a perfect underground fallout shelter. In the early 60's the federal government saw fit to renovate a particular station and install various items of equipment - toilet facilities, water facilities, heating facilities, etc. -so that it could be utilized by federal personnel in the event the need was necessary, and also, for both the county government and city government in the event of a disaster situation involving fallout. Government officials would assemble in the shelter facility and direct activities.

By 1958, it was widely believed that the Soviet Union had a nuclear arsenal equal to that of the United States which caused civil defense to become even more of a priority. The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization under President John F. Kennedy, who believed in and advocated civil defense. The Cuban Missile Crisis, in October of 1962, resulted in a rapid, three-month program to improve civil defense. In autumn 1961, President Kennedy urged Americans to build the protective structures at the height of the Berlin Wall Crisis. Indian Hill's Village Council, noting "the wisdom of providing protection from radioactive fallout", considered establishing community shelters in both existing and proposed structures. The Miami Rd. Water Tower and Drake Rd. Elementary School were considered adaptable to house 600 persons each. The proposed I.H. High School and CCDS auditorium might be expanded (at $200,000 cost) to include basements to accommodate 2600 people. A Citizen's Committee reviewed the proposals; but, when it became clear that funding was not available, Council deferred action.

By the mid-1960's American's fears about the bomb lessened. As arms controls talks and a limited nuclear test ban eased tensions, plans for building additional public shelters were postponed, and builders received fewer inquiries for private ones. Shelters were converted to wine cellars, mushroom gardens, recreation rooms, or storage areas. The underground quarters that remain in the Village are relics of the Cold War era. Today civil defense is more commonly referred to as homeland security with more of an emphasis on surviving terrorist attacks versus nuclear attacks. While fallout shelters may no longer be relevant, the basic tenet of civil defense in preparing citizens to survive an attack is perhaps more relevant than ever.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Safety and Security Mindset

The last few weeks have seen an alarming increase in shootings. First a lone gunman at a mall in Omaha opened fire killing eight people. Then a week later, another gunman opens fire at a church killing two before being killed himself by a guard at the church. Here in Ohio we had a gunman in Columbus shoot someone at a mall in Columbus. What can we learn from these incidents other than man’s seemingly unlimited capacity to commit violence? The one lesson we can take away from all of these incidents (as well as other incidents occurring throughout the country) is the need to be prepared. Despite the coverage of these incidents on the national media, there are many still going about their daily routines as though this could never happen to them. People will leave their park their cars and begin walking to the store without any awareness about the potential threats surrounding them. The other week a man was robbed at the local Wal-Mart in the parking lot. The robbery was in broad daylight which can only mean the victim wasn’t paying attention or had dismissed the parking lot as a dangerous area.

People don’t want to think about the how dangerous an ordinary trip to the mall can become. These people may have worked out an extensive plan for surviving a disaster at their home but fail to apply the same security mindset when it comes to the mundane act of shopping. Every part of the trip needs to be considered from a safety and security perspective. Anything from breaking down in your vehicle to being faced with a shooter or bomb in the mall needs to be planned for. It is still rare to actually be faced with as being shot at by a rogue gunman or being trapped in a building where a bomb has just exploded. Yet these scenarios are becoming situations that can face you or one of your family members regardless of the locale. We assume that the owners of the mall or building will provide the necessary security and safety measures to prevent such things from happening. However, in both the mall shooting in Omaha and church in Colorado “gun free zones” had been established which in theory meant these should have been the last places to experience shootings. In addition to being gun-free zones, both the church and mall had security personnel on station and certainly the mall had surveillance cameras monitoring the common areas and parking lots. Despite all of these precautions, the owners were ultimately unable to prevent violence from occurring.

Both the Colorado and Nebraska shootings should serve as a reminder of how quickly you may be confronted with a life and death situation. There is no time to develop a plan once a gunman starts shooting into a crowd. You have to have a mindset which assumes danger could happen at a moments notice. You need to be aware of your surroundings to both determine potential threats as well as to locate areas that may provide protection in the event of an attack. Some may feel this is being paranoid but it is actually no different then assuming a defensive mindset while driving. Each vehicle presents a potential danger and you are constantly updating options for dealing with each new circumstance. The same can be done as you walk around a store, mall or other public gathering place. Take note of any unusual or suspicious activity. Don’t be quick to dismiss as someone else’s responsibility to deal with an unattended package. We live in a time when making generalizations about people and there behavior is off-limits as we may offend. Regardless, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore feelings about some character you’ve encountered, if they make you feel uneasy there is a reason. You may be subconsciously detecting their anxiety or hostility. Such feelings may be the only warning you get before the individual begins shooting or decides to detonate an explosive device. You need to think about how you will deal with a potentially unstable individual should you happen upon them before they have a chance to commit their act of violence. If there is time, notify security or the police. If there isn’t start yelling or throw something at the person, anything at all to disrupt their plans and to get others to notice them.

You need to be ready to assist in the event of an attack providing and aid or comfort that you can. First aid and CPR training may be the only thing keeping someone alive until rescue personnel are able to get to the wounded. Children and elderly may become separated from their family and become confused and disoriented. Try to calm and assure them until authorities are able to restore order and neutralize the threat. In the event of an explosion or some other disaster resulting in structural failure, people may become trapped or pinned under rubble. Simply providing comfort and assurance to those under such circumstances can be incredibly important. Structural failures can also mean being trapped without food or water for an extended period of time. There may be little to no light. You and other victims (who may or may not be wounded) will have to survive until rescue personnel can reach you with only those provisions within reach (which may be hardly anything at all).

Recent events occurred at malls and churches but of course an attack can occur any time and anywhere. We are experiencing our first wintry mix of weather this weekend in Cincinnati but before we know it the temperatures will be warming and people will be going out to festivals and amusement parks. Any public gathering should be considered as a place where violence can strike. We here so much in the news about terrorist organizations that we forget a single sociopath bent on causing harm is just as dangerous and much more common. Our ability to live our lives as we choose should never be compromised by such threats however it is only prudent to plan for the potential of having to deal with the next random shooting or bomb attack.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter Storm Preparations

As the Tri-State area prepares for the first snow storm of the year, it seems like a good time to review basics precautions you should take at your home, office and car. Snow storms can strand the unprepared individual without emergency food, water and necessary medications. An emergency stock of food and water at your home or vehicle can provide the necessary energy to survive being stranded in a snow storm. We don’t always think about water during the winter but with the lower humidity and heavier clothing, our hydration needs are even higher than normal.

Foods that don’t require refrigeration, water, special preparation or cooking are the best. Family members with special dietary needs or who have food allergies need are especially vulnerable to being stranded without sufficient food supplies. Canned dietetic foods (such as soup) can be a simple way of insuring sufficient nutrition for elderly or special needs family members. If you lose electricity during a storm, use your perishable foods first. Next use foods from the freezer. If power is lost for an extended period of time, food could be stored outside temporarily if temperatures are cold enough. Only after your perishables and frozen foods have been used up do you begin to use your non-perishable foods.

Loss of power or gas does not necessarily a loss of ways to cook food. Fireplaces weren’t always a decorative item, food used to be cooked in the fireplace. Camping gear or heavy cast iron cook ware can be used in the fire place to cook a meal. Another option is using a camp stove, however use such devices with caution in a properly ventilated area. Candles can be used to warm canned food. Another option is to stock up on the new military rations that use a chemical heater to warm up the food. Be aware though that while convenient, military rations have extremely high sugar and salt contents. The sugar is needed for energy required during combat operations and the salt is to insure a long shelf life. Despite these shortfalls, they are convenient and easy to store.

If you find yourself stranded, remember to eat at least one balanced meal a day. Drink enough liquid to insure proper bodily functions (approximately ½ gallon of water per day). Water is more versatile that stockpiling other liquids and is more easily used by the body during stress. Water and caloric intake may need to be increased in proportion to the amount of work you need to do to survive. It may also be prudent to supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals. The longer you are stranded, the harder it becomes to keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. Without fresh produce, your diet rapidly becomes deficient in vital nutrients. A multi-vitamin can keep you functioning until fresh produce becomes available.

In addition to ample food, you need to also stockpile water for you and your family. Most experts recommend having a two week supply on hand for each family member. This may not be practical so try to stockpile as much as you can. Purchasing bottled water may be the easiest way of meeting this requirement. If you decide to store tap water, be sure to use only clean soda bottles as jugs that held milk or juice will be teeming with proteins and enzymes that can cause bacteria to grow. In the event of your water supply is cut off, water heaters do offer an emergency source of water. If you are forced to get water from outside, there are several products available for purifying water. Having some water purification tablets or other products on hand could mean extending your ability to wait out the storm or other disaster.

You should also insure a proper supply of prescription medications are on hand. Snow storms can strand trucks supplies on the Interstate or cargo planes at airports for several days. A rush on the pharmacies could lead to a shortage of medications. Take the time to make sure you have a battery or crank radio on hand for getting news updates. If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to replace the batteries in your flashlights. Keeping candles or some hurricane lamps on hand can provide necessary light and some relief to cold in the event you lose heat.

For your automobile, make sure it has been properly winterized. You will want to make sure at a minimum that you have a working flashlight, blanket, shovel, a first aid kit, some protein or energy bars, and of course water. Road flares or chemical lights are a good way to call attention to you location or that of another stranded motorist. You can add other items but these basics will get you through being stuck on the side of the road during a major snow storm.

The predictions are for 2-4 inches of snow by tomorrow afternoon. Regardless of the amount of snowfall, the storm should serve as a reminder to review your disaster preparedness procedures both at home and at work. While some of what was discussed is cold-weather related, much is applicable to any disaster with the addition of only a few more items.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Improved Airspace Management

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday season prompted the President last week to reduce projected travel delays by allowing civilian airliners to use military air routes. The military routes are along the Eastern Seaboard (from Florida to Maine) creating a “Thanksgiving express lane” according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The President was prompted to take this unusual action in part because of the extremely high percentage of delays encountered at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The on-time arrivals at the country’s two most congested airports were less than 61 percent. The nature of the air traffic control system is such that a delay at a single large airport has a cascading effect throughout the rest of the country. The expected number of travelers for this Thanksgiving will be around 27 million despite increases in fuel and airfares.

The reaction by the President has been applauded by the airlines but really fails at creating a long-term solution to the problem. By adding civilian aircraft to military air routes, military aircraft responding to emergencies alerts will have to exercise additional caution in executing their missions. Military controllers will have to spend additional time and effort identifying aircraft that may be transiting military airspace. Military training missions may potentially be delayed or curtailed during the holiday season. None of these situations enhances the security of the homeland. The increased volume of air traffic is being created without a corresponding increase in the ability to safely monitor and track these aircraft. Additionally, any military aircraft responding to potential attacks or threats will have to waste precious time avoiding any civilian airliners traveling along one of their routes.

All of this could be palatable IF the lack of airspace were the real cause of the problem. Civilian airspace is managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which uses radar to observe and control civilian aircraft. Radar technology was first introduced by the British during World War II when it was discovered that radio signals could be bounced off of enemy aircraft. The bounced radio signals could be used to determine the location and heading of these aircraft. The basics of radar technology have remained the same despite improved technology. Early radar used for air traffic control would sweep (a term used to describe the rotational speed of the radar antenna) every 10 seconds. Approach radars sweep is every 5 seconds. With a modern jet airliner traveling at over 400 knots, and flight data for the radar updating only every 10 seconds, it becomes necessary to maintain a large separation between aircraft. Most civilian aircraft traveling under radar control must maintain a minimum horizontal separation of 2 nautical miles AND a minimum vertical separation of 5,000 feet. A near miss is anytime two aircraft come closer either vertically (altitude) or horizontally (distance) than these minimums.

The radar for controlling US airspace is woefully outdated. The radar system in place is pretty much the same system that has been in place since the 1960s. Aircraft are not truly controlled via radar either, aircraft are managed by their transponders. Transponders transmit a unique four digit signal (along with altimeter information) and are used in both tracking as well as collision avoidance. Newer satellite based technology exists which would give pilots far more accurate flight data than is presently available through radar and transponders. Safe distances between aircraft could be reduced as the satellite information would be constantly updated in real-time. However, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology is expensive and would require a major retrofit of both FAA control centers as well as the cockpits of airliners.

Instead of meaningful dialog about ways to fund a replacement to the antiquated radar system, we hear about how airlines are increasing staff availability. Instead of partnering with our allies on retrofitting cockpits with GPS technology, we see the FAA posting more data about flight delays. There is even talk of a congestion pricing plan to discourage travel at peak hours. None of these “strategies” deals with the heart of the matter and more importantly none of the proposed measures does anything to increase security of the homeland. If airliners switched to GPS, it would not only reduce the amount of congestion in the airspace but it would also give military aircraft a tremendous advantage in tracking hijacked aircraft. Air routes could be used more efficiently and congestion could be quickly routed around delays or weather.

GPS is only part of the solution. The United States has not built a major airport since Denver International Airport opened in 1994. As of the time of this writing, no major airports are planned for the future. The increased amount of air travel creates not only congestion but huge crowds of people that could be attacked while waiting for their aircraft to arrive or depart. It wouldn’t take much, a fuel truck crashing through the main terminal or someone infected with a communicable disease (smallpox) walking around the awaiting passengers. The damage from an attack would be increase many fold by people attempting to flee from the area of attack. The attack would create huge delays as the effects of the attack cascade throughout the country. Multiple delays would be encountered and thousands more passengers would be stranded. The U.S. needs to create a strategic plan for addressing the major causes of air traffic delays and stop wasting time tracking symptomatic data points. Unchecked, the problem is not only one of inconvenience but one that also increases our vulnerability to another terrorist attack.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Agroterrorism is the use of a biological agent against crops, livestock, or poultry. Some possible pathogens include anthrax, brucellosis or wheat rust. The impact to our food supply and economy could be grave yet agroterrosim has not received as much attention as other terrorist scenarios. In part, this may be due to a bias on the part of planners who tend to focus on highly-populated urban areas. Most homeland security and counter-terrorism experts live in these areas so their assessments are more focused on urban centers. Of course these urban centers are completely dependent on food being grown and produced in rural areas and anything that affects the yield will impact urban areas as well.

Cincinnati is surrounded by counties that still have large scale farming operations. The city itself was once the butchering capital of the United States until the rail heads in Chicago (along with refrigerated railcars) made the windy city the nation’s butcher. Many urban workers live out in these counties and pass by the fields and farms without much consideration as to the linkage between the fields and the grocery store. We had very little rain this summer and most people only associate that with the lack of color in the fall leaves. A more severe draught, such as that experienced in Atlanta, can result in far more dire consequences.

We have seen already what happens when produce or meat are shipped contaminated with E. Coli. There is a significant impact to food supplies (driving up costs of related food items) as well as companies face increased screening protocols and even possible litigation. So far, the cases of contamination still appear to be accidental rather than intentional but regardless our food supply remains vulnerable.

The farms in the U.S. are very large in comparison to farms in other nations. American farmers manage huge multi-acre complexes often scattered throughout the county. Coupled with modern farming technology, farmers can produce an amazing yield of crops with a relatively small manpower pool. Livestock and poultry mega-farms similarly use technology to manage cattle, pigs and poultry with few workers. The risk though is with so few workers moving around mega-farms, there are times when fields and livestock not under immediate view of a farmer or worker. The potential then exists for a pathogen to be introduced into the fields or the feed. A terrorist could spray a field by simply walking or driving through a newly planted field.

Grains present multiple points where a pathogen or poison could be introduced. Harvested grains are gathered into semi-trailers and hauled to massive grain silos located near railroads. These facilities can be extremely huge and are usually in remote parts of the county. There is a potential that a pathogen could be somehow introduced along these routes.

Fields and grain silos (as well as large stockyards or poultry farms) are not what most physical security experts would call “hardened”. Animals and machinery need to be able to move about the fields and complexes with ease. Farmers face a greater risk of vandalism or theft than from the introduction of some kind of biological agent into the food they are producing. Potential or perceived risk is low and therefore expenditure of scare funds on surveillance systems does not make a lot of sense.

A well planned attack on our food supply however could have dire consequences. The first and most obvious consequence would be the creation of fear about the food we eat. Even for those Americans that grown or hunt their own food, at least some staples still need to be bought at the store. If shoppers stayed away from certain items, we could face a huge economic collapse as farmers, food processing plants, grocers, and truck drivers would be impacted by the reduced demand. An attack that coincided with a natural disaster (such as a drought, forest fire or flood) could be a huge force-multiplier. An already diminished yield compounded by shoppers avoiding suspected tainted food could spell economic disaster.

There is no easy, cost-effective solution to a potential agroterrorism attack. Despite that, security professionals and agriculture specialists need to begin a dialogue on how best to minimize a threat to our food systems. Many communities already are beginning to have exercises and training sessions. It will not be an easy task as each region will have unique challenges and vulnerabilities. A regional approach though remains the best as utilizing the knowledge of individuals from those areas will be key to developing the best solutions. It also helps when planners have a vested interest in protecting their neighbors and friends.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The right to privacy?

The issue of privacy and ones right to it has been in the news lately. The second in command at the Director of Intelligence, Donald Kerr, made the startling proclamation that anonymity is gone and privacy is perhaps best understood as the rules and restrictions over what the government can do with information about you. The assumption here is that by going on-line you are consciously sharing information and therefore you should not (at least in his mind) find monitoring by intelligence agencies objectionable. Much of our “private” information is available through the Internet some now feel that anonymity, and therefore privacy, are already obsolete concepts.

Some may find it surprising that there is no specific “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional scholars have argued whether or not the omission is problematic. It is obvious that the Constitution does have an interest in maintaining certain aspects of privacy. For instance, the First Amendment is protection of private beliefs. The Third Amendment protects the privacy of the home from being used to garrison troops. The Fourth Amendment is protection from unreasonable searches. The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from self-incrimination, the closest to an actual right to privacy. In addition, the Ninth Amendment states that the "enumeration of certain rights" in the Bill of Rights "shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people." While none actually comes out and states a right to privacy, it is seems the U.S. Constitution was framed with many protections that were simply unheard of in European monarchies.

Why the deputy Director of Intelligence would risk making such a statement that seems to be unsupported by the U.S. Constitution seemed like a mystery until today. A story appearing on the National Terror Alert website concerns a woman who worked for both the FBI and CIA yet was in the country illegally. She admitted to using fraudulent documents to obtain her U.S. citizenship before going to work for the agencies. The case could spark a renewed call for increasing oversight of workers by U.S. spy agencies (whether they currently work for the federal government or not is irrelevant, they MIGHT become federal employees some day). The story goes on to mention how the woman conducted at least two illegal computer searches while a federal agent. Despite urges for caution, I can see where federal agencies will begin a renewed call demanding increased surveillance authority over individuals of interest.

A hurried approach to implementing additional authorities granting less restrictive surveillance has implications beyond just the federal government. Contractors providing services to the federal government may have to spend additional money screening their workers for background checks. Workers who previously had access to federal information may be subject to restraining orders similar to what intelligence analysts have to sign swearing to never, ever share any information. The costs associated with tracking and monitoring all of these individuals and their information could become quite high. The potential scrutiny of any individual at any time with no-notice could be quite alarming.

People now share personal information with amazing alacrity (sometimes this alacrity backfires when their files get sent to other than the intended recipient). A small lapse in judgment, an alcohol induced impulse, or a sudden bout of spite could result in information being posted that catches the interest of a particular agency. If the equipment used happens to belong to a company or corporation, the employers may find themselves equally culpable. Companies could end-up spending large amounts of their operating budgets screening and monitoring their employees behaviors even more in the future. In a related manner, the Scotts Company recently fired an employee who tested positive for tobacco. Scotts has a strict no tobacco use policy in place at its offices and manufacturing plants. However this individual claims he only used tobacco when he went home and never on the job. Scotts has maintained that its policy is in effect regardless. The case is still being reviewed at this time but shows how employers are now beginning to hold employees accountable for behavior outside of the workplace.

The potential for the monitoring of employees personal time poses a slippery slope. Governing behavior when an employee is not on the clock could damage a company’s ability to recruit a viable workforce. Inappropriately sharing such information with future employers or law enforcement agencies could jeopardize a company’s standing in the community and thus bottom line. Failure to share information about a potential risk could be equally disastrous to a company’s bottom line. The recent incidents involving toys containing harmful substances could shed some very harsh light if companies were aware of unsafe practices but chose to ignore them for whatever reason.

New York wants to give illegal immigrants the ability to apply for driver’s licenses. The rationale is it will make the streets safer as people here illegally will now have to pass a driver’s exam. I just don’t see how that is going to make the streets safer. A few years ago, we had a drunk driver arrested for the 19th time! He had long ago had his driver’s license suspended yet he still found ways to get access to a car. He was not deterred by not having a driver’s license. While I don’t see the New York initiative impacting safety, I do see the initiative tempting some officials or agencies with using that information to monitor individuals they may suspect of being potential terrorists. The potential for abuse is great and the return on investment miniscule.

Access to greater amounts of information does not lead to better decisions. At times, the expectation of having so much information can lead to a paralysis when there gaps in the information. We don’t need additional data sets to predict behavior. We need better trained analysts allowed to think outside the box without regard to convention or political expediency.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Railroad Hazards

A story appeared yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday about a new siren being installed to warn citizens in the event of a train derailment. The siren is the same type found throughout the state for warning people of dangerous storms and other hazards. The Columbus siren is unique in that from the start its primary purpose is to warn of possible hazardous materials from train accidents. The community has been pursuing a siren for ten years according the article at a cost of $25, 000. The city of Columbus partnered with Georgia Pacific (which operates the railroad in the vicinity of the siren) to acquire the new system.

The story reminded me of a railroad crossing in the town I live in. A few years ago, a woman was killed in her car at a railroad crossing. The crossing in on a two-lane country road and does not have a signal, only signs. The accident occurred early in the morning with a heavy fog. The investigators concluded that the driver never saw the train. The accident generated a local effort to have a signal installed at this crossing. Despite the efforts and the potential danger, it will take almost ten years to get a signal installed. First an analysis of the area needs to be done. It takes two to three years to gather the data and assess the type of signal that needs to be installed. It will then take several more years once the signal type is identified to find a funding source (it will cost around $15-25,000 in today’s dollars). I’m not criticizing the railroad or the process, merely pointing out the cost and time required to make things happen.

In the Tri-State area, there are approximately 190 sirens to warn people of storm and other dangers. Replacing just a single siren can run as much as $15,000. Most municipalities have to plan for such a large expenditure in future years as budgets are tight and surpluses are almost unheard of. Obviously a destroyed siren or one needing immediate replacement is eligible for emergency funding yet this still is a time consuming process. People need to be aware of their surroundings and that signaling devices may not exist or may be damaged. Normally, there is some advance notice about storms (such as weather reports) but trains are a sometimes overlooked hazard that may be right outside your door.

Railroads run almost in a parallel universe to the rest of the world. Modern trains move their huge payloads with a silence that belies their mass. Railroads make up a meandering river of steel dissecting the local geography and roadways. It is only when our travel along one of these roadways is blocked at a railroad crossing that we stop to consider modern trains. Many Cincinnatians for example would be very surprised to learn that the Queensgate Yard (which lies west of I-75 and Northwest of Downtown) is one of the largest rail classification facilities in North American. There are over 70 miles of track making up the yard which is over five miles long. Queensgate Yard railroad classification yard is a type known as a “hump yard”. The heart of these yards is the hump: a lead track on a hill (hump) over which the cars are pushed by the engine. Single cars, or some coupled cars in a block, are uncoupled just before or at the crest of the hump and roll by gravity into their destination tracks in the classification bowl (the tracks where the cars are sorted). These are the largest and most effective classification yards with the largest shunting capacity — often several thousand cars a day.

As trains bring cars into the yard, they are sorted and new trains are constructed and sent out. The amount of traffic in and out of the yard is enormous yet most people don’t even realize the magnitude of tonnage being moved every day. The yard doesn’t exist in a vacuum as several lines feed it from the North and South. Each of these lines in turns runs through various communities throughout the Tri-State area. Anywhere along these routes a derailment could mean a potential hazardous material spill. It is surprising at times to see how close railroads run near populated areas. Railroads do a very good job of tracking their freight and maintaining the rails however accidents still happen.

Safety and security professionals need to be aware of the hazardous a nearby rail line can pose. For instance, a security professional at a major corporation may need to consider how to lock down a building in the event a railcar carrying poisonous gas tips over. The public safety director at a retirement community may need to realize a rail line a few miles away could still be close enough to pose an inhalation hazards for the residents. A potential home buyers needs to look at local railroad maps to see where nearby tracks may pass. Trains carry huge amounts of payload, sometimes toxic, which could poison the air or water tables near your home. Community planners need to have evacuation procedures in place in the event of a chemical spill.

The big scenario for most safety and security professionals to strategize is how to handle the detonation of a dirty bomb in their area. The validity of such an exercise varies depending on the locality but there is a much more serious threat that exists. Nuclear waste is often moved by train (sometimes referred to a “glow trains”). For obvious reasons, the information concerning the movement of these trains is classified. Some assumptions though can be made. For instance, due to the high risk of these trains the routes most likely to be followed through remote areas whenever possible. On one hand, this reduces the risk of a radiation hazard in the event of a derailment. On the other hand, these smaller communities are less likely to have the necessary response training and equipment. It seems a more realistic training scenario than would be to train for a potential spill of nuclear waste rather than a dirty bomb.

To bring this all back to where I started, it is more imperative that safety and security professionals (as well as concerned citizens) are aware of the hazardous in their immediate area. Warning sirens and signals may not be available in all cases to warn of the dangers posed by a nearby railroad.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Dayton recently had a case of leprosy confirmed. The woman was only identified as a middle-aged immigrant woman. Leprosy is often thought of as a biblical scourge that is no longer part of the modern lexicon. Leprosy has not been eradicated and in the United States there have been 47 cases so far this year according to the Center for Disease Control. While certainly not a epidemic, the Dayton case should remind us how modern travel can quickly move a disease from a remote part of the world to another within a matter of hours.

The very fact that we are only a plane ride away from some very dangerous diseases gets overlook with talk about avian flu. Avian flu, or H5N1, is most likely to cause the next flu pandemic IF it ever mutates into a variant able to transfer from human-to-human. On the other hand, bubonic plague is endemic in isolated areas in the Southwestern United states. Human infection occurs if the person is bitten by a flea carrying the disease. Fleas get the disease from biting rodents infected with the disease. Although isolated for now, if an infected rat or flea got into a more populated area of the United States and outbreak would surely occur.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die. Each year 350-500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and over one million people die, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, 893 cases have been reported this year.

Ebola virus, or hemorrhagic fever, poses a unique hazard. Infections with Ebola virus are acute. There is no carrier state. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined. However, researchers have hypothesized that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal. After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions. An infected individual could board an aircraft and fly into a highly populated area before symptoms are noticed.

These are some of the more frightening diseases that could be transported via an unsuspecting human host. But as we have seen in the news our food supplies are vulnerable to poor hygienic practices resulting in recent outbreaks of E. Coli. As afar as we know, these were all accidental but that may not always be the case. Professor Larry Wein of Stanford University estimates an intentional attack on our food supply could result in 100,000 deaths. Milk and cattle are especially vulnerable due to number of people that consume these products as well as the openness of most livestock farms. For example, a cattle ranch in Kansas has 18,000 head of cattle. Their feed could be tainted with some type of toxin or the animals could be injected. Ranchers are taking this threat seriously and are beginning to protect their ranches and farms with new technology.

It stands to reason if livestock could be the targets of a terrorist attack, orchards or fields of produce are even easier to taint. With livestock the terrorist would have to introduce some type of toxin that would not immediately kill the animal or show signs of infection before it were slaughtered. Produce offers a greater ranged of pathogens that could be introduced that would not kill the vegetable or fruit. Large super farms have hundreds of acres of crops that are left largely unguarded. As most crops are washed before shipping, the pathogen would have to be something that is absorbed into the crop through the soil. Or as had happened already, the pathogen could be introduced at the packaging plant. Farmers and growers will have to become even more aware of the potential for terrorists to use their produce as a weapon. Safety and security for farmers is growing beyond simply worrying about vandals and thieves.

The intentional introduction of a disease or pathogen into our food supply may seem like the stuff of novels, however the threat is very real. Unlike other weapons of mass destruction, attacking our food supplies could be done with little risk of the terrorist dying before his or her mission is completed. Regarding diseases, if terrorists are able to recruit young people and convince them to become suicide bombers, then it does not appear to be a stretch to intentionally infect someone with a contagious disease. Imagine a terrorist purposely being infected with smallpox and then flying into a major airport. While there, he or she goes around and touches as many people as possible. It would be a low tech approach to committing germ warfare.

Cincinnati is blessed with a large number of world-class hospitals on both sides of the Ohio River. The cause for concern is not if doctors would be able to identify the cause of an outbreak but rather how long. Cincinnati has many direct non-stop flights daily with passengers arriving from around the world. What gets overlooked is the number of cargo flights that bring in food stuff from other parts of the world. Whether intentional or accidental, Cincinnati could be facing something far worse than an outbreak of leprosy

Friday, November 9, 2007

Illegal Immigration

The 2008 Presidential election finds candidates in both parties struggling with the issue of illegal immigration. The general consensus seems to be some type of either active measure (such as increased border security) to more passive measures (such as granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants). Earlier this year, the White House released its list of initiatives to improve border security within the existing laws. The White House listed 26 major initiatives under five major headings (border security, interior enforcement, worksite enforcement, streamlining existing guest-worker programs, improving immigration, assimilation).

There are some assumptions to most of these arguments that the presence of illegal immigrants makes us less secure. The majority of the active measures seem to be focused on the Southwest border with Mexico. It stands to reason that a porous border is a potential breech in our homeland security efforts. The solution by the DHS is to pursue walls, fences, increased Border Patrol agents, and new technology for monitoring the border. Anyone who has studied the Maginot Line (a line of fortifications constructed by France along its border with Germany and Italy after WWI) or other static defenses understands the ineffectiveness of fortifying our border with Mexico. Namely, a static defense can be defeated simply by avoiding it either by going around or under. The United States has spent a large amount of money and manpower to erect various barriers along the border in the most populated areas. The efforts to date though only cover a small fraction of the 2,000 miles that make up the border with Mexico. Aircraft and other surveillance systems are in-place (with more being purchased and deployed daily) to monitor border crossings. Despite this impressive amount of hardware and manpower, we still have people illegally entering the US through the border with Mexico.

The problem, in my opinion, is incorrectly framed as a security problem instead of an economic problem. The reason people are crossing the border is predominantly to work and not to commit acts of terrorism. Obviously if you are able to able to enter the country illegally to work, there is a potential for those with a desire to commit terrorism to enter the same way. I find this hard to believe though as the profile of a terrorist in the 21st Century tends to a young, well-educated male who is disenfranchised with society. It is this person who is most likely to be recruited by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. These individuals come from affluent families and the terrorist groups have good financial sourcing. It would seem unlikely and unnecessary for the terrorist groups to risk losing an trained operative during a failed border crossing attempt.

If the problem with illegal immigration is about economic conditions south of the border, perhaps a realistic approach would be to take away the economic incentives. Most talk along these lines is about penalizing U.S. businesses that use illegal immigrants. Such punitive measure fails to provide a disincentive on the Mexican side of the border and people will continue to cross. If we truly are concerned about illegal immigrants as a security threat then we need to stop them BEFORE they cross the border. People are willing to endure much if the incentives and perceived rewards outweigh the hardships. Creating more opportunities on the Mexican side of the border (and this means not just Mexico, but Central and South America as well) is the true way of stopping the flow of illegal immigrants.

I haven’t seen any serious discussions about creating more economic incentives on the Mexican side of the border. If more people could earn a decent wage in Mexico, it would reduce the incentive for people to cross illegally into the United States. Less flow of people may also reduce the likelihood of people wanting to smuggle contraband. The now forgotten war on drugs has attempted to prevent drugs from South American and Mexico from entering the United States for years. The incentives are just to great however to keep determined smugglers from by-passing law enforcement interdiction efforts. The same principle applies to illegal immigration, with no hope of earning a decent wage at their present location people will travel to wherever they can make a living for themselves and their families.

While we are on this topic, I'd also like to convey the situation concerning Latino gangs in a slightly different manner. Mara Salvatrucha or MS 13 has been portrayed in the news as the latest scourge posing a danger to the homeland. Certainly MS 13 is an extremely dangerous organization but the true origins of MS 13 gets little airtime. MS 13 members are mainly Salvadorans or Hondurans and thus it is assumed this gang was created in Central American and their members infiltrated the US. MS 13 was formed in the US penal system by Salvadorans and as the US deported these members back to El Salvador, MS 13 was able to recruit additional members and begin a campaign of terror in the homeland. (On a related note, West Coast gangs first came to St Louis as a result of sending juvenile offenders to correction facilities in Joliet. Kids learned the gang system while in prison and when they were released, brought the gangs to St Louis). Deportation of members out of the US seems to have the increased, rather than decreased, the influence and manpower of MS 13. The US has long been seen by Central and South America as indifferent at best and exploitative at worst. The practice of sending hardened gangs members back to El Salvador isn't helping improve that perception and might even be damaging our efforts at providing security for the homeland.

Before we spend additional dollars to hire more border agents or buy the latest high-tech detection platform, perhaps a better use of funding would be to engage with Mexico and Central America on some type of economic develop to reduce the conditions that encourages illegal immigration.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Banks

The Banks is a proposed 18-acre neighborhood district on Cincinnati's riverfront between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park. The Banks is Cincinnati’s attempt to create a vibrant destination on North side of the Ohio River. Over the years, Covington and Newport have successfully attracted the types of businesses on the South side that Cincinnati has longed for. The Banks has been planned for nearly 10 years yet the vision continues to change. The latest version envisions up to 1,800 apartments and condominiums, up to 400,000 square feet of retail space, up to 1 million square feet of office space and up to 400,000 square feet of hotel space.

Local citizens have weighed on a various concepts for the Banks. Most want some type of entertainment and leisure activity to be the primary focus. Of these, some type of sports-centric theme is the order of the day. Others see the Banks more as a created neighborhood with a style attractive to affluent residents looking for an urban lifestyle. Regardless of the vision, the Banks seems to finally be on track with ground breaking occurring sometime in early 2008 and occupancy beginning in 2009.

I had resisted about writing about the Banks even though hardly a day goes by without some news item in the local paper or news broadcasts. The concept has finally settled enough where I felt there was something of interest from a safety and security standpoint. While that is my area of interest, I’m somewhat skeptical that planners for the Banks will take some of these into consideration as they develop their final concept. I say that from a purely economic approach. The planners’ first priority is a development plan guaranteed to provide a return on investment. The look and layout of the Banks has to appeal both to developers as well as prospective residents and business owners. Safety and security concerns, while certainly not to be ignored, will be addressed only to the extent necessary to insure compliance without aversely impacting any return on investment. Any safety or security measure that means reduced revenue will most likely be discarded (unless laws or local codes compel otherwise).

The Banks will be situated between the two sports arenas downtown with the confluence of two major Interstates immediately to its north (Fort Washington Way) and the Ohio River immediately to the South. The geography means that at best, the Banks will only be accessible via three approaches (north, east, and west). Boaters may have access from the Ohio River but the majority of traffic will be land-based. Any east/west access is going to add additional traffic problems to the five bridges that cross the Ohio River near downtown. Access from the North will be very difficult with little room to design access due to the presence of Fort Washington Way.

Planners need to think through carefully about first responders access during a crisis response. The location does not lend itself to swift and efficient evacuation especially during peak use times. The Banks location means it will be exposed to any natural disaster or terrorist attack to adjacent sites (such as Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ball Park, or the downtown area). Residents in the Banks could find themselves stranded as a tornado or fire creates gridlock in and around their locality. A crisis in any of the adjacent areas means casualties within the Banks will most likely have to air evacuated out. (A helipad for medical air rescue helicopters would be a nice and easy addition to the grounds.) If proper egress routes are not planned during the concept stage, gridlock will be too severe for emergency vehicles to navigate in a timely manner.

It may not even take a disaster to make this point. Paul Brown Stadium seats just over 65,000 fans. Great American Ball Park seats approximately 42,000 fans. Getting out of downtown Cincinnati after a game lets out is a very slow process. It only takes one accident on a bridge or exit ramp to really start jamming up the traffic flow. If access routes to the Banks overlook these chokepoints (without coming up with a viable alternate) this could mean residents will quickly grow disenchanted with the Banks.

One of the major appeals to living on the river will be the view. The Ohio River begins at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at the Point in Pittsburgh, PA, and flows 981 miles to join the Mississippi at Cairo, Ill. The Ohio River accounts for over one-third of the maritime cargo moving inland in the United States each year, (approximately 275 million tons) and by comparison handles more cargo per year than the Panama Canal. With this much traffic, there is a potential for a disaster involving toxic chemicals or an explosion. In the past, the risk along the banks would be primarily industrial areas or office areas downtown. Now with a residential area that could be ground-zero, emergency response planners will have additional challenges to evacuating victims and casualties. Developers need to work with emergency planners now to minimize the risk to both residents of the Banks as well as the first responders that may have to come and rescue them.

Up until now I’ve focused on accidents and natural disasters, however there is an additional concern that the Banks poses for Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The very location and nature of the Banks makes it a target for a terrorist attack or the base for an attack. For the same reasons the Banks poses disaster response challenges, a terrorist attack (or threat of attack) could completely gridlock both sides of the river. In addition to the casualties, such an attack would disrupt major economic activities in the regions. Offices would have to evacuate and close. River traffic would have to be stopped. The Interstates may be closed or rerouted. The potential economic damage could be severe. Some kind of attack could be attempted from the Banks targeting either stadium or the downtown. Merely the threat of attack would cause the region to go into a defensive posture interrupting key governmental and economic activities. An actual attack could leave the region economically crippled for years.

The Banks could be the catalyst to providing Cincinnati the economic recovery that has eluded the area for years. Properly planned and executed, the Banks could provide the incentive for tired downtown workers to spend more of their leisure time in Cincinnati rather than fleeing to the suburbs at quitting time. However, the additional risk to the safety and security of Cincinnati posed by the Banks is something that needs to be addressed while concepts are still in draft form.