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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Perceptions of Risk

I was reminded of this topic last week while attending a state training council meeting at the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. A county director lamented how national response scenarios are geared around major cities such as New York or Washington D.C. and have little in common with what most counties in Ohio face.

What the director was getting at is a two-way communication process that identifies consequences that matter to the stakeholder. A dirty bomb is of concern to planners in New York but has little meaning to county planners in Southeastern Ohio. The same principle applies whether you are in the private sector or the public sector. Risk has to be perceived through a credible message. For the public sector, the challenge is to inspire confidence in the message being sent. This becomes difficult in the event warnings are sent out about attacks that do not come true (regardless of the reasons). For the private sector, the challenge is not to be perceived as putting their own personal interests ahead of their stakeholders (which could be investors, customers or the public at large). Regardless of the sector, a consistent and believable message about risk is essential to getting the stakeholders to recognize it.

While this post is about risk, it is also about communication. The communication platform for informing your stakeholders (whether citizens, customers, or board members) needs to be concise and informative enough so that the necessary choices can be made. Think about an order to evacuate a building that is on fire. People will understand the risks and will usually follow orders rationally. Shareholders will support the expenditure of funds to reduce risk at the work center if they understand the communications. They will act rationally however if the communication is unclear or imprecise, the will act irrationally and not provide the necessary funding. Actions are both the result of the information being communicated as well as how it is being communicated.

The risk facing an organization or community must be credible and understood by the majority, otherwise support for recommended courses of action will not be generated. People’s desire to spend on means to avoid risk is directly proportional to their perceptions of how likely that risk is to occur. As we move further away from 9/11 there is a tendency to feel this risk is less likely to occur again. Any expenditures of funding or effort must result in a reduction of risk otherwise stakeholders will begin to doubt the message.

Withholding information is a natural tendency when the facts still aren’t well understood or the situation is still dynamic. Officials at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant tried this tactic with disastrous results. In a similar vein, it may be tempting to dismiss or trivialize the concerns of stakeholders. Concerns of stakeholders should be treated with respect and not condescension. Other times there may be a desire to manipulate fact to exaggerate facts or magnify risks to advocate a specific course of action by the stake holders. The Bush administration is still reeling from claims of weapons of mass destruction that justified the invasion of Iraq.

Reports are now beginning to surface that Al Qaida may be in a position to oust Pakistan's Musharaff and thus gain control of nuclear weapons. The United States has to evaluate the risks posed by this possibility. Musharaff may lose power but Al Qaida may not necessarily ascend to power. If Al Qaida does ascend to power in Pakistan, their primary concern will be to maintain power which does not automatically mean threatening the US with a nuclear attack. If an attack seems possible, certain targets will be more vulnerable than others. The DHS and Department of Defense will have to collaborate on intelligence estimates to provide the President and citizens alike with a credible risk assessment. It remains to be seen how well DHS will provide the necessary information to the public.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Real Concerns about REAL ID

“Passed by Congress in 2005 and recommended by the 9/11 Commission, the REAL ID Act requires states to create tamper- and fraud-proof driver's licenses. Each would contain a digital photograph, a digital signature, and a machine-readable bar code. Before issuing a license, a state would have to verify that an individual is a US citizen or has a valid foreign passport and visa. That information would have to be cross-checked against other states', Social Security, immigration, and State Department databases. The intent is to make it much more difficult for a terrorist to get access to a driver's license that could be used to board a plane, as most of the 9/11 hijackers did.

Under the original proposal, the citizens of states who fail to meet the REAL ID standards would not be able to use their state driver's licenses to board planes or enter federal buildings.

Homeland security experts say such a standardized identification system would be helpful in maintaining security. ”

The above appeared in today’s on-line version of the Christian Science Monitor. My first reaction is how can this expense be justified? The cost of implementing REAL ID which, according to the article, is going to be $14 billion! The price tag is just the federal government side of implementation, this figure does not include the cost to the state governments that will have to provide data to for REAL ID to be effective. The cost to the thousands of businesses having to purchase the proper hardware and software to read REAL ID cards isn’t know but will be very high (especially for smaller businesses). All of this cost to prevent people from using false identification to board airliners under false pretenses. I want our airliners to be a safe as possible, yet the economist in me balks at the exorbitant price tag for a dubious increase to our safety and security.

The amount of data bases that would have to be cross-referenced to properly implement REAL ID is dizzying. Federal, state, county and local systems would all have to be coordinated to provide the necessary compilation for a national ID (at least if you want to do it the right way). One data error in the stream could result in someone being unable to get a driver’s license or fly home to see their families during the holidays. My experience in these things makes me leery about how quickly errors could be detected or corrected. Again, we may be setting up additional disincentives to fly without even realizing it.

The biggest hurdle to implementation, and the reason 38 states so far have introduced legislation opposing REAL ID, is the cost to the states. Ohio’s unemployment rate was 5.9% back in September compared to the US average of 4.7% for the same time period. This means Ohio is not exactly resplendent with tax revenues to pay for the costs associated with REAL ID. States are required by the REAL ID Act (and recommend by the 9/11 Commission) to create tamper- and fraud-proof driver's licenses. The state budget has been stagnant for the last few years and the emphasis has been to revitalize education. I don’t see how Ohio is in a position financially to pursue such a costly retrofit to the state driver’s licenses. Before issuing the license, the person’s information would have to be cross-checked not only with other Ohio agencies but also other states databases. Citizens of states that do not meet REAL ID standards will not be allowed to use their driver’s license to board aircraft (the backlash from this initiative has in part caused DHS to extended the implementation date to 2013).

All of this to prevent one type of terrorist attack. Anyone who has studied military actions or the martial arts knows that the enemy responds to your actions. Since 9/11, a majority of national efforts seemed only to focus on a similar used of a passenger jet. Most likely, the next terrorist attack will take advantage of some other gap in our security. Focusing $14 billion to assure only one type of attack is adverted just doesn’t make sense.

Cargo carriers could be used instead of passengers for instance. These are the same type of jets used to attack the World Trade Centers and Pentagon yet they normally only have a two man crew on-board. A potential terrorist would have to deal with less contingencies is hijacking one of these jets. Cargo carriers tend to operate from less populated airports so security may not be as robust as at a passenger airport. (I’m very cognizant of this as DHL has a major hub not that far away from my house.) Security has not been emphasized with cargo carriers to the degree it has been with passenger jets yet these aircraft are just as lethal.

We seem to be fighting the same scenario over again with REAL ID, namely the attack of a major metropolitan area with a commercial passenger jet. No one seems to consider the real possibility the next attack won’t resemble 9/11 at all. For instance, Cincinnati has two professional ball teams (the Bengals football team and the Reds baseball team) both with large outdoor stadiums. It would not take much for a would-be terrorist to ram a small Cessna into the crowd. Small aircraft are all over the Tri-State area mostly at small airports with little or no security. They can fly below radar and be upon the stadium with little warning. Granted the destructive power may not be the same as a commercial airliner but for sheer terror this is a real possibility due availability and the openness of professional outdoor stadiums.

I’d rather funding be identified and spent on regional assessments with recommendations for preventative measures than on a national ID with little hope of preventing the next attack.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

College emergency response plan

Back in April, a student begins a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech leaving 33 dead. Six months later, another student goes on a shooting rampage in Cleveland leaving four dead (including the shooter). As a faculty member at a community college, and one that studies safety and security management for a living, dealing with a similar situation at our own school is of particular interest to me.

Let me say up front that I do not believe there is any way to 100 percent prevent a student or disgruntled employee from entering a college with malice intent. By their very nature, colleges have to have an open architecture meaning that they are not designed to be fortifications. In comparison, high schools and elementary schools have the advantage. It is much easier to differentiate between students and non-students. Colleges on the other hand do not have that ability.

Age is not a factor that can be used to distinguish between students, faculty, and staff. Due to the nature of colleges, it is impossible to determine who is actively teaching or attending courses versus a former student or faculty member. Colleges are designed to be places of learning and encourage anyone interested in learning to use their facilities. Classes are taught throughout the day so it is not unusual to see people idly sitting around at all hours.

Time and appearance then are unreliable factors for determining who may not be on campus legitimately. Belligerent behavior or outright hostility in the classroom or workplace may only be known by a few. Some faculty or administrators may feel uncomfortable about sharing any negative information about a student or staff member’s behavior for fear it may violate HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or other privacy protections laws. If a disgruntled employee is furloughed or terminated, protection laws or collective bargaining agreements may prohibit any information from being broadcast to the rest of the staff. If this person then later shows up on another part of the campus unfamiliar with their behavior, no one may be in a position to realize the potential danger.

There are two simple steps to help minimize this danger. First, all students and employees should be required to display their ID badges at all times. Many schools already have this practice but a surprising amount don’t. All visitors (such as contractors, vendors, and maintenance personnel) should be given a visitors badge of some kind. A simple but effective step in determining who has legitimate business on campus and who may have just strolled on (are getting ready to stroll off).

The other step requires staff to learn how to properly challenge someone who is not displaying their ID. Even on military bases, I’ve watched personnel walk right by someone who isn’t displaying the appropriate identification. Asking a simple question such as, “Who are you looking for?” can alert people to a potential threat. I recommend that even if the person gives a name and reasonable explanation for their presence, offer to escort them to their destination. You can judge their behavior as you get to the right office or building. If their arrival is expected, then great but if no one seems to know anything it might be time to alert your security personnel.

Staff and faculty should know what to do in the event of a shooting or hostage situation. Personnel should know how to evacuate or secure their area. At our college, they are beginning to install sliding bolts on the classroom doors to allow faculty to barricade their class in the event of shooting rampage. But staff and faculty need to know what to do should they find themselves away from their office or class room in the event a situation erupts. Faculty should always brief their students on the first day of class how to evacuate the classroom in the event of an emergency, where they will assemble, and what to do in the event of different situations. Each new employee should be trained on evacuation and other emergency procedures.

Emergency response plans have a habit of becoming artifacts sitting on the bookshelves of deans and departments heads. Faculty and staff personnel need to be well versed on procedures and have actually had a chance to practice them. It is amazing that grade schools and high schools have regular fire drills but often at colleges these are neglected. Each division should have its own separated plan that addresses unique needs of the department. A reporting structure should be identified in advance to make sure all employees and students are accounted for.

Consideration needs to be given to faculty and students that may have mobility or other health problems that would prevent them from getting out of the building quickly. Faculty and students need to think about grabbing their coats on cold days. College emergency response plans need to consider the needs of individuals with heart problems or diabetes, they may not be able to stay around in the cold while the emergency is being dealt with.

A notification plan should be constructed to contact family members in the event of a major crisis (such as an explosion or shooting). Employees should be encouraged to develop plans for picking up young children from daycare or school in the event their parents are dealing with an emergency at the college.

Each division should understand the college’s public relations plan. During a crisis, reporters can (and will) approach the first faculty member or employee they may encounter for a quote. Now is not the time for the person to seem unprepared or stumbling for answers.

The college and divisional emergency response plan needs to identify what counseling services will be available in the event of an emergency. Identifying this in advance will help reduce time getting help to survivors as well as show the college as being proactive in taking care of students and employees.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Secure Flight

I’d like to thank John Bowen who is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Preventive Strategies for the welcome on his blog, Hometown Security (!

Greater Cincinnati International Airport (the ICAO is CVG) is actually located across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky. It is, by most local news accounts, the second largest hub for Delta airlines. In theory, that should mean flyers in the Tri-State enjoy cheap or at least competitive airline fares. However, fares out of CVG are some of this highest in the nation since Delta more or less has a monopoly at the airport.

I was reminded of this while reading Secretary Chertoff’s blog this morning on Secure Flight which is designed to conduct uniform prescreening of passenger information against federal government watch lists for domestic and international flights. Currently, air carriers are responsible for checking passengers against government watch lists.

Under Secure Flight, TSA will receive information for each passenger. TSA will then determine any matches of information with government watch lists and transmit matching results back to aircraft operators. Secure Flight will match limited passenger information against government watch lists to identify known and suspected terrorists, prevent known and suspected terrorists from boarding an aircraft, facilitate legitimate passenger air travel, and protect individuals' privacy. Secure Flight will:

- Identify known and suspected terrorists;
- Prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft;
- Identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening,
- Facilitate passenger air travel by providing fair, equitable and consistent matching process across all aircraft operators; and
- Protect individuals' privacy

Delta flies many non-stop overseas flights from CVG. Cincinnati does not have the high profile of say Laguardia or JFK airports in New York or Logan airport in Boston. Therefore suspected terrorists may be inclined to fly into one of the smaller airports, such as CVG, to minimize exposure to screening. Secure Flight then should be a great advancement in providing higher levels of security and safety at our airports.

I remain skeptical though based on my years of using various data bases for intelligence analysis during my years in the US Air Force. The very first bullet for Secure Flight, “identify known and suspected terrorists”, is a recipe for failure. I say that since any system is only as good as the information that is fed into it. People are not the same as military installations or equipment. Overhead reconnaissance can easily confirm or deny the presence of a new base or the movement of military equipment.

Successfully identifying a terrorist requires human intelligence. The source of this information relies on a plain old carbon based life form rather than piece of technology. He or she has to get close enough to the target to understand objectives intentions. Acting on this information prematurely could alert the target that they are being watched. Failure to do so could activate another cell that our intelligence sources have not discerned. They could attack before we could stop them.

The next goal, “prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft”, is a good objective but assumes we know the individual in advance. Terrorists are studying our identification and warning networks and will try to breech them by using unknowns. Using an unknown agent to get on board the aircraft is a simple and likely way of defeating this objective.

"Identifying selectees for enhanced screening" sounds like a public relations disaster in the making. Recently authorities in Phoenix arrested a woman that had become loud and belligerent while waiting in the jet way to board her aircraft. The police arrested her and put her in a holding cell at the airport. The woman, who was an alcoholic and was traveling to a rehabilitation center, died while in the holding cell. The authorities were trying to maintain the safety of the other passengers and by their accounts followed procedures yet the woman died.

Airlines are having enough challenges with higher airfares and less in-flight service that if this objective is not implemented carefully, we could really create a crisis for our airline industry. Perhaps this is exactly what the terrorists want, economic collapse. It doesn’t have to be about smashing and airliner into a skyscraper. All it takes is for us to overreact and hurt ourselves.

“Facilitate passenger air travel by providing fair, equitable and consistent matching process across all aircraft operators” well if TSA and DHS can do this it would be one of the few times the federal government has managed to achieve a fair and equitable process across the board. The objective is very noble in its intent but damn impossible to implement. I say that because we are dealing with individuals. Individuals act uniquely at different times and under different situations. Incomplete data files could incorrectly indicate someone as a threat. Dealing with someone who is very emotional or that may be having mental health challenges requires extra care and finesse. I’ve just not seen care and finesse to be a strong suite of any federal training program but concede there has to be some attempt.

The final objective, protecting individual’s privacy, is one that Ohioans are especially skeptical. Earlier this year, a laptop was stolen from a state employee. The laptop contained over 500,000 tax records records of Ohioans including their social security numbers, home address and date of birth. To my knowledge, the laptop still has not been found. The sensitivity of the information in Secure Flight poses a temptation to those motivated by financial or political gain.

For those of us here in the Queen City, I’m not sure if Secure Flight will make us any safer but it will make our screening lines longer. Passengers already disgusted by the higher airfares at CVG will seek out other airports for their travel arrangements. These passengers will start to base other travel and vacation activities in those locations leading to a potential economic downturn here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Citywide Response to a Terrorist Attack

A city in the United States is defined by Webster’s as ‘a usually large or important municipality in the United States governed under a charter granted by the state’. Cities are major population centers with important hubs of economic activity (whether based on trade, manufacturing or service related industries. Cities tend to also be very symbolic by virtue of these economic activities or cultural centers that may be resident. It is these very elements that make our cities what they are that cause them to be targets for terrorist attacks. Terrorism need not be foreign in its origin or affiliation, one need only look at the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995 to the see the consequences of domestic terrorism.

All responses to attack would be handled first by local responders. The federal government and state governments do not have fire departments or medical units to respond. A large scale attack, or for that matter natural disaster, could overwhelm local first responders. An attack that damages major Interstate routes could complicate response efforts by simply denying first responder ingress and egress routes. As people attempt to flee from the attack, or evacuate out of the area threatened by attack, transportation routes become grid-locked. Any injuries or emergencies become difficult to reach due to the increased traffic flow.

Natural disasters, other than earthquakes, tend to give some advance warning and allow first responders some degree of preparation. A terrorist attack however can be for the most part no-notice, anytime, anywhere. The first responders may need to go into an event involving chemical or biological agents dispersed on a large scale. The first responders themselves may even be the targets of attack during their response efforts. A massive attack of this nature may overcome some first responders, therefore it is more critical than ever that communities try to standardize equipment and procedures across the board. Interoperability isn’t just efficient, it is also be a force-multiplier.

Traditionally first responders have included fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel. However another class of personnel needs to be included as well, those who unique skill-sets will be required to operate or maintain critical infrastructures. For example, personnel from public works to operate water treatment facilities, sewer treatment plants, or other utilities would need to be protected and available to assist. Healthcare workers may need to be culled from their normal work centers to become part of a massive medical response unit.

Protecting some targets from an attack is just impractical. Gas stations for example could be used in an attack scenario, however due to the large number of gas stations it is impossible to secure and monitor. Moreover, corporations may not be able to afford to provide the level of security to harden their businesses against possible attack. Hardening a target also means reducing accessibility to customers. Imagine having to show some form of ID each time you purchased gasoline at a particular gas station, more than likely you will go somewhere else that is quicker and more convenient.

Companies are becoming aware that risk-analysis is much broader in its application. Risks are just about profit and loss but of also what company assets may be desirable for use by terrorists. For instance, a small chemical manufacturing company may produce some chemicals that could be used to assemble high-explosives. The company needs to take steps to insure its product isn’t stolen or sold to those with nefarious intentions. Even so, third parties and ruses could be used to get the necessary material. Therefore companies with high-value assets need to be part of the community’s information sharing network.

Information sharing needs to occur across agencies as well as between public and private sector. The time to form these networks is before an attack or disaster happens, not during. Proprietary or “need to know” caveats may have to be altered or completely shattered to create an effective network. All participating agencies and institutions need to buy-in into sharing information from the top to the bottom. Of course achieving this requires money and time, both resources that aren’t in short supply. Grants are available through the federal government to increase training and readiness. Another option is creating a partnership with other industries or communities in other cities or states. Such partnerships could lead to different approaches to creating new response plans or even identifying funding streams for purchasing new equipment.

A terrorist attack need only be threatened to cause a reaction by a city. Strong information sharing networks and mutual aid compacts need to be in place before such times occur.