Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DHS Seeks Volunteer Guard for Border Drug War

According to an AP article on Newsmax, the Department of Homeland Security is developing plans to deploy up to 1,500 National Guard volunteers on the Southwest border as part of counterdrug efforts. There have been calls for the National Guard to be deployed to border before. The National Guard in Title 32 status is able to execute law enforcement support for counterdrug operations. The problem is arming the troops and under what circumstances those troops would be allowed to use deadly force. In the early days of the war on drugs, active duty personnel where deployed on the border for the same reason. Everything looked good until a Marine encountered what he thought was a drug dealer getting ready to fire. The Marine engaged the threat with deadly force and killed the suspect. Turns out the suspected drug dealer was actually a young boy tending to his animals. Initial reports wanted to blame the marine but what few wanted to talk about was the rules of engagement given to the Marine. The military at the time were given only M-16s and unclear rules of engagement, while unfortunate the Marine reacted in the only way he could given the circumstances.

Fifteen years later, I wonder what the rules of engagement will be for the National Guard troops? The National Guard has been heavily mobilized since 9/11 with non end in sight. Rates of substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide are increasing. The impact of adding yet another deployment to the National Guard needs to be carefully weighed against other operational commitments.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hamilton Man Admits Bomb Threats Against Local Landmarks

Hamilton Man Admits Bomb Threats Against Local Landmarks - Cincinnati 9News | Channel 9 WCPO.com

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Too often textbooks and media stories equate terrorism to some foreign entity (presently radical Islam) and ignore the threat form domestic terrorists. Local, homegrown terrorists are just as dangerous and much more prolific. Local terrorists can range from someone who has a beef with city hall to a radical environmentalist. These terrorists are not the product of some far off land or Ivy league institution, they are people who live in our neighborhoods. Local terrorists are becoming more prolific, in my opinion, as our society becomes increasingly isolated. People prefer to use Facebook and other social media instead of having a conversation with their neighbor. A local resident who is having difficulty dealing with a problem is left with few (if any) support networks. A resident with coping issues could plan an attack without neighbors or friends noticing. We must resist temptations to legislate a solution. Rather, we should all take a greater interest in those around us; not so much as to monitor but as a genuine commitment to help our fellow neighbors.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Deregulation and the Airlines

Back in February, Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed outside Buffalo, NY last February killing all on board. Preliminary reports indicate the two pilots were relatively inexperienced and failed to realize how dangerous flight conditions had become.

The crash brought to light how little new pilots are paid, especially those who fly for commuter airlines. It has been the practice for major airlines to pay new pilots very little for the first three years. The thinking for the major airlines was to screen out new pilots that wanted the glamour but did not want to put in the long hours.

Smaller carriers do not have large operating budgets to attract pilots with high-hours. Newer pilots needing flight time usually look to getting on with a commuter airline and working their way up to the majors.

Deregulation brought about some unintended consequences. Instead of creating more competition, deregulation created opportunity for certain carriers to buy up their competition. (The same argument had been made for the break up of Standard Oil. Seven new oil companies were created only to form back together again under BP and Shell.)

The legacy carriers, in buying up their competition, did not reduce competition as much as they added to their debt. The legacy carriers failed to see the consequences of increasing their debt in the face of an aging workforce. As pilots, flight attendants and other personnel received pay increases or retired, the airlines saw more of their profits going into benefits rather than operations. In-flight services were first cut then eliminated. Routes were scaled back opening more opportunities for start-up carriers and commuter airlines creating a whole new set of competitors.

The addition of these newer, cheaper airlines meant the legacy carriers had to lower their airfares in order to remain competitive. Keeping fares low was good for the consumer but caused the airlines to operate on slimmer profit margins. Spikes in fuel or maintenance costs could not be quickly absorbed without shutting down routes or laying off employees.

The smaller carriers faced the same issues but with slightly different consequences. Taking over less profitable routes from the major carriers meant more business but they did not have the large operating budgets to pay their personnel competitive wages. Younger, less experienced personnel would have to be hired to fill positions. As the personnel became more experienced, they would inevitable apply to one of the major carriers in hopes of making better wages.

Smaller carriers were not immune to higher fuel costs, higher maintenance costs, or increase gate fees at airports. This meant smaller profits for these carriers that in turn were limited to how much they could offer their personnel in wages. Increasing wages and benefits in an industry with narrow profit margins means something else has to be eliminated. In flight meals were eliminated. Ticket kiosks replaced counter personnel. Checked bags are now routinely charged. Carry-on bags are probably next.

If we want to really address the cause of the crash, we need to look beyond just the aircrew and what is going on in the airline industry as a whole. The industry needs to be seriously revamped or we will continue to see more accidents.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dumbest Generation Getting Dumber

Walter E. Williams : Dumbest Generation Getting Dumber - Townhall.com

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Students come to our community college with sub-par skills in math, reading and writing. Surprisingly (or not), these same students also hold high school diplomas. The solution has been for community colleges to place these students in developmental (remedial) courses to get their skills up to the collegiate level. This creates financial challenges for students as they spend their tuition relearning what they should have learned in elementary and high school. Students come to community colleges wanting to take college courses, spending time developmental courses tends to deflate their desire to remain. My informal observations indicate an inverse relationship to the amount of time spent in remedial classes and retention. It is easy to say that had these students paid attention in high school, they wouldn't need to take remedial courses. If you look at their high school transcripts, you would see the majority of students had "B" and "C" averages.

How bad is it? Students were asked in one of our classes to put their address on an envelope for their end of course certificates. Out of 18 students, barely half knew how to correctly address an envelope. Many students don't know how to write basic sentences or research basic information.

Students are spending more time in elementary and secondary education but from where I work, it appears they are getting further behind. I've written before about the lack of dialog between colleges and K-12 educators. The gap seems to be widening with little options for the students who are behind to catch up. Remedial classes at the community college level are merely a stop-gap and not a long term solution. A high school diploma should mean that a student is ready to begin college.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

N. Korea Warns of Nuclear Offensive

N. Korea Warns of 'Merciless' Nuclear Offensive - North Korea | Map | Government - FOXNews.com

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Pyongyang does not perceive the world in way of most people would comprehend. North Korea has been preparing for the last half century to go to war. While posturing has been seen before, the intensity of the latest statements has ramped up significantly. It looks like Iran and North Korea are feeding off of each other's posturing statements in the media. Perhaps North Korea feels slighted by the President's statement that Iran is entitled to its nuclear program. Regardless, the tension isn't going to abate any time soon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Leis: Boat Debate Ridiculous

Leis: Boat debate 'ridiculous' | Cincinnati.com | Cincinnati.Com

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I am unpersuaded that the sheriff needs this boat. More of the Ohio River is under Kentucky jurisdiction than Ohio's. The Ohio River is already patrolled by the US Coast Guard and Ohio Watercraft. Cincinnati Police has a boat as well. The sheriff feels the boat won't impact the county budget since he plans to use a DHS grant to purchase the boat. The problem with grant purchases is they do not include maintenance and replacement costs. There is so much more that requires the sheriff's attention than purchasing a boat, he needs to get on with the rest of his job.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Report from Emmittsburg, MD

FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate was the opening speaker for the All-Hazards Higher Education Conference. He spoke to the 400 or so emergency managers, first responders and academics attending this year’s conference in Emmittsburg, MD. There had been speculation whether President Obama would pull FEMA out from under the Department of Homeland Security, however he and Secretary Napolitano are convinced FEMA should remain under DHS.

Director Fugate is a former paramedic/firefighter who most recently headed the Florida Division of Emergency Management. He has only been on the job officially for a month not leaving him much time to develop a vision for his new agency.

His comments did not really address the purpose of the conference, namely the advancement of professionalism in emergency management through higher education. The Director believes instead of elaborate emergency management systems, the best way to respond to future emergencies is to change people’s behaviors. People react to crisis and disasters in certain ways based on their culture. The director feels the key is to get people to be better prepared and to evacuate when it becomes necessary. He believes that Americans in general are not prepared.

The research material on disaster sociology and psychology tend not to support this view. Behavior is not governed by preparation but rather by resources and cultural factors. If you have the resources to evacuate you will and if you don’t you tend to remain in place.

He did bring up the concept of getting children to understand the need to be prepared and that may provided some needed impetus to parents who don’t have a family emergency plan in place.

Overall, the friction between homeland security and emergency management continues to go on without any near-term resolution. Academic institutions continue to struggle with what it means to produce a emergency management/homeland security professional. There are over 100 colleges and universities that offer courses, certificates, and degrees in emergency management. The curriculums vary but all tend to focus on the basics of mitigation, preparation, response and recovery. The problem is there are few primary sources of information to create courses and textbooks. Many of the titles in publication today tend to previous works and repeat older studies. There is a great need to support and foster more research particularly in the area of recovery.

The unspoken challenge, in my opinion, is not teaching students the basic concepts but making sure they have requisite coursework in ancillary fields. For instance, knowing how to create and practice an emergency management plan is important but students also need to understand laws, logistics, budget managements, risk analysis, technology, and resource management. Many of the degree programs already address these skills however there isn’t as much discussion regarding appropriate courses or textbooks to insure students are receiving relevant coursework.