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June 2010 Archives
June 01, 2010

The issue with us Americans is that we are not only near sighted, we live our lives never looking in the rear view mirror of history. Again and again we plow blissfully ahead maximizing some portion of modern lives without a thought to what the consequences might be.

Just this past Sunday on the national talk shows they were doing the Monday morning quarterbacking on the BP Oil Spill. Why wasn't this done, why wasn't that done? The answer--we've never had a problem before. It almost sounds as though a person is standing there next to the river with their home flooded and saying, "Golly, I've lived here all my life and I've never experienced anything like this before."

The NY Times The Cybersecurity changes we need op-ed calls attention to a different hazard, and a growing one at that. As we continue to digitize our lives and our infrastructure we keep becoming more vulnerable to cyber attacks. We will eventually have the equivalent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in cyberspace.
Publish Post
As the authors note at the end of their op-ed it will take a catastrophic failure to get everyone's attention. Then we'll throw money, time and energy at the problem for a period of time until we go back to our normal selves--ignoring the hazard.

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June 01, 2010

The news today that the federal government would no longer participate in media briefings is a telltale sign that things at the Unified Command are not going well. Or, I suppose it could be just a political decision made in Washington, D.C. to distance themselves from BP since the Justice Department is starting a criminal investigation.

Either way the idea of a Joint Information Center (JIC) that coordinates the messaging seems to be going out the window for sure. I say that you have to have policy, operations and public information synchronized if you are going to be successful at any incident site.

Disconnecting the JIC and public information from the Unified Command can only lead to bad things happening. I expect big disconnects in what is being said by each party which in the end can lead to "open warfare" at the mike. All of which will trickle back into Unified Command and destroy the working relationships they have had.

It is a social experiment of the highest magnitude. If you are looking for a PhD thesis, this is one in the making.

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June 02, 2010

Perhaps when you read "mobile computing" you were thinking laptops. Nope--I meant smart phones, or at least what we call smart phones today. For me the leader in that field is the iPhone, which I own and love to use.

While the United States has been "stuck" on PC's the rest of the developed and undeveloped world has moved to cellular technology and mobile computing. Other countries have a much more sophisticated usage of their mobile phone technology than Americans, but we are catching up.

See How Mobile Phones are Changing Social Media It details some usage factors by age, type of phone and usage factors. It is interesting to see how people are using their phones, and the fact that if you are using a smart phone your use of social media goes way up.

The implications for emergency management and other first responder agencies is significant. How we interact with the public will need to be digital. Yes, I acknowledge that we must maintain some legacy systems for those individuals who are now not part of, and never will be part of a technology based way of life.

This also means that the equipment we issue to our emergency management staff should include smart phones. We need to be using the tools of the 21st century if we are expected to be leaders in our field.

On that note, the new iPhone is supposed to be announced on June 7th, with pricing, models, and availability date. This will be a 4G device which is where the market is going rapidly. Since AT&T still owns the iPhone rights they are moving there and I think Sprint is advertising that they are the only "current" all 4G national network. Speed of the processor and the connection is what makes the device do what I call "sing and dance." Since my iPhone is only 18 months old I'll wait another year, but come this time 2011, "beam me up Scottie" I'm going for the newest and greatest.

Oh, and yes--the battery life of the iPhone is to be significantly increased with the new 4G coming out soon.

June 02, 2010

Gerald Baron has confirmed my worst fears with his blog posting on how the wheels have come off the Joint Information Center (JIC) bus at the Gulf Oil Spill.

This will not be good for future "big events" as private sector partners wait for the incident to become politicized and then drag them down in the muck. I guess I understand why this happened, but it is still disappointing. For years I've preached the idea of cooperation, partnering and collaborating on joint media endeavors.

This is not good--not good at all.

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June 04, 2010

The BP Oil Spill reminds me of how our "system" if you want to call it that works--or doesn't.

There is a very good article in the current edition of Emergency Management Magazine on 911 A National Plight? Elaine Pittman a writer for the magazine did a great job of capturing many of the issues facing 911 systems throughout the nation.

Some of the topics she touched on include:

  • Standards for call takers
  • Keeping up with technology
  • Funding 911 systems
  • States robbing those funding systems
Here are a few additional thoughts for you. We talk about "first responders" as being police and fire agencies and their personnel. I would lump 911 call centers and dispatchers into that mix. In truth--they are the First Responder for all incidents that start with a 911 call. If these call takers and dispatchers don't get it right--which happens, then the responding agencies showing up on scene can't do their job efficiently and effectively.

Because of the dedicated fund nature of 911 systems they are an easy target for legislators who are looking for pots of money in these desperate times for state and local governments. Since the funds are traditionally managed by states, it is the state legislatures that are plundering the coffers of 911 systems.

The issue here is that every nickle is going to be needed to fund the technological upgrades that are required to keep pace with the consumer communications revolution that is a continuing part of our everyday lives. Not to mention, upgrading the training of personnel and putting standards in place so that the quality of the person answering the phone is such that it matches the abilities of the systems to perform.

There are already many 911 systems (over 6,000--per the story above) here in the nation. There is a wide disparity between the haves and the have nots in how these systems perform and their pace of technology implementation.

We are headed down the same path of our other critical infrastructure in the nation. We are deferring maintenance and upgrades for the price of saving a buck--when the dollars are in many cases already there! We will end up with systems failures that lead to loss lives. It won't be as dramatic as the 9/11 attacks, but people will die, one at a time due to short sightedness of elected and policy level officials.

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June 05, 2010

Sometimes having an example of what the concept is all about helps for people to see the opportunities for using new methods, technology or techniques. There is an article in Security Management on Web 2.0 Helps in Disaster It highlights the good work done by volunteers in setting up a web 2.0 solution to map the disaster needs during the Haiti disaster response. It is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished without a huge amount of funding, and how tapping into the "knowledge of crowds" can provide you with the situational information you need.

If you did not catch my earlier blog posting on establishing a Disaster Wiki, you might want to check it out for more ideas on using a wiki for your region.

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June 06, 2010

"Sometimes we are consistently inconsistent." Eric Holdeman

I think it is important to be consistent. Being consistent provides order not only for yourself, but also for the people who interact with you. This can be at work, with friends or at home.

If you are consistent, people begin to form expectations about how you will act and react in various situations. Short tempered, expect an explosion! A low key, person may seem to always roll with the punches. One of the best things we can do for others is to be consistentâ€"especially if that means having it be perceived as being a good thing. Even if you do have a serious fault about you, if you are consistent then people will know what to expect.

Being inconsistent puts other people and organizations in turmoil. They will not know how you will react to situations and people. That creates a discomfort in the relationship that goes beyond the influence of the individual events and will impact organizational dynamics

But, then there are always those exceptions to the rule that get in the way of being consistent. Different moods, the same mistake done by a different person will sometimes impact you differently. I've known people who like to keep others "guessing" about how they will react. Again, I don't think this is good long term. It might be fun to do once in awhile, but to be like that "consistently" cannot be good for relationships and organizational effectiveness.

June 06, 2010

There is a new site that has just been launched to take advantage of the current Gulf Oil Spill interest. Check out EmergencyOnTV.com

This is just another example of using digital media to capture people's attention to and interest in emergencies and disasters. We'll have to see how this develops further in the future.

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June 07, 2010

As 9/11 continues to slip into the background and we focus on other issues (like a really, really, really big oil spill) the priority for working on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will also continue to fade. I have to admit that sometimes it feels like a good thing. We had gone so hard over towards terrorism and WMD that it had skewed our system. Katrina corrected that error!

I'm still surprised to read about the Just Department's IG report Review of the Department's Preparation to Respond to a WMD Incident Given the threats, especially in the National Capital Region, and the fact that the Justice Department is a law enforcement agency, they would have their house in order this long after 9/11. I guess it shows how difficult it is to manage a large multi-faceted agency, especially in D.C. The Los Angeles Times story Justice Department isn't ready for WMD attack, report says will give you a summary.

The FBI in this particular case comes out smelling like a rose.

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June 07, 2010

There are four reasons I can give you for why the Obama Administration did not delay the initial response to the Gulf Oil Spill.

  1. The initial explosion and fire at the oil drilling platform was sudden and dramatic. What causes organizations to get caught asleep at the switch is when there is a slow building event that then goes catastrophic. This was not the case and the attention getting manner in which the disaster started means it had the full attention of the federal government.
  2. The Coast Guard is the first responder and federal agency on scene from the beginning. As a military style organization it has the command and control mechanisms to obtain resources and provide situational awareness from the scene. There was no bumbling bureaucrat getting in the way of assessing the situation and trying to spin events early in the disaster.
  3. Oil spill disasters are exercised on a regular basis. Major exercises with commercial oil company business participation and funding are held every three years. These can be very expensive events to choreograph and the participants know their roles from playing in the exercises on a repeated basis. When you rehearse an oil spill you get good at it. There is no other exercise program that brings the federal government and private sector together as one team as in the oil spill exercise and response program.
  4. Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard learned many positive lessons from Katrina. It is because of his personal involvement there that he became Commandant of the Coast Guard. This personal experience that is rarely used at his senior level in handling multiple catastrophic events, even though they are vastly different in their nature, has uniquely prepared him for this disaster response. The Administration has their best man on scene helping to coordinate the disaster response.
Now, if you ask how the clean-up is going? When will the oil be gone and how the reimbursement system will work?--that can turn into another kettle of fish. The story is not done being told, but in the beginning the response was sure and swift.

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