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by Josh Filler: Homeland security issues including prevention and protection

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November 2009 Archives
November 05, 2009

Last week the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response held a hearing on FEMA's C2C program. C2C is designed to help states and localities manage their homeland security preparedness grants by providing a mechanism to apply for grants and measure the effectiveness of those grants across a range of capabilities that involve terrorism prevention, protection, response and recovery. In short, Congress was very concerned about the financial cost of the C2C program and its ability to actually deliver on its objectives. As one who participated in the C2C pilot program, I share many of those concerns and passed them onto FEMA over the summer. The bottom line is assessing capabilities and measuring the impact of homeland security investments, whether they be federal grant funds or state or local general funds, is a very complex endeavor that requires a "system of systems" approach. A single, one size fits all tool cannot manage such a huge task in a country as large and diverse as the United States.

A system of systems approach to measuring preparedness and what investments should be made in the future based on current levels of preparedness must be conducted as part of a larger planning process. Such a planning process must be one that a state, region or locality (hereinafter "jurisdiction") uses for its own homeland security needs. In other words, to get real data, the jurisdictions must actually use the data for their own purposes beyond simply answering a federal data call. If FEMA and Congress want to gain access to such information, the homeland security community will have to establish an agreed upon process at all levels of government, and the private sector, to annually go out and capture this data. Doing so will involve several key steps each of which may involve one or more tools from software to services in order to access and analyze the data:

1. Assess Risks - What are the risks the state or locality faces from acts of terrorism, natural disasters or potential man made accidents. Said another way, what are the bad things that are most likely to happen in my community. Without this information you are literally shooting in the dark. These risks can often be summarized in the form of scenarios such as terrorist truck bombings, wildfires, earthquakes, or a chemical spill etc. Each jurisdiction will have its own set of unique risks. For example, the risk of a hurricane is limited in northern California but high in the Gulf Coast states. The risk of a terrorist truck bombing is higher in New York City than in Dubuque, Iowa and so forth. The private sector has already developed tools to address this first and critical task.

2. Identify Capabilities - Once you have established and prioritized the risks your jurisdiction faces you must identify the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from such risks. Here, the federal government has produced a few useful tools: the National Incident Management System's resource types used for identifying, locating, requesting, ordering, and tracking resources, and the target capabilities list, which is a list of 37 capabilities broken out among the four core mission areas of prevention, protection, response and recovery. The TCL includes capabilities ranging from Intelligence Analysis and Production to Structural Damage Assessment. Some jurisdictions may have a need for all 37 capabilities while others may need fewer. While the TCL needs significant work to establish agreed upon metrics behind each capability, it is a good start.

3. Assess Capabilities - At this point, the jurisdiction must assess its level of capability across the TCL's especially those deemed most needed to address the highest risks faced by the jurisdiction. The point is to develop a gap analysis to see where the key capability deficiencies rest. This can be done through a number of methods to include questionnaires for public safety subject matter experts in the jurisdiction; a NIMS based resource inventory; a review of after action reports from exercises and real world incidents; an analysis of current operational and tactical level plans etc. Tools for this step have been developed by the federal government and the private sector.

4. Develop Goals and Objectives - Once all of this data has come in and is analyzed, it must be used to develop homeland security goals and objectives. Such goals and objectives must be tied directly to filling the gaps in capabilities most needed by the jurisdiction to address its highest risks. This can be done in the form of a homeland security strategic plan and spending plan going forward.

5. Develop Investment Justifications - Once the planning is complete, the jurisdiction must then develop an investment justification for the federal government for grant funding or some type of equivalent for its general fund budget. The goal is to outline in a convincing and data driven way what funding you need and why. This is the step C2C was trying to address most directly, but without having adequately gone through the prior four steps or developed metrics for evaluating investments and their impact on capabilities.

Finally, the federal government has used the fact that it provides grant funds to states and localities to demand answers to the questions surrounding the current level of local and state preparedness. However, the federal government has paid far less attention to measuring its own level of preparedness. For example, how capable are the FBI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the TCL Counter-Terrorism and Law Enforcement and where is FEMA at Critical Resource Logistics and Distribution? The answers to these questions will directly impact the meaning of state and local answers to such questions since no level of government operates in a vacuum independent of the other levels of government when it comes to homeland security.

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November 07, 2009

Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan's alleged killing of thirteen innocent people and wounding thirty eight others was a depraved and evil act. That much is clear. What remains unclear is why? Despite that ambiguity, many have already pronounced the "truth" behind why Hasan committed such a heinous crime. Whatever the truth may be, no motive can justify such an act. However, understanding why this happened will help us formulate the appropriate response going forward.

Some in the media have claimed Hasan was driven to kill because he was going to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or because he was harassed by fellow Army members for being a Muslim in a post 9/11 world. Still others have argued Hasan's shooting rampage was an act of radical Islamic terrorism and have criticized President Obama for not calling it as much. Indeed, when President Obama said he wanted to wait for all the facts to come in, one commentator I heard yesterday said the President should call it an act of terror now. The reasoning given was that since Mr. Obama has irresponsibly drawn conclusions on matters he did not have all the facts on in the past, e.g., the Professor Gates/Cambridge Police incident; he should do the same on the Hasan matter. That's nonsense. I would hope that President Obama learned from his mistake regarding the Cambridge Police incident and would not repeat it in a situation as serious and tragic as this one. Thus, the President is wise to wait, but cannot shy away from the facts, whatever they may be and wherever they may lead.

I've learned from first hand experience over the years from incidents ranging from the 9/11 attacks to the 2005 London transit bombings, and many others, that initial reports and "facts" from incidents such as the Fort Hood massacre are invariably wrong. In fact, on the day of the attack, for hours, most of the media was reporting that Major Hasan was shot dead when in fact he was alive and under medical treatment. In addition, the same media was reporting that Hasan was shot by one hero police officer when in fact it appears there were two officers who took Hasan down. If we cannot get those facts right are we really in a position to declare the truth behind why the event happened?

At this very moment there is an FBI led investigation into what happened and why and we must let that investigation play out before we reach a conclusion. I know that is hard in this era of "instant analysis" an oxymoron if there ever was one. The truth is Hasan's motive may be any one or a combination of factors. Moreover, whatever conclusions the FBI reaches, Congress must independently investigate the matter. With that, there are some critical homeland security related questions that must be addressed head on as part of the overall investigation into this tragedy:

Did Hasan post on the internet a statement that equated Muslim suicide bombers with heroic acts of bravery? Did the FBI know of the posting and did they share it with the Army and if not, why not? Did Hasan scream "God is Great!" before opening fire? Did Hasan make anti-American statements and/or sympathetic statements towards America's enemies throughout the years since 9/11 and were those statements passed up Hasan's chain of command? Assuming the statements were made, was that information fused with the alleged internet posting to create a more complete intelligence threat picture regarding Hasan? Did Hasan visit radical Islamic websites and/or have contact with members of any radical Islamic groups?

Answers to the above questions, and many more, will help explain the motive behind Hasan's depravity and help determine if this tragic act of evil was in fact avoidable, and how we should respond going forward. Reaching an affirmative conclusion as to why Hasan acted as he did, before those and other questions are fully investigated and answered, is not truth, but is sound and fury signifying speculation.

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November 11, 2009

One of my greatest regrets in life is having never served in the military. I came very close having met with an army recruiter several times after high school, but ultimately chose an all boys prep school in Maine prior to going to college. I say this on this Veterans Day because of the profound respect and admiration I have for those who have served, and for those who do so today. With two wars abroad and attacks here at home, I think it's especially important to recognize the U.S. military remains one of the greatest forces for good in the world and among the greatest deterrents against evil. For that, to all of America's veterans I say, thank you.

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November 11, 2009

During his remarks at Ford Hood yesterday President Obama gave some clear indications that he believes the Fort Hood massacre was in fact an act of terrorism. The President said specifically, "But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor." This is a clear sign of where the Administration's thinking is on Hasan's motive and given the massive amount of information in the press about Hasan's actions and connections, albeit sometimes conflciting; the case for this being classified as the worst act of terrorism in America since 9/11 is rapdily growing. Hopefully, we will get more definitive answers next week at the Senate hearings, which should cover Hasan's words and deeds over the years, what our governemnt knew about him, and what our government did or did not do as a result of what it knew.

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November 12, 2009

A deadly trend seems to be brewing for U.S. Presidents. Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him, appears to have suffered a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in his first year in office at the hands of a radical Islamist extremist. While I'm still cautious about the veracity of some of the information being reported in the press, the sheer amount and type of information pouring in about Nidal Malik Hasan is overwhelmingly pushing his attack at Ford Hood into the column of worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Indeed, Hasan allegedly killed more than twice as many people at Ford Hood than international Islamist terrorists killed during the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and more than the anthrax attacks of 2001 and terrorist shooting at the El Al ticket counter at LAX in 2002 combined.

More to come about what this means and where we go from here.

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November 13, 2009

Yesterday, the U.S. Army formally charged Nidal Malik Hasan with murdering thirteen people at Fort Hood. While I have no inside information, I'm sure Hasan's lawyers are considering invoking an insanity defense. A plea deal seems highly unlikely in this case short of Hasan having information on others that may have been involved. Despite the difficulty in prevailing with such a defense what other rational defense could Hasan's lawyers put on? It's the defense that a now convicted Islamic radical tried to use back in 2005 when former U.S. Army sergeant Hasan Karim Akbar was convicted of killing two soldiers and wounding 14 others on a U.S. base in Kuwait in 2003. While it is impossible to get a complete picture of Hasan's mental state at this time, it is worth noting his actions alone do not make him insane.

In the case of Hasan, and other radical Islamists, we must be careful not to confuse insanity with fanaticism. Hasan's fanatical and radical beliefs may have come off as psychotic or "nuts" to most people, perhaps even at first glance to his medical colleagues in the Army. However, this does not automatically mean that Hasan didn't know that murder is against the law and that he would be punished for it (assuming he intended to survive his attack).

Intentionally flying an airplane full of people at several hundred miles an hour into a building would clearly seem "crazy" to most of us. For those who cannot or do not want to understand it, they seek to classify it as insane. But doing so removes responsibility from those who commit such atrocities since the basic underpinning of an insanity defense is that the accused is not responsible because they suffer from a mental disease or defect and cannot understand right from wrong.

As for Hasan, he may well be mentally imbalanced but he nonetheless could have known full well what he was doing and why. His alleged fanatical religious views may have simply caused him to believe that he is a Muslim first and an American second and that Islamic law was of a higher authority that compelled him to kill the enemy infidels of the U.S. military and to accept his own likely death in the process. Remember, as Hasan himself allegedly said to his fellow Army doctors, radical Islamists love death more than we love life. Is this fanatical? Yes. Is it legally insane? Not necessarily. Otherwise, virtually all radical Islamists are legally insane, which means we cannot hold any of them accountable for their actions. Now that would truly be insanity.

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November 14, 2009

President Obama has called on Congress to hold-off on hearings next week on the Fort Hood massacre. While I agree with the President, it is not for his stated reason that Congress should "resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater." I don't believe that is what's driving Congress to act. Rather, a desire to understand why and how this could have happened is what's at play. The President has ordered a review of the intelligence collected and acted upon by the U.S. government on Nidal Malik Hasan. The preliminary report is due November 30th. Congress would be wise to wait until after November 30th so as to demand access to the findings and avoid the FBI and U.S. Army responding to questions by claiming they are still looking into the matter etc.

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November 18, 2009

The holiday travel season will soon be upon us as will the joys of going through airport security. As a frequent flyer, I have an almost systematic method for removing my shoes, placing my computer in a separate bin and placing my plastic bag full of three ounce liquids and gels into the grey basket. The latter requirement being among the newest of the major aviation security requirements.

Having to limit your liquids and gels and remember your plastic bag for the airport resulted from a liquid based explosives plot against transatlantic flights from the U.K. to the U.S in 2006. That plot and the three ounce rule that followed has placed the aviation sector at Code Orange under the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) since that time.

The HSAS has endured withering and often unfair criticism over the years. Recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano commissioned a review of the system. One of the recommendations was to do away with Code Blue and Green and go with a three tiered approach: Yellow (guarded risk), Orange (high risk) and Red (severe risk). I agree with that recommendation. Yellow is the steady state of security. In truth, it has been that way for many years. That is why placing the aviation sector at Code Orange after three plus years since originally raising the alert level undermines the purpose of "going up."

When the alert level is raised it should be done to surge protective measures based on a specific threat, which by definition is not meant to be sustained over long periods of time. In fact, the team that reviewed the HSAS on behalf of Secretary Napolitano recommended that certain triggers be put in place to lower the threat level in the absence of new intelligence. After three years, in the case of the restriction on liquids, DHS should do away with the restriction or have it subsumed into normal operations at Code Yellow, leaving other surge protective measures to make-up the security protocols of Code Orange. I support the latter approach as there will be no degrading of security just a recognition that plastic bags and mini bottles are yet another part of the post 9/11 "new normal."

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November 20, 2009

Today, FEMA made an important course correction by issuing Information Bulletin 336, which now allows for the use of "preparedness grant funds for maintenance contracts, warranties, repair or replacement costs, upgrades, and user fees." There are a few restrictions but this covers all active and future grant awards.

While this may appear to be a trivial topic to many, it is a critical issue for cash strapped states and localities struggling to maintain security and preparedness in brutal economic times. For example, states and localities that purchased risk management or terrorism link analysis software with FY 2005 grant funds can now use grant funds from a subsequent fiscal year to purchase an upgrade or pay an existing user fee. A few months ago they would have had to use their own money to pay for those costs.

For fiscal hawks, you need not worry as this will not enlarge the size of any federal grant but merely expand the use of already awarded funds. I congratulate Deputy Administrator Tim Manning and the team at FEMA for making this small but important change.

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