Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A change of tack for this post: geopolitics and EM

One of the areas that's always interested me (going back as far as university) is the impact of geo-strategic and geopolitics issues on emergency management and our communities. Bad things usually happen when I have too much time on my hands (Easter long weekend being a case in point) ... in this case, I put a list of my top 10 international and technology trends that could impact our world and very high-level macro emergency management.

  1. China rises ...within a couple of decades (sooner ???), for the first time in history, the world's most populous nation is also going to boast the strongest economy and the mightiest armed forces. What then? What does this mean for prosperity in the Asia-Pacific? What about Taiwan? Will there be conflict over the Spratly Islands? or with Vietnam? Not everything is rosy though: 100 million migrant workers (young men with few prospects of marriage, rampant corruption and pollution, could all bring about the disintegration of the Chinese state and the end of the Communist Party. Who controls the nukes then? All of a sudden, these far away issues seem a bit more pressing in North America ...
  2. Unemployed lumpen proletariat (look it up!) ... the idle youth of Europe. Now picture this: you're under 25 in Spain, or Greece, or Portugal ... unemployment rates among your peer reaches 50 per cent (that's just crazy) ... you have no future, your whole country is going to pieces, collapsing under public debt ... what does that mean? Radicalization is on the horizon, general dissatisfaction, violence, societal collapse even? A very scary scenario that could destabilize an entire continent ... If Europe's economy stagnates for a decade or more, what does this mean for our own, here in Canada and the US?
  3. Thirsty populace ... dried up agricultural lands ... water scarcity. Water, old H2O. Is there anything else we take more for granted? Those of us who live near the Great Lakes see it as an unlimited resource. But what if? I've talked about this issue in a 2010 blog post. The fact is the problem is only getting worse. Wars will soon be fought over water and not just between countries ... but between villages, cities, regions and/or states. It's a trend being watched by some in emergency management. It will take lots of efforts and international collaboration to avoid the  worst.
  4. Financial system collapse ... the whole house of cards comes crashing down. Many still believe that the crash that began in 2008 (which we're only beginning to recover from) was only the overture to a much wider collapse of the world economy. From Wall Street to the City, from the Burse to the Nikkei, the whole system is built on a weak psychological foundation. Banks and international financial institutions trade on instruments with varying degrees of real value. A guy like Gerald Celente has made his views well known about what this could mean for stability here and abroad. Seems like lots of work ahead for emergency managers:

5. Iran and the bomb ... what happens when the mullahs in Tehran become a nuclear power? Although our dependence on Middle East oil is less than what it used to be, any disruption of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz will have a big impact on the world economy ... particularly in China, Japan and other Asian countries. With Israel on the verge of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, all sorts of scenarios become possible and they're all dismal. A further economic slowdown would have consequences on a global scale. A wider war in the Middle East would be catastrophic. With Hezbollah acting on the behalf of its Iranian parent, terror threats would abound throughout the western world. Are you prepared for multiple threats in your jurisdictions? Actual attacks? Mumbai-style perhaps? 

6. The amorphous threat of Al-Queda ... Osama is dead but his henchmen are still alive and kicking. Navy Seals kill Osama, the world rejoices (the same part that is ...) and the threat is gone right? Wrong. While it appears the leadership is once again hiding in caves in Afghanistan ... the threat has morphed. In Canada and elsewhere, the real worry is now the threat from radicalized so-called "lone wolf" individuals, often born here. Now, if an attack comes, how will you work with other jurisdictions to deal with its consequences? How do you disentangle the investigative, police/security and consequence management components of the response? 
7. In our inter-connected world, cyberthreats are existential ... our critical infrastructure, everything that gives us a truly modern world, is now at risk. More than likely, the indication of a cyber 9-11 will come when the power goes out, the internet slows to a crawl and other key services come to an end. Whether accidental or by design, the network of networks that provide us with modernism is our collective weak link. In fact, in the background, they're under attack every day. To add to our worries, authorities admit they can't keep up with hackers and potential terrorists. I wrote earlier this year about the potential threats to our systems. Every emergency manager should worry.
8. Our NAFTA partner, a failed state? The Mexico narco war rages on and its aftermath are felt throughout the US and Canada. Many observers have already come to the conclusion that our Southern NAFTA partner is already well on the road to failed statehood. Whole swaths of Mexico are now outside the control of any government or law enforcement agency. The violence is not confined only to the Northern states of Mexico but already encroaches daily in many areas in the US. Mexican cartels have supplanted other criminal organizations in much of the US and Canada. How long before we can add long columns of narco war refugees coming out of Mexico to the daily hordes that cross illegally to try to find a better life? Are emergency management programs ready to deal with that not-too-distant possibility? 
9. The Titanic may have sunk ... but whole cities might one day drown ... the rise in sea levels and climate change. Debating the cause of climate change is useless. What's more important is preparing to deal with the consequences. Evidence is mounting that our weather patterns ARE changing and put at risk millions of people in North America, especially when storms hit the coastal areas. And the threat is not limited to the US or even Canada. Europe is facing this new reality as well. Stronger storm surges, more flooding on the coast and inland ... displaced populations ... lots more headaches for emergency planners in the Carolinas, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana and many other states ... who by the way, all have to deal with budget cuts and diminishing resources.
10. THIS IS THE BIG ONE FOR ME ... an EMP event ... man-made (nuclear detonation in the high atmosphere over North America) or from a solar storm ... All of a sudden, NOTHING works ... no cars, no ATMs, no electronics, no power ... we're back to the 19th century ... our great-great-grandparents could have fared well ... their were resilient in a mostly agrarian society ... but we depend on supermarkets, just in time supplies and electricity ... take that away and we're soon losing the thin veneer of a civilized society and plunging into chaos and fights for survival. A real worry for many people.

Frankly, if that ever happens, that's when I just make my way home to my family ... no amount of planning would allow us to deal with this ... 

That's my top 10 list ... What's keeping you up at night ? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New info requirements: time to change the IMS structure?

Over the last weekend, a few #smem practitioners (@chiefb2, @brianhumphrey, @cherylble, @sct_r, others) and I engaged in a bit of discussion on the real place of the PIO in the Incident Management Structure. 

I believe (along with others ... such as Frank Cowan) that information needs are as important as planning, logistics, operations and fin/admin. In other words, emergency info needs its own box in the IMS/ICS and should not just be a part of the command staff.

I want to also make the distinction that i'm not talking about Joint Information Centres (JICs) here but a stand alone major component of the incident management structure.

Here's some of the reasons that motivate my thinking:

  1. social networks + mobile technologies have astronomically added to the complexity of communications needs during any incident. Social convergence puts information at the forefront of any response ... practically on a par with operations ...
  2. Most incidents now involve a few, if not many, agencies ... each with their own comms channels, priorities and audiences ... each must have the resources in place to handle a multitude of info requests and provide continuous information/updates. Almost immediately, the single PIO becomes overwhelmed ... hence the need for a broader comms cell. And that's before we even start talking about the standing up of any JIC.
  3. The absolute imperative of monitoring social networks creates the need for more resources and staff devoted to the PIO function ... why not build it into the structure itself? Correcting misinformation, dispelling rumours and identifying reputational threats are among key considerations here.
  4. The PIO job is important enough to be taken away from under the umbrella of command. That would encourage the development of proper crisis communications plans  to accompany any response plan and which would include pre-approved messaging (bypassing the need for command to approve a tweet for example), the proper delegation of authority to get the communications response started and allow the incident commander to focus on coordination (although he/she would still be needed for the odd media briefing and the such ....)
  5. Finally, if you're organization is ready for this step, the comms group could be the entryway for all sorts of data pulled from the public ... crowdsourced information that can be collated, analysed and shared with plans/ops/logistics, or presented for info purposes and even put on a map.
A benefit of such a change to the IMS structure would be a faster communications response. In the age of social convergence, speed is the key (see here for some tips). We know that our audience won't wait for us ... in a way they become their own broadcasters of emergency info and their own alert network. The question for us is: how best will we complement and add to these conversations?

In incidents such as the university shooting in Oakland and today's tornadoes in Texas, Twitter becomes the principal info channel but it can be time consuming and much too much for a single PIO to handle, Who's taking care of the other comms needs?

As in the rest of the IMS, the principles of adaptability and flexibility prevail and not all sub-boxes under the EI cell would necessarily need to be filled right away. It just seems to me that a recognized, shared structure would facilitate things and make the transition into a multi-agency JIC even easier ...

In the meantime, this new PIO prototype could perhaps come to our rescue while we struggle with the new realities.

Thoughts ?