Monday, May 5, 2014

The Game of Emergency Preparedness–Studying the Wrong Rules

There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst. - Stephen King, "Different Seasons"

Our top focus - protecting our Nation - must go beyond homeland preparedness; America will only be secure if we deal with threats before they happen, not just after they happen. - Bill Frist

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

Buried within the bowels of an opulent building in Washington, D.C., men and women in a softly lit boardroom studied the latest test results that had been placed before them.

“As you will note”, the well-dressed presenter at the head of the table noted, “Our code coverage is at an almost unprecedented 99.9% with a near 0% of errors or coding violations having been noted.  We are ready to deploy the newest version of the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program Monitoring System.”

“The key with the new version”, he continued, “is that by tying into our live missile silos instead of using simulation data, we get a much more accurate simulation than using the models that we have used in the past.  Concerns over security have been effectively addressed as noted in past meetings, with the point of this meeting being to obtain final signoff of the simulation software.”

He paused as his audience thumbed through the presentation before them.

A military officer sitting close to the presenter cleared his throat as he gently tossed the report onto the table in front of him.  “I am impressed”, he noted, “I recommend that we proceed with the rollout immediately.”

The remainder of the room nodded in assent as they continued to examine the analysis before them.

A couple of hours later, the same well-dressed presenter chatted on his cell phone as he walked through a park.  “It all went well”, he said into his phone, “They adopted the project as planned.  It goes into production within 30 days.”

He paused, occasionally nodding as the person on the other end of the phone spoke.

“I don’t think you have any concerns there”, he interrupted confidently, “It was much easier to override the missile launch safety systems than we originally anticipated when we starting tying the simulation software into the missile control system.  But then again, that’s why we spent the last 30 years providing outsourced IT development to the US Government.  This wouldn’t have been possible any other way.  30 years went by a lot faster than we thought it would, didn’t it?

He paused again as his colleague spoke.

“Understood completely”, he said at last, “I will let you know when we are in production.”

He paused again as his conversation companion spoke excitedly and then laughed as he said “We are blessed indeed.  We will meet soon, my friend, but not on this planet.”

As he hung up, he surveyed the landscape of the park, smiling with the knowledge that it would soon come to an end.

In Calgary, Alberta, families gathered for their annual Disaster Alley, an event where exhibitors, utilities and various emergency preparedness groups gathered to discuss ways that families could be better prepared for disaster.

“The key thing”, the mayor said in a presentation at the center of the exhibit, “is that you have a family emergency plan and food, water and medical supplies for 72 hours.”

As he continued to speak, two men observed the exhibition from a distance.

After a few moments, the younger of the two spoke.  “Why do they prepare for such mundane emergencies when much larger concerns exist?”, he asked.

His colleague, 30 years his senior, replied without looking away from the exhibit.  “It’s because they are not aware of the larger concerns.  The more significant events, although likely in the near future, are classified for reasons of not tipping our hand to the other side”, he replied.

“Why is that?”, his younger colleague asked.  “Isn’t it better that they know how to survive a real disaster and not just this little stuff that so many people are peddling?  Can you imagine the pandemonium of over a million people running around in a panic should a real disaster occur?”

His older companion turned towards him and replied.  “Which would you rather?”, he asked gruffly, “Outside of tipping our preparedness hand to the other side, if we inform the public, then we will not only set off a large panic but we will have a helluva lot of questions to answer.  And besides, on the likelihood that it doesn’t happen on our watch, I’d rather we left it to someone else to handle and let them explain everything in the aftermath.”

He paused before continuing.  “And besides. Not only do we not have the budget to deal with appropriate measures of preparedness, if something hits the fan tomorrow, Darwin will be proven right and we will get rid of a lot of people that are just weighing down society.  It’s cheaper this way, more efficient and we can always claim to be saving the day later.  Telling the people now about our lack of preparedness makes us look like idiots.  Saving the day later makes us look like heroes.  Which scenario do you like better?”

He turned and faced the exhibitors again, lost in his own thoughts.

His younger colleagues shuffled nervously as his brow furrowed but he said nothing.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


The Advanced Simulation and Computing Program is an actual program under ownership of the National Nuclear Security Administration and is designed to “analyze and predict the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons and to certify their functionality.”  My musing is a hypothetical one but is based on some observations of various projects over the years.

Disaster Alley is an actual event that occurs in Calgary, Alberta every year and is designed to help families prepare for actual disaster scenarios.  It offers a plethora of useful information for preparedness for many types of disasters.  However, preparation for the largest types of disasters (especially man-made ones) are not discussed for reasons of security nor is any information available from the government regarding these for fear of either:

  • Panicking the public or overloading them with information
  • Tipping one’s preparedness hand to “the other side”, thus providing them with insight into the best way to circumvent security measures
  • Creating an atmosphere where the people might dare to demand public accountability from their public servants, especially considering that the choices made by some of those people may doom the populace at large while those making the decisions will be safe within their bunkers.

Consider this simple scenario:

An event occurs and you are in one part of the city while your family is in another.  Do they know what to do?. Do you have a rendezvous point where your family knows where to meet for different types of events and where communications and / or transportation may be hindered or impossible.  How do you know they are safe?  How do they know you are safe?

Preparedness matters, whether it’s for a significant natural or man-made disaster.

History has taught us that disaster in both categories is unavoidable.

Preparedness (not to be confused with paranoia) doesn’t have to be.

Are you ready?

How do you know?

Series Origin:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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