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Monday

FEMA Preparedness Guide 101

The final version of the FEMA Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 is available. You can download the entire 176 page PDF here: http://www.fema.gov/about/divisions/cpg.shtm

I read the draft a while ago and used that as a template for the Planning Series on the Mitigation Journal Podcast. I think it is a solid document with many good features for civilian and responder alike. My biggest joy from this document comes from an apparent return to a civil defense approach...something I am a BIG fan of...throughout the document.

I just hope someone at FEMA or DHS reads it.

Sunday

Anthrax? Not. Lessons Learned? Not.

Check the story here...good video, too.

Envelopes containing the dreaded "white powder" have been found in numerous locations Sebring, Fl. Some of the envelopes were found on cars in the parking lot of a hospital, some at the town hall, others in various mailboxes throughout the area. In at least one instance, a person who found the item on their car, took it back into the hospital...a lock down and default quarantine followed...
Of course, responders in PPE and SCBA collected samples that later turned out to be "non-hazardous" to humans.
What strikes me about this situation is not the fact that someone did it...its how the public and media responded to it. We know that, of the three varieties of Anthrax, inhalational anthrax is not spread person-to-person, we also know that it is difficult to manufacture is quantity and distribute. Why, in today's culture, would you take a substance back into a hospital?

Yet, we don't seem to get the lessons from prior events. Emergency managers should be informing the media about the reality of inhalational anthrax and responders (with appropriate caution) need to be realistic about responses...not every white powder event is NIMS laden, large scale disaster event.

We knew this before 9-11-01, we knew this after 9-11-01, yet we keep reacting to white powder events as if we've never seen it before.

Saturday

Sabotage: Back to the Stone Age

An act of sabotage in Santa Clara, Ca. has disrupted communications and left 52,000 without telephone, cellular phone, or internet communications. According to the National Terror Alert and MercuryNews.com someone got into (an unsecured)utility man-hole and cut four or five fiber optic lines. The disruption impacted not only "land line" service, but cellular service, ATM's, and emergency communications.

Although sabotage is the suspected (obvious) cause of this event, the MercuryNews.com report notes that the contract between AT&T and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) had expired at 11:59 (problem identified at 2am)...

According to both reports, the situation was noticed when an emergency communications center discovered they had lost phone service. Officials have given some interesting quotes published in both the National Terror Alert and MercuryNew.com...

"We've never to this extent in recent history had this kind of phone outage,''and It's kind of like an earthquake" are two that stand out.

According to MercuryNews.com:

"
The Santa Clara County Emergency Operations Center has been activated; the Santa Clara County Fire Department has moved more firefighters to south county fire stations; the county sheriff has increasing staffing and patrols; and additional ambulances have been positioned in the area."

Overall this is a good tactic. However, you have to consider that loss of communications is a precursor to another event in another area. If you move resources into the effected area, make sure other areas are also well supported.

A couple of things to point out, and this is what I'd be thinking if I worked in this areas emergency management:
  • Soft Target/Hard Target...communications service is part of critical infrastructure...protect it! Open utility vaults/man hole access are soft targets when they contain communication equipment, power supply access, water supply distribution and so on. They should not be soft targets...they need to be protected.
  • Despite the almost obvious link between AT&T/CWA contract negotiations, don't jump to conclusion that this situation was perpetrated by a member of either party. Keep in mind that people that want to do us harm read the paper, too. The contract negotiations may be just the cover an individual(s) would want to try an act such as this...bottom line, think deeper. Also, it wont take a lot of imagination to figure out what to cut/destroy to cripple a system like fiber optic communications. I think anyone with motivation could do it.
  • Consider that this act may be a probe, a test simply to see how a community responds to such an event. Although significant, this could be the tip of the sabotage iceberg.
  • Consider also that destruction of communications ability may be the heralding event for something else...disruption of communication may be just the start, with the primary event taking place later. Crippling of the emergency service communication and the public ability to report an event would signal trouble for responders...and increase the scale/impact of a concurrent event.