More and more powerful mobile personal communication devices plus clever applications and entrepreneurial services to capitalize on those devices, have transformed our lives. Increasingly, those devices are also networked -- they can communicate directly with each other, upsetting the old top-down, hierarchical communications structure where everything went through a centralized system. Increasingly, we’re in charge.
While I believe what I call “government in your hand” will eventually alter the relationship between government and the public in a wide range of areas, perhaps no area of government services could benefit more from empowering the general public than emergency response, especially when in those extreme situations such as 9/11 or Katrina when the unexpected happens and/or conventional responses are inadequate.
I had my own personal experience of the need for a new approach in February, 2007. I was driving back to Boston from DC when I got caught in the Valentine's Day storm that left I-78 a 50-mile long parking lot. Governor Rendell, who found out about the incident only indirectly hours after it reached a crisis stage, was livid. He said the situation was “a total communications breakdown.” As I wrote in an op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News , the approach I'm about to describe could have at least mitigated, if not eliminated, the crisis.
When conventional approaches fail in situations such as these, the public faces a stark reality. As the Washington Post wrote after Katrina: “ “ ..the twin hurricanes ... touched off a nationwide conversation about disaster preparedness. The mantra, being repeated by civilians and government officials alike, is: We are on our own . ---”Hurricanes Prompt Many to Be More Prepared for Disaster, “ Washington Post , Oct. 16, 2005 If that's the case, then government must do everything possible to help us function on our own in a crisis, especially to communicate among ourselves to plan ad hoc strategies.
While it didn’t receive a lot of media coverage, that’s exactly what happened during Katrina -- people just did it themselves: Spurred by word of mouth, hundreds of Cajuns spontaneously navigated their small boats to New Orleans in an ad hoc citizens flotilla, the “Cajun Navy,” rescuing nearly 4,000 survivors. Richard Zuschlag, co-founder of Acadian Ambulance Service, used his 200 ambulances, plus medevac helicopters, to evacuate 7,000, while also providing the only reliable emergency communications system. This picture shows one of many low-powered radio repeaters that tekkies installed on rooftops around the city, to allow basic communication. Note the graphic! and many people were still able to send text message even if they couldn’t use voice.
The time has come to give the approach capitalizing on the new networked communication devices in an emergency a name, and to elevate them to their rightful place as a critical component of anti-terror and disaster preparation and response: what I call networked homeland security .
The networked homeland security approach works because it capitalizes on the convergence of three aspects of networks and their behavior. The first, as explained by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt in their book Networks and Netwars , is that “it takes a network to fight a network.” There’s no question that one of the reasons for the terrorists’ success is that they use a networked strategy, without hierarchical, top-down control, with largely autonomous, self-organizing cells. That kind of organization simply can’t be defeated by a top-down, hierarchical response. In the same vein, natural disasters -- unpredictable, fast-changing, exacting a particularly heavy toll on the most vulnerable -- are similar in many ways to the terrorists, and, similarly, demand a flexible, self-organizing response.
The second aspect of networks converging today is technological: as this “picture” of the Internet shows, any device that has an Internet Protocol (IP) address, as well as any content that is broken up into digital packets, can move through the Internet, routing around obstacles and breakages, without the vulnerability to obsolete, hierarchical networks. That kind of flexibility is crucial in a disaster.
The most important aspect of networks in terms of the networked homeland security approachis the phenomenon of social network theory, which has developed in the past 30 years to explain the functioning of social networks, and why they are so robust. In particular, the concept that networks that have many loose connections -- or “weak ties” -- to those outside the main network can actually be more effective, is critical for homeland security, because response may require knitting together a range of loosely-linked networks in real time.
The critical aspect of networked homeland security making it so well suited to chaotic situations such as 9/11 or Katrina that require ad hoc , on-the-spot responses, is the result of the synergies between: technological networks formed by the communication devices and social networks The potential result is a powerful phenomenon first observed in social insects such as bees, ants, and termites. Scientists find these simple, primitive organisms, functioning without a strong leader, are capable of amazingly sophisticated collaborative action, such as construction of this complex termite mound. Researchers call this emergent behavior or swarm intelligence. The group's behavior is often unpredictable, emerging from the collective interactions of all of the individuals, governed by simple rules. Researchers, including Eric Bonabeau, who co-authored a paper with me on the application of “swarm intelligence” to homeland security, have created rigorous mathematical formulas to describe the activities of social insects, and are now applying those formulas to human management issues. Perhaps the most striking example of emergent behavior in action was the Flight 93 passengers: strangers thrown together under the worst possible circumstances, with “situational awareness” provided by relatives via their cell phones, who quickly evolved what proved to be the only effective response on 911.
This approach isn’t the kind of elegant, streamlined response that some strive for in tabletop disaster drills, but neither are the circumstances encountered in actual disasters. When faced with the unpredictable and fast-changing, a networked response is precisely what you need, because it just works.
The next few slides show possible components of a networked homeland security strategy. I refer to them collectively as “the mix” -- not the formula -- because none are critical, and any components are still functioning in an actual crisis can play a role, a crucial strength of this approach. The few devices and applications I will describe are only a selection of a constantly expanding array. Driven by a combination of technological imperatives and entrepreneurialism, the options available during an emergency to create a networked strategy will only increase. As long as you have access to some IP- based devices and packet-based information, an effective networked homeland security response can be cobbled together, in real-time, based on whatever devices people still have access to and which still work, even if the fixed infrastructure and normal chains-of-command are impaired or absent.
Text messaging, because it is so concise and uses so little bandwidth, is ideal for crisis communications. When nothing else worked on 9/11, Blackberries still did. During Katrina, when so many cell towers were down, people who knew how to text could message even if voice calls wouldn’t get through. On Wednesday, those of us on Twitter knew about the shootings long before the official DC Alerts bulletin.
Ideally, if your command structure is still intact, you can send messages to people’s cell phones formatted by the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP, an XML schema that systematizes the information through tags such as “certainty,” “urgency,” and “instructions,” and then broadcasts them to the appropriate geographic polygons.
As more smartphones, which can store data, are used, a networked homeland security strategy will include pushing as much information to users in advance, as I did with my series of Terrorism Survival Planners, databases prepared specifically for easy 3-click retrieval. That way, during the crisis it’s only necessary to distribute information that would alert users as to which of the information they already have is relevant, instead of having to send massive amounts of data. With this information stored on their smartphones, even if all communication was interrupted, people would still have the basic information they’d need to respond calmly and appropriately.
In a crisis, when damage assessments, obstacles on roads, and other kinds of situational awareness are crucial but first responders are overwhelmed with other responsibilities, another content from the public possible under a networked homeland security strategy can be absolutely invaluable: real-time, location-based information via their cameraphones for situational awareness. With public education programs such as Pennsylvania’s outstanding Terrorism Awareness and Protection one, the public will know what kind of information would be useful to authorities, and simple, interactive processes can be implemented to protect innocent people from harassment and privacy violations.
Several applications that are part of the mix will help visualize how to capitalize on the networked aspect of these communication devices, and thereby encourage the higher level, swarm intelligence needed to work collaboratively to create an ad hoc response in the middle of a crisis. One comes from the CUWiN activist group in Champaign-Urbana: free, downloadable software that lets people create instant, self-forming, self-healing mesh networks to link a neighborhood. Mesh networks, because each node becomes a repeater, can then expand the outside limits of the neighborhood net to larger and larger parts of the community. Or, in situations such as the I-78 blizzard, it would have been possible to create a 50-mile long, 4-lane wide network if the truckers who were stuck had CUWiN on their laptops.
All devices to make networked homeland security a reality are in use, but several components to tie them into an effective system must still be developed: Similar to football, an online “playbook” including information modules and communication options that could be combined in various ways depending on how an actual crisis evolved and its characteristics. Just as the quarterback calls the actual play based on his reading of the defense's alignment, the situation would dictate the actual deployment. Interactive means to educate people about what kind of information could be valuable to authorities, and to avoid frivolous or criminal use. Similarly, guidance is needed to help the public use the networked devices effectively in an emergency, vs. uses that might exacerbate the problems. Objective criteria to help authorities evaluate the stream of new communi-cation devices and applications to determine their applicability to the networked homeland security approach. Means, based on psychological research, to increase the likelihood of swarm intelligence actually emerging in a crisis. This system depends on willing involvement of commercial vendors. A framework for such a system must be developed and participants recruited. Perhaps most necessary is an attitudinal shift on officials' part to treat the public as partners in emergency preparation and response. This does not just happen, but will require manuals and workshops.
Networked Homeland Security - David Stephenson
Networked homeland security: elevating the public from pawns to partners Crisis Camp June 12, 2009 <ul><li>W. David Stephenson </li></ul><ul><li>Stephenson Strategies </li></ul>
The mix: CAP content alert xmlns='http://www.incident.com/cap/1.0'> <identifier>KSTO1055887203</identifier> <sender>KSTO@NWS.NOAA.GOV</sender> <sent>2003-06-17T14:57:00-07:00</sent> <status>Actual</status> <msgType>Alert</msgType> <scope>Public</scope> <info> <category>Met</category> <event>SEVERE THUNDERSTORM</event> <urgency>Severe</urgency> <certainty>Likely</certainty> <senderName>NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SACRAMENTO</senderName> <headline>SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING</headline> <description>SEVERE THUNDERSTORM OVER SOUTH CENTRAL ALPINE COUNTY</description> <instruction>TAKE COVER IN A SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER UNTIL THE STORM PASSES</instruction> <contact>BARUFFALDI/JUSKIE</contact> <area> <areaDesc>EXTREME NORTH CENTRAL TUOLUMNE COUNTY IN CALIFORNIA, </areaDesc> <polygon>38.47,-120.14 38.34,-119.95 38.52,-119.74 38.62,-119.89 38.47,-120.14</polygon>
Still needed! <ul><li>“ Playbook” of options </li></ul><ul><li>Policies and procedures to govern & improve public participation </li></ul><ul><li>Criteria to evaluate new devices and applications </li></ul><ul><li>Research ways to increase likelihood of swarm intelligence in emergencies </li></ul><ul><li>Public-private partnerships </li></ul><ul><li>Attitude shift! </li></ul>
For more information on Networked Homeland Security, contact: Stephenson Strategies 508 740-8918 [email_address]
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