Showing posts with label FEMA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FEMA. Show all posts

August 28, 2017

Thank You To The Rescuers

With all the devastation going on around Houston and the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Harvey...

I thought it would be nice to just take a moment to reflect.

First, the pain and suffering of the people affected. 

I couldn't believe last night when I saw this image of residents in a assisted nursing facility sitting up to the necks in flood waters.

Or this morning, when I saw a photo in the Wall Street Journal of a firefighter holding a mother with her baby daughter lying on her, rescuing them through the waters. 

With over 3,000 rescues performed for people stranded in attics, rooftops, in cars, and all over the city and surroundings, I also think it's important to recognize all the firefighters and other emergency workers who put their lives on the line to help others. 

The Houston area is expected to get 50 inches of rain in under a week, which is what their usual annual rainfall is. 

So there is massive flooding and damage from Harvey as well as 250,000 people without power. 

My prayers go out to the people impacted and gratitude to the people who help them. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Huffington Post)
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December 16, 2014

Chaos On Metro

Sheer chaos on the Washington, D.C. Metro this morning. 

A water main break suspended the running of the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.

The Metro spokeperson told me pointing with his hand up to his the neck that the water was filling the tunnels and getting way up there--nice!

At the same time, disabled trains on the Red line brought things to a "Major Delay," followed by the offloading of crowded trains because the conductors couldn't get the doors shut.

At the stations themselves, numerous escalators were out of commission, you can see them at boths ends of the station here, and the people were backed up all along the platforms. 

At one point, I got caught on the edge of a platform with a huge crowd pushing up against me, and had to tell the person behind me to please take a step back (that I didn't want to end up on the tracks, why thank you, and believe it or not, some not-so-nice people actually laughed at that!). 

Ufortunately, it didn't take much to see how most of the city can be brought to a snarl or taken right out of commission. 

After 9/11, one has to ask, what have we learned as the Capital of the nation that our basic infrastructure and support systems cannot endure the ups and downs of weather and age, let alone G-d forbid another attack on our soil. 

Hopefully, someone will wake up and step up the planning and preparations here, rather than just spending trillions abroad and with what results. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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November 22, 2014

Dire Warnings On CyberSecurity

This week Adm. Michael Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command issued a stark warning to the nation about the state of cybersecurity:

With our cybersecurity over the next decade, "It's only a matter of the 'when,' not the 'if,' that we are going to see something dramatic."

The Wall Street Journal reports that he gave " a candid acknowledgement that the U.S. ISN'T yet prepared to manage the threat!"

China and "one or two others" [i.e. Russia etc.] are infiltrating our SCADA networks that manage our industrial control systems, including our power turbines and transmission systems,.

The cyber spies from the nation states are "leaving behind computer code that could be used to disable the networks  in the future."

Can you imagine...you must imagine, you must prepare--not if, but when. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 17, 2014

Alert, Alert, And More Alerts

No this is not an alert, but some strategic thinking about alerts. 

As a kid, we get our first alerts usually from the fire alarm going off in school and practicing the buddy system and safely evacuating. 

As adults, we are used to get so many types of alerts:

- Homeland Security threat alerts
- Breaking news alerts
- Emergency/Disaster alerts
- Severe weather alerts
- Smog alerts
- Transportation delay alerts
- Accident alerts
- Fraud alerts
- Economic and financial alerts
- Amber missing child alerts
- Internet security alerts
- Power loss alerts
- Home or business intruder alerts
- Fire alerts
- Carbon Monoxide alerts
- Medical/health alerts
- Chemical spill alerts
- Product safety or recall alerts
- Unsafe drinking water alerts
- Active shooter alerts
- Work closure alerts
- Parking garage alerts
- Dangerous marine life alerts
- Dangerous current or undertow alerts
- Air raid siren alerts
- Solar eclipse alerts
- Meteorite or falling space debris alerts
- Special sale or promotional event alerts

With the arrival of highly successful, mass social media applications like Twitter, we have alerts aggregated for us and listed chronologically as things are happening real-time. 

The brilliance of the current Twitter-type alerting is that we can sign up to follow whatever alerts we are interested in and then have a streaming feed of them.  

The alerts are short--up to 140 characters--so you can quickly see the essence of what is happening or ignore what is irrelevant to you. 

When more space is needed to explain the details behind an alert, typically a (shortened) URL is included, which if you click on it takes you to a more in depth explanation of the event or item. 

So alerts are a terrific balance between short, attention grabbing headlines and links to more detail, as needed. 

What is also great about the current alerting mechanism is that you can provide concise alert information, including:

- Message source (for ensuring reliability)
- Guidance (for providing immediate instruction on response). 
- Hazard (for specifying the type of incident)
- Location (for identifying geographic or mapping locality)
- Date/time (for implications as to its currency)
- Importance (for determining severity such as catastrophic, critical, etc.)

While we remain ever, hyper-vigilant, we need to be careful not to become anxiety-ridden, or at some point, simply learn to tune it all out, so we can actually live life and get stuff done.

It's good to know what's going on out there, but can too much information ever become a bad thing? ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 5, 2014

Sitting Ducks, Sitting In The Dark?

If you read the Wall Street Journal, then you heard today about the attack that took place last April on the power grid in San Jose, California. 

Yes, "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" and in San Jose in 2013!

Some assailants cut the telephone cables in an underground vault and shot for 19 minutes at a electrical substation with more than 100 rounds from an AK-47 and "surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley."

In this isolated case, power was able to be rerouted around the damaged site, but it still took 27 days to make the necessary repairs.

What if this was a broader attack--what could have happened? 

Firstly, since our roughly 2,000 nationwide giant transformers sit mostly in the open surrounded by nothing more than chain link fences and some cameras, an attack is possible, if not probable.

According to the then Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), "if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S."

Further, since each transformer is custom made, weighs up to 500,000 pounds, costs millions to build and are hard to replace, a large scale attack could result in "prolonged outages as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years."

Is this an isolated incident and nothing to worry about?

Uh, no! Domestically, there were 274 incidents of deliberate damage in three years. And overseas, between 1996 and 2006, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on the power grid. 

"Utility executives and federal energy official have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage." 

The Former FERC Chairman said, "What keeps me awake at night is a physical attack that could take down the grid. This is a huge problem."  

Do you think the lights will be on forever or is it just a matter of time? 

On a personal level, have you given any thought to how you will feed your families, light and warm your homes, run your businesses, gas up your cars, and send and receive information?


Our Achilles' heels--is anyone even paying serious attention?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal; this is not an endorsement of this book, but rather symbolic)
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July 10, 2013

Emergency Alert Or R U Kidding?

BBC News Technology (9 July 2013) reports on how the U.S. Emergency Alert System (EAS) was hacked. 

The EAS is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was set up "to allow the president to talk to the entire country within 10 minutes of a disaster." It also provides the public with alerts on local weather emergencies, such as tornados and flash floods. 


EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) in 1997 and with it came security weaknesses.


Earlier this year, those vulnerabilities were tested and exploited when the Montana Television Network was hacked with an alert of a zombie attack.


And it provided advice on how to survive--"Do not approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous."


This is reminiscent of the hoax in 1938 when over the radio came a warning that a meteorite had smashed into New Jersey and aliens were attacking New York--an adaptation of H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds."


Well yesterday it was aliens, today it's zombies, and tomorrow it could be an phony announcement of an invasion by country XYZ or perhaps a imminent detonation of a thermonuclear warhead somewhere over the continental U.S. 


Imagine the panic, confusion, and potential loss of life and property from the ensuing chaos. 


It goes without saying that this is not a way to inspire confidence by the citizens in case of a true national emergency. 


If we cannot count on the systems meant to survive an emergency then how can we be expected to survive the emergency itself? 


The EAS may interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with those loud and annoying tests, but what can really ruin you day is a cyber attack on the system that broadcasts something much nastier and more ominous--and you don't really know whether it's the real thing or just another hack. ;-)


(Source Photo: here with attribution to UWW ResNet)

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December 13, 2012

Great Balls Of The Apocalypse


So the Chinese have invented an amazing life-saving device for whenever a great life-threatening catastrophe strikes.

Rather than an ark, this lifeboat is a giant ball of steel, concrete, and fiberglass--two layers thick and weighing four tons--they are advertised as waterproof, fireproof, ice-proof, shock-resistant, and they stand upright and float in water. 

In case of a tsunami, earthquake, shipwreck, or other major crisis, these can be you lifepod to safety. 

CNN reports that they can hold 14 people (video says up to 30 people) and can store food, water, and oxygen for two months. 

The pods also have a propeller for the craft and seatbelts for your added safety--should things get a little rough on the water of Armaggedon. 

The inventor says the next generation survival pod will be made of stronger steel and have more comfort gadgets--although, I imagine he can't mean a flat screen TV. ;-) 

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November 11, 2012

Reaching The Victims Of Disaster


I watched on TV, a congressman from Staten Island talk about the complex response to Hurricane Sandy--in particular, how people whose homes were flooded and were without power could not contact authorities for the help they desperately needed.

Going on two weeks after the storm, the Congressman explained how engineers and architects were in turn going door to door to find out who needed help and what could be done--but this was slow and cumbersome. 

Today, I am reading in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (30 Oct. 2012) about an organization that "matches volunteers with people affected by disasters."

Recovers.org does this by establishing local recovery sites for communities (e.g. townname.recover.org) on a subscription model.
By establishing recovery sites to manage relief efforts--without waiting for government or aid groups--recovers.org enables self-sufficiency for communities in the face of disaster.

Moreover, by working at the grassroots level and going straight to neighborhood organizations such as houses or worship or community centers to serve as site administrators--those who know their community and who needs help--Recovers aims to bypass the "red tape."

The recovery sites they establish, include features for: 

- Searchable volunteer database that matches skills of volunteers to needs in the community
- Disaster Dashboard that aids in information sharing between victims and responders
- Donation mechanism where 100% goes directly to the areas affected, rather than to a relief organization

Recovers is the brainchild of someone whose own home was destroyed in a tornado in 2011, and who understands the logistical chaos that can ensue without proper recovery coordination on the ground!

I like the idea of this community Recovery portal for coordinating relief efforts through volunteers and donations, and see this as complementary to the formal FEMA DisasterAssistance.gov site for applying for various forms of assistance and checking claims.

Still though, the fundamental problem exists when you have no power--you can't logon to recover.org or disasterassistance.gov--you are still cut-off and in need of help. So it looks like we are back to the drawing board on this one again.

As a vision for the future, we need the ability to establish remote wireless charging generally-speaking for all, but specifically for communities struck by disaster, so they can call out for help and we can actually hear them and provide a timely respond!  ;-)

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October 29, 2012

Zombie Homeland Security Training 101


Unbelievable. The Halo Counter-terrorism Summit (Oct 29-Nov. 2, 2012) is hosting a mock Zombie Invasion as part of its emergency response training for about a 1,000 special ops, military, police, medical, firefighter, and other homeland security professionals. 

The Zombie Apocalypse training exercise is occurring mid-summit on October 31, Halloween--so it is quite timely for other ghoulish activities that day. 

There are two sessions--#1 at 4:30 PM and #2 at 7:00 PM.

Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have posted the CDC's Zombie Preparedness guidance--saying that "if you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack."

I guess this is very good news with Hurricane Sandy or "Frakenstorm" bearing down on the East Coast this evening.  Zombies, you ain't got nothing on Frakenstorm! 

In Yahoo News, Brad Barker, the President of Halo Corp., explained why Zombies are good for training, especially in asymmetric warfare: "No one knows what zombies will do in our scenario, but quite frankly no one knows what a terrorist will do."

Barker also jested that "No doubt when a zombie apocalypse occurs, it's going to be a federal incident, so we're making it happen."

Frankly, I love to see this type of creativity brought to national and homeland security and believe that this makes it less likely that we'll be perpetually fighting yesterday's war, instead of tomorrow's. 

The key is that we think out of the box in terms of what will the adversary do next--from cyberwar to weapons of mass destruction, we can't afford to be blindsighted. 

So do I think that aliens or zombies are coming for us some day--let's just say, never say never. ;-)

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October 27, 2012

Robots: More Than A Technical Challenge


This is the DARPA Pet-Proto Robot (a predecessor to the Atlas model) showing some pretty cool initial operating capabilities for navigating around obstacles.

- Climbing over a wall
- Straddling a pit
- Going up a staircase
- Walking a plank

These things may seem simple to you and I, but for these robots, we are talking about their autonomously sensing what's around them, identifying and evaluating alternatives to overcome them, deciding on what to actually do, and then successfully executing on it.

Not bad for a machine (even if we are spoiled by the the great science fiction writers and special effects of Hollywood)!

We will be seeing a lot more progress in this area in the 27 months in response to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), where robots are being looked to "execute complex tasks" for "humanitarian, disaster relief, and related activities" in potentially "dangerous and degraded, and human-engineered" environments.

I'd say only another 15-20 more years and the robots will walking among us--but are we prepared for the significant shift about to occur. 

Think about it--these robots will be able to do a lot more of the physical work (construction, manufacturing, service, care-taking, even warfighting, and more), and while we will benefit from the help, jobs are going to continue to get a lot tougher to find if you are not in fields such as engineering, science, technology, design, and so on.

This is going to lead to continued, significant social, educational, and economic disruptions.

What is now a robotics challenge to meet certain performance benchmarks, may in the future become a human challenge to shift from a human-dominated world to one which is instead shared or commingled with machines. 

This means that we need to define the boundaries between man and machine--will we be working and playing side-by-side, how about loving or fighting each other, and is there the possibility that the machine will some day transcend the inventor altogether. 

I believe that we need significant more study and research into how robotics are going to transform the way we live, work, and interact, and how humanity will adapt and survive this new monumental opportunity, but also looming threat.

What is just an obstacle to overcome in a simulation chamber may one day become an urban battlefield where humans are not necessarily the clear winners.

While I love robotics and where it can take us, this cannot be a field limited to the study of hardware and software alone.

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October 7, 2012

The iFirefighter


This the the first fire fighting robot and is built by Howe and Howe called the Thermite. 

Key features:

- Moves steadily on treads instead of wheels

- 1 ton of fire fighting power

- Fits through most doorways

- Douses fires with 600 gallons per minutes

- Doesn't tire like a human firefighter 

- Costs about $96,000 per unit

- Useful in chemical, radiological and other hazardous incidents

While I generally like these fire fighting robots, there are a number of  thoughts that come to mind about these:

- If someone is caught in a burning building or otherwise needs to be rescued, I believe that for now we are still going to be on the lookout  for the real human hero to come through the door and save the day. 

- The next advance will be autonomous firefighting robots (firefighting drones that can identify the fire, encircle it, and put the right suppressants to work to put it out quickly and safely.

- Soon it will be drones, drones everywhere--fighting everything from fires to the enemy and we will no longer be just people, performing alone, but surrounded by our little assistants--perhaps pulling the majority of the weight, leaving higher value activities to us humans.

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July 1, 2012

The Heat Is On But Something Is Off


The Huffington Post (28 June 2012) ran an article this weekend called "Land of the Free, Home of the Unprepared."

This at a time, when the United States East Coast is battling a heat wave with temperatures over 100 degrees for days running.

Emergencies have been declared in many states, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, as well as in Washington, D.C.

On top of that, an early weekend storm with hurricane-force winds took out the power for millions!

Utilities described the damage to the power grid as "catastrophic" with restoration taking up to a week for some.

People were seeking refuge from the heat with no power at home for airconditioning, refrigeration, or telecommunications.

Everywhere--at Starbucks (the garbage was piled high), Barnes and Nobles, the Mall, people were sprawled out in chairs and even on the floors, and were powering up their devices wherever they could find an outlet.

Moreover, there were long lines at gas stations and supermarkets, where power was working for some.

Many street lights were out at intersections and many other stores were either closed or only taking cash.

While catastrophes do happen including natural disasters, the frequency, duration, and impact in the Washington, D.C. area--the Capital of the United States--is ridiculously high.

I could not help thinking that if something more serious struck--whether terrorism, pandemic flu, a serious earthquake, or whatever, 11 years after 9/11, we seem really ill prepared. 


We need to get our game on, not only when the heat is up, but for disaster preparedness in general.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


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June 10, 2012

The H2O Coat


Awesome coat called the Raincatch that catches/stores rainwater and purifies it for drinking.

Designed by students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID). 

The collar of the coat catches the rainwater. 

The water passes through a charcoal and chemical filtration system. 

Purified water is then stored around the hips of the coat where it can be distributed and easily carried. 

A straw is built in and provided for easy drinking. 

I like this for its functionality as survival gear and its practicality as a user-centric product.

One thing I would add is a place to put the Coca-Cola syrup to give it a little extra pick me up. ;-)

Very cool--good job!

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