White House urges better response planning for nuclear attacks

July 28, 2009
The recently released Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, developed by the White House Homeland Security Council, stresses that it’s “incumbent upon all levels of government” to prepare “through focused nuclear attack response planning.” Mayors, governors, emergency managers and first responders will be the first to deal with the consequences, and according to that same guidance, “local and state community preparedness to respond to a nuclear detonation could result in life-saving on the order of tens of thousands of lives.”
Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.
Two assumptions prevail at the local level: 1.) Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and 2.) The military is the only organization capable of responding.

nukebonestell

A new report suggests that “surge capacity is the largest threat” to America’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.

From the press release:

Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.

The report notes that, “Two assumptions prevail at the local level:

  1. Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and
  2. The military is the only organization capable of responding.

Because it often takes the military time to respond to catastrophic events, the report urges local governments to consider and prepare for what they would do if the military doesn’t arrive in time.

The report suggests that local decision-makers:

  1. Come to grips with the threat and understand that the military can’t arrive immediately to help.
  2. Realize that isn’t a problem for only large, high-risk cities, but one that requires a regional response.
  3. Actually make plans and co-ordinate with your neighbours.

The press release concludes that, “Such preparation isn’t necessarily specific to nuclear terrorism. Regional preparedness and response can be used for a range of catastrophic events, including hurricanes such as Katrina. Moving down the scale, preparing for the “big one” will help communities deal with the small disasters they face every year.”

Press release herefull report here.



Cyber-attacks on an American city

April 24, 2009
Photo: Damien Cox, Flickr

Photo: Damien Cox, Flickr

 

Slashdot reports on a mysterious case of high tech urban sabotage in California, with lessons for first responders in complex urban environments.

Software innovator Bruce Perens writes,

Just after midnight on Thursday, April 9, unidentified attackers climbed down four manholes serving the Northern California city of Morgan Hill and cut eight fiber cables in what appears to have been an organized attack on the electronic infrastructure of an American city. Its implications, though startling, have gone almost un-reported.

“That attack demonstrated a severe fault in American infrastructure: its centralization. The city of Morgan Hill and parts of three counties lost 911 service, cellular mobile telephone communications, land-line telephone, DSL internet and private networks, central station fire and burglar alarms, ATMs, credit card terminals, and monitoring of critical utilities. In addition, resources that should not have failed, like the local hospital’s internal computer network, proved to be dependent on external resources, leaving the hospital with a “paper system” for the day”

This is an interesting example of emerging threats to urban centres in the future, along the lines of previous posts on attacking the electric grid system.   The entire article, found here, is well worth reading.  

In particular, Bruce has a discussion of the lessons learned from this mysterious attack:

The first lesson is what stayed up: stand-alone radio systems and not much else. Cell phones failed. Cellular towers can not, in general, connect phone calls on their own, even if both phones are near the same tower. They communicate with a central switching computer to operate, and when that system doesn’t respond, they’re useless. But police and fire authorities still had internal communications via two-way radio.

Very rich food for thought about the future of complex urban emergencies.


US electric grid has been penetrated by spies

April 23, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports on vulnerabilities in the US electric and infrastructure grids.  Another emerging threat facing complex, interconnected urban environments.

From the article:

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”

Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, “If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on.”

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

It doesn’t take much imagination to forecast such an attack may occur in any major first world city, potentially in combination with other forms of sabotage or terrorist action.  Full article here.


Hackers have already attacked US electric grid

March 28, 2009

electric-tower

GreenerComputing reflects on CIA reports recently released which admits that hackers from around the world have already attacked the US electric grid.

A year ago at the the critical infrastructure SANS SCADA Summit in New Orleans, the CIA said that hackers had already hacked into the networks of power companies overseas. The site SecurityFocus reported:

The cases involved unknown attackers compromising a utilities company’s network and then demanding ransom from the firm. In at least one case, the attack cause a power outage that affected multiple cities, the CIA analyst said.

The attacks were launched via the Internet. Here’s the full statement that the CIA official gave, according to the SANS Institute:

“We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands. We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge. We have information that cyber attacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the United States. In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet.”

 


Accelerated swarming; Mumbai is just the beginning

March 3, 2009

Military theorist John Arquilla (author of Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy and several other excellent conflict and war studies books) argues in the New York Times that Mumbai style terrorists attacks are likely to become more frequent and more successful in the coming decade.

“The basic concept”, he writes, “is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time.”

Arqilla cites current US counter terrorist strategy that plans for up to three sites being simultaneously hit and using “overwhelming force” against the terrorists, “which probably means mustering as many as 3,000 ground troops to the site.”  He suggests that in an age of force multiplication, networks, and flexible fighting styles, this is the wrong strategy and doesn’t bode well for security in modern megacities.

Nightmare possibilities include synchronized assaults on several shopping malls, high-rise office buildings or other places that have lots of people and relatively few exits. Another option would be to set loose half a dozen two-man sniper teams in some metropolitan area — you only have to recall the havoc caused by the Washington sniper in 2002 to imagine how huge a panic a slightly larger version of that form of terrorism would cause.

John Robb over at GlobalGuerillas agrees.  He writes,

The reason we will see more swarming is due to the pervasive influence of decentralized organizational forms, like open source insurgency, on warfare’s evolution.  Swarming is a characteristic of these loosely connected organizations.

Robb suggests we’ll be more likely to more sophisticated and ambitious attacks soon, which “ventually attempt complete and sustained urban takedowns”.  Scary thinking, and while Robb argues there is little we can do, Arquilla suggests using similiar tactics will be an effective countermeasure.  These include smaller, more flexible, less centrally controlled response teams with more individual autonomy and less connection to HQ.

Implications for humanitarianism?  Expect more Mumbai-style actions in your home town soon.  Just as small, flexible, semi-autonmous rapid response teams could be needed for a military response, might the same model work for humanitarian response?


Complexity, collaboration, swarming, and the new politics of war

December 23, 2008

Inspired thinking on how 21st century guerilla groups are embracing principles of complexity, decentralization and collaboration to wage a new kind of warfare, with implications for humanitarian response strategy.

John Robb, author of Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, provides some insightful insights into the dynamics of complexity and new collaboration techniques that are relevant to the humanitarian community.

In a recent post on emergent communities dedicated to war, he outlines how highly networked terrorist groups are taking advantage of complexity principles to achieve their aims. He notes that such groups are:

  • have little formal structure (are a nest of relationships)
  • have flexible membership (participants flow in and out based on their own personal goals and motivations)
  • are formed in relation to a shared, central purpose or belief.
  • What are the implications of this organisational style for humanitarian collaboration? There are obvious and important differences between networked terrorist organisations and humanitarian organisations, not lease of which is their purpose. Despite these differences, however, an understanding of the tactics, strengths, and weaknesses of this approach is desirable in order to more effectively operate in a sphere where such groups exist and wield power.

    Robb argues, for example, that these groups and their tactics are particularly effective against large, cumbersome systems such as centralised bureaucracies because they understand system dynamics and are able to leverage small actions against their weak points to great effect. 9/11, Mumbai, etc. are relevant examples. While it is unlikely that humanitarian agencies will adopt the organisational style of such groups, knowledge of how they think and operate may be essential to adapt and respond to their actions in the future. His post on on cascading systems failure, for example, identifies strategies and mechanisms for attacking critical infrastructure that any agency responsible for their protection must be aware of. Browse his site in more detail for an engaging read on the future of decentralised, networked collaboration.


    Mumbai attackers more tech savvy than police

    December 18, 2008

    heli2

    Is this what collaboration looks like in the 21st century? Are we ready?

    MUMBAI, India – When the attackers arrived on the shores of Mumbai last month, they had studied satellite images of the city, were carrying handheld GPS sets and were communicating with their handlers via the Internet and satellite phone.

    Many of the Indian police they encountered did not even have walkie-talkies. The Mumbai gunmen not only overwhelmed security forces with their weaponry and willingness to die, but also with their sophisticated use of technology, security experts said.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28221884/


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