Alumni convene for APEX 2018

Longtime homeland security issues such as cyber security and disaster management along with emerging problems like the opioid crisis and so-called fake news were among the topics discussed at the 2018 Alumni Professional Exchange and Continuing Education Workshop February 21-22.

Almost 200 alumni of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security gathered for the event held annually in the historic Barbara McNitt Ballroom on the Naval Postgraduate School Campus. APEX is intended to keep alumni abreast of critical issues while reinforcing the network of participants who collaborate long after graduation.

“The relevant homeland security topics and experienced speakers led many alumni to say this was the best APEX yet, and I concur,” said CHDS Alumni Association President Chris Pope. “It was great catching up with returning alumni and to meet new alumni attending their first APEX.  Our homeland security network is growing and strengthening.”

FEMA Perspective

Daniel Kaniewski, Deputy Administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), discussed the 2017 disasters as well as FEMA’s strategic priorities and the importance of educational programs such as CHDS in fostering a culture of preparedness.

Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA Deputy Administrator, National Preparedness Directorate

“CHDS has been a valuable partner to FEMA over the years,” Kaniewski said. “We hope the programs we sponsor through CHDS have better prepared you for your role in homeland security and emergency management.”

He went on to discuss lessons learned from a record-breaking disasters in 2017. For FEMA, catastrophes in the Caribbean resulted in the longest sustained air mission in the agency’s history and the largest medical response in the history of DHS.

Logistics proved to be exceptionally daunting in responding to hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The response has required a whole of government approach with multiple federal, state, local and volunteer agencies responding to the islands. Ports were damaged and even when commodities made it to the island, getting them to remote areas was exceptionally challenging.

Adding to the distribution challenge was the storms impact on communication capacity. “Situational awareness was a challenge,” he said. “The principle reason was because communications were down.”

He lauded communications companies, which repaired their own cell towers and did the same for any others nearby even if owned by competitors.

And, the event was aggravated by an already busy disaster year with storms in the South and wildfires in the West. There were 30 open presidentially declared disasters prior to Maria and Irma. DHS issued a call to federal employees in all departments for responders, and state and local governments contributed through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). Kaniewski thanked CHDS alumni for offering assistance, as several volunteered and deployed to the disasters.

Kaniewski also highlighted FEMA’s strategic priorities, many of which were based on lessons learned from the 2017 disasters. “FEMA will focus on fostering culture of preparedness, readiness for catastrophic disasters and reducing the complexity of its programs.”  Kaniewski spoke to these priorities in more depth during an interview with CHDS Viewpoints.

These priorities are also found in FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan which was recently published.

On the front lines of response

The event featured a first-hand look at response and recovery from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Executive Leaders Program alumna Mona Barnes, Director of the territory’s Emergency Management Agency, discussed how the four islands were ravaged by the successive Category 5 hurricanes that blew through within 12 days of one another in September 2017.

ELP alumna Mona Barnes was one of the featured speakers at the 2018 APEX.

“I’ll submit to you that your worst case scenario will never be the worst case,” Barnes said. “Plans are great, but in a catastrophe you need to think beyond the plan.”

Islanders were left without cellular and telephone service and in the first few days of the response ham radios and bullhorns, used by the Civil Authorities Information Support Group, were the only means of communications. The area also faced a similar conundrum as past major disasters – first responders were also disaster survivors. Some 17 high-ranking police officers departed the territories along with a couple of dozen teachers.

Barnes herself spent weeks sleeping at her officer as she managed response. In addition to about 200 FEMA partners on the ground, 27 states sent personnel as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Barnes’ staff stayed, she noted.

Evacuations were challenging as the islands lost their two hospitals and five hotels were leveled. Patients were airlifted to the mainland, and in the future their needs to be a better way to track them so their families can find them. The response also highlighted the importance of non-profits, Barnes noted. Emergency managers should know those groups and their capabilities before a crisis hits.

“This is not the time to find out what your non-profits can do,” she said.

FEMA Acting Assistant Administrator for National Preparedness John Rabin, an Executive Leaders Program alumnus, discussed the shared challenges the agency faced during the pasts year.

Managing the public’s expectations proved critically important. She encouraged homeland security professionals communicate frankly, and often, with constituents. Territorial officials held 50 press conferences over 60 days. Prior to the first storm, the governor even encouraged residents to sleep in their clothes.

The Virgin Islands have now pivoted to recovery and are grappling with a common post-disaster challenge, how to reconstruct better while facing limited financing. For example, two hospitals need to be replaced and officials are working with FEMA on how to fund the work. The territory is rebuilding its electricity distribution better by using composite transmission poles that can withstand hurricane-strength winds.

“Why not afford us the opportunity to build back better and stronger?” she said. “We can’t build back the way we were and get better.”

FEMA Acting Assistant Administrator for National Preparedness John Rabin, an Executive Leaders Program alumnus, said he learned during the response that a catastrophic hurricane is not just bigger, it’s much different in terms of response. With no ports or airfields, the basic first steps of response were delayed, and the agency was forced to deliver commodities earlier than expected in the process.

The risk calculus is also different, he added. Responders must make quick decisions without immediate managerial guidance.

“What we experienced with Harvey and Maria was truly catastrophic,” Rabin said.  “You saw people taking more risk than they would have done before because you were looking at a life safety and life-saving model. The difference was folks that normally respond … they were all survivors as well.”

The experience in Puerto Rico also illustrated the importance of forming relationships with partners before it becomes a necessity. Rabin noted his ELP classmate Joyce Flinn of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was deployed to the NRCC in support of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and helped him smooth tense feelings over some unpopular choices he had to make.

“Everything got so much better because we knew each other,” Rabin said. “She knew where I was coming from and I knew where she was coming from. We cut through a ton of the process to speed the delivery of a lot of resources based our trust and relationships.”

Fakes news and decision makers

The concept of “fake news” rose in prominence during the 2016 presidential election campaign, but the idea is far from new and the term itself is not precise.

That was the message from Mike Ananny, Assistant Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of California, who lead a session titled “Fake News: A Challenge for Decision Makers.”

USC Assistant  Professor Mike Ananny discussed the  concept of “fake news.”                                                                                                                                                                      

Misleading news accounts have been used in the United States since the pre-revolutionary days. Ananny noted founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote about fake atrocities in an attempt to draw Britain into more assistance during the French and Indian War.

“We keep reinventing this phenomenon over and over again” Ananny said.

What has changed is the rise of the so-called platform press – social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook that have eclipsed traditional news publishers in popularity. News organizations have long relied on the assessment of editors to determine what is newsworthy and significant. While this still occurs, the platform press can be further amplified through algorithms and who is paying for visibility.

Citing the work of Dr. Tarleton Gillespie, Ananny said “Platforms don’t make content, but they make important choices about that content.”

The psychology of liking and sharing information on social media now plays a bigger role in visibility of news. Ananny displayed a chart showing emotionally appealing positive news gets more clicks than low-emotion negative information. That’s important because those clicks translate to dollars. And six in 10 Americans access their news from social platforms.

There is much work on this issue being done in the tech and journalism industries. Misleading news can be combated by engaging individuals on social media and by developing greater media literacy. A campaign called Design Solutions for Fake News is underway, focusing on how design affects news perception.

News consumers have a shared responsibility, he added. Readers must gauge bias and motivation while challenging the framing of information.

“Counter-facts alone don’t work,” he said. “They may be necessary but they are not sufficient.”

Opioid Addiction

 Homeland security threats have generally emanated from the realm of theology, political ideology, or natural disasters. The onslaught of death and destruction has come from another menace: opioid addiction.

Dr. Maureen Boyle, Chief Scientific Officer with the Addiction Policy Forum, was the featured speaker for a session titled “The Opioid Crisis.”

The crisis has produced a sort of multiplier effect. Deaths from opioid overdoses totaled 63,632 during 2016 and opioids account for 67 percent of overdose deaths. Cases of Hepatitis C, often closely associated with injecting drugs, doubled between 2010 and 2014.

A combination of factors sparked the crisis. First, a powerful and commercially available oxycodone product was approved by the FDA at around the same time some medical groups were urging more attention to chronic pain cases. So-called pain clinics proliferated and the U.S. now accounts for 80 percent of oxycodone consumption while accounting for 5 percent of the world’s population.

Dr. Maureen Boyle discussed the opioid addiction trend in the U.S.

“Our communities are less cohesive which creates more isolation which makes people more vulnerable to this disorder,” Boyle said.

The disorder is a pediatric disease, she added. Addiction modifies multiple brain circuits including the brain’s dopamine reward system, reinforcing the need for one’s drug of choice over basic life needs. These changes make it more and more difficult to stop using drugs over time. Most people who develop an addiction began using alcohol or drugs during adolescence, before the brain has fully developed. People who begin using before age 15 are 6.5 times more likely to become addicted.

“If you can get people into their 20s without using those substances, the odds of addiction are negligible,” Boyle said.

Policy solutions should be multi-pronged, addressing physician education on prescribing, demand reduction, supply reduction and early intervention. In recent years law enforcement agencies have focused on shutting down “pill mills” and some agencies have equipped staff with the overdose reversal medication naltrexone.

Boyle noted technological solutions that aid people who are recovering from addiction, such as an app that used GPS to alert users when they are in an area where they are likely to relapse, and offers them immediate FaceTime with a counselor. Cognitive modification therapies have also shown promise.

“The earlier you get someone into treatment the better their chances of survival,” Boyle said.

Cybercrime and crypto currencies

NPS-CHDS master’s degree alumnus Phil Osborn offered a somber assessment during a talk on cyber security and crypto currencies.

“You have nation-states using the same methods criminals do to attack you. The amount of time it takes for a successful attack is shorter and the damage is higher,” he said.

CHDS master’s degree alumnus Phil Osborn discussed cyber security and crypto currencies.

Cyber crooks have grown increasingly sophisticated. Targeting individuals on their home computer is almost bush league these days, though it remains a concern. The real action is holding businesses and governments hostage via ransomware.

Criminals are beginning to target for penetration chief financial officers or human resource officers who generally have access to the most lucrative information.

Yet, Osborn warned that the biggest threats still come from within an organization, known in the security profession as insider threats, especially from personnel vested with all the needed credentials to compromise whole data systems. Whether with malicious intent or unwittingly, insiders have the potential to cause great harm to an organization.

“They’re doing their research and they’re watching the email traffic for weeks and months,” he said. “The trend is now for more strategic attacks.”

Internet of Things technology has expanded the bullseye for what are called denial of service attacks or malware. In particular, a malware called Mirai exploits default settings on Internet of Things devices, and enlists those devices in penetrating networks. This malware was used in 2014 to access millions of Closed Circuit Television Cameras.

Attacks have thrived with advancements in botnets and artificial intelligence, which automates the hacking process providing for greater volume of attacks.

While the tools of attack have improved, the weapons of defense remain generally the same: awareness. Osborn said organizations need to practice the basics of sound cyber hygiene like changing default passwords and user names. Moreover, organizations need to ensure their vendors and partners are practicing the same habits. Education needs to be recurrent and employees should be tested, even with bait emails from their own technology department.

“It has to be more than the obligatory once-a-year training you just click through,” he said.


Video Presentations from APEX Workshops