Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crisis in Haiti

Every disaster, natural or man-made, demands a response tailored to its particular challenges, but the lessons learned through handling past disasters can help avoid predictable mistakes.

The most substantial difference between the response to the attack on the World Trade Center and Katrina disaster was the management of the crisis. It remains an open question how well disaster relief for Haiti will be managed and coordinated.

In New York City, after the attacks of September 11th, there was a unified command structure, with the Mayor or Governor sitting in charge at executive management meetings three to four times a day. Those meetings consisted of all of the agencies responsible for running the city or state. Anything and everything that had to be done was coordinated in those meetings and delegated to the appropriate agency for handling. There was constant follow-up at these meetings to insure that the tasks assigned to agencies were carried out.By having so many regularly scheduled, highly focused meetings, crisis management strategies could be quickly modified as conditions changed or new information became available. If additional follow-up was required, it was only a matter of hours before the next meeting would be held, and any problems not taken care of in the field could be resolved quickly.

Coordination of volunteer assistance and resources is essential, and, just as there must be a unified executive command, the operational areas must also have a defined chain of command and mechanisms to promptly communicate necessary information from the executive command center to the operational or event commanders in the field.

In contrast to New York’s handling of September 11th, this kind of executive leadership never happened during the Katrina crisis. Although all parties were well intentioned, the Governor was going one way and the Mayor of New Orleans another, with the Mayor failing to communicate with federal assistance personnel. This chaotic absence of coordinated management only added to the crisis at hand.

September 11th and Katrina posed immense management challenges. The situation in Haiti, however, is far worse. The Haiti crisis is of epic proportion. All the issues we had to deal with in the United States during 9/11 or Katrina will be multiplied a hundred-fold, perhaps a thousand-fold. The importance of a unified command that efficiently manages the flow of information and resources to operational commanders in the field cannot be overstated. These are absolutely essential components for the best outcome for Haiti catastrophe relief efforts.

Haiti needs all the resources they can get through charitable contributions and foreign governments. Collecting, transporting, storing, and distributing resources poses an immense, complex challenge.
First and foremost, getting water and food and medical supplies to the people is a top priority. Relief leaders must do whatever it’s going to take to prevent the spread of disease. To minimize risk, supplies should be delivered within the first 72 hours – and the quake struck last Tuesday. Every passing hour in an area with contaminated water, insect-borne disease, and insufficient sanitation facilities puts survivors and rescuers at greater and greater risk.

For those interested in donating money to a Haiti-related charity, there are two things to keep in mind. You want to make sure that as much of your charitable dollar as possible reaches those who are suffering, rather than to support the administrative costs of whatever charity you’re considering giving to. A good rule of thumb is to choose a charity whose administrative fee does not exceed 10%. You can find this information for free online, through the searchable database at Charity Navigator. You don’t want to donate money to a life-and-death cause like Haiti relief, only to find that 50% of your money is going toward the charity’s administrative costs and employee salaries.

The other thing you should be aware of is that you must make sure the charity you’ve chosen will direct the full amount of your donation to Haiti relief. Even with a legitimate charity, you want to direct and to verify that all that the money you donate is going to Haiti relief, not to a bigger pot with only a portion of it going to Haiti.

We saw an historic problem of this kind in New York after September 11th. The Red Cross set up a fund to provide relief to the victims of the terrorist attacks.By November, 2001, the fund totaled $564 million in donations. Red Cross officials then decided to use 2/3 of these donations for other purposes, such as upgrading Red Cross computer and phone systems, which resulted in public outrage and Congressional hearings. So it’s important, even with the most trustworthy charity, to write your check so that the charity is obliged to use your money in the way you intend.

The President has already committed $100M in support to the government of Haiti and other governments should be doing the same. However, under no circumstance do I think that we should do so without conditions being put on that money, as to where it goes and how it should be spent, with methods of accountability installed to insure that it is used for the purpose it was granted.

I believe Haiti is going to be a test case for international compassion and coordination, and already it is pretty evident that the United States once again will lead the way. Where are Russia, China, and some of the other countries on the so-called world stage? China has pledged $1 million – a far cry from the $100 million the U.S. has pledged.

If other powerful nations can’t produce at times like this, when an entire country is on the verge of extinction, then we and the rest of the world need to seriously re-evaluate what we do for them, and with them.

God bless the people of Haiti, and Godspeed to those who go there to help the Haitian people.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning from the Christmas Attack

On Christmas Day, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, boarded a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. He had one thing in mind: to murder everyone on the plane.

Luckily for the people on the aircraft, his explosive chemical concoction failed, and courageous passengers took him into custody. Because of their courage, we don’t need to sift through a destroyed aircraft and a bunch of body parts to learn what happened. The experts will undoubtedly produce recommendations and policy changes based upon what this incident reveals about weaknesses in air travel security, but we know some things even now.

First, this is not just about the terror organization called Al Qaeda. The threat is much larger. The bloody hands of Islamist terror reach out from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Europe, from Africa, even from right here in our backyard, perhaps from a local mosque where a radical imam preaches a hatred of the West that most Americans can’t fathom.

We also need to dispel the stereotype that radical Muslim extremists are underprivileged and poorly educated. Like Osama bin Laden and the doctors who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Scotland, they can be college graduates who grew up with wealth and privilege. Abdulmutallab’s family is among Nigeria’s elite. His father, the chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria and a former minister in the Nigerian government, sent him to the finest schools in Nigeria and England, where the terrorist studied engineering. So wealthy is the family that they maintain a $4 million flat in London’s posh West End, where Rolls Royces are more common than Hondas are in most neighborhoods.

Just as the terrorists don’t fit the common stereotype, we should also remember that most Muslims are not pro-terrorist. Most are law-abiding and good religious people who want nothing more but to live in peace. These folks, however, aren’t the threat. Those who have created a perverted form of Islam that characterizes the West as its evil enemy are. They, unfortunately, dominate governments and sway public opinion in the Islamic world. Their ideology of hate must be confronted and those who believe in tolerance encouraged.

Perhaps the most important lesson we must learn is that we must put the gathering and dissemination of accurate intelligence ahead of concerns about political correctness. If we intend to prevail or even just survive in this battle against radical Islam, we must put an immediate and complete end to political correctness – period! In this case, as with Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood terror assassin, we had information indicating that there may – just may – be a problem with these people, yet one way or another, they slipped through a crack. That this may have happened because some in positions to take preventive action felt they would be stigmatized as not politically correct and damage their careers is appalling.

The airlines and the Transportation Safety Agency, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security, follow a rigid set of guidelines to insure our safety and security in and around the airports and on aircraft. There is, however, a general suspicion that these rules are subjectively applied. We have all heard stories of a 90-year-old woman being searched before boarding a flight while a passenger who would fit the identical profile of Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 bombers, is less likely to be confronted because no one wants to be subjected to an allegation that they were racially profiling.

In the case of Major Hassan, although people were alarmed by his behavior, no one acted, and he was able to pull off a jihadist attack, killing 14 people. For Abdulmutallab, the procedural error occurred after his father went to the United States Embassy in November, concerned about his son’s radical beliefs and worried that he might attempt to do something bad to the United States.Abdulmutallab was allowed to board the KLM flight without even a second round of screening.
There are at least three separate watch lists that the U.S. security agencies maintain and monitor to track suspected terrorists, terror sponsors, and terror sympathizers. Evidently, Abdulmutallab was on the list that is supposedly the most minimum threat level. According to the authorities, his being on that list did not call for any additional screening over and above any other airline passenger. If that’s true, then what exactly is that list for? More importantly, if his father did, in fact, notify the U.S. Embassy of his concerns, then why did that not raise a flag somewhere, that this man should be looked at? If Dad thinks you’re nuts and murderous, then maybe you are and someone should look into it.

In the past 36 hours, I’ve watched all the reports on CNN, FOX, and NBC, about airports enhancing their security measures, and looking at new screening equipment and approaches to security in the airline industry.

This is insanity. If there’s anyone in the security business who is surprised by this attempted attack, they need to find another line of work. If they don’t get it by now, they aren’t going to.

El Al Airlines, Israel's national carrier, is by far the safest airline in the world despite its being one of the biggest terrorist targets in the world. Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv is the world’s safest airport, so why aren’t we mirroring their security protocols?

Passengers at Ben Gurion are spared the hassle of having to remove their shoes and don’t have the luxury of curbside check-in. Here in the United States, a passenger is barely spoken to, with the exception of continuous instructions on getting through the screening process. In Ben Gurion, however, you’re spoken to constantly. From the second you enter the terminal, security and airline agents alike are looking for clues that raise a red flag, such as bulky clothing or nervousness. There are also profilers who monitor your behavior and interview travelers for anything out of the ordinary. If they are intrusive or politically incorrect, it’s just too bad. Their approach saves lives, and to them, that’s what counts.

This morning, I listened to an airline official say that, based on this recent event, they were now looking at screening equipment that could x-ray clothing to determine if something were concealed beneath it.

That’s great, but that equipment has been out for years, so why isn’t it being used now? The answer is the same as to why we aren’t using Israeli type profilers at the airport. We don’t want to insult anyone or hurt their feelings.That’s the wrong approach, if we intend to do the job that has to be done. We have to concentrate on security first, and feelings second.

But changes inside the security profession aren’t enough. We, as a country, have got to understand that the terror threat is real and is here to stay, and we need to proactively take steps to address it. President Barack Obama’s order for a review of the watch lists requirements and protocols couldn’t come at a better time. In addition to this and the improved screening equipment, we must understand the threat posed by radical Islam.

In numbers, those who seek to destroy us through terror are smaller than the millions America faced in World War I and II, but, unlike those enemies, who could be recognized on the battlefield by their uniforms, our present enemy exploits civilian guise. There is no single face or uniform or color or ethnic background that identifies them. The single trait they all share is a sick and demented hatred that drives them to use themselves as the weapons of their war and to happily die in its cause. This makes them formidable enemies, but not enemies than can’t be resisted.

We need to fix the flaws in a system that has to be as close to perfect as we can possibly get it because this enemy will keep on coming.

This time we were lucky. The next time, we may not be.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Give Our Troops Resources

Between the New York City Police and Correction departments, I led a combined staff of nearly 70,000 men and women, and I oversaw a $4 billion dollar budget.

In the jail system, I had the responsibility of overseeing the 125,000 inmates who entered the system annually; in the police department, I had to worry about the 8 million to 12 million people who lived in, worked in, or visited New York City daily. In both departments, we had enormous successes, much of which I received the credit for, but the reality is that the men and women in the field are responsible for the real successes or failures of any administrator or executive.

An enormous part of leadership is getting the right men and women in place to do the job, knowing and understanding those people, inspiring them to do the job, and then providing them with the tools, and staff they need if you intend to succeed.

Be it a grocery store in New Jersey, a car wash in Florida, a Walmart anywhere in the country, or the NYPD – the principles are all the same. And that goes for our military as well.

Wednesday marked the eight-year anniversary of the U.S. and coalition invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. A few days earlier, hundreds of Taliban insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades overran two outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight U.S. soldiers and capturing more than 20 Afghan security troops.

It was one of the deadliest assaults against U.S. forces in more than a year.
Almost simultaneously, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and growing worse — and without more boots on the ground, the United States risks failure in the war it has been waging. That said, we have two choices to make: Give him what he needs to do the job, or pull our troops out and get them home.
Continuing this battle understaffed and ill-equipped is a guarantee for heavier losses that no one wants to see.

Let’s not forget the Soviet–Afghan War, which lasted more than nine years involving the Soviet Union and India, supporting Afghanistan at its request, against the Islamist Mujahedeen Resistance. Supporting the mujahedeen were the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a few other Muslim nations.

This war ultimately was labeled the Soviets' Vietnam because of the interminable nature of the war and the Soviets' inability to achieve any sort of victory. And that was the Soviet Union, a world power whose idea of the Geneva Convention is using tanks to run over protesters at an antiwar rally.

The U.S. troops and coalition forces in Afghanistan today are fighting a battle in terrain that is nearly impossible, and their enemy is like mountain rats that live in the rocks and caves. What is worse yet is that the enemy likes those conditions.

This is no easy job.

McChrystal said he needs more troops to get the job done. He is the man on the ground tasked with a strategy to accomplish a mission. There’s no better example of this type of exercise than the merger in Iraq and the successes Gen. David Petraeus had in 2008. There’s no need to speak to the members of the Armed Services Committee for advice unless that advice is how to expedite the logistical request and get McChrystal the tools and resources he needs to get that job done.

It's now or never — for every day we waste, we put the lives of those fighting for us on the line even more than they already are. If we are not going to grant the general his request, then call him and his troops home, salute each and every one, and thank them for a job well done.

If we are, then let’s get on with it. McChrystal and the men and women under his command deserve no less.
Until the decision is made one way or another, God speed to all.