Civil Defense

Q: How Did We Became So Vulnerable?


A: We became vulnerable gradually. We realized it suddenly.

Papa described it perfectly:

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises. (1926)
Click for larger view

In 1850 – nine years before the Carrington Event and 12 years before the Civil War – the population of the United States was 23 million people. At the end of 2018, the population of the U.S. stood at 328 million people. What enabled our population to increase by 305 million people? The answer at first would seem complex but it is actually quite simple. Numerous new technologies allowed our population to increase. Advances in medicine, advances in agricultural methods, the ability to transport food across the country (and across the world), new sources and uses of energy, an industrial revolution, advances in many areas of technology… I can go on and on but there is no need to. All of it is tied to one thing: the advent of the electric grid.

In 1850, the country could not have supported a human population of 328 million. We simply did not have technology and resources to support that many people. Our plows were drawn by horse or mule. Much of our population worked hard just to survive the winter – if you didn’t preserve food that you grew and chop wood to keep warm, you simply couldn’t survive. Even in the cities, limitations in technology (e.g., coal mining techniques, transportation, ability to store food) limited the number of people that could be supported by the agriculture and technology of the time.

Gradually, we became vulnerable

The electric grid is an amazing human accomplishment. It is the largest machine in the history of the world, built piece by piece over many generations. It arguably started on September 4, 1882 with Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in Manhattan – which initially had had 82 customers and an electric load of 400 lamps. After “the war of the currents” between Edison’s direct current (“DC”) and George Westinghouse’s alternating current (“AC”), More and more areas began to have electric power available.

So the electric grid that exists today has been built gradually over the last century. The electric grid advanced life in every way imaginable and literally made the impossible possible. The population of the U.S. between 1930 and 2018 increased by over 200 million.

Vulnerable

At some point, gradually, we lost the self reliance we had in the 1800s and became completely reliant on all these things that the power grid made possible. New ways to heat (oil, gas, steam electricity, etc.) meant we didn’t have to chop our own wood. Farms were made exponentially more efficient and that meant less of us had to farm.

Better transportation meant that food and goods could be transported long distances. Today, you can get oranges and bananas in New Hampshire – even though they are grown thousands of miles away. This isn’t even a novelty, but something we depend on. We actually get annoyed if there are no bananas in our northern grocery stores.

Gradually, we became dependent on our ability to get food that is produced elsewhere. Most people don’t preserve food for the winter anymore. Gradually, we became dependent on goods such as vehicles and medications that were made possible by electricity. Water and sanitation systems are now completely dependent on electricity – gone are dug wells and outhouses. Our entire financial system has become electronic. You don’t even get paper stock certificates any more – everything is digital.

And then suddenly, we realized that we are vulnerable.

Click for larger view

Today, we are literally on life support, plugged into the electric grid. The lives of hundreds of millions of people depend on the things the electric grid provides. Without it, we would literally have what we had in 1850 – except we no longer have the requisite skills and most of us do not own a horse or mule.

Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately it isn’t. Two years ago the U.S. Senate said that the majority of the population of the U.S. would die if the electric grid as successfully attacked – by man or nature! (Read it HERE.) Still not convinced? How about over two decades of federal reports, hearings and Congressional Record detailing the threats to the electric grid? (Read them HERE.) But there must be a plan for this right? Nope. Click on this slide from a FEMA presentation last year. The U.S. has no plan for “very long term or extremely wide spread power outages.”

What getting unplugged looks like

So what happens when a society grows dependent on the electric grid and suddenly, it is unplugged? There are some recent cautionary tales.

In Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico lost power for months. Incredibly, despite the massive assistance and resources the U.S. brought to bear, much of the island was also without potable water for months! The Milken Institute of Public Health estimated the “excess deaths” (i.e., attributable to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria) at 2,975. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated the “excess deaths” at 4,645. We may never know for sure, but it is clear that the loss of power and the problems that accompany a loss of power caused thousands of deaths. (The official death count remained at 64 until August 28, 2018 when the Government of Puerto Rico revised it to 2975 based on the Milken Institute study.)

Venezuelans are forced to obtain water from the sewer system during blackouts
(Photo: Fernando Llano, AP)

The March-April 2019 blackouts in Venezuela serve as another disturbing example. Within a short period of time, people had to resort to getting water from the sewage canals, cities experienced anarchy, hospitals had no power or water and food rotted without refrigeration.

For days and nights, unruly crowds sacked 523 stores in Maracaibo as residents stood on their porches wielding weapons to guard against looters. Dozens died in hospitals. Bodies decomposed in the morgue. And what little food remained in refrigerators rotted away as the nation went hungry.

New York Times, March 15, 2019

To most of us, our experience with power outages is that they last a few hours, or a few days at most. The cavalry is coming. We can bring in utility trucks from Illinois. Somebody will rescue us. We have become complacent.

What if the cavalry is not coming?

There are 35,000 towns and cities in the United States. If substantially all of them are the “disaster area” in a national-scale power outage, where is “help” going to come from? Remember, we have NEVER experienced a national-scale disaster in this country – even Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria were regional in scale and we could bring in massive resources from elsewhere in the country (i.e., from outside the “disaster area”).

If substantially the whole country is the disaster area, your town will be on its own for a long period of time. Perhaps weeks, perhaps months or longer. But today, we are generations removed from adversity, generations removed from self reliance. Generations removed from having to worry about surviving the winter.

We have become extremely vulnerable.

Remember the Americans?

Americans have accomplished great things. We built the transcontinental railroad. We invented airplanes. We landed humans on the moon. We invented much of the industry and technology that exists today. Through sacrifice , grit and determination, our “Greatest Generation” won World War II. We do not have to be helpless. And we can no longer ignore the threats. Remember the Americans? They took action.

As Americans, we need to take action on two things:

  • Hold our federal and state governments accountable for protecting the electric grid.
  • Prepare our communities for catastrophic disasters by building a culture of preparedness in the U.S.

You can take action. If enough of us take action, we can make a difference. Visit the TAKE ACTION page to see what you can do.


Click To Take Action!



Building a Culture of Preparedness

Note: Last year, I wrote a letter to FEMA about building a culture of preparedness by bringing back civil defense. This year, I wrote a letter to FEMA…


Click Here for a PDF Copy of Letter


March 28, 2019

Pete T. Gaynor, Acting Administrator
Daniel Kaniewski, PhD, Acting Deputy Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472

Subject: Building a culture of preparedness in the United States

Dear Mr. Gaynor and Mr. Kaniewski,

On March 7, 2018 (over a year ago), I wrote a letter to FEMA on how we could build a culture of preparedness in the United States. I never received any response.

Fast forward to March 1, 2019 and Emergency Management Magazine published an article entitled: “Report: We’ve Failed Miserably at Preparedness.”[1]

The report is FEMA’s January 2019 “Building Cultures of Preparedness: Report for the Emergency Management Higher Education Community.”[2] FEMA’s new report states that recent efforts have improved the first responder preparedness and government capabilities, but:

Attempts to enhance levels of preparedness among individual households, communities, and various organizations which lie outside the emergency management profession’s immediate sphere of control have shown little to no sign of improvement.[3]

Further:

Preparedness experts state that what is needed is a bottom-up approach, and that past efforts to apply one-size-fits-all solutions have ended in failure.[4]

The report says that what is needed is a bottom-up approach and that “one-size-fits-all solutions” haven’t worked. A year earlier, my letter noted that we have to build the culture of preparedness “from the bottom-up, based on the community’s needs.”

Maybe it’s time FEMA listened to “the bottom”

I believe I qualify as “the bottom.” I am a regular citizen who devotes a substantial amount of my own time (and resources) to writing about and trying to train people in emergency preparedness. I have written a book and maintain a blog about community preparedness and critical infrastructure protection,[5] and I have been giving presentations all over New England about community preparedness.[6] In the coming weeks, I am scheduled to present at four emergency preparedness conferences in New Hampshire and Maine.[7]

In short, I am trying to “build a culture of preparedness” yet only one person from FEMA – a lower level regional employee has ever reached out to me on their own. Any other correspondence I have had with FEMA, I initiated and the responses I’ve received – if any – were almost entirely perfunctory.

I can’t help but feel that FEMA has neither valued nor supported local efforts at building a culture of preparedness in the past.

We must focus on preparedness for a “worst-case” disaster

Too many emergency managers think that Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Katrina constitute “worst-case” scenario disasters. They do not. These disasters – as horrible as they were – were best case scenarios. I say this because in Maria and Katrina, outside resources were available and abundant. A “worst-case” scenario disaster would be one where communities were on their own, such as a national-scale loss of the electric grid. In other words, the cavalry is not coming.

If we want to build a culture or preparedness, we need to focus on preparing for a worst-case disaster – which fits perfectly with FEMA strategic plan goal #2.

In my March 7, 2018 letter, I pointed out that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017[8] requires that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security:

(1) include in national planning frameworks the threat of an EMP or GMD event; and[9]

(2) conduct outreach to educate owners and operators of critical infrastructure, emergency planners, and emergency response providers at all levels of government regarding threats of EMP and GMD.[10] [Emphasis added.]

On March 26, 2019, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13865 entitled “Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” [11] in which FEMA was specifically tasked:

Within 180 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Homeland Security, through the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the heads of appropriate SSAs, shall review and update Federal response plans, programs, and procedures to account for the effects of EMPs.

Because any national-scale disaster would likely either be caused by or would cause a wide-scale loss of power, it is very logical that we should focus on preparing communities to be able to “rescue themselves” for long periods of time in an environment of a complete loss of power. This is, in fact, an all-hazards approach. Earthquakes, hurricanes and pandemics cause power outages, as well as cyberattacks, EMP, GMD and physical attacks. Most major disasters we have experienced in the past involved the loss of power.

Yet, on May 24, 2018 FEMA admitted that: “Current planning does not include any contingencies for very long term or extremely wide spread power outages.”[12]

I would posit that this is a major reason for our lack of a preparedness culture in the United States today. Unless the people of the United States – and the federal, state and local governments – understand that we face existential threats, it is difficult for them to see the value in preparedness. Perhaps our culture now can be best described as a “somebody will rescue me” culture.

The reasons that we had a better culture of preparedness under the old “civil defense” system are simple. The first aspect is that everybody understood that we faced an existential threat (i.e., global thermonuclear war.) The second aspect is that we trained civilians in what to do and prepared as communities.

Our lack of preparedness came into dramatic focus on January 13, 2018 when residents of Hawaii received this alert:

Hawaii false missile alert - building a culture of preparedness

What I found most disturbing was the response of a resident as reported by CNN:[13]

“Clearly, there is a massive gap between letting people know something’s coming and having something for them to do. Nobody knew what to do.”

Well said.

Besides the fact that there was a catastrophic failure of the emergency alert system which caused widespread panic, this quote says something much deeper and quite painful. “Nobody knew what to do.”

And this message applies to our whole country. We don’t know what to do. The last time I was in a “nuclear attack drill” as a civilian was in the early 70’s when I was in grade school in Ohio. We called these “tornado drills” but they were thinly veiled nuclear attack drills (which did also prepare us for tornados).

As an adult, I have owned houses in three states. Not once has anybody ever rang my bell to talk about emergency preparedness.

As a country, we are unprepared and complacent.  

The 2019 Report Reached the Correct Conclusions, But…

FEMA’s January 2019 report correctly concludes that our past methods have been ineffective and that a “bottom-up” approach is needed, but then notes:

This report and the workshop upon which it builds represent an effort to contribute to “Building Cultures of Preparedness” by facilitating collaboration and constructive dialogue among academic experts and scholars from diverse disciplines, FEMA officials and practitioners representing a wide range of specialties, all with a shared interest in preparedness and community resilience.[14]

So, to build a culture or preparedness we need “academic experts and scholars from diverse disciplines” and “FEMA officials and practitioners.” Is there somebody missing here? Oh yeah. The public.

This passage highlights not only why we have failed over the past decade, but why we will continue to fail as long as we limit our efforts to academics and “practitioners.” We know we can’t build a culture or preparedness from a building in DC or from academic discussions alone – yet that appears to be what our solution is. But we are adding a new buzz-word: Culture Broker. Unfortunately, academic study and new buzz word are not going to solve the public engagement problem.

Nobody Has the Mission.

In addition to the recommendations in my March 7, 2018 letter – which was written before FEMA’s Strategic Plan was released[15] and is attached here for reference – I also note that a major problem remains that nobody has “the mission” to build a culture of preparedness in a particular community. If we want this to happen, this has to be clearly on somebody’s radar as their responsibility. Right now, in 35,000 towns and cities across the U.S., this “mission” is on very few people’s radar as their primary (or at least a major) responsibility. Do our academics think that these so-called “culture brokers” are just going to spontaneously appear?

To whom should this responsibility fall? One thing in common in every one of the 35,000 towns and cities in the country (as well as many large corporations and government agencies) is an emergency manager. Building a culture of preparedness needs to be a function – and mission – of emergency management. (You may think it already is, but I assure you in most communities, it is not).

FEMA defines emergency management as:

Definition: Emergency management is the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.

Vision: Emergency management seeks to promote safer, less vulnerable communities with the capacity to cope with hazards and disasters.

Mission: Emergency Management protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.

I propose that FEMA modify the mission of emergency management:

Mission: Emergency Management builds a culture of preparedness by involving all stakeholders including citizens, organizations, businesses and the government in all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.

FEMA Must Take Action to Facilitate Building A Culture of Preparedness

I refer you back to my March 7, 2018 letter and recommendations. We are still waiting. Of paramount importance, FEMA needs to tell us that starting a local civil defense program (either non-profit or government sponsored organization) is a good idea. Even better, tell us that it is what we should do. Communities are literally waiting for this guidance.

I have had countless conversations with people after FEMA’s strategic plan came out and for most, it remains FEMA’s strategic plan – not the nation’s plan. Many emergency managers are waiting for FEMA to tell them what to do (i.e., they are waiting for the “mission”). Many are also waiting for “resources” which they believe are necessary to “build a culture of preparedness.” Let me address both issues.

Mission: FEMA needs to clearly give every emergency manager – public and private sector – the mission to:

  1. Build a Culture of Preparedness, and
  2. Ready the Nation for Catastrophic Disasters.

FEMA can do neither of these things alone – they must be done from the bottom-up. And this has to be clearly on the radar of every emergency manager that this is their mission – getting into living rooms, not simply putting together great looking binders of plans.

Resources: While the third point in FEMA’s strategic plan (“Reduce the Complexity of FEMA”) can be of great assistance here, we need to emphasize to emergency managers that they cannot wait for resources – they must take action now. In most cases, the resources they need already exist in the community.

I tell emergency managers this: imagine if you woke up this morning and there was a non-profit civil defense organization in your community. The group’s mission statement:

The mission of the [your town’s name] Civil Defense Corp. is to educate and promote individual, family, and town preparedness for disasters; to provide disaster assistance and relief to town residents in the event of a disaster; and to educate and provide planning and resource options to the town for preparation and response to a “worst-case,” long-term catastrophe affecting the town.

In this organization there are subgroups working on key aspects of the town’s survival in case of a long-term catastrophe, such as:

  • A subgroup of EMTs, paramedics, doctors and nurses stocking supplies, equipment and planning for how medical services could be delivered in a worst-case scenario.
  • A subgroup of HAM radio operators and engineers working on ways for the town to communicate internally and externally.
  • A subgroup working to stock and produce food for the community, as well as educating the public on ways to be more food independent.
  • A subgroup working on methods to ensure that potable water is available and safe in a disaster.
  • A subgroup working on methods of providing alternative power for critical facilities and services.
  • A security subgroup working with the local police department to provide resources and man-power.
  • A safety, health, and sanitation subgroup working to prevent disease and injury as sanitation services are interrupted and people are forced to do non-traditional tasks to survive.
  • An outreach subgroup focused on training and education – teaching the public preparedness, homesteading skills and self-reliance.
  • A finance subgroup soliciting donations, grants and organizing activities to fund the civil defense program.

And other subgroups based on your particular community’s needs. What a resource multiplier! With a civil defense organization like this, your community is moving rapidly towards a true culture of preparedness and true pre-disaster mitigation.

Of course, you didn’t really wake up—this is just a vivid dream. But if we are men and women of action, we can turn this dream into reality for our communities.

Conclusion

In my March 7, 2018 letter, I outlined key concepts for bringing back civil defense as a means of building a culture of preparedness in the United States. A year has passed with little progress, but we now have a great opportunity with the March 26, 2019 Executive Order (EO 13865) to increase our nation’s resilience. I hope we can start making progress and not waste another year – and possibly risk many lives.

We need FEMA to act with a sense of urgency if we want the nation to adopt the same sense of urgency.

I would be happy to meet with you to further discuss how we can build a true culture of preparedness in the U.S.

Sincerely,

Michael Mabee


Click Here for March 7, 2018 letter to FEMA


Footnotes:

[1] Emergency Management Magazine. “Report: We’ve Failed Miserably at Preparedness.” March 1, 2019. https://www.govtech.com/em/preparedness/Report-Weve-Failed-Miserably-at-Preparedness.html (accessed March 24, 2019).

[2] The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 2019. “Building Cultures of Preparedness:  A report for the emergency management higher education community.” Washington, DC: FEMA. https://training.fema.gov/hiedu/docs/latest/2019_cultures_of_preparedness_report_10.22.18%20final.pdf (accessed March 24, 2019).

[3] Ibid. Page 6.

[4] Ibid. Page 8.

[5] My blog is located at https://michaelmabee.info and my book, “The Civil Defense Book.” ISBN-13: 978-1974320943, 2nd Edition October 17, 2017 is available https://www.amazon.com/Civil-Defense-Book-Emergency-Preparedness/dp/1974320944 (accessed March 24, 2019).

[6] One of these presentations at New England College is available here: https://michaelmabee.info/the-cavalry-is-not-coming/ (accessed March 24, 2019).

[7] I have been invited to present “The Cavalry Is Not Coming” at:

[8] Public Law 114-328, enacted December 23, 2016. Note: Section 1913. EMP and GMD Planning, Research and Development, and Protection and Preparedness. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-114publ328/pdf/PLAW-114publ328.pdf  (accessed March 7, 2018).

[9] 6 U.S.C. § 321P (1). Note: the terms “EMP” and “GMD” are defined in 6 U.S.C. § 101.

[10] 6 U.S.C. § 321P (2).

[11] Executive Order 13865, section 5(e)(i): https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-coordinating-national-resilience-electromagnetic-pulses/ (Accessed March 27, 2019).

[12] FEMA. “Private and Public Cyber Security Issues in Rural America.” National Preparedness Symposium, May 24, 2018. https://training.fema.gov/nationalpreparednesssymposium/_assets/2018/2018%20Private%20&%20Public%20Cyber%20Security%20Issues%20in%20Rural%20America.pptx (accessed March 27, 2019).

[13] CNN “Hawaii agency behind false missile alert getting death threats.” January 15, 2018. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hawaii-agency-behind-false-missile-alert-getting-death-threats/ (accessed March 28, 2019).

[14] FEMA 2019. Page 5.

[15] Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. Released March 15, 2018. https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2018/03/15/fema-releases-2018-2022-strategic-plan  (accessed March 24, 2019).


Click HERE for attachment (March 7, 2018 letter to FEMA)



FEMA: Let’s Try Civil Defense

On March 7, 2018 (a year ago), I wrote a letter to then FEMA Administrator Brock Long on how we could build a culture of preparedness in America though civil defense.

FEMA Critical Infrastructure Protection
Tomorrow may not be a “blue sky day.”

I never received any response.

Fast forward to March 1, 2019 and Emergency Management Magazine published an article entitled: Report: We’ve Failed Miserably at Preparedness.

The report is FEMA’s January 2019 “Building Cultures of preparedness: Report for the Emergency Management Higher Education Community.” FEMA’s new report states that recent efforts have improved the first responder preparedness and government capabilities, but:

Attempts to enhance levels of preparedness among individual households, communities, and various organizations which lie outside the emergency management profession’s immediate sphere of control have shown little to no sign of improvement

Page 6

Further:

Preparedness experts state that what is needed is a bottom-up approach, and that past efforts to apply one-size-fits-all solutions have ended in failure

Page 8

The new report says that what is needed is a bottom-up approach and that “one-size-fits-all solutions” haven’t worked. A year earlier, my letter noted that we have to build the culture of preparedness “from the bottom-up, based on the community’s needs.”

Maybe it’s time FEMA listened to “the bottom.” [Click HERE to hear from “the bottom.”]

Some of the initial comments I have heard from local EMs have been related to resources. “God knows I have been waiting 25 years for funding support.” Bad news and good news.

  • Bad news: we can’t wait for “more resources” because they are never going to come. We need to act now, and with a sense of urgency. Tomorrow may not be a “blue sky day!”
  • Good news: we have the resources we need right in our communities- we just need to find the leadership to tap into these resources. [CLICK HERE for a more detailed discussion on our resources.]

So, below is my letter from a year ago. Below that are some related articles on civil defense I have written.

FEMA: let’s try civil defense!


[Click Here to read the PDF version of my Letter to FEMA]


March 7, 2018

William B. “Brock” Long, Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472

Goals:
1. Building a culture of preparedness in the United States 
2. Bringing back “civil defense” and local pre-disaster mitigation

Dear Mr. Long,

Both of these goals are interrelated, and achievable. The purpose of this letter is to offer you a way forward to achieve them. I am a national expert on preparedness and for years have been advocating a return to local civil defense. It has been refreshing to hear you speak to Congress and the media about civil defense, local pre-disaster mitigation and the need to build a culture of preparedness in the United States.

First, here are the two things that we are doing that haven’t worked.

1. Nobody has ever heard of Citizen Corps.

Try this: Ask the next 10 citizens you meet on the street “do you know what Citizen Corps is?” They don’t know. The few who might attempt to answer will confuse Citizen Corps with the Peace Corps.

Our attempt since 9/11/2001 to engage citizens on community preparedness has been a dismal failure. The failure is partly due to the fact that this has been a top-down approach – from FEMA to the citizens, John and Jane Smith. Yet, the Smiths have never heard of Citizen Corps and after 16 ½ years, we have not been able to reach them with our message. The Smiths in 2018 are still complacent and unprepared.

The only reason that I know about Citizen Corps is because I ran into it when I was researching community preparedness for the book I was writing. To the extent that anybody thinks that Citizen Corps is making our communities more prepared, it is not. A bureaucracy like Citizen Corps is not what we need to reach people.[1] (If people don’t know what it is and can’t understand it, it is not going to work.) If we want to reach people, we need to change our paradigm to a bottom-up, grassroots approach to preparedness.

2. The flaw of the emergency management system.

Our emergency management system has actually contributed to our lack of a culture of preparedness – not through lack of effort or dedication, but through a basic design flaw. We are not ready for a “worst case scenario” because we always rely on outside resources. In other words, somebody is going to rescue us. In this context, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria were actually “best-case scenarios” because in both cases, they were “regional” events where massive outside resources were available.[2]

Because of emergency management’s design – specifically, the ability to expand (or “scale up”) when the scope of the disaster overwhelms local resources, emergency managers are wired to rely on the availability of outside resources for anything bigger than usual. This is literally a tenet of their thinking. (No matter how bad it is, resources will always be available from “above” our level and we can always “scale up”.)

There are 35,000 towns and cities in the United States. If a cyber-attack or a geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) took down the electric grid nationwide, right now we would have 35,000 towns and cities looking to their states and FEMA for resources. They would not be looking internally at their own civil defense plan because they don’t have one. This is what we need to fix.

The stakes are dangerously high. On March 28, 2017 the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reported this about the critical infrastructure:

“The United States depends on its critical infrastructure, particularly the electric power grid, as all critical infrastructure sectors are to some degree dependent on electricity to operate. A successful nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States could cause the death of approximately 90 percent of the American population. Similarly, a geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) could have equally devastating effects on the power grid.”[3]

Something needs to get the attention of the 35,000 cities and towns so that they see the need to be prepared to be on their own for an extended period of time – and not, as is the case now, always put their hope on the cavalry’s arrival.

What Does Work?

Let’s back up and look at what does work. Every community in the U.S. has a fire department and has emergency medical services. In most communities, these are volunteer organizations.[4]Communities are not “required” by the federal government to have these services – the communities feel that they need these services, so over the years they made sure that, in some way, they had them. Some of these are set up as non-profit organizations. Some are set up as governmental organizations. There is no one size fits all; rather, each community has developed a system and resources that worked for them. They may have been able to get grants to assist them with buying equipment, or for training, but ultimately, the people in the community did the work to develop the system. Nobody in DC set it up for them.

A local civil defense organization needs to be developed the same way – from the bottom-up, based on the community’s needs. It can be a non-profit or a governmental organization. But the community needs to see that they need it and have some support in organizing and setting it up. This should be FEMA’s role – providing the leadership, and then the support for the locally executed efforts.

In most places, the cost to get a lawyer or accountant to draft and file the papers to start a non-profit organization is under $1000. This is an incredible pre-disaster mitigation investment with a potential for massive return. If we can help communities to do this, it would likely be the best possible use of pre-disaster mitigation funds.

As you testified to Congress on November 30, 2017 “it is important to point out that an optimal response and recovery process should be federally supported, state managed and locally executed.”[5] I would also point out, that this should apply to pre-disaster mitigation – e.g., civil defense – as well.

So how do we get the communities to want to set up a local civil defense organization?

Getting our communities to see the need for civil defense.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017[6] requires that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security:

(1) include in national planning frameworks the threat of an EMP or GMD event; and[7]

(2) conduct outreach to educate owners and operators of critical infrastructure, emergency planners, and emergency response providers at all levels of government regarding threats of EMP and GMD.[8] [Emphasis added.]

This new law gives us the authority and obligation to educate our local communities about the need for civil defense. FEMA should develop a community-level EMP/GMD local tabletop exercise (TTX). The purpose of this exercise is for the local government to see what would happen if their community was on its own for months or longer after a catastrophic failure of the national electric grid. No outside resources will be available to the town – what they have is what they have. This will prove very eye-opening for the majority of communities.

This exercise is purposely designed to “fail” (because through failure, comes learning). It is designed to teach the local government, emergency managers, and citizens what would happen as time went on during a long-term outage. In order for communities to plan meaningful pre-disaster mitigation, they have to see the “reality” in the TTX of the horrible loss of life their community would encounter if they were unprepared. By thinking about the long term effects of a loss of the critical infrastructures during the TTX, the community will “experience” starvation, disease, collapse of their local medical system (if their community even had one), inability to protect citizens from crime and, ultimately, good people doing bad things as we saw in Katrina, Andrew and the 1977 New York blackout.

After going through this exercise, it will be very clear to each community what would happen. The question then becomes, what can we do to mitigate ahead of time? Building a civil defense organization is the answer. It is a resource multiplier for the community. It is the only logical conclusion.

And in preparing for a “worst case” disaster, the community is preparing to be more self-reliant in any scale disaster. There is no downside to preparing for the worst.

Meanwhile, FEMA should develop a similar “worst-case” EMP/GMD TTX for the state and federal level which will reveal the problems the higher levels will face. For example, there are 99 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states – and they all have only a limited quantity of back up fuel for their generators. What is the plan to cool the spent fuel rods after 3 months and 6 months?[9] Another example, federal and state employees will stop showing up to work if they feel their families are endangered, so the resources we think we have may not be there.

The 6 U.S.C. § 321P (national planning and education) TTX is necessary if we are to have stronger and more resilient communities – as well as collectively become more resilient as a country. Presently few, if any, would argue that the United States is prepared for a long term EMP or GMD grid outage. The vast majority of our communities and local governments have never even thought about it.

I believe that your vision of having a preparedness culture in the United States is achievable. It is not only achievable, but it is necessary for the safety of our communities and the national security of our country.

The only thing stopping most communities, local governments and local emergency managers from starting or supporting local civil defense organizations is that they don’t know that they should. Everybody is waiting for FEMA to tell us what we should do.

Recommendations.

We can vastly improve local level pre-disaster mitigation and lead the nation towards a true culture of preparedness by doing the following:

  1. FEMA needs to tell us that starting a local civil defense program (either non-profit[10] or government sponsored organization) is a good idea. Even better, tell us that it is what we should do. Communities are literally waiting for this guidance.
  2. I have attached a proposed bi-partisan Congressional resolution (H. Res. 762) which contains language which is very useful. It would be of great educational value and assistance to local governments to see something like this from Congress – or at least as a statement to this effect from FEMA. Although this resolution never made it out of committee, a good idea does not need to pass Congress to be a good idea. Encouraging communities to develop their own “civil defense” program is just a good idea.
  3. FEMA should create a local EMP/GMD TTX scenario with the goal of teaching communities what could happen in a worst case national scale emergency in accordance with 6 U.S.C. § 321P(1) and (2).
  4. FEMA should create a state and national level EMP/GMD TTX scenario with the goal of informing higher levels of government what could happen in a worst case national scale emergency in accordance with 6 U.S.C. § 321P(1) and (2).
  5. As you mentioned in your November 30, 2017 testimony to Congress, we need to partner with the Department of Education to start the preparedness culture with our children. This needs to be implemented at a local level – civil defense subjects for students should be taught, including survival skills, first aid, etc.
  6. Citizen Corps should be replaced by a simple structure to support building local civil defense organizations. (As streamlined and unbureaucratic as possible.) This support structure should help communities start an organization, apply for grants and support their efforts.

The Secure the Grid Coalition[11] and InfraGard[12] are two groups FEMA could partner with. They have many experts and large quantities of research materials available on EMP, GMD as well as other electric grid threats and security.  These groups may be of assistance in developing the 6 U.S.C. § 321P TTXs.

I would be happy to meet with you to further discuss how we can build a true culture of preparedness in the U.S.

Sincerely,
Michael Mabee


[1] In fact the, the program is so unloved, even by FEMA, that today while going to the Citizen Corps website, I received the error message that www.citizencorps.fema.gov’s “security certificate expired 216 days ago.” When I proceeded on the website anyway (“not recommended”), there is a message that “a new website is coming soon.”

[2] “Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria were both “best case scenarios.” October 21, 2017. https://michaelmabee.info/best-case-scenarios/ (accessed March 7, 2018).

[3] Senate Report 115-12. Activities of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. (115th Congress) March 28, 2017. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-115srpt12/pdf/CRPT-115srpt12.pdf (accessed March 6, 2018). Page 6.

[4] According to FEMA’s website, 70.8% of the fire departments in the U.S. are volunteer organizations. See: https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/registry/summary/ (accessed march 5, 2018). According to USA.gov, one-third of the States indicated that the majority of EMS agencies that respond to 911 emergencies with transport capability are considered to be volunteer agencies. See: https://www.ems.gov/pdf/National_EMS_Assessment_Demographics_2011.pdf (accessed March 5, 2018).

[5] “FEMA Administrator Brock Long: Time to hit the reset button on resiliency.” December 9, 2017. https://michaelmabee.info/fema-administrator-brock-long-resilient/ (accessed March 7, 2018).

[6] Public Law 114-328, enacted December 23, 2016. Note: Section 1913. EMP and GMD Planning, Research and Development, and Protection and Preparedness. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-114publ328/pdf/PLAW-114publ328.pdf  (accessed March 7, 2018).

[7] 6 U.S.C. § 321P (1). Note: the terms “EMP” and “GMD” are defined in 6 U.S.C. § 101.

[8] 6 U.S.C. § 321P (2).

[9] Power Mag: “NRC Grants Citizen Petition to Examine Solar Storms.”http://www.powermag.com/nrc-grants-citizen-petition-to-examine-solar-storms/ (accessed March 7, 2018)

[10] USA.gov: “Starting a Nonprofit Organization” https://www.usa.gov/start-nonprofit (accessed March 5, 2018).

[11] Secure the Grid Coalition. https://securethegrid.com/ (accessed March 5, 2018)


[12] InfraGard. https://www.infragard.org/ (accessed March 5, 2018).


Click Here for House Res 762 – attachment to original letter


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