When it comes to prepping, risk assessment is something that tends to get shoved to the back burner as we move in a frenzy to learn new skills and purchase “stuff”. I know that in 12 Months of Prepping, I stress the importance of evaluating specific and inherent risks, but you know the saying, out of sight is out of mind.
Until something bad happens.
When a disaster other disruptive event occurs, we scramble to catch up by looking at our own lives and our own situation and formulating a plan specific to unique, geographical and familial needs. The recent threat of an Ebola pandemic is a case in point. Many of us, myself included, are right now thinking through our pandemic preparedness plans. Oh sure, we have already done so on a cursory basis, but now it is real. We are truly in the moment and realize that it could happen to us.
In today’s article, contributing author Richard Broome is back with a think piece he has titled “Mind the Gap”. While not light reading, it calls for an all-important dialog we must each have with ourselves. Are prepper war-games the answer? Read on and come to your own conclusion.
MIND THE GAP
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
–From “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, 1919.
In my last contribution to Backdoor Survival, I offered the notion of the need, over time, to set about building a national “Culture of Preparedness.” Reflecting more on this ambitious idea, I am realistic that this will take time, commitment and effort, but moreover, a heightened sense of need. The problem is, “a heightened sense of need” usually comes but one way, something bad occurs to create it. But, in lieu of that, maybe we just require a cold dash of reality.
We are coming up on the 13th anniversary of the events on September 11th, 2001. While I am no longer in a position to have first hand knowledge of the overall readiness of this nation to absorb and rebound from another attack, I do wonder if we are overlooking a fundamental factor that will impact all of our efforts. In short, my hopeful notion of creating a “Culture of Preparedness” will be all for naught if the very underpinning of all of our readiness and preparedness efforts is structurally flawed. I am beginning to suspect it is, because I doubt we fully understand the multi-level complexity of all of this.
I did a public presentation about a year and a half ago describing what I am seeing. In essence, I believe the continually increasing complexity of the threats and risks facing us could well be outpacing the traditional risk management practices used to meet them. I feel this is causing a growing “assurance gap.”
What is an assurance gap? Common industry terms you may be familiar with are information assurance for our information systems, business assurance for businesses in general, and so forth. They are a combination of people, processes, technology and facilities employed to protect and defend against a potential severe attack or event. An assurance gap means the type, techniques or direction of an attack overmatches the countermeasures in place to mitigate it. Defenses could likely be breached and fail. In short, with an assurance gap, “the center will not hold”.
What led me to this conclusion? I think you first have to understand how organizational structures, communications systems and transportation systems have evolved and changed significantly over time. About one hundred years ago most organizations were very centralized with little daily contact with one another, particularly with one some geographic distance away. Information exchanges and the conduct of business transactions were normally by letter, occasionally by telegram, and very rarely by phone. Transportation of people, goods and services was mostly by rail.
Over time we progressed to a more distributed organizational model for businesses because the ability to communicate became more sophisticated, the transportation choices more robust, and as a result, we were able to grow organizations across the globe.
Today, with the Internet and high-speed communications, we now find organizations very networked. Communications are nearly instant. Transactions are real-time. Work and decision-making are, more-and-more, accomplished virtually.
For example, I am doing some repair work on a rental property I own in Virginia. From my home in Montana this week, in real-time, I was able to have a complete discussion to include reviewing and approving designs shared using my iPhone and MacBook. I doubt anyone who reads this thinks this capability is particularly amazing either. But…it is where we have evolved with networked organizations in the last one hundred years.
So… what are the possible downsides to such dynamic organizational changes with speed of light business and personal transactions? Fundamentally, I believe the more complex organizations and systems have become, and the faster transactions move, the more vulnerabilities exist. This makes things more likely to fail and spin out of control with the potential of a more significant impact on all of us than we fully realize. There are many factors that contribute to this.
Operating environments for people and organizations have become so increasingly complex, so multi-dimensional that it makes them much harder to defend.
Disruptions or attacks can come from several directions now. As we use our iPhones, laptops, etc., to manage our daily lives, there is an incredibly complex infrastructure behind the casual use of these capabilities. Do we know where the possible single points of failure are and, if successfully attacked, could bring down everything to a full stop? How long can we survive a rupture of these capabilities, while a solution is developed and implemented, before we reach a crisis point?
Risk management and assurance practices by organizations have not evolved as rapidly as the increased speed and complexity of our new operating reality.
Recently I was on a radio show in Los Angeles and we had a discussion about the emerging possibility of driverless automobiles. There are many potential benefits if this technology comes into common use, such things as increased safety and convenience. Wouldn’t it be nice to send your car to the repair shop for a lube and oil without you having to drive it? Then, when ready, it comes back on its own and parks in your parking space?
Yet, have we even considered the new risk dimension driverless cars could introduce? What happens if twenty driverless cars show up in Washington DC around the Congress and the White House, or at other places across the nation, loaded with bombs and start to explode?? Chaos will result.
We do not understand the new risk operating environment as well as we should, nor do we think deeply enough about it to plan as completely and effectively as needed.
There is also a much greater interdependency now among all the elements of our networked organizations.
This means you have to not only consider the potential impact of a direct attack on your organization, but the unexpected impact and cascading effects on yours if an outlier event, some distance away, reaches you.
For example, could taking down a power station in Ohio possibly take out your power a thousand miles away? And…if you are down because of this event, whom, in a supply chain or an adjoining system you feed into, do you bring down as well? To the point, what is the extended, cascading effect on all systems and supply chains, the overall wider impact of any single attack of event?
Finally in my view, the momentum to address readiness and preparedness appears to be slowing, while the threats out in the world seem to be growing.
With a diminished “heightened sense of need” in conjunction with a growing threat and growing assurance gap, things are just becoming steadily worse. What is our tipping point where “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”?
Where do we go from here?
I believe managing this new operating reality creates several necessities that must be accomplished. How should we move forward to address the factors I have just described?
We need to move the big picture back into focus.
We should, even at a high level, start developing an understanding of what the risk landscape actually looks like now across the major global systems and supply chains. Even if it is a less than complete picture, it is the beginning of a roadmap for action. In short, when we analyze it, could we use it to detect looming issues that already require immediate action? To help foster and energize a heightened sense of need?
We need to identify all of the stakeholders and where they fit into the risk landscape.
When the balloon goes up, when the SHTF, who are all of the players we need to consider, and to involve, when there is a problem of global significance to fix?
A fundamental principle for effective crisis management is the importance of knowing your counterparts before a crisis, even having discussed potential issues with them before they occur. The worst position to be in is never having met or worked together in the past, to have to learn to trust each and communicate effectively in the midst of a severe crisis, where time is short and immediate actions are paramount.
This is one of the primary reasons for having industry wide and government wide war games and exercises that play out potential crisis scenarios. That phone conversation at 2:00 am, when you are asking for critical assistance, is not with a complete stranger, but rather someone who may know you, and understands what you are asking for and the necessity.
How about having an online national exercise, a war game, against some pressing threat scenario that we have detected in our risk roadmap analysis? We would allow anyone who wanted to play to participate. If creatively designed and carefully executed, this could do so many very good things for the country.
First, it would well serve the senior leadership in this country, both government and business, to hear directly from the people in a national war game such as this. Too often they become disconnected from the ground truth.
More important, imagine what we could discover, the insights that would be provided by grassroots level participants. Moreover, envision the national sense of ownership this would create, the heightened sense of need again at the very time we need to restore it.
If we have the capacity to play interactive, online video games for our entertainment as a society, we can certainly manage to do something as important as this.
We need to identify and program the resources needed to close the assurance gap.
Given a clearer risk landscape picture and as a result, a better understanding of the assurance gap, what will we likely need to have ready to support revised assurance plans? What can we do to pre-plan or pre-position these resources?
We need to set the priorities for recovery.
What must be fixed first? Is there a preferred order? While this kind of planning does exist at the national level with policies found in National Security Presidential Directives and Homeland Security Presidential Directives for national continuity policy and infrastructure protection, is this thinking still sufficient? Is now the time for a review of these?
We need to accurately understand “How well we are doing at getting ready for the next big event?”
To even ask ourselves this fundamental question, which is truly the end game question we all want answered; you first have to accomplish all of the above. We are a long way from this.
In closing, do not assume the experts have all of this figured out and under control. They don’t. What preppers must continue to do is exactly what they are doing now. Prepare. Just keep on, keeping on. That is all you can do at the grassroots level except for one very important thing.
Election season is coming. Get active. Ask your political leaders tough questions about this. Force this pressing issue front and center on their political radar screen as a voter concern. Insist on detailed action plans, not just platitudes and political “happy talk” either. Create accountability to the voters.
And…do it before we come to the point the center cannot hold. In the meantime, mind the gap.
Richard Earl Broome is a contributing author to Backdoor Survival. He has lived an extraordinary life rising from an Army private to an Army colonel who served on the White House staff at the National Security Council for two Presidents of the United States.
He now lives in Montana and teaches at Montana State University. He has contributed two other articles to Backdoor Survival this year: “The Coming Cyber War” and “Building a Culture of Preparedness.” His book Leaving The Trees was published in 2013 and can be found on Amazon.
The Final Word
These days, preparedness-oriented websites are a dime a dozen. Don’t get me wrong; evangelizing the benefit of family preparedness and prepping is a good thing. On the other hand, nine out of ten prepping articles these days are fluff pieces. Again, not necessarily bad, but also not fodder to instill the deep thinking and creative rationalization needed to answer the question “what if”.
I challenge you – heck I challenge myself – to step up and think through the coming tipping point. This is a call to renew our fervor to be ready. Sadly, I am afraid that there is much more to be done and precious little time to do it.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: Here are some items that match up to the 10 tips that Jump Start Your Path to Preparedness.
EcoZoom or Solo Stove: A rocket stove that burns biomass is a must if you want to eliminate your reliance on electricity of fossil fuels. Both of these stoves are easy to use and burn hot and fast.
LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier: The Lifestraw Family contains no chemicals, no batteries, and no moving parts to wear out. It features a high flow rate and is the perfect solution to your portable water purification needs – whether bugging in or bugging out. As of this writing, shipping is free.
Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: Don’t let the price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these and feel that these lights are worth double the price. Using D-cell batteries, the Dorcy floodlight will light up a dark room or a dark stairway in an instant. I can not recommend these enough. Also, see Personal Defense Equipment from Amazon.
Grabber Outdoors Original Space Brand All Weather Blanket: I was interested in a re-usable emergency blanket so I purchased one of these based upon the excellent reviews. This space blanket is definitely “heavy duty” compared to the cheapies (not that they don’t have their place. A Backdoor Survival reader passed on this tip:
We place one of these blankets silver side up on our mattress underneath the fitted sheet or mattress cover. It reflects body heat like you wouldn’t believe, instead of the heat being absorbed into the mattress.
Emergency Flashlights : There are many choices when it comes to flashlights. I prefer to have a lot of small flashlights stashed all over the place. My favorites are the uber-cheap Mini Cree and the Blocklite. I also have built a total of five 2000-hour flashlights using this Eveready Lantern as a base.
Tote-able Toilet: I have priced purchasing the bucket and toilet seat lid separately and found that it was more economical to pick up this kit. I have filled my portable potty with sanitation supplies plus, of course, plenty of TP.
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