Archive for July, 2011

Making sense of the debt ceiling debate

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Author: Dr. Lloyd Blanchard, Director of Public Performance Management, IEM

The debt ceiling debate has gripped the nation so much that we have focused on the political game of brinksmanship and lost focus on the two basic questions underlying the debate. First, what will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised? Second, is the nation’s level of debt too high? Let’s look at the data.

The answer to the first question is…we don’t know. We have never been here before. Oh, we have approached the debt ceiling many times, but raising it was never in question…until now.

Will we default? Not likely, because the Constitution demands that we don’t. If all proposed deals to reduce spending as a condition to raise the debt ceiling fail, Congress will likely pass a one-sentence bill to raise it. For how long and by how much is unknown. The markets seem to maintain confidence that the debt ceiling will be raised.

If Congress doesn’t raise it, will we default? Yes, and the market consequences would be dire. The 3 rating agencies would likely downgrade the nation’s sovereign credit rating. Such a downgrade would raise interest rates on US Treasury securities, creating major losses in the market.

If they don’t raise it, can the US pay its bills? No. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Treasury is expected to run out of cash around August 2nd.  For the rest of August, the government is expected to collect $172.4 billion in revenues and must pay $306.7 billion in obligations. This leaves a $132.4 billion gap (just for August) that would normally be covered through borrowing. In August, about $500 billion in Treasury securities will mature, and while usually these are simply “rolled over” (borrow by selling new securities to pay the principal and interest on the maturing securities), the present debt limit would prevent this. Other big obligations in August include $50 billion in Medicare/Medicaid payments, $49 billion in Social Security payments, $32 billion in payments to Department of Defense vendors, $20 billion in Department of Education payments, $17 billion in federal employee salaries and benefits (including active duty military), and $13 billion in unemployment insurance payments, among others.

The answer to the second question is…yes, the debt level is at an historically high level, comparable only to levels in response to the Great Depression. (more…)

Part II – Bioterrorism planning study focuses on traffic and public access to points of dispensing (PODs)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Attached is Part II of a video interview with IEM’s Dr. Sid Baccam, primary author of “Mass Prophylaxis Dispensing Concerns: Traffic and Public Access to PODs” which was published in the June issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. To see the first part of the interview, see Bioterrorism planning study, part 1

To read the full paper, Mass Prophylaxis Dispensing Concerns: Traffic and Public Access to PODs. See more information on IEM’s capabilities and expertise in healthcare emergency preparedness.

Wildfire, Emergency Response, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Friday, July 1st, 2011

By Eston D. Spain, associate emergency planner, IEM

Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daichii nuclear-power plant, flooding at the Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Stations in Nebraska, and the Las Conchas wildfire outside of the Los Alamos National Laboratory remind us of the importance of emergency planning.

The wildfire outside of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) poses a threat, but state and local emergency response officials with years of wildfire experience and proven fire mitigation methods are on top of the situation. According to the InciWeb incident information system, firefighters began setting “back burns” on the west side of New Mexico State Route 501 as the fire was approaching the western boundary of LANL on Wednesday morning, June 29th. Those operations were declared complete by evening. The back burns were intended to remove available fuel from the Las Conchas Fire, which has consumed more than 60,000 acres on two sides of the 37-square-mile LANL site but scorched only one acre of Lab property itself.

Located in northern New Mexico about 35 miles (40 minutes drive) northwest of Santa Fe, the Laboratory has more than 1,800 buildings spread across 36 square miles; the facilities support research in some 50 different disciplines. According to Manny L’Esperance, Fire Safety Officer at LANL, “Los Alamos [is] landlocked atop mesas and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest—much of it dry and brittle—[it] is prime fire hazard territory.“

Wildfires are nothing new to LANL. Fire threats over the past 60 years include the 43,000-acre Cerro Grande fire that entered the town site and destroyed more than 400 homes in May 2000. Other significant fires occurred in 1996, 1977, and 1954.  As a result of these threats, the Los Alamos County Long-Term Recovery, Redevelopment, and Hazard Mitigation Plan was developed in 2001. This document identified a fuels modification program for unburned county lands as the highest priority item. Following the plan’s recommendations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided a grant to Los Alamos County for the es­tablishment of a fuel mitigation project. The FEMA grant enabled the County to immediately begin fuel reduction, treating a larger land area at a faster pace than it could have other­wise. This sort of awareness is critical in emergency preparedness planning. The County of Los Alamos and the LANL recognized that wildfire is always a threat. Through modeling and research, and by trial and error, the Los Alamos area is better prepared for their most likely hazard – wildfires. (more…)