Author Archive

A nation remembers lives lost on 9-11

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

In memory of the lives lost on September 11thThrough the lens of time we remember the America before 9/11 – the sense of invincibility, of America the Fortress. Looking back over the last century, we see a rising curve of successes – the decisive role in the last Great War, landing a man on the moon, historic win over Cold War at the Berlin Wall, the innovative spirit that launched the personal computer revolution, a government that birthed the Internet. Twentieth century America fulfilled the promise that Tocqueville (“Democracy in America”) saw in the nineteenth century. Other nations stood in shock and awe.

9/11 shook our sense of invincibility. 9/11’s asymmetric terror attack struck our Nation deeply – beyond our anticipation. It surprised us.

Since then, there have been other surprises, other events we did not anticipate – the failure of the levees after Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 global financial crisis, the 2011 Arab Spring. If we are surprised, we did not understand forces leading to these events. We must be able to fathom and forecast such shocking events – in order to intervene and prevent, to build defenses against them, to adequately respond to them. We should not be caught surprised. We owe it to those who lost their lives on 9/11, to those that are still fighting our battle, and to those that are still suffering from the financial crisis to be ready for the next challenge.

Let’s acknowledge the difficulties involved in predicting such sudden, pivotal events. Nassim Nicholas-Taleb (author of The Black Swan) and Mark Blyth state in Foreign Affairs discuss how humans inhabit two different systems: the linear and the complex. We are good at predicting linear events, we can model them, they are well-behaved.  Complex systems have sudden, dramatic events, sometimes triggered by seemingly innocuous proximal stimuli. This is the domain of terrorism, of the financial crisis, the Arab Spring. Because underlying these events are the most complex elements found on earth – the human element. Ironically, we call the study of social phenomenon the “soft science” – implying that understanding people is simpler than understanding the laws of physics. Human behavior is hard to predict but yet within our grasp to comprehend. Human needs evolve slowly, whereas knowledge evolves faster, and technology evolves blindingly fast. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was true of human needs in 1776 as it is in Spring of 2011.

Understanding and preventing terrorism demands that we understand terrorists and the forces that lead to terrorism. It is not as simple as “connecting the dots”. There are trillions of dots generated hourly – through intelligence, law enforcement, citizen actions. The dots can be connected only through the rear-facing mirror.  Before we as governments and people can actively intervene in these complex systems, we need to understand the powerful forces that seek their own equilibrium – unmindful of the aims and desires of Governments. Government interventions to prevent, protect, respond, and recover can only succeed if cognizant of these forces.

In 2000-summer 2001, we faced this problem in the Defense Science Board study on intelligence-gathering against terrorism. We saw the millions of possible terrorist scenarios against which a single, designed system needed to function. To me, it was clear that this single system needed to be built on an understanding of the powerful social, economic, and political forces leading to terrorism. We needed a system with a simple architecture that could respond to a million contingencies, but with the flexibility to perform many functions. An architecture of bones to give reliable results and with joints to be flexible – to be able to grasp, crawl, jog, sprint, squeeze. At the DSB, I called such an architecture an action-focused framework. Such a framework is built on the understanding of the raw human forces that are pushing toward their own outcomes, and is designed with a bias toward intervention, toward action. A powerful, strategic framework is beyond simple information-sharing, beyond all-source databases.

We need such frameworks now more than ever. We need it against a dangerous, adaptive enemy, whether the enemy is an organization or an idea. We need it to define a new leadership role for America in a new flat world. We need it to repair our economic strength. And, we especially need it to fulfill all our Nation’s objectives in a more resource-constrained environment.

We are up to this challenge. America has always been up to this challenge. Of all nations, America is uniquely capable of making this leap to a science-informed, framework-based governance in the 21st century.  America’s greatness was built on a profound understanding of human needs, and an actionable framework  – a careful balancing act between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers. No nation, no people are ordained for greatness – they build greatness piece by piece.  The writers of the Constitution embedded the seeds of greatness into this Nation’s DNA at its conception. A framework based on a pragmatic understanding of human nature, while articulating a profound idealism on the human purposes of the Union.

As we remember the lives lost on 9/11, let us hold high our idealism as a nation; and, employ our pragmatism to build a more secure nation.

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President of IEM

The Perfect Storm: 2010 Hurricane Season, the worst yet?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President of IEM

Hurricane Katrina was thought to be the perfect storm. It punched Louisiana and Mississippi, causing horrific loss of life, tremendous damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure for miles, and a bruised national psyche.

But, Katrina may not be the perfect storm. The perfect storm may be coming to the Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season.

There are a number of currents that are steering this perfect storm:

The most active hurricane season in recent memory – scientists have predicted that the 2010 hurricane season, stretching from June 1 to November 30, will be very active –more active than the average for the last 50 years of the previous century. The hurricane spawning waters of the Atlantic Ocean are warm, the El Niño (the “good cholesterol” of hurricanes) is weak, and La Niña (the “bad cholesterol” of hurricanes) is expected to get strong during the peak of the hurricane season. (more…)

BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11—Will We Learn From History?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A Message from IEM President and CEO, Madhu Beriwal

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am reminded again of the lessons that Katrina taught. These lessons are especially important now, as a new monster lurks in the Gulf. This time it is not a hurricane—it’s oil gushing from BP’s exploded Deepwater Horizon rig. And waters are warmer this year than in the past few years, foretelling a bad hurricane season.

I remember these words:

“There is terrible potential for fatal harm to the region and its inhabitants from a storm of this severity … The northerly track of the storms depicted here seems to place a majestic volume of surge, driven inland from the Gulf, against the levee systems south of New Orleans … Levees seem to be overtopped for the first time in major sections … Populated areas could have most residential and some commercial structures destroyed totally … All human efforts feasible should be made to secure the largest evacuation response rate possible.”

I, Madhu Beriwal, was the author of those words in 1985—20 years before Hurricane Katrina struck. This scenario and 49 others were included in the Southeast Louisiana Storm Surge Atlas. The atlas was a single document detailing the varieties of hurricanes that could affect New Orleans. The consequences of such storms were not new to me then or now.

In 2004, IEM created a catastrophic hurricane scenario for an All-Government exercise focused on response planning for New Orleans. That hypothetical scenario was called Hurricane Pam. One year later, the hypothetical Pam became reality in Hurricane Katrina. (more…)

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President, IEM

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti. The immediate tasks fall into the lowest and most basic of the Maslow Heirarchy of Needs – rescue from the rubble to be able to breathe, food, water, shelter, medical care. This will later wrap into concern for temporary housing, family reunification, and eventually long-term recovery. Haitians will have to rebuild their capital and restore their lives – with help from international organizations and countries. We at IEM are doing our part – contingents of IEM personnel are deploying today to support the Haiti effort. They will do what they do for disasters – use their intellect to do the best they can to support the mission.

But, this blog entry is not about science, technology or analysis. It is about feeling. Of the 1.8 million residents of the capital, Port-au-Prince, almost 50,000 are feared dead. There is almost no way to wrap around that number around a human heart. With all constant coverage of this catastrophe, one stands out for me personally. A reporter mentioned that children are sleeping out in the open, right next to dead bodies – there is no shelter available for them as yet, and no-one available to shield them from sight of the dead and wounded. Can you think back to the time that you tip-toed into the dimly lit room of your sleeping child and felt the warm glow of seeing them snugly bundled up safe and sound? Can we imagine that same child sleeping out in the open, knowing that those lying around them are now dead?

America will open its hand for those children. That is the mark of this country. Super-powers are not just measured in the might of their arms, they are measured in their generosity of spirit. As we always do, we will transcend tribal instincts to tend to those that are in need – without accounting for clan, creed, or color – that is the hallmark of a Great Power.

IEM is contributing $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In addition, we will match the generous contributions made by our employees.We are also encouraging our corporate partners, especially members of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to contribute to Haiti relief.

Madhu Beriwal is a nationally-recognized thought leader in emergency management, with more than 30 years of experience in disaster and emergency management, homeland security, and national defense. She has pioneered efforts to help Federal, state, and local agencies optimize limited funding to achieve maximum protection.

Madhu Beriwal is a member of the prestigious Army Science Board, and a former member of the Defense Science Board’s Task Force for Intelligence Needs on Homeland Defense, created at the request of the DoD and the CIA to address counter-terrorism intelligence requirements for homeland defense. She is also a guest lecturer for the Homeland Security Executive Leadership Program at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California, where Ms. Beriwal teaches courses on Global Terrorism and Emergency Management.

Madhu Beriwal holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning (Transportation and Land Use) and a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Economics.