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Budget Simulations for PIO Training…

by Admin on March 13, 2015

Most PIO’s and their managers are aware of the various types of media training that are available. Our firm, along with many others, can prepare elaborate simulations, complete with actors (many of them former reporters) throwing out questions for your staff. The simulation is enhanced with multiple cameras, bright lights, and even surround sound playback that can literally make the PIO feel like he/she is in the middle of a real breaking news event.

That’s great if you’ve got the budget, but many departments don’t. This usually means that PIO training is limited to being part of a larger annual exercise. Little or no thought is given to trying to simulate the environment that the Incident Commander, PIO, and other staffers might face in regards to the media.

Fortunately, there are some low cost options available that can go a long way towards preparing your staff to deal with a media firestorm. Various agencies of the government have produced similar simulations for use in their own excercise, and shared them with the larger EM community.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security produced these Windows Media Clips. Most deal with requests from the public, the media, and other stakeholders affected by a pandemic or bioterror event. But with some adjustment, they can still be useful for almost any scenario.

https://hseep.dhs.gov/hseep_vols/default1.aspx?url=home.aspx – on the
left look under multimedia Library – Video

Or these fake news clips, produced by the CDC to give a more realistic look at how a pandemic might play out on local newscasts.

http://jcrcny.org/Training/tabletopPanFluMOCK_NEWS.wmv

You can even find mock disaster footage on sources like YouTube. Try typing in searches for phrases like “mock disaster drill” or “Fake news stories”.

To make these materials more useful, consider asking someone to bring in a loud stereo or home theatre system from home. Some simple connections to your computer’s sound card, and you can fill a conference room with frightening sirens, and alarms…or simulate the sound of a large group of reporters.

The point of all this is to induce some of the physical and physcological effects of being involved in a real incident. Immersing your team in the sounds and visual environment of a crowded press conference will not only insure a more realistic exercise, but you’ll help to prepare them better for the real thing. All for little or no money.

Of course, none of this is a substitute for professional media training. Being able to handle the pressure of a press conference doesn’t prepare you for how to answer probing questions, or teach you to build critical relationships with the press before an incident, but it can go a long way towards building confidence in your team’s ability to handle such events.

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Budget Simulations for PIO Training…

by Admin on March 13, 2015

Most PIO’s and their managers are aware of the various types of media training that are available. Our firm, along with many others, can prepare elaborate simulations, complete with actors (many of them former reporters) throwing out questions for your staff. The simulation is enhanced with multiple cameras, bright lights, and even surround sound playback that can literally make the PIO feel like he/she is in the middle of a real breaking news event.

That’s great if you’ve got the budget, but many departments don’t. This usually means that PIO training is limited to being part of a larger annual exercise. Little or no thought is given to trying to simulate the environment that the Incident Commander, PIO, and other staffers might face in regards to the media.

Fortunately, there are some low cost options available that can go a long way towards preparing your staff to deal with a media firestorm. Various agencies of the government have produced similar simulations for use in their own excercise, and shared them with the larger EM community.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security produced these Windows Media Clips. Most deal with requests from the public, the media, and other stakeholders affected by a pandemic or bioterror event. But with some adjustment, they can still be useful for almost any scenario.

https://hseep.dhs.gov/hseep_vols/default1.aspx?url=home.aspx – on the
left look under multimedia Library – Video

Or these fake news clips, produced by the CDC to give a more realistic look at how a pandemic might play out on local newscasts.

http://jcrcny.org/Training/tabletopPanFluMOCK_NEWS.wmv

You can even find mock disaster footage on sources like YouTube. Try typing in searches for phrases like “mock disaster drill” or “Fake news stories”.

To make these materials more useful, consider asking someone to bring in a loud stereo or home theatre system from home. Some simple connections to your computer’s sound card, and you can fill a conference room with frightening sirens, and alarms…or simulate the sound of a large group of reporters.

The point of all this is to induce some of the physical and physcological effects of being involved in a real incident. Immersing your team in the sounds and visual environment of a crowded press conference will not only insure a more realistic exercise, but you’ll help to prepare them better for the real thing. All for little or no money.

Of course, none of this is a substitute for professional media training. Being able to handle the pressure of a press conference doesn’t prepare you for how to answer probing questions, or teach you to build critical relationships with the press before an incident, but it can go a long way towards building confidence in your team’s ability to handle such events.

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Upload Test By Kinetic

by Admin on March 13, 2015

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Small Town EMA Leads the way with Web 2.0

by Admin on March 13, 2015

Small Agency Among The Leaders in Social Media

Small Agency Among The Leaders in Social Media

“I understand that some emergency managers are skeptical of social media” confided Michael Amberson, Public Information Officer for the Gadsden/Etowah County, Alabama EMA, “but you have to look for ways to break through all the clutter of hundreds of TV channels, and millions of web pages. You have to find a way to get people’s attention”.

Amberson seems accustomed to having all the right answers about the use of social media in emergency management. It’s clear that he’s done his homework, starting with the initial pitch of the idea to his agency director, Deborah Gaither. “I first presented the idea of using Twitter and creating a blog in April of 2009. Deborah already knew a lot about the technology and was very supportive of the idea, but she did have some concerns too”.

Paramount was making sure that the service would be of value to the community, and fill a legitimate need. Amberson pointed out areas where a highly mobile form of communication could prove useful to the agency. “Our primary threat here is severe weather, and in those situations, it’s important to get accurate information and warnings to people wherever they may be. Since Twitter works through mobile devices like cell phones, it’s a perfect application for that.”

Since the initial launch of the service in April, the agency has seen it’s Twitter followers grow to well over 100, including about 10-15 users in the media. “We incorporated our new Twitter address into some billboards around the county, including the new digital billboards near the Interstates. We rotate four messages on those billboards that are about preparedness, and one of those encourages people to follow us on Twitter” said Amberson.

That billboard (pictured above) contributed to a big jump in the number of followers, as well as increased web traffic on their blog. Amberson uses social media for a variety of messaging, with an emphasis on quality of information, not quantity. “Whenever people receive a message from the EMA, I want them to feel like it’s worth reading. That if we’re posting, it must be important”, offered the PIO, “so my focus is on providing meaningful information that is useful to our users”.

Some examples of typical “Tweets” from the small town EMA:

  • Reports of major traffic accidents and road closures, especially those that affect interstates. Amberson is always careful to suggest detours for commuters who may receive the messages while stuck in traffic.
  • Reports of thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings.
  • Weekly updates on Swine Flu H1N1, with detailed information about the local effects of the outbreak.

But the Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency isn’t just using Twitter and Blogspot as one way broadcasting outlets, but also using their network of followers to provide them with critical “intel” during actual incidents.

Recently a bomb threat was called into the Gadsden Court House, and one of the first responders on the scene was also a member of the EMA’s Twitter network.

“He is the PIO for the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department”, explained Amberson, “I was able to relay his postings about the incident to our network, almost in real time. This allowed the media to track the story as it unfolded, and keep everyone in the community better informed. Even the Birmingham TV stations were following the story using our Twitter updates”.

Amberson feels that Twitter isn’t a substitute for mass media, but rather part of the larger process. He cited their updates on H1N1 as an example where the EMA can post updates on the spread of the flu or vaccinations in the Fall, but mass media can then flesh those brief postings out in more detail. They can follow up with the Alabama Department of Public Health, or the local school board and provide additional details in their stories.

“In an emergency, you can’t wait for the media. You need to get information out to the pubic as quickly as possible. It’s not a substitute for the media, it’s just another way to reach people”, said Amberson.

Amberson says that it’s critical to insure that all information that the EMA posts has been vetted, and is accurate. “You can get bad information from Twitter, though we’ve found the general public to be a pretty reliable source. The key is for you, as the user, to filter out the information that you’re receiving and decide what you can confirm before relaying it out to the public. Ultimately, you’re the one pushing the button”.

“In our office, only two of us publish information to the network or the blog, myself and our director. If I’m unsure about a given post, or if it’s sensitive, I always run it by Director Gaither before publishing it” offered the Public Information Officer, “that way we can insure that any information we’re sending out is correct”.

Many agencies cite Twitter has being the source of too many rumors and incorrect information to be of any use to them during an emergency, but Amberson disagrees, “Twitter is like standing in the middle of a crowd of people. Not only can you hear what is being said, but you can see who is saying it. So if someone is posting rumors or putting out bad information, you can contact them directly on Twitter and ask them what their source is. You can actually help to correct the problem and slow down the rumor factory”.

After six months of using social media as part of their communication plans, we were curious about the results.; “It’s been well worth the small investment of time it took to set it up and get it going” replied the young PIO, “One thing that surprised me was the number of mature adults who have subscribed to the service. Initially, I pitched this has being a good way to reach teens and young adults, but about half of our followers are in their 30’s and 40’s”.

At 31, Amberson is the youngest person in the agency, but has found that the entire staff has really embraced the service after seeing how useful it could be. Many have created their own personal accounts, and are now using Twitter for a variety of personal and professional reasons.

Cost has also been a major selling point. “We literally haven’t spent a dime” said Amberson, “like most small agencies we have to watch the budget closely, and cost was a major factor. We considered other types of notification systems, but all of them cost too much”.

Current, the Gadsden/Etowah County EMA is using Twitter (www.twitter.com) for mobile notifications and “micro-blog posts”, and using Blogspot (www.blogspot.com) for more detailed postings.

“Just yesterday, we posted a new FAQ regarding the Swine Flu H1N1 outbreak guidance for schools. We sent out a Twitter post to let people know about it, and included a link to the blog where they could get more information” Amberson elaborated.

Attracting new followers is also a priority for Amberson. Instead of just waiting for citizens to see the billboards or hear about the social media effort from friends, Amberson actively searches Twitter for posts using keywords like “Gadsden”, “Etowah County”, or other locations in the county. He then reads through a few of that users postings to determine if they’re within his geographical area, and if they seem like they might be a good candidate for gaining information from, especially as it pertains to severe weather.

If a person “Twits’ about the weather frequently, then he usually will “follow” them and often that person will return the favor by following the EMA. Amberson employs a similar approach to seeking out media contacts for the Twitter network. This insures that the network grows, but remains focused on a specific geographical area.

TweetDeck makes it easy to manage your Twitter account.

TweetDeck makes it easy to manage your Twitter account.

He is also fond of the TweetDeck software application (www.tweetdeck.com) which allows the EMA to easily manage their Twitter postings. “You can upload pictures easily, and since we often need to include links to web sites for more information, TweetDeck makes it easy because they already incorporate the TinyURL application. It just makes it simple to do our postings right from the computer”, the PIO explained.

He uses his cell phone to post to Twitter as well, but does so infrequently. Using the web interface at Twitter.com or TweetDeck is just much easier and takes less time out of his schedule. After a six month trial period, he’s finding the experience to be very rewarding; “It’s just so worth it…the key is to let people know that they have a role in this. Most people don’t think about emergency management, and I can understand that. I just try to post simple, useful information. I try to put myself in their shoes, and think about what I’d like to know about an incident”.

You can follow Michael Amberson on Twitter by using the ID “GECEMA” and read their blog at: http://gadsdenetowahema.blogspot.com/

Better examples of a small agency using social media to their advantage would be hard to find.

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A number of media sources, including a good recap from Bloomberg are covering Swine Flu H1N1 outbreaks at 17 college campuses around the country. H1N1 is now the dominate strain of influenza on the planet, and the US is experiencing it’s largest outbreaks for this early in the flu season since 1968.

In general, universities are getting high marks from the CDC and public health on their response to the outbreaks, but as more students return to school and football season begins it may be harder for them to contain the virus.

And they’lll be under a lot of pressure to avoid limiting traditional social activities such as parties, tailgating, and socials that swirl around the traditional Fall football schedule.

PIO’s at universities

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FCC buying emergency notification system

Agency stepping up emergency communications activities

The Federal Communications Commission is expanding its involvement in maintaining emergency communications during disasters, the agency’s chairman announced today.

For example, the commission is buying a computer-based rapid notification system that will enable outreach to public safety officials during major incidents, according to a news release. It also is coordinating its disaster communication improvement efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and with the Health and Human Services Department, the release said.

The purchase and increased coordination are two of the several steps outlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a 41-page report released today titled “FCC’s Preparedness for a Major Public Emergency.” The report was prepared by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau in response to the chairman’s 30-day readiness review started in June.

“The FCC has an important role to play in ensuring that our nation’s communications infrastructure serves our public safety needs,” Genachowski said. “The Public Safety Bureau’s thorough review concluded that the agency is ready to respond to emergencies, but there is more work to do to maximize the agency’s readiness.”

Other steps taken by the FCC outlined in today’s report include:

  • Updates and improvements to the FCC’s continuity-of-operations and pandemic flu plans.
  • Updates and revisions to all emergency standard operating procedures for the FCC’s 24/7 operations center.
  • Improvements to the FCC’s emergency communications Web site, including alert information and situational updates.
  • Establishing a cybersecurity working group that is charged with assessing the FCC’s responsibilities, needs, and assets in the cybersecurity field.
  • Starting a project to use spectrum analysis equipment to enable field operations staff to rapidly determine which public safety communications systems require assistance during emergencies.
  • Establishing the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, an advisory council.
  • Starting an information technology-based emergency response training on emergency incident management software systems.
  • Working with federal partners to identify improvements to the national emergency alert system.

Meanwhile, FEMA also has responsibilities in these areas, but the agencies do not always coordinate their activities and risk, creating gaps in service, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

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As the administration and emergency management officials in five states struggle to mitigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP executives face a war on two fronts. In the Gulf, they take the lead on trying to contain the oil flowing from the sunken rig. While in Washington, and one Wall Street they must struggle the public relations fallout from the incident.

PR consultants generally give BP executives high marks for the way that they’ve handled the crisis so far. While they’ve stepped around probing questions regarding limits on their liability, or speculation on the cause of the disaster, they’ve been forthright about their efforts to contain the spill. This included pessimistic predictions for the probability of success of containment efforts like the “dome”.

Managing expectations is PR-101. If the effort fails, then no one is shocked, and disappointment is minimized. Hopefully too the wrath of the US Congress and stockholders. But if it succeeds, then BP looks like a hero for attempting an unproven technique in deep water. Their engineers and staff are instantly transformed into world-class troubleshooters in the fashion of NASA’s Mission Control during Apollo 13. All that would be missing would be the Tom Hanks epic…(if the smaller dome effort succeeds, you may yet see that on pay per view)

To help shore up its PR and lobbying blitz, BP has enlisted the PR giant Brunswick Group (www.brunswickgroup.com) to help handle the onslaught of media attention it will attract in the coming months. The company also took other bold steps, including personal visits from CEO Tony Hayward to opponents of off-shore drilling such as Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.

Nelson noted that this was his “first ever visit from a BP Executive”. This is in stark contrast to Toyota’s poor handling of the Congressional inquiries into accelerator problems, where Toyota was roundly scolded for sending junior subordinates to face questioning. BP is clearly trying to be as open and transparent as possible in their response, but still stockholders continue to punish the oil giant, as they nervously await more backlash from the Gulf Coast spill.

Senator Nelson is a supporter of legislation that would raise the cap on London-based BP’s economic liability for the spill to $10 billion from $75 million. In addition, lawsuits continue to be filed at near-record rates along the Gulf Coast.

Hayward met with the six senators from Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. Other BP officials gave House lawmakers and staff a briefing behind closed doors. Hayward also briefed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the response effort.

Lawmakers are “impressed with the level of cooperation,” said Democratic Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the energy panel, “But there will still have to be an assessment made about the responsibility for what went wrong.”

Companies in similar circumstances should take note of BP’s PR response during this crisis. Once the genie is out of the bottle, the focus must be on damage control, and regaining the trust of the public, stakeholders, and elected officials quickly. The way to do this is simple enough–take responsibility without admitting blame until investigations are completed, keep everyone briefed on efforts to correct the situation, engage senior executives in the response, and make sure that everyone hears bad news from your organization first.

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Last night, ABC Television’s hit drama, “Gray’s Anatomy” presented one of the most compelling depictions of an active shooter scenario ever captured on film. It was dramatic, frightening, and chaotic…exactly like the accounts of real-life mass shootings witnessed over the years.

Unfortunately, the horror of the event was about the only thing accurately depicted in the program. The season finale episode called “Death, and all his friends” centers on one man’s rage and grief over the death of his wife, boiling over into a mass killing spree inside the Seattle hospital.

The incident begins simply enough. A man wanders around the hospital, asking directions to the Chief of Surgery office. The focus of his rage is “Dr. Derek Shepard”, who he blames for his wife’s death. In reality, Dr. Shepard had simply followed the woman’s advanced directive, and removed her from life support when nothing more could be done for her.

Her husband, “Gary Clark”, seeks justice first with lawyers, and then failing that, decides to take matters into his own hands. He purchases a handgun, and goes to the hospital looking for three victims, “Dr. Shepard, Dr. Webber, and a young surgical resident, Lexy Gray”.

Clark enters the hospital, but gets turned around in his confused state. Unable to find Shepard’s office, and starts asking directions. He enters a restricted area, where a young surgeon is gathering supplies. She’s in a hurry, and is more than a bit rude to Mr. Clark. He responds by snapping, and shooting her in the head, killing her instantly.

Unauthorized visitors in restricted areas should be reported immediately to security.

Within moments, Dr. Shepard, the Chief of Surgery is alerted to the fact that a shooter is present in the hospital and that a member of his staff is dead. The details are realistically sketchy at this point. Shepard responds by calling his head of security. The head of security tells Shepard that he doesn’t know what to do, since an incident like this has “never happened before”.

It’s inconceivable that a modern hospital would fail to have an Emergency Action Plan that deals with active shooter scenarios.

Shepard leafs through the hospital’s Emergency Action Plan, and finally decides that the correct course of action is to institute a lockdown. Each floor is isolated, with a strict policy of “nobody in-nobody out”. This information is relayed by telephone and pager to the hospital staff.

While the lockdown policy is fairly standard, no attempt is to made to block access to the shooter by locking doors, no one is shown barricading themselves inside rooms, or other recommended actions in an active shooter response.

Hospital staff find safety hiding in storage rooms, and other places, but endanger their own life by leaving their hiding places and roaming the halls. While this makes for great television, in real-life it would only add to the body count. Lock the door. Turn off the light, and stay put. Barricade interior doors with heavy furniture or other obstacles. Escape through windows, etc. if possible.

Mr. Clark, grief stricken and confused, continues to wander the hallways, shooting a nurse, a security guard, and other random victims. He is shown reloading his weapon on several occasions. We learn late in the episode that he bought a lot of ammunition because “it was on sale”. The firearm, which appears to be a standard 9MM automatic was purchased a few days before the shooting in a “Super-Saver” on Aisle 8. What isn’t explained is how he managed to also buy several additional magazines, since this are not sold outside of gun store specialty shops.

Police arrive, and immediately establish a perimeter around the hospital. The “incident commander” appears to be a beat cop, takes charge and waits for SWAT units to arrive. When they do, a five man team enters the building and begins to clear each floor one at a time, evacuating patients and doctors as each floor is swept for the gunman.

Pure fiction. The correct response to an active shooter situation would be for arriving units to immediately enter the building in small units and seek out the gunman. Police are now routinely trained to deal with Active Shooter scenarios. Loss of life is minimized if the gunman is actively engaged and neutralized by arriving officers.

It’s also true that the first officer on the scene would assume control, and become the “Incident Commander” under the standard ICS response. But he would quickly pass that duty off to a superior officer as the incident progressed and other units arrived.

Clark finally finds the object of his rage, “Dr. Shepard” in the interior breezeway of the stage. Shepard attempts to calm the shooter, and seems to be reaching him. But their moment of calm is interrupted by a young resident, and Shepard is promptly shot in the chest. The gunman then turns the gun on the young surgeon. She rattles off a description of her life, telling Clark the names of her father, mother, and sisters. She describes her life on a farm, growing up as a child, and doing anything in her power to make herself seem like a human being to the attacker.

Well, at least they got this part right. Accounts of several active shooter incidents have demonstrated that these killers tend to dehumanize their victims, and that they can sometimes be convinced not to shoot if the victim can make themselves seem “human”. Another effective technique is to simply verbally confront the shooter, and order them to stop the rampage.

Several times during the show, potential victims are within easy reach of the killer, and even when they have an opportunity, no one physically confronts Clark or attempts to disarm him.

At one point in the show, Clark is preparing to kill young surgical resident, Lexy Gray, who actually “unplugged” his wife from life support. Clark holds Dr. Shepard, Dr. Webber, and Gray most responsible for his wife’s death. He calmly explains to her that he never meant to kill those other people, that he only wanted to kill the three of them.

A shot rings out, and Gray falls. We then see a highly armored SWAT officer, holding a HK sub-machine gun. Clark has been hit, and is down on the floor, still clutching his weapon and pointing it towards the young doctor. The SWAT officer motions for her to move away, and she runs down the hall. Clark struggles to rise, and move away.

Policeman are trained to “double tap” an attacker, firing two quick shots at the COM (center of mass) in this situation. It’s unlikely that anyone would still be able to continue their rampage after being shot by such a weapon. The officer would also continue to engage the suspect if they were still attempting to take more victims. The officer would not have taken the time to instruct the doctor, he simply would have advanced, and fired again.

Despite his gunshot wound, Clark continues his rampage for another half hour or so, ultimately shooting one more victim, “Dr. Owen Hunt”. Hunt is an Iraq war veteran, and is the only character who ever attempts to confront the shooter despite the immediate danger of further murders.

Throughout the show, the police perimeter is shown as being very poor. Characters enter and re-enter the hospital several times. “Dr. Richard Webber, the former Chief Of Surgery” is trapped outside the perimeter for most of the show, but somehow manages to slip past police and enter the hospital. He also manages to find and confront the gunman before the SWAT officers can manage to end the situation.

The show ends with the gunman committing suicide, shooting himself with his last bullet. This detail is also all too common in real life Active Shooter incidents. Suspects are often resigned to their own death, and have intentions to kill themselves if police do not accomplish the task for them. This self-destructive intent is the prime motivator to changing the response protocols from similar hostage scenarios, which can often be resolved through negotiation.

Despite the show’s flaws in depicting the response to this incident, it provides a great opportunity for Public Information Officers. The show’s portrayal of the shooting is frightening, dramatic, and realistic in it’s depiction of the horror of these types of incidents. The show is one of the most highly rated on television, and was watched by an audience of tens of millions.

PIO’s should consider contacting their local ABC affiliate stations, and suggesting a news segment that could address how real life incidents in your own local hospitals would be handled by your department. You can use this as an opportunity to educate the public on steps that they can take to help themselves in such an event.

The episode would also make a great starting point for Active Shooter discussions with hospital emergency managers, and safety officers. Make it the highlight of your next PowerPoint talk to your LEPC group, or briefing for school administrators.

In the end, Gary Clark’s fictional rampage may end up saving real lives. If we can look past the show’s errors and instead focus on it’s unique ability to get people thinking about an incident that has “never happened before”.

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US Postal Inspectors Launch Web Site to Combat Fraud

US Postal Inspectors Launch Web Site to Combat Fraud

High Noon Film/Lewis Communications is proud to have been selected as the primary vendor for a new consumer protection campaign called “Delivering Trust-Delivering Justice”. Developed by the US Postal Inspection Service in support of National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), the new campaign mirrors efforts by other federal agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, and the US Postal Service to protect consumers from fraud.

The cornerstone of the new campaign is a comprehensive web site, www.deliveringtrust.com, that highlights eight major types of fraud, and offers information to help consumers avoid becoming victims.  This marks the 12th anniversary of National Consumer Protection Week, which runs from March 7-13.  The event is  a coordinated consumer education campaign highlighting the importance of protecting privacy and steering clear of fraud and scams.

This year’s theme – Dollars & Sense:  Rated “A” for All Ages – encourages individuals to exercise good consumer sense at every stage of life – from grade school to retirement.

But the campaign, and the website are anticipated to have a much longer “shelf life” and greater impact on consumers than merely highlighting NCPW. The Inspection Service plans to promote the site as a continuing resource for the public, as part of their ongoing mission to prevent these types of crime.

In addition, to the web site, High Noon/Lewis Communications was tasked with creating print materials, video, and direct mail elements in support of the effort. “We’re honored to have been selected to work again with the Postal Inspection Service” said company president Les Rayburn, “Inspectors are among the best at solving these types of crimes, and have a deep commitment to preventing them”.

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PETN Could Have Downed Plane

by Admin on December 29, 2009

Medium Yield Explosvie-PETN

Medium Yield Explosvie-PETN

According to unnamed sources in a Washington Post article, the total amount of the explosive PETN (Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate) carried by suspected terrorist Abdulfarouk Umar Muttalab, was more than sufficient to have disabled the plane.

To those in the counter-terrorism community, this incident exposes a number of gaps in screening procedures used internationally, and the problems associated with trying to instill global standards on such an enterprise. It appears that terrorists continue to exploit less stringent screening by carefully selecting their points of departure, as was the case with the 9/11 hijackers.

But the incident also calls into account our own information sharing procedures and “no fly” lists. By all accounts, this suspect should have raised a number of red flags that when taken together would have singled him out for additional screening, or a denial of his Visa. Unfortunately, the current system does a poor job of tying these markers together.

What measures were taken to protect commercial aviation against PETN being carried inside underwear or even anal cavities? This method of attack was used by a Saudi suicide-bomber, Abdullah Hassan al Asiri in August of 2009. He attempted to murder the Saudi Arabian Deputy Minister using very similar methods, and was also backed by a cell based in Yemen.

Were travelers departing Yemen subject to any increased screening after that incident? Were additional “puffer” machines, explosive sniffing dogs, or other measures increased for passengers leaving Yemen?

It may well be that the American intelligence community suffers from it’s own vast global dominance, being too slow to react to a nimble foe. The incident involving a PETN attack sewn into underwear occurred late in August, barely four months ago. In an entrenched bureaucracy four months is barely enough time to study such an incident, much less to deploy effective countermeasures. But to small, agile organizations like the cells utilized by our enemies, four months is more than enough time to organize another attack.

Equally puzzling is why terrorists remain fixated on commercial aviation as a target, especially when soft targets abound both domestically and internationally. The lack of Central leadership may be the reason. Individual actors and small cells are left to plan and execute their own attacks, resulting in a series of “copycat” attacks based on previous attempts.

Regardless of the outcome of the reviews underway now, Americans may have to come to grip with another reality that the rest of the world takes for granted. No amount of screenings, watch lists, or restrictions on activity within an aircraft can guarantee 100% safety. We must balance our desire for security with essential liberty, and accept that any conflict will generate casualties. Learning to accept those casualties is necessary unless we wish to see our society transformed into a unrecognizable police state.

For many, the screening procedures already in place have resulted in the choice to travel less often by air. Increasing those restrictions will surely result in more travelers reaching the same conclusion. These attacks are slowly changing the view of air travel and it’s usage by Americans–and achieving at least a moral victory for the terrorists.

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