The dramatic opening session, "Coordinating the Federal, State, and Local Response to Simultaneous Attacks on U.S. Port Facilities," was steered by a moderator who couldn’t have been more appropriate: Stephen E. Flynn, Ph.D., author of the eye-opening book America the Vulnerable, and the inaugural occupant of the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Chair in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.Earlier post on the conference here.
"Ports are the ultimate complex environment," noted Flynn, and they are made all the more so by "the challenges of jurisdiction," that is, the complex matrix of responsibility distribution between varying overlapping layers of local, regional, and federal agencies.
There were no easy answers. In the subsequent panel, which followed up with the private-industry perspective, Dr. James Carafano, Senior Research Fellow for Defense and Homeland Security with the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, declared that no matter how detailed your planning and how thorough your training, once the incident occurs, things unfold unpredictably due to that age-old x-factor, "the fog of war."As should be said about the Iraq war, plans are the jumping off points ... sort of like the underlying theme around which good jazz develops as circumstances allow. But the idea of "traiing like you'll fight" is to allow for the development of skill sets in moving from the plan forward...
His reality-check comments were buttressed by sentiments expressed in the next panel, which afforded one of the highlights of the day: a presentation by Captain Al Fuentes, FDNY (Ret.), former acting Battalion Chief of Marine Division, 9/11, and author of American by Choice. Fuentes, who almost lost his life – and who endured seeing comrades perish alongside him – attempting to rescue victims of the World Trade Center disaster, knows firsthand about the limitations of planning, and the unpredictability of events during an emergency situation. "I was a foot soldier in 9/11," he said. Commenting on the earlier panel’s detailed answers to how the hypothetical scenario would be efficiently, professionally dealt with, Fuentes remarked, "This reminded me of pre-9/11 . . . we talk about . . . great ideas, what we’re going to prevent this and that, but the bottom line is that . . . it doesn’t happen that way. The situation will arise when the event hits, and now we have to react, and now we’re behind the eight ball. . .
And the price of failure?
Stephen M. Carmel, Senior Vice President of Maersk Line, Limited (the world’s leading container-ship line), described in chilling detail the domino effect from ports being closed. Because the global trade transportation system is so complexly networked and so tightly scheduled, the forced closure of even a few major ports as a response to terrorism would cause the entire international network to choke. Billions of dollars would be lost. Within days, whole regions would be deprived of oil and natural gas. Jobs would be lost. Store shelves would be emptied. The veneer of civilization would begin to crack along with the infrastructure.