EM Weekly: 12 “The Edge of Disaster” by Stephen Flynn

"The Edge of Disaster" by Stephen Flynn

Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly. And we’re going to discuss the book that was written in 2008… published in 2008 called “Edge of Disaster”, by Steven Flynn. Even though the book is a little older, I really think that it still has some really good information there, as emergency managers and disaster recovery type stuff that we can really get a lot of use out of. So, the cool part about The Edge of Disaster, it’s free of jargon and rich in ideas, in both terms of analyzing your security problems and recommend the solutions for them, and also regarding the infrastructure in the United Stated. So, it really goes into some of these issues that, for a lack of a better term, we struggle with for a long time. That’s why I think this is still a good book to look at even this many years later.

So, Flynn argues that our top national priority must be to ensure that our society and our infrastructure are resilient enough not to break out of the strain of natural disasters and terrorist attacks, right? So, let’s think about that. Our infrastructure, in some areas of the United States… a few years ago, we had that bridge that just collapsed out of nowhere, if you take a look at the roads in Los Angeles, you can tell that they’re too narrow for the amount of traffic that we have, and seems like we can never get in front of that here. I know the same issues in Houston, and in other parts of the country where just the roads are falling apart; so that’s our infrastructure issues that we’re going to discuss.

So, in the title of Flynn’s 6th chapter, it captures the essence of this philosophy, to radically shift the balance between eradicating terrorism abroad, and defending them against their home. So, the best defense is a good offense. So, Flynn noticed that the degree by which the Bush administration was treating the war of terrorism as an overseas campaign; and he does argue over the war in Iraq is for terrorism recruitment. And I don’t want to get political on this, these are just his ideas here, and now, years later, with the Obama administration that came in, and when we pulled out of Iraq, we saw ISIS come up, and now that’s our biggest threat internationally, is ISIS. And some of the attacks that have occurred here with the lone wolf. I don’t have any solutions, obviously, I’m just kind of bringing it up here for discussion purposes. I would like to hear your thoughts on it too, if you want to reach out, at EMWeekly.com, and just let me know what you think about that.

"The Edge of Disaster" by Stephen FlynnBut the reason why I think it’s important to discuss is that we spend a lot of time and a lot of money on terrorism protection assets, right? I mean, the whole money that we spent specifically associated with terrorism is in the billions of dollars, right? All of the equipment that we’ve purchased over the years, specifically had that terrorism nexus to it. So that’s… realistically, this is what we’re talking about here. And this is an emergency management function as well, right? I personally sat on the UASI board in Orange County, when we were administering out, or at least recommending we give out X amount of moneys for different programs. So, I have a working knowledge of what I’m talking about here. There’s a balance between security investments at home and abroad, and a subject that has yet to gain significant attention, right? So, the budget processing, we keep cutting programs to look at all these… I don’t remember the exact members that we have, but there are more UASI cities getting cut every year, and the budget for the remaining cities keeps getting cut. I remember at one point, just after 9/11, it seemed like we would never run out of security money, and now it seems like we’re struggling again.

Maybe it is that we exhausted everything that we can do at the local level, regarding herding facilities, but we’re starting to see the softer targets get hit around the world, and in the United States, such as the Pulse nightclub, and malls are targets. We have these festivals that are occurring around the world every day. In Germany and in France, they have the street fairs, and festivals, and things like that can happen here in the United States as well. So, what does that mean exactly? I think that if you take a look at Flynn’s recommendation from back in 2008, you see that he really… some of the players might have changed, the tactics haven’t. And so, the idea here is doing a proper balance between United States efforts, specifically in this book, abroad; and the United States efforts here, at home. For those of you, listening globally, I would say the same thing. I don’t have a working knowledge specifically of the efforts of the terrorism programs in say, Australia, but what is the balance between the homeland security, for lack of a better term, and the efforts to keep secure at home. So, he goes a little bit over Afghanistan in this book, and in this particular podcast, I don’t want to focus on those issues. Not because they’re not there, but just because I really want to talk about how an emergency management, specifically, at home, we can deal with things.

So, let’s talk a little bit about his other area of interest, the infrastructure and national resilience. So, this is one of the reasons why people must read Flynn’s analysis of the United States infrastructure issues. Flynn makes a very persuasive and indeed frightening case of decades of under investment on the US critical infrastructure, which is so vulnerable, that it constitutes a threat to national security. So, some problems that he addresses are relatively well known, including the US power grid. And I tell you, from personal experience, we had a power outage here in Southern California, and I was talking to one of the people from the power company, they said that they were just one central station again from losing the entire Western seaboard, and if you remember what happened with the Canadian issue, where they lost the North East. So, these things are known, it’s not like they’re top secret, you know, and no one knows about them. We know that our power grid is very vulnerable. So, yeah. We have to really take a look at that. Also, our bridges… we have a bridge here in Long Beach, California, that is being worked on right now. But the bridge they are replacing, literally, is falling apart. They have steel mesh grid to catch the chunks of the bridge that are falling in the water. They’ve been hitting the cargo ships that are going underneath it. So it’s amazing, the short-term answer is putting a steel mesh grid net, basically, to catch these pieces of the bridge. Right?


So, the puzzle here lies on how to build support for infrastructure, and how do we get it going. The odd part about it is, here in California, we’re putting money into this high-speed rail, that’s never been built yet. I mean, it’s billions of dollars that are going to go into this thing, it’s really focused on the small group of people that are going to be taking this train. And I’m not against public transportation by any means, as a matter of fact, I’m a really big proposer of it; I’m from back East, and I grew up taking public transportation, so I think it’s a good thing. However, is that the right place to be putting our moneys into right now? Ok, so that’s just the question I pose. Again, I don’t have the answer, I’m not telling you right or wrong, or where we should put the money, necessarily, in this discussion. All ideas from you guys, what you guys think about it, again in the comment section.

But you know, it’s interesting that if you take a look back with Eisenhower, he created the infrastructure. I shouldn’t say he did, but his administration created an actual infrastructure, because he felt it was essential to national security. And he argued that the interstate system would provide enormous economic benefits, especially in the rural areas. So, for Flynn, he thinks the Eisenhower strategy provided a model to show support can be built for this resilience funding. And I haven’t seen it… this was 2008, remember? Over two administrations, and we’re still haven’t gotten the infrastructure money that we need. And yes, you can see it if you live in LA, you can see a lot of money that’s been spent in the 405, but these are widening projects, but there are still roads throughout the country that are falling apart, literally, right? So, we’re talking about 300 billion dollars a year that we need just to maintain what we have, not to increase what we have. So, that’s a lot of money being spent just to maintain, but there’s more that needs to be done. And again, I’m not going to tell you what kind of money should we be spending, and again, budget is always a big deal, right? You know, as emergency managements, you know we become the number one fundraiser, for our own programs. And this money here that we’re talking about would be probably taken away from our program to be taken into infrastructure.

But however, without infrastructure, how do we respond to emergencies and disasters around our local areas, let alone nationally? So, I really think that this book here really is a good primer for discussion. And I think anybody who is in government should read this book, specifically because it has a lot of really good details regarding the money that needs to be spent. And again, we might adjust some of this stuff specifically for our new… where we are with inflation. I know this was only 10 years or so, but still, 10 years is a long time when we talk about money. So, anyway, I will leave you here, as far as this book. I recommend “The Edge of Disaster”, if you haven’t read it, do so; if you have read it, really let me know how you feel. Like I said, this is a community, so I want to hear what your opinion is on this book. I liked it, I read it, as a matter of fact, I recommend. This is one of my recommended readings for my students at my university and also the community college, so… yeah, let me know!


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About Todd De Voe 81 Articles
Involved in Emergency Response, Emergency Management, Education and Volunteer Management for over 25 years.Served as a Corpsman assigned to the Fleet Marine Force of the United States Navy. I now teach Emergency Management at Coastline Community College, I am also the Host of EM Weekly.

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