Monday, July 30, 2012

Not New

Not getting worse...


When faced with dramatic and horrible crimes we naturally seek ways to make sense of the senseless.  Such is the case with mass murder, such as we've seen committed in a movie theater in Colorado and a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin.  Where shall we turn?  There seem to be very few experts on mass murder. Perhaps that's because - despite the 24 hour news media's urgent pronouncements to the contrary - it's rare. Author Grant Duwe, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, is one the experts on this highly specialized and frequently misunderstood topic. He's written on the issue for years and has been widely quoted in the aftermath of the mass murder at the Batman premier in Aurora, Colorado.

Duwe's 2007 book, Mass Murder in the United States: A History, is a fine piece of scholarship that draws upon his detailed examination of 909 mass murders committed in the USA during the 20th century. He makes a compelling case that mass murder is not new, that the rate of mass murder is not on the rise, and that the severity of each incident is not, on average, increasing.

Duwe tells us that mass murder scenarios break down into three broad categories: criminal massacres of competitors, public mass murders, and family annihilations. Involvement in gangs or illegal drug distribution seems to be about the only segment to which conventional theories of criminality might be applied. With regard to the other two types, the fact that there are only ~20 incidents a year in a country of 311 million people, suggests even most psychological theories won't have much to offer by way of detection or prevention. Forensic analysis may help us categorize the offender after the fact, but only the slimmest fraction of "crazy" people ever act out in this horrible way either.


Mass Murder in the United States draws upon 909 mass murder events in the U.S. in the 20th century.  Duwe selected cases in which four people were killed in an event lasting less than 24 hours.  He detected two surges in the data. The first, in the 1920-30s, were largely divided between gangland crimes – the “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” being a notorious example –
and family annihilations perpetrated by distraught Depression-era fathers with a sadly misapplied sense of obligation to their families. The second wave started in the mid-1960s, peaked in the 1990s, and is now in decline. The wave of mass murder our generation has lived through is evenly divided between criminal massacres, public mass murder – in public, in schools and at work, and again, family annihilations. Grimly interesting is the fact that bombing and arson have accounted for a higher proportion of deaths than most realize.

Duwe's discussion of moral panics and the role the news media play in the social construction of concern on this and other issues is very helpful to those of us interested in understanding why hysteria frequently drives public discourse.
As we attempt to engage in productive discussions about frightening events we must lead with facts rather than fear. If you would have an opinion on this topic you owe it to yourself, your clients, and your community to read this book.

Mass Murder in the United States: A History, by Grant Duwe
Paperback, 213 pages
ISBN-13: 9780786431502
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
Publication date: 6/28/2007

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gun Safe?

Not so much...


If you keep a handgun at home in a small gun safe please have a look at the videos in this disturbing report at the Wired Threat Level blog titled Kids Can Open Gun Safes With Straws and Paper Clips, Researchers Say by Kim Zetter.

Seriously, watch it today.

UPDATED TO ADD: Another excellent in-depth article, Unsafe Gun Safes Can Be Opened By A Three-Year Old, by Marc Weber Tobias in Forbes

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Workplace Violence, Mass Murder, and Active Shooter Bibliography

This list does not contain every on-line public resource on these topics, but it contains many of the better ones...


A wise man recently reminded me that

 

Data are discrete facts and observations, information is organized data, knowledge is information-in-context, wisdom is knowledge effectively applied to solve problems.

As you may know I'm a big fan of data.  You may also know I have strong feelings about workplace violence and how it is approached by the security industry.  I strive to use the our publicly available knowledge base - information-in-context - to extinguish unreasonable fear on the part of employers and clients and to enlighten (embarrassingly) unreasoning security practitioners.

What follows are resources I've linked to in my myriad posts on workplace violence and its prevention and a few others I've found more recently.  I am not including all news articles I’ve referred to in the past as I do not want to present poor examples out of context.  If you wish to read my posts on the subject enter the phrase workplace violence in the search box and they’ll be listed for you.

A Circle of Distortion: The Social Construction of Mass Murder in the United States by Grant Duwe http://wcr.sonoma.edu/v6n1/manuscripts/duwe.pdf

Active Shooter: How To Respond http://www.alerts.si.edu/docs/DHS_ActiveShooterBook.pdf  

Active Shooter: Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation http://www.nypdshield.org/public/SiteFiles/documents/ActiveShooter.pdf 

ASIS International Active Shooter Resource page http://www.asisonline.org/education/activeShooter.xml

ASIS/SHRM Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard http://www.abdi-secure-ecommerce.com/asis/ps-1092-30-1967.aspx 

Current Intelligence Bulletin #57: Violence in the Workplace: Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/96-100/ 

Duhart, Detis. "Violence in the Workplace, 1993-99." December, 2001. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/vw99.pdf

Effectiveness of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in Reducing Robberies, by Carri Casteel, MPH, Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD http://www.usak.org.tr/istanbul/files/cr.pr.environmental.design.pdf 

Effectiveness of Safety Measures Recommended for Prevention of Workplace Homicide, by Dana Loomis, PhD; Stephen W. Marshall, PhD; Susanne H. Wolf, RN, MPH; Carol W. Runyan, PhD; John D. Butts, MD http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=194680 

Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents CPL 02-01-052 http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-01-052.pdf 

Fatal Injuries to Civilian Workers in the United States, 1980-1995 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-129/pdfs/2001-129.pdf

Fatal Injuries to Workers in the United States 1980-1989, A Decade of Surveillance (National Profile) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/93-108/pdfs/93-108.pdf 

Fatal Injuries to Workers in the United States 1980-1989, A Decade of Surveillance (National and State Profiles) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/93-108/pdfs/93-108.pdf 

Fatal occupational injuries by industry and event or exposure, All United States, 2009 http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cftb0241.pdf   

FEMA EMI IS-907 - Active Shooter:  What You Can Do http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is907.asp 

Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3148.pdf

Homicide on the Job: Workplace and Community Determinants http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/154/5/410.full.pdf 

Mass Murder, by Dr. Tom O'Connor, Associate Professor, Criminal Justice/Homeland Security Director, Institute for Global Security, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN. http://www.drtomoconnor.com/4050/4050lect07.htm  

NIOSH workplace violence page http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/violence/  

Number and percent distribution of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by event or exposure leading to injury or illness and number of days away from work, private industry, 2009 http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb2516.pdfhttp://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb2516.pdf 

Occupational homicides by selected characteristics, 1997-2010 http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/work_hom.pdf

Occupational Suicides: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Fact Sheet, August 2009 http://bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/osar0010.pdf 

O'Neil, David. "Non-Fatal Workplace Violence: An Epidemiological Report and Empirical Exploration of Risk Factors." April 2003. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/199359.pdf 

OSHA Workplace Violence page http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/  

Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments - OSHA Publication 3153 http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3153.pdf

Revisions to the 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) counts http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfoi_revised09.pdf 

Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an active shooter event, prepared by Ready Houston? (In English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese) http://www.readyhoustontx.gov/runhidefightenglish.html 

Summary of Research on Mass Murder by John Klofas http://www.rit.edu/cla/cpsi/WorkingPapers/2009/2009-11.pdf

Ten Tips to Mitigate Workplace Violence and Threats, by Felix P. Nater http://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/83329-10-tips-to-mitigate-workplace-violence-and-threats 

The Psychology of Security, by Bruce Schneier http://www.schneier.com/essay-155.html 

The Workplace Violence Prevention eReport http://www.workplaceviolence911.com/preventionreport 

Toscano, Guy and William Weber. "Violence in the Workplace." Compensation and Working Conditions, April 1995, 1-8. http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfar0005.pdf  

U.S. BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) 2009 Chart Pack http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfch0008.pdf 

U.S. BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) 2010 Chart Pack http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfch0009.pdf 

U.S. BLS Fatal occupational injuries by selected characteristics: State of incident, employee status, sex, age, race, event or exposure, source, secondary source, nature, part of body, worker activity, location, occupation, and industry, 1992-2002 (revised final counts)  http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cftb0186.pdf 

U.S. BLS Table 4, Number, incidence rate, and median days away from work for nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by selected detailed occupation and private industry, state government, and local government, 2010 http://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.t04.htm 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Violence in the Workplace Comes Under Closer Scrutiny." Issues in Labor Statistics. Summary 94-10, August 1994. http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/ossm0006.pdf  

Violence in the Workplace by Tanya Restrepo and Harry Shuford https://www.ncci.com/documents/Workplace_Research.pdf

When Prevention Fails: Minimizing the Post-Incident Impact of Workplace Violence http://www.businessinsurance.com/section/NEWS050106 

Workplace violence intervention effectiveness: A systematic literature review, by James T. Wassell http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092575350800218X 

Workplace Violence Prevention: Readiness and Response, by Stephen J. Romano, Micòl E. Levi-Minzi, Eugene A. Rugala, and Vincent B. Van Hasselt http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcementbulletin/january2011/workplace_violence_prevention 

Workplace Violence, 1993-2009 National Crime Victimization Survey and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/wv09.pdf

Workplace Violence: Issues in Response, Edited by Eugene A. Rugala and Arnold R. Isaacs http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/workplace-violence 

Work-related Homicides: The Facts by Eric Sygnatur and Guy Toscano http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/archive/spring2000art1.pdf

Work-related multiple-fatality incidents, by Dino Drudi and Mark Zak http://www.bls.gov/mlr/2004/10/art2full.pdf 

Measured Voices

And rational analysis are needed...



Hidden in the chaff of lurid headlines, breathless reporting, and endless screen bottom scrolls are some people who are taking a measured and rational look at the tragedy in Colorado.  It's causes are complex, the details still murky, and the solutions unclear but these folks are using their indoor voices and have taken the time to scratch beneath the surface.

Aurora Police Trained for Major Shooting Spree, by Robert Beckhusen

'Dark Knight' Shooting: Mass Murder Up, Even While Gun Violence Down by Ron Dicker at Huff Post.  Actually, mass murder is holding steady but at least he provides some of the statistics.

The Fear Factor, by Mark Ragins

Viral Violence: Do violent attacks occur in clusters? By at Slate

Warning behaviors sought to stop killings, by Bob Ortega of The Republic | azcentral.com 

Warning signs of violence: What to do, by Dr. Charles Raison

We’ve Seen This Movie Before By Roger Ebert

What Bank Robberies Can Teach Scared Moviegoers, by Nick Catrantzos

Several resources were not written in response to the Aurora shootings but provide useful background, assistance, statistics, or perspective.

10 Tips to Mitigate Workplace Violence and Threats By Felix P. Nater for Security magazine.  Felix has been one of the go to guys on this issue since the beginning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Confuse Me With Facts

My mind is made up...


There is a well-known hazard in attempting to change another person's strongly held belief.  If you fail they leave the exchange with their belief not weakened, but reinforced.  It's called The Backfire Effect.  Here's a telling example from a brief on-line dialogue I had with a fellow security practitioner in the context of the Aurora Colorado shootings.

People need to take the rose colored glasses off and understand we live in a dangerous world now, it is not the place it used to be, things like this will happen to anyone at anytime.

You're not alone in this opinion, but what makes you say so? The violent crime rate in America is at a 40 year low and continues to decline. We haven't been safer in our lifetimes.

Okay, the stats may say so, but I don't think the victims will agree with them, violent crime may be down, but the victim rates as to how many at each incident goes up each time, so where is the trade off?

Historically, the rate of mass murder events has been around 20 a year since the last century. Total fatalities likewise have held at around 160 per year. What's more, a significant fraction (~1/3) of mass murders are "family annihilations" perpetrated by parents. Mass murder is rare and no amount of denial will make it common.

I am not denying anything, the fact is that what ever the stats say it does not help the victims and is a threat that should be looked at, simple prevention is worth it when saving a life. So you have your opinion and I mine, we can leave it at that. I don't think we are safer now than 30 years ago no matter what a bunch of stats say, reality says different, so we are now done with the argument. 

Case closed.  Opportunity lost.  Oops.

Fear, grief, and rage: 1, Facts: 0

UPDATED TO ADD: Rather than create another post on the topic of Aurora (I really do need to get a life) I'll add a sentence or two from some recent correspondence and blog posts:

By attacking us in one of our favorite and most vulnerable communal gathering places Holmes has wounded the American psyche unlike anyone since Cho or Harris and Klebold, maybe worse.

Emotions are high; we are in a state of communal fear, grief, and rage. It is a time to grieve, not to act.

And perhaps it is not the best time to debate as though winning on points matters...

Be well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Did It Make You Feel?

Frankly, Diane, the whole thing has disturbed me all weekend...


Diane Ritchey, Editor in Chief at Security Magazine (one of my regular reads) asked on LinkedIn ASIS International group today:

Do you think that ‘lone wolf’ incidents such as the recent Colorado movie theatershootings are growing or not? Take our new poll at securitymagazine

In a reply at LinkedIn and in an email I answered as follows...

The poll's title - ‘Lone Wolf’ Terror - is misleading and inflammatory. The tragedy in Colorado was certainly terrible and terrifying, but it was not terrorism.  The term, on the other hand, is almost exclusively used with an -ism on the end and applies to a completely different but highly charged issue.

The reply options are too narrow and inflexible.  

* Yes
* Yes, and we have procedures in place to mitigate those types of incidents. We are prepared.
* Yes, and we are working on internal procedures to prepare. It’s a work in progress.
* No, the Colorado movie theater shooting was an isolated incident.

We ought to be able to vote:

* No, the Colorado movie theater shooting was an isolated incident AND we have procedures in place and are constantly working on others to mitigate the frequency and severity of all crimes - rare or common, violent or not - that affect our business.

Even security practitioners need to be careful not to fall victim to the wide variety of cognitive biases humans are prone to. As Bruce Schneier reminds us in his excellent essay, The Psychology of Security...

* People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks.
* People have trouble estimating risks for anything not exactly like their normal situation.
* Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.
* People underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can't control.
* Last, people overestimate risks that are being talked about and remain an object of public scrutiny. 

The killings and mayhem in Aurora weigh heavily on everyone, but especially security professionals. Events like this - rare or not - challenge our assumptions about our ability as individuals, parents, professionals, and citizens to protect ourselves, our families, our coworkers, and our community.  Holmes hit us at our most vulnerable, as we sat in the dark enjoying one of America's favorite pastimes.

The poll question itself, "Do you think that ‘lone wolf’ incidents such as the recent Colorado movie theater shootings are growing or not?" has a statistically valid answer that will not change regardless how we think - or feel - about it.  The violent crime rate in America is at a 40 year low.  Mass murder is rare; that's one of the reasons the news media tells us about it in fine-grained, lurid detail whenever and wherever it happens.

Instead of being guided solely by our emotions during a time of shock, sadness, and uncertainty security professionals and other business leaders must balance the emotional with the rational so that we can serve as a source of strength and confidence to our employers and clients.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

You Have the Right Person

Making sense of madness...

Some initial impressions of the Batman Massacre.

When James Holmes' mother was approached by reporters early Friday morning her initial unguarded comment, "You have the right person," suggests the family knew he was troubled in some way.  We won't know for some time but, like Jared Loughner, Holmes is of an age when schizophrenia frequently takes profound hold.

Why there, why now?  An unnamed source said the the Holmes described himself as "The Joker" after his apprehension.  We need not blame any one movie though.  When it comes to ideation there is no shortage of historical, social, and media cues.  It would be hard to count the number of "faceless, black-clad tactical officers" featured in films and TV.  Glocks and Remington 870s are traditional weapons of law enforcement, both on TV and in the real world.  The AR-15 is this generation's idea of the rifle and standard kit for American police and the US military on the news and in the movies.  Ludicrous amounts of firepower wielded by heavily armored bad guys was on display at the North Hollywood shootout and in action pictures like "Heat."

The scene at Holmes' apartment is chilling.  The mad bomber who sets booby traps in his home is straight out of "Speed."  Cleverly-crafted, homemade bombs were Theodore Kaczynski's calling cards.  The use of a bombing primarily as a distraction was arguably Anders Breivik's intention.  One hopes the bomb squad can safe the scene and then collect the  evidence needed to help authorities better understand Holmes' intentions, or at least the depths of his illness.

Does art imitate life or vice versa?  We sit in movie theaters and in front of our giant flat screens watching our heroes and villains dish out and absorb impossible amounts of violence and mayhem.  We pull the trigger on nests of aliens, invading armies, and hoards of zombies in ever more realistic "first person shooter" video games.  We do these things to entertain and distract ourselves.  In this horrible case Holmes' seems to have been impressed by many of these action entertainment tropes, enough so that he spent thousands of dollars on real arms and equipment in the last couple months.

Unlike cases of massacre followed by suicide, Holmes is alive, which may permit a clinical diagnosis.  But even if the etiology of Holmes' rampage comes to be completely understood there will be little comfort for the victims, their friends and family, the community, and my peers in the security profession.  The idea that a bright young man descended into madness, hatched a horrible scheme, acquired a powerful arsenal, and perpetrated a vicious attack on his neighbors will remain a tremendous tragedy and a sad legacy for us all.

There are reflexive calls for more gun control, without any serious consideration for how such an idea might be implemented in the real world.  On the other extreme there is a newer voice, that from proponents of the "Shall Issue" citizen concealed carry movement, for even more guns in more Americans' pockets, just in case something like this happens.  One hopes there will be time for us to consider how to prevent these communal horrors while protecting our threatened sense of American individualism.  For now, perhaps we can all agree that the world would be a better place if James Holmes had not been able to acquire the weapons he used to cut down his neighbors Friday morning. 

Photo credit: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cynefin?

What is the Cynefin framework?


Nothing the Texas GOP is interested in, that's for sure.  

Cynefin has been described by its creator David Snowden as "an ecological approach to sense making and learning in formal and informal communities."  

As they say in Texas, "Boy, you ain't from around here, are ya?"
 
Cynefin was mentioned in a Homeland Security Watch post by Philip Palin.  I don't know much more about it than what I've read at Wikipedia, where we're told:

The Cynefin framework draws on research into complex adaptive systems theory, cognitive science, anthropology and narrative patterns, as well as evolutionary psychology. It "explores the relationship between man, experience and context" and proposes new approaches to communication, decision-making, policy-making and knowledge management in complex social environments. 

Cynefin is being applied by security professionals thinking about disorder, chaos, and emergencySnowden has a website and a blog I'll be spending some time at.

Very interesting stuff, except in Texas.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Texas GOP is Opposed to Critical Thinking

Not to mention a variety of other good ideas...


And it's not a moment too soon!  In 2010 Texas celebrated a 3.7 percent increase in their High School graduation rate.  At 84.3% Texas was but a few points below the national average of 84.6%.  Time they put a stop to that troubling trend lest they create High School graduates who can analyze, evaluate, or even synthesize ideas instead of honoring their father and mother and supporting Israel without reservation because the Bible tells them so.

This commitment to ignorance has been dissed in varying degrees of granularity and snarkiness at other blogs, but here's the source document.  The leaders of the Texican Republican Party would much rather young people not git all uppity with their book learnin and all:

"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Seems this new-fangled HOTS stuff is based on something called Bloom's Taxonomy, some sort of wild-eyed, modern teaching "theory" invented in 1956...in Chicago (if you know what I mean).

Yup, when it comes to clear thinking don't bother messing with Texas, especially its Republicans.

Image credit: High School Graduation Rates by State http://www.raconline.org/racmaps/mapfiles/education.png  PS, The Rural Assistance Center hosts a wide variety of very important metrics

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Atheists of Color Research

I so don't qualify...


But I hope there are a few within the sound of my keystrokes who do.  

By way of Frederick Sparks at Black Skeptics (one of the blogs and podcasts I subscribe to in order to keep an eye on my white male privilege) we are informed of a call for research participants by an Atheists of Color Research blog.  According to the site:

This research has been approved by the Human Research Review Committee of Hollins University.   

Hollins University is a "small, private women's college in [Roanoke] Virginia," which makes this research even more interesting.  The lead investigator is Dr. SJ Creek who is currently a visiting instructor there.  White, male atheism has been done to death.  I'm all for understanding people who aren't middle-aged, middle-class, white guys from middle-America.  We're pretty boring most of the time...and we are not the future.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Heat Than Light

Sometimes an honest question is answered with a rant...


A member of the ASIS LinkedIn group asked for current best practices for the extremely rare active shooter scenario.  

Before the discussion got started a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and enthusiastic proponent of Shall Issue concealed carry chimed in:

Shame people are now prohibited from protecting themselves...

No one rose to the bait so he made 58 more posts, arguing with some invisible straw man.  The irony of ranting about workplace violence in a public forum apparently was lost on him.

The current best practices for unarmed personnel is to escape if you can, hide if you can't, and fight if you must. Gunfighters should run to the sound of the guns. When the cops arrive don't act like an active shooter. Simple. Intense, but simple.

FEMA EMI offers a free version such instructions in their IS-907 online course, Active Shooter:  What You Can Do.  The advice is simple, clearly laid out, and free.

The Center for Personal Protection and Safety (CPPS) offers for sale a DVD called Shots Fired: When Lightning Strikes (which correctly summarizes the frequency of such incidents).


I have no issue with shall issue laws or the idea of lawfully armed private citizens carrying concealed almost anywhere, but active shooter situations are rare; situations where lawfully armed citizens have intervened to stop one even more so.

In the mean time, "Lighten up, Francis."

Image credit: The Day of His Great Anger by John Martin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anger 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pluto May Not Be A Planet

But it sure has a mess of moons...


The Hubble space telescope has spied yet another moon orbiting the recently demoted "dwarf planet" Pluto.  P5 (Do they sit up all night coming up with these clever names?) is thought to be 6-15 miles across, irregular in shape, and following a circular orbit 58,000 miles in diameter.  The Hubble is being used to reconnoiter the neighborhood around Pluto in advance of the New Horizon spacecraft's high speed pass in 2015.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fastest Pulsar In The Galaxy

How fast you ask?


We'll get to that.  A pulsar is a spinning, magnetized neutron star that is detected by its pulsating emissions of radio light and X-rays.  A neutron star is the Manhattan-sized sphere of extremely dense matter left over after a star more than 1.38 solar masses but less than ten solar masses goes supernova.

The sort of supernova that creates a neutron star occurs when a star is massive enough to make the inevitable mistake of attempting to fuse the iron formed at its core as it approaches the end of its life.  Where other stages of stellar evolution can take millions of years this final step lasts only moments.  Fusing iron consumes energy rather than creating it so the energy pressing outward from within the star is suddenly insufficient to resist the gravitational forces attempting to crush the star.  The shell of the star collapses upon the core, is repulsed by quantum degeneracy pressure, and the star disintegrates in a flash of light brighter than its host galaxy.

The pint-size, super-dense core (a tablespoon of the stuff weighs 900 time as much as the Great Pyramid or ten million tons, if you prefer) at the center of this catastrophe conserves the angular momentum of the destroyed star so a neutron star spins on its axis from one to a thousand times a second, while giving off beams of radio waves and x-rays from its magnetic poles.  Depending on where the beam is pointing it can be perceived as a staccato rhythm as the stream of electromagnetic radiation rotates by.

Interestingly, if a supernova occurs in a lop-sided manner, the neutron star can be spit out of the center of the exploding star.  Of course, "spit out" means different things in different neighborhoods.  IGR J1104-6103 is the not so clever name assigned to the neutron star ejected from supernova remnant SNR MSH 11-61A seen in the picture above.  It's zipping away at 6 million miles an hour.  Imagine a cannonball the size of New York City that weighs more than our sun making the trip from the Earth to Mars in about 5 minutes.  Yep, pretty snappy.  In the photo above pulsar IGR J1104-610 is at the narrow end of the green comet-like smudge.  That smudge is a wake of x-rays created by the passage of the neutron star through space.  The wake is three light years long! 

In the mean time, the superheated, massively irradiated shell of the star, bubbling with all the elements needed to create nebula, next generation stars, new planets, and life in the universe, is cast upon the galactic deep in the form of a supernova remnant.  In the fullness of time the universe is seeding itself with all the ingredients it needs to make us.

"We are star stuff.  We are the universe made manifest trying to figure out itself."

Pretty neat.

Those Who Love America Best

Are not always its cheerleaders...


On the occasion of our Independence Day holiday 2012 I was reminded that the 4th of July has not always been a celebration of freedom and liberty for all Americans, and that we have not always abided by our founding principles or lived up to the promises we've made to ourselves, our nation, or the world.  Some times we are fortunate enough to be graced with prophets and gadflies, orators and poets, who remind us we are "not all that."


For this I am thankful to the Black Skeptics Independence Day post, What, to the Slave, is Your Fourth of July? which excerpts from a powerful speech made by Frederick Douglass, on July 5, 1852.


Another post at Homeland Security Watch titled, Democratic Vistas: As fuel to flame, invites us to review Walt Whitman's 1870 essay Democratic Vistas.

All our national holidays seem to have become opportunities primarily to rest from our labors, gather with family and friends, consume frivolously, eat too much, and frequently drink too much.  Perhaps we should take at least a little time each holiday to evaluate whether there is a purpose behind our observation other than self-congratulation, fireworks, and a day off.  We can treat Independence Day as a perk, a privilege, or a prize; or we can regard it as a call to introspection, a chance to refresh our commitment to the principles upon which our Republic was founded, to examine where we came up short this year, and recommit ourselves to striving toward the excellence America is meant to be in the year to come.

Security or Safety

Protection and assurance; must we choose between them?


A peer at LinkedIn observes that Security and Safety are not complimentary disciplines.  

"I find the level of incongruity and degrees of mutual exclusivity inherent in the cultural, operational and functionalities of these two separate and divergent disciplines very frustrating."

My (somewhat revised) reply:

My experience differs from yours. Over the years I've worked on teams that combined both, I've administered both - directly and indirectly, and I've collaborated with safety peers in other segments of the management matrix. In my experience security and safety are complimentary disciplines. At several former employers and a variety of clients the two teams work hand in glove on issues of business assurance. This makes good sense to me as we are both in the protection business. Security protects people from the actions of others; safety protects people from harm due to hazards in the work environment. And we both respond to some of the same emergencies and liaise with similar public emergency service agencies.

In the past safety has enjoyed an advantage when it comes to funding and authority because they must first comply with a scientifically derived set of health and safety regulations. Security, having resisted the development and application of mandatory standards until recently, and which still struggles to justify the ROI calculation, has had to sell its programs differently. This challenge may be the fault of security leadership professionals, many of whom which have been slow to adopt a business orientation and failed to embrace the concept of dynamic risk. Many security managers, especially those who are reflexively risk averse, complain about being misunderstood when it may be they who have not taken the time to understand precisely how they can best forward the interests of the organization rather than simply “making sure nothing bad happens.”

Beyond the collaboration of security and safety disciplines I look forward to the integration of security - logical and physical, safety, environmental, compliance, audit, insurance, and perhaps even legal, under the Enterprise Risk Management model. If we in security do not find a way to be recognized as contributing to the bottom line we will forever be regarded as a regrettably necessary expense, and forever subject to the bean counters looking for ways to make the quarterly numbers and the procurement agents who think of our many services as an undifferentiated commodity best purchased for as little as possible.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Guys At Homeland Security Watch

Have got me thinking again...


A recent post about government responses to the Colorado wildfires reminded me of something tangential to the original post.

How many wildfires have local, county, state, and federal emergency management agencies dealt with in the last ten years?  How many hurricanes, floods, landslides, tornadoes, heat waves, droughts, ice storms, blizzards, and bridge collapses have occurred in the decade since 2001?  How many Americans died or were injured?  How many Americans were displaced - temporarily or permanently? How many Americans were cared for by their neighbors, communities, and government agencies?

Now contrast that with the number of terror attacks - transnational or domestic - that have been perpetrated against Americans, in America, and that resulted in fatalities, injuries, or even property damage affecting Americans since 9/11?

Perhaps it's time to dispense with the nationalistic, inflammatory, and jingoistic title - Homeland Security – in favor of the original, more descriptive, and most sensible term Emergency Management? 

Think of it as the gift of freedom from fear, just in time for our Independence Day.

May each and every one of you enjoy a pleasant, contemplative, and memorable Independence Day with your family, friends, and community.