Thank You To The Rescuers

Houston.jpeg

With all the devastation going on around Houston and the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Harvey…


I thought it would be nice to just take a moment to reflect.


First, the pain and suffering of the people affected. 


I couldn’t believe last night when I saw this image of residents in a assisted nursing facility sitting up to the necks in flood waters.


Or this morning, when I saw a photo in the Wall Street Journal of a firefighter holding a mother with her baby daughter lying on her, rescuing them through the waters. 


With over 3,000 rescues performed for people stranded in attics, rooftops, in cars, and all over the city and surroundings, I also think it’s important to recognize all the firefighters and other emergency workers who put their lives on the line to help others. 


The Houston area is expected to get 50 inches of rain in under a week, which is what their usual annual rainfall is. 


So there is massive flooding and damage from Harvey as well as 250,000 people without power. 


My prayers go out to the people impacted and gratitude to the people who help them. 


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Huffington Post)

Chaos On Metro

Metro
Sheer chaos on the Washington, D.C. Metro this morning. 



A water main break suspended the running of the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.



The Metro spokeperson told me pointing with his hand up to his the neck that the water was filling the tunnels and getting way up there–nice!



At the same time, disabled trains on the Red line brought things to a “Major Delay,” followed by the offloading of crowded trains because the conductors couldn’t get the doors shut.



At the stations themselves, numerous escalators were out of commission, you can see them at boths ends of the station here, and the people were backed up all along the platforms. 



At one point, I got caught on the edge of a platform with a huge crowd pushing up against me, and had to tell the person behind me to take a step back (that I didn’t want to end up on the tracks, why thank you, and believe it or not, so not-so-nice people actually laughed at that!). 



Unfortunately, it didn’t take much to see how most of this city can be brought to a snarl or taken right out of commission. 


After 9/11, one has to ask, what have we learned as the Capital of the nation that our basic infrastructure and support systems cannot endure the ups and downs of weather and age, let alone G-d forbid another attack on our soil. 



Hopefully, someone will wake up and step up the planning and preparations here, rather than just spending trillions abroad and with what results. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Dire Warnings On Cybersecurity

Security Camera
This week Adm. Michael Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command issued a stark warning to the nation about the state of cybersecurity:



With our cybersecurity over the next decade, “It’s only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if,’ that we are going to see something dramatic.



The Wall Street Journal reports that he gave ” a candid acknowledgement that the U.S. ISN’T yet prepared to manage the threat!”



China and “one or two others” [i.e. Russia etc.] are infiltrating our SCADA networks that manage our industrial control systems, including our power turbines and transmission systems,.



The cyber spies from the nation states are “leaving behind computer code that could be used to disable the networks  in the future.”



Can you imagine…you must imagine, you must prepare–not if, but when. 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Alert, Alert, And More Alerts

Alert, Alert, And More Alerts

No this is not an alert, but some strategic thinking about alerts.

As a kid, we get our first alerts usually from the fire alarm going off in school and practicing the buddy system and safely evacuating.

As adults, we are used to get so many types of alerts:

– Homeland Security threat alerts
– Breaking news alerts
– Emergency/Disaster alerts
– Severe weather alerts
– Smog alerts
– Transportation delay alerts
– Accident alerts
– Fraud alerts
– Economic and financial alerts
– Amber missing child alerts
– Internet security alerts
– Power loss alerts
– Home or business intruder alerts
– Fire alerts
– Carbon Monoxide alerts
– Medical/health alerts
– Chemical spill alerts
– Product safety or recall alerts
– Unsafe drinking water alerts
– Active shooter alerts
– Work closure alerts
– Parking garage alerts
– Dangerous marine life alerts
– Dangerous current or undertow alerts
– Air raid siren alerts
– Solar eclipse alerts
– Meteorite or falling space debris alerts
– Special sale or promotional event alerts

With the arrival of highly successful, mass social media applications like Twitter, we have alerts aggregated for us and listed chronologically as things are happening real-time.

The brilliance of the current Twitter-type alerting is that we can sign up to follow whatever alerts we are interested in and then have a streaming feed of them.

The alerts are short–up to 140 characters–so you can quickly see the essence of what is happening or ignore what is irrelevant to you.

When more space is needed to explain the details behind an alert, typically a (shortened) URL is included, which if you click on it takes you to a more in depth explanation of the event or item.

So alerts are a terrific balance between short, attention grabbing headlines and links to more detail, as needed.

What is also great about the current alerting mechanism is that you can provide concise alert information, including:

– Message source (for ensuring reliability)
– Guidance (for providing immediate instruction on response).
– Hazard (for specifying the type of incident)
– Location (for identifying geographic or mapping locality)
– Date/time (for implications as to its currency)
– Importance (for determining severity such as catastrophic, critical, etc.)

While we remain ever, hyper-vigilant, we need to be careful not to become anxiety-ridden, or at some point, simply learn to tune it all out, so we can actually live life and get stuff done.

It’s good to know what’s going on out there, but can too much information ever become a bad thing? 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Sitting Ducks, Sitting In The Dark?

Sitting Ducks, Sitting In The Dark?

If you read the Wall Street Journal, then you heard today about the attack that took place last April on the power grid in San Jose, California.

Yes, “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” and in San Jose in 2013!

Some assailants cut the telephone cables in an underground vault and shot for 19 minutes at a electrical substation with more than 100 rounds from an AK-47 and “surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley.”

In this isolated case, power was able to be rerouted around the damaged site, but it still took 27 days to make the necessary repairs.

What if this was a broader attack–what could have happened?

Firstly, since our roughly 2,000 nationwide giant transformers sit mostly in the open surrounded by nothing more than chain link fences and some cameras, an attack is possible, if not probable.

According to the then Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), “if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S.”

Further, since each transformer is custom made, weighs up to 500,000 pounds, costs millions to build and are hard to replace, a large scale attack could result in “prolonged outages as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”

Is this an isolated incident and nothing to worry about?

Uh, no! Domestically, there were 274 incidents of deliberate damage in three years. And overseas, between 1996 and 2006, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on the power grid.

“Utility executives and federal energy official have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage.”

The Former FERC Chairman said, “What keeps me awake at night is a physical attack that could take down the grid. This is a huge problem.”

Do you think the lights will be on forever or is it just a matter of time?

On a personal level, have you given any thought to how you will feed your families, light and warm your homes, run your businesses, gas up your cars, and send and receive information?

Our Achilles’ heels–and is anyone even paying serious attention?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal; this is not an endorsement of this book, but rather symbolic.)

Emergency Alert Or R U Kidding?

Emergency Alert Or R U Kidding?

BBC News Technology (9 July 2013) reports on how the U.S. Emergency Alert System (EAS) was hacked.

The EAS is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was set up “to allow the president to talk to the entire country within 10 minutes of a disaster.” It also provides the public with alerts on local weather emergencies, such as tornados and flash floods.

EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) in 1997 and with it came security weaknesses.

Earlier this year, those vulnerabilities were tested and exploited when the Montana Television Network was hacked with an alert of a zombie attack.

And it provided advice on how to survive–“Do not approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

This is reminiscent of the hoax in 1938 when over the radio came a warning that a meteorite had smashed into New Jersey and aliens were attacking New York–an adaptation of H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds.”

Well yesterday it was aliens, today it’s zombies, and tomorrow it could be an phony announcement of an invasion by country XYZ or perhaps a imminent detonation of a thermonuclear warhead somewhere over the continental U.S.

Imagine the panic, confusion, and potential loss of life and property from the ensuing chaos.

It goes without saying that this is not a way to inspire confidence by the citizens in case of a true national emergency.

If we cannot count on the systems meant to survive an emergency then how can we be expected to survive the emergency itself?

The EAS may interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with those loud and annoying tests, but what can really ruin you day is a cyber attack on the system that broadcasts something much nastier and more ominous–and you don’t really know whether it’s the real thing or just another hack. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to UWW ResNet)

Great Balls Of The Apocalypse

So the Chinese have invented an amazing life-saving device for whenever a great life-threatening catastrophe strikes.

Rather than an ark, this lifeboat is a giant ball of steel, concrete, and fiberglass–two layers thick and weighing four tons–they are advertised as waterproof, fireproof, iceproof, shockproof and they stand upright and float in water. 

In case of a tsunami, earthquake, shipwreck, or other major crisis, these can be you lifepod to safety. 

CNN reports that they can hold 14 people (video says up to 30 people) and can store food, water, and oxygen for two months. 

The pods also have a propeller for the craft and seatbelts for your added safety–should things get a little rough on the water of Armaggedon. 

The inventor says the next generation survival pod will be made of stronger steel and have more comfort gadgets–although, I imagine he can’t mean a flat screen TV. 😉