THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective: Washington

By Matthew Harwood

Why is medical surge capacity such a concern for you?

We have a medical system in the United States that operates at near full capacity on a daily basis. I don’t envision a time when we will ever develop excess capacity in our healthcare system. So we have to develop and train and exercise to execute tactical surges in medical responses. And that means quickly setting up tactical field hospitals, if necessary, and having a process in place where we draw from the medical community in a nonimpacted area and surge into an area of some catastrophic event requiring mass medical care. We have to be much more agile and flexible to artificially create a surge capacity that’s not there under the normal circumstances.

You’ve said in the past that the threat facing the United States is a residual of what it was on 9-11, but different. What did you mean by that?

I was referring to the migration of capability for causing mass destruction into the hands of independent actors or what has become known as homegrown violent extremists. That’s a phenomenon that’s a very real concern, because it’s so much harder to detect, intercept, and prevent those persons.

You’ve also made a distinction between lone wolves and stray dogs. What is the distinction between those two terms?

The lone wolves generally engage, through some kind of social media or other electronic connections, with other people of a similar ideology. And so there are ways lawfully to develop profiles and to engage in predictive behavior based upon communication among folks of that sort. But the stray dogs, the truly independent actors, don’t really connect with anyone. They’re isolationists. They may follow extremist views through social media and other sources, but they don’t actively engage in the dialogue. They quietly plan, then act on their distorted beliefs.

With the tenth anniversary of 9-11 directly in the rearview mirror, what lessons has the United States still failed to learn?

We can get far better at information sharing and intelligence fusion. We’ve made giant strides in that regard, but the state fusion centers across the nation are still in a developmental state, and the protocols for standardized sharing of information among fusion centers are still ripe for improvement.

Sharing of meaningful information between private-sector and public-sector intelligence operations is also an area for improvement. We have private foundations and nonprofit organizations and for-profit transnational companies that have very sophisticated information gathering and true intelligence gathering capabilities. They have to do so to protect their principal corporate representatives and their capital investments, not only in the United States but around the world. I still think there’s a great deal more to be done in the sharing of information between those private sector resource pools and conventional government resource pools.

If you had the resources, the political capital, and five years, what homeland security challenges would you tackle first?

You always have to respond to the threat. We know that the aviation industry remains a target of strong interest for at least al Qaeda. But we can’t put all of our eggs in that basket, so I’d be focusing on surface transportation—in particular, rail transportation—and preparing to respond to a biological attack that puts people at medical risk.

If there were an aerosolized Tularemia attack or some other attack that required dispensing medication to individual victims within 48 hours of exposure, you would have to be able to not just plan for that conceptually, you would have to be able to execute the delivery of those pharmaceuticals.

 

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