NBSB September Meeting – Disaster Medicine

On Sept 23, 2008 the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) held an afternoon meeting to review the report and recommendations for the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) that had been prepared by the Disaster Medicine Working Group. The Working Group had assembled an assessment panel which evaluated previous reports done on the NDMS and put together their own report and specific recommendations which, with the approval of the NBSB, would be transmitted to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
Kevin Yeskey, Director of the Office of Preparedness and Response and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response began the meeting by giving an overview of NDMS and its capabilities. He also highlighted the recent response to hurricanes Gustav and Ike and contrasted NDMS participation to what occurred in response to hurricane Katrina. For Gustav and Ike they had been able to mobilize fully equipped teams, totaling 1100 response personnel rather than the 37 in the wake of Katrina.
Next, Dr. Stephen Cantrill, the Chair of the Working Group presented the assessment panel’s key recommendations and the NBSB had the chance to go over each and comment. Below is an outline of the recommendations, as the panel chose to organize them.
Recommendation 1: Envisioning the Future
1.1 Develop a clear strategic plan for the NDMS and integration of all other disaster medicine response mechanisms.
1.2 Develop a civilian advisory group for NDMS.
Recommendation 2: Integrating the Past
2.1 Establish a formal mechanism to track the implementation of lessons learned and recommendations from after-action reports.
Recommendation 3: Strengthen the team
3.1 Ensure teams are fully staffed and well-equipped
3.2 Improve and streamline application process for all personnel – *This point was removed during the discussion because based on Director Yeskey’s opening presentation, the NBSB determined that this has been done. Yeskey reported that the application and hiring process has been reduced from 8-12 months to 42 days.
3.3 Implement a uniform training program across NDMS.
3.4 Put into place a system to register non-overlapping personnel so that response capability can be precisely accounted.
Recommendation 4: Serving the patient
4.1 Determine who the patient is, consider patients that have been displaced across state lines NDMS patients even if they were not receiving NDMS care.
4.2 Expand reimbursement so that it is not limited to NDMS hospitals. Ensure that it is timely.
4.3 Define a concept of operations for patient moving and tracking.
4.4 Expand Electronic Medical Records for field use.
4.5 Examine barriers to patient care in emergency response and define criteria for temporary suspension of HIPPA or other requirements during an emergency.
Recommendation 5: Engaging Partners
5.1 Partner with state and local organizations.
5.2 Seek out public/private sector partnerships for patient transport and care.
Recommendation 6: Secure Funding
6.1 Funding is inadequate for the program. Seek out new sources for sustained funding.
Recommendation 7: Future
7.1 Request feedback from ASPR for the NBSB Spring/Summer 2009 meeting on which of the recommendations are complete, in progress or will not be undertaken.
7.2 Recommend that a longer term follow-up study be conducted to focus on the NDMS and these recommendations – * This point was added by the NBSB during the discussion.

The next NBSB meeting will take place Nov 18-19, 2008 and the Board is expecting to hear a presentation from the Disaster Mental Health Subcommittee, a report from the Medical Countermeasure Processes Working Group, a report from the Personal Preparedness Working Group and receive a white paper from the Education and Training Working Group.

“30% Solution” Falls Short of Full Adoption

I’m back from my trip out to Denver for the ASCE AEI Conference, so I’ll be putting up a few posts to catch up on a few things. The first I’d like to update on is the “30 Percent Solution” – an attempt to increase the performance of the model energy code by 30 percent – that I referenced a few posts back.

The final hearings were held in Minneapolis last week, and unfortunately the overall package of energy improvements narrowly failed (receiving over 60% of votes in favor, but not enough to reach the required two thirds majority).

Still, energy efficiency will substantially improve in the nation’s 2009 model energy code governing new home construction, as several individual measures were passed. The 2009 IECC will have several significant new provisions to boost energy efficiency, including:

  • Increased insulation in basements, floors and walls;
  • Improved window efficiency;
  • Reductions in wasted energy from leaky heating & cooling ducts;
  • Reductions in tradeoffs that fail to capture energy savings from efficient heating & cooling equipment;
  • High-efficiency lighting; and
  • Improved air sealing within the building envelope.

While FAS is disappointed the measures were not fully passed, these incremental improvements are encouraging. It is also heartening that over 60 percent of attendees voted in its favor, a clear demonstration of its growing support. We hope (and fully expect) that these efforts will continue, and model energy codes will continue to improve.

More information can be found at the EECC’s website.

Subpoena for Office of Legal Counsel Documents Authorized

The Senate Judiciary Committee has authorized the issuance of a subpoena for a copy of opinions of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

OLC opinions interpret the law for executive branch agencies. Controversially, they have been used to sanction official departures from existing legal norms in domestic surveillance, prisoner interrogation, and other areas. They have also frequently been withheld from most members of Congress (though they have reportedly been provided to the intelligence committees in many cases).

“During this administration, OLC has been misused to provide legal justifications for misguided policies,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “That advice has been deeply flawed, sloppy, and flat out wrong but it has been permitted to happen because secrecy has prevented our oversight.”

“Unjustified secrecy continues to prevent the review by this Committee that would provide a check and some control on how the administration is interpreting the law that is Congress’s constitutional responsibility to write. That obsessive secrecy even prevents us from knowing the subject matter on which OLC has written opinions,” Sen. Leahy said.

The secrecy of OLC decisions, as well as interrogation policy, the role of signing statements and many other questions were explored in detailed questions submitted to Michael B. Mukasey following his confirmation hearing last October. The full record of that hearing (with the Attorney General’s answers in the PDF version) has now been published.

Secret OLC opinions, along with overclassification generally, and a litany of other problematic practices were explored by Sen. Russ Feingold in a hearing last week on “Restoring the Rule of Law.” Senator Feingold summarized the findings and recommendations of that hearing in a floor statement yesterday.

Sen. Inouye on Intelligence Oversight

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) this week defended the current structure of congressional oversight of intelligence, and specifically rejected a proposal by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) to establish a subcommittee on intelligence within the Senate Appropriations Committee (described in Secrecy News, Sept. 12).

Sen. Bond’s proposal, according to Sen. Inouye, would have the undesirable effect of reducing the number of Senators and staff who are engaged in intelligence oversight. “It would put all decisionmaking into fewer hands,” he said.

In making his argument, Senator Inouye also provided some fresh insight into current intelligence oversight arrangements in the Intelligence and Appropriations Committees.

“I would point out that the Intelligence Committee has one professional staff member on the majority staff who reviews the budget for the National Reconnaissance Office; so do we [on the Appropriations Committee]. The Intelligence Committee has one professional staff member on the majority staff who reviews the budget for the National Security Agency; so do we.”

Sen. Inouye also obliquely discussed an intelligence satellite program advocated by Sen. Bond but rejected by the Appropriations Committee.

The history of congressional oversight of intelligence and specifically the CIA was recently explored in depth by L. Britt Snider in “The Agency and the Hill: CIA’s Relationship with Congress, 1946-2004” (pdf), CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2008.

Reviewing the book in the latest issue of Studies in Intelligence, bibliophile and intelligence expert Hayden B. Peake wrote that “It will be the principal reference book on the topic for the foreseeable future.” But surprisingly, the Snider book has minimal discussion of intelligence budget disclosure, one of the perennial themes in congressional oversight, and it does not even mention the official declassification of the intelligence budget in 1997 and 1998. David M. Barrett’s “The CIA and Congress,” cited by Snider, also has additional material not found in the Snider book for the early years of the Agency.

Burundi Ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The African Republic of Burundi this week ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which prohibits all nuclear explosions. A total of 145 nations have now ratified the Treaty, according to a news release from the CTBT Organization.

Detailed background on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is available from the Congressional Research Service in a report updated September 18 (pdf) that has not previously been made available online.

Governing After 2008

Yale Law School will hold a conference September 27 on “Governing After 2008,” examining a range of national policy issues and possible new directions for the next Administration. I will be speaking on secrecy and accountability. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

ASCE AEI Presentations

I just got done presenting at the ASCE AEI Conference out in Denver. Overall, I was pretty happy with how the session went well. I introduced the speakers and topic, and then John Millhone, a senior advisor to FAS, made a very good presentation about the current energy crisis, and how and why buildings need to play an important role in its solution. I think his presentation really gets to the core of FAS’s mission, and is a great preface to our work in policy and new technologies. John’s powerpoint can be found here.

Eric Tompos, the Vice President of NTA Inc., followed John with a presentation on the sources of design information for engineering SIPs, as well as the ways SIPs typically perform. Eric’s discussion taught me quite a few things I hadn’t realized about panel performance, and was huge for any designer planning to use panels. His powerpoint can be found here (with a supplementary, more comprehensive presentation that describe the methods for developing an engineered design method for SIPs in detail found here).

Khalid Mosalam, a professor Civil and Environmental Engineering out at UC Berkeley followed Eric. Professor Mosalam’s presentation explained much of the work he’s been doing in conjunction with FAS. He explained the current approach to seismic evaluation, the development of a pseudo-dynamic approach that is cheaper than large scale shake table tests, and then how that applies to SIPs and CSIPs. A copy of his presentation can be found here. That said, Professor Mosalam’s research deserves a much more in depth look – I’ll write something more significant about it soon.

I concluded the presentation with a discussion of our Pankow research – how to apply CSIPs to multi-story buildings. My presentation can be found here. The followup discussion to the presentations was good – some very interested people from all different segments of the building industry, from engineers to construction managers.

Nuclear Policy Paper Embraces Clinton Era “Lead and Hedge” Strategy

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new nuclear policy paper National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century published quietly Tuesday by the Defense and Energy Departments embraces the “lead and hedge” strategy of the first Clinton administration for how US nuclear forces and policy should evolve in the future.

Yet the “leading” is hard to find in the new paper, which seems focused on hedging.

Instead of offering different alternative options for US nuclear policy, the paper comes across as a Cold War-like threat-based analysis that draws a line in the sand against congressional calls for significant changes to US nuclear policy.

Continue reading

Court Orders Release of Detainee Abuse Photographs

A federal court of appeals this week affirmed that 21 photographs depicting abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan must be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The public interest in disclosure of these photographs is strong,” the Second Circuit panel concluded in a September 22 ruling (pdf) in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs.

The ruling carefully analyzed and rejected several government arguments against disclosure.

Among other things, the government had contended that the photographs should be exempted from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7(F), which protects law enforcement records that “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.” Government attorneys said that release of the photographs (which were gathered in the course of an Army criminal investigation) could be used to incite violence against U.S. forces, coalition forces or civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, and should therefore be withheld.

But even if potential incitement is a valid concern, the court said, it would not provide a basis for invoking FOIA exemption 7(F), which was intended to serve as “a shield against specific threats to particular individuals arising out of law enforcement investigations, never as a means of suppressing worldwide political violence.” The exemption is not supposed to be “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.”

In short, the court ruled, the cited FOIA exemption cannot be used as “an ersatz classification system” to bar access to these unclassified photographs.

Nor can the government legitimately invoke the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners “against insults and public curiosity.”

“Both of these treaties were designed to prevent the abuse of prisoners,” the court explained. “Neither treaty is intended to curb those who seek information about prisoner abuse in an effort to help deter it.”

At the end of World War II, the court noted, the government itself “widely disseminated photographs of prisoners in Japanese and German prison and concentration camps. These photographs of emaciated prisoners, corpses, and remains of prisoners depicted detainees in states of powerlessness and subjugation similar to those endured by the detainees depicted in the photographs at issue here. Yet the United States championed the use and dissemination of such photographs to hold perpetrators accountable.”

In the same way, “Release of the photographs is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners,” the court concluded. A copy of the 52 page ruling in ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al is posted here.

“These photographs demonstrate that the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib, but the result of policies adopted by high-ranking officials,” said Amrit Singh, the ACLU attorney who argued the case.

“Their release is critical for bringing an end to the administration’s torture policies and for deterring further prisoner abuse,” Ms. Singh said.

Court Orders Preservation of Vice Presidential Records

In a rare judicial rebuff to the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction (pdf) requiring the preservation of Vice Presidential records over the objections of Administration attorneys.

A lawsuit brought by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) along with historians and others alleged that the Office of Vice President had improperly limited the scope of records that it said would be preserved under the Presidential Records Act, and that records outside the scope of that definition were liable to be destroyed.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed that there was no legal basis on the record for the Vice President’s position. On September 20, she ordered the government to preserve all official Vice Presidential records “without regard to any limiting definitions that Defendants may believe are appropriate.”

“It’s a pretty strong opinion,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW. “They will be prevented from destroying anything. It basically means they have to preserve everything in the broadest possible interpretation of what the law requires — not their narrow interpretation.”