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Inauguration security moves front and center following Capitol riot

January 12, 2021

ASU emergency preparedness experts weigh in on the future state of domestic terrorism

In the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Mayor Muriel Bowser is urging the United States Department of Homeland Security to adjust its security approach ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The breach unveiled troubling flaws in the security network around the nation's Capitol, where our elected officials come together to debate national policy and craft the country’s laws.

Across the world, people witnessed the destruction in shock. The question of how this was able to happen still looms on the minds of many. And while the issue is still being investigated, one thing that security experts seem to agree on is that lack of preparation played a large factor in the chaos, injury and death during the insurrection. 

Brian Gerber and Melanie Gall co-direct Arizona State University’s Center for Management and Homeland Security. ASU Now spoke to Gerber and Gall to get their response on what unfolded on Jan. 6 and the future state of domestic terrorism. 

Question: What is your take on the attack in the U.S. Capitol building?

Melanie Gall:
It is clear that there was a massive security failure — a failure of anticipation, planning and resourcing. The failure to anticipate the violence led to an insufficient show of force, which on one hand should have dissuaded Trump supporters from invading the U.S. Capitol and on the other should have protected our lawmakers. 

Brian Gerber:  While there is some technical or academic debate on use of the term, this was a coup attempt in any practical use of the term. A sitting president incited a riotous mob to storm the U.S. Capitol building with the expressed intent of disrupting the official recognition of a free and fair election. In addition to other elected officials who have contributed to a mass disinformation effort, I think we’ll find that this insurrection has deeper roots and is a far more substantial threat than just a mob that got out of hand, so to speak.

Q: How severe of a security breach was this attack?

Gall: The breach in security can only be described as catastrophic. As more and more footage from inside the Capitol emerges, the devastating gravity of the security failure comes to light. Congress was in session as the Capitol was overrun. Representatives had to be evacuated as the building was being stormed. Had the intruders managed to know and reach the evacuation routes of representatives, all of this could have been far worse. Furthermore, imagine if foreign activists or intelligence officers were or had been embedded among the terrorists. Offices were ransacked and computers were accessible. The computer network was not shut down. Thus, we should need to be concerned about cyber risk and unlawful access to classified information.

Q: Why wasn’t the U.S Capitol building protected and what could have been done to better protect it?

Gall: There must and will be serious investigations to examine this. Washington, D.C., is familiar with large crowds of protestors. The fact that this event was not classified and treated as a National Special Security Event given the proximity to the Capitol, Congress being session and the vice president and his family in attendance is inexplicable. Threats to the vice president and intentions to storm the Capitol must have been known to the FBI and DHS. Anyone browsing Twitter, QAnon forums, etc. should have seen this threat. The big question that everyone is asking right now is: Was this the result of breakdowns in the chain of command or are there active subversive elements within the chain of command?

Brian Gerber

Q: Did the complex set of different federal agencies, and the coordination challenges that follow from that, contribute to the ineffective security response?

Gerber: From an emergency preparedness perspective, the multiple federal agencies and adjacent state jurisdictions routinely coordinate for such purposes in the D.C. area. Generally, elsewhere in the U.S., a major challenge in any disaster preparedness and emergency response situation is such interagency and interjurisdictional coordination. In the national capital region, and surrounding partners in state and local government, there has been a really sophisticated and high level of operational coordination for decades. That is what makes the lack of appropriate crowd control and general security preparations even more disturbing as we witnessed the assault on the Capitol. 

Q: How do security risks from the highest levels of government factor into threatening scenarios and operational practices?

Gall: That is an excellent question and a question I have been asking myself a lot lately starting with our catastrophic response to COVID-19. We have a tendency to plan and prepare for the last event, which in itself is a poor practice. Threats evolve and no incident is the same. Thus, anticipation, flexibility and imagination are critical elements in being prepared. To be honest though, I don’t think that in pre-Trump times, we ever anticipated that our national security may be threatened from within, particularly the highest levels of government. Our security and emergency management procedures and protocols do not account for that, just as they do not account for a politicization of these procedures and protocols. Going forward, we will also have to reckon with the risks emanating from Trump being a private citizen again and the potential risks to national secrets and intelligence.

Gerber: Let’s be very clear: A sitting president, aided and abetted by political allies, both elected and in the popular news media, helped foment an insurrection. I am almost certain we’ll learn more about how well-organized the attack was — and that others outside the rioters on the ground provided support. This means our government, in both the executive branch and supported by other federal officials and state-level counterparts, had a hand in this coup attempt.

Melanie Gall

Q: From an emergency management perspective, how will President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration look different from previous ceremonies following the events at the Capitol?

Melanie Gall: We should expect for the inauguration to be substantially scaled back. One can assume that this was already planned as such due to the pandemic. Inaugurations are security events of the highest level, so I do not anticipate that organizers will have to change much. However, the events from Jan. 6 will likely see the D.C. area at heightened security levels for the remaining time. 

Gerber: I think there is going to have to be a decision made to limit the exposure of President-elect Biden and all other officials at the inauguration. There is a deeper domestic terrorist threat than the mob of insurrections we saw on Jan. 6.

Q: What does this incident tell us about the current and future state of domestic terrorism?

Gall: Domestic terrorists have not stopped calling for violence. Based on reporting from journalists monitoring right-wing platforms, there are continued calls for violence on platforms such as 8kun (8chan).

We have seen the threat of domestic terrorism grow over the past years but have failed to act decisively. We cannot forget that on Jan. 6, we had security failures at the state level as well. Trump supporters breached the security gates around the Washington state governor’s mansion and occupied the steps of the Washington State Capitol building in Olympia. And let’s not forget armed militia inside the Michigan State Capitol and the foiled kidnapping plot plans of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If you recall, in September of 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighted the threat of domestic terrorism and the linkages and weaponization of disinformation as part of national and international efforts to undermine our democracy. It is high time that our laws catch up with this threat. 

Gerber: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies have recognized the threat of extremist right-wing domestic terrorists for some time now. Prior to Jan. 6, this has not been much of a focus in our national political discourse. What the coup attempt underscores is how serious this threat is — and I’m expecting we will learn soon that the scope of domestic terrorist networks are quite broad. This threat will occupy a major part of the Biden presidency.

Top photo courtesy of

Nikai Salcido

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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New research director for Kyl Center focused on equity in water access

New research director of Kyl Center sees water equity as a top issue for state.
January 12, 2021

Kathryn Sorenson sees clean water as 'the foundation of public health'

When Kathryn Sorenson was director of water services for the city of Phoenix, she was in charge of a massive infrastructure that included 7,000 miles of pipeline.

When she needed information, she often used the resources of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, which provides research and support for decision-makers.

“They have produced some amazing papers on water security, groundwater management and adjudication reform,” Sorenson said.

“I used the Arizona Water Blueprint all the time,” she said of the online visualization tool that uses maps and data sets to show a holistic view of water in the state.

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Now, Sorenson is part of the Kyl Center team, where she recently was named director of research. The Kyl Center is part of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

“I’m so excited to contribute to what the center has already done,” she said.

"It's exciting to be able to bring to ASU my experience leading large municipal water systems.

“Access to clean water is a fundamental need of every person on Earth, and yet we're still so far from fulfilling that need, even in Arizona. I want the research and teaching I do at ASU to help us overcome the barriers that prevent people from having secure access to safe water.”

Sorenson was director of water services for Phoenix for seven years, and before that was director of the Water Resources Department for the city of Mesa. In addition to directing research in the Kyl Center for Water Policy, she will be a professor of practice in the School of Public Affairs and will contribute to the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

She answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: What did you do as director of water services for the city of Phoenix?

Answer: I was responsible for making sure that about 1.7 million people had safe, clean water in their taps 24/7, 365 days a year, in the correct quality and the correct pressure, and for making sure that those deliveries were reliable.

The job entailed five water-treatment plants, hundreds of pumping stations, wells and pressure gauges, and 7,000 miles of pipeline, as well as 430,000 customer connections, each of which has to work all of the time.

In addition, I oversaw 1,500 employees, $700 million in annual appropriations and a $2 billion capital improvement program.

Q: What are some of the water issues facing Arizona?

A:  Arizona depends heavily on the Colorado River, and it is over-allocated, meaning we collectively take more water from the system than nature puts in. To make matters worse, the Colorado River basin has been experiencing a prolonged drought of more than 20 years. 

When you take the longer term view, a lot of communities in Arizona are heavily dependent on fossil groundwater supplies. Once you pump them out, they’re gone forever. There are real problems looming when it comes to groundwater management and the Colorado River.

Q: What topics will you be researching?

A: When stakeholders, managers and elected officials understand where water flows, who it goes to and what the societal, economic and ecological costs are, then they have the foundation to make sensible water-management decisions. I see a lot of our research focusing on that basic premise. Water equity is a big piece of that, making sure there is a level playing field in terms of access to supplies.

Q: What changes have you seen in water policy and management over the years?

A: I’ve seen positive ones. When I started in this field, it was a very small group of folks that were making the most important, most fundamental decisions about water allocation in this state. That group over time has become larger, more inclusive and more diverse, and I think that’s hugely important. We only make good decisions when we have many different perspectives at the table.

Q: What’s important for Arizonans to know when they turn on the water tap?

A: I want people to understand that the delivery of safe, clean water in our communities really is the foundation of public health, economic opportunity and quality of life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really brought that into focus. When the CDC came out with the recommendation early in 2020 about frequent handwashing, one of the first things we did (in the city of Phoenix) was to make sure that the taps were on for everyone in the community, even those who had been disconnected for nonpayment.

Because the water industry has been successful, we are many generations removed from a time when babies died of waterborne diseases. That’s not in our collective memory any more. So while I think it is taken for granted, clean water really is the foundation of public health.

Top image courtesy of Pixabay.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News