DHS - Moving Forward; And Moving Out

On her first day in office, Janet Napolitano, the new DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary, issued five “Action Directives” covering the department’s highest-priority concerns: Critical Infrastructure Protection; Risk Analysis; State and Local Intelligence Sharing; Transportation Security; and State, Local, and Tribal Integration.

Among her other top priorities, Napolitano also indicated, according to a DHS press release issued on 21 January 2009 – the day after President Barack Obama’s inauguration and, not incidentally, the date when Napolitano herself was sworn in – are “to unify the department and create a common culture.”

Those goals will be helped considerably by implementation of a previously announced plan to consolidate the department’s numerous bureaus and agencies – now temporarily headquartered in buildings and offices at numerous sites in and around the greater Washington, D.C., area – at a fairly large and well guarded federally owned property in Southeast Washington across the Anacostia River and a short distance downstream from the Washington Navy Yard.

The Near and Longer-Range Future Implementation of a longer-range and still tentative proposal – the building of a “DHS Academy” or university similar to the U.S. service academies – would eventually (but not automatically) create the much-desired “common culture” referred to by Secretary Napolitano. In the meantime, cross-training drills and exercises, joint planning, and even split “tours of duty” – assigning firefighters to police departments, for example, and/or EMTs to the Border Patrol – would help immensely in breaking down current institutional barriers between and among the various DHS agencies and their state and local counterparts.  

The long-term effort to build a DHS common culture might even go international. Earlier this week, in fact, according to a Reuters article of 17 March, the United States “proposed to European Union leaders … [that] they adopt a joint approach to fight terrorism and … write together a memorandum of understanding enunciating the principles that should inspire our common fight against terrorism.” The same joint-approach principle could just as easily be applied, of course – and already is, to some extent – in an international effort to cope with a pandemic flu outbreak and/or other mass-casualty diseases.

Similar multinational programs dealing with illegal immigration, the interdiction of drugs and small arms, cybersecurity, and tamper-proof internationalentity cards may be a long way off, but would solve a host of other problems. DHS would play a key role, perhaps the dominant role, in each of these programs.

A Rare Unanimity of Purpose Meanwhile, the current highest-priority DHS concerns spelled out by the new DHS secretary seem to be shared, fortunately, by almost all state governors, city mayors, emergency-management officials at all levels of government, and the department’s own personnel, and not only could but should be achieved rather easily within the foreseeable future – thanks in large part to Napolitano’s own well focused vision and leadership experience (Time Magazine recognized her in 2005, during her first term as governor of Arizona, as one of the nation’s “five best governors”).

Most state and local emergency managers, law-enforcement and fire-service officials, and EMS (emergency medical services) leaders – as well as elected officials representing states, tribes, and various other communities, agencies, and organizations throughout the country – have been pushing hard for several years for more, and better, intelligence sharing and integration in the overall process. This specific goal is, in fact, at the top of the agendas set by, among other national organizations and associations, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, the International Association of Emergency Managers, the National Emergency Management Association, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the League of Cities and Towns, the National Congress of American Indians, the U.S. Conference of State Legislators, the Council of State Governments, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Police Chiefs, the International Association of Firefighters, the National Council of Volunteer Firefighters, and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

There also has been a significant amount of federal planning, and federal funding, particularly in recent years, to improve intelligence sharing and integration. The payoff to state, tribal, and local entities and individual citizens has been slow to come, however.  For that reason alone it will be an extremely welcome “new day” in homeland security and emergency management if this long-awaited integration and intelligence-sharing effort, amounting to true collaboration and outreach, can be achieved over the next several years.

Protection: The Critical Foundation of Future Progress Like most state governors and city mayors, Napolitano clearly sees critical infrastructure protection as the department’s core mission, and her action directive covering that area of her responsibilities translates into a broad mandate to manage the vulnerabilities, threats, and hazards as effectively, and as cost-effectively, as possible – primarily by developing a workable risk-analysis methodology and using it to build a robust risk-management system. These two priorities would link together smoothly and form a major component of the department’s organizational foundation.

Finally, transportation-security officials – in the private sector as well as in government – and TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) are charged by Napolitano with examining, in depth, all modes of the U.S. transportation system, and the overall threat environment, to ensure that all aspects, organizations, agencies, and businesses in the field of transportation are working together and clearly focused, as a team, on a common set of goals.

Assuming that all of these areas have clear strategies, tactics, and operational agendas provided and encouraged under Napolitano’s guidance, all professionals in the fields of emergency management and homeland security – as well as the department’s own personnel – the emergency-management community and elected leaders across the nation will be able to see, some of them for the first time, a basic, positive way forward. If and when that happens the now sometimes disparate homeland-defense stakeholders will be able to work as a true team capable of assessing risk, managing risk, and providing a framework for a cohesive partnership at and throughout the national, state, tribal, and local levels of government.

Footnote: Napolitano has said on a number of occasions that she is seeking input not only from other senior DHS officials and the department’s other employees but also from the U.S. public at large and/or from other organizations and agencies involved in emergency management. For many Americans, therefore, this may well be an opportunity for which all professionals in the homeland-defense field, and other thinking citizens, have been waiting for a very long time.

Kay Goss
Kay C. Goss

Kay Goss has been the president of World Disaster Management since 2012. She is the former senior assistant to two state governors, coordinating fire service, emergency management, emergency medical services, public safety, and law enforcement for 12 years. She then served as the Associate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director for National Preparedness, Training, Higher Education, Exercises, and International Partnerships (presidential appointee, U.S. Senate confirmed unanimously). She was a private sector government contractor for 12 years at the Texas firm Electronic Data Systems as a senior emergency manager and homeland security advisor and SRA International’s director of emergency management services. She is a senior fellow at the National Academy for Public Administration and serves as a nonprofit leader on the Board of Advisors for DRONERESPONDERS International and for the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management. She has also been a graduate professor of Emergency Management at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for 16 years, İstanbul Technical University for 12 years, the MPA Programs Metropolitan College of New York for five years, and George Mason University. She has been a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) for 25 years and a Featured International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) CEM Mentor for five years, and chair of the Training and Education Committee for six years, 2004-2010.



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