Sunday, October 28, 2012

An Overview of Homeland Security (part I)

            So why do we have Homeland Security at all?
1.    Technology has advanced to the point that little people have access to very large weapons. The trend is accelerating.
2.    Our society has become so complex that major damage to the nation and the economy anywhere is felt everywhere.
3.    American expectations have changed, and many citizens now believe government should protect them pre-event, and restore them post-event to an unprecedented extent.

Ok, what is Homeland Security about?
Well actually, homeland security was conceived as preparedness for and response to events that threaten the health and economic vitality of the nation as a whole. It is actually about securing the sinews of national power, not promoting the safety of individuals. 
But individual citizens don’t like hearing that they are less important to the nation than a sector of critical infrastructure. And responders, focused for years on public safety issues, tend to agree.
Also, we can only afford one set of responders, so the people who address public safety issues must respond to crises in the security arena as well.
Consequently, “homeland security” now includes both public safety and security of national resources within the domestic confines of the nation.

            What is Homeland Security concerned with?
            Homeland Security is generally concerned with three categories of events: Threats (terrorist attacks), Hazards (accidents, with the same potential for disaster as terrorism), and Natural Disasters.
            Threats and Hazards are usually based on one of the following dangers: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, or Explosive.
·         The primary difference between Threats and Hazards is Intent – attackers may combine types of events, stage multiple events, or even target responders themselves. Hazards may have a terrible impact, but it is not compounded by malevolent planning to make the impact worse.
·         Terrorists may create other situations as well – like sniping, hostage taking, active shooting, or attacks on population centers (a hotel district in India -- a theater in Russia).
Natural Disasters come in many forms: Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Pandemics, etc.
Another subtle but important distinction is that hazards and natural disasters do not get smarter after each event. Terrorists do.

Why is all this new?
It is not. And the forces used to respond (fire, police, medical, FEMA, National Guard, etc.) are not new either. But see the top paragraph above – the potential damage from such events is new and growing with the complexity of our society. A coordinated response can reduce the likelihood of an event, our vulnerability to it, and the consequences if it takes place.

Well what IS new about Homeland Security?
·         Cooperation.  While public safety might seem an innocuous term, it denotes a deep rift, almost a schism, in American government and society. Under the US Constitution those powers and responsibilities not specifically assigned to the federal government are reserved to the several states (and by extension their local governments). “Common defense” is named at the federal level; “public safety” is not. The same is true of law enforcement, with some crimes assigned federal status, but most remaining the purview of state and local police and courts. In emergency management, local jurisdictions respond first, then state, then partnerships between states, and finally federal agencies. And private industry has traditionally welcomed government support but spurned government “interference.” This has changed. After some early false starts, homeland security is today encouraging unprecedented cooperation across jurisdictional lines.
·         Capability. A decade of legislation, expenditures, and experience has resulted in new capabilities (some based in technological advances, some in doctrinal changes) that promote better preparedness before an event, and better response after – as well as better communication to enable cooperation at every level.
·         Focus. Traditional public safety organizations remain focused on . . . well . . . public safety. But hard thought about the domestic security of the nation as a whole has resulted in placing priority on 18 sectors of Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources. These are defined by DHS as “the assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” New focus on CIKR has directed funding, capability and cooperation to maintaining the sinews of domestic national power.
·         Funding. The first National Strategy for Homeland Security envisioned expenditures about three times as great as present levels, and equally divided between federal, state, and local providers.  That did not happen. And (inevitably) some of the tax money made available was spent on items of limited long term utility. But by and large, homeland security organizations at every level have received capabilities and training undreamed of before 9/11. These improvements do show, both in the prevention of terrorist incidents, and the response to major disasters like Hurricane Sandy. 

(For the conclusion, see  An Overview of Homeland Security (part II) below)

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