Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 30, 2009

How To Improve Homeland Security: One Postage Stamp at a Time

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on July 30, 2009

Secretary Napolitano covered a lot of ground in her talk yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations. Homeland Security Newswire sent out a email Wednesday morning suggesting the speech would present Obama’s homeland security strategy.  The talk was significantly less than a comprehensive strategy.  That is not surprising, considering DHS will embark next week on an effort to open up the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review process to a wider audience.  No point in issuing the strategy first, then gathering the information to support it.  As someone said awhile ago: it is time for a change.

There is lot to discuss in the Secretary’s remarks: describing the “persistent and evolving” terrorist threat in language not encrusted with fear; an apparent reluctance to move beyond the decade old idea that a networked enemy requires a networked response; or the statistic that refuses to die: “…85 percent of our critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector.”

But the core of the Secretary’s remarks — at least as I read them — is the call to think anew about engaging the American people more directly in the effort to “secure our homeland and stay true to our values.”

That theme was repeated several times during the speech and the Q and A.   Here is an excerpt from an exchange between the Secretary and someone in the audience.  (It is also a transparently inelegant way for me to bring the topic back to what I wanted to post anyway, before I heard the Secretary was making a speech.):

Questioner: Secretary, … I heard you speak several times about … how we need to implicate our citizens in more efforts. Are you suggesting we need train our people from school days on to be more alert and watch more carefully their school people, their schoolmates, their workers, their family, their neighbors, and then to more effectively report what they see to some authority?

Napolitano: … I think there’s actually an important role that we can play in educating even our very young about watching for and knowing what to do if—if you’re in an airport and you see a package left with no one around; you know, that sort of thing. I also think we could do a much better job at educating young people about … how to handle themselves so that they can protect themselves also if something untoward were to happen.  So do we have a plan in that—in that way, or have we actually worked that angle of this? Not yet….

It just so happens that this week’s “How to Improve Homeland Security” essay responds directly to the Secretary’s charge.    The essay was written by a law enforcement leader with significant experience working with educational institutions.  The idea offers one way to use “soft power” to help bring homeland security back home.

What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?

Improve homeland security by promoting homeland security concepts and principles through an educational campaign directed at persons who are under 21 years of age.

The idea in more depth

As of July 2009, there were over 307,000,000 people living in the U.S.  A small percentage of those people are criminals and an even smaller number commit acts of terrorism. If community members played an active role in noticing and reporting suspicious activity, the chances that a terrorist would go unnoticed would be quite small. The challenge is to get people involved. One strategy is to conduct a national educational campaign targeted at children and young adults. Educating people at an early age about what they can and should do to prepare for and respond to emergencies, as well as how to protect the homeland, has the potential to effect behavior now and in the future. One specific idea within this framework is to conduct a nationwide contest to design a new U.S. postage stamp based upon the theme “What homeland security means to me.” The educational component of the campaign would involve disseminating literature that explains the contest and contains highlights about what individuals can do to protect the homeland and prepare for natural and manmade disasters. Students from kindergarten through college would be eligible to submit designs that represent what homeland security means to them. Parents would most likely be involved with younger students, which would help to educate an even broader range of people. The design entries could be posted as displays in airports or other public places throughout the country thereby further exposing even more people to the question “What is homeland security?” The winning design would become a postage stamp. Thousands of stamps are used to send letters throughout the world, which serves to further expose people to the idea of homeland security.

Problem or issue this idea addresses

This idea addresses the lack of recognizable messages about what homeland security means in a way that engages people without being intrusive. It is about exposing our youth to the idea that homeland security involves a broad spectrum of activities and that we all share responsibility for ensuring the United States is a safe place to live and work. It is a short range program with long range desired outcomes in the form of improved personal accountability for the prevention of terrorism and preparedness for disasters. There are plenty of negative messages about homeland security. Rather than allowing these messages or no messages to be the ones people remember, the federal government should consider a proactive marketing campaign that promotes citizenship and the role community members play in protecting the homeland.

Who benefits and how

If this idea were to become a reality, the entire population of the United States serves to benefit. Children and their parents as well as young adults would be exposed to the concepts of homeland security through their participation in the contest. Other people would be exposed through the products produced by the contest, namely the stamp and displays. Federal agencies would have a better idea about what the public perceives homeland security to be, based upon the contest submissions. This knowledge could possibly be used to shape future communications and policy decisions. Ultimately, the general public stands to benefit if the campaign generates national attention that results in either the prevention of terrorism or increased preparedness for manmade and natural disasters by the general population.


The first step is quite simple: determine the process and basic costs for developing a commemorative stamp. Further implementation would require a funding source. A possible source could be a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Education, or both. Support from just one US Senator could facilitate interest in funding and supporting the contest. The curriculum and messages would have to be developed with input from subject matter experts. Input from marketing and education experts would also be strongly advisable in developing supporting material to generate interest in the contest. Contacting professional organizations, such as the American Council on Education, to obtain their support in promoting the contest would help spread the word. Print, online and media advertisements would be ideal, though costly. Corporate sponsorship is an option to explore either for promoting the contest or providing the prize.

Outcomes and measurements

The desired outcomes include: an improved perception of the federal government’s effectiveness in securing the homeland; increased reporting of suspicious behavior that could be criminal or terrorist in nature, which would, theoretically, increase the likelihood that a terrorist act could be prevented; and individuals taking direct action to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Outcomes could be measure by sample surveys performed before and after the campaign. The surveys could measure perception, knowledge and reported behavior change. Data gathered from law enforcement agencies could be an indicator of changes in reporting behavior. Measuring the absence of crime is difficult, but there might be a way to track when the average person on the street took action to report a tip that resulted in the prevention of a large scale terrorist attack.


“Prevention of a large scale terrorist attack?”  Isn’t that a somewhat grandiose objective from such a seemingly simple idea?

Secretary Napolitano gets the last word here.  From her speech on Wednesday:

Three years ago, it was an attentive store clerk who told authorities about men trying to duplicate extremist DVDs. This led federal agents to eventually round up a plot to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix army base here in New Jersey—in New Jersey.

Just last month, a—just last month, a passenger saw two employees exchange a bag at the Philadelphia airport that had not been properly screened. That passenger’s vigilance ultimately stopped a gun from getting onto the plane.

So there’s no doubt that building a culture of preparedness in our communities will require a long-term commitment from all aspects of our society. But there are, as I said, simple ways for you as individuals and community and business leaders to engage right now … [to become] better first preventers as well as first responders.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 30, 2009 @ 3:51 am

Nice post! Certainly “Be Prepared” should not have been a motto just left to B.S.A. What does this mean in reality? Well I think it means building block approach. Every 12 year in USA should have had some rudimentary first aid and know how to swim. ARC used to do a fine job of this but now the lack of foresight of its leaders and lack of preparedness donations have caused it to no longer be what it once was for the US. The largest emergency services social agency. Helping burned out families and sheltering in disasters is almost beyond its means and capability.
Okay–so with 10% of the total GDP in non-profits (and disclosure I is one except like the Sierra Club not tax exempt)it is amazing how few really provide community services of any kind. More than that somehow the “Just in it for themselves” attitude of certain sectors of the economy and certainly the majority of politicians means that the meaning of “community” has almost died in the US. In all those condos, apts, townhouses, single-family houses in the US (and of course many are now vacant) what is the sense of community? How many neighbors insist on knowing who their neighbors are and perhaps even what problems they have? The two-income family has almost destroyed the vital community services provided by volunteer work of non-working spouses yet nothing came along to replace it. The notion that working at home was not work really destroyed some fabric of our society. Equality of women was always not just an economic issue but much much more. IN many suburbs today no facilities for youth as feared as attractors of drugs and violence. We truly have let a lot slip away while worshipping MAMMON!
Well the term “Homeland Security” whatever its merits and trying to equate civil defense and civil preparedness to the “Great Patriotic War” fought by the Soviet Union has really failed. The appeals to fear and emotionalism need to die out and instead the political leadership needs to take steps to find out why our “Communities” have failed. Once is lack of money. Okay so how about each of the tax exempt non-profits by law having to yield 10% of their funding to community service however defined and preparedness. The mandatory 3% annual distribution from the private operating foundations often just goes to other private operating foundations. Why not limit salaries in the non-profit sector? Why should they not be given incentives to help with community issues? The notion that private charitable organizations can do what needs to be done for each of communities however is a dead ender as this recession will demonstrate only too painfully.
The bottom line is that self-reliance was an American tradition. The trouble is that we have designed a society to make sure that Americans are NOT self reliant by reinforcing those persons and organizations that have absolutely no interest in seeing the average citizen self-reliant. How many public service spots have you seen recently on tv or heard on the radio? How will this work with the new social media? What is really resented about Americans in the world is we (US) bring change whether we want to or not. And despite what we claim the changes in US society are often detrimental to self-reliance and preparedness and “homeland security”.
Okay how many of the readers of this blog are fully trained in CPR or basic first aid? Certainly not all. Now ask where could I get that training and you will find it is difficult to obtain. Perhaps the ARC perhaps not! For the 50 million Citizens in school why not have a CPR trained/trainer NURSE or personnel and one that could train in first aid? We have stovepiped ourselves into NO Communities and NO resilience. Experts are great when you can find one.

Comment by christopher tingus

July 31, 2009 @ 5:26 am

Thank you Mr. Cumming and as ususal, your thought-provoking comments will hopefully generate numerous ideas from readers.

While a pessimist about the genuiness of those we “entrust” with precious vote as I see many who take oath to serve the majority good to serve their own self-agenda on both sides of the aisle, you have mentioned civil defense and a renewed effprt to become better organized as a community in the real event of regional and national event(s)…

I believe that DHS HQ should catch the new administration’s ear and begin to fund and organize a national effort to renew a comprehensive civil defense initiative having fire departments offering CPR courses on a routine basis as well as going into the local community and offering all fifth graders in the country CPR.

Also, I call upon you Mr. President, while sitting around the table out in the White House garden drinking a beer with colleagues to establish and fund a program whereby communities begin to have designated civil defense locations beginning with regional and high schools where the federal government make sure that tents, food and blankets are stored for at least one year i.e., MRE’s, spring water and bedding w/the fellows here at MIT coming uo with a very portable light-weight fold up bed w/mattress made of durable and long lasting material.

Just the city of Seattle built on a fault and quite unprepared for earthquake would not only suffer over 100,000 deaths, but folks who need to know that a civil defense agency is established and prepared with the basics and maybe tent cities to be erected overnight if necessary using the National Guard with a new DHS HQ designated civil defense staffing.

We all need to be vigilant. We must support our esteemed Police officers who respond to a scene as a result of 911 call prepared to address any scene with utmost attention as well as prepared to assess a situation despite unruly behavior by occupants who have their own agenda versus understanding the many differing scenarios that can be involved in a call and an officer is obliged to quickly determine the scene.

The lack of respect shown our first responders must not be tolerated and acted upon swiftly. In a local, regional or national event, people must respect a police officer in her and his reasonable inquiry and approach as there would exit enough calamity given a more extensive scene.

So let’s hope other enlightened folks that are reading this most important blog will follow up on mr. Cumming’s ideas and let’s initiate a national campaign to get all fifth graders certified by the local fire department in CPR and a refresher course for ninth graders with supplemental funding of these local firefighters doing this good work and let’s get each community funded Mr. President with MRE’s and spring water stored in regional and local high schools, ball parks, football statiums, and maybe even at the local cinemas and malls, places where large numbers of folks can gather and be proteted by law enforcement and national guard….aallveen hugh schools..

Let’s get some ideas and let’s get a real civil defense funded and initiated early on with training for the elementary kids who are so resilient and willing to learn, unlike those who dream how they can be the prince of the school versus a caring, compassionate member of a community free of prejudice and willing to reach out and clasp the hand of fellow neighbor and help as we saw two men run to a burning car this past week with occupants surely to perish if not for such compassion and willingness to help another instead of turning their cheek…

Mr. President, it is time to unite rather than divide and civil defense preparedness not only against WMD, but weather phenomenon and other proabilities necessitating a much more comprehensive program by DHS, FEMA and already established prepared citizenry and National Guard…Who’s ging to pay, well, let’s begin an effort for transparency and accountability by all in government, local, state and national including demanding much accountability of our officials as we cannot even depend on them to be officiating locally as some feel that can delegate from the streets of Argentina or somehow feel no need of transparency for after all, I myself continue to ask Hank Paulson et al where that $750 Billion – Billion was obviouslt mishandled for that would be a good start for a comprehensive national civil defense and help rejuvinate the spirit of the National Guard.

By the way, with so many readers of this blog, it would be beneficial to all in the community if the many of you who are so well informed could share your perspectives on any and all issues affecting us, Mr. & Mrs. Citizen Joe here on Main Street USA for we are becoming more and more distrustful of a government spending endlessly without line by line transparency which should start at the highly paid bureaucracy of the school superintendant’s office….

By the way, we will Pelosi-Frank stand tall for our 2nd Amendment Rights and we will bear arms to protect our family and Republic for which so many have sacrificed to afford us to make free comment in our individual comktment to be vigilant and make suggestion to our beloved nation which has managed to impoverish its good and most charitable people almost overnight as we face third world status and allow the “Brutes of Tehran” and the “KGB Putinites” as I refer to them to go nearly unchecked without firm response….

We have much to be vigilant about from within and younder as so many seek our demise….

Christopher Tingus

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