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.