Since 2003, a group of my professional colleagues has been conducting half-day seminars on homeland security issues across the country.
To date, over 170 of these seminars have been held in state capitals, and in urban and rural areas. The attendees generally include the jurisdictions’ chief executives and other leaders with homeland security responsibilities.
A typical seminar is three to four hours, and is built around one or more incidents. It is similar to a tabletop exercise in many respects. But calling it a seminar is intended to emphasize the educational — as opposed to the training — nature of the conversation.
The objectives of individual seminars differ. But the basic purpose is to take a snapshot of where a particular jurisdiction is with respect to homeland security, and to discuss how to improve its preparedness.
Here is a summary of the most recent – early 2010 — aggregate observations from the seminars (provided to me by a colleague who participates in most of the sessions).
What contributes to success.
- Since 2003, the level of homeland security sophistication at all levels of government has substantially increased. The result is an overall increase in the level of preparedness across the country.
- Despite political and bureaucratic rivalries, state and local leaders generally accepted the preparedness challenge following September 11, 2001.
- While initially cumbersome and sometimes controversial, homeland security grant funds have contributed to enhancing capabilities — equipment, training, and policy. It is unlikely those capabilities would have increased without the grant funds.
- State and urban law enforcement executives have made a strong commitment to establish intelligence fusion centers and tactical response teams. This also has enhanced national preparedness.
- Coordination between federal, state and local governments, and private sector partners to prevent, prepare for, and respond to acts of terrorism and other disasters has improved. But in many locales coordination is still problematic.
- Balancing preparedness for natural disasters versus terrorism related emergencies remains a difficult task.
- Protection and resiliency of cyber and other critical infrastructure against acts of terrorism and natural disasters remains insufficient.
- There is a continuing need to address emerging threats through the development and deployment of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological detection capabilities.
- Sharing information and intelligence between federal, state, local agencies, and the private sector remains a work in progress. While there has been significant success over the past seven years, information sharing requires additional attention.
Problem areas related to risk
- Eight and a half years after the 2001 attacks, the country still does not have a national prevention strategy or a framework for prevention.
- Many states lack the baseline knowledge needed to allow them to assess their vulnerabilities.
- The nation continues to lack a culture of preventative risk management, where public, private, and nonprofit organizations collaborate in a shared effort to reduce risk.
- With some exceptions, private and nonprofit organizations are not included in public planning for risk management.
- There is a continuing need to identify cost-effective ways for organizations to calibrate their response to risk more appropriately and more efficiently than is currently the case.
- Attention to food security and safety issues needs to become a higher priority.
Where critical problem areas remain
- There has been limited success translating emerging threats into state and local actions, primarily because of the many real and perceived limits on states and cities.
- State and local budget deficits are likely to affect implementing plans for increased readiness. This is particularly true since many jurisdictions do not perceive the current threat of major terrorist attacks to be high.
- There remains a lack of substantial progress building adequate medical surge capacity across the nation.
- There has been limited success collaboratively addressing the threat of cyber attacks.
- The response capabilities for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and improvised nuclear devices (INDs) remains inadequate to meet the demands of the changing threat environment.
- It is becoming increasingly difficult in cities and states to sustain a commitment to homeland security and to avoid complacency.
The future of state and local sustainment
- State and local contributions to homeland security spending is at risk.
- At least 48 states have to address shortfalls in their fiscal year 2010 budgets. As of February 2010, shortfalls exceeded $150 billion.
- At least 36 states already anticipate deficits in 2011. By some authoritative estimates, the next fiscal year’s deficits could exceed $180 billion.
- There will be 37 races for governor in 2010.
- Because of term limitations and voluntary decisions not to seek reelection, there will be at least 21 new governors after the November 2010 elections.
New governors and mayors face economic, education, and many other policy demands.
How will homeland security stack up against those competing priorities?
Now visualize the same bet if there is an attack or a nationally devastating catastrophe.
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
He could have been talking about homeland security.