Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 27, 2010

Homeland Security in states, cities and other locales: a 30,000 foot view

Filed under: State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on April 27, 2010

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.

Continuing challenges

  • 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?

Any bets?

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.

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Comment by John Comiskey

April 27, 2010 @ 5:46 am

Accurate and succinct posting. I’d like to add what I believe to be the NYC /NYS view and I think that is a significant view because NYC is considered a high-risk city for a terrorist attack and not a barometer for the nation’s perceived threat-environment.
NYC is NOT complacent. It views the threat of a terrorist attack to be high. However, there simply isn’t enough money to maintain the post-9/11 counter terrorism initiatives. Police and emergency response personnel hiring is at a low and there are no signs of a quick recovery. Personnel from all units to include counterterrorism are being reassigned back to patrol. The core function of the police is to prevent crime and crime is spiking in NYC ….so the City is reverting resources to crime fighting. Near every city agency is being cut and while public safety is a priority; everyone is losing ground.
NYS will have a new governor and it will likely be Andrew Cuomo a presidential aspirant (or so it would seem). Mr. Cuomo is a politician who will consider his next election to whatever office will facilitate that goal). He will prioritize the politically expedient endeavor and if there is another attack on the homeland and especially NY State, that endeavor will be homeland security. Hopefully that will not be the case and future budgets will focus on rebuilding the State’s infrastructure, education, public health, other.
NYC enjoys a special political and financial relationship with NYS. NYC is generally independent and in many respects more powerful then the State. Mayor Bloomberg has three years to go. He has entrusted the City’s safety in large part to Police Commissioner Kelly who shows no signs of letting go of the City’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism enterprise. The larger question (in NYS) is who will succeed Mayor Bloomberg.
With respect to homeland security, it would seem that the country has come a long way since September 11, 2001. Despite the current fiscal situation, a new normalcy pervades American government at all levels : we have to and we can do more to prevent, detect, deter, and mitigate terrorism. It’s not perfect; but it’s getting better.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 27, 2010 @ 7:17 am

Great post and great comment by John! Well here goes. The post finally gave me the number I have looked for over some period of time. 170 briefings, or desk-tops or hold-harmless sessions meaning largely educational. I am sure this effort by the Naval Post-Grad School has done some yeoman service. I understand from the deceased Lacey Suiter, a high level Clinton era appointee in FEMA and sole survivor of FEMA leadership into the Bush period (largely to get a federal pension) that was involved in the early years of this program the effort was designed by the NPGHS op so that classified information or sensitive information could be communicated to the mayors. Lacey Suiter made outstanding contributions to EM over the years in particular as head of Tennessee EM for many many years and as a FEMA political appointee. He also was in the key briefing for the so-called Hart-Rudman Commission that erroneous is largely attributed to recommending a Homeland Security Department. In fact that commission recommended not a department but an agency with FEMA in it but with a much beefier White House domestic Crisis Management operation. Of course we got DHS. What is interesting is that the Commission recommended FEMA inclusion in that new agency despite testimony by Lacey Suiter and Clay Hollister, the designated FEMA briefers to the Commission that FEMA had no role in prevention and had no real international role. They came back and reported to Director Witt and others (including me) that they felt certain that no recommendation for FEMA to be included in the new HS [that term not yet in use] would happen. I also got that information directly from them. No record of that briefing exists oddly in the Commission records but I do also have confirmation from two others in the room during the Suiter/Hollister briefing. This pair had several other briefings of NSC staff or members of Congress or their staffs that were significant in FEMA history. Including the efforts and runup to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the Nunn-Lugar Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act. Basically however and his efforts and skills were important to stabilizing FEMA during the Clinton years, Lacey relied on his background as a state EM director and member of the Tennessee National Guard both of which shaped his world view. He never really learned or accomodated to the fact that FEMA and its roles, responsiblities, and the Washington Cross-currents that impacted it were not just the result of stupidity or ignornance but sometimes derived from the deepest tensions in our society including military/civil relationships. So it is fascinating that this “indoctrination” effort by the Naval Post-Grad School again is identified. I have spoken to some Mayors and Chief Executive Officers that participated that identified this effort as helpful but not in fact germane to their problems or points of view. Well eye of the beholder I guess. During my 20 years in FEMA I lectured and trained many STATE and LOCAL officials on various aspects of EM including civil military relationships and the nitty-gritty legal aspects of EM. It would be interesting to have a compare and contrast session on my lectures and these briefings. Mine of course were always open source since the granting of need-to-know access and clearances to STATE and LOCAL officials at least in my time was problematic. Just as MEMBERS of Congress are automatically given clearances at least at the basic level despite any deroggatory info in their background perhaps the top five in each STATE and LOCAL government should get the same waiver.

Comment by bellavita

April 28, 2010 @ 12:49 am

Bill — regarding your comment that “the effort was designed by the NPGHS op so that classified information or sensitive information could be communicated to the mayors.” That may have been one of the initial ideas tossed around in a room of planners, but it never made it to the field. I am unaware of any of the seminars I wrote about talking about classified information. Need to know stuff while seemingly interesting has no bearing on those seminars. There are other fora where classified issues can be treated.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 28, 2010 @ 3:27 am

Part of the original concept was to discuss “threats” but since I was not privy to the strategy or actual implementation I was only told what I reported and that was used for justification for the effort. So removing that criteria what exactly was the design of the briefings and what has it accomplished?

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