“We will support the development of prepared, vigilant, and engaged communities and underscore that our citizens are the heart of a resilient country.”
–National Security Strategy, May 2010
In defense-oriented circles, “Goldwater-Nichols” is shorthand for activity that improves cooperation and integration through reorganization and other measures. It refers to a law passed by Congress in the 1980s that reorganized the Department of Defense and promoted unity among the various services. In essence, Goldwater-Nichols is synonymous with the concept of jointness.
What does this have to do with the public’s role in homeland security? Isn’t it pretty straightforward—get a kit, make a plan, be informed? In addition, if you see something, say something. Oh, and if someone in your community exhibits signs of becoming “radicalized,” inform the authorities. And don’t forget to buy the appropriate insurance for the risks present in your area. Etc., etc., etc.
According to national strategies and cabinet secretaries, the citizen plays a central role in homeland security. There is a lot asked of the public, and the focus areas of these activities are spread across different disciplines and departments. So is it fair to ask whose job in government it is to wake up everyday and think “how can we better engage the public across the full range of homeland security activities?” “Are there synergies that can be exploited?” Or, instead, is this an area where the fabled “silos of excellence” are important—due to their distinct natures, keeping the particular responsibilities closest to their related government agencies?
Whole-of-government approaches are sexy (as government goes), theoretically efficient, and bring the promise of relatively quick results. Yet they are difficult to implement in practice as bureaucracies are not configured to encourage or facilitate this type of approach. A traditional approach where each department or agency concentrates solely on the area of engagement that coincides with their mission intuitively sounds wasteful, and given the level of success to this point, likely to fail. However, it could be that given increased priority within their mission sets would result in each distinct effort achieving far greater gains when worked in (practical) isolation.
Personally, I have not yet made up my mind on the possible merits of a comprehensive vs. narrow approach, but it is a discussion that should happen.
For an idea that is considered central to our concepts of homeland security and resilience and as an anointed partner of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, there is comparatively little effort or resources put towards strengthening the public’s role.
Just for perspective, here is a short list of citizen activities:
See something, say something perfectly describes the actions of the Times Square street vendors who noticed Faisal Shahzad’s parked SUV was out of place and alerted passing police. This campaign is going nationwide as DHS and DOJ promote it in conjunction with a Suspicious Activity Reporting initiative that hypothetically will allow law enforcement personnel to translate the somethings being said into useful information without infringing on civil liberties.
For a supportive view, see a recent New York Times op-ed by John Farmer Jr., a former senior counsel for the 9/11 commission, “How to Spot a Terrorist.”
This aspect has been covered many times by contributors and others on this blog, so I will simply add that an invaluable source of information on public preparedness from a citizen’s point of view is John Solomon, author of the blog “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog” (http://incaseofemergencyblog.com/). He covers the subject from multiple angles, from innovations in public engagement to interviews with top homeland security officials, and practices what he preaches as a CERT member in New York City.
As the waters receded from the terrible spring flooding in Tennessee, some thoughts turned to steps that residents could take to help mitigate the damage from the almost certain next catastrophic deluge:
FEMA Director Craig Fugate not only uses the word “survivor” instead of “victim” when describing those impacted by disasters, he recognizes that it is the public that will be the true first responder during any large incident. In that spirit, Gregg Lord of the George Washington University led a project on “community medical resiliency,” a part of which is the idea that citizens can (and during a catastrophe, will have to) rely upon themselves to provide some measure of basic medical care as officials will be overwhelmed. (Disclosure: I worked on this project so I might be biased concerning the validity of the concept):
It seems obvious that the public will be engaged in recovery activities following a disaster—they are personally involved. What might not be so obvious is that there are steps that can be taken before an event that will help with recovery afterwards. The theory behind this concept comes from Harvard Kennedy School professors Herman Leonard and Arnold Howitt, who have written that balancing resource allocation across leverage points (prevention, mitigation, preparedness, preparing to recover, response, and recovery) is vital for crisis management. In their view, preparing to recover activities have been almost entirely neglected.
For information on real world application: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/programs/crisisleadership/projects