In the days immediately after the beginning came the 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security and the list of 84 things to do to achieve three missions.
Then came the target capability list, the universal task list, the 15 scenarios, and the universal adversary.
That led, sort of, to several dozen HSPDs and related implementation guidelines, national grant crack, investment justifications, and an elegant homeland security management system that found its way to page 44 of the 2007 National Strategy, but not much further.
People asked are we safer, are we more secure, what did the billions buy? How can we measure something? Anything? Can we afford to keep spending?
Prevention as job one morphed into a culture of preparedness then to resilience.
The National Homeland Security Strategy half-heartedly melded into the QHSR and then all but vanished into the National Security Strategy, giving birth to talk of whole nation and whole community.
The push now, at least in part of the homeland security enterprise, is to shift from program to philosophy, from trying to bribe every community in America to talk and act alike, to recognizing that’s not the kind of nation we have.
Plus the effort to get everyone marching in lock step didn’t work.
“Plan for the real,” says FEMA in its 2011 monograph “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action”
“Meet people where they are,” it says.
“Create space at the table” for community interests not easily connected to emergency management.
So, what is whole community?
“Whole Community is a means by which [community members] can collectively understand and assess the needs of their … communities and determine the best ways to organize and strengthen their assets, capacities, and interests.” 
“In an all-hazards environment, individuals and institutions will make different decisions on how to prepare for and respond to threats and hazards; therefore, a community’s level of preparedness will vary.” [p.3]
“Ideas that work well in one community may not be feasible for another….”  “…. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all. The definition of success will vary by community.” 
The whole community idea, as I understand it, is radical — by which I mean going back to the root. It claims that paying attention to what a community says it needs leads to a better prepared and more resilient community.
That’s a claim still to be supported by evidence. But what if the philosophy is correct? What if the whole community idea works as intended? What if — as the stories in “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management” suggest — working to improve the lives of people in communities across the nation generates a level of preparedness and resilience only dreamt of in the days of UTL, TCL, and One Team, One Mission?
Read these Whole Community principles and strategies and convince yourself this isn’t radical stuff (radical in the good sense of course):
1. Understand and meet the actual needs of the whole community
2. Engage and empower all parts of the community
3. Strengthen what works well in communities on a daily basis
4. Understand community complexity
5. Recognize community capabilities and needs
6. Foster relationships with community leaders
7. Build and maintain partnerships
8. Empower local action
9. Leverage and strengthen social infrastructure, networks and assets
This isn’t your grandfather’s homeland security or emergency management.
OK, it might be if your grandfather was Saul Alinsky .
Not the bad Alinsky, oozing like Lucifer’s excrement from the pages of The Evil Genius Behind Obama. I mean the other Alinsky, the one whose strategies and tactics were praised and practiced by the political left and right, by Tea Party and Occupy Party.
“The second rule [of power] is: Never go outside the experience of your people.” says Alinsky
“If people don’t think they have the power to solve their problems, they won’t even think about how to solve them.” says Alinsky
The key word in both of those aphorisms is power — meaning, in Bertrand Russell’s words, “the ability to produce intended effects.”
Bogis and Palin wrote yesterday and last week about power. Whole Community acknowledges, although softly, the importance of power in creating its intended effects — prepared and resilient communities:
“Leveraging and strengthening existing social infrastructure, networks, and assets means investing in the social, economic, and political structures [my emphasis] that make up daily life….” 
And a few pages later,
“Know where the real conversations and decisions are made. They are not always made at the council levels…. Tap into … opportuities to listen and learn…about the community. 
Understanding power will be the central ingredient in any success of the whole community philosophy.
How are Americans doing with that understanding?
Eric Liu wrote an article in The Atlantic last week called Why Civics Class Should Be Sexy.
The article is about power, and the failure of schools to talk about what power is “and the ways it is won and wielded in a democracy.”
Liu envisions a school curriculum that:
would focus on a host of hard skills often ignored in procedural or fact-centered civics lessons:
- How to see the underlying power dynamics beneath every public controversy.
- How to read the power map of any community.
- How to organize and mobilize people to achieve an objective.
- How to force certain issues into public discussion.
- How to challenge entrenched interests.
- How to apply pressure on elected officials.
Liu felicitously calls this ” a pedagogy of the self-governing,” something that is best “learned and taught by doing. A power civics curriculum should be hands-on and project-based, giving students the chance to move people and catalyze action.”
How interesting would it be if homeland security’s Whole Community philosophy were mashed with a new pedagogy of self governing?
That might enliven a few Emergency Management Institute classes — to say nothing about the congressional hearings it would trigger.
Who knows what such a national effort could do to help homeland security evolve beyond its emergency management and terrorism focus. The Whole Community philosophy suggests the quickest and most effective path to a prepared and resilient population may be through a detour into what communites actually want: safe streets, jobs, a clean environment, good schools, affordable medical care.
David Tucker makes a related point about civics in his 2012 book “Illuminating the Dark Arts of War: Terrorism, Sabotage, and Subversion in Homeland Security and the New Conflict”.
“We have argued [in this book] that the decentralized, federal nature of our political institutions will help preserve our political way of life, much as the decentralized nature of our infrastructure makes it resilient. We have no one centralized political point[,] the failure of which [could doom] us…. But we will reap the benefit of this advantage only to the degree the American people…are prepared…. [This] preparation is not best left to government. Perhaps the best immunization from the harms of a catastrophic attack is citizen involvement in civic and political life…. This would be a boon to our political well-being, whether the attack ever comes or not. All the more reason, then, for the government to see the American people and, above all, for the people to see themselves not as subjects requiring protection but as citizens participating in the risks and rewards of citizenship.”
I hope the whole community approach to emergency management works. If it does, it may infect the rest of the homeland security enterprise. Infection in a good way of course.