All disasters are local. Period. This is a fundamental emergency management principle. The local public safety personnel know the area, have the site-specific training, and are actually there. They will respond to crisis situations. They are also the best people to plan for crises because, well . . . they’re local. Mitigation is a local responsibility. Planning is a local responsibility. Response is a local responsibility. Recovery is also a local responsibility. Most “old school” emergency management planners understand this, particularly because they are not academics, but rose from the first responder or public health ranks.
However, since the Department of Homeland Security was created, there has been a push to make Washington responsible for everything. This is not necessarily the DHS’ fault, many of their plans (which can be mind-numbing and strangely duplicative) are a direct result of the various Homeland Security Presidential Directives which were released in the years following 9/11.
What the public, and perhaps the new “Homeland Security” planners themselves do not understand is this – “emergency management” and “homeland security” are not separate disciplines. They are the same thing. They are fundamentally a local responsibility. I cringe when I read news articles in which local players criticize the DHS for their own failures. The excellent magazine, Homeland Security Today, carried just such an article on 22NOV11. The subject was, of course, the TSA – the most maligned and hated Federal agency in modern times.
The article was entitled, “TSA Must Improve Quality, Distribution of Threat Info, GAO Says.” The article opened with this tour de force:
“Fifty-seven percent of responding stakeholders said TSA could improve their information products by providing more guidance that would suggest how they could adapt their security measures in response to threat information.”
Excuse me? This was the result of a survey of aviation, rail and highway stakeholders, public and private – all of whom have proprietary, government or contract security professionals paid vast sums of money to do an important job. These people couldn’t come up with mitigation strategies? They wanted TSA to suggest solutions for them? There are several basic problems here:
1. Abdication of professional responsibility. The folks at TSA cannot tell the aviation, rail and highway stakeholders what to do. It’s not their job. They can provide them with regular intelligence bulletins with current threat information. It is up to the security professionals, at the local level, to implement appropriate measures commensurate with the local politics, personnel and resources they have. How can TSA really tell them what to do?
2. Lack of coordination. The fact that these stakeholders are complaining suggests they are not connected with the local and state emergency management and homeland security agencies. If they were, they wouldn’t be complaining. It is possible their local and state agencies are paper tigers, and essentially worthless, but that is the exception, not the rule.
“For 2010, 48 percent of stakeholders said they did not receive an annual security assessment, the GAO report said . . . Sixty percent of respondents indicated they never heard of the Homeland Security Information Network Critical Sectors portal (HSIN-CS), considered the primary means for distribution of threat information to critical infrastructure sectors by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the GAO report determined.”
Once again, there are some serious issues here . . .
1. Abdication of professional responsibility. There is no excuse for not being aware of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). Transportation systems are one of our nation’s critical infrastructure/key resource sectors, identified in the DHS National Infrastructure Protection Plan (2009). Security is a professional industry, and if you are a security professional employed in the transportation sector, you should know where to find intelligence. Any number of venues, from continuing professional education, membership in professional associations or a simple security trade journal could have been enough to lead these blind professionals to the promised land. Apparently this is not happening, and it is appalling.
2. Lack of coordination. The stakeholders can’t find intelligence. Apparently, they also do not whom to turn to at the local level for intelligence. It boggles the mind. Many individual cities have an emergency management official, most counties do, and each state has an emergency management and homeland security function. With so many agencies involved in this arena, you have to almost purposely try not to network.
It’s almost as though there is a pattern developing! The lesson is this:
1. Disasters are local. They should be treated that way. Never abdicate responsibility for your shortcomings to the faceless Federal agency of your choice. If you need answers, make some phone calls and find them. If your local or regional agencies are worthless and won’t help you, call the State or go in LinkedIn and start making contacts and getting ideas. Yes, it really is that easy.
2. Network. It’s really pretty simple. Get to know the public safety agencies in your area. Go to meetings, there are always a bunch of them, take your pick. Volunteer to be on a planning committee, and represent your organization while you’re there. Be involved in the security industry, so you actually know what HSIN is! Read the DHS publications, or at least find the CliffNotes versions, so you know what resources are available.
McCarter, M. (2011, November 22). TSA must improve quality, distribution of threat info, GAO says. Homeland Security Today. Retrieved from http://www.hstoday.us/industry-news/general/single-article/tsa-must-improve-quality-distribution-of-threat-info-gao-says/b13875655f0f0b260e0bd21f97361573.html.