By Jim McKay
November 04, 2005
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff will
put his stamp on the DHS through a major reorganization of the
troubled agency, which is scheduled for October. State and local
officials hope the changes will both improve federal disaster response
and promote better intergovernmental communications.
The overhaul includes eliminating the position of the director for
emergency preparedness and response, who oversees the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and creating a new emergency
preparedness division meant to focus exclusively on preparedness
activities. In addition, FEMA will report directly to the secretary
and be the department's response division.
The reorganization also creates a new Office of Intelligence and
Analysis, tasked with disseminating information to appropriate
federal, state and local partners.
But how much will the country, and specifically state and local public
safety officials, benefit from the DHS reorganization? In August,
during a break from meetings with DHS staff, Arizona Director of
Homeland Security Frank Navarrete expressed guarded optimism.
"We're hearing the right words, and the sense of direction seems to be
positive," Navarrete said. "Quite frankly [Chertoff] is taking on some
pretty significant changes to streamline the operation, and make us
all more efficient and effective."
Those changes include improving the way information is shared with
state and local officials -- which has improved somewhat since 9/11,
with the advent of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN)
and as a result of Joint Terrorism Task Forces. But officials charged
with protecting local communities continue to express frustration that
intelligence is too often tardy and lacking detail by the time it
More Specifically ...
The DHS convened two days of meetings in August with state and local
officials to discuss Chertoff's six-point agenda for reorganization.
The agenda focuses on preparing the nation for a devastating attack by
securing transportation modes, improving cargo screening technology,
improving border protection with technology, and enhancing information
sharing with state and local government officials. This will include
supporting data fusion centers emerging in a number of states,
revising the Homeland Security Advisory System, creating a new Office
of Intelligence and Analysis, and consolidating preparedness efforts.
The six-point agenda stemmed from an extensive department review
undertaken by Chertoff soon after his appointment in March. The agency
sustained a barrage of criticism that, in its two-year existence, it
plodded toward a vague mission with an unfocused, poorly coordinated
staff of 180,000 employees.
The summit included state homeland security directors and emergency
managers from around the country who listened to Chertoff and his
staff, and provided feedback on the upcoming changes.
"We recognize that information sharing is not perfect yet," said
Valerie Smith, assistant press secretary of the DHS. "As the secretary
pointed out in his speech on July 13, information sharing -- or better
information sharing -- with state, local and tribal partners, is going
to be one of the six most important priorities for the year ahead, and
he did say he would announce more specifics in the next few weeks and
The DHS attempted to address this issue by creating the HSIN and a
series of local Joint Terrorism Task Forces. But these moves haven't
completely cured the problem.
The HSIN links the Homeland Security Operations Center to state
homeland security offices, public safety departments, emergency
operations centers and offices of the National Guard via
Joint Terrorism Task Forces focus on homeland security intelligence
matters. The FBI has a Joint Terrorism Task Force in each of the 56
FBI field offices throughout the country, as well as 10 stand-alone,
formalized task forces in its largest satellite offices known as
resident agencies, according to the FBI.
It is hoped that the new Office of Intelligence and Analysis will
promote better communications among federal, state and local
governments -- but some local officials are not holding their breath.
A handful of police chiefs, frustrated at hearing about homeland
security alerts on CNN rather than from the federal government, are
developing an informal network to share intelligence, saying the
federal government's intelligence gathering and sharing networks just
weren't working -- they weren't providing the real-time intelligence
locals need to respond.
The idea developed during the second of the two London bombings this
summer. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, in Chicago for a
meeting of police chiefs, was awakened at 3:30 a.m. by one of his
deputies who was dispatched to London to share intelligence with local
officials about the first bombings. The deputy happened to be there
when the second bombings occurred and relayed the information to
The next day at the meeting, Bratton and chiefs from five other cities
discussed the idea of an informal network.
"We saw firsthand at the meeting in Chicago on the day of the London
bombings the fact that there were five cities in that room and we were
able to, very quickly, work with information coming to us from London,
basically kick information around: 'This is what I'm going to do in
Los Angeles. What are you, Chuck Ramsey, going to do in Washington
[D.C.]? What are you, Phil Cline, going to do in Chicago?"' Bratton
The idea is to quickly get information into the hands of officials in
the cities determined to be the most likely targets of a terrorist
attack, Bratton said. "Then let the local officials make
determinations, while the federal government is making a determination
if they want to go up [to orange alert] nationally, or in a specific
industry like transportation."
That gives local officials more time to make decisions based on the
intelligence received from the federal government, matched with
intelligence gathered by local law enforcement.
The concept caught fire -- soon the DHS got wind of it and offered its
help, Bratton said.
"When they heard about what we were attempting to do at the local
level, [the DHS], along with the FBI, reached out, offering services
to help the facilitation of information and the raw data that is still
Bratton and the DHS have come to the agreement that the network will
include 16 Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) cities -- possibly
17, since Las Vegas has received so many terrorist threats -- that
will receive sensitive homeland security intelligence notices directly
from the DHS. From those cities, the information will trickle down to
others in the region. The UASI cities were identified by the DHS as
particularly vulnerable based largely on population density, critical
infrastructure and threat information.
"For example, I work closely in my region with the sheriff's
department and the 44 cities in the Los Angeles County area," Bratton
said. "So information that I'm getting, I'm sharing with my 16
colleagues in the major cities -- I'd then very quickly be in a
position to move that information down into my region."
The police chiefs and the DHS are in the process of deciding who in
each city will be the point of contact, and the preferred method of
communication. "In our case, we use BlackBerries," Bratton said.
"Somebody else might use some other type of notification."
Ideally the DHS will send notifications more quickly, because the
notification wouldn't be subject to the vetting and editing process
that is the trend of formal DHS communications to date. The idea is
that the DHS will pass along threat information as it's received,
letting local public safety officials decide the seriousness of each
threat and how to react.
"What we'd be looking for is pretty raw data, quickly, with the clear
understanding that this is raw data, and then each city would make the
determination if it's something pertinent to them in a sense that,
before the whole country goes up to orange alert, is this something
going on that we have to make a quick decision on?" Bratton said.
Las Vegas Sheriff Bill Young said he gets notifications from the
federal government about threats to his city, "quite a bit after the
Young believes the DHS would comply with local officials' needs if it
could. "I look at this as a technological fix," he said. "DHS would
want to give it to every police chief in America if there was a
mechanism to do so. What is that mechanism? It's going to end up being
some kind of notification system and a service of some sort. I think
it will ultimately end up in the FBI's hands because they work more
closely with law enforcement."
The group will also ask the DHS to consider funding closed circuit
video teleconferencing capabilities in each of the cities, allowing
officials to communicate through video feeds.
Bratton acknowledged the difficulty for federal officials to
communicate with some 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the country,
which is why developing relationships is so important. "Really it
might sound very simplistic," he said. "But interestingly enough, we
haven't yet moved to the stage where we do this as a routine matter of
course. We don't need all 16,000 agencies to be in the network on some
of this information right away, so you need to have these various
spheres of networking."
Relating to Cyber
State and local officials are also concerned by the lack of
connectivity between the federal government and the states on
cyber-security issues, as well as a general lack of interest in the
Officials at state and local levels are hopeful that the addition of
an assistant secretary for cyber and telecommunications security
within the DHS will put a spotlight on cyber-security, which many say
has been ignored.
Evidence of the lack of focus on cyber-security lies in the recent
revolving door of cyber-security chiefs at the DHS, including a few
that lasted one year or less.
"It's our sense that they left because of the frustration from not
seeing a very concerted effort moving on these kinds of things," said
Tom Jarrett, president of the National Association of State Chief
Information Officers (NASCIO). "I've tried to say in testimony that
critical infrastructure by its very nature is critical, whether it's
roads or airports or rivers or network infrastructure. It's as
critical as anything that we have, and there's got to be much more of
a focus toward it than what we've seen in the past."
The new assistant secretary will be responsible for identifying and
assessing the vulnerability of critical telecommunications
infrastructure and assets; providing timely, actionable and valuable
threat information; and leading the national response to cyber and
telecommunications attacks, according to a DHS press release.
Jarrett said he thinks the higher profile position on cyber-security
within the DHS just might increase emphasis on the issue.
"We in the states, and at NASCIO as well, will be watching the changes
very closely," Jarrett said. "We're hoping that it's going to really
change. I'm not so sure the connection [with the DHS] has been very
good, and the discussions have never been very good. That's been an
issue for us in the states, and of course, something NASCIO has
focused on at least on the cyber-side of things, which is our primary
The DHS's Smith said the new position should mean more attention to
cyber-security. "It does reflect that cyber-security is a priority
within the department, something that will receive strong resources."
The reorganization as a whole could develop a focus on issues that
Jarrett believes have gotten lost in the shuffle. "A lot of people
ask, 'Have we started to forget what happened on 9/11?' I'm fearful
that we have, from a larger perspective, both from a physical security
side and the cyber-security side. I'm concerned about that."
Jarrett would also like to see the position of CIO within the DHS
given more authority, but that may be wishful thinking because the
reorganization calls for no changes in the reporting structure.
"I'm hearing it doesn't sound like it's going to be, but we're hopeful
that they look at that and try to change that because we believe it's
needed," he said.
Smith, however, said states and locals should benefit greatly from the
reorganization, citing the consolidation of the State and Local
Government Coordination Office and the Office of Legislative Affairs
as one big perk.
"That single office will have lead responsibility to create
consistent, efficient, useful communications with all government
officials," she said. "It streamlines things operationally."
Another consolidation that should benefit states and locals is
combining all preparedness efforts under a single directorate led by
an Under Secretary for Preparedness. That will mean training, grants
and medical preparedness -- under a new chief medical officer -- as
well as cyber-security and infrastructure protection will fall under
Smith said consolidating all preparedness efforts beneath the Under
Secretary for Preparedness should create more accessibility for state
and local officials.
"The same is true for reorganization across the board," she said.
"Consolidating our intelligence functions into one office, all our
preparedness functions into one office, even having one chief medical
officer overseeing all medical response issues, will give our partners
a better understanding of where responsibilities rest."
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