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Why This Blog: What is “Homeland Security”?

2012 April 10
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

There are many reasons why people blog and just as many reasons why people read them.  Before I added to the pile of “big data“, I wanted to be clear about my reasons for starting a blog, have a purpose and a plan for developing the site and be sure that it will contribute something positive to the homeland security enterprise.  Over the next several weeks in a series entitled “Why This Blog”, I will articulate some of these reasons, and discuss them.

One of the primary reasons for this blog, and why it is focused on the state and local HLS profession, is because I am fascinated with the question “What is Homeland Security?”  The question seems elementary, but it has persisted in the field since its inception, and scholars have given the question some attention with fascinating results.  After a decade why isn’t it more clear?  One reason may be that HLS can look quite a bit different depending on where you sit.  As a federal employee of the Department of Homeland Security, there is a fair amount of clarity.  Congress defined the department and gave it a mission.  But at state and local levels and in the private sector a professional can be her agency’s or company’s homeland security practitioner, and have a totally different idea of what homeland security means.

Another reason may be that HLS has a nexus to so many other fields and professionals that some have taken to referring to as an “enterprise”.  The sectored nature of critical infrastructure protection, for instance, means that professionals interested in security in the transportation sector, and continuity of government in the government facilities sector are homeland security professionals with very different jobs contributing to the same larger, overarching national mission.

  • So are local homeland security officials just surrogate federal employees in a way?  Is the federal government tasking state and local resources to manage federal responsibilities?
  • Should the grant programs be thought of as the payment for a service rather than a competitive grant program?
  • Is HLS a national effort developed and implemented at the local level by local people?  If so, why isn’t it the responsibility of the states?  Or maybe it is? 

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security described HLS this way in their Quadrennial Homeland Security Review:

The intersection of evolving threats and hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, law enforcement, customs, border control, and immigration. In combining these responsibilities under one overarching concept, homeland security breaks down longstanding stovepipes of activity that have been and could still be exploited by those seeking to harm America. Homeland security also creates a greater emphasis on the need for joint actions and efforts across previously discrete elements of government and society.

Homeland security is a widely distributed and diverse—but unmistakable—national enterprise. The term “enterprise” refers to the collective efforts and shared responsibilities of Federal, State, local, tribal, territorial, nongovernmental, and private-sector partners—as well as individuals, families, and communities—to maintain critical homeland security capabilities. The use of the term connotes a broad-based community with a common interest in the public safety and well-being of America and American society that is composed of multiple actors and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared (DHS QHSR, 2010, pp. viii–ix).

The carefully chosen words and phrases in this definition include “overarching”, “widely distributed and diverse”, “collective efforts”, “broad-based community”, “shared responsibilities”, and “distributed and shared”.  These words were clearly selected to inform the reader about the nature of HLS, but this is also what makes HLS so difficult to define concisely.

  • So it is a national effort – that puts the responsibility in the hands of the national government?
  • What support of the states is appropriate?
  • How should the national government compensate the state’s for that support?  Or should they?

My friend Linda is a homeland security professional.  Can you gain a mental picture of what Linda does from that statement?  Probably not.  But if I told you that Linda was a homeland security professional in public health, you probably gain clarity about Linda’s role in the enterprise.

My friend Ryan has a homeland security Baccalaureate degree.  Can you gain an understanding of what Ryan’s educational background is from that statement?  It’s becoming more clear, but if I told you that Ryan has a Criminal Justice degree you might understand his abilities better.

  • Should colleges and universities be awarding degrees in homeland security if it is not clearly defined?
  • Maybe HLS can be better presented as an emphasis in traditional programs?
  • Should someone create standards for homeland security degree programs and require schools to get accredited before offering such degrees?

These are all fascinating issues that make HLS one of today’s most dynamic and interesting fields of study!

One way to present homeland security is to embrace its sectored nature.  As such, we will be inviting HLS professionals from across the country to blog here at HLSR as recognized experts in their sectors.  As we develop this site, you will see us add sectors and contributors.  Our goal will be to provide our readers with rich and diverse content that contributes to the national enterprise and helps answer the “What is Homeland Security” question.


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