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Why This Blog: Telling the Story

2012 April 16
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

In the Summer of 2010, homeland security officials in the state of Michigan responded to a large inland oil spill that resulted from a failed oil transmission pipeline. It is estimated that over 1 million gallons of crude oil entered southern Michigan’s Tallmadge Creek and affected 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River. As of August 31, 2010, over $13 million had been spent in response to the event and as many as 1,930 people have been involved in the response effort (USEPA SITREP #37, 2010, pp. 15–19). It is estimated that nearly 9 million gallons of oil and water mixture had been collected by that time (now 16.8 million gallons have been collected) as part of the clean-up process. The incident resulted in numerous evacuations and the permanent and temporary displacements of residents. To aid in the response efforts, a small city of modular buildings was constructed to house the 10 agencies serving in the unified command and the additional 19 cooperating agencies involved.

As part of the response to the oil spill, homeland security officials represented their jurisdictions in a variety of capacities. At the local level, emergency managers and homeland security coordinators within the Sheriff’s department were responsible for managing specific response activities. These individuals collaborated with representatives from other county agencies and the federal government and worked to ensure that the local residents within the affected area were provided the resources required. In addition, these homeland security officials coordinated with transportation officials on road closures and developed plans to gain access to affected properties. These individuals also maintained a dialogue with law enforcement agencies to keep them apprised of the situation. Many of these homeland security representatives were also required to attend unified command briefings.

In addition to managing the response-related activities, these homeland security officials were also expected to maintain normal day-to-day tasks such as communicating with county officials and responding to questions from their constituents. For example, one day many of these officials had to meet with the press about the oil spill and were then expected to go to a regional planning meeting for tornado preparedness. Even though these officials were in the midst of responding to the oil spill, they still had to maintain planning and preparedness efforts of other threats facing their community.

A challenge at the local level for many of these homeland security officials is that they tend to have a limited support staff, if any at all. Another difficulty is that these officials have had to react to a changing and unpredictable environment. Since they must rely on state and local partners for assistance and mutual aid, there is a need to be able to communicate and collaborate with others. This chaotic, unpredictable and often changing environment represents the complex world of the state and local homeland security official.

  • Who are these officials and what prepares them to take on such responsibility?
  • What is their education and background?
  • Can we train and educate young men and women to do this?  If so, how?
  • And is this work Homeland Security?

The contributors to this blog are these practicing professionals, and their insight, it is hoped, will shed light on these and other questions and engage those who care about what homeland security is and who is doing it.  A purpose of this blog is to tell the story of the state and local homeland security professional, if that profession exists…


2 Responses leave one →
  1. April 16, 2012

    While DHS organizationally contains the United States Coast Guard, Co-Chair of the NCP published at 40 CFR Part 300, DHS will has few responsibilities under the NCP even though FEMA is a signatory. Perhaps post-BP more should be studied and made available on this subject. It raises the question to me of what is all-hazards in DHS and FEMA.

    The second editon of the PERI Emergency Management–The American Experience has just appeared and is available commercially and from its principal editor Claire B. Rubin Assoicates. See her blog Recovery Diva.

    • Jason Nairn permalink*
      April 16, 2012

      Thanks Bill. The Coast Guard was actually involved in the Enbridge Spill too because the river affected, the Kalamazoo, empties into Lake Michigan. Once the oil entered the lake the Coast Guard was going to have jurisdiction. Fortunately, responders were able to contain the spill before this happened. Otherwise I don’t remember much involvement from DHS at all. It was and still is EPA’s show.

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