On September 11, 2001, a planned and a serious attack took place on the United States soil by an Islamic extremist group referred to as Al Qaeda. These attacks aroused the need for the formation of a stronger network of homeland security and consequence management. The attacks by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization was a sorrowful happening that made the United States to come to grips with reality.
This reality necessitated the need for major changes. These changes were focused at improving the organization and cooperative information sharing between the governmental agencies. Since the 9/11 attacks, this new system is, in a number of respects, an effort that is still progressing. This paper demonstrates the concepts of homeland security and consequence management in the U.S.
On November 25, 2002, the United States Department of Homeland Security was formed with the aim of guarding the territory of the United States from terrorist attacks and take appropriate action in case there is a natural disaster in the country. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is endowed with the responsibility of preparing, preventing, and managing domestic disasters, especially terrorism threats. This move represented the most significant government reorganization in over half a century.
Homeland security is an umbrella term that arose after the reorganization of U.S. government in 2003. It refers to the security efforts to shield the country from alleged internal and external attacks. Homeland security is officially defined as the “concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur” (Bush, 11).
During the nineteenth century, the response of the federal government to emergencies was both impromptu and military based,1 since there was absence of any institutionalized emergency relief program. During the First World War, the War Department adopted the plan as a military program.
From then on, the issues of homeland security have continued to receive more attention. The Federal Resource Plan (cited in Bullock et al., 613) defines consequence management as the “measures taken to protect public health and safety, restore essential government services, and provide emergency relief to governments, businesses, and individuals affected by the consequences of terrorism.”
Current threats to U.S. environment
In spite of the intensive global efforts following the 9/11 attacks which have interrupted terrorist plots and restrained al Qaeda’s capability of attacking the U.S., the country is still susceptible to threats from emerging and evolving terrorist organizations. Today, the most severe demonstration of these threats comes from al Qaeda, which is propelled by a never-ending strategic intention of wreaking havoc in this country.
Even though the earlier efforts weakened the organization’s influence, most of its top leadership individuals still exist and are able to facilitate another attack on the American soil. The terrorist group is likely to improve its capability of attacking the U.S. by collaborating with other terrorist organizations, especially al Qaeda in Iraq.
1. See Miskel, 41, especially chapter three, for a more elaborate analysis
Additionally, other organizations and people are also in the business of using terror to put their motives on the scoreboard. These include Lebanese Hezbollah, which has been constantly threatening the lives of Americans both locally and abroad.
America is also not immune to the surfacing of home-based Islamic extremists groups who view the use of violence within the country as legitimate. There are also threats posed by local terror groups based and operating within the borders of this country, for example, white supremacist organizations, and animal rights extremists.
The nation is also faced with the threat of catastrophic natural disasters that puts the lives of the citizens at risk. Infectious ailments that occur naturally cause a major and continuing danger to thousands of lives. The country has endured effects of Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and H1N1 virus.
These epidemics caused many deaths and major economic and social disruptions globally. Natural catastrophes also involve a range of meteorological and geological dangers. These include hurricanes, for example, Hurricane Katrina, and earthquakes. The last category of threats comes from catastrophic accidents and other hazards, which involve industrial hazards and infrastructural failures. Thousands of chemical spills that take place most of the time pose a great danger to human life.
Major initiatives in homeland security
A number of initiatives have been adopted for responding to terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Under the President’s proposal, the separate federal response plans were integrated to form a single all-discipline consequence management plan.
The DHS was endowed with the task of consolidating the existing federal government incident response plans into what is referred to as the Federal Incident Management Plan. This initiative ensures swift response in case a disaster strikes, 2 since DHS is concerned with coordinating all the response strategies. Another initiative involves the creation of a national incident management system.
DHS, working collaboratively with other governmental agencies, aims at establishing a comprehensive national consequence management. The Department provides standards for common terms used and a cohesive command structure that is scalable regardless of the size of the disaster (DHS, 42).
The National Pharmaceutical Stockpile makes sure that the U.S. is capable of responding swiftly to incidences of bioterrorism or a mass casualty occurrence by augmenting the country’s pharmaceutical and vaccine stockpiles. DHS operates this program collaboratively with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The system has strategically located “Push Packs” having about six hundred tons of medical supplies, which can be transported to a scene of a disaster in about twelve hours. The country is adequately prepared for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear decontamination.
To achieve this, DHS is annually carrying out certification process to validate the capability of the state and local first responders in responding to emergencies. The Environment Protection Agency is endowed with the task of decontaminating the affected surrounding in case of an attack. It also gives advice and support to public health authorities in establishing the safety of the contaminated areas. The military were an integral part of America’s response to 9/11 attacks.
2. On DHS reorganization, see Purpura, 134.
Therefore, the DHS has an initiative of planning for the armed forces assistance to civil authorities. This may be in the way of giving technical assistance to law enforcement authorities and helping in consequence management. The military may also help in the reinstatement of law and order and lending specialized equipment.
To increase the chances of saving more lives, DHS has been engaged in the plan of expanding and maintaining the Citizen Corps. This national program trains volunteers to give assistance in case of a terrorist attack.
The federal government has increased the funding to assist in training first responders for terrorist attacks. The increased threats of terrorist attacks on the U.S. are straining the country’s program for preparing first responders. That is why the DHS is engaged in an initiative of building a national training and evaluation program to meet the growing demand.
The U.S. has to get ready to help the casualties of terrorist attacks as well as their families. Other people directly affected by these attacks should equally receive attention. The DHS enhances victim support in case of an emergency by providing different forms of assistance. The terrorist groups have demonstrated that they are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction and use them on the American soil.
The U.S. is currently engaged in efforts of denying their acquisition of these dangerous weapons. This is achieved by detecting, interrupting, and interdicting the movement of terrorist groups into the country. The U.S. is continuing to enhance its border security to prevent terrorists’ exploitation of legitimate entry points into the country. All immigrants are thoroughly screened to determine their eligibility of getting into the country.
Since some terrorists might try to enter the country through illicit pathways, the U.S. government is engaged in efforts of disrupting this move by adopting an integrated system of individuals, technology, and tactical infrastructure through the Secure Border Initiative. Research is currently being done to come up with next-generation technologies that will ensure easier identification and detection of the movement of terrorists into the country.
The U.S. is obliged to prevent the emergence of violent Islamic radicalization within its borders. This initiative is being achieved by engaging key communities as partners in the fight against terrorism, identifying and countering the possible sources of Islamic radicalization, improving the ability of the governmental agencies of addressing radicalization issues, and enhancing the citizens understanding of radicalization.
The American government, through the various governmental agencies, is involved in fostering the culture of preparedness that permeates all aspects of the society. This initiative aims at preparing the residents to share the common responsibilities in homeland security and consequence management. This collective approach is an enduring touchstone for fulfilling key objectives in this struggle.
The U.S. is an increasingly digital country. The strength of its economy has been founded on the effective use of digital information. However, its worldwide digital infrastructure, composed mainly of the internet, is not free from fraudulent deals. Therefore, the efficient protection of cyberspace is a mandatory obligation of the policy makers.
The government has rolled out major plans to accomplish this obligation. Generally, mitigation efforts tend to focus on improved consequence management and reduce risks associated with potential hazards. Every emergency should be considered in relation to its individual characteristics.
Therefore, the concerned parties should address every emergency based on these individual risk components. Although it is difficult to prevent natural disasters, it is possible to mitigate the vulnerability of the country to man made threats. This can be achieved by ensuring that there is structural and operational resilience of the nation’s key infrastructure.
Minimizing consequences in the United States
In spite of the excellent prevention and mitigation measures in place, terrorist attacks and natural catastrophes are unavoidable. Therefore, efforts must be made to minimize the effects of these hazards through development of improved notification, alert, and warning systems. These warning systems have to be completely reliable, effective, and flexible to avert further damages.
Pre-incident alerts and warnings ought to relay sensitive information to Americans regardless of their geographical locations. The relaying of this information should continue even after the occurrence to give situational updates and suitable directions to follow.
The first point to note about consequence management after the 9/11 terrorist attacks is that the American citizens are having increased expectations of the federal government. In a situation whereby a domestic crisis of national significance has occurred, the federal government is expected to fulfill its roles. Most people expect it to make minimal mistakes as well as be virtually omniscient and omnipotent at the same time.
Furthermore, in the government, the endless public examination is receiving positive reception. This particularly holds for a disaster that could have been prevented from happening. The subsequent iron point to note about consequence management is that there are usually communications problems when terrorists’ attacks take place.
The public usually thirsts for information. Even though a small portion of the populace experience the physical effects of the incident, the whole population may be frightened with the thought of being the next victims, hence the thirst for knowledge. This reality, which may not be true in the case of natural disasters, for example, tornadoes or hurricanes, endows the government officials with many responsibilities.
The utterances of the President together with those of his senior-most officers should be carefully calculated in these times. In managing complicated national emergencies, it has been observed that the first reports are most of the times incorrect, correct reports are usually entrenched within significant uncertainty, and that people will generally demand information much faster than the government agencies are ready to give.
Because of these observations, much of the consequence management that is practiced in the U.S. in the first hours of an emergency is usually devoted to meeting the communications needs of senior-most government officials.
This is because they are required to be very cautious and deliver accurate information to avoid possible deaths and loss of public confidence, which could be the outcome. This particularly puts the President on the spot since he would want to make a nationwide address on the issue in the first news cycle of the emergency.
In an occasion whereby a nuclear weapon has detonated in a city in the U.S., immediate evacuation of the affected people is the only considerable way of saving their lives. Effects of the blast, thermal radiation, and nuclear radiation usually accompany a nuclear detonation.
Little can be done to save the lives of the people who are within the immediate vicinity of the incident due to the effects of the blast and thermal radiation. Nevertheless, individuals can be shielded from the effects of nuclear radiation if they are timely relocated before they have contact with the radioactive particles. In the event of a bioterrorism attack on the U.S., adequate efforts have to be made to prevent continued loss of lives.
The key identifying characteristics of such a scenario would be an immense uncertainty regarding the level and scope of the damage caused and a race against time to identify and provide the victims with appropriate medication. The populace may also be terrified at the invisible, odorless, and tasteless menace. The U.S. has a number of experts trained on biological warfare, counter-measures to be employed when needed, and a wide range of antibiotics and drugs to combat any incident of bioterrorism.
Even though every effort has been made to make U.S. safer, it is not entirely safe because of determined terrorist adversaries and nature’s unyielding power. Therefore, a significant number of challenges are still evident.
The terrorist organizations have asserted their intention of acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction to wreak havoc on the American soil. The immense land and maritime borders of the United States makes it hard for the country to guard fully its territory from outside interferences. Moreover, the country is not immune to surfacing of home-based radical Islamic extremists.
The War on Terror requires the whole country to be engaged and ready to take part in this struggle by guarding against complacency. Homeland security has also been under constant criticisms from bodies of international law. For example, the issue of unlawful combatant or unprivileged combatant has placed U.S. domestic policies on the spotlight.
Since the turn of the century, America has suffered the most devastating attacks in recent history from terrorist groups and natural disasters. In the midst of these difficulties, the country has responded with courage. Currently, the country is safer, stronger, and even more ready to address the hazards that threaten its very existence.
Nevertheless, the work is not yet accomplished. The American government is still committed to deter and interrupt terrorist attacks within its borders, guard its citizens and the country’s critical resources, and promptly act in response and recuperate from those events that may take place on its soil. These efforts are meant to secure the country’s territorial boundaries in order to maintain the residents’ lifestyle currently, and in the future.
1. Miskel, James F. Disaster response and homeland security: what works, what doesn’t. Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006.
2. Purpura, Philip P. Terrorism and homeland security: an introduction with applications. Burlington: Elsevier, 2007.
Bullock, Jane A., et al. Introduction to homeland security. Burlington: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. Print
Bush, George W. “Overview of America’s National Strategy for Homeland Security.” National Strategy for Homeland Security. 5 Oct. 2007. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/nat_strat_homelandsecurity_2007.pdf
The Department of Homeland Security. United States Department of Homeland Security handbook. Washington: International Business publications, 2006.