As part of the effort to recognize the DHS ten year anniversary, I recently sat down with my colleagues to discuss some of the recent milestones at FEMA and the agency’s priorities moving forward. Some of the examples we talk about are from recent events, including Hurricane Sandy. This is the second in a two-part series, and you can read more questions and answers in Part One.
The team at FEMA has taken some big, forward steps in the last few years that have changed outcomes for those impacted by disasters, but we must continue to improve if FEMA and DHS are going to meet future threats. With that, here are some of the questions and my responses:
Q: How does building capacity on a national level translate to the planning that happens in emergency management or to the response efforts after a disaster?
Shifting the mindset towards scenarios of national consequence goes hand-in-hand with our focus on planning for those threats that are bigger than what we can already do.
You can’t change the disaster based on what your capabilities to respond are, so we’ve put an emphasis on threats of national significance. These are events (like a terrorist attack with an improvised nuclear device, earthquakes, or multiple hurricanes) that would not only overwhelm the resources of a state, but multiple states. Planning and executing at this level requires creative problem solving – it doesn’t allow you to simply scale up your programs and assistance effectively based on how you used to do it.
The response to Hurricane Sandy was one example. Before Sandy struck, FEMA had existing plans for how to set up disaster recovery centers (DRCs), places where those impacted by the storm can register for assistance and discuss assistance options with staff from FEMA and the state. We found that our current way of getting out assistance was not scalable for a population-dense area like New York and New Jersey – so now we’re redesigning that process (and our disaster recovery centers) from the ground up. We’re looking at how we can get assistance to a large number of people with sparse communication as quickly as possible, while minimizing the number of times those individuals need to contact FEMA.
We sent FEMA staff with internet-capable tablets out into the hardest hit areas. We brought the registration process and “the DRC” to disaster survivors – registering them for assistance at FEMA’s mobile webpage on tablets while talking through various assistance options at the federal, state, and local levels.
Those kinds of changes show the progress FEMA has made over the last several years. It’s getting away from the trap of designing small systems that work in environments we’re comfortable with and shifting the focus towards preparing for national threats and building capabilities that can respond to events that have a national consequence.
And speaking of Hurricane Sandy, it’s worth noting the role the DHS Surge Capacity Workforce played in FEMA’s response. By calling on several thousand employees from other DHS components, we were able to fill out our response effort at the federal level. It’s about more than just the sheer number of staff that came with the surge. When I say “fill out”, the DHS surge allowed FEMA to add capabilities, which is always more important than just adding numbers to the role. FEMA will definitely utilize the DHS surge in future large-scale disasters because of the benefits we saw after Hurricane Sandy.
Q: What are a few of your priorities moving forward?
Moving ahead, we need to do more to reduce the nation’s overall cost and vulnerability to disasters. Just preparing, responding, and rebuilding isn’t going to do it, there needs to be a focus on resiliency. We can’t continue to afford the losses of disasters and go through the painful rebuilding and recovery process.
Part of the solution is effectively transferring risk. The federal government, and thus, taxpayers nationwide, shouldn’t be taking on financial risk at a greater rate for those communities that face the consistent threat of a disaster or emergency of national consequence. The benefits that taxpayers receive (through taxes, jobs, economic stimulus, etc.) should be directly proportional to the risk they are bearing.
Better management of how and where we build, smarter building codes, and land use management are a few things that can reduce the risk of disasters having a high impact, which is a start. But we may need to look at mitigation differently.
As an example, one term that’s frequently used in risk management is the “100-year event”, or an event that has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year. These are supposed to be rare occurrences, but how many of these “100 year events” have we had in the last few years alone? Does that term still accurately capture what the vulnerabilities are, or should a new standard be used?
We should be planning and looking at risk not just for the 100-year events, but also adapting to the changing circumstances around that risk. There’s a lot of debate about climate change, but I’m more concerned with climate adaptation and ensuring we are adapting at a greater rate than our exposure to risk is increasing.
And there are certainly improvements that FEMA can make as an organization. Continuing to focus on affecting change at the national level, while still keeping a focus on positive outcomes for individuals and families impacted by disasters – that’s what I’m going to keep pushing for.
As part of the effort to recognize the DHS ten year anniversary, I recently sat down with my colleagues to discuss some of the recent milestones at FEMA and the agency’s priorities moving forward. Some of the examples we talk about are from recent events, including Hurricane Sandy.
The team at FEMA has taken some big, forward steps in the last few years that have changed outcomes for those impacted by disasters, but we must continue to improve if FEMA and DHS are going to meet future threats. With that, here are some of the questions and my responses:
Q: How has FEMA changed in the last few years? What are a few of the milestones that mark those changes?
The biggest change is shifting focus first and foremost on the threats we face as a nation, not on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.
The national Urban Search and Rescue teams are one example. These are the best of the best. They are the most capable and best equipped search and rescue units in the country – some of these teams went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. But these teams can be expensive. Traditionally, they were seen as a resource for their local jurisdiction. Yet, very few communities were able to afford these teams and at the end of the day, the country wasn’t going to have enough teams to significantly raise its ability to respond to large-scale events. We were piecing together resources and capabilities to prepare community-by-community and hoping that it all added up to a more prepared nation.
Think about it. Lots of grant money has been given to state and local governments to build capabilities, but what did they get for it? In the case of Urban Search and Rescue, there were some jurisdictions that had fully equipped teams, but other communities that weren’t as capable to respond.
That's because we were providing funding through grants aimed at a community-by-community approach, so some ended up being left out. Now, DHS and FEMA have shifted the focus of the search and rescue teams to act as a national resource that can be used in any emergency in any jurisdiction where local and state resources are overwhelmed. We’ve also funded more teams to create a second tier of search and rescue capabilities. This creates more shared resources at the national level while maintaining the capability at the local community level.
Q: Are there other examples that show this shift?
Under the direction of Secretary Napolitano, our grant programs have changed in the last few years to reflect this national approach as well. Now grant programs recognize things like Emergency Management Assistance Compacts that allow states to share capabilities and resources in the event of an emergency. No community can prepare independently for all catastrophic risks, so emphasizing shared resources is critical to building capacity on a national scale.
So it’s starting with questions like: What threats do we face as a nation? What are the scenarios that require additional federal resources, and how can we build our capabilities there? By answering these questions, we can prioritize what we’re going to fund at the federal level and drive unity of effort towards a nation that’s better prepared. We’re looking at scenarios of national consequence, not just the jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction approach we tended to follow in the past.
Originially posted by the Information Sharing Environment (ISE)
Information sharing between federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners is critical to our nation’s security. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has updated our Information Sharing Segment Architecture (ISSA) that will serve as a road map to guide our implementation and investment efforts in information sharing.
This update, known as ISSA Version 3.0, introduces a standard set of information sharing capabilities and the technical capabilities necessary to enhance information sharing across DHS and our partners. It takes into consideration the continued maturity of the Department and focuses on improving our network of trust, enhancing our ability to securely and efficiently share information with stakeholders—especially the Intelligence Community— and providing information proficiently across the Department.
The ISSA serves as the guide to describe and implement the “To-Be,” or target architecture, of the DHS Information Sharing Environment (DHS ISE). This cross-cutting architecture will provide the entire DHS mission and enterprise functions with the business policies, strategies, leadership, architecture, and governance needed to provide a consistent set of services and capabilities for the sharing of information.
The ISSA is intended to direct the target DHS ISE and transition strategy so that data and information is secure and:
- Accessible – Available in a convenient form with intuitive tools;
- Understandable – Able to be used efficiently, leveraging common terminology;
- Interoperable – Easily combined and compared with other data and information;
- Trusted – Available to users with accuracy and currency, including the source of the data and information;
- Repeatable – Consistently delivered over time; and
- Safeguarded – Protected from loss or misuse.
The ISSA provides a blueprint for establishing a target DHS ISE designed to ensure that access to information does not hinder, but rather strengthens, our homeland security mission. Effective information sharing supports the core mission of DHS and serves as a valuable component of a comprehensive risk mitigation plan to keep our nation safe. Through the implementation of the ISSA Version 3.0, DHS will able to:
- Achieve interoperability through common standards;
- Identify redundancies and potential technological conflicts;
- Locate opportunities to leverage and/or collaborate;
- Identify information sharing gaps and shortfalls;
- Align technology to mission goals and objectives; and
- Gain a more thorough understanding of the complete functionality being provided by a specific target or technology for information sharing.
This architecture is a result of collaboration among mission and business owners across the Department, and helps us make great strides in establishing the target architecture necessary for the DHS ISE.
I look forward to the next phase of this critical work. The value of this architecture lives in its implementation by all DHS systems that share data and information with internal and external partners. Operating together under this road map, our Department has the ability to operate as “One DHS”, to ensure a safer, more secure and more resilient nation.
Ten years ago today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began its operations, unifying 22 legacy agencies within a single department with a common mission: to safeguard America and integrate our Nation’s capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from threats and disasters of all kinds.
DHS has helped transform the way we secure our Nation over the last ten years, making our efforts more agile, proactive, and coordinated. Today, we are also smarter about how we assess risks, and how we mitigate them.
And a decade after the creation of a Cabinet-level agency bearing that name, homeland security has come to mean much more. It means the coordinated work of hundreds of thousands of dedicated and skilled professionals, and more than ever, of the American public: our businesses and families, communities and faith-based groups. We are safer and more secure than ever before, and DHS stands ready to confront our future challenges.
During March, we will recognize and celebrate the work of DHS employees from across the country and around the world through a number of initiatives. Earlier this week, I delivered the State of Homeland Security at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. It summarizes the past (DHS 1.0), the present (DHS 2.0) and the future of the Department (DHS 3.0).
I encourage you to learn more about the Department, and to stay tuned for additional updates as you share with us in the celebration of our ten year anniversary.
On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of men and women … the Coast Guardsman who rescues a sailor; the TSO who keeps a loaded gun off a plane; the cyber expert who prevents harm to our banking system; the FEMA worker who comforts a destitute family; the Border Patrol agent who spends days and weeks in 100 degree plus temperatures patrolling our border; the scientist who figures out a better way to protect a plane; we commemorate our beginnings; our maturation; and our future. This is not a day just to look back and pat ourselves on the back. It’s a day to re-commit and to move forward.
At the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), we plan and prepare for the unthinkable. DNDO is the primary entity in the U.S. government for the integration of federal nuclear forensics programs. In mid-February we helped plan an exercise in Suffolk County, N.Y. to assess our national nuclear forensic capabilities.
The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collections Task Force, in coordination with Suffolk County Law Enforcement and Emergency Management Agencies, participated in exercise “Prominent Hunt 13-2.” The Task Force, which includes the Departments of Defense and Energy, and the FBI, is a crucial component of the national nuclear forensics program. The job of the Task Force is to collect information and nuclear debris near the site, in the event of a nuclear detonation, for analysis at designated laboratories. The results of this nuclear forensic analysis would enhance the law enforcement investigation and intelligence information to assist in the identification of those responsible for such an attack.
DNDO both facilitated the exercise, and acted as a liaison for exercise control between the Task Force and the Suffolk County participants, demonstrating our critical partnership with state and local partners, such as Suffolk County.
Despite blizzard-like conditions, the Task Force adapted to the challenging environmental conditions and successfully completed the exercise. Operations were conducted to standard; planned collection missions were completed; and all exercise objectives were met. Participants in this exercise developed valuable lessons learned and best practices that will enhance our national nuclear forensic capabilities.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will deliver the third annual “State of America’s Homeland Security” address during an event hosted by the Brookings Institution. Following her remarks, Secretary Napolitano will participate in a brief discussion with the audience, moderated by Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Elaine Kamarck.
You can watch the “State of America’s Homeland Security” speech live here begining at 10AM EST, and follow along on Twitter using #BIDHS.
Originally posted on the USCIS blog, "The Beacon"
On Friday, I had the privilege of administering the Oath of Allegiance to 50 new U.S. citizens on the 281st birthday of our first president, George Washington. The ceremony took place at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens in Alexandria, Va. The event was the high point of a week-long celebration of special ceremonies in recognition of Presidents’ Day. From Feb. 15-22, USCIS welcomed more than 19,000 new citizens in 135 ceremonies across the country.
Felicia Escobar, Senior Policy Advisor for Immigration at the White House Domestic Policy Council, joined me and led the new citizens in reciting the pledge of allegiance. Ms. Escobar quoted President Washington in the beginning of her remarks, saying: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.” More than 200 years later, these words ring true.
Critical infrastructure is the backbone of our country’s national and economic security. It includes everything from power plants, chemical facilities and cyber networks, to bridges and highways, stadiums and shopping malls, as well as the federal buildings where millions of Americans work and visit each day. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for coordinating the national protection, prevention, mitigation, and recovery from cyber incidents and works regularly with critical infrastructure owners and operators to take steps to strengthen their facilities and communities. The Department also conducts onsite risk assessments of critical infrastructure and shares risk and threat information with state, local and private sector partners.
Tuesday, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order (EO) on cybersecurity and a Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) on critical infrastructure security and resilience. These two actions will strengthen the security and resilience of critical infrastructure against all hazards through an updated and overarching national framework that acknowledges the increased role of cybersecurity in securing physical assets. This is a key step forward in evolving how we approach the risks we face in this new environment.
A cornerstone of this effort will be enhanced information sharing programs that will facilitate the flow of critical infrastructure information among key stakeholders. The EO expands a voluntary, cyber threat information sharing program between government and the private sector that automates the use of law enforcement and intelligence derived threat information to assist critical infrastructure owners and operators in their cybersecurity efforts. This information sharing process helps critical infrastructure entities to protect against cyber threats that could otherwise harm the systems upon which so many Americans rely. The PPD directs the executive branch to address information sharing priorities with critical infrastructure by strengthening our capability to understand and efficiently share information about how well their infrastructure systems are functioning and the consequences of potential failures.
In developing the EO and PPD, the Obama Administration sought input from industry, Congress, the privacy and civil liberties advocacy community, and others and worked to incorporate their ideas. We have also continued our engagement with the privacy and civil liberties community and remain committed to preserving citizens’ right to privacy online. We continue to believe that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. Together, the EO and PPD create an opportunity to reinforce the need for holistic thinking about the cyber and physical security of critical infrastructure.
The American people expect us to lead in securing the country from the growing danger of cyber threats and partner with owners and operators to strengthen the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure. The cyber threats we face are real, they are serious, and they are urgent. Today’s actions are a key step towards improved security and resilience. We will continue to work with Congress to achieve this goal, and hope that these steps will lay a foundation for future discussions on how to keep our nation safe and secure for generations to come.
For more information about the Cybersecurity Executive Order and Critical Infrastructure Presidential Policy Directive, please visit here.
Earlier today at the White House, I met with law enforcement leaders from across the country to discuss the need for comprehensive immigration reform— the single best step we can take to enhance border security, and enable our officers and agents along the border to spend the bulk of their time focused on public safety and national security threats.
Over the past four years, we have dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform our nation's immigration enforcement system into one that focuses on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system. We have matched our success at the border with smart, effective immigration enforcement, with a focus on identifying and removing criminal aliens and other public safety threats, recent border crossers, repeat violators, and employers who break the law. We have also increased funding to our state and local law enforcement partners to make sure they have the resources they need.
The results of these efforts are clear. Attempts to cross the border illegally are down nearly 80 percent from their peak, seizures of illegal drugs, weapons and other contraband are up, and some of the safest communities in America are found in our border states.
Earlier this week, I traveled to San Diego, Calif. and Clint and El Paso, Texas, where I saw first hand the need for more modernized immigration laws that make it harder for criminals and transnational criminal organizations to operate, while encouraging immigrants to choose to pursue a pathway to legal immigration rather than breaking the law.
Our immigration system has been broken for too long and Congress must act. State, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement remain critical partners in this effort, and we look forward to working with them to advance reforms that will help us keep our communities safe and secure.
Originally posted by The White House
The American public increasingly relies on the Internet for socializing, business transactions, gathering information, entertainment, and creating and sharing content. The rapid growth of the Internet has brought opportunities but also risks, and the Federal Government is committed to empowering members of the public to protect themselves against the full range of online threats, including online radicalization to violence.
Violent extremist groups ─ like al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents, violent supremacist groups, and violent “sovereign citizens” ─ are leveraging online tools and resources to propagate messages of violence and division. These groups use the Internet to disseminate propaganda, identify and groom potential recruits, and supplement their real-world recruitment efforts. Some members and supporters of these groups visit mainstream fora to see whether individuals might be recruited or encouraged to commit acts of violence, look for opportunities to draw targets into private exchanges, and exploit popular media like music videos and online video games. Although the Internet offers countless opportunities for Americans to connect, it has also provided violent extremists with access to new audiences and instruments for radicalization.
As a starting point to prevent online radicalization to violence in the homeland, the Federal Government initially will focus on raising awareness about the threat and providing communities with practical information and tools for staying safe online. In this process, we will work closely with the technology industry to consider policies, technologies, and tools that can help counter violent extremism online. Companies already have developed voluntary measures to promote Internet safety ─ such as fraud warnings, identity protection, and Internet safety tips ─ and we will collaborate with industry to explore how we might counter online violent extremism without interfering with lawful Internet use or the privacy and civil liberties of individual users.
This approach is consistent with Internet safety principles that have helped keep communities safe from a range of online threats, such as cyber bullies, scammers, gangs, and sexual predators. While each of these threats is unique, experience has shown that a well-informed public, armed with tools and resources to stay safe online, is critical to protecting communities. Pursuing such an approach is also consistent with the community-based framework we outlined in Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States and the Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.
A New Interagency Working Group
To more effectively organize our efforts, the Administration is establishing a new Interagency Working Group to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence, chaired by the National Security Staff at the White House and involving specialists in countering violent extremism, Internet safety experts, and civil liberties and privacy practitioners from across the United States Government. This Working Group will be responsible for developing plans to implement an Internet safety approach to address online violent extremism, coordinating the Federal Government’s activities and assessing our progress against these plans, and identifying additional activities to pursue for countering online radicalization to violence.
Raising Awareness through Existing Initiatives
In the coming months, the Working Group will coordinate with Federal departments and agencies to raise awareness and disseminate tools for staying safe from online violent extremism primarily through three means.
First, information about online violent extremism will be incorporated into existing Federal Government Internet safety initiatives. Internet safety initiatives at the Department of Education, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies provide platforms that already reach millions of Americans, and relevant departments and agencies will work to add materials related to online radicalization.
The primary government platform for raising awareness about Internet safety is OnGuard Online, managed by the Federal Trade Commission and involving 16 departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education. OnGuard Online─ in addition to other Federal Government Internet safety platforms like Stop.Think.Connect and Safe Online Surfing─ will begin including information about online violent extremism. This information also will be posted on the Countering Violent Extremism homepage on the Department of Homeland Security’s website and updated to reflect new best practices and research.
Second, the Federal Government will work with local organizations throughout the country to disseminate information about the threat. One reason for the success of Federal Government Internet safety awareness efforts is that they work closely with local organizations — such as school districts, Parent Teacher Associations, local government, and law enforcement — to communicate to communities. Law enforcement is a particularly important partner in raising awareness about radicalization to violence and is already developing materials with support from the Department of Justice. Law enforcement departments and agencies have established Internet safety programs and relationships with community members and local organizations that can reach multiple audiences with critical information about the threat of online violent extremism and recruitment. Departments and agencies will provide the latest assessments of this threat to our local partners and encourage them to incorporate this information into their programs and initiatives.
Third, departments and agencies will use our preexisting engagement with communities to provide information about Internet safety and details about how violent extremists are using the Internet to target and exploit communities. U.S. Attorneys throughout the country, who historically have engaged with communities on a range of public safety issues, are coordinating these Federal engagement efforts at the local level, with support from other departments and agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education. U.S. Attorneys and others involved in community engagement will seek to incorporate information about Internet radicalization to violence into their efforts, as appropriate. At the same time, the Federal Government will engage with State, local, and tribal government and law enforcement officials to learn from their experiences in addressing online threats, including violent extremism.
As the Federal Government implements this effort in the coming months, we will continue to investigate and prosecute those who use the Internet to recruit others to plan or carry out acts of violence, while ensuring that we also continue to uphold individual privacy and civil liberties. Preventing online radicalization to violence requires both proactive solutions to reduce the likelihood that violent extremists affect their target audiences as well as ensuring that laws are rigorously enforced.
For a fact sheet on Countering Online Radicalization to Violence, click here.