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  4. Written testimony of DHS OPA for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency hearing titled “Why Can't DHS Better Communicate with the American People?”

Written testimony of DHS Office of Public Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Jensen for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency hearing titled “Why Can't DHS Better Communicate with the American People?”

Release Date: June 14, 2013

311 Cannon House Office Building


Good Morning, Chairman Duncan and Members of the Subcommittee:

My name is Robert Jensen and I am the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Public Affairs. In this role I support the department’s efforts to communicate our policies and programs to the American people and our many partners across the public and private sectors, and I support senior leadership communication across DHS.

Prior to this position, I served as Acting Director of External Affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and also as its Deputy Director. I have held a variety of public affairs-related positions throughout my 29 years of federal service, including Director for Public Affairs and Communications at the National Security Council; Director for Communications Operations for Iraq and Afghanistan and Director of the Iraq Communications Desk at the Department of Defense; Director of National Media Outreach and Senior Communications Advisor for the Multi-National Force-Iraq; and Acting Spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

In addition to serving two years in Iraq, I also deployed to set-up and support U.S. government communications during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Joint Information Center after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, and I served as External Affairs Operations Director for more than 30 major disasters, including Hurricane Ike in 2009 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

DHS Office of Public Affairs

The DHS Office of Public Affairs is responsible for the oversight and management of all external and internal communications for the department, including communications during major incidents that range from terrorist attacks, natural disasters, mass casualty shootings, and other threats or hazards impacting the United States.

The Office of Public Affairs provides timely, accurate information to a wide range of stakeholders, including the American public, media, federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government partners, the private sector, and the Department’s more than 240,000 employees. We work directly with offices across the department to coordinate public affairs outreach and messaging, including the Office of the Secretary, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Legislative Affairs, and the Private Sector Office.

In addition, the Office of Public Affairs provides strategic guidance and support to more than a dozen DHS component public affairs offices, including the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Secret Service, and FEMA, among others. Through regular interaction with these offices, we ensure consistent, coordinated communications procedures and outreach.

We take our communications responsibilities very seriously. Communicating timely, accurate information to the public supports cooperation with security measures and keeps our constituencies informed of changes or requirements with departmental programs and policies. An engaged and vigilant public also remains critical to our efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism. The public is often the first to recognize an emerging threat in communities and notify the appropriate authorities.

Timely, accurate communications outreach also directly supports effective disaster preparedness and response activities. By providing information to the public on appropriate steps to take before, during, and after disasters, we can often lessen their impact, build more ready and resilient communities, and save lives. Effective communications also help maintain public confidence in the Department’s activities and promote transparency in how taxpayer resources are being put to use.

DHS Communications Tools

The Office of Public Affairs uses a variety of means to communicate the department’s programs, policies, and procedures to the American people and our partners.

The DHS Press Office is the primary point of contact for news media seeking information about DHS. The function of the office is proactive in pushing out stories and policies about DHS, and reactive in responding to media inquiries pertaining to activities of the department. The Press Office coordinates media relations and serves as the spokespersons for the Secretary, senior leadership, and the department. In addition, the office is responsible for identifying and executing strategic, proactive media opportunities. Press Office staff also coordinate TV, radio, print and new media (blogs, podcasts) opportunities for DHS principals and provide general communications counsel and support to the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, and other DHS leadership.

The DHS Office of Strategic Communications provides overall management for implementation of communications plans related to DHS programs and policies, rules and regulations – including branding initiatives – and complex domestic and international issues requiring outreach and public education. The Office of Strategic Communications also coordinates and supports public appearances by DHS officials, including the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and other senior leadership. Through the DHS Speaker’s bureau, we ensure departmental representatives with the appropriate level of subject matter expertise appear on the Department’s behalf at public events, conferences, and stakeholder engagement.

The DHS Office of Multimedia serves as the Department’s official point of contact for entertainment-oriented motion picture, television, advertising, video, and multimedia productions or enterprises. The Multimedia office ensures that DHS speaks with one voice in working with the industry and provides formal support to multimedia production sources to ensure that DHS missions, personnel, and services are truthfully and accurately represented.

DHS Web Communications streamlines access to DHS services online and executes a cohesive strategy for web-content management and web-hosting services for all DHS public-facing websites. The Department maintains a very active online presence, leveraging a variety of digital tools to reach our audiences. This includes the DHS website (www.dhs.gov) and extensive use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

In April 2013, the DHS website had more than 1.28 million visits and more than 1 million unique visitors. We currently have approximately 211,000 Twitter followers and more than 72,000 Facebook fans. We regularly leverage these outlets to promote DHS initiatives and programs, provide information regarding our mission and the missions of DHS components, and to communicate directly to the public during incidents. Information provided through DHS social media channels is often shared broadly by federal, state, and local government and law enforcement agencies, as well as ordinary citizens, further amplifying DHS outreach efforts.

The Office of Public Affairs also plays an active role in communicating with the Department’s employees. Our Internal Communications team coordinates, integrates, and synchronizes employee communications efforts, ensuring key policy, procedural, and operational information from DHS headquarters is disseminated to all 240,000 of the Department’s employees.

The Office of Public Affairs works closely with DHS component agencies and program offices to organize in-person or video teleconference employee town hall meetings, facilitates employee engagement with DHS leadership, and leads the department-wide Internal Communications Committee to promote a shared internal communication vision and develop products that can serve as tools for all internal communicators. The Office of Public Affairs also actively supports and updates the DHS intranet – DHS Connect – an internal web-based portal that provides a range of information and resources to DHS employees and enables them to access their respective component intranets.

Key Outreach Programs

“If You See Something, Say Something" Campaign

Homeland security begins with hometown security. An informed, alert public is vital to our efforts to protect our communities, and DHS has continued our nationwide expansion of the “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign, which encourages the American public to contact local law enforcement if they see something that is a potentially suspicious behavior or activity, such as an unattended backpack. The campaign was originally used by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which licensed the use of the slogan to DHS for terrorism and terrorism-related crime awareness efforts. “If You See Something, Say Something ” is a Department-wide initiative that is managed by the Office of Public Affairs.

To date, DHS has expanded the campaign to states, cities, 9,000 Federal buildings across the United States, transportation systems, universities and institutes of higher education, professional and amateur sports leagues and teams, entertainment venues, some of the Nation’s largest retailers, as well as local law enforcement. Most recently, DHS has partnered with sports leagues such as the National Football League, Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Hockey League, NASCAR, U.S. Golf, and the U.S. Tennis Association, to promote public awareness of potential indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime at sporting events. To this end, the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign is now a regular fixture at the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star game, and other major sporting events.

Public Service Announcements (PSAs), including a Spanish language version, also have been distributed to television and radio stations across the country to promote the campaign’s messages. We will continue to expand the campaign in the coming months and years to additional partners.

Ready.Gov and National Preparedness Month

Launched in February 2003, Ready is a national public service advertising campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across our nation.

Ready and its Spanish language version, Listo, ask individuals, businesses, families, and children to do three key things: (1) build an emergency supply kit, (2) make a family emergency plan and (3) be informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur and their appropriate responses.

The campaign’s messages have been distributed through television, radio, print, outdoor and Web (PSAs) developed and produced by The Advertising Council; brochures; the www.Ready.gov and www.Listo.gov Web sites; toll-free phone lines 1-800-BE-Ready and 1-888-SE-Listo; and partnerships with a wide variety of public and private sector organizations.

In addition to the Ready campaign, DHS also highlights emergency preparedness through National Preparedness Month (NPM), held each September to encourage Americans to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. In 2011, FEMA had a record number of nearly 9,000 NPM coalition members. By hosting events, promoting volunteer programs and sharing emergency preparedness information, coalition members help ensure that their communities are prepared for emergencies.


The “Stop.Think.Connect. ” campaign is a national public awareness initiative designed to increase public understanding of cyber threats and how individual citizens can develop safer cyber habits that will protect themselves online and thus help make networks more secure. The campaign fulfills a key element of President Obama’s 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review, which tasked DHS with developing a public awareness campaign to inform Americans about ways to use technology safely.

“Stop.Think.Connect. ” includes cyber forums hosted in collaboration with the National Centers of Academic Excellence to bring together diverse groups of community, private and government participants for dialogues on cybersecurity issues; opportunities for members of the public to get involved by leading or hosting campaign activities; and a coalition for public and private sector organizations. As part of the campaign, DHS launched and maintains a “Stop.Think.Connect. ” website that provides a variety of free, downloadable resources and materials to help the public increase their safety and security online.

Each October, DHS also actively supports National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a coordinated effort between the department, the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, and the National Cyber Security Alliance to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and help Americans establish smart cyber habits that will lead to increased protection online.

DHS Incident Communications

The Office of Public Affairs has significant responsibilities in the event of a major domestic incident or crisis. The Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for keeping the public informed during incidents requiring a coordinated Federal response. DHS coordinates Federal incident communications efforts, as stipulated in HSPD 5, with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other interagency partners, and supports the directly affected State(s), depending on the type of incident.

The DHS strategy synchronizes processes and information between a wide range of entities in order to inform the public and provide updates on the situation or on-going threats, and, when applicable, response and recovery activities. In response to a terrorist threat or incident, DHS also coordinates public messaging with the Department of Justice, FBI, and other departments and agencies to ensure the accuracy of information and that the messaging appropriately safeguards on-going law enforcement activity.

Building on lessons learned from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent major national incidents, the Federal Government and DHS developed incident communications procedures within the National Response Plan (NRP) and its successor, the National Response Framework (NRF), to coordinate jointly and communicate with the American public.

This interagency communications effort involves synchronization of two key elements: process and information coordination.

During an incident requiring a coordinated Federal response, our communications priorities are:

  • Lifesaving and life-sustaining communications, in coordination with the State and local authorities;
  • Timely and frequent information updates and public recommendations from the Secretary, Cabinet-members, and security officials;
  • Employment of risk communications and transparency to gain and maintain public confidence and trust; and
  • Where necessary or appropriate, engagement and integration of non-governmental organizations, faith-based communities, private sector, media, other communications platforms to support public communications and allay concerns or potential bias against ethnic minorities in the United States.

Federal Incident Communications Processes and Messaging

Pre-arranged interagency processes, pre-scripted messaging, and Federal standard operating procedures help support public communications response effort.

In 2008, DHS developed the first Domestic Communications Strategy, or DCS, to provide senior Federal communicators with public communications options for use during a domestic attack, serious threat, or other major incident. DHS also created Emergency Support Function 15 (ESF 15) for coordination of Federal external affairs within the overall NRF. ESF 15 brings unity of effort for Federal communicators during an incident requiring a coordinated Federal response. Once activated, ESF-15 provides the oversight and coordination for all Federal external affairs activities supporting an incident response in the field.

As part of this effort, DHS has developed pre-arranged communications protocols for information sharing and coordination with our key communications stakeholders and counterparts. These protocols are networks that form the backbone of our coordination efforts, and have been instrumental in achieving unity of effort during major domestic incidents and events. They provide the simplified means to coordinate with the right communicators at the right time.

We have three primary counterpart networks that include approximately 1,300 key communicators across the nation. The networks are:

  • The National Incident Communications Conference Line, or NICCL, which is used to coordinate communications with, the Federal Executive Branch interagency, the Capitol Police and Supreme Court, and directly affected State and local communicators;
  • The State Incident Communications Conference Line, or SICCL, which is used to share information with state and local communications counterparts; and
  • The Private Sector Communications Conference Line, or PICCL, which is used to share information with communicators for critical infrastructure or key resources.

These networks can be activated within minutes, subject to notification about an incident and determining there is a need for a call. They are also used to develop and distribute updated public information during an incident. The calls also help to coordinate or de-conflict activities by determining the following:

  • Basic information on the incident and situation;
  • Lead communications roles and authority, e.g., Federal or state and local;
  • Communications plans and coordination actions in the hours and days following the incident; and
  • Communications and public information activities.

Since 2003, DHS has conducted nearly 450 NICCL calls with our federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners to coordinate communications outreach in response to national incidents or events. The first use of the NICCL occurred in February 2003 – one month before DHS became fully operational – in response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. This marked the first use of an incident communications conference line strategy by the department. Since that time, the NICCL has been activated for a range of incidents, including the 2006 aviation security threat involving liquid explosives, the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the “miracle on the Hudson” aviation water landing, the Christmas Day bomb plot on Northwest Flight #253, the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the 2010 Times Square plot, other security incidents, and a host of floods, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

In addition to these communications networks, DHS has developed supporting capabilities and planning resources for use during major incidents. For example, in major incidents or when required by the volume of communications, DHS can activate the National Joint Information Center or NJIC, a capability located within DHS headquarters that includes participants physically present as well as those connected through virtual means, such as conference lines. The NJIC is a flexible resource that can incorporate any communicator to support an incident, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Through experience, we also know that communications activities in the first hours and follow-on phases of an attack or incident cannot be focused solely on the affected locations or attack sites. In security incidents or threats, we often say that “every incident can affect every state.” Therefore, authorities in other states and cities may need to take precautionary measures in another location. In such cases, the SICCL network and its ability to convey updates has proven extremely useful to our communications counterparts.

In addition, we fully recognize the significant effects of social media during a major incident. Twitter and other social media have the ability to widely communicate eyewitness accounts, accurate information, and rumors or misleading data. This will continue to present challenges and opportunities for communicators at all levels of government.

The Boston Marathon Attack

The attack in Boston on April 15, 2013 fully engaged the communications processes and capabilities DHS has put in place over the past ten years. Within minutes of notification of the attack, the Office of Public Affairs began mobilizing its resources and our Federal incident communications processes.

DHS activated the NJIC within minutes, convened a NICCL call shortly after 3 pm, and employed the DCS as our resource guide for communications options, including the sharing of key public information and updates.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, FBI Boston Field Office, Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office served as the lead on-scene communicators and participated in NICCL calls. These calls, which included the Federal interagency, provided participants with a coordinated communications path in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

From April 15 to 19, the Office of Public Affairs:

  • Conducted 3 NICCL calls with key Federal, state, and local communicators;
  • Distributed 19 communications and coordination advisories or updates to NICCL, SICCL, and PICCL counterparts; and
  • Conducted or supported approximately 80 percent of the options suggested in the Domestic Communications Strategy that applied to this particular situation.


Chairman Duncan and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department’s public affairs activities. The DHS Office of Public Affairs is fully committed to communicating information to our many partners in a way that is timely, accurate, transparent, and helps maintain confidence in the Department’s work. I would be happy to answer your questions.

Last Updated: 10/06/2022
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