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There isn’t much that I actually enjoy on television today. I’m not fan of the reality shows and have never really cared who gets voted off the island, gets kicked out of the house or gets a rose at the end of the hour of romancing in the hot tub. Frankly I find reality TV one more indication of the numbing and dumbing of America, but my attitude may soon change.

On Wednesday (May 28, 2008), ABC Television announced that it will be broadcasting a series that will “focus on the efforts of border protection agencies to halt illegal smuggling and immigration.” Entitled “Border Security USA,” the series will cover operations around the US with Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) Officers, US Coast Guard, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security that work to safeguard the nation. Working with DHS, the show’s cameras will be given unprecedented access to take viewers along for the ride to see what these people do, how they do it and what difference they make.

This is awesome idea and one that I am really excited to see. While DHS and the news media have gone to great lengths over the past five years to explain what the Department is and what it does, I think it is safe to safe to say that the majority of the American public has little understanding, or for that matter appreciation, of what is homeland security and how it’s done. This series might just change that. In fact, it might actually open the eyes of Americans to the challenges, conditions and decisions that go on every day to protect them and their families even as they continue on completely oblivious in their daily lives.

While the description of the series conjures images of the still-running television show Cops, or the recent Spike TV short-lived series DEA, it has the potential to educate the populace about the very human element that is at the heart of homeland security. Officers, agents, screeners, Coast guardsmen and women and more have to make ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’ decisions every day. Whether that decision is whether to allow people entry into this country for work or recreational travel; deciding what means and methods to use to stop illegal entry of people, drugs and other materials into the country; or how they handle the everyday surprises that occur on the job, the majority of our country is incredibly ignorant about these frontline circumstances.

How the men and women who work in these positions make and execute those decisions is often challenged, second guessed and many times mocked by the media, politicians, frustrated citizens and the full-time arm-chair quarterbacks who always know what’s best in life. It goes without saying that no one is immune from criticism, but if you take on a job such as the ones that will be profiled on this show you are putting an extra target on your back for the critics to take aim at in addition to the one the bad guys have already placed on you for trying to stop them. What ABC and DHS are offering the American public is real reality TV and if it’s done right, it can be a powerful tool to educate Americans about the often unheralded and unrecognized people who serve their interests.

The proposed series could deliver more insight and observation to these environments than any government or media generated report. By ‘being there,’ we can educate the population of the constant threat of death and serious injury that Border Agents, Coast Guardsmen and more operate under. For those of us who have never worked in those environments, it’s fairly easy for us to think that the decisions that are made on the border, the coast line and other ports of entry are cut and dried. They aren’t and never will be, and I hope the producers of this show will make that apparent in their broadcasted footage.

Some parties will undoubtedly call this a propaganda stunt by the Department to try and spruce up its image amongst a skeptical public and increasingly suspect media and Congress. Without even viewing an episode, that charge – like many of the others hurled at the Department – is a quick cheap shot by people who find greater value at hurling stones at others rather than offering solutions in which to better engage and educate the populace.

While it will be easy for the cameramen, editors and producers to compile the footage and music that makes these people look like heroes (many already are), I hope they will take a more difficult road and show how hard these jobs really are. The operational decisions that each of these persons make can have far reaching consequences that go beyond the allotted 46 minute running time of each episode. Weeks, months and years of training go into preparing every individual to serve in these roles and somehow I hope that can be captured and shared with viewers.

Angling the camera for the hero ‘shot,’ along with the action footage of a hot pursuit of bad guys can often take us away from a larger message that I hope this show delivers to the viewing public: these people are working for you. Their jobs may at times seem tedious, sometimes even boring, but these individuals are often putting themselves in harm’s way and dealing with some really difficult situations that no one enjoys.

Television programming has long had a penchant for tying up all the loose ends at the end of an episode. In life, and most certainly the situations that ‘Border Security USA’ proposes to share with us, those loose ends often remained untied. By sharing the real-life experiences of DHS personnel with the public, perhaps we as a citizenry will have the courage to tie up some of those loose ends when it comes to immigration, border security, appropriate resources and enhanced respect and appreciation in areas where it is long overdue. That could be TV worth watching.

Congratulations to DHS and ABC on a great idea. I’ll be watching, and I hope others will too.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More