Everybody has one of those chores that they haven’t gotten around to-something you know needs to be done and is going to take a lot of work. While it may be tempting to ignore the task, the simple fact is that it won’t get easier with time, and it’s usually best to just buckle down and get it done.
That’s the approach that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano took this week in forming a task force to recommend ways to improve the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). I applaud her for taking the initiative on this matter because it’s a job that needs to be done.
I am both humbled and honored that Secretary Napolitano asked me to participate on the panel. After the announcement was made, some of my colleagues called to congratulate me; some called to offer their condolences. No doubt there are many very different ideas on how to approach such a sensitive task: How to devise a system that alerts the public to threats in a way that is informative without causing undue alarm.
The HSAS was launched in 2002 with a single goal in mind: To communicate with the public – with clarity, simplicity and effectiveness – about the threats facing our nation, along with the protective steps being taken by the federal government to address those threats. The government had a specific, if diverse, set of audiences in mind: the law enforcement community, other government agencies, state and local leaders, the business community in the private sector, and the American public in general.
A basic color-coded system of threat levels, in graphical form, was an intuitive approach. It was admittedly a blunt instrument that was intended to serve an immediate need and be refined over time. And it has been refined over time — such as implementing advisories for certain sectors such as the financial sector.
However, the Secretary has concluded, based on public input, that it is now time to launch a review of the entire system itself. The homeland security environment has evolved quite a bit over the past eight years, and it is time to reassess the effectiveness of that initial approach. Each of us on the task force will go into the project with no set prejudices. Perhaps the system will end up only being revised along the margins; perhaps the system will be replaced entirely with a fundamentally different structure. During the course of the next 60 days, this group will strive to develop wise recommendations for improving the HSAS.
I should emphasize that you do not have to be a member of the task force to contribute. We are seeking additional insight and feedback from experts and the public as to what information is most helpful, how that information can best be presented and more. Public comments can be sent directly to DHS at email@example.com. I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas with the task force.
DHS is charged with a critical mission of protecting the American people. That means the department’s communication efforts with the public should be clear, credible and timely. Any steps that we can recommend to better meet those needs will go a long way toward furthering the public’s confidence in the DHS mission.
It is obviously way too soon to articulate specific recommendations; after all the strength of a task force is that we bring diverse perspectives and experiences to bear on the problem. However, for those of you who know me, you know that I am an advocate of resilience as foundational principal on how we should think about homeland security. If I have a bias going into the Task Force it is toward ensuring our recommendations support the concepts of individual resilience, population resilience, and system resilience.