Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

All Terrorism Is Local: Resources, Nested Institutions, and Governance for Urban Homeland Security in the American Federal System

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

All Terrorism Is Local: Resources, Nested Institutions, and Governance for Urban Homeland Security in the American Federal System

Article excerpt


This article examines the conditions under which local jurisdictions make effective use of U.S. homeland security resources. It analyzes how resources, institutional context, and governance influence local performance on one homeland security policy dimension-communications interoperability. Governance maturity, nested institutions, and the existence of formal rules are key variables affecting the relationship between resources and performance at the local level. Cities with advanced, multilevel, and formal governance arrangements are more effective at using Urban Area Security Initiative funds to improve their interoperability performance. But current policy approaches slight corresponding demands for shared leadership and cross-sector collaborations.


homeland security, terrorism, governance, nested institutions, federalism

High-impact/low-probability events such as terrorist attacks demand immediate and sustained national responses. In a federal system, national responses are only as effective as their implementation through state and local governments. But national homeland security initiatives create governance dilemmas for American localities. They demand high performance on common goals among multiple diverse interests in the absence of hierarchical authority. In other words, local policy making on homeland security issues presents a collective action problem. Generating "enough cooperation" (Stone 1989) among multiple jurisdictions and actors to overcome this collective action problem is proving more difficult than anticipated by national policy makers. Although substantial federal funds are directed to local jurisdictions to address homeland security concerns, results to date are uneven and inconsistent.

We analyze the conditions under which local jurisdictions overcome these collective action problems on homeland security by examining the resources, levels of governance, and institutional context associated with local performance on one particular national homeland security initiative-improving communications interoperability.1 We use U.S. Department of Homeland Security ([DHS] 2007b) Tactical Interoperable Communications Scorecards (TICS) data for forty-eight urban areas (UAs); these data provide summary assessments of local interoperability capacity as well as local governance attributes. Estimating the effects of DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding to localities and governance attributes on local interoperability scores indicates that resources are insufficient for generating effective local performance. Governance maturity and the joint effects of formal rules and nested institutions are important intervening factors shaping local performance.

All Terrorism Is Local

All terrorism is local, and cities especially are at risk. An urban focus is an essential but underutilized approach for social science research on terrorism and national homeland security policy (Graham 2004). To date, terrorist attacks have been particularly urban phenomena: between 1993 and 2000, 94 percent of injuries and 61 percent of deaths from terrorist attacks recorded in the U.S. State Department's Annual Report on Terrorism occurred in cities (Savitch 2007). Indeed, as Graham (2004) sees it, warfare itself is increasingly "urbanized." Paradoxically, the greater the national security threats, the greater is the local role in responding to those threats.

In a very real sense, city security is a core national security issue but a local responsibility; in the United States, American cities and counties control and finance the police, fire, public health, and emergency services most needed in the face of terrorist attacks. At a minimum, this demands a rethinking of scale in security and the need for localized responses to security needs (Coafee and Wood 2006, 503; National League of Cities 2005).2 Beyond the usual budgetary struggles between Congress and the executive branch over homeland security funding, the federal system deflects national security initiatives: the decentralized, "imperfect" federalism in the United States refracts and distorts even the most profound security demands (Eisinger 2006; Kroenig and Stowsky 2006; Collier and Lakoff 2008). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.