Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Promises Unfulfilled: The Suboptimization of Homeland Security National Preparedness

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Promises Unfulfilled: The Suboptimization of Homeland Security National Preparedness

Article excerpt


Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, thousands of well-intentioned individuals have been working feverishly to prevent, protect from, respond to, and recover from natural and man-made incidents of national significance. Billions of dollars have been expended to build capacity at all levels of government to meet the mission demands of the new policy arena of homeland security. Homeland security, at least in definition, has come full circle since 9/11. Today, homeland security is narrowly defined as dealing predominantly with acts of terrorism. 1 However, as the initial shock of the 9/11 terror attacks wore off, state and local governments began the process of taking on the expanded mission space prescribed by the new normalcy in the nation. As state and local governments found their footing in this new arena, they were able to absorb the new demands of homeland security into the existing mission space found in public safety and emergency management. The national government, however, has remained focused primarily on acts of terror. This divergence in perspective has led to ever-increasing tensions between the national government and state and local governments when policies related to homeland security national preparedness are at issue.

At the core of the set of challenges that confront national, state, and local government officials concerning homeland security national preparedness public policy are a set of assumptions, upon which current and evolving policies are based, that are suspect if not fatally flawed. The policy outcomes resulting from these faulty assumptions (and facilitated by hindering institutional pathologies, misguided policies, and bad policy instruments) have left the nation less prepared than is possible had forward-thinking, aggressively applied modern public management models been used as the foundation upon which national preparedness could be established. The assumptions brought into focus in this article are:

1. There is an idealized level of national preparedness; achieving a prescribed level of preparedness to respond to events of national significance, whether man-made or natural in origin, is possible based on current or foreseeable resource levels.

2. The federal government is obliged to direct the development of national preparedness policy to ensure that state and local governments are working toward policy compliance and are providing full accountability for grant funds.

3. Current homeland security public policy is coherent, embraces an all-hazards approach to national preparedness and reflects the comprehensive involvement of state and local governments in its development, deployment, and implementation.

After a brief discussion of research methodology, this article traces the evolution of national preparedness policies and describes the institutional pathologies and policy instruments that have inhibited national preparedness. The next section provides analysis related to the research and an explanation of why the assumptions identified above are flawed. Finally, recommendations are offered that might allow the next administration and those with public safety, emergency management, and homeland security responsibilities at the state and local level insights into building community resilience and governance capacity that raises preparedness to as high a level as possible.


This research project is part of an ongoing research agenda focused on homeland security national preparedness public policy. The approach taken is qualitative in nature and is characterized by the examination of behaviors of individuals and institutions found in this policy arena, comprehensive literature reviews, and hundreds of informal interviews with officials at the local, state and national level who are directly involved in the development, deployment, and implementation of homeland security national preparedness public policy. …

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