Building a Contingency Menu: Using Capabilities-Based Planning for Homeland Defense and Homeland Security

By Goss, Thomas | Homeland Security Affairs, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Building a Contingency Menu: Using Capabilities-Based Planning for Homeland Defense and Homeland Security


Goss, Thomas, Homeland Security Affairs


Introduction: The Vital Task of Planning for the Worst

"Within a few hours [on September 11, 2001], the threats to our world had become exponentially more complex," the New York City Fire Commissioner concluded in the FDNY Strategic Plan 2004-2005, "[and] the Fire Department, in turn, needed to adapt." 1 The challenge for homeland defense and homeland security organizations is uncertainty as to what to adapt to, with a threat being too ambiguous and diverse to easily identify. For military planners at United States Northern Command, counter-terrorism planners at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and strategic planners in police and fire departments, there are many questions: What exactly is the threat? What part of this threat is our responsibility? What capabilities will we need to detect and to stop these threats? The next concern is often the perplexing question: how do I explain this plan to my boss? Because terrorist threat actors are both cunning and adaptive, relying on surprise to overcome security measures, military and security planners must embrace a more flexible, comprehensive, and comprehensible approach to contingency planning ? a method based on neither threats nor scenarios exclusively, but rather on integrating these two approaches into a planning process based on capabilities.

The process of contingency planning and resource allocation poses one of the greatest current challenges for those responsible for protecting the United States because of the severity and diversity of the threats and the required timeliness of any defensive operations and security responses. The National Strategy for Homeland Security recognizes this by designating "manage risks and allocate resources judiciously" as guiding principles and goes on to declare, "because the number of potential terrorist acts is nearly infinite, we must make difficult choices about how to allocate resources against those risks that pose the greatest danger to our homeland." 2 At this task, military and security planners have struggled to develop a comprehensive and comprehensible planning system using existing approaches of traditional threat-based planning that focus on the "who," and scenario-based planning that address the "what." To present senior decision-makers with timely and effective contingency plans, planners need to transition to a more flexible and dynamic capabilities-based planning method that focuses on the "how" and can thus frame required capabilities and overcome uncertainty concerning the threat.

Problems With Current Planning Methodologies

The National Security Strategy identifies the vital function of having a formal and deliberate process of threat assessment, yet such process has yet to gain wide acceptance. Conceptually, there are three fundamental approaches to conducting a threat assessment, focusing on the "who," the "what," and the "how" of the threat. In a traditional threat assessment, analysts address the "who" of the threat: the threat actor(s), their "order of battle," and their most likely courses of action. The second conceptual approach looks at the "what" of the threat: what part of the threat is a specific agency's responsibility to defeat, and what aspect of the threat planners should address through threat scenarios.

One of the critical products for decision-makers in concept development is the "intelligence estimate" or "threat assessment." As current DOD doctrine asserts, "intelligence should provide the commander with an understanding of the adversary in terms of the adversary's probable intent, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, probable course-of-action, most dangerous course-of-action, values, and critical vulnerabilities." 3 Based on this threat assessment and strategic guidance, planners develop a single course of action with branches and sequels. This traditional planning process results in decision-makers selecting a single contingency plan with a "throw the switch" type of action. …

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Building a Contingency Menu: Using Capabilities-Based Planning for Homeland Defense and Homeland Security
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