Communicating With DHS Officials Still a Problem, States Say

By Stew Magnuson
More than half of the nation’s 56 state and territorial homeland security directors or advisors reported being dissatisfied with their overall communications with the Department of Homeland Security, according to an annual survey that was conducted by the National Governor’s Association.

Sixty percent of those polled said the quality of their communications with the department had not changed or had deteriorated since 2006.

DHS’ notoriously high turnover rate among senior leadership was cited as one possible reason for the lack of good communications between the department and its counterparts in state governments.

The survey also listed the directors’ top five priorities. Developing interoperable communications topped the list for the second year in a row.

“Increasingly, the campaign for interoperability has expanded beyond voice communications to encompass data and video interoperability as well,” the report said.

The others in order were: coordinating state and local efforts; protecting critical infrastructure; developing state fusion centers; and, strengthening citizen preparedness.

“Preparing for natural disasters” and “preparing for pandemics” both slipped down the list. Natural disasters preparation was in the top five after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As for pandemics, the report cited “pandemic fatigue,” waning media coverage of the bird flu issue, and the belief that preparedness is a public health, rather than homeland security concern.

Information sharing at state fusion centers, where local, state and federal officials work together to receive, integrate and analyze information in order to prevent terrorist attacks, received a better grade from state directors. Fifty-six percent said they were satisfied with the timeliness of the intelligence they were receiving from the federal government, 47 percent said they were satisfied with the specificity of the information and half said they were satisfied with the “actionability” of that intelligence.

However, two-thirds said they will be unable to sustain their fusion centers without federal funding.

The report revealed ongoing concerns with the availability of National Guard forces to respond to man-made or natural disasters. Only one-third of the states and territories said they had at least 75 percent of their National Guard forces available to respond to such disasters. However, nearly all reported having mutual aid agreements in place with other states to share National Guard resources.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Policy, Emergency Communications

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