Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Massachusetts State Homeland Security Strategy

Massachusetts has released a new state homeland security strategy. It's an all-hazards strategy, which reflects the experience of Hurricane Katrina and the risk of other natural hazards such as pandemic flu.

The strategy lists three major goals:

Our obligations, from the state’s perspective, whether we are planning for response to a terrorism incident, detecting a potential influenza outbreak, managing a major fire, or preparing for a potential hurricane, are guided by three major goals:

1) to create a common operating picture among all homeland security and public safety stakeholders;
2) to strengthen and expand partnerships across assets and capabilities; and
3) to focus efforts on private sector and public participation in prevention and preparedness.
These are laudable goals - it's especially welcome to see the explicit focus on private sector involvement (more on that later). It covers the whole range of preparedness activities, from prevention to response and recovery:
[T]he state is ultimately responsible for ensuring both effective prevention and effective response and recovery.
Prevention primarily relies on intelligence that's funneled through the state's Fusion Center:
The intelligence aspect of prevention, in terms of securing critical infrastructure, maintaining resource databases, and all aspects of the Commonwealth Fusion Center, contributes to prevention by informing law enforcement and public safety officials about vulnerabilities. Once vulnerabilities are recognized, we can begin to find solutions to prevent incidents.
Initial thought - this is focused on vulnerabilities, but risk is not just vulnerability. Calculating a threat involves not just vulnerability, but likelihood and consequence as well.

To organize the effort, they're using not only the Fusion Center. For coordination of recovery efforts, Massachusetts is using a new, collaborative organization:
[W]e have launched the Massachusetts Recovery Alliance that will convene all relevant parties to ensure that all efforts – from building inspections, to federal support, to workforce replacement – are properly integrated after a disaster.
They also have an Implementation Team that oversees state support of HSPD-8, "National Preparedness":
The HSPD-8 Implementation Team is charged with assessing the ability of the Commonwealth to respond to catastrophic events. Since its inception in 2006, the team has identified and ranked existing gaps in capacity and compiled them into a matrix that aids in establishing funding priorities and gives direction and focus to state and regional capability improvement plans.
For implementation purposes, the state has been divided into 5 geographic regions:
Liaisons from EOPSS Homeland Security Division provide guidance and oversight to each of five geographically designed regions - the Northeast, Southeast, Central, Western, and Metro Boston (UASI) - which were created to support strategic planning and operational coordination at the local level. Regional Planning Councils for each region are responsible for developing and guiding the implementation of regional homeland security plans described in this document. ... Five Regional Homeland Security Advisory Councils serve as the governance body (both policy-making and administrative) for each of the regions.

Each region is responsible for developing local relationships (very good) and is relatively autonomous in setting priorities:
Substantial state and local collaboration and coordination have resulted from the working partnerships of the regions. In furtherance of SHSS activities, each region has individually dedicated homeland security resources to collaboration, planning, equipment, training, and evaluation.
  • The Northeast Region has utilized homeland security funding to procure a variety of emergency supplies, coordinate first responder activities, and implement school safety mechanisms.
  • The Southeast Region has made significant strides in improving interoperability and incident command training.
  • The Central Region has expanded the capability of communities to recover from large scale incidents through the procurement and deployment of emergency equipment.
  • Major accomplishments of the Western Region include interoperability and information sharing projects.
  • The Metro Boston Homeland Security Region (MBHSR) has improved intelligence and information sharing, as well as communications interoperability.
In terms of implementing the states three major goals, the strategy briefly outlines some of the implementation activities that should go on statewide. Under the first goal of Creating a Common Operational Picture, the initial emphasis is on the fusion center:
Pursue effective prevention efforts through analysis of risks: In order to understand the strategic threats that face the Commonwealth and take the proper and appropriate protective measures, public safety and public policy officials need access to timely, accurate, and actionable intelligence and information. The Commonwealth Fusion Center is at the center of the state’s efforts to receive, produce, and share intelligence assessments and reports with our local, state, and federal partners. To that end, the Fusion Center has recently incorporated personnel and systems from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to support the seamless exchange of information and intelligence regarding threats to the nation and the Commonwealth. These assessments and related products are regularly shared with key stakeholders for tactical support, situational awareness, and strategic planning purposes.
The top-down emphasis is a bit worrying - they're incorporating federal personnel into the fusion center. Let's not forget threat information that comes up the chain as well. Hopefully the threat information won't come mostly from "above."

However, it's nice to see that the info on vulnerability of particular assets will come from the local level, because locals know that best. Locals can also provide important info that helps determine likelihood and consequences:
Among the Commonwealth Fusion Center’s intelligence assessments and alerts agenda, a present primary focus is the recent adoption of the Automated Critical Asset Management System (ACAMS), a statewide inventory tool to categorize and prioritize critical infrastructure. The process of assessment includes leveraging existing state and local partnerships with public safety stakeholders and other subject matter experts to collect critical asset data by training and providing them access to ACAMS. These teams will bring together public safety professionals with other subject matter experts (e.g. structural engineers) to produce in-depth, robust vulnerability assessments of critical infrastructure and key resources. When joined with the ongoing assessment of potential threats conducted by the Commonwealth Fusion Center, a clearer assessment of risk in the Commonwealth will emerge.
Seems to me that if the fusion center gets information on threats and vulnerabilities from local personnel, as well as relevant info regarding likelihood and consequences, and really fuses it with the information on threat (as well as info relevant to likelihood and consequences) that comes from the FBI and DHS, then the fusion center will really be doing its job - fusing information from all levels to create an accurate picture of the threat. That's a good approach.

Moving on to some of the other objectives of the strategy...you don't always see this one:
Prepare the Commonwealth for Mass Evacuation and Shelter: To date, there are numerous local and state plans. However, they can not each stand alone and succeed. We need to ensure that the plans are fully integrated, that the expectations of one jurisdiction merge with another, and that the state, through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), is able to understand and assist in those efforts. ... This overall state and local effort has three interrelated parts – traffic plans, sheltering capacity assessments, and focus on individuals requiring specific assistance.
Next, a few notes on the second major goal, Strengthen and Expand Partnerships for Prevention and Preparedness. This is good to see:
Integrate Public Health Preparedness into Homeland Security Efforts: Protecting public health is an integral part of an all hazards approach to homeland security, whether it be detecting a naturally occurring or man-made public health threat, or protecting our first responders during a potential chemical, radiological, or biological incident.
But ... is there enough capability built into the public health system to accommodate a catastrophe? (See these two posts.) As for distributing medicines their plan is:
The foundation of the Boston plan is the staffing and operation of large dispensing clinics, located in schools and community centers all over the city, where residents would be able to pick up medications for themselves and their families.
On port security, just an interesting factoid:
[W]e continue to work with affected localities and the state of Rhode Island to oppose the proposed LNG terminal in Fall River. The Commonwealth opposes the proposed terminal based on the potential dangers associated with the storage and transfer of LNG and the U.S. Coast Guard report that expresses safety concerns regarding the transfer of LNG through the proposed waterway.
The risk of LNG to surrounding communities is somewhat unclear. Interesting that Massachusetts is taking this stand.

On Goal #3: Focus on Private Sector and Public Participation in Prevention and Preparedness, it's interesting how many of the specific implementation activities under this goal relate to personal preparedness:
Enhance Personal Preparedness: Help Us Help You Campaign - EOPSS is planning a wide variety of events for September, all of which will reinforce the idea that doing a little advance preparation on an individual level will help the government help you in a time of emergency.

Address the Needs of Individuals Requiring Specific Assistance: Statewide Individuals Requiring Specific Assistance Task Force on Emergency Preparedness: The intention is to enhance emergency preparedness planning for people with specific and/or functional needs and to include them in the planning process as well as exercises and drills.

Continue Community Outreach Efforts: Engage and empower immigrant populations. In order to change the pattern of exclusion, outreach efforts have been employed to engage and empower isolated groups.
I'd actually like to see more detail on how large private sector entities will be incorporated into the planning and preparation process (other than the very welcome involvement in ACAMS noted above). Often, critical businesses such as chemical plants, oil refineries, utilities and so on, are reticent to share information because of proprietary concerns.

While it is certainly important for individual citizens to be prepared, it's even moreso for the owners and operators of critical infrastructure elements to be coordinated with the state's preparation and response.

Update Sept. 26, 2007: I'd forgotten about this audit from last year that found Massachusetts unprepared (also see my post). The state Senate committee that oversaw the audit found four areas of concern:
  • The state’s insufficient oversight of homeland security planning by cities, towns and the state’s agencies and authorities;
  • The state’s failure to provide first responders with the proper means to protect against terrorist activity and natural disasters;
  • The state’s inadequate communication of the statewide strategy; and
  • The state’s unsuccessful implementation of its homeland security plan.

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