Last modified: Thursday, July 13, 2006
Expert comments on the DHS database of potential terrorist targets
July 13, 2006
EDITOR'S NOTE: A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security found serious flaws in its database of potential terrorist targets collected by states. Charles Wise, a professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, addresses the problems with this database.
A petting zoo and doughnut shop were included in the Department of Homeland Security's latest list of structures most vulnerable to terror attacks. The list includes a variety of vulnerable sites across the country with Indiana listing the most.
Charles Wise, a professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, says the database has problems.
"The Department of Homeland Security is mandated to prepare the national database of critical infrastructure and key resources to serve as a key component of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan," Wise says. "As part of this plan, DHS asked states to identify their nationally significant assets in two different calls for data, but at the same time did not discourage them from submitting any asset. DHS included all the assets submitted in order to make the database as comprehensive as possible. States had considerable latitude in interpreting what DHS meant by a 'nationally critical asset.' Some states submitted assets they knew were critical to the state but were not sure about their national importance, and some did not. The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security found the lack of guidance on whether questionable categories of assets should be included led to significant variations in submissions and decreases the value of comparison across the states. The states' unfamiliarity with identifying critical infrastructure and key resources and DHS's lack of direction contributed to the poor quality of the data.'
"So some states, such as Indiana, in interpreting the call for critical infrastructure and key resources, submitted a lot of assets and erred on the side of being as inclusive as possible, and other states were more conservative in their submissions and probably left out assets that do have national significance.
"The Department of Homeland Security has been under a lot of pressure from Congress to meet deadlines for completing plans such as the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which still has not been issued in final form, and the department has had to put into the field untested methodologies by trial and error in order to try to meet these mandates. They have not gone through the stage of assessing the states' submissions and refining their approach. They will have to do this if the database and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan are to be of any real use in improving Homeland Security. The NIPP is just one of the plans that the Department is mandated to issue but is still not completed. The problematic experiences of the federal government and the states during the response to Katrina is forcing major rethinking and revision of such plans, and the Department at this point is severely stretched."
Wise's research and teaching interests focus on public organizations and management, public law, and democratization in comparative politics and administration. His study of the adaptive management approach in relation to the Department of Homeland Security and its emergency response planning was recently published in the Public Administration Review. A PDF version of his study can be found here: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2006.00587.x
Wise is available for media questions and interviews. Please call 928-226-9847 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.