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Homeland Security: A needs assessment, Part 1 of a 2-part series

The State of Preparedness

In June 2003, the International Association of Chiefs of Police announced the results of their Homeland Security Preparedness Survey. The survey, sponsored by ITT Industries, was sent to more than 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies i .The results were not surprising; nine out of ten law enforcement agencies did not feel they were adequately prepared to prevent or respond to a terrorist event. Moreover, police officers across the nation identified weak interagency communication and lack of specialized equipment and training among the most pressing issues.

It is not just police officers who feel unprepared. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released a report that said 44% of the cities surveyed had responded to a multi-agency incident within the last twelve months and found that a lack of interagency communication made operations difficult. 88% reported they lacked interoperability with federal Homeland Security agencies ii .

Although it is clear that emergency personnel are lacking in our preparedness, not all of the information is negative. For instance, a recent a survey of city and county managers revealed that spending on communications, equipment and training is increasing. However, in order to increase our ability to prevent and/or respond to terrorist incidents we must begin to conduct a systematic analysis of the threat iii . In other words, our current state of preparedness will not increase until we have a way to analyze the threats, targets and our needs. A technique that can facilitate our journey to preparedness is "Needs Assessment."

Needs Assessment

Needs Assessment is a type of action research that looks at the difference between "what is" and "what should be." Although a Needs Assessment is a formal, systematic way of discovering our weaknesses and planning for the future, it is something we do informally throughout the day. Making a list for the grocery store is a simple Needs Assessment. What is in the panty and what you want to cook give you an idea of what you need from the store. However, an understanding of how to conduct a formal Needs Assessment can be critical for the emergency planner, especially one that intends to seek grant monies to fulfill unmet needs.

In the arena of preparedness, a Needs Assessment begins with an analysis of what could happen. What are the potential terrorist targets in your jurisdiction? This is a creative process that calls for us to imagine what terrorists could do. However, "a distinction might be made between the fantastical imagination and the practical imagination. Over the years, terrorists have shown themselves to be disturbingly practical and resourceful, putting mundane tools like traditional explosives and airplanes to terrible use iv ." As an example, is it more practical to plan for terrorists detonating a nuclear device in a small town or to plan for terrorist using conventional explosives on a tanker truck containing poisonous gas? Both are possible, but which is more likely?

Outcome and Probabilities

Through this process we begin to identify potential terrorist targets. Once potential targets are identified the planner should then begin to assess the current state of the target and the jurisdiction's ability to strengthen or protect it. An analysis of current ability leads to an analysis of what is lacking.

Typically, once targets are examined and analyzed, they are then ranked according to their level of riskv . By risk we mean a combination of the probability that an event will happen combined with the potential outcome. One method of ranking risk is through the use of a 2X2 matrix, which may give us a helpful way to rank and prioritize our resources and planning.

Consider that a potential incident with a high outcome and high probability of occurrence would be ranked over a potential incident with low outcome and low probability. Take a moment and classify the detonation of a nuclear device in a small town. It would be a high outcome, yet low probability event and therefore a moderate risk. The chemical tanker explosion might be considered both high outcome and high probability, making it a high risk. Once ranked, the locations are evaluated as to their current state and then their needs to bring them to a full state of preparedness vi .

All-Hazards Model

The All-Hazards Model of emergency preparedness was developed by the National Governor's Association during the 1970s vii . Essentially, All-Hazards is a planning model which considers mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery as a total planning package. As first responders and emergency planners, if we view planning for terrorism as All-Hazards planning we stand to reap greater benefits. This requires that we view "counterterrorism as part of general emergency preparedness and response."

By doing so, emergency planners and first responders can use their resources to prepare for the remote possibility of a terrorist attack and prepare for the more likely disasters such as tornados, fires, floods and earthquakes iii . For example, your response to a hazardous material spill, whether intentional or accidental, is going to be remarkably similar. There is a distinct difference between traditional All-Hazards planning and the incorporation of terrorism into emergency planning. While response is similar to an accidental chemical spill and an intentionally explored chemical truck, prevention can be significantly different.

At certain points planning for terrorism may be somewhat different from general emergency planning because we are thinking in terms of preventing terrorism by making it more difficult to complete an attack and by disrupting terrorist activities through law enforcement. Even so, as you begin to examine the needs for each location it is very likely that combining our counterterrorism efforts with general emergency planning with give us greater insights. Moreover, this comprehensive approach to Needs Assessment and emergency planning works well with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Integrated Emergency Management System ix .

Read Part 2.


i Galloway, G. (2004). Tools to help educate state and local officials. The Police Chief, 71(1)
ii Howle, E. (2004). Surveys track security funds, communication. American City and County, 119(9) 10-12
iii Homeland Security (2004). American City and County. 119(3), 4-6
iv Shadel, B., Chen, J., Newkirk, R., Lawrence, S. Clements, B. & Evans, R. (2001). Bioterrorism risk perceptions and educational needs of public health professionals before and after September 11, 2001: A national needs survey. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 10(4), 282-290.
v Kemp, R. (2004). Homeland security: suggestions from the best practices in America. Contemporary Review. 284(1660), 257-265.
vi Ibid
vii Waugh, W. (2000). Living with hazards dealing with disasters. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, New York
viii Shadel, B., Chen, J., Newkirk, R., Lawrence, S. Clements, B. & Evans, R. (2001). Bioterrorism risk perceptions and educational needs of public health professionals before and after September 11, 2001: A national needs survey. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 10(4), 282-290.
ix Kemp, R. (2004).

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