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National risk management, upgraded. From the governmental approaches to terrorism, to a national responsibility plan


 When events such as terrorist attacks arise, what is often brought to light is the vulnerability of targets, together with the ineffectiveness of governmental authorities, both of these contributing to the large number of victims and to alienating entire nations and governments. What remains is the bitter taste of defeat, of mistrust, increased insecurity and fear.

There are many aspects under which terrorist actions are similar to natural disasters. What sets them apart is that, firstly, they are actions committed under a specific purpose, meaning that life and rescue operations must interfere as little as possible with ongoing investigations and, lastly, terrorist attacks involve large numbers of responders led by law officers and army forces. The difference here, however, is that the main roles of operations’ leaders are to capture the perpetrators, not to participate in life-saving actions. This may contrast with the public’s expectancies, of how such an event should be tackled.

However, what many fail to understand is that, the same way a war cannot be won without allies, a terrorist attack cannot be prevented if it lacks the engagement of corporations, both private and state-owned, communities and individuals.

Following the 9/11 attack on New York, a massive wave of public insecurity and disbelief in the government’s security policies hit the US. This, in turn, mobilized the largest reorganization process within the US federal government. Massive investments were shifted from social, or economic programs to the Homeland Security Department (HSD).

What ensued was a quantifiable amount of work put into developing plans designed to counter any threat coming from within, or outside, the USA. However, the first draft of plans, released in 2004, focused mainly on the aftermath of eventual disasters, but completely ignored the preparedness and prevention aspects. For example, out of the 15 drafted plans, as explained by William L. Waugh in “The Disaster Handbook,” 12 involved terrorist attacks. The dimensions of disaster with greater focus were:

  • Number of expected casualties (deaths, injured, hospitalized);
  • Damage to infrastructure;
  • Economic impact;
  • Time of recovery.

What these point out to is the unfortunate reality that the government was preparing to react to an event that had already occurred, rather than trying to prevent it from ever happening again. However, terrorist attacks in Madrid, in 2004, and in London, in 2005, revealed the vulnerability of certain areas, such as public gathering places, national borders, or facilities like airports and schools, which needed enhanced monitoring and control.

Thus, a decade later, in 2014, the new Homeland Security’s Quadrennial Review focused mostly on proactive measures, rather than reactive, especially when the terrorist threat is taken into consideration. The five main missions, identified by the department and specified in the report, are:

  • Prevent terrorism and enhance security;
  • Secure and manage our borders;
  • Enforce and administer our immigration laws;
  • Safeguard and secure cyberspace;
  • Strengthen national preparedness and resilience.

“National risk management” is what the Homeland Security Department is calling its mission today, as they strive to “emphasize on those actions and interventions that reduce the greatest amount of strategic risk to the nation,” as stated in the report.

The first mission, prevent terrorism an enhance security, is considered to be a top priority for national security. Under this perspective, efforts have spread from authorities to local, territorial, non-governmental, private-sector partners, in addition to individuals, families and communities. As mentioned, it is only through a widespread network of individuals, corporate and institutional organizations that this specific threat can be prevented, reduced, or even eliminated.

By working on such a massive cooperative basis, the expected results are to:

Expand risk-based security

Points out to the importance of moving away from a standardized security approach, a “one-size-fits-all”, towards a more informed and intelligence driven approach. To this purpose, the government appealed to third-party sources to aid it in meticulous processes, such as airport luggage screening.

Focus on countering violent extremism and Helping to prevent complex mass casualty attacks

Under this aspects, the HSD focuses on training and equipping local communities, citizens and institutions to become “frontline law enforcement partners,” meaning that, by instilling them a certain amount of knowledge and reaction control, then tactics, behaviors and indicators of violent extremism can be prematurely detected and, ideally, suffocated.

Reduce vulnerabilities by denying resources and targets

Preventive measures that protect vulnerable locations such as rails, or market places, have extended to such a length that they now include restrictions imposed on chemicals manufacturers, for example, who are obliged to share information regarding materials which can be used to create explosives. Further measures consider the research of next-generation technology and the perils these enclose (i.e. wireless technology can be used to detonate explosives).

Uncover patterns and faint signals through enhanced data integration and analysis

Also referred to as “the Big Data challenge,” this measure is split in half: on the one side, it aims to efficiently and effectively filter potential threats out of the massive amount of information existent on today’s networks. On the other hand, the initiative relays on these same networks to work to the people’s advantage, meaning that they connect the citizen, to the community, to the organization, to the institute, and all the way up to the highest authorities.

What these national risk management plans point to, basically, is that fighting for a country’s, or even the world’s security is not a single government’s responsibility anymore. Quickly escalating conflicts worldwide and the events which have damaged the image of what we regarded as security, heighten the need to re-evaluate the way we perform risk management, from individual level, to corporate and even to national level.


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