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Tragedy struck the United States in the year 2001 when religious extremists commandeered commercial airplanes to destroy the World Trade Center. The horrific aftermath of September 11 compelled government officials to develop a new agency equipped to handle terror threats. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) was the byproduct of the said process. As it was, the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina made it necessary to expand the scope and mandate of DHS. Thus, the DHS is an agency that assists law enforcement agencies in fighting terror and mitigating the impact of natural and man-made calamities. Nevertheless, the unintended consequence is confusion in the failure to define the form and function of the DHS. The clarification comes in understanding the mission, role, duties, and responsibilities of the DHS.
One year after September 11 changed the way people view religious extremists, the United States Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Homeland Security, 2017). The passage of the law paved the way for the establishment of the DHS as a stand-alone department directly under the supervision of the Office of the President (Homeland Security, 2017). The DHS’s mission was defined as “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage from attacks that do occur” (McElreath, 2014, p.169). After Hurricane Katrina, this mission was amended to include a pledge to secure the homeland from terrorism and other hazards (Homeland Security, 2017).
Role and Responsibilities of DHS
The Department of Homeland Security was created to spearhead an umbrella organization dedicated to the establishment of security schemes designed to discourage attacks against American soil (Nemeth, 2013). Also, the DHS was established to play a critical role in managing the coordinated response of different agencies. When the DHS became operational in 2003, at least 20 government agencies were incorporated into the homeland security framework, such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and the Transportation Security Agency.
From the above-mentioned statement, one can deduce that the responsibilities of the said department revolve around the mandate of homeland protection. Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of the DHS, outlined four critical responsibilities of her department: 1) lead a concerted effort geared towards prevention and preparedness in the context of terror threats and natural hazards; 2) secure the U.S. borders including air and seaports; 3) facilitate legal immigration while cracking down on violators; and 4) lead the process of developing a more urgent sense of readiness (Homeland Security, 2017).
The aforementioned role, mission, and responsibilities are like broad strokes in a canvas that attempts to illustrate the expected form and function of DHS. A deeper understanding of these concepts requires a rundown of the duties of DHS. The DHS’s numerous and wide-ranging duties include terrorism prevention and security enhancement within the U.S. borders. Furthermore, the department must communicate leadership roles and strengthen accountability systems in the context of managing more than 20 government agencies (McElreath, 2014). Also, the DHS must consolidate efforts geared towards preparedness and in response to major disasters and emergencies (McElreath, 2014) Finally, DHS is duty-bound to provide situational assessment in the aftermath of catastrophic events.
Working With and Supporting Law Enforcement Partners
The best way to describe how the DHS works with and supports law enforcement partners is to point out the impact of the Homeland Security Information Network (“HSIN”). The HSIN is a secure website that enables “law enforcement officers to share information and collaborate on issues that pertain to homeland security” (Oliver, 2014, p.100). The HSIN platform provides a 24-hour virtual meeting place for members of the intelligence community, emergency first responders groups, and law enforcers for them to work together regardless of their location (Oliver, 2014). The HSIN justifies the creation of the DHS because the ability to share information and to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies makes it easier to protect the United States from terrorists. This platform also ensures efficient communication in response to a catastrophic event like the destruction of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
DHS’s form and function are understood in the context of terrorism prevention and security enhancement goals. However, it is also imperative to expand the scope of the department’s mandate to include the need to develop a coordinated and comprehensive response with regards to the impact of natural disasters or man-made emergencies that affect towns and large territories. Although clarity was achieved after a detailed description of the mission, role, responsibilities, and duties of the DHS, doubts remain with regard to the capability of the department to coordinate and manage the expected output of more than 20 government agencies under its control. It is prudent to hope for greater unity and efficiency considering the complicated nature of the interconnection of different government organizations. The Department of Homeland Security can accomplish more with the development of practical solutions like the collaboration and communication advantage brought about by the HSIN website.
McElreath, D. (2014). Introduction to homeland security. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
Nemeth, C. (2013). Homeland security: An introduction to principles and practice. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
Oliver, W. (2014). Introduction to homeland security. Hoboken, New Jersey: Jones and Bartlett.
The Department of Homeland Security. (2017). About DHS. Web.