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On September 11, 2001, devastating attacks on the United States by the Islamic extremist group called the Al Qaeda made the nation to come to grips with reality. Since these attacks were well planned, the historic occurrence triggered the need for the establishment of a more reinforced network of homeland security and consequence management in the country.
Consequently, the sorrowful event resulted in major policy changes that were aimed at enhancing organization and cooperative information sharing within the different government agencies in the country. Even though this effort is still progressing since the historic occurrence, the new system is a milestone improvement towards combating terrorist threats in the twenty first century. This paper demonstrates the concepts of homeland security and consequence management in the U.S.
When most people hear the word terrorism, it makes them to be afraid since they relate it to violent unacceptable behavior in the society. It is important to note that humankind has practiced different kinds of terrorism since the very beginning of recorded history. Despite being practiced for a long time, the term terrorism is still not easy to define. Nonetheless, the Department of Defense defines it as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”1 These violent activities have made many kingdoms to fall, rise, and others have ended up exerting undue authority on the less powerful kingdoms.
Currently, because of the prevalence of terrorist acts that has made the condition of this world to be unsteady, more leaders of the world are increasingly paying more attention to countering terrorism. This is for the reason that a simple terrorism incidence is able to lead to loss of close ties between two or more nations.
As an example, the Israelis and the Palestinians most of the time take part in endless fighting because of unresolved religious convictions and territorial conflicts. Terrorism is exhibited in the form of disagreements with neighboring countries, bombings of nations, kidnappings and hostage-takings, armed attacks and assassinations, arsons and firebombing, hijacking and skyjackings, bioterrorism, and cyber terrorism.
Current threats to the U.S. environment
After 9/11, global efforts to counter terrorism have been intensified. However, most countries of the world, including the U.S., are still at risk of getting attacks from emerging as well as evolving terrorist groups.2 Despite the intensive efforts that have been aimed at interrupting and restraining al Qaeda’s ability of plotting an attack, the U.S. is still susceptible to attacks from this worldwide terror group.
This Islamic extremist terror group is driven by a never-ending strategic intention of causing major destruction to the U.S. and its citizens in different places around the world. As much as earlier military campaigns in the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq weakened the influence of the terror group, many of its top leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, are still at large.
Therefore, the possibility of them planning another attack on the U.S. is still high. Al Qaeda also collaborates with other dreaded terror groups around the world in order to carry out its mission. These include al Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamic extremist groups around the world.
In addition, other groups and individuals are also prepared to use terror in order to wreak havoc against the U.S. Among these is the Lebanese Hezbollah. This terror group is continuing to issue threats to U.S. citizens both locally as well as overseas. The country is also not immune to the development of small groups composed of home-based Islamic extremists.
These groups are especially dangerous since they consider the use of violence within the borders of the country as justifiable in defense of their rights. Other local terror groups consists of the white supremacist organizations and animal rights extremists.
It is also significant to note that the U.S. is also under the threat of the occurrence of natural disasters, which can lead to wanton destruction all over the country. Contagious diseases that occur naturally put the lives of Americans at risk. Not long ago, Americans had to deal with the effects of Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and H1N1 virus, which resulted in major economic and social disruptions around the country.
Natural catastrophes, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, are meteorological and geological dangers that the country sometimes has to deal with. Finally, the last category of threats includes disastrous accidents and other hazards. Industrial hazards as well as infrastructural failures fall into this category. The spillage of toxic chemicals such as the deepwater horizon oil spill that took place on April 20, 2010, and the collapse of buildings across the country pose a great danger to the citizens of U.S.
Major post 9/11 initiatives in homeland security
In the nineteenth century, the federal government’s response to emergencies was unplanned and involved the use of the military. This was for the reason that there was no established institutionalized emergency relief program.
During World War I, the American army instituted an emergency relief program mainly as a military response action plan. From then on, different American leaders have continued to lay more emphasis on issues of homeland security in order to make the country as secure as possible from internal as well as external interference.
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On November 25, 2002, the United States Department of Homeland Security was established with the clear objective of protecting the territory of the country from attacks due to terrorism as well as enacting suitable response strategies to manage the occurrence of natural catastrophes. In this regard, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is mandated to come up with appropriate initiatives of preparing, preventing, and managing the occurrence of domestic catastrophes, with special emphasis to acts of terrorism.
This major milestone improvement is considered as one of the integral government reorganization efforts in over five decades. As an umbrella term, homeland security came into the public limelight following the major American government restructuring in 2003, and it alludes to the security measures that are aimed at guarding the country from possible internal and external threats from the enemies of the great country.
Officially, it is defined as “the “concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.”3 The Federal Resource plan defines consequence management as the “measures taken to protect public health and safety, restore essential government services, and provide emergency relief to governments, businesses, and individuals affected by the consequences of terrorism.”4
The DHS, under the President’s proposal, was established in order to consolidate the different response plans into one workable unit for consequence management. Its formation led to the integration of the separate federal government incident response plans to form what is now called the Federal Incident Management Plan.
This major initiative guarantees timely responsive action in case of an emergency. This is because the Department is endowed with the responsibility of bringing together all the response efforts. Another major initiative in post 9/11 entails the establishment of a national incident management system.
The DHS communicates with other departments within the U.S. government in order to come up with a comprehensive national consequence management strategy. This is made possible by the establishment of standards of common terms used that ensure there is smooth flow of vital information in case of a disaster. The common terms are designed such that they are scalable regardless of the magnitude of the catastrophe.5
Major counter-terrorism efforts after 9/11
A number of counter-terrorism efforts were intensified after the unfortunate events that took place on September 11.6 Counter-terrorism refers to the military or political initiatives, strategies, procedures, and other appropriate means established for the purpose of combating terrorism in the world.
These initiatives particularly became more practical after 9/11. To begin with, more emphasis has been put on identifying potential terrorists before they are able to carry out a planned attack. In most cases, after a terrorist act has occurred, it is made known to the public that the individual suspected of the crime had terrorist connections in the past.
This has usually raised questions why the person was left to live freely if he or she was having traceable terrorist connections in the past. When a potential terrorist is allowed to live freely, the possibility of him or her to plan for an attack is more likely. This is because the person will be at liberty to associate with his or her partners in crime so as to effectively arrange for an attack without much problems.
Currently, preventing terrorism strategies are aimed at establishing monitoring systems that have the ability of keeping track of individuals with suspected histories of terrorism, or probable connections to terror groups.7 In the United States, some departments within the government, such as the FBI have been endowed with this responsibility. The FBI monitors the movement and communication of potential terrorists who are on the list of suspected terrorists.
This strategy is beneficial since it can impair or do away with the possible communication between the potential terrorists and their accomplices. In this case, the activities of the suspect are simply monitored and he or she may be held on parole. Since the suspect is not considered a criminal, he or she is allowed to proceed living normally. Where the suspects live are most of the time searched thoroughly. This is meant to unlock any secrets of any plan to engage in terrorism in future.
Bioterrorism is one of the most dreaded types of terrorist acts since it is able to cause the loss of many innocent lives in a matter of minutes. All it takes is to have a terrorist having a little quantity of powdered anthrax or any other lethal chemical. The terrorist then accomplishes his or her mission by going to a busy place such as a football stadium to release the poisonous substance.
As the lethal substance spreads in the form of thin dust in the air, the outcome is catastrophic. The people around the place full of activity would inhale the toxic substance without knowing. This, if no timely appropriate response action is taken, can lead to massive loss of lives.
Countering such terrorist threats may be an uphill task. However, a number of preventive measures have been adopted that will make sure there is minimal loss of lives in case such a catastrophe takes place. In the United States, the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile is endowed with the responsibility of ensuring quick response to incidences of bioterrorism.
The program, managed jointly by DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services, augments the country’s pharmaceutical and vaccine stockpiles. To prevent mass casualty occurrence, the medical initiative has strategically positioned “Push Packs” across the country.
These have approximately six thousand tons of medical supplies, which can be conveyed to the scene of an incident in less than twelve hours. In case of biological warfare, the populace may be frightened at the invisible, odorless, and tasteless menace; therefore, a race against time to provide the victims with appropriate medication is beneficial in such a scenario.
The United States has sufficient preventive measures against incidences of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear detonation. To ensure that this preventive measure is realized, DHS usually undertakes certification process on a yearly basis.
The certification process is aimed at authenticating the ability of the state and local first respondents’ timely response to emergencies. Moreover, the Environment Protection Agency functions to disinfect the affected area in case of an attack and gives beneficial information to public health authorities when determining if the affected area is out of danger.
The economy of the United States relies on the appropriate use of digital information. The reliance on computer networks to provide fast connectivity has evolved a new form of terrorism called cyber terrorism. This form of terrorism gives terrorists the ability to fulfill their missions with minimal or no risk to themselves and to disrupt or destroy networks and computers, with destructive results. Consequently, government or business-related operations are usually impaired because of these fraudulent deals.
Cyber terrorists most of the time target the internet since it is what makes most of the world’s digital infrastructure. In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, several security experts are increasingly getting worried about the safety of the digital information assets in the U.S. Following the attacks, many hacking groups have been established.
Many of them usually take part in pro-U.S. and anti-U.S. cyber activities. These are mostly fought through web defacements. Therefore, the U.S. has enacted measures through developing strong vision and leadership aimed at transforming technology and polices in order to keep its digital infrastructure as safe as possible.
In this century, acts of terrorism are increasingly being revealed in new forms. Therefore, an effective counter-terrorism strategy that the U.S. has embraced is by having a specialized team with adequate training on appropriate techniques of fighting against kidnappings and hostage-takings.
As much as kidnapping is a difficult operation for terrorists to be successful in achieving, if successful, it can make the authorities to make compromising decisions in order to yield to the demands of the terrorists. Hostage taking takes place when terrorists seizure a facility taking hostages with them as human shields in order to provoke a confrontation with the authorities and attract media attention.
That is why the specialized team should be able to go into any place the hostages might be held to attempt carrying out a rescue mission. These include buildings, airplanes, or wherever the hostages might be held.
Since 9/11, every regime in the U.S. has been involved in efforts of averting the emergence of violent Islamic radicalization in the country since most terrorists usually arise from such groups.
Engaging key communities as partners in the fight against terrorism, identifying and countering the possible sources of Islamic radicalization, improving the ability of the governmental agencies to address radicalization issues, and enhancing the citizens understanding of radicalization, is applied to achieve this initiative. In addition, the U.S. is also involved in consultation efforts to limit too much use of military force in parts of the world that are prone to the emergence of such Islamic radical groups.
Throughout the history of terrorism, the use of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have not been very much common. These dangerous weapons are able to cause widespread destruction. In this century, some countries are taking part in arms races with their ‘enemies’ to acquire WMD.
This is because they view the acquisition of these weapons as a main restraint of attack by their neighbors who are usually ever ready for war. However, it is important to note that the increased development of WMD equally increases the possibility of their acquisition by terrorists.8 This is because unstable countries may lack the ability to protect their stores of WMD from accidental losses, illegal retailing, or burglary.
In addition, terrorists can also acquire these destructive weapons through secret independent research teams or by employing experienced people to develop for them these weapons. This calls for sufficient investment that is of essence in the efforts of enhancing the capability of sharing the sensitive information regarding the use of WMD.
The tragic events of 9/11 made the U.S. to realize that terrorist organizations are able to acquire and use WMD. In the aftermath of the attacks, some terror groups, such as al Qaeda, with radical ideologies, have demonstrated their interest of acquiring WMD to undertake mass casualty attacks in order to obtain worldwide recognition for their cause.
They consider the use of such weapons to be their religious obligation; thus, they have attempted to gain access to them in a number of occasions.9 The stakes involved in the propagation and illicit use of WMD has made the United States military to use forceful means to thwart their illegal use; for example, the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 was aimed at achieving this objective. 10
The movement of terrorists around the planet is closely monitored. As a strategy in the global War on Terror, measures have been put that are aimed at detecting, interrupting, and interdicting the unauthorized movements of terrorists and dangerous weapons from one part of the world to the other.
Most nations have improved their border security in order to prevent terrorists from exploiting legal entry points into the nations. Presently, every migrant entering the United States has to undergo a thorough check up in order to validate his or her adequacy of entering the nation. However, these strict border security efforts are not enough since the territory of the country is vast. Thus, to prevent illegal entry into the country through illicit pathways, the government has adopted the Secure Border Initiative.
This has been achieved through establishing a well-integrated system of individuals, machinery, and strategic communication systems aimed at easier identification and detection of illegal entries into the country. Moreover, scientific investigations are currently being carried out in order to develop next-generation technologies for close monitoring of the movement of terrorists around the globe.
The need to establish strict gun control measures was fuelled in the aftermath of 9/11. This counter-terrorism strategy limits the access of terrorist groups to dangerous weapons. Ultimately, the number of terrorist incidents will be lowered significantly. One way of achieving this is by having a considerable waiting period at gun shops. This is because potential terrorists or their accomplices may go into a gun show separately and purchase dangerous weapons to be used for producing widespread fear in innocent people.
In some places of the world, a close tie exists between one’s religion and politics; therefore, in such places, one is deemed a hero when he or she sacrifices his or her life on a suicide mission.11 This notion has escalated the number of suicide terrorist attacks in the world in this century, especially in hostile places such as the Middle East region and Somalia. For U.S. citizens travelling to such hostile areas, prevention is usually done by increasing their awareness of the threats that awaits them.
The U.S. government provides information to Americans regarding the activity of terrorist organizations in such areas. These include, but not limited to, the local populace’s attitude towards Americans, and the areas’ potential for violence.
Furthermore, Americans are advised to keep off from potentially dangerous destinations, maintain alertness, stay from suspicious looking individuals, acquaint themselves with emergency first aid equipment, use every means possible to avoid being identified as Americans, and promptly inform the authorities in case of any strange occurrence.
The infamous September 11 disaster was achieved by the use of civilian airplanes as assault vehicles to wreak havoc to the U.S. Such a happening has no precedent in the history of the airline industry. No one had ever imagined that terrorists could be able to hijack an airplane and use it to carry out an attack.
Following this strange occurrence, the confidence of several individuals concerning air travel was shaken. Some people even cancelled their trips to popular tourism destinations and others avoided places full of activity such as theme parks and big cities. Therefore, to prevent such disruption of life, major initiatives have been implemented.
These include, but not limited to, proper screening of all travelers, checking if the travelers are eligible to travel by reviewing their history, and questioning travelers who seem to be suspicious. Through these strategies, the airline industry is able to thwart the efforts of the terrorists’ use of airplanes as means of wreaking havoc in the world.
Despite the superb prevention and mitigation efforts that can be done in the War on Terror, terrorist attacks are sometimes inevitable. Therefore, the U.S. government has developed measures that are aimed at alleviating the effects of this disaster in case it takes place. Establishment of enhanced notification, alert, and warning systems, which are totally reliable, effective, and flexible are some strategies that the government has adopted to realize this.
Moreover, pre-incident alert and warning systems have been designed such that they are able to convey vital security information to Americans to any place they might be within the country. This warning system is also able to give situational updates and appropriate directions of movement to Americans even after an incident has taken place.
In the aftermath of September 11, the expectations of Americans concerning the federal government’s incident management plans has increased considerably, especially in a situation in which a domestic crisis of national significance has taken place. In such circumstances, the citizens expect it to accomplish its obligations, make minimal mistakes, and be both virtually omniscient and omnipotent.
Because of this endless public examination, the government’s consequence management plans have been intensified to avoid the mistakes that were done in pre 9/11. One of these improvements in consequence management entails appropriate passage of information from one place to another. As was evident during 9/11 attacks, communication breakdown usually take place in case of a terrorist attack and the public most of the time thirst for information.
As much as only few individuals can feel the physical impacts of the disaster, the rest of the people may be afraid of being the next victims. This is what causes the thirst for information. Therefore, the public expects the government to provide them with the vital information that is needed in such times.
In effective management of a complex national emergency, the statements of the president and those of high-ranked government officials are carefully calculated to avoid possible deaths and loss of public confidence. In most situations, it has been observed that the initial reports are not true. In addition, the public usually demand for information much faster than the officials of the government are able to give.
Because of these facts, most of the consequence management that is practiced in the United States in the first hours of a disaster is aimed at providing the President together with some high-ranked government officials with accurate information.
This is because they are usually on the spot in situations whereby emergencies of national significance have taken place and, more so, they are expected by the public to deliver correct information when making a nationwide address on the issue in the first news cycle after an emergency.
In a situation in which a nuclear weapon has exploded in a city in the United States, measures have been put in place to ensure that as many lives as possible are saved through immediate evacuation of the affected individuals.
Because of the immense effects of the detonation, such as thermal radiation and nuclear radiation, not so much can be done to save the lives of those within the immediate vicinity of the blast. Nonetheless, protection of people in such circumstances can be achieved by moving them to another place before they get into direct contact with the dangerous radioactive materials.
The U.S. army played a vital role in the country’s response to September 11 attacks. That is why the government has launched plans to enable the military to assist civil authorities in case of an emergency. The military have been mandated to give technical assistance to law enforcement authorities, assist in restoration of law and order, and lend specialized equipment as initiatives in consequence management.
To increase the chances of saving more lives in case of a terrorist attack, DHS is involved in efforts of planning and expanding volunteers called Citizen Corps. The volunteers are effectively trained and equipped with essential skills of detecting possible terrorist incidences and responding accordingly to prevent further damages from taking place.
The increased terrorist threat on the U.S. has made the federal government to offer more funding targeted at training more first responders. However, since the country’s program for training first responders is increasingly being strained, the government is involved in efforts of developing a national training and evaluation program aimed at meeting the growing demand.12
Since the turn of the century, terrorist threats against the U.S. have escalated to unprecedented levels. Amidst these hard times, the great nation has responded with courage and now it is safer, stronger, and even more prepared to face the issues that threaten its very principles of democracy.
Nonetheless, since the country is safer, but not completely safe, a significant number of challenges are still lying ahead. That is why the American government has implemented several strategies aimed at ensuring that the lifestyle of the residents proceeds normally without undue interruption.
Because of the fact that the country is not immune to terrorist attacks and several terrorist organizations have shown relentless determination to cause havoc in the country, it is prepared to protect its critical resources as well as promptly act in response to emergencies that take place on its soil.
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1 United States Marine Corps. Individual’s Guide for Understanding and Surviving Terrorism (New York: Cosimo Publications, 2007), 1.
2 Stephen D. Biddle. “American Grand Strategy after 9/11: An assessment,” Strategic Studies Institute, 2005.
3 George W. Bush, “Overview of America’s National Strategy for Homeland Security.” National Strategy for Homeland Security, 2007.
4 Jane A. Bullock and others. Introduction to homeland security, (Burlington: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006), 613.
5 The Department of Homeland Security. United States Department of Homeland Security handbook. (Washington: International Business publications, 2006), 41-42.
6 Boone Bartholomees. National Security Policy and strategy. (Washington: Department of National Security and Strategy, 2008), 99-112.
7 Elaine Bunn, “Preemptive action: what, how, and to what effect?” Strategic forum 1, no. 200 (2003), 1-7 .
8 The White House. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, Global Security, 2002.
9 George P. Schultz, An Essential War-ousting Saddam was the only option. The Wall Street Journal. 1997.
10 Harry R. Yarger. “Strategic theory for the 21st century: The little Book on the Big Strategy,” Strategic Studies Institute, 2006.
11 James F. Miskel, Disaster response and homeland security: what works, what doesn’t (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006), 44.
12 Philip Purpura, Security and loss prevention: an introduction. (Burlington, MA : Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008), 480.