APEX 2013 Addresses Familiar, New Threats
Homeland security practitioners are facing ever-emerging threats to be combated with ever-dwindling resources.
That was the message from the 2013 Center for Homeland Defense and Security APEX Continuing Education Workshop. The Feb. 20-21 event that drew more than 120 alumni to the Naval Postgraduate School’s Barbara McNitt Ballroom further delved into the future of homeland security in what is likely a permanently changed fiscal environment.
The first day featured keynote speaker Tim Manning, FEMA Deputy Administrator for Protection and National Preparedness, who lauded attendees for their commitment to the betterment of the homeland security enterprise. Dr. Seth Jones of the Center’s faculty outlined terrorism threats to urban and rural areas of the United States while Dr. Jerry Jaax discussed biological dangers. Also on the agenda: Alumnus Tracy Frazzano addressed attendees on active shooter threats, Stan McKinney discussed security concerns of local and state officials, Bernard Melekian, Director of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) talked about the future of public safety in an austere budget environment. Alumni Brenda Heck, who heads security for the Walt Disney Co., and Rick Braziel, retired chief of the Sacramento (Calif.) Police Department were featured "alumni innovators."
The first day provided a stark reminder of the roots of homeland security. Greatly diminished but not wholly defeated, al-Qaida remains a threat with global reach into both urban and rural areas of the United States, said Dr. Seth Jones of the CHDS faculty.
While the core al-Qaida brain trust hiding out in Pakistan has seen its leadership killed and weakened, its franchise affiliates based in Yemen and North Africa along with any number of like-minded organizations continue to view America as a valuable, even vulnerable, target.
"The United States will remain a major target of al-Qaida and its affiliates over the next several years," Jones said.
Al-Qaida and allied groups have come very close to a successful attack in the U.S. – from the "underwear" bomber in 2009 and Najibullah Zazi’s plot to conduct suicide attacks in the New York City subway system in 2009 to more recent plots such as the 2010 attempted Times Square bombing.
The latter cases illustrate how terrorism is not confined to the nation’s populated urban areas: The New York subway plotter was building bombs in the suburban Denver city of Aurora to avoid detection. And Times Square bomber Faisal Shazzadd built his ill-fated device in neighboring Connecticut.
"What we’re seeing is that this is not just an urban, metropolitan problem," Jones said. "This also hits rural America."
While Jones provided an unsettling assessment of terrorism, Dr. Jerry Jaax discussed how old Cold War biological weapon schemes could be returning to fashion in terrorism circles. Jaax, vice president of Research Compliance and university veterinarian at Kansas State University, said one concern is non-governmental organizations harnessing the power of biological weapons or looting them from governments such as Syria where the regime is under siege.
Such threats can come as smallpox in humans, foot and mouth disease in food-producing livestock or plant disease that affects food supply. Biological agents can be applied to weaponry, but that takes advanced expertise. However, a biological weapon doesn’t necessarily need to be placed on a missile or homemade bomb to be effective.
"There’s so many different types of pathogens and ways they can affect us, it is difficult to counter," Jaax said. "You can’t have a silver bullet that would protect against all these types of agent."
Another emerging concern is laboratory-developed viruses that could be used in a terrorist-style attack. Jaax related how researchers at State University of New York at Stony Brook were able to develop a strain of polio virus in three years. His concern is what would happen should adversaries be able to develop viruses that could overpower modern vaccines.
"That capability is a very significant problem within the defense community," Jaax said.
Add to those dangers the prospect of looming budget cuts and the strides made in battling terrorism and emergency management would be weakened, said Stan McKinney, director of the Center’s Executive Education Programs.
"I think it’s ever-more challenging to maintain that balance and maintain the levels of preparedness we want to accomplish," McKinney said.
That was echoed by Melekian, who reported how fiscal constraints have diminished law enforcement – 12,000 officers were laid off from 2009-2011 and 35,000 positions have been left unfilled during that time. In response, departments are increasingly relying on technology, volunteers and in some areas regional consolidation, Melekian said.
Accompanying the economic downturn have been changes in "the nature of harm," with concerns such as prescription drug abuse and cyber-security eclipsing previous priorities, along with a changing national demographic and shifting perceptions of law enforcement officers.
During his keynote address, Manning said that as FEMA conforms to a new budget reality, he would continue to place a high priority on education and training. The agency is close to implementing a National Training and Education System, based on the requirements and frameworks from Presidential Policy Directive 8, National Preparedness.
He implored attendees to keep that directive in mind and use the education they have attained to improve homeland security and emergency management.
"You all represent a growing alumni cadre that is really driving the future of homeland security, Manning said. "Remember why you came here in the first place; continue to ask why we do what we do and if there are better ways to do it."
For comprehensive coverage of the APEX Continuing Education Workshop, see the spring 2013 edition of Watermark, the alumni magazine of CHDS, to be distributed in April.