EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – September 24, 2003

What's Up in Pennsylvania?
An Assessment of Homeland Security Initiatives

Louise K. Comfort, Ph. D.
Professor of Public and International Affairs
University of Pittsburgh

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: On behalf of the EIIP Virtual Forum, welcome! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are delighted to see you in our audience today.

Today's topic is "What's Up In Pennsylvania? An Assessment of Homeland Security Initiatives," based on a recent report from the Century Foundation. If you have not read the full report, it is available at http://www.tcf.org/publications/homeland_security/kettlpapers/comfort.pdf .

It is a pleasure to introduce our speaker for this session. A long-time friend of the EIIP Virtual Forum, Dr. Louise K. Comfort is a Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches in the field of organizational theory and policy design. She is Principal Investigator, Interactive, Intelligent, Spatial Information System (IISIS) Project, 1994-present: http://www.iisis.pitt.edu;. She has done field research on organizational response and information processes in disaster operations following fourteen earthquakes in ten nations.

She is currently Co-principal Investigator for the "Secure CITI (Critical Information Technology System)" with Daniel Mosse and Rami Melhem, computer scientists at the University of Pittsburgh. The system will be built in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Region over the next five years and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Welcome, Louise! We thank you for once again sharing with the EIIP Virtual Forum. Louise, I now turn the floor over to you, please.


Louise Comfort: This presentation examines the current state of policy and practice regarding homeland security in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It focuses on four main issues:

- Current initiatives/trends shaping policy around homeland security;

- Coordination within and among participating jurisdictions;

- Money to support new security initiatives in a deficit economy; and

- Successes that have been achieved to date.

The challenge to public policy makers responsible for homeland security in metropolitan regions lies in recognizing the limits of their capacity to control a complex, dynamic public environment. This recognition compels them to build networks of collaboration and coordination with other agencies and organizations to detect threats and respond effectively to danger.

This task requires skills of observation, communication, analysis, and integration that differ markedly from the traditional administrative skills of managing financial accounts and directing personnel performance.

Uncertainty in political, economic, social, and cultural conditions at state, national and international levels creates the potential for destabilizing actions intended to cause deliberate harm. Deliberate threats to security in metropolitan regions may not be isolated events, but represent a larger scheme intended to harm the nation or its global partners. Measures taken to reduce threats to security in metropolitan regions need to be set within a larger framework of action for maintaining security in a wider state and national context.

That brings us to "What's Up in Pennsylvania." Seven major trends or decisions are shaping policy around homeland security in Pennsylvania. They include:

- Shift to regional management of risk through nine designated counterterrorism task forces;

- Commitment to improve equipment, training for first responders;

- Budget shortfall in the Commonwealth;

- Search for common understanding of homeland security;

- Problems in coordination and communication among responsible agencies and groups; and

- Systematic review of communications, information infrastructure needed to support emergency response.

Responsibility for managing risk to Pennsylvania communities has shifted significantly from municipal and county jurisdictions to the nine regional counterterrorism task forces that include the 67 counties and 2,566 municipalities of Pennsylvania. This shift in jurisdictional responsibility was not sudden, but rather built on three prior initiatives that acknowledged a growing threat from wider, regional sources of potential harm that have evolved since 1998.

Map of Region Task Forces

These strategies of assessing risk and developing preparedness and response capacity, however, were initiated in response to different types of threat and have contributed to the evolution of different perspectives regarding the most effective means to enhance domestic security within the Commonwealth. These initiatives include:

- The Weapons of Mass Destruction training and education program for emergency responders initiated in 1998;

- The Y2K preparedness efforts in 1998-1999 to protect computational infrastructure that served not only public agencies, but also private and nonprofit organizations that perform vital commercial and community services;

- The West Nile Virus monitoring and tracking system implemented in 2000-2001 that involved health, agriculture and environmental protection agencies in a systematic effort to locate and identify sources of contamination from the disease, as well as to provide valid information to the public regarding protection from the disease; and

- Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1569 to address counterterrorism preparedness and planning.

The traumatic events of September 11, 2001 crystallized the awareness of danger from deliberate attacks throughout the Commonwealth, an awareness that was felt most keenly in the emergency response community. The crash of United Airlines Flight #93 in a field in Somerset County underscored the need for review and revision of domestic security plans and capacity for response to damaging events in Pennsylvania.

The deployment of Pennsylvania's Urban Search and Rescue Team #1 to support the World Trade Center disaster operations in New York City, as well as the service of hundreds of emergency personnel from the state in support roles to their New York City counterparts in disaster operations, created vivid exposure to the reality of deliberate destruction and the damaging consequences for the entire region for many Pennsylvanians. These events focused immediate attention on domestic security in Pennsylvania, and the risks to which first responders were exposed.

Prior to September 11, 2001, there existed a significant tension between the emergency management community and the small, but significant group that represents the intelligence and analysis approach toward hazard reduction. This tension has continued in the public debate over strategies for homeland security. The emergency management community set as its first, and clearest, priority, the upgrade of equipment and training for first responders, that is, police, fire and emergency medical personnel at the municipal level. This approach counts emergency personnel from hundreds of volunteer fire departments, police departments and municipal managers in the state among its supporters.

The intelligence community had equally clearly identified its first priority as a functioning, statewide communications system, with wide bandwidth and distributed information sharing among agencies within jurisdictions as well as between jurisdictions. This approach is supported by business organizations, particularly those engaged in technology development, research institutions, and nonprofit foundations that have funded technical demonstrations such as the Green Pittsburgh and Digital Rivers projects.

The capacity to implement significant changes in training and preparedness activities for homeland security has been seriously curtailed by a major budget shortfall in the Commonwealth. Plans were essentially put on hold, as months went by with little distribution of federal funds to support the recommended state actions. The homeland security agenda for the state began to falter for several reasons.

First, the slow economy resulted in a major shortfall of tax revenues for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Second, the expected federal funding arrived very late in the state. On June 23, 2003, more than twenty months after the terrorist attacks, the state received a transfer of $14 million for homeland security related programs. This funding provided welcome support to state efforts but until that time, little action had been taken. Since June, an additional $6 million in federal funds has been received for emergency management and related activities.

Budget deficits mounted for county and municipal jurisdictions, as existing security measures were threatened by pressing demands for daily services. Funding has been, and remains, a major issue for enhancing security in the Commonwealth. The scarcity of funding available for domestic security initiatives from federal and state sources has fostered a continuing debate over priorities for action.

The dynamic character of threats to security has triggered a debate regarding where the locus of authority for emergency preparedness should lie among the jurisdictions. The emergency management community asserts that the locus of authority in the definition of tasks and implementation of security measures should lie at the municipal level. The intelligence community, however, is most interested in the development of a comprehensive view of threat across the Commonwealth. The managers want to determine what is the "big picture" in order to allocate scarce resources most effectively throughout a varied and complex set of jurisdictions in the Commonwealth. This tension was formally resolved with the enactment of PA Senate Bill 1569, naming PEMA as the lead agency for developing a counterterrorism preparedness and response plan for the Commonwealth.

When Tom Ridge left the Governor's Office in Harrisburg on October 6, 2001 to become the director of the Office of Homeland Security reporting directly to President George W. Bush, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker became governor of Pennsylvania. Governor Schweiker quickly appointed a task force composed of members representing state and local agencies to assess the current state of preparedness in Pennsylvania and identify the most urgent preparedness needs for action. The Task Force on Security submitted its report to Governor Schweiker on November 19,2001. The Task Force reviewed the major areas of state action in reference to security, and offered a set of recommendations to the Governor for enhancing the state's performance on security issues. The recommendations can be grouped into four basic categories:

- Improving emergency response;

- Detecting and responding to attacks - chemical, biological, or cyber;

- Integrating radio communications systems; and

- Training, education, and outreach.

In 2002, the Schweiker Administration developed plans based on the above priorities, but due to a range of difficulties, including lack of funding, little action was taken. In January 2003, the Rendell Administration initiated its own review of the current status of homeland security, given the existing budget constraints and the steps taken in 2001-2002. The change in administration meant a period of transition for all state agencies, as Governor Rendell formed his Cabinet and reviewed priorities for action.

A basic recommendation of the November 21, 2001 Task Force Report to Governor Schweiker was the integration of multiple radio systems used for emergency operations among the participating jurisdictions. Pennsylvania has a statewide satellite system in place, and telecommunications alternatives are being explored for simultaneous transmission of information to multiple sites. State and local agencies are continuing to review both technical and organizational alternatives for improving emergency communications within the Commonwealth. The Rendell Administration has now made a major commitment to building a statewide GIS.

The fundamental problem in mobilizing common action for homeland security in Pennsylvania is achieving coordination among organizations within jurisdictions, as well as between jurisdictions. This is a long-standing problem that has multiple roots. These roots include:

- "Home rule" traditions of the Commonwealth;

- Competition for scarce resources among agencies, municipalities, and jurisdictions operating under increasingly tight public budgets;

- Long-standing rivalries between the major cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and particularly among the major cities, counties, and smaller municipalities;

- Lack of a statewide incident management system and standards of training and performance accepted and practiced by all response agencies: police, fire, EMS;

- Lack of a statewide information infrastructure to support rapid exchange of information, processing of real-time information essential to maintaining security; and

- Lack of a common understanding of "homeland security" and specification of a coherent program of action for agencies with relevant responsibilities.

Out of necessity, local organizations have forged a number of successful efforts from a combination of insight into shared risk, experience, access to expert knowledge, and initiative that have contributed to increased professionalism and development of security measures in the Commonwealth. Three examples, in particular, warrant acknowledgment as innovative efforts to enhance security in Pennsylvania, building on existing resources, imagination, and initiative. Each will be discussed briefly in turn. The cases include:

- Region 13 Counterterrorism Task Force: Initially formed in response to the Weapons of Mass Destruction training program in 1998, the organization represents emergency management agencies from thirteen counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and coordinates their search for methods to improve performance.

- West Nile Virus Tracking System: Faced with the difficult, uncertain problem of identifying and eradicating mosquitoes as carriers of the West Nile virus, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection established a tracking system using GIS and systematic reporting to locate occurrences of the illness.

- Collaboration with Research Universities. Commonwealth and local agencies have partnered with major research universities in the state to develop models of risk reduction in health monitoring, information technology, and knowledge management.

In the months since the traumatic events of September 11, 2001, a strategy is emerging that appears promising and productive for Pennsylvania. The details of this strategy are still being defined, but the outline appears strong. Four main elements appear to characterize this emerging strategy. They are:

- Regional task forces that group counties and cities into geospatial units for preparedness activities such as risk assessment, training, and exercises;

- Priority given to improving the response capacity of emergency personnel;

- Recognition by a small, but influential group of public and private managers that well-designed information technology offers a means of improving performance of emergency personnel, when coupled with selective advances in training and equipment; and

- Acknowledgment that a learning strategy is essential to manage risk of terrorism and other hazards. That is, preparedness requires knowing the vulnerabilities as well as strengths of the Commonwealth, and designing a systematic process of monitoring, feedback, and action based on timely information constitutes a fundamental approach to managing risk in uncertain environments.

That concludes my overview of the report. I am available for questions and now turn the floor back to our moderator.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Emily DeMers: What is the formal and informal interface of the regional task forces and PEMA and other state agencies?

Louise Comfort: Thanks, Emily. The interface between the regional task forces is a problem of coordination. This coordination works reasonably well between the separate task forces and PEMA but there is indeed rivalry among some of the task forces. The most obvious is the longstanding rivalry between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that carries over into the task force relationships.


Burt Wallrich: I am concerned about the flow of information to and from the most isolated groups in the community including homeless people, especially homeless mentally ill people. Often the best link to these people is small, local, faith-based and non-profit organizations. These organizations need to be mobilized, trained, and ready to work with Emergency Management Agencies. Under the heading of "training, education, and outreach," does your approach include specific means of reaching these groups with warnings and post-disaster information?

Louise Comfort: Burt, the regional task forces in theory operate at the community level. Each county develops a plan to integrate public, private and nonprofit organizations. In some counties, this works well, and the underrepresented groups in the population are acknowledged and informed. In other counties, there is still more work to do but it is recognized as a need.


Amy Sebring: Louise, your report was one of four solicited by the Century Foundation. Can you tell us whether the other 3 states had similar findings?

Louise Comfort: Yes, actually, all four states had severe budget problems. In all four states, coordination was a major issue. The task forces are facing a major problem of integration across prior boundaries – it isn't easy.


Joe Sukaskas: Dr. Comfort, you mentioned the Rendell Administration commitment to a statewide GIS -- will that system be used primarily (or exclusively?) for emergency management (at PEMA or more local levels), or will it have a broader, more generic, scope?

Louise Comfort: Gov. Rendell plans to use it for many other state purposes – environmental planning, tax assessment, urban planning. Terrorism becomes an issue that all counties can accept for this innovation.


Claire Rubin: Are the 4 state studies typical or atypical of current Homeland Security efforts ?

Louise Comfort: The four states were chosen largely for geographic reasons and risk exposure. Washington likely has the greatest risk and also appeared to be the best prepared. In most cases, these four states are likely ahead of most other states with the exception, likely, of the Eastern Seaboard.


Lloyd Bokman: To follow up on Emily's question and how many state agencies, such as Health and Transportation, have regional offices and representatives. How well are they incorporated into the Regional Task Forces and then how well does the coordination between them and their home offices in Harrisburg work in interfacing it all with PEMA?

Louise Comfort: Lloyd, this is a big question. The role of the other agencies is a point of some controversy. Theoretically, they are supposed to be coordinated by PEMA but this again, is not easy, given the difference in size, budget, personnel of these other agencies in comparison to PEMA.


Avagene Moore: As we prepared for this session, I couldn't help but think you could probably plug in almost any State name and it would fit pretty well.


Paula Gordon: During the previous administration, FEMA had a program known as Project Impact. While it was primarily focused on natural hazards mitigation activities, do you see a role for a Project Impact (public/private sector) collaboration that addresses emergency management challenges of all kinds?

Louise Comfort: Project Impact left a fundamental shift toward cooperation in most Project Impact cities but as you know, not all cities were included nor were the Project Impact cities connected. The task of the task forces is to build regional capacity - and that isn't coming easily.


Chris Waters: Our state is run under a similar strategy of regional response teams. Same basic problems: communications and coordination top the list. I suggest at the managerial level things are "coming together" but in the trenches it's anything but cohesive. Training, exercises and paper work are demanded but no one remembers that we have daily jobs to do and for each person off at school or exercises, we need to back fill to maintain staffing. It's not working!! There are 37 prescribed programs my folks need to complete depending on discipline.

Louise Comfort: Chris, it's a big job and the education role is critical.


Amy Sebring: Louise, here in my state, they have chosen a strategy to get regional Council of Governments (COGs) directly involved with administering funding. Sorry if I missed it in your presentation, but have non-traditional players also been brought in there in PA? If so, has this further complicated things?

Louise Comfort: The Council of Governments structure will work nicely inside the regions. We have some COGs in PA that are working together, but it is a process of building communication, shared knowledge bases, technical capacity at the local levels.


Hans Zimmermann: Louise, is the training concept subject-specific (by type of incident & response) or level-specific (senior management / community responders / volunteers)?

Louise Comfort: There are two components to the training. One is to build a regional communications infrastructure that requires investment in information technology hardware and software that many communities still don't have. The second is the training in presumably all hazards response. Here there is some difficulty in determining how response to terrorism differs from what emergency personnel do on a daily basis. There is a lot of integration that still needs to be done with the medical community as many of the hospitals were not well integrated into emergency response. This was very evident in the anthrax attacks...and cross training between medical responders and EM personnel is important.


Claire Rubin: In the metro Washington, D.C. area, the COG is constructively involved in communications/coordination, mainly because of the 3 states and 40 jurisdictions that are in the metro area.

Louise Comfort: That's an excellent model, Claire, and other regions can learn from it.


Amy Sebring: My perception is that there is still some confusion and lack of direction at the federal level, e.g., we still do not have the new National Response Plan. Do you get a similar impression from the state that lack of national direction is a factor?

Louise Comfort: The states are still trying to figure out what homeland security means. And yes, clear direction from the federal agencies would help.


Rick Tobin: There is, in my mind, a very difficult question about regionalization of resources, and that is taxation without representation. Budgets and costs at the regional level are under no elected official since we don't elect regional officials. Therefor, it becomes the program directing the program without elected oversight. That has bothered me as both a planner and a formally elected official. Any comments, Louise?

Louise Comfort: The regions are addressing these budget questions, Rick, and they appear to be developing a regional budget for planning. The federal allocations have been given to the states, which in turn allocated them to the regions. The regions now have executive committees to determine priorities for each region and allocate funds to specific projects within the region.


Paula Gordon: The draft of the National Response Plan is available. I would be happy to send you information on the FEMA contact that will send you a copy. Feel free to e-mail me.

Louise Comfort: Thanks, Paula. I have the draft. The issue is its acceptance.


Avagene Moore: That's all we have time for today. We greatly appreciate your efforts and time on our behalf today, Louise. Good discussion! Thank you!

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