NGA: States make interoperability a top priority

Homeland security directors from state governments identified interoperable communications for first responders as their top priority for the second year in a row, according to a new National Governors Association survey.

According to the survey, homeland security directors also identified developing a state intelligence fusion center, coordinating state and local agency efforts, and identifying and protecting critical infrastructure as their other top priorities.

The repeated focus on interoperability, coordination, intelligence and critical infrastructure likely reflects long-term investments and partnerships with local governments and the federal government, as well as with the private sector, according to the 11-page brief released today by NGA.

NGA's Center for Best Practices conducted its second annual survey between December 2005 and January 2006 with the 55 homeland security directors from U.S. states, territories and commonwealths. They received 40 responses, 38 from states.

The new survey also reflects two new state priorities: improving preparedness and response to natural disasters and planning for a possible influenza pandemic.

The survey listed other findings. Most notably, it said about 90 percent of homeland security directors feel they need better coordination with the federal government, specifically with certain agencies, including the Justice, Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services departments. According to the brief, DHS officials only consult with a 'limited number of hand-picked' state officials, a situation that state leaders say needs to change.

'Even when DHS does bring these selected homeland security directors into its processes, it often ignores their contributions,' the brief states. 'To further complicate matters, DHS policies provided through this process often lack transparency. A good example of this is the new risk-based funding formula that will drive the DHS grant allocation process to states. States have little idea of how DHS defines 'risk.''

The brief also states that federal agencies do not share information about critical infrastructure with state governments or with other federal agencies. State officials recommended several options, such as creating a single point of contact at DHS and reducing burdensome paperwork requirements and bureaucratic exercises, among others.

Of the survey's respondents:

  • 50 percent said DHS's state grant program underemphasizes disaster prevention, while 57 percent said the program also underemphasizes disaster recovery.

  • 80 percent are in the process of coordinating their homeland security plans with private sector organizations that own critical infrastructure, such as ports, water plants, energy plants, agriculture and transit systems.

  • 60 percent said they are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the specificity of intelligence they receive from federal officials, while 55 percent said they're unhappy with the 'actionable quality' of the intelligence.

  • The survey lists several other findings related to the efficiency of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and the availability of the National Guard during emergencies.


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