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Improving Collaboration and Cooperation in Homeland Security

Introduction

The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S enlightened the U.S government on the need to have a homeland security plan. This would help the nation to be capable of identifying risks to homeland security and subsequently mitigating risks before they result in calamitous outcomes. The department of Homeland Security functioned initially through formulated strategies for preventing, protecting against as well as mitigating the outcomes of security threats. The national preparedness plan presently outlines strategies through which different factions of the government and the private sector are to take part in identifying risks such as terrorist attacks, major emergencies and disasters which may occur in the country. The plan is focused on different elements of disaster management, and its successful implementation depends on the level of shared commitment between the federal, local, state and tribal governments and the private sector. The components of national homeland security maintenance are varied and there is no possibility that any of the groupings or individual players could achieve even a single component entirely on their own. It is thus inevitable that collaboration in the delivery of homeland security plans has to be enhanced.

            The occurrence of Hurricane Katrina led to the realization that the national preparedness goal had loopholes in it which could only be sealed through cooperation among different groups of people. For instance, lack of collaboration during the disaster resulted in the realization of acute preparation weaknesses; difficulty in the translation of preparation into actual practice and inability to improvise when required to do so in real life situation (Hocevar et al., 2006). Many barriers were subsequently recognized as being pertinent in national preparedness. Lack of effective communication and misaligned goals were some of the biggest challenges in the implementation of the disaster preparedness practices that were previously held. The National preparedness goal was later aligned to observations made during disasters. Four pillars upon which the preparedness goals are fixated include prevention of disasters, protection of citizens and crucial infrastructures against disasters; response to disasters in case they occur and recovery from the disasters to ensure that the losses incurred in personnel and infrastructure are minimal (U.S Department of Homeland Security, 2005).

            The national preparedness goal is to achieve and subsequently to sustain a capability level based on the identified risks, to prevent, protect against, to respond to and to recover from major events in the country. This is done in order to minimize the impacts that such events have on property, on lives and on the economy at large. According to the U.S department of Homeland Security, achievement of this goal can only be realized when there is an adaptive and robust cooperation between the private and public sectors, different levels of governance; across various jurisdictions as well as inter-departmentally within a single jurisdiction. The ability to collaborate successfully can be linked to various positive outcomes which would eventually result in better national protection. When collaboration occurs between different groupings as highlighted, activities such as planning, training as well as trainings and operations may be conducted together among collaborating partners. The national preparedness goal goes further to highlight different priorities upon which strategies for major events are to be founded. Individual parties can adapt the national priorities and apply them in the development strategies for their different locations.

Collaboration Capacity Building

            In the achievement of national preparedness objective, collaborative capacity is constantly being enhanced through consideration of different priorities in the department. Hocevar et al describes collaborative capacity as the level of development and sustenance accorded to inter-organizational systems to enable organizations achieve collective goals. With regards to homeland security, such can be defined in terms of the national preparedness goal which every federal, state, local, tribal and private organizations, seek to achieve. The Department of Homeland Security identifies seven key priorities that any efforts towards achieving the national preparedness goal should consider. Initially, the implementation of strategies aimed at improving the national preparedness levels experienced challenges which could be linked to lack of collaboration originating from the lack of common goals. With the priorities in mind and the aforementioned principles of prevention, protection, response and recovery, it is possible for the different stakeholders of national security to act collaboratively through clarified strategies.

            The U.S Department of Homeland Security requires different factions to focus their national preparedness goals on overarching priorities of enhancing the regional collaboration; implementing the interim infrastructure plan and implementing the incidents management system and the response plan that had been previously developed. These priorities are considered hand in hand with others which are described as the capacity specific priorities. The aim of collaboration across the different levels of governance, the public and private sector as well as within the same governance levels across different departments is to ensure that the available resources are optimally allocated towards achieving national preparedness goals. For this to be effective, the policy makers and planners have to ensure that the risks are understood alongside the available resources and the capabilities at hand. It is only in this way that the resources can be allocated to boost national preparedness. The Department of Homeland Security thus argues that the different factions have to work together to ensure that information sharing is strengthened; there is increased strength of interoperable communications; that the detection, response to and decontamination from various CBRNEs is achieved and that medical prophylaxis and surge are strengthened.

            Hocevar, Thomas and Jansen (2006) identified some of the key challenges to collaboration in implementing national preparedness goals. According to the authors, most of those who have experienced first- hand failure of preparedness efforts, especially through the Hurricane Katrina, associated the failure with collaboration barriers such as divergent goals between different individuals or groups; lack of goal clarity; inadequate resources which lead to competition for the available resources; and inadequate communication or lack of information sharing. As such, strategies laid down to help boost collaboration have to take into consideration these aspects. Any strategies that would boost collaboration while driving the nation towards achieving the set priorities through prevention, protection, response and recovery from major events can be considered suitable for the nation. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security identifies the key infrastructures that need to be considered while planning the national preparedness strategies. These include but are not limited to telecommunications, transportation systems, banking and finance, government facilities and agriculture and food among others. The department recommends that stakeholders should take this into consideration to ensure that the national preparedness goals are achieved successfully.

Recommended strategies

            The main objective of these strategies is to boost collaboration between the different stakeholders in national preparedness goal achievement. Federal, state, local and tribal governments have to collaborate to give citizens an optimum level of security as well as a sense of the same. Similarly, the different government levels have to ensure that there is collaboration between different departments within them. There is also need for cooperation to be strong between the public and the private sectors. To achieve this, the first applicable strategy would be to boost communication and information sharing across different government levels. The most reasonable way in which this could be accomplished is through development of information systems which integrate information from across different government levels. Communication networks developed through secure procedures can help to alleviate the challenges posed by lack of direct communication links between different government levels. For instance, creation of shared criminal databases, as well as other information that may be useful to different departments within a state or local government can create interdependence and increased access to information. New strategies developed for fighting major events such as terrorism including procedures for profiling terror suspects could be easily available across the government levels.

            Developing systems for information sharing can be crucial in attaining greater collaboration as different levels of government could be contacted when there is need to do so in emergency cases. At the same time, such could also encourage cooperation among different arms of law enforcement including the Drug Enforcement Agencies, the FBI and the local police forces. Emergency events such as random shooting incidences which are conducted by terrorists or psychopaths could be addressed before escalation through such an amount of information sharing. Besides strengthening the information sharing capacity of the different governmental levels and departments as is a priority of the national preparedness guidance, this has the potential of preventing major incidences, protecting people and infrastructure against incidences, responding to incidences as soon as they occur and ensuring recovery from incidences is achieved. Information sharing can prevent incidences through reporting. For instance, information received from another country regarding a purported terrorist influx into the U.S could be transmitted to lower government levels and to different law enforcement agencies to be on the look-out. Following this, different security measures could be taken to boost the level of protection around essential infrastructures such as government facilities which may be easy targets for the attackers. In case events escalate further, it would be easy to respond as strategies would have been laid down for when the events are unexpected. This would result in ease of recovery. While this strategy appears effective, it may be challenging due to the heightened potential of information insecurity in its implementation. It however offers the best opportunity for information to be shared across the board.

            Secondly, organizing combined disaster preparedness training events could also boost collaboration between the private and the public sector. Most facilities that help in attending to emergency incidences are owned by private sector personnel. For instance, hospitals in which disaster victims are according help at the time of need are owned by private entities. The public sector on the other hand has to put in place strategies for addressing emergency disasters such as by providing resources, assigning roles to the private entities and managing the communication procedures. The lack of coordination that was experienced during the Hurricane Katrina could be alleviated through proper preparedness designs which take into consideration the fact that not everyone who participates during an emergency is an agent of the public service sector. Training in areas such as identification of cyber threats, response in case of physical emergencies such as massive shoot outs and terror attacks and responses to need for emergency medical surges and prophylaxis requirements should be done collaboratively for their full effects to be felt. For instance, while training the public on how to identify health outbreaks needing vaccination and/ or immediate treatment, it is crucial for medical practitioners to be present. In this way, the practitioners get to identify symptoms that indicate medical surges and the need for prophylaxis hence preventing further infections/ greater implications. Similarly, when offering training on response towards terror attacks, law enforcement agencies and the public have to be there. Intergovernmental collaboration and the collaboration between the public and private sectors come in handy during trainings on cyber security prevention and protection measures.

            The third strategy of enhancing collaboration across the departments is through enhancing technical interoperability. Aspects such as transportation which interconnect different jurisdictional boundaries should be connected not only physically but also ideologically. In the advancement of this strategy, the respective transport departments would liaise with the private sector personalities who operate within their jurisdictional boundaries to come up with distinctive transportation logs. In this way, the availability of a unified technical system would enable national monitoring to be more holistic by considering not only the theoretical aspects of security such as information sharing but also using this information practically. For instance, in the transportation sector, a system would be developed whereby all public transport media from within the state would be registered and fitted with tracking devices. They would also have a central coordination system where the information pertaining to the clients, including the pictures would be kept. This would then be used in case there is need to follow up on the movements of particular clients. When information for all users is available, it is easy to detect new users and to follow up on their movements and prevent any potential security threats they may pose to the nation and to the public sector in general. Biometric systems tied to online databases could be used to achieve such functions, where every person getting into a public service vehicle is automatically logged in through the use of finger print identification. The fingerprints would then be matched with identity information derived from the database already created for the passengers. For every passenger, the system would indicate the number of times they have used that system with the first time users being identified distinctively. If this is done successfully and information shared across different states, the national preparedness priorities of increasing regional collaboration and strengthening interoperability would be addressed. Furthermore, the transport systems would be protected from potential terrorists.

Conclusion

            The national preparedness goals and priorities give different levels of government a blue print for planning their practices with regards to national security. While some of the goals may seem far-fetched, they purpose to bring unity of ideologies and purpose to different stakeholders of homeland security. The federal, state, tribal and local governments can work collaboratively together with the private sector to ensure that the available resources are allocated satisfactorily for the accomplishment of the goals. In this way, the country will be able to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from key incidences that may arise from time to time. Enhancing collaboration could be achieved through information sharing, collaborative training and enhanced technical interoperability across government levels and across disciplines.

References

Hocevar, S.P., Thomas, G.F. and Jansen, E. (2006). Building Collaborative Capacity: An Innovative Strategy for Homeland Security Preparedness. Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams, 12, 255- 274.

U.S Department of Homeland Security. (2005, July 22). State and Urban Area Homeland Security Strategy: Guidance on Aligning Strategies with the National Preparedness Goal. Retrieved from http://www3.cutr.usf.edu/security/documents/DHS_OPD/StrategyGuidance.pdf


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