September 11, 2011

In their own words: Top homeland security officials answer ‘Are we safer’?

A COLLABORATIVE SERIES

The Center is exploring gaps in Wisconsin’s emergency preparedness to answer the question: A decade after 9/11, are we safer?

A joint project of Gannett Wisconsin Media and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

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Members of the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council provided responses to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s questions about the state’s strengths and weaknesses in emergency preparedness since the 9/11 attacks. Here are excerpts. In areas marked with parentheses, the Center has added an explanation or the full title of acronyms.

Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar.

Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar

Chairman of the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council

Q: In the decade since 9/11, what’s been accomplished to make Wisconsin a safer place? Are we in a better position now than we were 10 years ago?

Since that fateful day in 2001, there has been a more collaborative approach to preparedness and response strategies. This has included federal, state, tribal, and local agencies of government and private organizations as well as citizen involvement. Some results which have improved our overall readiness include:

– Creation and sustainment of two fusion centers (for terrorism prevention and response).
– NIMS (National Incident Management System) training at all levels with exercise scenarios that address all hazards.
– A homeland security council was established.
– Better partnerships with federal agencies including DHS (Department of Homeland Security), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the FBI.
– The planning, training and exercising as well as the equipment purchases have helped our first responders with response efforts to any emergency.
– The National Guard is engaged with Wisconsin Emergency Management in planning and exercising with local and federal agencies. The Guard has prepared plans for support across the Emergency Support Function spectrum.

Q: Where do the shortcomings and opportunities for improvement remain?

The Homeland Security Council meets quarterly and several work groups meet periodically to review and discuss improvements across the full spectrum of state preparedness. Our collaborative approach includes health, agriculture, cyber, private-public partnerships, as well as the training and exercise programs. We continually try to improve in all areas. Preparedness is a process and we do not anticipate declaring ourselves prepared – rather, we will continue to work to improve.


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Brian Satula.

Brian Satula

Wisconsin Emergency Management Administrator

Q: In general, are we safer than we were a decade ago? How so?

The question is not whether we are safer, because emergencies and disasters occur every day. The question is rather: are we better prepared to respond? I believe that answer is “yes.” The training has improved, planning is robust and all-inclusive, and our responders are better equipped to help our communities during an emergency or disaster. However, there is always is more work to do and we maintain a posture of constant improvement.

Q: Are there any gaps in protection that we still need to be mindful of?

I believe we need to continue to encourage individuals, families, and businesses to be prepared. Unfortunately, most people are not prepared for an emergency or a disaster. That is why we have been heavily promoting ReadyWisconsin to encourage people to have an emergency kit and have a family emergency plan.

In addition, all businesses need to have an emergency plan to let their employees know what to do and where to go when a disaster strikes such as a tornado. They also must develop a contingency plan to help ensure the business can recover from the event. An estimated 25 percent of businesses that are impacted by local disasters never recover.


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David Woodbury.

David Woodbury

Emergency Management/Security Team Leader, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Q: In the decade since 9/11, what’s been accomplished to make Wisconsin safer? Are we in a better position now than we were 10 years ago?

I think we’re all in a better position than we were 10 years ago. Just by focusing on this particular topic, just by having (the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council) working on this together—when we’re working together as a group, it’s much more productive than working as an individual in a silo.

Q: Where do opportunities for improvement remain?

Interoperability is an effort that’s still moving ahead; interoperability of communications and personnel, as well. I think that’s a work in progress. I think we can manage a great number of incidents. I’m pretty sure we can handle all of them, but it depends on the event and if we’re overwhelmed… you don’t really know that until you encounter it.

Q: Do you feel safe living in Wisconsin?

I believe we’re all doing what we can to address security issues… Most of this is more about awareness. We’ve spotted issues and threats that wouldn’t have been caught 10 years ago…you see much more citizen participation in being aware of what could be a threat.


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Lt. David Pabst

Wisconsin State Patrol; alternate for Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald on the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council

Q: In the decade since 9/11, what’s been accomplished to make Wisconsin safer? Are we in a better position now than we were 10 years ago?

I believe we are in a better place. When you think back to Sept. 11 and the lack of coordination between stare agencies and our local partners, now we’re sharing intelligence among agencies, we have industry involved in homeland security efforts, we have the public involved. We catch things we may have not caught back then, and prevent things from happening. There’s always that danger of getting complacent after 10 years, but I don’t really see that happening in Wisconsin.

Q: What do you catch now that you might not have 10 years ago?

It could be as simple as someone taking pictures of a DOT (Department of Transportation) building. Before 9/11, no one would think anything about that … now, someone would report it.

Q: Where do opportunities for improvement remain?

We need to communicate more, we need more open sharing. Our statewide information center is breaking down traditional barriers, but there’s always room for improvement … We could use better communication with DHS (Department of Homeland Security) … I have contacts in various agencies there, but do I spend a lot of quality time with them? No. So there’s always room for improving those relationships.

Q: Given the fact that we’re looking at a 76 percent drop in homeland security spending since 2004, does it now stand to reason that we’re less safe than we were several years ago?

Less safe, I don’t know if you can say that. It’s challenged us to spend the money more wisely… yes, it’d be nice to have more money, but we’re doing what we have to do … So maybe some of the “nice to haves” have been dropped off, and we’re now digging into the “need to haves.”