State Perspective - Colorado

By Joseph Straw

Q. Could you provide an example of how the process was broken?

A. As I looked into the program management, what it appeared happened in the past was that the state decided what we wanted to buy, and then built a strategy to justify the expenditures. So what we’ve tried to do is turn that process around. We’ve said, let’s really engage in a strategy that builds preparedness and allows us to be able to measure that preparedness with that strategy, and then determine after that, based on that strategy, what the priorities are for investments that we need to make to build those capabilities that we think are the most important, the highest priority for the state.

The state essentially starts off with this strategy, which once again is based on the target capabilities. And we’ve established five major goals, and each of those has a goal champion which is an executive director of one of the state departments. And those five major goals correspond with the National Homeland Security Strategy and the National Preparedness Guidelines. The five major goals are prevention, protection, response, recovery, and the fifth one is to strengthen homeland security systems. And within them there are a total of 37 target capabilities. What we did is establish objectives with outcomes, each equating to a target capability.

We have capabilities assessments that we do every year with all the regions, and then we have a statewide assessment we do with an improvement planning conference once a year that essentially brings all our goal leaders to roll up all the assessments that we’ve done for all the different regions into an overall statewide assessment. That helps us determine where we are with that particular goal.

In the improvement planning conference we essentially go in and ask and try to answer four questions: First, what is the biggest threat to Colorado? We go through the national planning scenarios, and we have seven state planning scenarios we’ve built as a result of building our state homeland security strategy. The second question we ask is, what’s our current level of capability in order to be able to respond to those highest-priority threats. The next question is, what’s the required level of capability, in other words how high a capability do we need to have statewide, but also by region. What capability is required per region as well. And then what we do is a gap analysis that says how do we get from the current level of capability to the required level of capability by investing in, you know, planning, organization, equipment, training, exercise, in order to answer the fourth question: How do we build capability with investments in those particular programs. Then we develop targets based on that that will go in to the state preparedness report.

Those findings are then used in our training and exercise planning workshop (TEPW), which happens a month after our improvement planning conference. The TEPW builds a three-year exercise and training plan for the state that basically allows us to determine where we need to make investments funding wise with exercises and training. And we take all that information and we put it into our investment justifications for the grants. And that’s going on right now. So that’s how that all kind of fits together.

Q. What assets and threats make Colorado unique?

A. We talk a lot about the things that will happen and the things that may happen. And of course the things that will happen in the state of Colorado are wildfires, blizzards, tornadoes, and floods. Those are the things we spend a lot of time planning for, we spend a lot of time preparing for, ensuring that you know our first responders obviously are capable of being able to do their jobs.

We of course need to be prepared for terrorist attacks, we need to be prepared for all of those 15 different national planning scenarios. So those threats are not discounted, but what we try to do is make sure we understand that the “will happen” is going to be on the horizon real soon, the “may happen” may or may not be on the horizon, but we still need to be able to prepare for those. But what we have to consider the limited resources we have, we have to prioritize that. So we’ve done that, obviously through the process I just talked about.

So the threats though that are on the horizon for us that we know are going to come is that we have a lot of beetle kill in our forests here in the state of Colorado. A million acres up there right now that have been affected by beetle kill. We have these great assets called mountains that really kind of identify Colorado, and of course as soon as those mountains catch fire, then it’s obviously a big hazard not only for the people who live in those mountains but obviously for the economy of the state that depends largely on the tourists that visit those mountains. So those are the things that we’re really working on is to ensure how we mitigate those vulnerabilities from beetle kill that we have right now that are up in the mountains.

 We know we’re going to have a tornado probably once or twice a year, we’ve already had one back in 2006 that took out the town of Holly, we had one just this past year that took out the town of Windsor. It used to be that in Colorado we’d have tornadoes, especially out on the Eastern plains, that’s where they mostly happen because the nature of Colorado is the thunderstorms build over the mountains, move out over the plains, and right here in the eastern Colorado front range area, that’s where the large class-6 thunderstorms occur, and that’s where we get the tornadoes that are big enough to wipe out a town. Well it used to be that there weren’t any towns out there, there were pastures with cows. So nobody paid a whole lot of attention to tornadoes a long time ago, but now we have had so much growth in Colorado that those pastures are now communities, and so where the tornadoes used to just kind of roll through a pasture and then go back up into the clouds, now they roll through a town and basically they take out half the town. So those are big concerns of ours as well.

Even the forest fires, though could also be a terrorist activity as well. It could be an environmental terrorism program. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or the Animal Liberation Front, those folks. And we’ve already experienced attacks by the ELF folks where the Vail Mountain Resort had one of their ski areas, one of the chalets up there on the mountain that was burned down by ELF, so it’s something that obviously we have to be prepared for all of those things I think but the different levels of preparedness are going to be focused on what the priorities are.



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