THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective - Idaho

By Joseph Straw

Col. William Shawver is director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security (BHS) within the state office of the Adjutant General, a post he has held since December 2007. Shawver began his career in public service with the U.S. Air Force in 1975, joining the Idaho National Guard as a full-time member in 1979. In 2003, Shawver took a position as the state Guard’s chief of staff. In that role he oversaw combat deployment of multiple state units to Iraq and Afghanistan. Those included a one-year deployment of the 2,000-member 116th Cavalry Brigade to Iraq, the largest Guard deployment in the state’s history. Stateside, Shawver led Idaho Guard troops in a 2005 mission to support humanitarian relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Shawver is a graduate of Boise State University.

Q. What are your office’s responsibilities within the state?

A. Our primary responsibility is to support each of Idaho’s 44 counties, as well as the tribal entities within the state, in terms of emergency preparedness and response, in particular when that response is beyond the capabilities of the local jurisdictions. Additionally, one of our primary responsibilities is to administer U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants within the state, as well as to provide our senior decision makers—meaning the governor, legislative leadership, and my boss, the adjutant general—with the critical situational awareness that they need to make decisions when the state is in support of emergency response.

Q. What are the primary threats the state faces, natural or man-made?

A. We’re always concerned about human-caused events. And we work closely with our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that we’re sharing information and maintaining our situational awareness, but natural disasters, in terms of weather, fire from a wildland fire perspective, or seismic activities, are the ones that we deal with most often.

Right now, for example, we’ve got 14 counties that just wrapped up emergency declarations in support of the heavy snows that we’ve had early this year, and we’re working very closely with those counties that have above normal snow pack in preparation for flooding we anticipate may occur.

Q. How has your own background helped you on the job?

A. I’ve spent 33 years in uniform; some of that time was as active Air Force and the majority was in the Idaho National Guard as a full-time federal employee. My primary responsibilities have been as a logistics planner, which dovetailed very nicely into emergency preparedness and planning, primarily while in the logistics planning position within the Idaho Air National Guard.

Additionally, I served as the adjutant general’s chief of staff for the National Guard, overseeing both the Army and the Air staff in support of our various state missions. Although I was not working within the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security (BHS), by being the chief of staff, I was certainly exposed to many of the day-to-day mission sets of the Idaho BHS that I now have to fulfill as the director of that organization.

Q. What’s been the biggest challenge on the job?

A. Quite frankly I think the biggest challenge is overseeing and administering the DHS federal grant program within the state, specifically dealing with the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP).

Another program, the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant (EMPG) program has been around since the civil defense days in the 1960s, and it’s a wonderful program that allows the state flexibility to administer those federal dollars and to leverage those federal dollars from an all-hazards approach.

Conversely, HSGP levies many unreasonable and unnecessary requirements on states. It’s very cookie-cutter, with a one-size-fits-all philosophy. And states aren’t all the same. Idaho is a very rural state with about 1.4 million folks, and it’s a very geographically diverse area that we’re responsible for.

I’ll give you a “for instance.” At least 25 percent of the 2008 HSGP must be collectively allocated to improvised explosive device (IED) attack deterrence, prevention, and protection. And for a state of Idaho to have to allocate 25 percent of those very precious federal dollars to that priority is not logical, those requirements do not closely take into account how the state would otherwise prioritize those dollars. So I wish HSGP grants looked a lot like the EMPG grant program, where they allow the states the flexibility to look at leveraging those dollars from an all-hazards perspective, rather than D.C.-directed requirements.

Q. How would you characterize the state’s relationship with the federal government?

A. We’re in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region X out here in Idaho, along with Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. Our four states have a phenomenal working relationship with FEMA Region X, which is a shining star from Idaho’s perspective, specifically Sue Reinertson, the regional administrator, and her staff. They understand the state’s needs specifically. When we articulate them, they listen. They certainly have their own frustrations, and I’m not going to speak for FEMA, but I see things moving the right way.

If DHS would push and resource more of their mission set to the FEMA regions, those of us out in the states, and specifically in Idaho, would applaud that very loudly. Overall, we have a great relationship, but there’s still work to be done.

Q. How does your office’s budget break down, both in terms of funding and spending?

A. Typically, the lion’s share of our funding comes from the EMPG and HSPG programs. Our 2008 EMPG grant is just a little over $3 million; our anticipated 2008 HSPG grant is also about $3.2 million, most of which is of course passed on to localities.

Last year under the federal Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) Grant, we were awarded about $7.2 million. The state of Idaho provides very little money to the bureau legislatively. And when I say “very little,” it’s under $2 million a year.

Q. Has the state developed any major public-private partnerships for homeland security?

A. Yes. Along with our counterpart state and federal agencies, we have met, and are currently working very closely with, private industry in terms of critical infrastructure and the sectors of agriculture, chemical, communications, dams, energy, and transportation, in sharing data to ensure that those key assets are protected. And we’re working very, very closely with folks within those sectors, and very soon we should have all 17 federally designated critical infrastructure sectors coordinated and sharing information.

Q. Has the state conducted any major responses or exercises recently?

A. We’ve had a significant number of responses over the last two years. We had approximately five federally declared disasters in support of wildfires in 2007, and we responded via the Emergency Management Assistance Compact to the fires that occurred down in Southern California last year.

The state is going to host the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in February. So earlier this year, the Games’ organizers and the state conducted the 2008 Special Olympics Invitational Winter Games, which is a dress rehearsal, if you will, for the actual Games that will take place in ’09.

In addition, the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2010. We’ve been working with the State of Washington and the Canadian officials very closely over the past year in preparation for those activities. This event will have a regional impact, so between wildfire response, heavy snow this year, and flood preparations, as well as advance measures for the 2009 Winter Games, we’ve been very busy.

Q. What are your agency’s goals for the coming year?

A. Both from a long-term and a short-term perspective, a major issue is interoperable communications. The state’s public-safety agencies reorganized slightly in January of this year, and we’re now responsible for public safety communications. We’re working very diligently to streamline our interoperable communications at the state level and determine how we can interface with other agencies, we also want to provide support to the local jurisdictions and local first responders.

The Idaho BHS—and I would venture to say like agencies in other states—has become overly grant-focused in terms of administration and accounting. We have lost a little bit of focus at least certainly here in Idaho, on preparedness, and our operational capability. So this year and next year, we have refocused on being better prepared, better supporting our local jurisdictions, and being ready from an operational standpoint.

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