THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective – Iowa

By Joseph Straw

Interview with David L. Miller

David L. Miller began his emergency management career as a dispatcher with the Iowa Department of Public Safety in 1974. He then oversaw 911 systems in Oregon and Missouri before returning home in 1989 to join the agency he now heads. He worked as Iowa’s Enhanced 911 coordinator, as the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HLSEM) chief of staff, and has served as an alternate coordinating officer or the alternate governor’s representative in 16 presidentially declared disasters. He was appointed HLSEM administrator by Governor Tom Vilsack in September 2004. A Navy veteran, Miller chairs the Governor’s Communications Interoperability Task Force and the Iowa First Responder Advisory Committee. (His remarks have been edited to accommodate space limitations. Read the full interview online.)

WHAT ARE THE TOP HOMELAND SECURITY ISSUES YOU FOCUS ON?
Infrastructure protection. It really is the key as we look at it, and it’s not just a homeland security piece, it also an emergency management piece.

Another priority is communications interoperability. It’s recognized as an issue nationally; it’s recognized as an issue in our state.

We’ve begun to take a proactive approach in Iowa in trying to put together a plan that allows us to plan not only for voice communication but also for how we use data communications and video communications during times of emergency and disaster.

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST GOALS FOR THE AGENCY IN THE COMING YEAR?
With regard to infrastructure protection, it is establishing a program that says how we identify critical infrastructure; what measures we put in place to protect them; and how we assess vulnerabilities to that infrastructure.

With regard to communications interoperability, it’s how we tackle that as a state. We want to do it with a broader brush than looking at voice communications only. Again, we’re going to look at data and video and have a plan into the future, and it’s going to require a substantial investment, so how do we partner with that?

Intel: intelligence fusion, gathering of information and providing analysis, getting a situational awareness and a threat picture for the state. That includes all sectors, whether it’s transportation, public health, commerce—which includes banking and financing—and energy.

If you look at the infrastructure protection program, it outlines about 17 sectors. How to look at that information, gather information, fuse it into a viable product so we get a threat picture for the state, and have the ability to share that information with sector partners, including private enterprise and business, so they can take effective action; that’s going to be a big challenge for us, and it’s one of the major goals for the next year.

WHAT KIND OF COOPERATION DO YOU GET FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?
Actually quite a bit. We have a good relationship with our FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] region; they’re based out of Kansas City. We have an ongoing dialogue, almost daily, with the Department of Homeland Security. And at times it can be contentious, but the point is, it is an ongoing dialogue, and there’s a lot of discussion there—a lot of important issues being discussed.

We have a pretty good relationship with the feds. We challenge them a little bit, they challenge us, and some days it’s very frustrating, but overall, I’d say the relationship is pretty good.

WHAT ARE YOUR SOURCES OF FUNDING?
Each state is a little bit different. In Iowa, of course, we get Homeland Security Grant funding out of the Department of Homeland Security. There’s the State Homeland Security Grant piece. Eighty percent of that funding is what we pass on to local governments, initially for equipment for first responders, also for planning, training, and exercise activity, and then some of that is kept by the state.

The other kind of funding we get—actually a variety here—we get funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for hazardous materials planning. In our state we get funding through the nuclear power plant program. The plant operators do on-site preparedness for nuclear power plant emergencies and disasters, but states and locals are involved in off-site preparedness, so we get money for that.

We get some money from the state’s 911 fund because we administer the 911 communications program in the state. We get emergency management performance grant money from FEMA, which helps us administer planning, training, and exercise programs in the state. We pass a little over 50 percent of that down to local governments.

Most of our funding is nonstate funding. We get a little bit out of the state general fund. We use that for a number of our activities, and the bulk of it is used to meet the match requirements on the federal funds we receive.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU’RE WORKING WITH BUSINESSES AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO SHARE INTELLIGENCE, DEVELOP COUNTERTERRORISM STRATEGIES, AND PREPARE FOR EMERGENCY RESPONSE?
I will tell you that it’s really evolved since 9-11. Prior to that time, there was a feeling in emergency management in the state that you didn’t use public funds to enhance private business, because if we did that it showed favoritism to a particular business.

We really need to rethink that. And part of it is simply recognizing that private business owns up to 85 percent of the critical infrastructure. If we don’t find a way to effectively partner, we’re going to really miss the boat.

Since 9-11, we’ve met more with our business community, people who belong to ASIS, the Iowa Business Council; we’re working now with Business Executives for National Security, and we’ve really broadened our participation in business and begun to talk about interdependencies between various sectors.

We’ve done some exercises together, and we are looking for opportunities to plan and work together. We’ve expanded our [Emergency Operations Center] operations to invite business in, knowing that they’ll play a vital role.

Probably the bigger challenge is in information sharing. You know there’s a tendency to look at intelligence as criminal intelligence in the state, and there are restrictions in state law, as in federal law, in sharing criminal intelligence information. At the same time, we want businesses to understand a threat that they may face so they can take appropriate protective measures.

That’s been a challenge for us. And we keep attacking that, and going back to our legislature and saying, “You know, we need to protect information on one hand, but we need an ability to share it on the other, and do it in an effective way so people can take the right protective measures given that information.”

At the same time, business needs to trust that they can give information to the state, and we can protect it.

HAS THE STATE CONDUCTED ANY DRILLS OR SIMULATIONS, AND IF SO, WHAT DID OFFICIALS LEARN FROM THEM? HOW DID THEY ACT ON LESSONS LEARNED?
We do testing, and we actually have a refined program for doing exercises in which we do after-action reporting, and we capture lessons learned, and we do corrective action planning.

We did an “Amber Waves” exercise with various business sectors, I think a little over a year ago. The idea behind that exercise was that to make government work in Iowa, we need business to be able to supply certain goods and services. If you’re going to supply to me, what do I have to do to help you survive? That’s an effective dialogue.

We came out with a number or priorities, a number of things to look at: everything from information sharing to protective measures to take.

We’ve also been learning lessons from Hurricane Katrina. We did some things that we hadn’t done in this state before. Last year in Katrina, we had to discuss how we shelter evacuees from other states that may come into our state. While we always kind of knew that was there, I don’t know that we had effectively planned for it, and now we have.

We’re about ready to do a functional and somewhat of a full-scale exercise around pandemic [completed by the time this interview gets into print].

ARE WEATHER AND NATURAL DISASTERS THE LARGEST PRACTICAL THREATS TO THE STATE, AND WHAT ROLE DOES YOUR AGENCY PLAY IN RESPONSE?
They are. We are—unlike some states—we are homeland security and emergency management. And in that, we probably have more of a history on the natural disaster side than we do on the threat from terrorism.

As for natural disasters, for a while we were averaging almost two disasters a year—one in the spring and one in the fall. And that was whether it was a flooding disaster—which is something that affects us often—or it was severe winter weather.

We’ve had other human-caused disasters and emergencies; we had a chemical plant explosion a few years ago; of course one of the other disasters that we were involved in—and this was right at the time I came to the agency—was the 232 plane crash in Sioux City.

Sometimes you have a disaster, but you don’t know that it’s a terrorist threat. There are so many commonalities between the disasters and how we approach them, so our point is that we want to take a multihazard approach.

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