Paul H. Fennewald has served as Missouri’s homeland security coordinator since November 2005, responsible for tying together the state’s terrorism prevention and disaster preparedness and response efforts. Previously, he served 23 years as an FBI special agent and bomb technician, working on numerous terrorism investigations. Prior to taking his current job, Fennewald instructed first responders in terrorist bombing investigation techniques through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (His remarks have been edited to accommodate space limitation. View the full interview online.)
Q. What are your responsibilities, overall and day-to-day?
A. My charge is to ensure that we have a seamless, uniform homeland security program that interacts with and promotes unity among all our partners, federal, state, county, and local. I network with a lot of homeland security partners at every level of government. I spend some of my time talking on the telephone, e-mailing, and meeting with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, but I also spend a lot of my time traveling around the state of Missouri, interacting with our county and local partners, and with other state agency partners.
We want to make sure that we’re focused on more than just terrorism, more than just law enforcement. We also don’t believe that homeland security should be focused on the bureaucratic, state level. It needs to be centered on communities.
Q. What are some of the main threats your office focuses on?
A. We try to remain aware of the full threat spectrum, to ensure that we have a proper balance between high-consequences, low-probability threats like a catastrophic earthquake here in Missouri. We have two major rivers here in Missouri— the Missouri and the Mississippi— and they’ve presented us with periodic flooding from time to time. And we know that being well prepared for a natural disaster will transfer over to being better prepared for a terrorist attack.
Missouri is right in the center of the United States, so there are a lot of crucial corridors going through here—not only highways, but also rail systems, pipeline systems, fiber optic cable, things like that. These are critical assets here that affect not only Missouri, but the rest of the United States.
Q. How has your background helped you on the job?
A. As an FBI agent and bomb technician I was involved in investigating a lot of terrorist attacks all over the world. I went to the site of the African U.S. embassy bombings in 1998 and assisted in investigating the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. I went to the World Trade Center shortly after the attack of 9-11.
I got to see the consequences of terrorism, and the importance of effective planning, response, and recovery. That has helped me to counter the mentality we often see, where people think, “It can’t happen to me, it won’t happen here, it won’t happen today.”
Also, in my job at the FBI, I worked with law enforcement at the state, county, and local level, so I have experience in bringing people together to look at things from outside their own narrow perspectives.
Q. What are some of your top critical infrastructure concerns?
A. Missouri is right in the center of the United States, in fact we’re one of only two states that have eight other states touching our borders. Being in a central location, there are a lot of crucial transportation corridors going through here.
If we were to have, for instance, a catastrophic earthquake that took out a number of bridges across the Mississippi River, that alone would severely impact the East Coast. If that happened in the wintertime, natural gas pipelines would be disrupted, communications would be disrupted, and goods being transported across the rails would be disrupted. So there’s a lot of things that affect not only Missouri and Missouri citizens, but the rest of the United States.
Q. What’s been the biggest challenge on the job?
A. Probably the biggest challenge I’ve found is the same one everybody faces with emergency management and homeland security, and that’s the challenge of communication. And I’m not talking about the technical aspects of getting on a radio or cell phone or sending an e-mail. I’m talking about being able to put aside organizational and personal egos, and coming together to get something positive done. That really is what homeland security is all about to me.
Q. How would you characterize the state’s relationship with the federal government?
A. You see things in the media saying there’s a disconnect between states and federal homeland security, but I think our relationship with DHS is excellent. We communicate with them regularly, and if there’s really a burning issue here, our boss, (state Department of Public Safety Director) Mark James, can call DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff if he needs to get something resolved. We’re not just going to sit there and stew. We’re going to get it fixed.
Q. How does Missouri manage homeland security funding?
A. When Gov. Matt Blunt came into office three years ago, we essentially had three homeland security programs in the state: St. Louis, Kansas City, and the rest of the state. However, there was not a lot of connectivity among the groups. So he established the state’s Homeland Security Advisory Council. It has 17 members, including cabinet-level officials and some outside groups, such as law enforcement, fire, and public health. There are also a number of ex-officio members, including the two big cities. So now we have one overarching strategy for spending, and it works fairly well.
Q. Can you discuss a recent drill and lessons learned?
A. We recently did a statewide earthquake exercise involving all other state agencies and 81 or 82 local jurisdictions. And even though it was a tabletop exercise, a lot of our local partners also drilled operationally.
One lesson we learned is that communication networks need to be more robust. We used a couple of satellite systems, including a National Guard satellite system, which worked relatively well, and a DHS satellite system, which posed technical problems. So we’re going to make sure that gets fixed.
Q. What is the state doing to involve the private sector?
A. We have a very active public-private partnership program in Missouri called P3 in which we interact with the private sector to make sure that we have connectivity from an intelligence-sharing aspect and in terms of the resources and services that they could provide in the event of a disaster.
We have a new tool called MERIS, the Missouri Emergency Resource Information System. MERIS includes a database allowing our private partners to catalog both services and the goods they could provide in a disaster. As we learned in Hurricane Katrina, our private partners are so critical for disaster response and recovery, and they want to help. We’re trying to provide them an avenue to do that through this partnership.
Q. What are your agency’s top goals for the coming year?
A. We want to make sure we see MERIS through to fruition and get everybody on board with it. We’ve also got a Web-accessible planning tool for educators that we’re making available to every school. We want to make sure we have some consistency across our state with both planning and having similar connectivity for the first- responder community. As money becomes available, or as we come up with solutions to problems, we want to make sure that we do it right. We don’t want to do a Band-Aid approach. We also want to do stuff that makes sense to the common citizen, because it’s their tax dollar that’s paying for all this. It’s a top priority in everything we do.