Interview with Capt. Eddie L. Washington, Jr.
As head of the Michigan State Police Emergency Management & Homeland Security Division, Capt. Eddie L. Washington, Jr., has been operational commander of all statewide programs since 2006. He began his career with the state police in 1984, and his assignments have included the Detroit post and the department’s training division. From 2003 to 2005, Washington served as commander of Governor Jennifer Granholm’s security section. Washington holds a degree in criminal justice from Wayne County Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from William Tyndale College.
What are your primary responsibilities? What is a typical day or week like?
In Michigan I am the SAA, which is the state administrative agent for federal homeland security grants. But our primary role in this state is to make sure that we—through our relationships and partnerships with our local emergency managers and public officials—provide the leadership for setting the strategy, along with our governor’s homeland security advisor, Col. Michael C. McDaniel.
Internally, I have a staff with several sections that I manage, and all of the things that go with that: performance development, human development issues, making sure that the staff’s needs are met.
What are the top threats your agency focuses on?
I don’t like to talk about the type of threats publicly, but I would say the internal threat is a lack of awareness among our citizenry. As we’ve learned in other disasters, if the state government or local government’s not in a position to respond because we have a massive incident, it’s important that citizens and folks understand their role and their responsibilities, their civic responsibility to be prepared.
How has your background helped you on the job?
In addition to my formal education, I’m a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command. That’s equipped me with a lot of the principles that you can apply in any given situation.
I’ve been a trooper on the street and responded to all different types of emergencies. We had Northwest Airlines flight 255 go down in Romulus, Michigan, in 1987. I’ve done operational plans for everything from celebrations of championships from the Red Wings (hockey team) and the Tigers (baseball team) to a G-8 conference and the OAS (Organization of American States). Then, I was in charge of the governor’s security section and worked with the Secret Service quite a bit, so you get an idea of all of the resources that are available, whether technology or knowledge.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
I would say externally the biggest challenge is, as the SAA, as a policy maker, that everyone doesn’t always necessarily agree with strategy. Funding decisions are probably the biggest challenge that I face. Everyone is looking. You have competing interests, you have competing priorities, and managing those priorities is probably the biggest challenge. Because someone is always going to be unhappy with the priorities that are set.
How cooperative is the federal government? How would you change that relationship if you could?
I think in Michigan we have very good working relationships with our federal partners. I know that some of the struggles we have with our local constituencies, the federal government has with the states. So if I could change anything it would be to be more of a resource for them, to set policy that is mutually beneficial to meeting their goals, and meeting ours.
How does your budget break down? Is funding adequate? What would you do if you had more?
Well most of the federal grant funding—80 percent—is just passed to the locals. And we’re positioned for funding based upon how well we write DHS-mandated “justifications” for our spending. So a lot of our focus is making sure that we’re producing a quality investment that will yield more resources.
I don’t like to focus on money, because I like to think that if we didn’t have any money we still would need collaboration. At the end of the day you can have all the equipment in the world, you can have all the radios in the world, and still not have interoperability if people are not talking to one another.
How do you feel about dhs’s new tiered, risk-based system of dividing funding among major cities in the urban area security initiative (UASI)?
I don’t know yet how it’s going to affect us. Would we like to be in Tier 1? Absolutely. We deserve to be because of our borders. But I also understand that they compared Detroit to Chicago, Houston, New York, and L.A.
At the federal level, they are trying to manage risk and they don’t have infinite resources. It’s up to us to know what we’re competing against and to keep ringing the bell, beating the drum, to make ourselves a Tier 1.
What role does Michigan play in border enforcement?
Our border security activities are rooted in our relationships with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, National Guard, and all of our local law enforcement along the border, as well as our private folks who own border properties and critical infrastructures. So we have established formal committees and work groups that develop plans, exercise, and fill in any gaps we discover.
Are you working with the private sector in other ways to improve prevention, response, and recovery? If so, how?
I chair the state’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Committee, which has a public-private partnership committee, made up of security chiefs from places like Target, Wal-Mart, and the big three: General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, and Ford, as well as Taubman, the folks that manage most of our malls here. We give them ideas of what we’re doing and they tell us what their needs are. They break out into their associations, and get information and they actually help us to form our strategies and help us to identify gaps. And then we make sure that we craft our policies and priorities as best we can around that.
What are your agency’s top goals for the coming year?
We’ve regionalized our state; we have seven regions including the Detroit UASI area. And going forward we’re focused on ensuring that we’re providing guidance that lets them set their priorities in a way that is aligned with state priorities, without being prohibitive. Then we’ll make sure that our state priorities are in line with the feds’.
Again, I don’t necessarily believe that funding is the end-all of preparedness, but I do believe that funding is what builds our capability for preparedness, so I also want to make sure we’re as well positioned as we can be to get that kind of support.
The other big issue is public awareness. It’s almost like early days of seatbelt use. We’ve got to educate our kids, we’ve got to educate teachers, we’ve got to educate all those folks to say, “This is a different kind of America.” Preparedness means having a kit, having a plan, having an alternate plan and a contingency plan in case something happens while mom and dad are at work or you’re away at church and you can’t get back home, so everybody knows where they can go and what they can do until the cavalry arrives.