Interview with Alan Bock, director of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety's Office of Homeland Security.
Alan Bock has served as director of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Homeland Security since March, overseeing the administration of federal Homeland Security Grant Program funding in the state, while facilitating information sharing among local, tribal, state, and federal stakeholders. Bock brings to the job more than 29 years’ experience in law enforcement, where his specialties included vulnerability assessments and crime prevention techniques. After 9-11 Bock served as supervisor of the Office of Homeland Security in Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office, where he reviewed critical infrastructures, made recommendations for safety and anti-terrorism prevention programs, and reviewed county building plans to apply principles of crime prevention through environmental design. Bock has been an adjunct instructor for the Florida Attorney General’s Office, Office of Prevention Programs for over 16 years and has additionally lectured at the University of Miami, Barry University, Sojourner Douglas College, Florida Atlantic University, the National Institute on Juvenile Justice, and American Institution of Architects. He has written numerous articles on crime reduction and prevention and most recently worked in the private sector as a homeland security specialist. Bock is a certified trainer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness and a member of ASIS International.
Q. Which elements of homeland security mission are your office’s responsibilities?
A. South Dakota’s Office of Homeland Security has three primary duties. First, we supervise the administration of federal homeland security grants to our partners in the state, which include 66 counties and nine Native American tribes. Second, we oversee the South Dakota Fusion Center, which is the state’s central location for investigating, collecting, and disseminating intelligence concerning homeland security. Third, we coordinate and monitor all critical infrastructure and key resource protection efforts in the state.
Q. What are the top assets and threats—natural or manmade—in your state?
A. Most of the threats that we prepare and respond to are natural. We consistently experience severe weather like tornados and flooding in the spring and summer months. In the winter we deal with blizzards. From a preparedness standpoint, those are consistently our biggest threats. But I would never say that we don’t have targets that a domestic or international terrorist would be interested in.
The good news is South Dakota is a small state, but the rural nature of South Dakota gives us both unique challenges and unique assets. That means many people are pretty self-reliant. We also have a “neighbor helps neighbor” culture. From the state government level all the way to individuals, we work with each other to respond and recover from disasters. If they get snowed in for a day, they’re prepared and know how to handle the situation. On the flip-side, if we lose power lines, we may have to rebuild dozens of miles of line to get power back to just one family.
Q. How has your background helped you on the job?
A. Most recently before coming to South Dakota I managed the Broward County Florida Sheriff Office’s Homeland Security/Critical Infrastructure program. There are obviously a lot of parallels between my current position and my job in Florida. Grant management rules and regulations are pretty much the same across the board. Additionally, my experience in law enforcement helps me relate to the police/first responder culture that I work with everyday in South Dakota. Additionally, my previous work experience connected me with a great network of people. I still have that network of people to provide me with guidance and perspective on my day-to-day challenges.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you face?
A. With the vast needs of the first responder community, one of the biggest challenges is helping them find the right funding source to assist them in awareness, response, and recovery to their specific problems. While most funding in the past has been tied to international terrorism, I am glad to see that focus has shifted for assisting state and local agencies in responding to all hazards.
Q. What has surprised you most on the job?
A. What has surprised me most is the resourcefulness of the local agencies. They are responsible stewards of the taxpayer dollars and have found ways to work efficiently and successfully within their sometimes meager budgets. The “neighbor helps neighbor” culture I mentioned is a great example for the rest of the country. The additional resources my office directs to local agencies enable them to further protect and prepare their communities.
Q. How would you characterize your office’s relationship with the federal government? Would you like to see changes to that relationship? If so, what changes?
A. My office has a great relationship with the federal government. While I know that there are limitations on the funding South Dakota can receive, I have the ability to pick up the phone and call people at the Federal Emergency Management Agency regional office, DHS in Washington, D.C., the FBI, or the National Parks Service, which is excellent. I have a great working relationship with the state’s DHS protective security advisor who has helped guide me on various projects. All have been very eager to work with me on solving problems.
Q. How big a challenge is fiscal sustainability going forward, given the economic environment? How is your agency adjusting?
A. Sustainability is a topic that has been brought up on the state and federal level, and by the National Governor’s Association, at its recent meeting of state homeland security advisors. Relatively speaking, South Dakota is in good shape. We have a low unemployment rate and a state government that has spent funds cautiously while monitoring the national economic conditions. We continue to look to sustain our current grants and funding sources while researching new opportunities.
Q. Are you working with businesses in the state to share intelligence, develop counterterrorism strategies, or prepare for emergency response? If so, how?
A. I have been fortunate to be invited to work with our ASIS Chapter in Sioux Falls. They have opened the door to an exchange of ideas and solutions in response to helping us prepare and respond to the all hazards issues facing South Dakota. While our Fusion Center has been working with the local business community in the sharing of intelligence we are in the process of expanding this relationship to more businesses in the state.
Q. Has your agency gained any significant lessons-learned from recent drills or responses? If so, what are they?
A. We have learned a lot from the recent exercises and drills. We not only get to see what we are doing right but more importantly learn what areas need improvement. Exercises are a great time to meet agencies from neighboring states—the ones we will be working with during a time of disaster. South Dakota, like many other states, relies on volunteers. This is a good time to determine our strengths and limitations. If our limitations are caused by a lack of equipment, we can identify what we need to purchase to carry out our mission. If our limitations are caused by a lack of training, we can identify what training we need to focus on for the future. If we are honest with ourselves, there is no bad that comes out of a training exercise.
Q. What are your agency’s goals for the coming year?
A. In addition to being the conduit for state and local homeland security funding, I plan on increasing the capabilities of our fusion center. I will be reviewing our state’s inventory of critical infrastructures and updating them using the Automated Critical Asset Management System methodology, and also increasing our partnerships with other federal, military, state, local and business interests and continue to look for new funding sources to respond to our state response needs.