Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Posts Tagged ‘American Red Cross

Considering Jobs in the Homeland Security Field

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Who are Homeland Security professionals, and what do they do?  There’s a lot of diversity in Homeland Security jobs.  Some are at the federal level, mostly with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a federal department created in 2002 in response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  According to DHS, the department’s overriding mission is to lead the unified national effort to secure our country and preserve our freedoms.

 The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.  (http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/)

 

DHS is among the largest Federal agencies, because it was created by merging 22 existing departments and agencies which had a part of the overall Homeland Security mission.  If you’ve been through an airport lately, you’ll have seen DHS Transportation Security Agency officers on the job.  If you know someone who has applied to immigrate to the US or who has become a citizen, that person got assistance from a DHS Citizenship and Immigration officer.  DHS Border Patrol agents help keep smugglers from bringing people and goods into the country unlawfully.  If your community faced a serious disaster, like a major hurricane, DHS Federal Emergency Management officers were on the scene.  People who live along the coasts, or near major rivers and lakes, know that the US Coast Guard is there to secure the waterways and save lives.

Other DHS officers help local police and firefighters prepare for emergencies, including potential terrorist attacks, and some help companies and individuals protect their computer systems from attack.

Here are a few of the jobs DHS officers do:

  •  Customs and Border Protection
  •  Federal Emergency Management
  •  Transportation Security
  •  Coast Guard
  •  Secret Service
  • Counterterrorism
  • Cybersecurity Analysis

 

As you can see, Homeland  Security is a broad field which includes some very different kinds of work… but all in service of the same unified mission.  Choosing a Homeland Security career means taking a close look at your own strengths and interests, and at position requirements, to make sure you find a good fit.

Homeland Security jobs aren’t just at the Department of Homeland Security, though.  Most people in Homeland Security career fields work at the local level, as law enforcement officers, emergency management officials, security staff at private companies, utilities, or other facilities, and firefighters or emergency medical services technicians.

Let’s consider jobs in each of these three categories:

  •  First responders.  These are local officers who are the first at the scene when people need help.  They include police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical crews.
  •  Private sector security professionals.  These are essential, because over 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure (meaning those buildings and facilities of the greatest importance to national security and economic survival) belongs to private owners, not to government.  Private owners and operators are the first line of defense for their own security, and they hire professional security staff to manage the job.
  •  Emergency management professionals.  Most local governments, like cities and counties, have an emergency management office to respond to disasters.  These include natural disasters like floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, and disasters created by human actions, like terrorist attacks or a crime endangering a large number of victims.  States also have emergency management agencies.  (The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, handles this at the federal level.)   In addition to jobs with local governments, emergency management professionals also work for private-sector organizations which respond to crises, like the American Red Cross.

 

Homeland Security and the Rise of Social Media

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Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are a growing factor in everything from marketing to politics, and Homeland Security is no exception. We see the rise of social media in several areas of professional concern:

  • Counterterrorism, in which we’re aware that terrorists increasingly use these technologies to reach out to potential recruits and communicate with operatives;
  • Emergency response, because social media are a fast and effective way to communicate information in a disaster situation;
  • Epidemic disease, in which people worldwide can report instances of disease outbreaks instantly, circumventing any effort their governments may make to contain the information.

Like any essential change in the way people communicate and get things done, social media have their drawbacks. First, it’s worth noting that only a small fraction of the world’s population uses them. Because this fraction tends to be young, well-informed, and activist, social media helped propel popular reactions in places like Iran and Egypt. Nonetheless, it will be a long time before social media catch up with Internet applications like e-mail and news sites, let alone with television, radio, and telephone communications.

Let’s look at some of the challenges Homeland Security professionals will need to consider as social media become more pervasive.

In the area of public security, there was an incident in Mexico in August 2011 in which two individuals, labeled the “Twitter Terrorists” in press reports, posted false information on Twitter and Facebook claiming that children had been abducted from a school in Veracruz by drug cartels. The posts allegedly led to traffic accidents as parents hurried to the school in a panic, and the two perpetrators were charged with terrorism.

The charges were later dropped, but the incident highlighted two important points. One was the degree to which people in Veracruz, an area hard-hit by narcoterror gangs, used social media for instant security-related information. Checking Twitter before leaving home, for example, allows residents to learn about gunfights or other hazards.

Another is the ease with which anyone could cause terror and even casualties by spreading false reports via Facebook or Twitter. As in this case, people might be injured in traffic or trampled at a public gathering based on such reports.

Epidemic disease, whether of natural origin or the result of WMD use, remains a fearsome threat to Homeland Security. In a November 3 article, Homeland Security Newswire explains that social media can sometimes lead to inaccurate information:

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have proven useful in quickly disseminating information, and raising awareness during disasters or disease outbreaks, but these tools can also be a double-edged sword. 

Global health officials warn that social media sites often spread rumors or false information that are difficult to correct.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said, “I can assure you that with the rise of social media, the background noises for rumors have become much louder and making it so much harder to detect the really important segments.”

Keji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general, echoed Chan’s thoughts pointing to rumors circulating around the Internet on how to build immunity against the H1N1 swine flu during the 2009-2010 outbreak.

One of the rumors which started was that if you increase your salt intake it can help,” Fukuda said.

According to Fukuda, the agency was forced to correct the rumor, using social media, because taking in too much salt can be dangerous.

Emergency response is another area where the dissemination of inaccurate information could be a problem. However, the benefit of quickly spreading helpful information during a disaster makes it an option to expand, not squelch. Agencies like FEMA are already using social media to inform residents of what’s happening and what to do, and individuals use them on a personal level.

According to an article at Mashable.com, there’s room to make this role more formal:

However, according to new research from the American Red Cross, the Congressional Management Foundation and other organizations, social media could stand to play a larger and more formal role in emergency response. In fact, almost half the respondents in a recent survey said they would use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they were safe.

Students of Homeland Security are sure to see social media technologies grow in prevalence and power. You’ll likely confront new forms of communication yet to be imagined, so it’s worth considering how to make best use of these technologies in the public interest.

Graphic credit:  Mashable.com

Written by Homeland Security

November 3, 2011 at 19:31