Newswise — A national survey conducted by Western Carolina University's Institute for the Economy and the Future reveals that America's state officials remain doubtful about federal security and preparedness in several critical areas in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
In a report released today (Thursday, May 18), state homeland security and emergency management officials from across the United States express serious concerns about key aspects of domestic security, including communications, immigration, critical infrastructure, safety of schools, shipping and cargo transport, and funding allocations.
"These results tell me that we have a way to go before our state officials are willing to say 'mission accomplished,'" said Daniel Ostergaard, a senior policy fellow at WCU's Institute for the Economy and the Future and a former executive director of the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council. "These dedicated public servants are not holding back their real concerns. They are telling it like it is. Strides must be taken to address components of national security that are still falling short of goals."
Among the report's findings are:
Unclear mission: Seven out of 10 officials surveyed report that the responsibilities, strategies and mission of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are still not clearly defined.
Federal directives not pursued: Two-thirds of respondents are unconfident or unsure that federal homeland security directives are being effectively implemented and adequately supported at the state level.
America's schools are exposed: More than 90 percent of the state officials say that public and private schools have failed to adequately prepare for national emergencies.
Rural role in emergencies apparent: More than 90 percent of state officials say rural areas could be vital to supporting the critical infrastructure needs of urban areas during times of national emergency, but more than half of those officials agree with the current distribution of federal resources primarily to non-rural areas.
Hospitals and computer systems defense not complete: Four out of 10 officials are uncertain or unconfident in the resiliency of critical infrastructure in their state.
Safe ports and highways still an issue: More than half of state officials do not think anti-terrorism measures aimed at protecting the nation's ports and transport systems have been effective.
Another key finding of the survey is related to immigration. Sixty percent of those surveyed reported that at least some aspect of the immigration issue now includes considerations of homeland security. Results also show that states in the South and Southwest perceive immigration as a socio-economic issue, while states in the Northeast generally associate immigration with homeland security issues.
Although the survey reveals that state officials are cautious and concerned about overall capability in critical areas, respondents do admit some progress has been made. Seven out of 10 of those surveyed say that the dollars delivered by the federal government to states have positioned them to better handle possible terrorist attacks.
The report is based on responses from a national survey of state homeland security and emergency management officials. Responses were received from 34 states, representing about 70 percent of the U.S. population.
"While citizens and federal officials have been given a voice on national security, rarely have state executives across the nation had a chance to weigh in on these topics," said Paul Evans, director of the Institute for the Economy and the Future. "Our researchers are interested in bringing new data to the table that will help state and federal policymakers in this very complex and increasingly important component of government."
The survey was conducted by the IEF's recently formed Research, Rapid Survey and Polling Center, which concentrates on overnight polling, analysis and focused survey research and conducts long-range research projects and economic impact analyses. A regional think tank, the IEF is a research, economic development and strategic planning service of WCU that conducts economic policy analysis and applied research; and administers regional public service projects on economic and community capacity building and strategic planning.
A copy of the report can be found at the IEF Web site: http://ief.wcu.edu/ (graphics from the report available)
Western Carolina University is one of the 16 senior institutions of the University of North Carolina system. Western enrolls 8,665 students in undergraduate and graduate programs of study, and is located about 50 miles west of Asheville, N.C., near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.