Bridging Hometown and Homeland Security: The State Homeland Security Advisor
This winter, fifteen states are swearing in new governors, bringing new leadership to the governors’ offices and their cabinets. Governors rarely campaign on homeland security issues. Yet, if a governor mismanages a disaster, it will be their only legacy. Disasters can happen on day one of the job.
As commander-in-chief of their state, governors have flexibility in organizing their state’s homeland security enterprise. They appoint a state homeland security advisor (HSA) to serve as their state homeland security lead.
The HSA fills an important role in a national homeland security approach. Evolving from a simple point of contact for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during a crisis, the HSA is a critical link between the state and Federal government for all homeland security activities—prepare, prevent, respond, and recover.
When disasters strike, strong homeland security leadership makes the difference between swift response and recovery or lingering disaster. The most effective HSAs have a strategic vision, homeland security or law enforcement experience, balance between their governor’s priorities and federal requirements, and budget authority over the state homeland security enterprise.
Setting Priorities: Governors also choose their HSA based on homeland security trends. After Hurricane Katrina, several governors began to name the state emergency manager as HSA to coordinate the response for “all hazards.” After recent active shooter incidents, other governors have focused on law enforcement or public safety officials as their HSA to make safe schools a priority.Vision and Experience: As a result of the governor’s discretion, HSAs can come from a myriad of backgrounds and executive experience. HSAs include Adjutants General of the state National Guard, Public Safety Commissioners, or state Emergency Managers. Sometimes they are a governor’s political advisor or Lieutenant Governor. A HSA may also have had experience in Federal government—such as former DHS or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel. Governors often choose and trust HSAs that have developed strong relationships with FEMA, and DHS, and local law enforcement and emergency services to assure federal and local collaboration and support.
Managing the Budget: Governors use their budget authority to focus state homeland priorities. Those priorities include the most likely risks their state may face during their term—such as flooding and weather related events. In some states, the HSA is the designed state administrative agent (SAA) to receive and manage grants from FEMA and DHS. HSAs invested with budget authority can swiftly align Federal grants with local priorities, identify overlaps, and focus the entire state homeland security enterprise on mission-critical needs.