The Department of Man-Caused Disaster Risk Preparation?

By Janice Kephart on March 19, 2009

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has a new word for terrorism: "man-caused disasters." Not only that, but in her March 16, 2009, interview with German press, she states that her job is to help prepare for risks from man-caused disasters.

So let me get this straight.

The Department of Homeland Security is tasked by the law that created it with a "primary mission to:

(A) prevent terrorist attacks within the United States;
(B) reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism;
(C) minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States; and
(G) monitor connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism, coordinate efforts to sever such connections, and otherwise contribute to efforts to interdict illegal drug trafficking"

Is now tasked -- because the Secretary thinks it should be so -- not with dealing with the continued threat from terrorism and other dangerous people who seek to enter, stay, and use our country for nefarious purposes, and perhaps even attack it, but a wide variety of "man-caused disasters" such as global warming, California forest fires, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse (see the top ten list in TIME magazine).

Moreover, the Department is now focused on preparation for all risks. The Secretary's exact words: "we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur." Does that mean the Department will no longer try to at least fulfill part of its mission, which in legal terms would read as follows under the Secretary's leadership?

(A) prevent "man-caused disasters";
(B) reduce the vulnerability of the United States to "man-caused disasters";
(C) minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from "man-caused disasters" that do occur within the United States; and
(G) monitor connections between illegal drug "man-caused disasters" and "man-caused disasters," coordinate efforts to sever such connections, and otherwise contribute to efforts to interdict illegal drug "man-caused disasters."

Risk preparation is not the mandate of the Department. Under Secretary Chertoff, the Department had worked hard to prevent, reduce vulnerabilities to, and minimize damage from a terrorist attack. For sure, credit for the most important work -- preventing a terrorist attack -- rests with the prior administration that (even if lacking in other areas) did well at keeping us safe here at home. (There were at least 20 potential attacks averted after 9/11.)

Perhaps the only reason Secretary Napolitano can talk about walking away from "fear-mongering" is because there hasn't been a terrorist attack. However, the current use of language could send the message to our adversaries that we are weakening on security. If Secretary Napolitano does not have at the top of her agenda preventing another terrorist act, or at least willingness to talk the tough talk necessary from a Homeland Security Secretary, then this unfortunate question awaits an answer: Why, Madame Secretary, did you take the job?





Interested in other Napolitano gaffes? Check out 'Secure'?: Another New Definition from Secretary Napolitano and No 9/11 Hijackers Came Through Canada, But That Doesn't Mean Canada Is Terrorist-Free.