One Last Thing

Emergency Management and Border Security

That same hard truth also exists for much of the world of law enforcement including border security which has been in the news recently in Canada although this time, German arsonists notwithstanding, for some very encouraging reasons, collectively known as the Canada-US ‘Beyond the Border’ Agreement.

For those of us not blessed with the self-serving, self- proclaimed prescience of David Suzuki or Al Gore, ‘natural’ disasters resulting from earth, wind, fire and ice (and other phenomena) are only predictable in the sense that they’ve happened in the past and we can be relatively certain that they will happen in the future. We don’t necessarily know exactly when or precisely where, things will happen, but we do have a fairly good sense now of what Mother Nature may throw at us in a given circumstance. Pretty much. Most of the time.

What is known is the importance of learning from past incidents, maximizing the productivity of existing resources (including pointing that out on occasion to certain ‘resources’) and making sure that introductions among the players aren’t necessary while racing to the fire scene or getting the rescue teams prepped. The same is true for a specialized enforcement and interdiction activity like border security if it is to be operationally and cost effective, which is a given in today’s world.

In that sense, many of the lessons learned from effective inter agency emergency response and management actions over the past years are directly applicable to border security.

Great work has been done by the various agencies directly involved, and also by the local and provincial governments, in recognizing that it’s truly in everyone’s best interest to put aside parochial  institutional concerns and work to achieve the common goal. This includes basic but ongoing strategic analysis of what to expect – to define how something will be covered off, and by whom.

Checking the legislative authorities is also something best done before the power lines come down, or the request for assistance comes in to interdict that boat, or check the truck for explosives. Not doing so invites operational paralysis from the ‘no can do’ crats and lawyers who see institutional risk avoidance as their ‘Job 1’.

Equally, our history of emergency response and management (and prevention, mitigation, resiliency and recovery) provide a wealth of frontline insights into improvements that need to be made, like finally dedicating the 700MH band to emergency management, ensuring reliable full communications equipment interoperability and identifying and adopting appropriate operational standards rather than needlessly reinventing the wheel at every new incident.

The carryover of this proactive, detail oriented approach is perhaps what is most compelling about the Canada-US Border Agreement. Its dual focus on improved border security measures through intelligence led strategies and expedited clearance of low risk trade and traffic has a practical and informed ‘do what works’ feel to it that is beyond welcome. Not surprisingly, the Agreement specifically recognizes the need for joint or harmonized emergency management planning, measures and standards at ports of entry. It goes beyond this, however, by including cyber security, health issues, emergency response and a myriad of other tangible safety and security concerns that would affect citizens on either side of the 49th parallel.

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrive to speak in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

What is most remarkable about this Agreement and its accompanying Regulatory Cooperation Council plan is the unprecedented detail of what initiatives are to be launched, when they are to be done and who… on both sides of the border… has responsibility for doing what. I’ve been reading (and sometimes writing) enforcement policy documents for decades and I can say, without equivocation, that I have never seen a document covering subjects of this breadth with this level of precision and clarity. Clarity promotes accountability which promotes action and I believe that we have a certain Prime Minister to thank for that feature.

This proactive approach means that there are now tangible deliverables against which non-performance, foot dragging and institutional risk aversion will finally be measured. I’d say we’re about to get that “face recognition biometric bad guy lookout system” to detect and prevent entry of ­persons inadmissible to Canada and the U.S. on criminal, security or past removal grounds. The criminal and deportee legal community may have to forego that extra Mercedes, but such is the sacrifice required in these troubled times.

Intelligence-led enforcement will also mean achieving a full deployment of a cross border, joint force, mobile border patrol supported by the modern technology that is ready to go and has long been championed by the officers on front lines. It will also hopefully mean that CBSA’s highly trained and well-equipped officers will be full participants, and that the Agency will prioritize intelligence, operations and enforcement rather than its own staffing.

In both emergency management and border security the view from the Frontline is being heard and Canadians and Americans will be better off for it.
Scott Newark is FrontLine Security’s Associate Editor.
© FrontLine Security 2011