Lightweight Networks - Enabling the Homeland Security Enterprise

Since 11 September 2001, there have been attempts to use analogous systems from the Department of Defense (DOD) to build the national Homeland Security Enterprise. Unfortunately, a pure systems approach has not produced a cost-effective national enterprise for domestic security. According to Dr. David H. McIntyre, Director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University, the term “system” implies a central design, with someone in charge, and centrally directed toward common goals.

The Homeland Security Enterprise within a federalist model, by its nature, requires a distributed network. However, a distributed network does not lend itself well to a centrally directed systems approach.

Building Capabilities with Limited Resources 

Taking this rationale one step further, the resources available to the network elements outside the federal government require that the network be low in cost, nimble, and limited in overhead, yet still capable of linking resource nodes within the network – in other words, a “lightweight network.”

The advantage of fielding a lightweight network is that it avoids replicating existing resources and allows for a governance process that encourages collaboration and innovation. For example, cost-effective networks are very different from centrally directed systems – but essential to form some of the teams needed to organize and manage special-event security, large-scale celebrations, and major sporting events. As grants decline, there is a need for new strategies to continue enhancing preparedness capabilities within a resource-constrained environment.

Fortunately, theseeas are not new and have been applied over the past 25 years in the business world. They are, in effect, a specialized application of what Robert E. Quinn, Professor at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, calls an “open systems model” and “human relations model” (AMG Consulting Workshop sponsored by University of Maryland Medical System [UMMS], Ann-Michelle Gundlach and Sharon O’Keefe, Baltimore, Maryland, December 1992).

Today, most governments tend toward a control orientation that reflects the prevailing 20th- century management theory summarized as “plan, organize, control, and direct.” These principles of scientific management – which came out of the industrial revolution and were developed by Frank Galbraith, an architect and builder, and Frederick Taylor, an American mechanical engineer – evolved in several ways throughout the last century. The linkage of organizational theory and ic industrial engineering, combined with the infusion of technology, has undoubtedly improved government processes.

However, the culture of control is still at work. Quinn’s work demonstrates the context of the control orientation and how it can be reframed through the use of open-system approaches to support more innovation and greater flexibility. This topic is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that the application of lightweight networks is neither theoretical nor new.

There undoubtedly should be more focus on practitioner awareness, understanding, and the sharing of trade-craft in the network collaboration model. Academic network analysis theory may inform, but will not totally solve the problems created by and evolving from the interface between governance and resources. What seems to be needed is more empirical testing of models. The “art” of building these networks requires not only patience and skill but also a determined yet flexible mindset that embraces collaboration.

One of the early reports that discussed this notion of networks was produced in 2008 by the Naval Post Graduate School. That report documented the emerging concept of “leadership through networked collaboration” and the critical success factors that seemed to underlie the formation and sustainment of such networks.

Public-Private Partnerships 

There has been considerable discussion – in leadership as well as academic circles – about creating public-private partnerships as one approach to making the nation more resilient. Some of the most effective public-private partnerships – as defined by the PADRES (Publicly Accessible, Dedicated, Resourced, Engaged, and Sustainable state/territory led or supported public-private Partnership) criteria in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) IS-660 training course – are in effect lightweight, low-cost networks.

According to INFOGRAM 9-12 of 1 March 2012 – issued by the Emergency Management and Response Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EMR-ISAC) – “the best government programs follow PADRES.” More specifically, those programs are:

  • Publicly Accessible – The general public can easily recognize and access the contacts, leadership, skills, information, resources, and capabilities of the collaborative partnership;
  • Dedicated – A full-time liaison official manages the public-private partnership and implements the partnership’s strategic plan;
  • Resourced – Funding, facilities, tools, and staffing adequately support all partnership efforts;
  • Engaged – Public- and private-sector leaders and other members provide active support, participation, and two-way communication; and
  • Sustainable – Strategic plans, funds, and resources maintain long-term viability throughout the emergency management cycle.

A 2011 collection of articles on Business Continuity and Homeland Security, written by David H. McIntyre, included a chapter by William (Bill) Eggers titled “A networked model for emergency planning and response: The lessons of Katrina.” That chapter outlined four categories of networks – Formal-Hierarchical, Contractual, Relational, and Spontaneous. Perhaps the most intriguing point mentioned in the article is that such networks already exist. The key to action, therefore, is to not only recognize them but also use them in a network strategy for governance.

Mutual Aid Networks 

Various states already have formed the networks needed to provide interstate and intrastate mutual aid. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact is recognized as one of the most successful, but there are numerous examples of other networks across the nation testing new and different approaches. Following are some of the better known and/or most active:

  • All Hazards Consortium
  • American Logistics Aid Network
  • Bay Area Regional Disaster Resilience Initiative
  • California Resiliency Alliance
  • Chicago First
  • Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership
  • DomPrep40
  • Great Lakes Hazards Coalition
  • IAEM Public Private Partnership Caucus
  • InfraGard Chapters
  • MESH Inc.
  • Network
  • Pacific Northwest Economic Region
  • Safe America Foundation
  • Safeguard Iowa Partnership
  • Southeast Emergency Response
  • Southeast Region Resilience Initiative
  • The Infrastructure Security Partnership
  • Utah Partnership

Many of the leaders of these networks are generally aware of the other networks, and their leaders – and are also, in some instances, beginning to connect and collaborate with their counterparts. Finding ways to productively link these networks could leverage more resources from the private sector and significantly improve intergovernmental collaboration. This is a major leadership challenge for those involved in the networks because, by their very nature, such networks are not usually resource-intense.

It is unclear whether these networks will ultimately be successful, but they are trying hard to provide practical approaches that, if successful, could contribute significantly to a resilient nation. If government leaders can overcome their current “control” orientation and perspective, at least some of these networks will be able to make significant contributions. Achieving that goal, though, will require a willingness not only to empower networks to play a more active role but also for government to engage more effectively – on a continuing basis. Today, there seems to be only one undeniable conclusion: The current economic environment will continue to make the operation and success of these networks an imperative that can no longer be avoided.


For additional information on: The Naval Post Graduate School’s August 2008 report, “Multi-Jurisdictional, Networked Alliances, and Emergency Preparedness, Center for Homeland Defense and Security,” visit

David H. McIntyre and William I. Hancock’s 2011 book “Business Continuity and Homeland Security, Volume I, The Challenge of the New Age.” Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Dennis R. Schrader

Dennis R. Schrader is President of DRS International LLC and former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Preparedness Directorate. Prior to assuming his NPD post he served as the State of Maryland’s first director of homeland security, and before that served for 16 years in various leadership posts at the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation. Dennis currently provides Senior Consulting services at Integrity Consulting Solutions, LLC.



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