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Opinion: Columnists

James Jay Carafano: Boston shows value of homeland security coordination, training

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Opinion,James Jay Carafano,Columnists,Homeland Security,Boston Marathon Bombing

In the 13 seconds between explosions at the Boston Marathon, dozens of the city's first responders were already on the move. Among them were Thomas Lee and David Carabin, veteran officers in the city's police force.

Lee and Carabin had something in common beyond being two of "Boston's finest." Both hold graduate degrees from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

The original 9/11 attacks revealed a serious problem with our homeland defenses. Somewhere in federal, state or local government, someone was filling an essential role in what today we call "homeland security."

Law enforcement hunted terrorists. Emergency responders showed up at the scene of disasters. Government officials organized for emergencies. But, often these disparate parts worked with little regard to the actions of one another. The overall effect was, shall we say, suboptimal.

The solution to this problem was obvious: Improve the teamwork among all those contributing to homeland security -- at every level. But how? In 2001, few in America were practiced in the practice of homeland security.

Enter the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. It took on the challenge of educating a first generation of leaders skilled in the discipline of homeland security. In less than a year, it had stood up the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. One year later, it opened one of the nation's first postgraduate programs in that discipline.

Lee and Carabin are two graduates of that program, and they are not alone. Eleven other alumni serve in the Boston area. Dozens more first responders in the metro area have participated in at least one of the center's professional development programs.

More than 160 have taken some of its self-study programs. And four times in the past four years, the center has dispatched mobile training teams to Boston and environs.

The center puts a lot of stress on helping local responders think smarter about the challenges they may face in the future. Brian Duggan, chief of the Northampton, Mass., Fire Department, for example, wrote his master's thesis on decision-making during "surge incidents."

That's homeland-security speak for complex and chaotic emergencies -- the type of situation that presented itself in Boston on the afternoon of the bombing.

Beyond bringing fresh ideas to the task of keeping the homeland safe, the center's programs are building a cadre of professionals who share trust and confidence in each other.

One of the most important maxims of homeland security is "responders shouldn't be exchanging business cards on the day of the disaster." By bringing a network of professionals together for a shared educational experience, the center helps address this challenge as well.

A typical seminar class brings together a wide variety of folks -- FBI agents, Coast Guard commanders, Border Patrol agents, emergency managers from small towns, law enforcement and fire officials from communities of every size.

Yes, America's homeland security initiative has been far from perfect. (Think TSA, pork-barrel "security" grants and terror color codes.) But we do have something to show for more than a decade's worth of homeland security investment: a competent cadre of professionals who can respond like a band of brothers.

It's too early to say for sure that the Boston plot should have been uncovered before the pressure cookers blew. What is not in question is that at least 50 terrorist plots aimed at the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11 because of improved practices and cooperation among agencies charged with counterterrorism. Also beyond question is the effectiveness of the response to the Boston bombing and the ensuing manhunt.

Success doesn't happen by accident. And having highly trained professionals on the scene is an excellent predictor of success.

Washington Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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