What Is Homeland Security

August 25, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Through a pair of new trade groups and a number of statewide initiatives, Michigan companies are gearing up to attack the homeland security market as never before.

The Department of Homeland Security has created a thriving niche market for emergency and disaster preparation that will this year be worth $1.7 billion. In Michigan alone, the state has $46.8 million in grants to spend.

With that said, many of the companies eyeing the homeland security market carry no aspirations toward the federal grant funds.

“The question becomes: How do you define the market?” said Frederick Grasman, Michigan Economic Development Corp. business development manager for homeland security, on a recent trip to Grand Rapids. “It’s not as much a function of one department as it is a function of the need required.”

The largest of the state’s industry initiatives, the West Michigan-birthed Michigan Homeland Security Initiative, is currently writing a position paper on just that. The market, according to cofounder Thomas Hines, president and CEO of local technology firm SecureMatrix, has been historically misrepresented.

“Right now, it’s being misused,” he said. “Everything is being called homeland security.”

On the protection continuum, personal physical security and logical security, frequently called “cybersecurity,” are found on one end, with business and campus security slightly closer to the center. On the opposite side of the spectrum are defense and military applications.

“That very wide middle is what our industry is involved in,” Hines said. “And that middle can start with something as commercial as a high-rise office building or a hotel like the new JW Marriott. Buildings, people, guests and so on are all part of our homeland structure.”

Yes, this includes schools, government buildings and law enforcement, as well as iconic public assets such as the Mackinac Bridge — but privately held assets are just as likely, if not more, to be hit by a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

“What most people don’t understand is the overwhelming majority of our homeland infrastructure — and consequently our homeland security dollars — are in private hands,” Hines said.

Nearly all of the country’s utility infrastructure, from oil wells to cellular towers, are privately owned and operated. The entire Internet backbone is privately held. The Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center were operated by the same private company that runs the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place; all of the recent hurricanes disproportionately affected the private sector.

And there is no better example than the 16-acre World Trade Center complex.

“Let’s face it, the World Trade Center was a private office building with commercial institutions in it,” Hines said. “Most of the people that died that day were private individuals. Yes, they targeted the Pentagon, too, but the reason they targeted both was because they were symbols. The Mackinac Bridge is a public symbol, but I think when the day is done, our companies that are well known are just as big a target for terrorism- or non-terrorism-related homeland security problems.”

In all likelihood, the government will actually play a small role in the homeland security landscape. Hines predicts its primary role in the private sector will be one of regulation and, to a much lesser degree, financial support. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, for instance, security at the corporate headquarters of Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Sears and other potential targets worked in conjunction with law enforcement, but the private institutions never relinquished responsibility.

As Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan explained at a recent consortium meeting, the federal government is going to play an even smaller role as time goes on. His department is already seeing a decline in human and physical resources as a result of the war in Iraq, and homeland security grants are dwindling.

“One thing that has really been interesting in the industry is the linkage between security, disaster recovery and the risk assessment process,” said Adam Moneypenny, a security consultant for local technology firm C/D/H and a consortium board member. “The risk assessment should drive both your security planning and business continuity planning.”

Not every firm is a potential terrorist target, but most businesses live in some degree of fear of a similar-scale disaster. And some of these firms manage assets on an equal scale to a large municipality.

Consortium member Andrew Dailey, founder of Fort Gratiot-based GeoCritical LLC, has worked with both General Motors and global IT firms. His company creates daily briefings for numerous corporations, plus law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that these are all large global enterprises, and many have struggled to identify international events and their implications,” Dailey said. “You mention risk assessment and things like that. Well, you need to be able to visualize your operations, build resiliency in your supply chain.”

Dailey’s group is a strong example of how the homeland security market will develop. It serves many facets of the 22-division federal department, along with other governmental organizations and many more private entities — providing real-time, geospatial risk assessments for terrorist attacks, avian flu, hurricanes, earthquakes and other international events.

Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data in Ann Arbor and a consortium board member, compares homeland security to the maturing IT security industry. Not long ago, few companies had firewalls, virus or SPAM protection. Today, it is inconceivable for a business to use a computer without them.

From a marketing standpoint, the need is one that is not likely to ever be far from the public mind. Consortium co-founder Keith Brophy, president of NuSoft Solutions, pointed to a recent Sunday edition of the daily newspaper. The front page featured stories on the foiled terrorist plot in England and an alleged plot against the Mackinac Bridge. The inside cover documented the 11 Egyptian students who recently disappeared en route to an exchange program at Montana State University.

“It’s a hot topic,” Brophy said. “We’re looking to drive this industry forward, and to do it in a responsible manner. This sector has a lot to do with the health and well-being of this nation.”    

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