Homeland Security Mostly Common Sense

February 19, 2007
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ALLENDALE — Michigan’s homeland security business sector lags behind other states, despite being touted by the governor, Grand Valley State University Professor Jonathan White said.

White, executive director of GVSU’s Homeland Defense Initiative and consultant to the justice department’s State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training (SLATT), travels extensively and has observed the homeland security sector in many places.

“Quite frankly, other states are ahead of us,” White said during an interview last week. “They’re ahead of us in security, and I think they’ve been ahead of us in business. Just working around the country every week, I’m always amazed at things that are happening in other places.”

Technological savvy combined with creativity could boost the business in Grand Rapids, he said.

“Where she (Gov. Jennifer Granholm) could be extremely successful is attracting information collection companies, information analysis companies, companies that have innovative security ideas, companies that can expedite processes. I’m just going to make up one: for example, a method to conduct thorough cargo inspections at the U.S.-Canadian border that moves trucks through at an exponential rate while making sure the inspection is done. A company like that is going to make millions of dollars for Michigan and lots and lots of jobs.”

White, dean of GVSU’s criminal justice program, was a member of the Jackson Police Department’s SWAT team in the 1970s when he first started studying local threats and then got interested in religious terrorism and became a professor specializing in the topic. In his work with SLATT, White performs information gathering and analysis and helps local law enforcement understand the global terrorism threat. He also works with the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program, which trains law enforcement personnel in friendly countries in terrorism-related police functions, such as bomb detection, crime scene investigation, airport security and VIP protection.

White noted that 85 percent of the nation’s infrastructure — from transportation to banking to television stations to companies that build bridges — is owned by private business. Much of the nation’s security falls into their hands, he said.

“‘Oh, this is Grand Rapids, what’s going to happen here?’ Well, without going into a lot of details, it can happen anywhere, and believe me, there are things that happen around here — and I’m not trying to play a fear card … but threats are real and they’re omnipresent, including in Grand Rapids,” he said.

So local businesses should avoid thinking about “homeland security” and think more about protecting their own interests, he said.

“Drop words like ‘homeland security’ and ‘counter-terrorism’ and add words like ‘creating a safe and predictable business environment,’ which is the goal of security: to spend the least amount of money you can to stabilize and secure operations. It’s not just homeland security; it’s just good, practical common sense,” White said.

“If you’re preparing a security system that works for natural disasters or for armed robberies, you also are preparing a counter-terrorism security system. It’s just adding a couple of extra elements into the mixture. It’s not as clandestine and James Bond-sy as it always sounds.”    

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