Homeland security generally refers to the efforts by states to protect their interests and citizens from terror. In the United States, this effort is overseen by the cabinet level Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The department was created in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City and Washington DC and is now responsible to protecting the United States against terror as well  as administering other issues, such as immigration, border security and natural disasters.

History

Prior to 9/11 homeland security was broken up over a myriad of Federal agencies controlled by different departments of government. For example, the U.S. Customs Service was controlled by the Treasury Department while Immigration and Border Protection was administered by the Justice Department. When the DHS was formed both of those agencies were rolled into the homeland security jurisdiction and were combined making overall border security uniform.

Because of the perceived flaws in internal security exposed by 9/11, such as the inability for agencies to communicate information effectively, the DHS was established to make all aspects of homeland security overseen by one department. This was meant to increase security and response time to an emergency.

DHS and Terrorism

One of the most significant features of the DHS is its task to protect the United States from terrorism. It has engaged in a number of initiatives designed to increase security. One of the first innovations was the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS).

The HSAS was unveiled in March of 2002; the result of a presidential directive to provide citizens with comprehensive and up to date information about the risks of terrorist threats. The advisory system was designed not only for citizens ease, but also to facilitate communication between federal, state and local agencies.

The HSAS was a color coded scale along with text advising of the level of threat. It extends from green, which represents a low security threat, through red, which indicates a severe terror threat. Only once has the threat level been raised to severe when the British government announced in August of 2006 that it had thwarted a major terrorist threat. It has been orange, or high threat, five times since its inception.

In 2011 the Homeland Security Advisory System was phased out, being replaced by the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS). A DHS committee determined that the HSAS was confusing and lacked public support. A recommendation was made to overhaul the system, making it easier for people to understand and more accurately reflect security situations. As of August 2012 there have been no alerts issued by the NTAS.

Other functions

The DHS does not only deal with security threats posed by terrorism. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a DHS department tasked with responding to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

The department also coordinates efforts with other agencies to fight drug traffickers and has branch offices in Mexico to coordinate with Mexican Federal agencies to assist in or other illegal trafficking of goods or people into the United States. The DHS began the Blue Campaign to increase awareness and efforts to fight human trafficking which has become a significant problem in recent years.

Further resources