Hurricanes, Fires, Riots, and COVID-19: Why DHS Was Created

COMMENTARY Homeland Security

Hurricanes, Fires, Riots, and COVID-19: Why DHS Was Created

Aug 28th, 2020 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Lora Ries

Senior Research Fellow, Homeland Security

Lora is a senior research fellow in homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.
A street is seen strewn with debris and downed power lines after Hurricane Laura passed through the area on August 27, 2020 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Protecting our homeland is an exceptional mission, which over 240,000 DHS employees take seriously and with great pride.

DHS has serious work to do. The ACLU’s call to dismantle the department and start over is not a recommendation that should be taken seriously.

DHS should be commended for keeping America safe. We as Americans also should support its continuing work to protect us from all forms of disaster.

As Hurricane Laura barreled down on the Louisiana and Texas coasts, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were ready to respond, but it is just one of several disasters in America with which DHS officials are grappling.

California is experiencing some of its worst wildfires on record. Violent riots have consumed cities across the country. And all of this is on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to such natural and manmade disasters is why the Department of Homeland Security was created. And it is why the American Civil Liberties Union’s call to dismantle DHS is so illogical.

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President George W. Bush and Congress created DHS shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to bring together over 100 government agencies. Their aim was to better share security information and intelligence across government, to better manage emergency preparedness and response, and to better operate and protect our borders.

Protecting our homeland is an exceptional mission, which over 240,000 DHS employees take seriously and with great pride. Although DHS employees do not get enough thanks for the difficult jobs they perform every day, the jobs are rewarding because they touch individual Americans by protecting them, their homes, and their businesses, and by helping to respond when disaster strikes.

The Department of Homeland Security continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. DHS has coordinated deployment of federal personnel from FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Defense Department, the National Guard, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to support state, local, and tribal response efforts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of DHS, also administers federal grant money to states for supplemental lost wage payments after President Donald Trump authorized the agency to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for such payments.

The  Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, and Science and Technology—all parts of DHS—each continue to respond to COVID-19 with the goal of  keeping Americans safe while ensuring the continuity of commerce and travel.

DHS’ Federal Protective Service has the responsibility to protect federal buildings and property, as well as the staff and public on those properties. This little-known agency’s mission became the center of attention in Portland, Oregon, when FPS and other DHS law enforcement officers were attacked repeatedly by violent rioters for over two months as the officers worked to protect the federal courthouse and staff inside.

Sadly, an FPS officer, Patrick Underwood, was shot and killed by gunmen who opened fire on him and another law enforcement officer as they guarded the federal courthouse in Oakland, California.

Perversely, the ACLU blames the federal officers in Portland and elsewhere for rioters’ attacks on the officers and argues that DHS should be dismantled because its powers are too great.

This week, the ACLU filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security, claiming it used excessive force and illegal detentions in Portland to “quell the protests.” Undeterred, federal law enforcement officers continued to protect U.S. property, personnel, and citizens because rioters and disasters have not stopped.

Since July, the federal government has declared over 20 disasters because of wildfires in Western states, including the California wildfires that have killed at least seven. FEMA is administering federal aid in the form of fire management grants to states and other grants to fire survivors to help with home repair or replacement, rent, and other disaster-related needs.

Hurricane Laura, which as of Thursday evening, had killed at least six, is drawing simultaneously on significant DHS resources for preparedness and recovery.

After several days of preparation and warnings to citizens in the storm’s path to evacuate, FEMA is coordinating teams from DHS, the Defense Department, the National Guard, Red Cross, and Salvation Army for search and rescue and recovery efforts in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. Their jobs include pre-positioning hundreds of thousands of meals and liters of water, roof sheeting, generators, infant and toddler kits, and more for distribution where such supplies are needed.

Again, this is why the Department of Homeland Security was created. And DHS employees are good at it.

Meanwhile, terrorists intent on attacking America continue to plot and plan. DHS has succeeded at keeping them at bay as well.

DHS has serious work to do. The ACLU’s call to dismantle the department and start over is not a recommendation that should be taken seriously.  

The liberal legal organization’s lawsuit blaming the federal officers protecting a federal courthouse and American citizens inside as the provocateurs is deceitful. It omits the facts that rioters nightly attacked the courthouse, attempted to burn down the building with federal police officers inside, and intentionally injured more than 250 officers.  

DHS should be commended for keeping America safe. We as Americans also should support its continuing work to protect us from all forms of disaster.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal