Kara Martin — Since September 11, the public has become more aware of the phrase "homeland security" and how it plays a role in the way people travel, work, and live. But what exactly is it? What most people think of as Homeland Security is actually a consolidation of 187 federal departments that happened in 2003, when Homeland Security became a cabinet department. But it actually encompasses a wide variety of government agencies, involved in a number of different areas, most of which have been around a long time. Though you may associate homeland security with terrorism, they are really concerned with protecting the United States from all outside threats – even including natural disasters. These are just a few of the main concerns of the Department of Homeland Security when it comes to national safety.
1. Border Security
Though it can be a thankless and dangerous job, border patrol agents are extremely important when it comes to protecting the United States from an influx of illegal drugs and weapons. They also apprehend over 300,000 people trying to cross the border illegally every year, and the number is steadily growing. Border security can be a controversial issue, but having agents at both borders who can check if people entering this country have a criminal background is vital – something neither side of the political aisle can argue. These agents work for the Customs and Border Patrol department – the CBP - which is the largest law enforcement entity in America.
2. Airport Security
Another controversial area of homeland security is the Transportation Security Administration. TSA agents are employees of the federal government, and their department was created in 2001, in the wake of September 11, to change the way Americans fly and make all passengers in and out of this country safer. Most people are familiar with airport screeners, who employ new technology to detect all the creative ways terrorists have come up with to potentially take a weapon or an explosive onto a plane. But other TSA agents work behind the scenes or in administrative jobs. They even employ Air Marshals, who service passenger flights to protect citizens while in the air.
3. Emergency Management
You've probably heard of FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was actually created in the late 1970s. Today, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. Workers for FEMA concern themselves with forming a solid plan to respond to overwhelming disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. When the government of a state declares a disaster and requests help from FEMA, they can secure funding for relief as well as provide workers on the ground to assist with emergencies. After criticism of the government's response to Katrina, many people felt it should not have been absorbed into homeland security. But it remains a necessary element of the department, as FEMA workers train not only for natural disasters, but for the possibility of biological or nuclear attacks.
4. The Secret Service
It might not be immediately obvious, but the Secret Service is one of the most prominent agencies in the Department of Homeland Security. Not only do they protect the President and Vice-President, their families, and all presidential candidates, they also protect visiting heads of state from other countries, ensuring their safety while they meet with American leaders on the United States soil. These days, the White House has its own police force, called the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service, which is an organization of nearly 1,500 officers that routinely patrol and help the Secret Service with its duties.
Homeland security can involve anything which keeps America safe, and there are a number of agencies such as the FBI and the CIA which are heavily involved with it, even if they are not a part of the official department. The Department of Homeland Security is the President's third-largest cabinet department, and it has become extremely important to the safety of the United States. It might not always create ideal situations, but in an age of global terrorism, it's important to know it's working.