Dept. of Homeland Security Urges Papers to Learn how to Safeguard Their Operations

By: Jim Rosenberg

Homeland Security thinks newspapers are a vital national asset to be protected against terrorism. So why are newspapers so seemingly blasé about the department’s efforts to help them?

Three years after preparing a report aimed at helping newspaper facilities protect themselves against terrorism, and several months after discussions with the Newspaper Association of America, “we have not been successful with our outreach to the newspaper industry,” says Todd Keil, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Infrastructure Protection at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“This is an area we’ve identified where we need to strengthen the partnership,” Keil tells E&P, arguing that his department’s success in securing commercial facilities depends upon the level of cooperation it receives.

When mail containing anthrax spores caused illness and death in the fall of 2001 — and the offices of National Enquirer parent American Media were specifically attacked —  newspapers reacted with precautions ranging from disposable gloves for mail handlers to trailers that isolated entire mail operations. Soon after, what was then the Office of Homeland Security worked with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health on guidelines to protect against terrorist attacks through buildings’ ventilation systems.

But almost a decade later, while aspects of terrorism remain a staple of news reports, companies that publish the news have not availed themselves of information and training to protect their own businesses — “to build resistance and mitigate risk,” in Keil’s words.

Newspapers fall within Entertainment and Media, one of eight major components of the commercial facilities sector. But so far, most of the attention has come from the entertainment side. “We’d like to balance that scale a little bit,” says Keil. “We haven’t received a lot of feedback from the news industry on the information we put out [and] need to know if it’s meaningful.”

Homeland Security offers free information and training tools — in print and on the Web — to help protect personnel and property. They range from very general tools applicable across many commercial activities ( <> ) to the newspaper printing and distribution facilities document “Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activity, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures.” That report — and much more, including relevant reports from the government’s emergency-management and disease-control agencies and another from Britain’s Home Office — are available by registering to access the Homeland Security Information Network.

The department asks newspapers — and E&P — not to publish the report’s contents, even though little is surprising. “Although this if fairly benign information,” Keil acknowledges, some of it “could be used against us.” Having it all one place, he adds, just makes it easier for the bad guys. But that’s also the report’s value to a facilities manager: The nature of the information aside, even if only some of it is needed at any given time, there’s much to consider, remember and implement. Having it in one, rationally organized document is useful. And not everything that seems obvious when read will be top of mind when called for.

Serving as a platform to share information for coordination, operational plans, mitigation, and incident response, the network ( <> ) is open to those who own, operate and safeguard facilities. Because the department does not track access, Keil says, it does not know how many newspapers use HSIN.

Industries and the department share information through corresponding coordinating councils. There is no cross-representation, but they do meet regularly and “produce day-to-day guidance and vision,” according to the department.

Industry councils often include trade associations. For newspapers, that could mean production, circulation, advertising and editorial, as well as possible cooperation with other print-industry groups.

Some commercial sectors maintain Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, available anywhere from typical business hours to 24/7, to keep abreast of critical infrastructure matters. DHS has its own 24/7 National Information Coordinating Center.

To the extent the desired partnership with the private sector is achieved, newspapers may have as much to offer as to gain. Apart from keeping the public informed, Keil notes that newspapers are especially well positioned to aid communities in a way that supports the department’s See-Something, Say-Something campaign.

Unlike mail carriers or others who walk or drive neighborhoods and downtowns, newspaper delivery drivers and independent-contractor carriers generally are out and around seven days a week before dawn, and many or most carriers live in or near areas they serve. A community’s eyes and ears when its other members are still asleep, they frequently report medical emergencies, fires and crimes. Add in personnel from circulation, ad sales and the newsroom, and a paper can have a pervasive presence day and night.

“That’s something we’re going to try to pursue through the sector coordinating council,” says Keil, “because it’s such a valuable resource.”

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