Poll: Give us interoperability

Council for Excellence in Government's "Homeland Security from a Citizens' Perspective" initiative

A new poll shows that most Americans believe the government could do more to protect the country from terrorism — particularly by sharing information better, improving systems interoperability and tightening border security — but they're not worried about cyberattacks.

Creating information systems to share data among law enforcement, health and emergency agencies (37 percent) and improved border security (37 percent) tied as the top two priorities for improving homeland security, according to a report released by the Council for Excellence in Government.

The report, "From the Home Front to the Front Line: America Speaks Out About Homeland Security," was based on a national poll of 1,600 Americans conducted in early February by Hart-Teeter Research and sponsored by Accenture. Hart-Teeter also conducted a sample poll of 250 first responders — 125 firefighters, 75 police chiefs and 50 sheriffs.

First responders listed emergency response equipment and training as their top concern (51 percent), while better information sharing came in second (34 percent) and border security was third (25 percent). They also cite a lack of funding as their most significant barrier to creating an interoperable communication system among government agencies.

Overall, the poll showed that 47 percent of Americans feel safer now, compared to the 38 percent who felt that way when asked the same question 18 months ago. And only 50 percent were very or somewhat concerned about a terrorist act in their area vs. 71 percent in the previous poll.

The poll also revealed that most Americans are little prepared for a terrorist attack and not aware of what their state and local governments are doing about security even though they say there is a role for them. Terrorism is third in the public's overall priorities, behind the economy and health care.

Within the terrorism category, bioterrorism emerged as the type of attack Americans worry about most (48 percent), followed by chemical weapons (37 percent) and nuclear attacks (23 percent). Cyberterrorism worried them the least (9 percent). First responders echoed the public's top two worries.

Power plants (49 percent), airports/airplanes (46 percent) and water facilities (44 percent) emerged as the top three targets of concern to the public. First responders added public places such as stadiums and harbors/ports to their list of top worries.

What Americans are saying, according to pollster Peter Hart, is "we've told you we think these are targets of concern. We expect something to be done here."

Hart also said most Americans get their information and news from television and radio, but many — particularly those who are more educated, wealthier and younger than 35 — get their information from government and news Web sites.

Sue Mencer, director of the Homeland Security Department's Office for Domestic Preparedness, said she wasn't surprised by any of the findings but felt Americans are becoming more complacent. "This weapon of terrorism has been with us for a while and likely to be with us for a long while, and we don't want to become complacent," she said during a panel discussion this morning.

She said she believed those who live in the middle of the country view terrorism as mainly an East Coast problem.

Stanley Gutkowski, managing director of Accenture's government practice, said in New York City, which created a centralized call center available by simply dialing 311, citizens have a faster and better way to communicate with government officials on a wide range of issues, including providing information about terrorism. He also said the federal government's program to track foreign visitors will tighten border security.

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