The Government Domain: Homeland Security Collections

Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and contributing author for The Congressional Deskbook, 2005-2007 (TheCapitol.Net).


“Homeland security” is a term that only became common in the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The National Strategy for Homeland Security, released by the White House in July 2002, provides this definition of the term on page 2:

Homeland security is a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.

In practice, homeland security involves every level of government. It encompasses a varied range of specialties including law enforcement, transportation, cybersecurity, chemistry, biology, food security, fire safety, and border control. And it draws from the disciplines of law, defense, intelligence, health, science, and more.

Various grants and initiatives have made homeland security a field of study and have given rise to websites, databases, and digital collections on the topic. The interdisciplinary and cross-jurisdictional nature of homeland security creates a need for websites that pull together disparate content from many fields.

Homeland Security Digital Library

The Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL) is one such site. HSDL is funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Preparedness Directorate. The project is based at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), with support from the NPS Dudley Knox Library.

Access to HSDL is somewhat restricted. To view and search all content, you must have an account. HSDL gives priority to local, state, and federal government organizations such as fire, emergency management, police, and homeland security departments. Accounts are also available to academic and research communities. Language on the website states: “We invite all homeland security policy planners, strategists, researchers, scholars, managers and first responders to use the HSDL.” Individuals fill out a web form to apply for access. Organizations may be able to obtain site-wide access.

Screenshot of Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL) Homepage

What can you access without an account?

  • The HSDL blog, called “On the Homefront.” Get there by selecting “News & Reports” at the bottom center of the HSDL home page. This blog, written by research librarians and subject specialists affiliated with HSDL, is perhaps the most valuable unrestricted-access content on the site.
  • A list of links to homeland security websites recommended by HSDL. See the “Recommended Sites” box, bottom left of the home page.
  • The CHDS journal Homeland Security Affairs, also in the “Recommended Sites” box.
  • Specialized news – in the “What’s Happening” box, bottom right of page – including HSDL’s own newsletter, new material added to HSDL, and a homeland security events calendar.

    Most of the content lies beyond the log-in. The primary resource is a database of roughly 30,000 cataloged, full text policy and strategy documents from federal, state, and local government agencies; international governments and institutions; and research institutions, universities, and think tanks. HSDL provides rich search capabilities and their own homeland security taxonomy for browsing the database. HSDL also has a local search engine for spidered content from relevant websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Lexington Institute think tank.

    Screenshot of HSDL Taxonomy

    Back on the home page, a unique HSDL tool called SeekOnce enables further access to specialized web content. SeekOnce provides a deep web search of security-related content from over 50 sources such as the National Criminal Justice Reference Service and the Rand Corporation. (SeekOnce is based on the ToxSeek program from the National Library of Medicine. Those interested in the technology will want to check out ToxSeek, a publicly-accessible and more fully featured engine than SeekOnce.)

    Aside from the documents databases, HSDL has a Policy & Strategy page that links to major reports and government documents, such as the Defense Department’s Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support. For the most part, the documents are stored locally on an HSDL server in PDF format. The page also links to relevant Executive Orders, Presidential Directives, and Homeland Security Presidential Directives – all also stored locally in PDF format. A section call Major Legislation lists security-related public laws from the past six years and links to the text of each law. Other resources on the Policy & Strategy page include theses from the degree programs at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security and the Naval Postgraduate School Homeland Security program, and research reports from the Naval Postgraduate School.

    Other Homeland Security Collections

    DHS established its own version of a think tank, the Homeland Security Institute (HSI), in 2004. Under the Resources tab on its site, the HSI features quick links to security-related websites and reports. HSI Resources is more of a handy list of links than a true digital collection such as the HSDL. One unique HSI asset is an extensive collection of quotes by persons ranging from Osama bin Laden to Scott McLellan to former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. The quotes collection is not indexed for searching and most quotes are from 2004 or earlier.

    The Air Force has a Center for Homeland Defense & Homeland Security Studies. The Center’s mission statement says it will “provide the Department of Defense, United States Air Force and sister services a leading-edge, homeland defense research and education center. Additionally, the center will provide a synergistic interface with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to help inform, enlighten and educate homeland defense and homeland security leaders and first responders on their responsibilities to the local, state and national community.” The Center’s site links to numerous public reports and websites arranged by categories such as “State & Local,” “Health & Food,” and “Information & Cyber.”

    The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) is a private, non-profit organization whose activities – like those of the HSDL – are now primarily funded by grants from the DHS Preparedness Directorate. Founded before September 11, 2001 and before DHS was established, MIPT – as stated on their website -“grew out of the desire of the survivors and families of the Murrah Federal Building bombing of April 19, 1995 to have a living memorial.” MIPT was officially established in Oklahoma City in 1999 and has been busy developing information services ever since. Although MIPT originated as a response to a domestic incident, the institute’s resources cover international terrorism topics as well as homeland security.

  • Screenshot of National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism Homepage

    MIPT’s services are too numerous to cover comprehensively here, but publicly-accessible highlights include:

  • MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base (TKB). TKB is a directory of terrorist groups, incidents, leaders, U.S. legal cases, and more. The site includes tools to create your own charts and reports from TKB information.
  • MIPT Responder Knowledge Base, with a catalog of “products, standards, certifications, grants, and other equipment-related information” for first responders.
  • MIPT Terrorism Information Center Electronic Resources Database, a searchable index of reports, articles, websites and other resources located on the MIPT site and elsewhere. MIPT offers a “What’s New” RSS feed announcing additions to the database.
  • Digitized collections of the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism (1976-present, including the successor publication “Country Reports on Terrorism”) and the FBI’s Terrorism in the United States (1982-2001).
  • Access to EBSCO’s International Security and Counter Terrorism Reference Center (ISCTRC) database of journals, articles, and other resources in terrorism and security. Access is free, but registration is required. A note on the MIPT registration screen states that “remote access to the ISCTRC database is permitted for personal, non-commercial use. However, remote access to EBSCO’s ISCTRC database from non-subscribing institutions is not allowed if the purpose of the use is for commercial gain through cost reduction or avoidance for a non-subscribing institution.”
Posted in: The Government Domain