Recommendations for Improving Program Implementation
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) water security research program originated in 2002 under pressure to enhance scientific information and technical support related to homeland security, despite many gaps in our understanding and little if any synthesis of existing knowledge. The EPA rapidly developed a research infrastructure and the Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan (EPA, 2004a) to address these short-term information needs using a three- to four-year time horizon. When it became clear that the information needs could not be addressed fully in the short term, the EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC) was made permanent, and the Water Infrastructure Protection Division was formed.
With the passage of time, the EPA has now had a chance to gain some perspective on which projects deserve more emphasis and which less, which projects have been understaffed or underfunded with respect to their importance in the larger picture, and which projects are simply inappropriate for the agency in its current circumstances and capabilities. The NHSRC is now at a transition point, when it can put this perspective into a useable form as the EPA plans its next steps for the Water Infrastructure Protection Division. In this chapter, program implementation issues are analyzed, looking ahead to a vision of the EPA’s water security research program and to the past to identify lessons learned from the experiences of the first four years. Specifically, the committee presents recommendations for strategic planning, research management, and information sharing. These program management suggestions are meant to strengthen the EPA’s water security research program further and use its limited resources to support the needs of the water and wastewater industries, public health workers, emergency responders, and citizens.
DEVELOPING A NEW STRATEGIC APPROACH FOR WATER SECURITY RESEARCH
The EPA has provided important leadership and initiative in the area of water security research, but if the agency is to sustain this leadership role, it needs to solidify and enhance a vision for its water security research program with distinct missions and objectives beyond the short-term objectives of the Action Plan (EPA, 2004a). The committee, therefore, recommends that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Protection Division formally articulate its mission and program objectives as it makes the transition beyond the Action Plan. Several suggestions are presented in this chapter to guide the EPA in developing a new strategic approach for water security research.
Strategic Program Objectives for the Future of EPA Water Security Research
The goal of the EPA’s water security research program should be to create useful research products based on the best scientific knowledge at its disposal. The success of the research products can be judged by the criteria presented in Chapter 3 and reiterated here:
Water security threats with the greatest likelihood and potential consequences (including fatalities, sickness, economic losses, and loss of public confidence) are addressed.
Effectiveness and efficiency of the nation’s response and recovery capacity are improved and/or risk reduction or consequence mitigation measures are developed.
Implementation of new technologies/methodologies is judged to be likely, taking into account their cost, usefulness, and maintenance requirements.
Dual-use benefits accrue from the research.
After studying the organization of the EPA’s current water security research program, the committee suggests three broad program objectives to organize future water security research. These objectives were developed out of criterion 2 above and support the overarching goal of creating useful research products:
Develop research products to support more resilient design and operation of facilities and systems. This objective encompasses research on pre-incident preparedness and mitigation activities, including risk and threat assessments, and is consistent with the EPA’s historic emphasis on prevention of adverse effects. It also recognizes the futility of preventing an attack and focuses research on products and innovative approaches that could mitigate the impacts from an attack or improve the resiliency of systems to recover. Work supporting this objective will likely have multiple benefits since resilient designs and operations should also speed recovery from natural disasters or nonintentional system failures. If the EPA embraces this objective, the agency will need to communicate its vision of resilient systems and help broaden the perceptions of security beyond fences and alarms.
Better enable operators and responders to detect and assess incidents. This objective encompasses research on contamination detection and analysis methods and distribution system modeling tools to assess the probable spread of contamination. Research in support of this objective will help minimize consequences from water security incidents and shorten the time before response and recovery actions can be taken. The focus on detection and assessment parallels other EPA programs, such as those focusing on incident assessment (e.g., under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act [CERCLA]).
Improve response and recovery. This objective emphasizes research that enhances post-incident activities, which aligns with the historic work of the EPA on mitigation and cleanup. Contingency planning, risk assessment, risk communication, and decontamination are all included in this research objective.
These three program objectives are offered as one way to organize the future water security research priorities, emphasizing pre-incident, incident, and post-incident applications. These proposed objectives are consistent with the criteria outlined in Chapter 3, although other organizing frameworks are certainly feasible.
Strategic Research Planning and Prioritization
Once the program objectives are identified, strategic research planning is needed to identify and organize the tasks necessary to achieve the
objectives. An updated analysis of the state of the science and water security risks (considering probable physical, cyber, and contaminant threats) is needed for the EPA to identify those risks deserving at least some research attention. Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has criteria for determining its research priorities (e.g., focusing on threat scenarios for which the number of casualties is predicted to be greater than 10,000), the EPA should use this opportunity to articulate its own criteria for defining research needs considering other important issues such as loss of public confidence or applications to natural disasters.
The four criteria presented in Chapter 3 can be used to prioritize future water security research projects within the core program objectives. Additionally, the EPA can and should address the following questions in setting its research priorities:
What key gaps exist in the current state of water security science and technology that should be addressed in the near term to meet the particular program objectives?
What are the trade-offs with respect to cost, potential benefit, and degree of urgency?
Utility managers and other end users of the research products can provide valuable insight on these questions and should be included in the strategic planning process.
Once research projects have been identified and prioritized to address the overarching program objectives, the EPA should identify appropriate research partners and other research entities that can help conduct this research. The EPA’s research vision for water security should not be limited to those topics within its traditional expertise or even those subjects that can be reasonably funded within the EPA’s research budget. By maintaining a broad vision for water security research, the EPA can engage other entities (e.g., the National Science Foundation, DHS, private industry) to join in the efforts to accomplish the research objectives.
A strategic planning exercise is a logical and necessary extension of the Action Plan. Although it is beyond the committee’s charge to recommend a specific strategic planning model, the EPA will need to investigate existing planning and decision-making models before embarking on this endeavor to ensure a successful and appropriately inclusive planning process. A new strategic approach to water security research should strengthen the EPA’s leadership in the field while emphasizing valuable
research products that can guide the most important aspects of pre-incident, incident, and post-incident water security activities.
The water security research program presents challenging management issues, as noted in Chapter 2. Suggestions are provided below with respect to the distribution of intramural and extramural research, strengthening the research program, and improving the mechanisms available for independent peer review.
Distribution of Intramural and Extramural Research
Much of the water security research and technical support work conducted under the Action Plan is being done by organizations outside the EPA, including other governmental organizations and nongovernmental entities. Using external contractors for a significant portion of the research portfolio was an appropriate strategy when the NHSRC was expected to have a limited lifespan and needed to address a great number of research questions in a short time. Now that the NHSRC has been made permanent, the pros and cons of using contracts as the principal management tool for conducting research in areas the EPA is not currently staffed or equipped to handle should be reassessed. Should the NHSRC continue to maintain competence only in the EPA’s traditional strength areas, such as contaminant occurrence, fate and effects, treatment and conveyance, and agent detection? Or should the NHSRC broaden its base of skills to address a wider array of security threats (e.g., cyber security, blasts) and research topics (e.g., behavioral science, information management)?
The major disadvantages of contracting a large portion of the water security research portfolio include the following:
Contracting does not strengthen internal NHSRC capability, allowing some important gaps in NHSRC expertise to persist over long time frames. If the EPA were to build its staff knowledge and skills by conducting more research in-house, these skills could also provide a long-term asset to the EPA, because this knowledge could be applied to other research problems and could enhance the information resources immediately available during emergency events and natural disasters.
Excessive dependence on contracting may hinder the development of the precise skills and knowledge required for EPA staff to prepare and manage external research contracts effectively. Adequate contract oversight necessitates that one or more persons at the NHSRC be capable of writing an effective scope of work, monitoring the progress of the contract, and interpreting the results in the context of a water security application. This usually entails identifying, in advance, research obstacles and other technical problems that may arise. Successfully accomplishing the NHSRC goals through a contract is unlikely if the NHSRC has no research staff with the appropriate expertise to manage the contract. The research skills that are needed to prepare and monitor the progress of contracts are likely to erode with time as individuals become engaged as full-time project officers rather than continuing to conduct research themselves.
Contracting limits the EPA’s understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the research and reduces opportunities for addressing problems or concerns during the course of the project. Offsite research usually does not allow for frequent face-to-face meetings and direct review of laboratory work. When research is conducted in-house, problems can be identified and protocols modified immediately without lengthy delays, negotiations, or cost overruns.
Contracting mechanisms limit the degree of flexibility in setting or changing research priorities in response to new information, emergencies, or shifting agency priorities.
There are also clear advantages of contracting to complement the expertise of EPA staff and to select the best and most knowledgeable researchers to conduct advanced research projects. In the following specific circumstances, contracting may offer notable advantages to the EPA:
When the EPA lacks major equipment or specialized facilities that may be needed only for a limited number of experiments.
When NHSRC staff lack skills, and researchers at another facility are highly skilled in the type of research and equipment required. Even in this situation, however, the NHSRC needs to have a project officer with sufficient subject matter expertise to develop and monitor the contract and interpret and integrate the results.
When beneficial collaborative relationships between the NHSRC and non-NHSRC researchers could result from the contract.
When fast results are required and well-established protocols exist. Contractors can supply additional personnel to carry out required tasks, perhaps using NHSRC equipment and facilities, to supplement EPA staffing capabilities. Thus, contracting can be used to achieve staffing flexibility.
When two or more new methods with slightly different analytical approaches need to be developed and evaluated for comparison purposes. Components of a large study can be completed by multiple contractors, and the best method can be either adopted by the NHSRC or used as the starting point for further development by NHSRC researchers.
When the contractor is located in close proximity to a field study site and can facilitate the collection and/or analysis of environmental samples.
In summary, advantages and disadvantages exist to using contracts and other external funding mechanisms for conducting water security research. Based on the advantages, extramural funding should be used to support specific research in the EPA water security research program. Careful attention, however, should be given to achieving the right balance. The EPA should develop greater in-house research capability, or at least subject matter expertise, in disciplines that have been historically weak and where long-term water security concerns are projected. Such areas include physical security and behavioral sciences (see Chapter 4).
The NHSRC should make a conscious decision about the necessary balance of skills among its personnel and rebalance its permanent staff lines in accordance with that decision. As noted above, even if research is to be conducted via contracts, the EPA needs adequate in-house expertise to evaluate and manage such contracts. Many other EPA programs have evolved in a similar manner. For example, the startup of the EPA hazardous waste program occurred via the transfer of individuals from solid waste, water, and other programs. As the permanence of the endeavor became clear, the skill set of permanent staff changed to address the technical needs of the program (e.g., by adding individuals with focused skills in earth sciences and chemical and geotechnical engineering).
Strengthening the EPA Research Program
The administrative and technical staff in the laboratories, centers, and offices of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) are critical resources to support innovative research and work in partnership with extramural researchers to achieve the NHSRC’s goals. However, a high percentage of the EPA’s current scientists and engineers will soon reach retirement age. Planning is under way to address this issue within the ORD’s Management Multi-Year Plan (EPA, 2005f). Three comprehensive management initiatives, designated strategic goals, are slated to be completed within the next three years, and one of the goals is to attract, develop, and retain a talented and diverse workforce. Activities which support this goal include (1) creating the next generation of scientists through efforts such as the STAR Fellowship Program, the AAAS Environmental and Risk Policy Fellows Programs, the Association of Schools of Public Health Fellows Program, the ORD post-doctoral employee program, support for minority academic institutions, and support for state and national science fairs; and (2) implementing initiatives to strengthen the ORD in attracting and retaining a well-qualified workforce, as outlined in EPA (2004e). These initiatives are an important step that should be supported by the NHSRC leadership.
The EPA could also employ a number of possible underutilized mechanisms to enhance its onsite expertise without adding permanent staffing. For example, the National Science Foundation relies upon the use of “rotators” hired under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to manage particular research programs (or portions of programs). The use of such personnel, serving term appointments (perhaps two or three years) “on loan” from the academic or private sector or from other governmental agencies, would bring a more robust set of onsite skills. This approach could also foster cross-training with EPA staff and provide further long-term benefits.
One key part of strengthening the EPA water security research program involves building alliances with relevant experts. The EPA is currently working to expand its network of experts while also improving coordination among federal agencies and nongovernment organizations through the Distribution System Research Consortium.1 The EPA has held several meetings, including its Water Sector Security Workshops
(EPA, 2006c), to receive input from and foster alliances with water utilities, trade organizations, local and state governments, public health organizations, and emergency responders. The EPA should also work to foster alliances with professional engineering and technical societies and to build new alliances with experts in other related fields, such as earthquake impact mitigation, disaster response, or social science related to terrorism. Continually improving collaboration with outside experts will keep the EPA abreast of new developments in the field and minimize duplication of effort.
Effective independent peer review is an important mechanism for avoiding research errors, program problems, and inefficiencies. Peer review applies to both project-level evaluations (including reviews of proposals and final products) and program-level reviews. The EPA has long used peer review for evaluating research proposals in its competitive grants program. The EPA has used the Science Advisory Board (SAB) to provide broad-level programmatic review, and the Homeland Security Advisory Committee was formed through the SAB in 2005 to provide focused advice to the NHSRC on homeland security issues. The ORD has also used the Board of Scientific Counselors to provide programmatic review of the agency’s research programs.
Assuring appropriate independent peer review in the EPA’s water security program presents particular challenges. A major challenge is providing independent peer review of NHSRC activities that contain classified, or sensitive but unclassified, material. Currently, sensitive and classified peer-review mechanisms may not be sufficient.
Sensitive and classified peer-review activities, while new to the EPA, are not new to the federal government. The EPA should examine available mechanisms to provide effective independent peer review of sensitive or classified work. The NHSRC should carefully review areas where independent peer review involving sensitive and classified material is helpful or necessary and explore some of the following options:
The EPA could work with other governmental agencies (e.g., the Department of Defense [DOD], DHS) to identify a pool of individuals both from within and outside the federal sector who have appropriate level security clearances, as well as the expertise needed to serve as peer reviewers for the program needs. If specific deficiencies in the roster of
potential reviewers are identified, the EPA could identify additional experts who then would apply for an appropriate level of security clearance.
The NHSRC could establish an advisory committee of outside experts to provide independent peer review, with the expectation that the experts could receive security clearance at appropriate levels. By defining a sufficiently broad mix of individuals on this committee, a pool of individuals qualified to provide an appropriate peer review would be available. Other organizations have developed peer review committees in this manner (e.g., DOD, DHS). For example, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity can operate in a classified manner in providing advice to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of NIH, and others with respect to biosecurity life sciences research (DHS, 2006b).
One of the most difficult challenges faced by the EPA and many other organizations is communicating research results and products effectively to those who need them at the time they need them. In a 2003 report, the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors emphasized that communicating or disseminating research results is an integral part of the implementation of applied research and requires planning from the outset (EPA, 2003a). This kind of planning involves identifying (1) key audiences; (2) the interests, needs, and concerns of those audiences; and (3) communication methods (e.g., workshops, Web sites, newsletters, documents) that reach the audiences in ways they find useful. In other words, the communications plan should be client-centered.
Recommendations are provided below for improving the NHSRC’s water security research communications to complement existing agency initiatives. These recommendations include approaches for identifying the needs of water security stakeholders, improving research synthesis, identifying effective mechanisms for dissemination, evaluating communication strategies, and emphasizing training and technology transfer.
Identifying the Needs of Water Security Stakeholders
The NHSRC should increase its use of formal and informal methods of soliciting early input and involvement from its priority audiences to
improve the effectiveness of its research communication and dissemination efforts and products. Some examples include getting input from audiences prior to developing a communication effort, pretesting materials on an intended audience, and soliciting feedback on communication efforts during early phases of implementation. Based on the results of this so-called formative evaluation, changes can be made to increase the usefulness and effectiveness of the communication products. The comprehensiveness and rigor of formative evaluation can be adjusted based on the importance, scope, and resources expended on the communication program itself. In the long run, formative evaluation can save resources by ensuring that communication reaches those who most need or want it in ways these audiences find useful (Rossi et al., 2004).
A good example of formative research that may serve as a model for the water sector is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) use of qualitative audience research to provide insights into the values, beliefs, and behaviors of the audiences for the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (CDC, 2003b). The CDC conducted a formative evaluation to identify priority audiences and to develop its communication strategy, messages, and materials. Based on follow-up research, additional ways to further improve communication for subsequent reports were identified.
The success of the EPA’s water security research program will be dependent on the ability to supply stakeholders with useful research products in a timely manner. Seven general categories of potential users of published research and technical support information are identified in the Action Plan (EPA, 2004a): water industry representatives, response organizations, public health organizations, federal agencies, laboratories, academia, and the general public. Potential users of the information vary from DHS, which may require highly classified information, to the media and general public. Not all potential users can be identified a priori; some potential users may only realize their need for the information at the time of an incident or suspected incident. The EPA should take into account the wide range of audiences for the water security research findings to identify the most effective approaches to disseminate the information. Therefore, a more systematic strategic effort to characterize specific audiences and to identify and prioritize their needs will likely improve the success of information sharing of the EPA’s water security research products.
Utilities, public health organizations, first responders, and the public look to the EPA’s water security research products to help them make decisions about emergency response planning and preparedness, and these users need research products that effectively synthesize the relevant available information. As discussed in Chapter 2, the recent fast pace of security-specific research has led to a flood of focused publications in the scientific literature, and it is a challenge for end users to keep up with the latest findings. Information synthesis is an important element of research translation that can summarize the state of knowledge, highlight the relevance of research findings to end users, and generalize the results, where applicable, to other dual-use applications. Synthesis efforts should be valued and thoughtfully developed in the EPA’s continued water security research program to improve the usefulness of its research products. Many Action Plan projects seem to be directed at some level of information synthesis, although it is too early to judge the effectiveness of these products.
Techniques and Outlets for Information Dissemination
The value of research findings can only be realized when people who have the ability to affect change are aware of the information and can access and use the results. The EPA uses its NHSRC Web site2 and secondarily its Water Security Division Web site3 as the primary mechanisms to disseminate its nonsensitive water security research findings and technical support products. Through these Web sites, nonclassified documents are available to individuals who seek them. Through Web searches or frequent visits to the Web sites, the water-sector specialist can stay current with newly released scientific reports. However, there are other sector specialists who do not regularly seek out the online documents. Multiple mechanisms exist for making end users aware that new water security research and technical support information is available, including homeland security-specific mechanisms and broadly applicable information portal technology, which are described below.
The EPA faces an additional challenge of information overload when communicating the results of EPA water security research. As noted in
Chapter 4, the results of the Action Plan are expected to be released in an estimated 75 different documents, databases, or tools. Not all entities within the water sector will understand the practical relevance or have use for all the information generated for improving water security. The EPA has articulated a desire to make information available widely across the expansive water sector, and the committee encourages this practice. Nevertheless, the EPA could be more effective in its dissemination if it categorized and defined a primary audience for each of its information products (e.g., researchers, public health officials, utilities) and endeavored to disseminate its focused products to specific stakeholder groups. Both security-specific communication mechanisms (e.g., WaterSC, WaterISAC) and portal technology described below can be used to achieve this objective.
Security-Specific Communication Mechanisms
Several communication mechanisms exist, including the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC), the Water Security Channel (WaterSC), and the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN; see Box 2-1), that have the capability of broadcasting nonclassi-fied information to water security stakeholders. Membership in the WaterISAC requires fee-based subscriptions and is limited to water and wastewater utilities, state administrators, and EPA personnel. However, the WaterSC provides free access to a broader range of end users, including academic researchers, public responders, and a larger number of utilities. Once established, the HSIN will also provide access to the same broad suite of users as the WaterSC.
Use of these security-specific mechanisms would enable the EPA to reach out to a large portion of its intended audience and directly notify interested parties about recently published material via e-mail notices. Over the last two years, reaching individual water utilities has become more effective through the use of the WaterISAC and the WaterSC. Not only is urgent information pushed out via e-mail, telephone, and personal digital assistants, but background information useful for security planning, research, and response is stored in the online library. Currently more than 8,000 organizations receive direct notification of available resources. Although 8,000 may seem only a small percentage of U.S. water utilities, the actual number of recipients expands when retransmission of messages is considered. For example, a state primacy agency may transmit an important WaterSC notification it has received to utili-
ties within its state borders. With states currently subscribing to the WaterISAC and local governments affiliating with the WaterSC, important notifications should be further disseminated to very small utilities, assuming that updated contact information can be maintained (D. VanDe Hei, WaterISAC, personal communication, 2006).
The EPA should use these security-specific communication mechanisms to inform affiliates of newly published reports available on the WaterSC, HSIN, or the EPA’s Web site. WaterISAC and WaterSC notices can target specific stakeholders and highlight the relevance of the EPA products for these end users. If the EPA embraces this approach, it would need to work with the WaterISAC to help identify the target audiences for its research products and incorporate those stakeholders as affiliates of the WaterSC. The WaterISAC board of managers continues to evaluate the need to expand the WaterISAC user base to include groups such as researchers and consultants to meet their needs to collaborate and share information on important research projects and findings. The WaterISAC is also considering developing linkages to other critical-sector ISACs to improve information sharing with interdependent sectors (D. VanDe Hei, WaterISAC, personal communication, 2006).
Research findings need to be disseminated to the appropriate audiences within the constraints of data sensitivity guidelines. Some of the EPA’s water security research, however, will result in information that is either classified or is “for official use only” and therefore will not be distributed widely. Sensitive but unclassified information could be made available to registered users in secure areas such as the WaterISAC. For example, the EPA could work with the WaterISAC to establish a separate area on the Web site for the EPA’s sensitive findings and this area could be made accessible only to vetted users who have a demonstrated “need to know.” However, the EPA also needs to find ways to “sanitize” important information from classified and sensitive documents so that the main message from the research can be made available to all end users who need it. Even if the final product remains sensitive or classified, the EPA should communicate broadly the nature of the research that has been conducted. In this manner, researchers, public health officials, or others could contact EPA staff to determine if access to the research information should be allowed. While keeping some kinds of information classified or “for official use only” might be reasonable under routine conditions, some mechanism should also be available to release information in emergency situations to an appropriate class of user (e.g., a water utility operator) without requiring a formal security clearance.
Information Portal Technology
Users of the information produced by the NHSRC cannot all be identified a priori, because some users may only realize their need for the information during an actual security event. Therefore, the EPA should supplement the above targeted mechanisms with other non-subscription-based mechanisms to disseminate its water security research products. The development of a usable information portal is an effective and essential component of an information sharing strategy, making information easily and readily accessible to the full range of stakeholders.
Merely putting information on a Web site is not sufficient. In the EPA’s NHSRC Web site, research materials are organized broadly by topical area, but the site is challenging to navigate and will become more so once many of the research products from the Action Plan are released. The quantity of research information anticipated from the EPA’s water security program is so large that special attention is needed to make the information navigable and easily accessible. In addition, the EPA has multiple Web sites on water security, reflecting the efforts of both the Office of Water and the ORD, and the two sites are not well integrated. These multiple access points and the absence of a single, easily navigable portal for water security are certain to confuse and frustrate the casual stakeholder seeking specific information in a timely fashion.
The goal of the water security portal should be to become a primary source for water security research information and a true entry portal for further information of arbitrary depth and specialization. Such sites now exist for other focused interest communities and have become the initial stops for particular topics. Two examples are the federal National Library of Medicine’s Web site for the National Center for Biotechnology Information4 for genomics and bioinformatics information and the private nonprofit Flu Wiki5 for influenza pandemic resources and information.
The following possible features should be explored in the development of an information portal:
carefully designed “Frequently Asked Questions” with appropriate subsidiary links;
predesigned information “tours” targeted toward users at various skill and interest levels (e.g., beginner, intermediate, advanced) with se-
lected expository material, links to research products or other sites at the appropriate level, and branched directions for particular interests;
selected links to other appropriate sites (e.g., Office of Water, DHS, WaterSC) with appropriate annotation describing what can be found there;
special interest pages (e.g., rumors, subject-filtered news links, trade association links with annotations);
links to reference sources and relevant texts;
links to appropriate personnel directories; and
perhaps an open forum page for the exchange of information.
An effective information portal requires significant advance investment in design followed by a commitment to user testing. It requires dedicated communications staff with expertise in Web design and in human-computer interactions to design, manage, and maintain. An investment in staff is an essential component of making the research products usable, which should be the ultimate objective of the EPA’s water security effort. The communication staff should work closely with an advisory committee on information sharing, with representation from existing ISACs, to guide the effort and help it meet the needs of the user community.
Staff dedicated to locating, linking, and situating relevant water security information within the portal site would also have the important function of promoting and enhancing the coordination and information exchange between divisions within EPA, between EPA and other government agencies, and with the private sector. The simple but crucial mechanism of constructing a general water security information portal could help address the problems of lack of coordination and communication, which are significant barriers to efficient use of resources and effective harvesting of useful information.
Evaluating and Improving Communication Strategies
Feedback mechanisms are essential to identify the types of organizations using the EPA’s water security research and to learn ways to improve the content and dissemination of the results. With current dissemination mechanisms, the EPA will have difficulty determining the degree to which information is used in security planning, preparedness, and recovery activities in the water sector. Thus, the EPA should de-
velop mechanisms to elicit feedback from the users of its water security products, to learn what information and what products have been especially useful and what improvements may be needed. The EPA should consider using the WaterISAC as one means of soliciting feedback from its subscribers through mechanisms sent directly to the WaterISAC subscribers. Any information portal should also include mechanisms for soliciting feedback from end users.
Technology Transfer and Training
Technology transfer for EPA tools, databases, and computer models is just as important as disseminating products, and training is particularly critical to successful implementation of the research products. Although the EPA has made significant investments in training programs related to some tools (e.g., AT Planner, message mapping, Response Protocol Toolbox), the agency relies heavily upon information technology to provide technology transfer and training. Whether information technology can supplant the need for human interaction should be considered carefully. Short courses and workshops are obviously relatively expensive modes of information delivery. Nevertheless, they provide human interaction that is a vital dimension of information sharing, especially because of the complexity and uniqueness of water security issues. Moreover, the response of attendees can lead to improved products, thus benefiting the EPA’s future research program. In particular, short courses and workshops should be developed to support the EPA’s water security tools and models when it can be determined that face-to-face interaction adds substantial value over information technology training mechanisms. The EPA’s “train-the-trainer” concept, in which the agency trains state water program personnel on drinking water-related issues including water security, has also been effective to facilitate information and technology transfer to local utilities.
Existing nongovernmental organizations also may be able to assist the EPA in transferring information and tools from the arena of research and development to the water utilities and consulting engineers who can benefit from them. Organizations such as the Water Environment Foundation, American Water Works Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the WaterISAC can help relay the availability of important new tools and information to their members. Meanwhile, the EPA should continue to seek new partners (e.g., The Infrastructure Secu-
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
With the permanent establishment of the NHSRC, thoughtful research management planning is essential to build a strong long-term program in water security. The following recommendations and conclusions are provided in support of this goal:
The EPA’s Water Infrastructure Protection Division should formally articulate its mission and program objectives as it moves beyond the short-term time frame of the Action Plan. To enhance a vision for future research, the committee presents three strategic objectives for organizing future water security research initiatives, emphasizing research products that can guide pre-incident, incident, and post-incident water security activities. Within these objectives, priority setting will be necessary, and several prioritizing criteria are presented. A strategic planning exercise is a logical and necessary extension of the Action Plan that will strengthen the EPA’s leadership in the field. Although it is beyond the committee’s charge to recommend a specific strategic planning model, the EPA will need to investigate existing planning and decision-making models before embarking on this endeavor to ensure a successful and appropriately inclusive planning process.
The EPA should develop greater in-house research capability, or at least subject matter expertise, in disciplines that have been historically weak at the EPA and where long-term water security concerns are projected. Now that the NHSRC has been made permanent, it should reassess the pros and cons of using contracts as the principal management tool for conducting research in many of the areas the EPA is not currently staffed or equipped to handle. Based on the advantages articulated in this chapter, extramural funding should be used to support
The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP) is a national public-private partnership promoting collaboration to improve the resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure against the adverse impacts of natural and man-made disasters. For more information, see http://www.tisp.org.
The Applied Technology Council’s mission is to develop and promote state-of-the-art, user-friendly engineering resources and applications for use in mitigating the effects of natural and other hazards on the built environment. For more information, see http://www.atcouncil.org.
some research in the EPA’s water security research program. Careful attention, however, should be given to achieving the right balance. Even if research is to be conducted via contracts, the EPA needs adequate inhouse expertise to evaluate and manage such contracts. Increased subject area expertise is specifically needed in the areas of physical security, behavioral sciences, and information management.
The NHSRC should explore alternatives to improve independent peer review of sensitive or classified work. A major challenge is independent peer review of NHSRC activities that contain classified, or sensitive but unclassified, material. Effective independent peer review is an important mechanism for avoiding research errors, program problems, and inefficiencies, but currently, sensitive and classified peer-review mechanisms within the NHSRC may not be sufficient. Therefore, the EPA should review areas where independent peer review involving sensitive and classified material is needed and examine available mechanisms for accomplishing peer review, such as those used by other federal agencies.
The NHSRC should solicit early input and involvement from its priority audiences to improve the effectiveness of its research communication. Communication strategies are more likely to be effective if target audiences are asked for input prior to the communication effort. This can be accomplished by characterizing specific audiences in advance, getting input from audiences prior to developing a communication effort, pretesting materials on an intended audience, and soliciting feedback on communication efforts during early phases of implementation. These efforts can save resources by ensuring that research communications reach those who most need it in ways the stakeholders will find useful.
The NHSRC should improve its approaches to information dissemination, using both security-specific communication mechanisms and broadly applicable portal technology. The EPA wishes to make its research products widely available to the water sector, and the committee encourages this practice. However, current Web-based approaches to dissemination need to be improved. Use of security-specific mechanisms (e.g., WaterISAC, WaterSC, HSIN) would enable the EPA to reach out to a large portion of its intended audience and facilitate direct notification about recently published material. The EPA should continue to use the WaterISAC to alert stakeholders to the availability of sensitive materials. Because predicting in advance who will need the information produced by the NHSRC is difficult, the EPA should also consider developing a Web-based information portal to make the re-
search findings easily and readily accessible to the full range of stakeholders. Feedback mechanisms should be developed to learn what products have been especially useful and what improvements may be needed. Technology transfer and training activities are also critical to the successful implementation of research products.
The EPA should consider methods to disseminate important but sensitive security information. The EPA should analyze the costs and benefits of keeping information secure and, if necessary, find ways to communicate important information from classified and sensitive research products so that the research can be useful to stakeholders who need it. The EPA should also consider options for releasing classified or “for official use only” information that could improve response and recovery at the time of a water security emergency.
The EPA water security research will only reduce risk if the products are made available to and properly utilized by utilities; local, state, and federal response agencies; and the public. Therefore, the above recommendations on improving communication and addressing information security barriers are critical to the success of the research program and should be the agency’s highest priorities.