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Terrorists in National Parks?

Congressional investigative report tells the Parks Service to step up efforts to keep wilderness areas free of national security threats

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Terrorists in National Parks…really?

According to a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office, it’s not impossible for bad guys with weapons to infiltrate our national parks. However, while there have been no specific threats placed against our national parks and icons, congressional investigators commissioned by the House Homeland Security Committee fear that these historic American locations could be targeted due to their symbolic significance as well as the large number of people who flock to them each year.

Yesterday’s report, “Homeland Security: Actions Needed to Improve Security Practices at National Parks and Icons,” criticized the National Parks Service for its failure to provide proper training and guidance to park employees, the absence of trained security personal at most sites, and the lack of a communication system between sites to exchange information and effective security practices.

The National Parks Service (a bureau of the Department of Interior) operates 391 parks and oversees the safety of the parks’ some 2.8 million annual visitors. Although the report does mention that Parks Services has implemented security improvements since the September 11 terrorist attacks, it belabors the point that overall security, education, and communication is lacking, and that more than a “trial and error” security system needs to be employed.

The report, however, notes that the Parks Services Department is in the process of developing a system-wide security handbook.

Hey, Homeland Security, it looks like there might be a call for collaboration.

While protecting American land and our people is the most pressing national security issue, when did it become the Parks Services’ job to police potential international bad guys? Isn’t that a job for the Department of Homeland Security? And, furthermore, who’s supposed to pay for all this extra security?

As it stands now, an independent, bipartisan commission who examined the National Parks Service for a year reported to Department of Interior Salazar late last week that the government should increase funding to Parks Services by at least $7 million over the course of the next seven years. That money is already allocated to protect, promote and keep small parks financially afloat.

“Our 400 national parks and icons cannot rely on trial and error to remain safe. So far, luck has been on our side,” the panel’s chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. “The Park Service is not in the security business. The Department of Homeland Security’s mission is to protect this nation. Each must be able to do what it does best. DHS and the Park Service must collaborate to protect the symbols of our national heritage.”

So, until the Park Service implements better security and communication measures, hopefully with the assistance of the DHS, you might want to pitch in and keep an eye out for more than mountain lions and grizzlies. It’s not likely, but if September 11 taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible.

-Jessie Lucier

Check out:

An anonymous backpacker’s note to the White house:

There’s a Bomb in my Backpack

A Backpacker blog on Park Services funding:

Yes You Can!

Report Questions Security at National Parks (with a link to a pdf of the report)