U.S. national parks are not as secure as they could be, due to a lack of communication and security planning, said a GAO report. In addition, the National Park Service, the police service of the U.S. Department of Interior responsible for protecting U.S. parks, has not conducted a thorough risk management review and does not make best cost-effective use of information technology, the report said.
In the report, "Homeland Security: Actions Needed to Improve Security Practices at National Icons and Parks," GAO recommended that the Park Service improve communications, adopt an analysis tool for determining security effectiveness and develop programs for testing and training.
The National Park Service guards about 400 parks, many of which contain iconic national monuments. The Park Service has taken steps to boost protection of these monuments; said GAO, however, it has not always extended the same level of protection to the parks as a whole.
GAO said that the National Park Service could improve protections for visitors to the parks by implementing a risk management assessment across them all to make better determinations as to where to allocate its resources. "Without a service-wide risk management approach, the Park Service lacks assurance that security efforts are focused where they are needed," the report stated. "Furthermore, while icons and parks may use a variety of security technologies and other countermeasures, they do not have guidance for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of these investments, thus limiting assurances of efficiency and cost-effectiveness."
The Park Service also could improve at sharing and coordinating information internally, the report said. The agency does share information with external organizations but it has not made similar arrangements to share information internally between U.S. parks--not even on common security problems and solutions. Evaluations of the effectiveness of the Park Service's programs suffer because it lacks an analysis tool to measure progress against goals, the report said.
In addition, the National Park Service lacks a security training program to provide its officers with specialized qualifications in carrying out their duties, the report concluded. The service's officers also largely do not have clearly defined roles, stressing the need for improvements in the agency's strategic human capital planning. "Absent a security training curriculum, there is less assurance that staff are well-equipped to effectively identify and mitigate risks at national icons and parks," the GAO report said.