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Varieties of Homeland Security Article Critique


Robinson and Mallik (2015) presented an article titled “Varieties of Homeland Security: An Assessment of US State-level Definitions” in a peer-reviewed journal that is dedicated to Homeland Security (HS). As can be understood from this and other sources, the task of defining HS is often a complicated one. In this paper, the article will be reviewed and analyzed. Its purpose and topic will be discussed, and its methods and contribution will be critiqued. The review shows that the article contains an alternative perspective on HS definitions and uncovers certain issues in the ability of state-level agencies to define HS.

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Article Review


Robinson and Mallik (2015) begin their article by articulating the problem of HS definition and explaining its validity. They offer a brief overview of existing debates and propose their own solution, which consists of using an inductive approach to defining HS in the United States (US). Thus, the purpose of the article is to attempt to define HS with the help of a new method.

Significance of the Topic

Robinson and Mallik (2015) explain the value of investigating HS by highlighting the importance of HS as a concept. According to Robinson and Mallik (2015), the failure to define HS has been causing difficulties for the Department of Homeland Security, especially in terms of prioritizing and funding. Robinson and Mallik (2015) state that this debate might be associated with the historical changes in the greatest threats to HS. In addition, Robinson and Mallik (2015) justify their attention to HS definition by the fact that a debate regarding it exists, and it is predominantly formed by the academic voices from different security fields.

These statements can be supported by other literature on the topic. Indeed, sufficient evidence indicates that HS needs a definition as a result of diverse threats (Bellavita, 2008; Goss, 2006; Kramer & Hellman, 2013). Some authors support the idea that HS should be limited to terrorism (Goss, 2006; Tulak, Kraft, & Silbaugh, 2004; Westby, 2007), and other researchers focus on an inclusive approach (Busch & Givens, 2012: Kahan, 2013).

There are explanations of HS that consider the agencies that are involved (Cusic, 2009). For example, it is highlighted that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was introduced to work with terrorism-related threats (Goss, 2006). However, the fact that DHS has to be involved in other activities is also acknowledged (Bellavita, 2008; Goss, 2006). Still, researchers argue that HS definitions can have an impact on organizational issues, including the crucial elements of funding, planning, and training (Cusic, 2009; Kahan, 2013). From this perspective, the need to define HS is an important concern that can affect the ability of US agencies to protect their people.


Robinson and Mallik (2015) describe their methodology in detail, which facilitates its assessment. The method of the authors is, according to them, uncommon. The articles that they have reviewed employed deductive reasoning, and this claim is supported by some of the literature that cites official documents and academic definitions (Bellavita, 2008; Kahan, 2013). In turn, Robinson and Mallik (2015) suggest paying attention to the factual use of the term by the state agencies of the US and inductively determining the potential definition based on these already actively employed ones.

This approach is justified by the significant role of state-level agencies in HS (Tulak et al., 2004). Thus, the author’s methods involved collecting the definitions employed by the US, determining their frequency, and making conclusions about their diversity.

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The search for definitions involved a review of the websites of state-level agencies and relevant official documents that were published by March 2013. This date marked the completion of data collection for this project. Robinson and Mallik (2015) note that many states failed to define HS in state codes, which were supposed to be the source of data for the article. This issue resulted in the expansion of the range of used materials.

In turn, this decision led to the introduction of multiple definitions for many of the states. Robinson and Mallik (2015) state that their data could have been employed to investigate the development of definitions over time, but they did not perform that task. The findings were arranged in tables and map-based figures to demonstrate the frequency and prevalence of different definitions.

As a preliminary step, the authors also came up with a typology of definitions. They developed two categories: one of them was dedicated to exclusively terrorism-focused definitions, and the other consisted of definitions that incorporated other elements Robinson and Mallik (2015) justified their approach by citing the public debate, which is supported by other sources as well (Bellavita, 2008; Busch & Givens, 2012). As a third category, the absence of definitions was included.


Given the variety of sources that the authors had access to, they reported both definitions from state codes and those from other sources. No definitions at all were found for two states; twenty states did not include a definition in their state code. The authors point out that only ten states offered what could be considered a literal, explicit definition; for the rest, anything that was approximating a definition was included in the frequency tables.

The number of definitions in state codes that included all hazards slightly exceeded the number of terror-only ones (17 states versus 13 states). Most definitions that were found outside of state codes included hazards other than terrorism (34 states). Robinson and Mallik (2015) note that the word “all-hazard” was only encountered in thirteen of the definitions, seven of which also did not explicitly single out terrorism.

Regarding other features of the definitions, the authors noted that many states highlighted the consideration of the key activities of HS, including prevention and response, as well as the importance of managing natural disasters. In addition, five states had both terrorism-only and all-hazard definitions in different documents. Finally, the authors commented on the unique definitions, including that of Indiana, which made no mention of any threats (instead, it focused on safety and well-being), and that of Idaho, which included the protection of animals into its definition.

Advancing Knowledge

The unique value of the article is that it investigated the definitions that are currently used in practice all over the US. The findings demonstrate that there is no consensus in state-level definitions and that the same state can sometimes adopt conflicting definitions. In connection to that, the article shows that some states might fail to provide an HS definition at all, although this project cannot be used to determine the consequences of this absence. Still, this issue has negative implications related to the significance of definition for organizational issues (Cusic, 2009; Kahan, 2013), as well as the importance of state-level agencies in HS (Tulak et al., 2004).

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Second, the review shows that most states approach the idea of HS from an all-hazard position. This finding might have implications for the overall debate, especially if the inductive approach to the definition is taken. The authors recommended taking into account the fragmentation of opinions and fostering communication across communities to enable the development of a consensus.

Strength and Weaknesses

The paper has significant strengths, the main of which is the author’s ability to align their purpose and methods. Indeed, the authors identified a significant issue and research question developed the methods that could be used to respond to it and presented their findings and implications that were clearly stated and in line with the collected data. Furthermore, the authors provided detailed information about their methodology, including the dates of the data collection, which allows evaluating and replicating the study. The approach to the inductive construction of definitions is also valuable; it allowed the authors to contribute new information to the debate, and it also uncovered the current US state-level practices, which may demonstrate issues and inconsistencies.

The limitations of the article are concerned with the fact that it can only accurately represent the information for each state during a particular time period; for more recent data, a new review would have to be completed. In addition, the fact that the authors did not specify older and newer definitions is a problem that future research might correct. Still, the article has successfully achieved its goals of reviewing state-level HS definitions and reporting the findings.


Based on its analysis, the following conclusions can be made about the article. The importance of the topic that was selected by Robinson and Mallik (2015) is supported by other sources, which also did not approach the problem the way Robinson and Mallik (2015) did. As a result, Robinson and Mallik (2015) offer a valid contribution to the discussion that introduces a new method of defining HS. The findings suggest that no real consensus exists in practice and that some states might struggle with defining HS. Given the potential issues associated with the lack of an operational definition, the article may have uncovered significant problems that need to be addressed. The article has well-aligned elements and describes its methodology in detail, but it still has some limitations, which can be resolved in future similar projects.


Bellavita, C. (2008). Changing homeland security: What is homeland security? Homeland Security Affairs, 4(2), 1-30.

Busch, N. E., & Givens, A. D. (2012). Public-private partnerships in homeland security: Opportunities and challenges. Homeland Security Affairs, 8(1), 1-24.

Cusic, J. (2009). The confusion of homeland security with homeland defense.

Goss, T. (2006). Who’s in charge? New challenges in homeland defense and homeland security. Homeland Security Affairs, 2(1), 1-14.

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Kahan, J. H. (2013). What’s in a name? The meaning of homeland security. Journal of Homeland Security Education, 2, 1-18.

Kramer, M., & Hellman, C. (2013). ‘Homeland security’: The trillion-dollar concept that no one can define. The Nation. Web.

Robinson, S., & Mallik, N. (2015). Varieties of homeland security: An assessment of US state-level definitions. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 12(1), 1-14. Web.

Tulak, A. N., Kraft, R. W., & Silbaugh, D. (2004). State defense forces and homeland security.

Westby, J. R. (2007). Homeland security v. homeland defense: Gaps galore.

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