Empower Wisconsin | May 14, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Wisconsin Homeland Security Council is responsible for advising the governor on emergency preparedness.
The pandemic would certainly fit the definition of an emergency. Yet, the 16-member council has not met since December, and it will not meet for the foreseeable future.
Andrew Beckett, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, tells Empower Wisconsin the council postponed meetings for a few months during the transition of the Wisconsin National Guard’s new adjutant general. The Guard’s commander serves as Homeland Security Adviser and chairs the council.
Gov. Tony Evers in late February named Brigadier Gen. Paul Knapp, an Air Force Reserve officer, as the Wisconsin National Guard’s new chief. He replaced Adjutant Gen. Donald Dunbar, who retired in December following a federal review that found dozens of sexual assault investigations led by the National Guard violated state and federal laws.
Just as Knapp was set to take command, the COVID-19 outbreak struck, Beckett said. So the council meetings have been suspended for the time being.
“It’s because of the response to COVID-19 and the impact that response has had on scheduling,” he said.
But wouldn’t the pandemic necessitate the efforts of a Homeland Security council? Members include representatives from law enforcement, city planning, the Wisconsin departments of Health Services and Transportation, and the Public Service Commission.
Beckett said many of the council’s stakeholders are involved in COVID-19 response efforts in their daily work.
But it’s clear Evers’ DHS is calling the shots on the pandemic response and preparedness. It was the governor’s Health Services Secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, who superseded even Evers’ authority in extending the governor’s statewide lockdown.
While Beckett said the council merely advises the governor, it was commissioned in 2003 to “work with local, state, federal, and tribal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private industry to improve citizen and community preparedness.”
“The governor is responsible for appointing council members. Additionally, a member of the governor’s staff is invited to attend and participate at each meeting,” Homeland Security Council website states.
It was created by executive order “to address the state’s ability to prepare and respond to threats to Wisconsin Homeland security.” Those threats — terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber attacks, health emergencies — haven’t disappeared because Wisconsin is also dealing with a pandemic.
Empower Wisconsin was unsuccessful in reaching members of the council for this story. Some did not return calls, others could not be reached for comment.
Beckett said he’s not aware of member concerns about the lack of monthly meetings. He said there is no mandate that the council meet monthly, but the panel’s webpage says the council “meets monthly, on the third Wednesday of each month.”
“Due to scheduling conflicts and real-world events, meetings may be scheduled on different dates or occur more frequently. Generally speaking, however, the Council meets twelve times over the course of a year,” the website states.