Officials underscore importance of cooperation

Tom Ridge, director of the federal Office of Homeland Security, and several

other top administration officials pledged and urged greater intergovernmental

cooperation with state and local governments in the fight against terrorism.

"I want to assure you, you'll be very much a part. You'll be a partner,"

the former Pennsylvania governor told a 25-member task force. "We will win

this war. I don't think there's any doubt in my mind." Ridge was speaking

at the National Association of Counties' first homeland security task force

meeting in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26.

Throughout the day, federal and local officials stressed that counties

were the first line of defense against terrorist acts and other emergencies.

They said more coordination was needed within and between counties and with

other levels of government.

Michael Brown, deputy director and general counsel for the Federal Emergency

Management Agency, said his agency, in conjunction with the nation's governors,

would assess each state's capabilities and weaknesses in emergency preparedness

and terrorism.

Ridge, who once served as Erie County's district attorney, called the

war on terrorism a "long-term permanent project" and one that will require

governments to continuously fill gaps, build upon strengths and pull in

groups that may be excluded.

Although technology was not specifically discussed during the daylong

meeting, proposals for greater data sharing between and among governments

will likely mean more funding to develop better information systems.

"I think it's crucial," said Randy Johnson, Hennepin County, Minn.,

commissioner and a task force member, discussing technology in an interview.

"We're going to be spending far more money on security over the next 10

years than we thought two months ago. Some of it is, in my view, long overdue."

He said that during the next several months, elected officials will

be learning about how technology can help jurisdictions prepare for emergencies.

For instance, Patrick Libbey, president of the National Association

of County and City Health Officials, said that $835 million is needed to

bolster state and local public health infrastructures. "Bioterrorism detection

and response happens first at the local level," he said.

Monroe County, Pa., Commissioner James Cadue, another task force member,

said counties are essentially regional governments that perform many public

safety functions for different jurisdictions. Functions include crime lab

work, DNA testing, assistance for local police, training, records management

and communication. County officials asked Ridge for $3 billion a year in

anti-terrorism block grants for state and local governments.

NACo also requested that Ridge's homeland security office create a state

and local advisory committee, review airport security legislation and assess

the water supply distribution system.

Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc., said his group

has organized five task forces, on energy, environment, public safety, transportation

and telecommunications. During the next several weeks, the task forces,

ranging from 30 to 100 people, will discuss how technology could improve

the protection of those areas.

He said his firm will share that information with NACo, as well as the

National League of Cities and the International City/County Management Association.

NACo's next security task force meeting will be held in Santa Fe County,

N.M., Nov. 28.

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