Ridge pledges help to 'partners'

Tom Ridge, director of the White House's Office of Homeland Security, pledged

that the federal government would provide greater financial resources and

support to its state and local counterparts.

"We, the federal government and state governments, must work as partners

to accomplish this goal," Ridge said Dec. 6 at the National Conference of

State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. "Unfortunately, nothing compels us

to focus quite like a tragedy."

He said his office is designing a long-term, comprehensive national

strategy that will involve state and local governmental participation as

well as help from the private sector. The office will look at merging federal

agencies or agency functions and will implement a multiyear budget across

agencies, much like the Defense Department.

"We're creating a blueprint to win the wars of the future," he said

during a 17-minute speech, adding that while no system will be perfect,

they would work toward a "perfect fail-safe system."

Ridge told the more than 600 state lawmakers in attendance that most,

if not all, states have moved to "repair cracks" in their emergency response

plans. But he said lawmakers should question their states' capabilities

in areas including:

* Tools and training of their state and local fire, police, rescue and

public health agencies.

* Effectiveness of their communication systems and whether they're interoperable.

* Identifying critical infrastructures and assessing vulnerabilities.

* Making sure their data systems are secure.

* Running "realistic exercises" to test their plans and personnel.

* Mutual aid pacts to keep resources flowing across municipal lines.

He said if the United States provides its military soldiers with the

proper training and equipment, then "we owe the same commitment" to those

considered the first line of defense in homeland security.

A Minnesota state representative, who also identified himself as a police

officer, said his state has been working toward an integrated criminal justice

system, called CrimNet, where justice agencies would be able to share information

statewide. He asked Ridge what role his office would play in promoting such

a system nationwide.

Ridge, who was Pennsylvania governor for seven years before assuming

the homeland security role, said a similar system exists in his state. He

said the federal government would provide federal funds for such efforts,

adding that the Justice Department has programs for that purpose.

But he also said that not all decisions can be made at the federal level.

For example, he said some Pennsylvania counties have dozens of police forces

within their jurisdictions. He said local officials may have to decide whether

to maintain that infrastructure or create an integrated force to save money

and become more efficient.

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