NGA urges 'hometown security'

A Governor's Guide to Emergency Management, Volume Two: Homeland Security

The National Governors Association unveiled several initiatives Sept. 19 in promoting a "bottom-up" approach to homeland security rather than the federal "top-down" strategy.

Among the initiatives is a pilot project to improve information sharing among law enforcement and other first responders, courts, health agencies, and the homeland security offices of about a half-dozen states.

The NGA also announced that a homeland security task force of governors would examine how best to strengthen driver's licenses. And it has released a comprehensive reference document called "A Governor's Guide to Emergency Management Volume Two: Homeland Security."

Underlying the announcements by four state governors at a Washington, D.C., press conference Sept. 19, was a strong emphasis on shared responsibility with the federal government in creating a national plan from the state and local level.

"A national plan must embrace a bottom-up approach," said Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky, the NGA chairman. "A top-down federal government approach will just not work. Homeland security is really hometown security."

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said President Bush clearly laid out a national strategy and "common vocabulary" for homeland security, but it's the aggregation of the 50 state plans that will make up a coordinated national plan.

Leadership for a national plan has to come from the governors, who have "constitutional authority," said Leavitt, who will be co-chairman with Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes of an NGA task force to oversee such initiatives.

The pilot project, in collaboration with the Markle Foundation, will include five to eight as-yet unidentified states to form a "laboratory" for information sharing horizontally and for integrating state systems vertically, Leavitt said. It also would involve local governments, federal agencies and the private sector.

The task force looking into the driver's licenses will focus on enhancing minimum standards for such state-issued documents, Patton said, including integrity of license issuance and appropriate information-sharing among law enforcement agencies within a state and among states.

While the governors didn't specifically mention technology's role in homeland security, it was evident in their priorities.

"In this war on terrorism, we are fighting a networked enemy. One cannot combat a networked enemy with a mainframe response," Leavitt said.

State priorities, Barnes said, include interoperable communication systems for first responders, reliable and timely intelligence information provided by the federal government, improved public health networks to respond to bioterrorism, technical assistance to identify and protect critical infrastructures, and a regular flow of federal funds.

"Today, a large portion of the cost of homeland security has been borne almost entirely by the states or local governments," Barnes said. "We can't really wait until next year to wait for the money. We're not here with a cup out."

He said states have been largely reimbursed for National Guard units used to guard airports and that the Department of Health and Human Services has doled out about $1.1 billion for bioterrorist planning.

But he said the Office of Management and Budget has frozen $2.5 billion in emergency appropriations to pay for firefighters, ports, emergency communication equipment, and bomb detection equipment. Also, the $3.5 billion proposed by President Bush for first responders' equipment, communications and support has not been approved by Congress yet.

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