January 28, 2003 | Executive Memorandum on Department of Homeland Security
Cities and counties are at the forefront of national homeland security efforts. For example, the approximately 17,000 state and local police departments may be the first to identify evidence of a possible terrorist threat. State and local health care communities will likely be the first to recognize the symptoms of a chemical or biological attack. Local fire, Emergency Medical Service (EMS), and police departments will nearly always arrive first at the scene of a terrorist attack. The September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon demonstrated this clearly: The local Arlington County fire department managed the response through the early days.
All the states have improved their preparedness since then, but action plans and preparedness levels vary greatly. There can be no cookie-cutter solution to their needs; however, as nearly every county across America may face similar homeland security concerns and needs, it will be important to coordinate and ensure interoperability among the states and with the federal government.
Many states and cities have already undertaken bold initiatives to improve public safety and preparedness. Governors and mayors, as well as law enforcement officials and emergency workers, have embarked on partnerships with the private sector and other metro-area communities to conduct training exercises and vulnerability assessments, and to coordinate procurement. Several communities have created health surveillance networks to increase communication among hospitals and emergency workers on symptoms or indications of a chemical or biological attack. Every state has appointed a homeland security director, and this has helped to begin developing a much-needed chain of command and coordination for preparedness issues. Finally, many states and communities have modified and adjusted their alert and warning systems to communicate more closely with the federal government's Homeland Security Advisory System. Out-standing examples such as these can contribute to development of a set of "best practices" that can be adopted by other communities.
Perhaps most notable among unmet needs is funding, as unplanned spending for homeland security resulting from 9/11 exacerbated budget shortfalls. Many communities estimate their budget gaps at $8 million to $12 million. The federal government has a responsibility to assist states and cities in providing for homeland security. They, in turn, must also make homeland security a budget priority.
Communication between local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the private sector, is vital. The DHS will include an Office for State and Local Government Coordination in the Office of the Secretary to coordinate DHS policy related to state and local programs, assess state and local resources, and manage communication between DHS and these agencies. The Department's authorizing bill, however, provides no guidance on how the Office should conduct these responsibilities. Merely establishing an office in Washington that is required to answer calls from state and local officials would be insufficient. To be fully effective, the office must have a presence outside of Washington, where it can closely interact with governors and mayors.
Success in securing the homeland cannot be ensured by federal agencies in Washington alone. Secretary Ridge must forge a close partnership with state and local governments. Among his priorities should be to improve the DHS's grant program, ensure that local officials have access to crucial information, and establish a regional political presence to make certain the lines of communication are always open.
Michael Scardaville is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.