Give local government the tools for homeland security

Those of us in local jurisdictions, however,
face a constant problem when it comes to homeland security: Who is
responsible for what?

Furthermore, while local governments are the
first line in our homeland’s defense, we have to prepare, train and
respond to the threat of terrorist incidents while waiting for a thin
flow of funding that trickles from the federal government to the
states—and finally to us.

Go local

The federal government should distribute
grant funding directly to local governments without passing through the
bureaucracy of state governments. Local governments know their needs
best, and should be able to address those needs without state-level
interference.

Local preparedness is especially important
given the relatively random nature of terrorist attacks, which could
occur anywhere and can put Americans everywhere at risk—as we saw in
the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC.

Here in DeKalb County, Ga., we are host to
the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In
September 2001, DeKalb County police were the first responders to
safeguard this facility. In addition to being the first responders,
DeKalb County Police became the critical security provider during this
time—in a protective move, we secured it for 45 days without the
assistance of federal and state governments.

However, we face the same dilemma as other
local governments who are called upon to perform homeland security
tasks but aren’t able to recoup funds for non-budgeted overtime,
equipment, manpower, training and other expenses.

The various levels of government should
collaboratively devise emergency response plans to coordinate the
efforts of first responders. They should also develop intergovernmental
compacts to ensure that mutual financial aid is given to all
jurisdictions in cases of emergencies. The federal government should
also ensure that local governments have a certain level of resources
available so they can effectively prevent an attack, minimize damage
and save lives.

Preparedness is everything

Given the current state of our homeland
security system, how can local governments operate with minimal grant
funding, equipment and training?

The key is proactively focusing our energy
and efforts towards constant preparedness. Preparation involves
planning, training and simulation drills. Plans must provide the basis
for efficient integrated responses to major emergencies whether they
arise from known hazards or unforeseen events. A plan has to be
flexible; it has to work on a public holiday, during the weekend or in
freezing weather conditions, and at any location. It needs to be tested
against different specific scenarios to determine whether it is both
appropriate and flexible enough to deliver the required functions under
any circumstances.

Training consists of equipping people with
relevant knowledge and skills. Properly structured joint training is
critical for realizing the full potential and—more
importantly—weaknesses of all agencies involved. Simulation drills play
a major role in testing plans and procedures. They also assist in
evaluating the need for further training requirements. Allowing
untrained people to participate in a simulation drill predisposes a
plan to failure and can make it difficult to determine whether the
plans and procedures themselves are valid.

Another key to maximum homeland security is
communication, which is the cornerstone of emergency response. Local
governments must consider both their own and other jurisdictions’
information needs: Who needs what information, when is it needed, what
channels are available and most suitable, how can information be
conveyed clearly and how can its reception be acknowledged, understood
and acted upon appropriately? Lastly, media relations must be defined
and individuals responsible for communicating directly to the media
should have practical training in interview and news conference
techniques.

While the federal government is the first
line of defense in managing threat data and deterrence, local
government is the first line of response in an actual emergency.
Through our experience, DeKalb County understands the importance of
preparedness.

Information sharing between federal and local
governments can strengthen our homeland defense. Processes cannot be
imposed by any one jurisdiction, but must be developed collaboratively
in a way that meets the technological and financial needs of government
on every level. And local jurisdictions must directly get the resources
they need to be effective. HST

Chief Eddie J. Moody is
chief of police for DeKalb County, Ga., the largest county police
agency in the southeast United States, with over 1,500 uniformed and
civilian employees on staff.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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