Chertoff Addresses Emergency Operations, Planning

Article excerpt

"Emergency operations are best managed at the lowest possible level of government," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told delegates at a general session during the Congressional City Conference.

The secretary reaffirmed his commitment to furthering the department's partnership with local leaders and updated attendees on DHS activities to meet the challenges posed by natural disasters and illegal migration.

"One of the lessons I think we have learned from last year's hurricanes is, we've got to look at the challenge of the catastrophic event, not only at the point where the catastrophe hits, but in all the areas around that point that are going to receive the collateral or cascading effects of that catastrophe," he said.

"When we have a major event, whether it be a terrorism event or a natural disaster, that causes a lot of people to move out of a particular area, they're going to go someplace. And a lot of them are going to go to your cities or your towns, and you're going to have to be able to deal with that challenge."

Chertoff said the department is now looking at planning for emergencies not only at the locations where they occur, but managing them all over the country.

DHS' new preparedness directorate has made helping the states and 75 urban areas evaluate and enhance their emergency plans a top priority. And more planning and preparedness will be done at the regional level where it will be closer to the people.

The department is working with the Red Cross to identify shelters in advance of catastrophic events so evacuees can be placed in them, and with a contractor so they can register to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency benefits as soon as possible.

Chertoff asked the local officials, who he said manage the "tip of the spear in government," to ensure their citizens are prepared for emergencies.

He said the department wants to give states and localities more options for debris removal and encouraged the municipal officials to use local contractors because they give some economic energy back to the affected community.

The secretary said his department is also creating better communication packages and addressing the interoperability issue. …