Magazine article National Defense

Homeland Security Steps Up Emphasis on Preparedness

Magazine article National Defense

Homeland Security Steps Up Emphasis on Preparedness

Article excerpt

The Department of Homeland Security and the American Red Cross have declared September to be National Preparedness Month. During the month, the department and the Red Cross plan to work with local, state and federal organizations, as well as the private sector, to highlight the importance of preparedness, said Richard B. Cooper, DHS business liaison director. More than 125 national organizations, as well as all 56 states and territories, have agreed to distribute preparedness information and host related events.

DHS and Red Cross officials are urging all Americans--including employers and homeowners--to make emergency plans for surviving both terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

"No community is truly prepared for a disaster until every individual, family and household ... knows what to do, where to go and how to contact loved ones," said Red Cross President Marsha J. Evans.

The government's emphasis on emergency preparedness follows a major reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security announced recently by its secretary, Michael Chertoff.

"In the broadest sense, preparedness addresses the full range of our capabilities to prevent, protect against and respond to acts of terror or other disaster," Chertoff said in announcing the changes.

The reorganization was based upon what Chertoff called a "second-stage review," a study of the department's programs, policies and structures after two years of operation. The changes are designed to achieve a six-point agenda that is intended to:

* increase overall preparedness, particularly for catastrophic events.

* Create better transportation security systems to move people and cargo more securely and efficiently.

* Strengthen border security and interior enforcement and reform immigration processes.

* Enhance information sharing with state and local agencies and the governments of friendly nations.

* Improve the department's financial management, personnel policies, procurement and information technology.

* Realign the homeland security organization to maximize its performance ability.

Of these, Chertoff said, preparedness is particularly critical. Increasing it will require the participation of all elements of U.S. society, including businesses and homeowners, he said. "America's critical infrastructure is not a government asset. Roughly 85 percent is privately owned or operated."

Also, Chertoff noted, the department has to prepare for all kinds of disasters, including manmade emergencies and natural ones, such as the hurricanes that have plagued the United States this summer. "We're an all-hazards department," he added.

To focus more attention on the issue, the department is consolidating all of its existing preparedness efforts--including planning, training, exercises and funding--into a single directorate led by an undersecretary. The new unit will provide training resources to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will report directly to Chertoff. The department's infrastructure division and the U.S. Fire Administration will be transferred to the directorate.

To centralize efforts to protect technological infrastructure, the unit will include an assistant secretary for cyber and telecommunications security to identify and assess the vulnerability of critical communications facilities. …

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