Time to make safety a priority
January 9, 2006
Sometimes, the hardest thing to hear is what everyone thinks -- but is publicly afraid to admit.
A recent internal review of the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that our communities are not significantly safer; that our emergency responders often are incapable of interagency communication.
America is not as secure as it should be. But it's not too late to turn that around.
After spending 75 percent of the past four years on active duty in locations across the nation and around the globe, I know firsthand how critical it is that we heed and act on this repeated warning. We have allowed our single-minded focus to be distracted abroad at a cost to security challenges at home.
Through practical experience both in and out of uniform during the past 15 years and as the mayor of a city, I have learned what matters most when protecting our community.
First, we should walk our talk when we say homeland security is vital. It is insufficient for the administration to shuffle resources between agencies under cover of reorganization and claim that we are making new investments. We must care at least as much about defending America as we do about building a modernized Iraqi army. We need to ramp up the public-safety infrastructure here at home.
Second, we must increase the number of National Guard, rather than allow Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to implement his latest proposal to cut 25,000 citizen soldiers. We should insist on a brigade-sized unit (1,000 to 2,000 people) in every state dedicated to emergency response, on top of the existing force structure. We cannot allow bureaucrats to eviscerate the Guard, when recent disasters and worldwide deployments have proved the importance of this all-volunteer force.
Third, we can expand our disaster-response operating bases. The recent military base realignments and closure decisions have provided us with available sites for pre-positioning of emergency supplies, food and power equipment. These facilities could become tailored to the specific emergency-preparedness and response needs of each region, be they floods or fire, and could become centers of expertise for federal, state and local first responders.
Fourth, we must develop a community-based civil defense structure to rival our Cold War capacities. Oregon might never be attacked by foes, but earthquakes, floods and tsunamis are credible threats to our public welfare. While attack prevention is a federal responsibility, disaster response will be left to our local communities and the state. We need to constitute a flexible, effective response.
Fifth, we must field more police, more emergency responders and more local volunteers. It isn't enough to pass tougher laws -- we also need sufficient local capacity to respond to crises.
Katrina taught us many lessons. We learned that ignoring a problem doesn't solve it, we learned that federal and state agencies must work together, and we learned that we all are responsible for making our system work.
We must do better. And we should act as if our lives depend on it -- because they may.