Counties are the country's first line of defense in the fight against terrorism.
This was a theme echoed by federal,state and local government officials,including Yuba County Supervisor Al Amaro at a national meeting of the Task Force on Homeland Security in Washington,D.C. Friday.
The task force – created by the National Association of Counties – met to discus interaction between all levels of government and adopt a policy statement that will be sent to Congress to be considered for legislation.
Amaro is the chairperson of a NACo steering committee and said he attended Friday's meeting to share his expertise on technology and make sure that counties would not be burdened excessive costs while they work to increase homeland security.
Speakers at the task force's meeting included firefighters who responded to the Pentagon attack Sept. 11,the deputy director of FEMA and Tom Ridge,director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.
“Our ability to defeat terrorism will depend on all levels of government and the public and private sector,” Ridge said. “This is a time to say ‘What do we need to do today to better protect us from tomorrow's threat?'”
Ridge told the task force that he understood the importance of county government and asked that counties work together to share resources and ideas.
Ridge told county officials that the best way to be prepared was to hold mock emergency responses and then learn from what worked well and what went wrong.
Also,by sharing information with federal officials,counties like Yuba could help play a role in disrupting terrorist attacks,Ridge said.
And one of the more important things counties can do is review their plans and determine their needs so that those problems can be addressed before an emergency strikes.
After hearing the presentations and talking to other county officials,Amaro said he planned to study Yuba County's Standardized Emergency Management Plan and look for gaps in the planning. And now,Amaro said,he knows where the resources are to get the information on how to fill those gaps.
Amaro also said he planned to share the information he learned with his fellow board members and officials in neighboring counties like Sutter and Colusa.
Technology should also play a role in helping counties fight terrorism,and Amaro said he plans to work with a fellow task force member to address ways that counties could have access to the latest technology.
Amaro said this technology could be especially valuable in tracking and traces cases of bioterrorism.
Larry Thompson,deputy attorney general,also addressed the group and task force members held a discussion on ways local and county governments could share information with federal officials.
When the issue of protecting America's nuclear plant came up,Amaro offered the suggestion that retired military veterans be organized to help out in situations according to their individual specialties and training.
Amaro said he'd received an e-mail from a Lt. Commander that had the names of about 20 people who were retired veterans and several veterans in Yuba County have asked him what they can do to help.
Thompson agreed with the idea and asked to be given a copy of the e-mail so that the idea of using retired veterans “could be more than just a concept.”
Amaro also raised several issues regarding airport security during a question and answer period with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.
The task force also discussed several policy items and voted on resolutions to submit to Congress. NACo voted to call for $3 billion anti-terrorism bloc grant for counties and local government; inclusion of county officials on anti-terrorism task forces; $1.8 billion in funds for the Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act; and immediate passage of an airport security bill that would issue timely reimbursement to county airports for implementing additional security measures.
Yuba County Board of Supervisors set aside $10,000 to fund Amaro's involvement with NACo,and he said he hopes the people in the county will recognize the value of his trip.
“So much information has been shared here,” Amaro said. “Where else could I get all of this information?”
The task force will hold two more conferences on homeland security – one in November and one in March – and Amaro said he plans to attend both.