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Disaster response: Pentagon can do better.

Pentagon Can Do Better, McHale Says

Lessons learned from the military's response to Hurricane Katrina showed too many ad hoc solutions and not enough pre-disaster planning, said Paul McHale, the Defense Department's assistant secretary of homeland defense.

"We performed well, but we intend to get better," McHale told a gathering of military writers. An after-action review will point out flaws and areas in need of improvement, he said.

He noted that the department's response was historically the largest and fastest deployment in support of a civil crisis. The department received 93 mission requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, McHale said.

One example of an on-the-fly solution was the disbursement of 1,500 Motorola radios to emergency responders in New Orleans after the city's communications system was destroyed. The radios were in storage at the Washington Navy Yard and are normally provided to military personnel detailed to security duties at sporting events such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl.

In the future, the Pentagon must do more to prepare for catastrophic events, McHale said. The Pentagon certainly will assist civil authorities in similar crises, but proposals calling for the military to take the lead role in disaster management are unreasonable, McHale said. Comments by President Bush to that effect have been misinterpreted, he noted. The Defense Department would be called on only during "catastrophic events," similar to Hurricane Katrina, or a terrorist attack where weapons of mass destruction are employed. Such catastrophes are "once or twice in a generation" occurrences, he said, unlike the dozens of natural disasters that take place regularly over the course of a year.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a position paper at its annual conference endorsing the idea of the military stepping in when state or local authorities request help. "The current legal paradigm is that the military is viewed as the 'resource of last resort' deployed to restore order," the position paper said. "However, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have given us reason to re-evaluate this paradigm."

Definitions of such catastrophes are not set in stone, McHale said, but Katrina or a terrorist attack where local authorities are overwhelmed, or perhaps wiped out, would be an example.

GAO Slams Rail Security

A Government Accountability Office report on U.S. rail security portrayed a passenger system seriously lagging behind its foreign counterparts when it comes to preparing for terrorist attacks.

As of July 2005, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration had not completed a risk assessment for the passenger rail sector. Security directives hastily issued in May 2004 after the March terrorist attacks on the Madrid rail system did not allow for public comment from stakeholders, resulting in confusion, and sometimes conflicts with safety measures. For example, a directive that rail engineers' compartments remain locked contradicted Federal Railroad Administration regulations requiring they remain open in case a quick escape is needed.

The report's authors, who traveled to 13 foreign rail systems to investigate their security measures, had several recommendations. Among the practices that could be transferred to federal authority were:

Covert testing to keep employees alert about their security responsibilities. This includes such tactics as placing suspicious items throughout the system to test reaction time. Some foreign operators carried out such drills on a daily basis.

Random screening of baggage. Such systems have been used during events such as the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and during security alerts after the July 2005 London bombings. Staffing would be an issue, and such systems would have to be designed to ensure civil liberties are not violated, the report warned.

A national clearinghouse on technologies and best practices. A centralized process for performing research and developing passenger rail security technologies would allow rail operators to have one central source for information.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., seized on the report's findings to criticize a deep cut to passenger rail security in the 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Act signed into law in October. Rail security will receive $8 million next year, down from $12 million in 2005. "Even in the wake of the Madrid and London train bombings ... there is no question that one of our greatest areas of vulnerability continues to be passenger rail," Castle said in a statement. Castle introduced the Rail Security and Public Awareness Act of 2005 to address some of these concerns.

Amtrak, the Department of Transportation and DHS in written responses to the report, generally concurred with its findings.

US-VISIT Expands to Land Borders

The Department of Homeland Security expects to fully deploy the US-VISIT border entry program by the end of this year, expanding it to such out-of-the-way land crossings as Walhalla, N.D., and Limestone, Maine.

The program requires visitors entering the United States to register before and to submit to an inkless fingerprint scan and a digital mug shot prior to their departure. Previously, the system was in effect at 115 airports and 15 seaports. DHS has touted the program's efficiency, saying the process is "simple, fast and clean." Of the 38 million visitors who submitted to the process by the end of September, more than 850 criminals or immigration violators have been denied entry, DHS said.

The program has come under criticism from privacy advocates as well as the Government Accountability Office, which said in a February report that the program was understaffed and DHS had not demonstrated that its computers, networks and databases will work efficiently together. There have also been reports that passengers with names similar to those on watch lists have been wrongly detained.

DHS spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman said the department is addressing the GAO's concerns. "This includes ensuring adequate staffing, improving information sharing and creating interoperable systems to ... secure our borders while facilitating travel," she added.

Meanwhile, DHS announced that the burden will be on transportation carriers to ensure foreign passengers traveling on the Visa Waiver Program comply with a new requirement to have a digital picture in their passports rather than glued or laminated photos. Airlines and ferry companies face a $3,300 per passenger fine for noncompliance. The waiver program allows citizens from 27 countries to enter the United States without a visa.

Mayors Complain of Red Tape

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has asked the federal government to cut red tape preventing cross-state, city-to-city mutual assistance agreements in the event of natural or man-made disasters.

At issue is the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, a state-to-state agreement that slowed the response to Hurricane Katrina, said mayors at the organization's annual conference. The compact protects emergency responders from lawsuits and allows state or local governments to apply for reimbursement from the federal government.

John Robert Smith, mayor of Meridian, Miss., said the evening after Katrina hit, Davenport, Iowa, authorities emailed his office and offered the use of 40 emergency services personnel who were prepared that night to travel south, but the EMAC process caused a seven-day delay. Allowing cities to respond within 24 hours is crucial, Smith said. "It's lifesaving and preserves communities."

Martin O'Malley, co-chair of the conference's homeland security committee and mayor of Baltimore, said Maryland cities can call on each other in times of need, but others must first go through their own state's EMAC bureaucracy, as well as the state where the assistance is needed. "What we're talking about is executing agreements ... with Richmond, [Va.], so if Baltimore needs Richmond, Richmond comes," O'Malley said.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged in a one-hour closed door meeting with the mayors that EMAC was "too cumbersome," according to those attending the meeting.

RELATED ARTICLE: Explosive-tracing portal debuts.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rolled out a new explosive-detection system for passengers at the Pittsburgh International Airport in October, touting the bomb-sniffing device as a fast and efficient means to sniff out potential threats.

Passengers singled out for secondary screening will be asked to stand in a portal, about the same height as the ubiquitous metal detector, where they will feel a quick puff of air from head to toe. The Sentinel II, manufactured by Smiths Detection of Pine Brook, N.J., sniffs for suspicious particles, which are then sucked into the machine and analyzed in about 10 to 15 seconds. If a passenger has explosives, or has handled such substances recently, the machine will sound an alarm.

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said the system is more passenger-friendly than intrusive pat downs and will "greatly enhance our ability to detect explosives and will increase the speed at which passengers process through."

Twenty-five machines were set up in 19 airports prior to the Thanksgiving rush at a cost of $160,000 apiece. The TSA has allocated $28.3 million for the program so far, Kayser said. Field tests were conducted this year at John R Kennedy Airport in New York, Baltimore and Jacksonville, Fla. Until additional funding is allocated, the TSA is not planning to cover 100 percent of airports with the devices, Kayser added.

RELATED ARTICLE: Border fence dispute ends.

A 10-year-old controversy over how to reinforce a dilapidated border fence between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego ended with a little noticed clause Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., inserted into the Real ID Act last spring.

The clause allowed the Department of Homeland Security to proceed with upgrades without fear of lawsuits from environmental organizations. Sensenbrenner said gaps in the fence were a homeland security threat. U.S. Navy facilities in San Diego sit six miles north of the border, he noted. Congress approved the upgrades in the mid-1990s, but litigation halted progress. Environmentalists said plans to fill in a wide gully known as Smuggler's Gulch would choke the local watershed with sediment. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced plans to proceed with the upgrades in September.

Reps. Bob Filner and Susan Davis, Democrats whose districts include the San Diego border area, asked for mediation from the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, but Chertoff's announcement ended the possibility of any further legal disputes. Chertoff told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October that upgrades will proceed. "We listened to Congress and moved forward in an effort to strengthen border protection in the San Diego area."

The 2006 Homeland Security budget bill President Bush signed into law in October added the $35 million necessary to complete the upgrades. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection plan envisions an impregnable security zone that includes high-resolution cameras, "stadium style lighting," and two access roads allowing Border Patrol vehicles to travel at high speeds.

Chertoff said every effort would be made to protect the local environment. A stronger fence would prevent would-be border crossers from trampling vegetation and dumping garbage, he added.
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Title Annotation:SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:1778
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