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Report analyzes nation's most significant vulnerabilities in the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina.

Speaking at the release of a report by the New York-based Century Foundation, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley outlined a series of suggestions for local government preparedness for disasters.

The publication, The Forgotten Homeland: A Century Foundation Task Force Report, provides specific recommendations for local officials in metropolitan areas based on their experiences with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

"Ask any mayor in America what their two biggest challenges are, and he or she will tell you that they are public education and public safety," said O'Malley during an event to release the report." ... Today, we face terrorist threats that can reduce high-rise buildings to rubble, brutal storms that can leave entire city blocks under a shroud of water and debris.

"Local municipalities and first responders are our first line of defense and prevention," O'Malley continued. "They're the ones who are familiar with their surroundings, and they're the ones who train day in and day out for specialized emergencies ... such as subway bombing, bioterror attack on our farmland produce supplies and breaching of local flood walls."

O'Malley noted that, in many instances, the cost for items such as interoperability communications might not be as expensive if shared among neighboring jurisdictions.

"Command and control in the event of an emergency is a local function, and money spent on assisting local jurisdictions securing our country is not money wasted," he said. "It's our most important responsibility."

The nine specific recommendations for local governments cited in the report include the following.

* Every major metropolitan area should have complete vulnerability and mitigation assessments. Governments need to conduct thorough assessments of the vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure--such as transportation, water and communication facilities--and potential targets controlled by the private sector--such as chemical plants, rail lines and power plants.

* Every major metropolitan area should have personal protective equipment for all first responders. Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical providers should have ready and immediate access to breathing apparatus, protective suits and medicines to cope with explosions involving lethal gas, radiological materials or other toxic material.

* Every major metropolitan area should have interoperable communications --reliable and pervasive communications in buildings and tunnels, among departments and across jurisdictions. Noting that the cost does not have to be prohibitive, Baltimore was able to spend $5 million to enable firefighters and police officers from two cities and five counties to communicate instantly on their existing radios.

* Every major metropolitan area should have a public health and biological/ chemical/radiological surveillance system. An around-the-clock system for monitoring symptoms seen at emergency rooms and by paramedics, as well as in over-the-counter sales of pharmaceuticals, would alert local public health officials to the possible release of biological agents or outbreaks of infectious disease.

* Every major metropolitan area should have an intelligence collection and sharing program. In addition to their participation in the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, local police departments should have their own system to collect and exchange information. It should be possible for the latest intelligence collection requirement or tip to be imparted to every patrol officer in a metropolitan region at least as often as the next shift change.

* Every major metropolitan area should conduct realistic training and preparedness exercises. Since the mid-1990s, under the Nunn-Lugar program, cities have held terrorism exercises for training and awareness purposes. First responders and their commanders should be working together before a crisis erupts. Local governments need to conduct realistic exercises that stress systems in order to identify weaknesses before those systems are tested by an actual emergency. Media and government public relations personnel play a critical role in an emergency and should be included in the training.

* Every major metropolitan area should have closed circuit television systems to secure infrastructure. Closed circuit television cameras, like those used in London to apprehend the July 21 bombers, can serve as a deterrent and can help catch terrorists and their networks before they strike again. They need not be expensive.

* Every metropolitan area should have an enhanced security program for public transportation.

* Metropolitan areas should create and periodically test evacuation and shelter-in-place plans.

Details: To learn more about the report, go to the Century Foundation website at www.tcf.org.

by Leslie Wollack
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Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 11, 2006
Words:698
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