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A Secure Nation | Preparedness


Preparedness Updates



September 1, 2009

VOICES Promotes September as National Preparedness Month


VOICES is proud to support September as National Preparedness Month in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the Ad Council. National Preparedness Month is a nationwide effort held each September to encourage Americans to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. The goal of the month is to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.  


Read the 2008 letter and see the links here.  


August 18,2008

VOICES Promotes September as National Preparedness Month


VOICES is proud to support September as National Preparedness Month in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the Ad Council. National Preparedness Month is a nationwide effort held each September to encourage Americans to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. The goal of the month is to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.  


Read the 2008 letter and see the links here.  



August 22, 2007

VOICES Promotes September as National Preparedness Month


Once again in 2007, VOICES is proud to support September as National Preparedness Month in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the Ad Council. National Preparedness Month is a nationwide effort held each September to encourage Americans to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. The goal of the month is to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.  


As a National Preparedness Month coalition member, VOICES will highlight the importance of emergency preparedness and promote individual involvement through events and activities across the nation in our weekly e-Newsletters and our web site. A selection of tips of the day and other preparedness resources are currently available on the right hand sidebar. Stay posted for updates.  


Click for important preparedness links  


Visit the National Preparedness Month website  





August 15, 2007

Congress To Weigh Shrinking FEMA's Mandate


The troubled recovery from Hurricane Katrina, symbolized by empty FEMA trailers, has led some to call for the agency to shrink its mission



The Federal Emergency Management Agency would still be responsible for the first federal response to future disasters but would not supervise recovery efforts under a new proposal by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The move is a reaction to FEMA's failures supervising the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA would be responsible for the core of the response -- getting victims shelter, blankets, and food. But oversight of recovery efforts, which can go on for years, would become the responsibility of other federal agencies with expertise in specific areas: rebuilding housing, fixing roads, cleaning up hazardous spills, and supervising an area's economic revitalization.  


Despite concerns that the move would only add more bureaucratic red tape to federal disaster response, the plan has the approval of some homeland security experts, including DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. "There is all kind of expertise in the government on recovery issues," Heritage Foundation homeland security specialist James Carafano is quoted in Boston Globe coverage. "It's redundant to have FEMA involved in it, and a distraction from their core mission. The fire department doesn't stay there and rebuild your house after a fire. They go back to the firehouse and get ready to put out the next fire. That is what FEMA should be doing."  


August 8, 2007

Congress Urges Bush to Share Continuity Plan


Another potential conflict between the White House and Congress is brewing over the President's plans for continuity of government in case of a disaster or terrorist attack on the nation's capital. Continuity plans have been required since the development of intercontinental nuclear weapons. But new plans based on no advance warning have been developed because of the element of surprise in terrorist attacks. President Bush ordered a new plan on May 9th and will only share its classified elements with Congressional leaders, not the full Homeland Security committee which claims jurisdiction over continuity planning.  


But Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said he could not fulfill his oversight responsibilities without being able to review the plan in its entirety. "I can see only three reasons for their refusal," he is quoted in Newsday coverage. "One is they don't really have a plan and, therefore, there's nothing to share, the second is they have developed a plan with dubious or unlawful provisions. The third is that this is part of the paranoid, supersecret mentality which is quite common with this administration."  


The White House insists that the secrecy is a security measure and that the plan is entirely above board. Some security analysts also pointed out that Congress have not addressed their own continuity issues nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks.  


August 8, 2007

FEMA Asks "Are You Ready"


Wondering if you are adequately prepared for a natural disaster or terrorist attack? The Federal Emergency Management Agency publishes "Are You Ready?" An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness. The book is FEMA’s most comprehensive source on individual, family, and community preparedness.  


"Are You Ready?" provides a step-by-step approach to disaster preparedness by walking the reader through how to get informed about local emergency plans, how to identify hazards that affect their local area, and how to develop and maintain an emergency communications plan and disaster supplies kit. Other topics covered include evacuation, emergency public shelters, animals in disaster, and information specific to people with disabilities.  


Visit the FEMA website for information on how to order the book, or to download it directly as a PDF file.  


July 31, 2007

Senate Packs DHS Budget With Border Funding

Bush Threatens Veto Over $3 billion Add-on  


Late last week the Senate passed its $40.6 billion version of the 2008 Department of Homeland Security budget, voting 89-4, after adding $3 billion for border security. The money is meant to pay for fencing, sensors and vehicle barriers; 3,000 more Border Patrol agents; 4,000 new detention beds; and 700 additional immigration enforcement personnel. It would reimburse state and local governments for the cost of helping federal agents enforce immigration laws, improve systems to allow employers to check worker eligibility, and require the deportation of people who overstay their visas. The measure also would ensure that federal officials have the space to detain up to 45,000 illegal border crossers at one time.  


"This $3 billion is as necessary for national security as any spending we do in Iraq," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the amendment's author (above). He likened the decisive vote to pass his amendment to "having been robbed 12 million times and finally getting around to putting a lock on the door," as quoted in Los Angeles Times coverage. President Bush has criticized the extra spending as fiscally irresponisible but may be loath to veto the budget because of widespread political support--especially among Republicans--for more stringent border controls.  


July 24, 2007

"Fusion Centers" Miss the Mark in Counter-terrorism


According to the Congressional Research Service, the State-Federal intelligence "Fusion Centers" have strayed from their core counter-terrorist mission and failed in their primary objective to facilitate information sharing across the governement. The centers "have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach," focusing on traditional criminals and local emergencies, according to the report, entitled . Also, The CRS report found "little true fusion, or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps and pro-active collection of intelligence" at the 42 centers now set up in 37 states. In some cities, such as New York, the centers are working fairly well, with federal and local agents working side-by-side. But in many areas, investigators said, they are not. Read more in USA Today coverage. Click to read the CRS report.  


Chertoff: Chlorine Loophole Could Pose Danger


Homeland Security officials are urging water treatment plants to voluntarily step up their efforts to secure chlorine gas, which Iraqi insurgents have used in improvised chemical weapons. Water treatment plants were specifically excluded from stringent chemical security legislation because lobbyists for the industry convinced lawmakers that the new requirements would be "redundant." In a recent speech, DHS Secretary Chertoff urged water authorities to pay for whatever fences, cameras, and guards are necessary to "make sure that these dangerous chemicals they have on site are not stolen, because, unfortunately, if you look over to Iraq, you're going to see these kinds of chemicals wind up in improvised explosive devices." Chertoff has no power to do anything more than urge vigilance on the part of water treatment plant operators. Chertoff added: "For those of you who are not subject to regulation, I don't want you to breathe a sigh of relief like 'We're off the hook,' " Chertoff said. "You're on the hook, because you're going to have to do this yourselves until the time comes along that regulatory authority to address these is given to us or to some other agency," as quoted in Boston Globe coverage.  


July 19, 2007

DHS Urban Grants Announced

Chertoff Claims "Biggest Year Ever" for NYC Grants; Local Politicians Dubious  


New York City will receive a boost in Homeland Security funding next year, but officials from all levels of government say DHS is still shortchanging the metro area. Annual Urban Areas Security Initiative grant funding increased $10 million, to $134 million, yet remained 37 percent below its 2005 peak. When supplemented by other grant programs, including $34.8 million to improve first responder communications, New York's grant package is will be greater that $257 million. Chertoff characterized this figure as New York's "biggest year ever," while acknowledging "you can't satisfy everybody," according to Associated Press coverage. Funding for the District and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs climbed to nearly $62 million, a $15 million increase and the biggest boost among seven urban areas deemed at highest risk of attack. Some first-time grant winners this year were Norfolk, El Paso and Providence, R.I. In total, DHS announced a total of $1.7 billion in state and local grants and $1 billion more specifically to improve police and fire department communication.  


In what has become an annual chorus, New York politicians claimed the funding level does not meet the threat to New York and gives money cities unlikely to be attacked. "I mean, I suppose every city in theory could be a target but I think the mistake that is always made is confusing where you're vulnerable to where you're likely to be attacked," New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is quoted in NY Newsday coverage. Chertoff tried to head off criticism from major urban areas by noting that terrorists in last month's failed car-bomb attacks in Britain targeted not just London but also much smaller Glasgow, Scotland. He also cited the Oklahoma City bombing and other plots as examples of terrorist plotting outside of cities attacked on Sept. 11. "People say, 'Well isn't most of the threat, all the threat in New York?' . . . The answer is no, it's not," Chertoff said. "If we put all the money there, we'd be inviting people to attack second-level cities," he is quoted in Washington Post coverage.  


July 15, 2007

Report: al-Qaeda Back to pre-9/11 Strength


From the Associated Press: "U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The conclusion suggests that the group that launched the most devastating terrorist attack on the United States has been able to regroup along the Afghan-Pakistani border despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at crippling it. Still, numerous government officials say they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack on U.S. soil... read full article.  


President Bush seemed to disagree with the central conclusions of the report. "Because of the actions we've taken, Al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been. They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else we find them. And that's (what) our strategy is — to stay on the offense against Al Qaeda," he is quoted in Fox News coverage. The report was created as part of a new National Intelligence Estimate expected soon. Click to watch a video report by the Associated Press.  


July 12, 2007

Chertoff Urges Vigilance, Citing "Gut Feeling" on Summer Attacks


Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned that the nation could face a heightened terrorism risk this summer. "Summertime seems to be appealing to [al-Qaeda]," Chertoff told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune Tuesday. "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities." Chertoff urged Americans not to be complacent about homeland security, and said that his warning is based on "a gut feeling" formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent al-Qaeda statements, the botched UK plots, and intelligence he did not disclose to the Tribune.  


House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) quickly sent a letter to Chertoff urging him to clarify the origin of his "gut feeling" and present actionable information to the American people. "The Committee on Homeland Security has repeatedly emphasized the importance of getting specific, actionable information to our first preventers in law enforcement and other emergency response providers. I urge you to follow up on your "gut feeling" and share whatever information our nation's first preventers need to be on alert and prepared. Otherwise, we run the risk of communities taking it upon themselves to mobilize for every possible threat. This not only would result in communities depleting their scarce homeland security resources but runs contrary to your efforts to move toward a risk-based approach to homeland security," Thompson wrote in his letter. Thompson also said he was willing to convene a classified meeting of the committee if Chertoff felt it was warranted. As of Thursday afternoon, Chertoff had not issued a reply.  


But DHS has responded. “We are as candid as we can be, and we provide as much guidance as can be provided. DHS spokesman Russ Knocke is quoted in Congressional Quarterly coverage. They may not like the message. They may be alarmed by the message. They may try to politicize the message. But we, again, have a very serious responsibility to be as forthright and as sober as we can about what we know, what we’re doing, and quite frankly what we don’t know.”  


July 9, 2007

Preparedness Updates:


July 9: Job Vacancies At DHS Said To Hurt U.S. Preparedness  

The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a "gaping hole" in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today. As of May 1, Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as in immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard. The vacant slots include presidential, senior executive and other high-level appointments, according to the report by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee... read Washington Post article.  


July 6: How Terrorists' Goals May Be Melding  

• The Change: Security officials worry a new model of Islamist terror is emerging that relies on hasty planning, simple weapons and minimal training.  

• The Problem: Such plots are tougher to track and stop than more ambitious ones.  

• The Challenge: Security services have to decide the most effective way to concentrate finite resources to minimize the danger.  

read Wall Street Journal article.  


July 4: Real-life 'Q' working to thwart the bad guys  

Rolf Dietrich is not your typical government bureaucrat. He's the Homeland Security Department's gadget man, an MIT-trained engineer and onetime nuclear attack submarine commander who spends his days trying to come up with futuristic equipment that could be used to thwart terrorists for generations to come... read USA Today article.  


July 9, 2007

NY City Preparedness Contest Offers "Go-Bags" as Prizes


New Yorkers prepared for disaster could become even more ready with a pair of free "Go Bags" from a contest sponsored by the city's Office of Emergency Management. Each month, OEM will select a "Ready New Yorker," to win the backpacks full of basic supplies. Winners will be selected on the basis of a 250-word testimonial about how they have been preparing for disaster. Entry forms available by calling 311 or visiting the OEM website.  


July 5, 2007

U.S. Urges Vigilance Amid Copycat Fears


As British police continue to investigate suspects in last week's British terror plots, U.S. security officials have stepped up precautions and urged people to be vigilant about suspicious persons or objects. Americans found somewhat more stringent security procedures at airports and mass transit outlets, but DHS has kept the terror alert at "Elevated" because of no "specific credible evidence" of a threat against America. Britain reduced its own terror alert to "Severe" from "Critical" because no imminent attacks are expected. 'There remains a serious and real threat against the United Kingdom and I would again ask that the public remain vigilant,' Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is quoted in Thomson Financial News. British police have detained eight suspects, mostly foreign doctors, in the wake of the attacks.  


Counter-terrorist agencies continue to worry about the possibility of a suicide bomb attack or a tandem car bomb—both tactics refined in ongoing Iraq conflict. "One of the things we always do focus on a little bit is the possibility of a copy cat, which is another reason why we have put some additional security measures in place," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is quoted in Reuters coverage. The CIA is also stepping up its international surveillance and intelligence efforts.  


Debate continues over whether the British plot was a direct al-Qaeda operation or the actions of a homegrown terror cell. One terrorism expert says the attacks emulate al-Qaeda methods, and should not be called “amateurish” despite their failure., said he considered al-Qaeda involvement likely in the British incidents and disagreed with those who labeled the attacks amateurish. "They didn't work, but I think of all the al-Qaeda plots we've seen, their sophistication is in their simplicity. They used available materials. Where they tripped up is in the detonation of the devices. That's a trickier business," Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is quoted in the Washington Post. Above: an explosives-laden Mercedes sedan is removed from a London theater district by bomb-squad workers.  


June 27, 2007

Stronger Skyscraper Safety Standards Announced


Due in part to lobbying by 9/11 family advocates, new safety standards for tall buildings have been adopted by the nation's main building standards board. The most significant change would be requiring a third stairwell in buildings taller than 420 feet, or about 35 stories. At least one elevator in buildings at least 120 feet tall would also have to be specially built with backup power systems and fire-resistant wiring so firefighters could use it reliably in emergencies. Fireproofing for steel columns, to prevent a structural collapse, would have to be nearly three times stronger in high rises up to 35 stories and seven times stronger for even taller towers, making it less likely to fall off.  


Many of the changes stem from investigations by NIST and other agencies into the collapse of the WTC towers. “Here is something that has been learned from what happened on 9/11,” said Sally Regenhard, founder of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, is quoted in the New York Times. Sally's son Christian, a firefighter, was killed responding to the attacks on the WTC.  


--Read NY Times Article  

--Visit the Skyscraper Safety Campaign webpage  


Small Boats Could Play Bigger Role in Homeland Security


Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made the following statements last week as part of his keynote address to the DHS National Small Vessel Security Summit: The reason we are all here and the reason we are pleased to have you here is so that we can have a conversation about what we can do collectively as part of federal, state and local government, as part of the private sector, as the owners and operators of small boat vessels, to better understand the security risks that are associated with small vessels, and to talk about the steps we can take to reduce that risk across the maritime domain, as we continue to protect our nation against the threat of terrorism.  


Now I recognize that small vessels are an important part of our economy, and I certainly don't mean to suggest there's an unusual or specific threat to the country coming from small vessels, but we also know that historically terrorists like Al Qaeda have used small vessels to carry out operations. We know they attempted to do so with respect to the USS The Sullivans. They successfully did so with respect to the USS Cole. They did so with respect to a French tanker, so that this is certainly a threat that has some historic legacy.  


At the same time that we see the potential threat in small vessels, we recognize that you are also a very powerful asset, because you are the eyes and ears on the water, millions of eyes and ears that give us visibility and situational awareness about potential threats, threats that, by the way, would directly affect your livelihood as well as the welfare of this country... Read the full address by Secretary Chertoff.  


States Leave Federal Security Grants Unspent


A DHS report issued this week tells us that no state has spent 100% of the federal homeland security grants they have been allocated since 2002. Some states have left nearly half of their federal dollars unspent. All told, only 2/3 of the total $16 billion in appropriations from FY 2002-07 have been spent by the states. Some of the largest offenders are states considered the most vulnerable to terrorism: New York has left 47.9% unspent and California 34.8%. States with the best spending records are generally not considered prime targets and thus have far less money overall to spend: North Dakota has only 15.7% unspent and Iowa 16.1%.  


Critics say the lapse shows that the federal government is dishing out too much in grants and that some homeland security funding is being used for political pork-barreling. Some states respond that they cannot raise the matching funds required for some federal grants, or cannot follow stringent federal bidding and contracting requirements. President Bush has threatened to veto the DHS appropriations bill this year because of what he considers unnecessary spending earmarks added by Congress.  


--See your state's record  

--Read USA Today coverage.  


June 7, 2007

Digital TV Transfer Box Unveiled; Transition Will Free Up Radio Spectrum for Emergency Communications


Starting February 17, 2009, all television signals will be sent digitally, requiring TV viewers who still use "rabbit ears" or other analog antennae to purchase a converter box to recieve the signals. Part of the analog spectrum will then be assigned to facilitate emergency communications, with a large chunk to be auctioned for cell phone and other uses. Two prototype analog-digital converter boxes were unveiled yesterday. A model made by LG is shown at left. Anyone who needs a box will be given up to two $40 coupons to cover the purchase cost through a $1.5 billion dollar federal voucher progarm. Read more in New York Times coverage. More information on the program is available at an F.C.C. Web site, www.dtv.gov, or the broadcasters’ site at www.dtvanswers.com.  


June 5, 2007

Red Cross Promotes Preparedness in NYC




Monday, June 18  

Time: 10am - 11:15am  

Location: Inwood Senior Center  

84 Vermilea Avenue (cross street: 204th St.), NYC  



Time: 7:15pm - 8:15pm  

Location: CCBA  

62 Mott Street, NYC  


Tuesday June 19  

Time: 11am - 11:45am  

Location: East River Senior Center  

402 East 104th Street, NYC  


Thursday, June 21  

Time: 10:30am - 11:15am  

Location: Burden Center for Aging  

351 East 74th St., NYC  


Prepare New York is a free 45-minute emergency preparedness presentation teaching New York City residents how to create a plan, build a supply kit, and keep loved ones safe and informed during times of disaster. Read more on the Red Cross website.  



June 1, 2007

Private Security Guards Seen as Homeland Security Weak Link


On the Front Lines Fighting Terrorism for $5.15 an Hour  

This week, The Associated Press examines the private security industry's role in front line homeland security defense. Since 9/11, the responsibilities of private security guards have grown dramatically while pay and training have remained stagnant. Some states do not even require criminal background checks. A tough look at a glaring weakness in the public/private effort to secure the homeland. Read the article  


June is National Safety Month


The National Safety Council is promoting June as National Safety Month. Their web page provides daily tips for safety in the home and community. June 18-22 is specifically devoted to emergency preparedness, and other topics include home and community, workplace and driving safety. Click to learn more on the National Safety Month website.  


May 25, 2007

Key Senators Reject Independent FEMA


Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) do not support removing the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Department of Homeland Security, as proposed by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Because Lieberman and Collins are the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), their opposition makes it unlikely that Clinton's bill, which would return FEMA to independent, cabinet-level status, has much of a chance.  


"While some still call for FEMA to be taken out of DHS, I believe that would be a serious mistake," Sen. Lieberman is quoted in CongressDaily coverage. "I am confident that FEMA today, within DHS, is much stronger than it was on 9/11 and much stronger still than it was ... when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast [in 2005]." Lieberman and Collins made their comments at a HSGAC hearing Tuesday entitled: Implementing FEMA Reform: Are We Prepared for the 2007 Hurricane Season?"  


May 18, 2007

Red Cross Promotes Preparedness in New York City


Tuesday, June 11, 2007  

Prepare NY Seminar  

Time: 11am – 11:45am  

Location: J W Johnson Senior Center  

2205 First Avenue, New York City  


Prepare New York is a free 45-minute emergency preparedness presentation teaching New York City residents how to create a plan, build a supply kit, and keep loved ones safe and informed during times of disaster.  


Participants walk away with an interactive CD that can be used to create a customized evacuation plan and other tools that will help any family get prepared. Also included are various brochures from the American Red Cross and the New York City Office of Emergency Management, as well as a quiz to test the attendee's emergency preparedness knowledge. Visit the website to register or call 212-875-2177 for more information. The program is free of charge.  


Congress Supports Job Protection for Emergency Volunteers


An amendment to the 2007-08 Homeland Security authorization act would protect the jobs of volunteer firefighters and other emergency volunteers who respond to a federally-declared emergency. "We thank the cosponsors and supporters of this legislation for their efforts. These firefighters and EMS personnel should not have to worry about their jobs back home, when responding with their departments to national events like Hurricane Katrina,” Chief Jim Harmes, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is quoted in Fire Chief Magazine coverage.  


Oregon Rejects $665 Million Radio System Overhaul


The Oregon Legislature rejected Gov. Ted Kulongoski's (D) plan to spend $665 million for a statewide public safety radio network because the proposal was too vague and would cost nearly $200 for every man woman and child in Oregon. Rep. Donna Nelson (R), is quoted in Oregonian coverage: "I've never seen anything like what's happening here in all my years of being here -- to establish something that is so huge and so serious" without more detail. "I don't know how on earth we can approve this without a plan and a budget." Oregon's plan, while sketchy on details, called for more coverage, more towers, higher system capacity and newer technology than most other states. The Legislature appropriated $6.8 million to study alternative plans.  


Law Would Provide Immunity for Reports of Suspicious Activity


Praising the role of a New Jersey video store clerk in exposing the Fort Dix conspiracy, federal lawmakers have moved to protect people reporting suspicious activity from lawsuits. "Law-enforcement officials have noted that their investigation was triggered by an alert clerk's report that a customer had brought in a video that showed men firing weapons and shouting in Arabic, which reminded him of the 9/11 terrorists," Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) explained to the Senate last Friday, as quoted in United Press International coverage. "Protecting citizens who make good-faith reports of potentially lethal activities is essential to maintaining our homeland security."  


The key phrase in the legislation is "good faith," a caveat inserted to address fears that certain groups would become targets of vindictive or frivolous investigations. The bill was introduced in the Senate last Friday by Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, and ranking member Susan Collins, R-ME, of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ. Reps. Peter King, R-NY, and Steve Pearce, R-NM, and Bill Schuster, R-PA, introduced companion legislation in the House on Monday.  


April 6, 2007

DHS Preparedness Directorate will be Folded into FEMA, Head Quits


Last week, the Department of Homeland Security folded its 18-month old Preparedness Directorate into the Federal Emergency Management Association. The reshuffling prompted the resignation of George Foresman, who served for fifteen months as the first head of the DHS Preparedness Directorate and will be its last.  


"George is an exceptional professional who has shown a steadfast commitment to the ideals of leadership by example," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement quoted in GovExec coverage: "Through his tireless dedication, George helped sharpen the federal government's focus in the areas of infrastructure protection, including the security of chemical facilities, national information technology and telecommunications systems, and he has been instrumental in leading refinements to our grants processes, approaches to risk management, use of biometrics and communications interoperability."  


As DHS undersecretary for Preparedness, Foresman oversaw the department's more than $3 billion first-responder grant program, the U.S. Fire Administration, critical infrastructure and cyber-security programs and the National Capital Region coordinating office. He joined DHS shortly after Hurricane Katrina when DHS and FEMA were heavily criticized for their response. Soon after, lawmakers and state and local officials began lobbying to restore preparedness programs to FEMA. Congress passed a law late last year that reorganized DHS, shifting primary responsibility for preparedness to FEMA, effectively eliminating Foresman's job.  


"Mr. Foresman's resignation is unfortunate. With the DHS [reorganization] and building up of 'New FEMA,' he was marginalized and eventually had no job left," A DHS official who requested anonymity is quoted in CQ Homeland Security coverage. According to the official, Foresman seemed to be the right man for the job of undersecretary of Preparedness. "The biggest problem was the definition of what the job was... Nobody was ever really able to define 'Preparedness.'"  


DHS Announced this week that former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Robert D. Jamison will serve as the new DHS Deputy Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate. According to the announcement: "Robert will help lead our national efforts to protect our critical infrastructure and prevent attacks on it and improve the resiliency of essential cyber-security and communications capabilities."  


March 30, 2007

House Hearing Examines First Responder Communications


This week, a House subcommittee held a hearing to monitor the progress of the planned shift from analog to digital TV broadcasting and the subsequent release of analog spectrum for use by first responders. Better communications among first responders could have saved many lives on 9/11, and VOICES has long advocated for the transfer of spectrum as quickly as possible. VOICES Founding Director Mary Fetchet testified before the committee Wednesday to push for a renewed effort by Congress to give the first responders the tools they need to effectively communicate during a terrorist attack or natural disaster. "Imagine being told that your loved ones' death could have been prevented," Ms. Fetchet testified at the House telecommunications and Internet subcommittee hearing chaired by Ed Markey (D-MA), below. "It's inexcusable that we haven't gotten our rescue people the tools to do their job," as quoted in Reuters coverage. Her full testimony is available on the committee's website, along with streaming video of the proceedings.  


Encouragingly, many of the broadcasters and merchants on the witness panel and many lawmakers on the subcommittee seem committed to the current date: February 17, 2009. After that date, U.S. television stations will be required to air only digital broadcasts, freeing up 108 megahertz of analog airwaves. Of the total, 24 MHz is being set aside for public safety and the rest will be auctioned. "We cannot violate a sacred trust to those that died on 9/11. I will do whatever I can do not to let this deadline slip," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), as quoted in Los Angeles Times coverage. Some lawmakers questioned whether the nation's TV viewers and retailers would be ready for the change. All new TVs are already digital-ready, but some old televisions would require a converter box to view the digital TV broadcast or their screens would go blank permanently. The government plans to subsidize the purchase of the boxes, which will cost nearly $60 dollars, with a $40 coupon. Congress has already authorized the coupon program at a cost of up to $1.5 billion. Read more about this vitally important issue in the VOICES for Change section of our website.  


March 9, 2007

News Briefs


March 6 - Send $$$ Not Screeners MTA tells feds - The MTA has rejected the feds' offer to provide government screeners to inspect railroad riders for explosives - and wants more money instead... (New York Daily News)  


March 6 - New York Officials Urge Renewal of Federal Terrorism Insurance - New York officials urged Congress yesterday to renew a terrorism insurance program set to expire at the end of this year that they said allowed the city’s economy to recover and grow in the years after the Sept. 11 terror attack... (New York Times)  


March 5 - Experts: U.S. unprepared for nuclear terror attack - Although the Bush administration has warned repeatedly about the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack and spent more than $300 billion to protect the homeland, the government remains ill-prepared to respond to a nuclear catastrophe. Experts and government documents suggest that, absent a major preparedness push, the U.S. response to a mushroom cloud could be worse than the debacle after Hurricane Katrina, possibly contributing to civil disorder and costing thousands of lives... (McClatchy Newspapers)  


March 3 - Driver's License Law Delayed - Legislators in Maine took the lead among states this year in rebelling against tougher driver's license requirements established by Congress in 2005. Last week, Republican Susan Collins, one of the state's two U.S. senators, did the same on a national level by offering legislation to delay implementation of the law (PL 109-13) known as the Real ID Act. Collins, the ranking member of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, offered her provision Feb. 28 as an amendment to the pending homeland security bill (S 4). The next day, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a temporary reprieve for states to meet the requirements, and Collins withdrew her amendment... (Congressional Quarterly)  


February 23, 2007

Security Focus Turns to Trains and Mass Transit


Another deadly train bombing in India has brought increased focus this week to the security of America’s rail and mass transit systems. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said he will make increased security on trains and subways a priority for the coming term. "Terrorists have yet again demonstrated that transportation systems are targets, and this notice must not be ignored. I call upon my colleagues in the House and Senate to work with me to secure our trains and public transit systems. We have received enough warnings. History will judge us if we don't act now," Rep. Thompson is quoted in United Press International coverage. According to Rep. Thompson’s estimates, The Department of Homeland Security currently spends one penny per passenger on mass transit security, while spending nine dollars per passenger on aviation security. President Bush included only $175 million in transit security grants in his fiscal 2008 budget proposal, the same level as FY '07.  


Rep. Thompson is holding committee hearings on mass transit and has promised to introduce legislation mandating more training for transit workers, whistle-blower protection for those who reveal security lapses, increased screening at stations and federal grants for mass-transit security. In the Senate, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee reported out a rail security bill (S. 184) that would authorize $1.1 billion from fiscal years 2008 to 2011 to provide, among other things, system-wide security upgrades on Amtrak, funding for Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, and funding for freight railroads. Also, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee recently sent legislation authorizing $3.5 billion to be spent over the next three years on transit security to the full Senate. Read more in Congressional Quarterly coverage.  


But some critics claim that more grant money will not necessarily make transit more secure. Heritage Foundation homeland security expert James Carafano told the conservative Cybercast News Service this week: "Focusing myopically on specific threats such as a terrorist attack on a U.S. train is a grave mistake. America is a vast nation with millions of people and trillions of dollars of infrastructure. Everything can't be hardened to the point that terrorists will be deterred, and hardening one target to the exclusion of everything else won't stop terrorists." In a January Senate hearing, Transportation Security Administration head Kip Hawley pointed out the inherent difficulty in fully securing systems that were designed to be easy to access and used by large numbers of people: "Many of these systems were designed with mobility and ease of access as an enabling fundamental underlying their operational success… Our security efforts must work within the framework of these systems and not hamper them. That inherent openness and mobility also presents us with our greatest security challenge," Hawley told the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (click to visit the committee's website).  


The attack on a train traveling from India to Pakistan killed at least 68 people Sunday. It is the most recent in a string of attacks on rail and mass transit systems stretching back to the March 11, 2004 attacks on commuter trains in Madrid which killed 191 people and injured thousands; the July 7, 2005 bombings of London mass transit which killed 52; and July 11, 2006 attack on Mumbai, India’s suburban railroad system which killed 209.  


February 9, 2007

White House Releases Department of Homeland Security Budget Request


Budget figures are notoriously difficult to understand and open to flexible interpretations, but some points have become clear in recent media coverage:  


Overall, the DHS budget is expected to grow from 5-10% over last year. A DHS fact sheet claims the White House's request totals $46.4 billion, but CongressDaily coverage reports about "$37.7 billion in total discretionary spending." Click to read a summary of the DHS budget request from the White House Office of Management and Budget.  


Interoperable communications will get a boost from a $1 billion line item for the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program. According to the DHS fact sheet: "Funds requested through these programs will (1) provide critical assistance to State and local homeland security efforts, (2) support resources available through other federal assistance programs that center on first responder terrorism preparedness activities, and (3) deliver ample support to all State and local first responder organizations to obtain the equipment, training, and other resources required to protect the public in the event of a terrorist attack or other major incident. DHS expects that funding to come from a sale of radio spectrum this fall. According to the fact sheet, other preparedness initiatives include: FEMA’s Vision Initiatives, a program designed to enable the agency "to intensify and speed the development of core competencies central to achieving disaster readiness, response and recovery," grants to further professionalize FEMA's disaster recovery teams, and a big increase in funding for the Coast Guard.  


In related news, the Government Accountability Office issued a report this week that examined the way DHS calculates risk and vulnerability to set funding levels for state and local homeland security grant programs like the Urban Areas Security Initiative. "It is almost as if the money is distributed based on a bureaucrat with darts throwing them at a map of the United States ," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is quoted in the New York Post. "There's no rhyme or reason." A DHS spokesman, Russ Knocke, disputed some aspects of the report, and claimed that major cities were always prioritized for funding. Cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles "are always going to be tops in risk," and receive commensurate funding, as quoted in the Associated Press.  


VOICES e-Newsletter will continue to spotlight important items in the DHS budget, as well as reactions from state and local leaders, in future weeks.  


Click here to visit VOICES Preparedness page.  


February 2, 2007

Citizen Corps Promotes "Hometown Preparedness"


The Citizen Corps program was expanded after 9/11 to encourage local emergency preparedness—an effort they call “hometown security.” Joining your local Citizen Corps chapter is a great way to give back to your community by increasing its preparedness for a terrorist attack or natural disaster. According to its website, Citizen Corps “asks you to embrace the personal responsibility to be prepared; to get training in first aid and emergency skills; and to volunteer to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.” Their website includes a listing of citizen preparedness publications and independent study courses, as well as a helpful zip-code search that allows you to find the Citizen Corps chapter near you. Citizen Corps is run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. There are currently 2,135 Councils which serve 209,446,084 people or 73% of the total U.S. population.  


One especially important facet of Citizen Corps is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which seeks to educate the American public about disaster preparedness and train them in "basic disaster response skills" such as fire safety, elementary search and rescue (SAR) operations, and first aid. CERT also teaches people how to work in conjunction with established first responders and community organizations to assist in the recovery after a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The CERT teams are engaging in a policy that seeks to create a mindset shift within the psyche of the American public from a response culture to a "preparedness" culture through its programs of community outreach and education.  


Click here to visit VOICES Preparedness page.  


January 26, 2007

New York's New Preparedness Director Tries to Learn Lessons of 9/11


In a speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy this week, newly appointed New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni discussed the challenges he will face and the preparedness priorities he plans to address this year. The job makes Balboni responsible for day-to-day management of homeland security affairs, emergency preparedness and response, and law enforcement. Balboni, a former Republican state senator who crossed party lines to join the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, says he was deeply affected by 9/11 (he lost colleagues and friends and his sister had an appointment at the Trade Center that morning) and will bring vigor and bipartisan credentials to the vital post. "[9/11] left an indelible imprint on my mind," Balboni is quoted in NY Newsday. "I'm very focused on the issues and on the job at hand. Do I have the people around me? Do I have the information? Do I have the relationships? And if I don't, I have to develop them or get out."  


Balboni laid out his areas of focus for 2007:  

- Improved monitoring of mass transit and rail lines.  

- Completing a statewide interoperable communication system for first responders.  

- Developing new networks to convey emergency information to the public.  

- Increased focus on protection plans for the Port of N.Y. and N.J., as well as on "resiliency planning," to "imagine the unthinkable and then plan for it."  

- Improving information flow among local, state and federal law enforcement and counter-terror agencies.  

He also wants to beef up security at the Mohawk Indian reservation that borders Canada and upstate New York, as well as lobby the Department of Homeland Security for a larger share of federal grant money for preparedness.  


January 19, 2007

Resolve to Be Ready in 2007


Dropping those few pesky pounds might be a lost cause, but there is another vitally important resolution everybody should make this January: instituting effective preparedness measures in your home for a terrorist attack or natural disaster. VOICES has joined the Department of Homeland Security in urging all Americans to take this season of new year's resolutions as a opportunity to take common-sense steps that will benefit your safety and peace of mind in case of an emergency.  


In a recent national survey conducted by The Ad Council, 91 percent of Americans agreed that taking some simple steps to prepare could help protect themselves and their families in the event of an emergency. However, only 55 percent had taken at least one of the three steps recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign, including getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, and being informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur and their appropriate responses.  


VOICES is encouraging you to visit www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY to learn how to prepare your families, homes and businesses for all types of emergencies including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. Free materials, including family emergency plan templates and sample business continuity plans, are available through these resources. You can also visit VOICES Preparedness homepage, which has a variety of other resources to help you get started.  


Preparedness Info:


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As the years go by without a major terrorist attack, Americans and legislators become more complacent about national security on the local, state and federal level. More than five years after September 11th, the United States is still not fully prepared to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack. While some elected officials understand the urgency of the problem, too often homeland security and government reform are ensnared by partisan politics, bureaucratic infighting and special interests.  


We must take politics out of national security reform. By educating ourselves on how to lead safer lives, Americans can more effectively urge our elected officials to take action and hold them accountable for inaction. By becoming involved citizens, Americans can protect themselves and ensure peace of mind for their families and their communities.  


American citizens must assert their voices at both the local and national level by contacting elected officials. Individuals must coordinate an emergency preparedness plan for themselves, their families and their communities by identifying the natural and terrorist threats particular to their communities and planning for the future.  


In the area of public policy, VOICES has not stopped at advocacy for the 9/11 Commission formation and resulting legislation, but testifies regularly at hearings in Washington to urge for reform through the full implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. VOICES calls on all elected officials to give national security reform its due sense of urgency.  


In addition to issuing a survey on the national perception of preparedness, VOICES is aligned with public and private sector organizations including the American Red Cross and the Department of Homeland Security to promote effective preparedness and response for National Preparedness Month, September. The goal of National Preparedness Month is to raise awareness about the importance of anticipating emergencies with tools such as “Tips of the Day:” Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed and Get Involved, events and activities nationwide that will encourage individuals to obtain an emergency supply kit, create a family emergency plan and proactively ensure that their communities are prepared. Visit the National Preparedness Month website to learn more about how you can participate.  


VOICES welcomes the input of all individuals and organizations who share our mission to make our communities and nation safer. Help us accurately represent the consensus of both the 9/11 families and the broader community by taking our national survey on perceptions of emergency preparedness today.

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Preparedness Month  

Tips of the Day:  


Day 30  

Bioterrorism - Read More  


Day 29  

Explosions and Fire - Read More  


Day 28  

Chemical Hazards - Read More  


Day 27  

Floods-Even Shallow Water Can Be Deadly - Read More  


Day 26  

Shake, Rattle, and Roll - Read More  


Day 25  

Recovering Financially - Read More  


Day 24  

Understand Shelter-in-Place and Evacuation - Read More  


Day 23  

Know How to Turn off Utilities - Read More  


Day 22  

Treat Contaminated Water - Read More  


Day 21  

Surf The Net - Read More  


Day 20  

Know Your Home - Read More  


Day 19  

Car Kit - Read More  


Day 18  

What's In Your Kit 3? -Read More  


Day 17  

What's In Your Kit 2? -Read More  


Day 16  

What's In Your Kit 1? -Read More  


Day 15  

Water, water anywhere? -Read More  


Day 14  

First Aid - Read More  


Day 13  

Food for thought, or think food -Read More  


Day 12  

Prepare your kit - Read More  


Day 11  

What’s the plan, boss? - Read More  


Day 10  

Work together - Read More  


Day 9  

Practice Makes Perfect - Read More  


Day 8  

Get Emergency Help - Read More  


Day 7  

Is school in or out when disaster strikes? - Read More  


Day 6  

Make it a habit - Read More  


Day 5  

Man’s best friends - Read More  


Day 4  

Emergency Contacts - Read More  

Day 3  

Make a connection - Read More  


Day 2  

Oh, the places you’ll go - Read More  


Day 1  

Best Way Out - Read More

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