Ridge: More plans, cash needed to be crisis-ready

Ridge: Being prepared "not just a matter of putting billions" into the system.

Henrik G. de Gyor

The systems put in place to respond to a national emergency worked effectively during the recent electricity blackout, but more must be done to ensure the nation can prevent or respond to future crises, Tom Ridge, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told the nation's governors Aug. 18.

"It's not just a matter of putting billions of dollars into the system. We need to make sure at all levels of government that we are building up a national capacity," Ridge said during the governors' annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Ridge urged each governor to submit a statewide plan to the Homeland Security Department by the end of the year. The plan should detail how to distribute funds effectively to state and local government to support a national communications and information-sharing network capable of preventing and responding to attacks or reducing vulnerability to them. The governors should use the statewide template that the Homeland Security Advisory Council created, Ridge said.

Congress has provided $4 billion in 2003 and will provide $3.5 billion to the states for first responders in 2004, Ridge said. Homeland Security plans to have a one-stop shop in place by the end of the year to make it easier for first responders to obtain grants.

Ridge also said his agency would provide $150 million this year to establish pilot projects in all states for interoperable communications.

The nation's governors announced they have either spent or obligated 80 percent of the funding for first responders that was appropriated in fiscal 2003. According to the governors, this shows that having the states disburse first-responder funds to local governments did not add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy as some critics contended.

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