Report: U.S. slow to improve emergency preparedness

The nation's homeland security leaders have shown little or no progress in carrying out the recommendations for anti-terrorism emergency preparedness and response developed in July 2004 by the 9/11 Commission, according to a report card issued this week by the former members of the panel.

The 10-page study cites minimal or unsatisfactory progress on 11 of 14 recommendations from the commission. The new report was issued by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a nonprofit organization led by former 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton.

For example, Congress and the executive branch have failed to assess national critical infrastructure risks and vulnerabilities, provide a strategy for transportation security, improve airline passenger prescreening and collaborate with other countries to secure borders and travel documents, states the report.

There has been minimal progress on providing radio spectrum to first responders, establishing a unified Incident Command System, assisting the private sector in securing facilities and screening for explosives at airports, among other goals.

"Hurricane Katrina demonstrates a major failure: the absence of unified command," the report states. It advises that the Oct. 1, 2006, deadline must not be missed for nationwide full compliance with the National Incident Command System, and suggests that compliance be made a condition for federal security funding.

The report also strongly recommends that Congress approve legislation to compel allocation of radio spectrum to public safety agencies by the earliest possible date. Under current law, broadcast TV stations are expected to turn over some of their radio spectrum to first responders when they have achieved a high penetration of high-definition television within their markets, with no definitive date for the transfer.

The report cited some progress in implementing three of the 14 recommendations: improving terrorist travel intelligence; creating a biometric entry-exit screening system and standardizing secure identifications.

It said the National Counterterrorism Center, the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center and representatives of government agencies are jointly developing a terrorist travel strategy due by December 2005.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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