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State, Local Agencies Are Valued Partners, Ridge Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2003 – "Americans do not submit to fear," the nation "will be prepared," the chief of the Department of Homeland Security reminded emergency management directors from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories today.

The professional, day-to-day work in protecting the homeland "includes organizations such as yours," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge told the National Emergency Managers Association members gathered here.

He said establishing good relations between state and local emergency preparedness organizations and merging disparate federal agencies into the DHS are among his top priorities.

State and local emergency preparedness elements are valued partners in homeland security, Ridge said. He recalled the Feb. 19 launch of DHS' "Ready Campaign," where citizens are urged to do their part to prepare for possible terrorist attacks.

Ridge noted that 22 formerly separate government agencies involving 175,000 people would merge on March 1 to officially become the Department of Homeland Security.

One challenge for the new department, Ridge said, is to effectively integrate personnel coming from different agencies so they can perform their jobs even better.

"They've been 'stove piped' before," he said of the new DHS employees. "We think there are enormous, stronger capacities we can build, because Congress has given us the flexibility to merge and to integrate some of these units."

Merging agencies gets "people on board to help set the emergency management priorities," Ridge noted, adding that DHS' formation will enhance emergency preparedness coordination and communications up and down the chain of command.

Ridge said he's "absolutely confident" the merger will work. "It's just going to take some time, I think, to change some thinking," he added.

Emergency preparedness, border and infrastructure protection, and other homeland security missions were previously scattered across the government, Ridge pointed out.

Ridge said President Bush "recognized the need to unite these disparate elements behind one primary mission and under one chain of command.

"And, starting on March 1, that's exactly what we plan on doing," he concluded.

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