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Cooperation, Flexibility Keys to Homeland Security

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2002 – All levels of government must cooperate to prevent or lessen the consequences of another terrorist attack, said Peter Verga, who directs DoD's Homeland Security Task Force.

Verga has been meeting with local and state officials to see how they view the problems caused by terrorist attacks and how the Defense Department should help.

He said his meetings with mayors confirmed an important belief. "The mayors consider all emergencies, all disasters, all terrorist problems, to be local problems," Verga said during an interview. "If you think about it, ultimately that's where they start -- somebody's city, somebody's town, somebody's state."

He said mayors, governors and other local officials are looking to the federal government to provide them the wherewithal to deal with those problems at the local level. "It's only if they can't deal with them at the local level that they think it's necessary for the federal government - - and in particular the Defense Department -- to come in and assist them in actually dealing with the problem," he said.

Verga sees the Defense Department as a resource that mayors, other local officials and governors can turn to for help in dealing with the threat of terrorist attacks. But the department, he said, will also stand ready to back these jurisdictions as part of other federal responses if their capabilities are overwhelmed.

He said many local and state officials have spoken with him about U.S. Northern Command. The command, part of the changes to the Unified Command Plan, will stand up Oct. 1 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Its missions will be to defend North America and, if directed, to support civil authorities as needed.

Verga said he spoke about the command in terms of what Northern Command would bring to the table should a situation occur. He said a major benefit will be the command's ability to plan for catastrophes.

"The mayors and the governors have an appreciation for what that would mean," he said. "We will, in fact, have a command that has been planning on how to deal with that, knows what kind of resources and forces must be brought to bear on the problem, knows how to get them there and can handle the range of responses."

The military does planning well, he said. While identifying resources is important, he continued, so is devising plans to transport the resource where it's needed and to support it once it's in place, and so on.

U.S. Northern Command will work closely with officials of the states' National Guard. In many cases, state adjutant generals are also state emergency management directors. "So there is a natural connection between (national) defense resources, the National Guard and the defense resources of the states," Verga said.

While progress has been made, much work remains. The Bush administration has published the national strategy for homeland security. Now, defense planners need to take that to heart and build from it, he said.

Further, Congress is still working on legislation establishing the new Department of Homeland Security. Approval of this legislation will enable the new department, along with DoD, the White House Office of Homeland Security and all the state and local entities, to better work together, Verga said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is actively involved in all this. Verga said Rumsfeld would be providing planning guidance to Northern Command on how it would be expected to be employed. The Defense Department is still studying which forces, if any, will be assigned to the new command on a regular basis.

Flexibility is a crucial facet to the homeland security equation. "You can never anticipate exactly what the problem is going to be, exactly what the situation is that you will deal with," Verga said. "You have to be flexible, you have to have plans and capabilities that are responsive to a variety of situations.

He said this mirrors Rumsfeld's switch from threat-based planning to capabilities-based planning. "This gives you a greater ability to respond regardless of what the threat is," Verga said. "If, unfortunately, you plan for the wrong threat, then you may find yourself facing a very challenging situation.

"But if you have a set of capabilities that you can apply regardless of the threat, you end up with a much more flexible response. This is what DoD transformation is all about."

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Related Sites:
White House Office of Homeland Security Web site

Related Articles:
The Defense Point Man for Homeland Security

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