How prepared is our country on the state, local and national level for another terror attack? Is the Department of Homeland Security the best vehicle for organizing a national response? What role should our military play? How safe are our borders?
In 1999 while I was governor of Virginia I was asked by the federal government to chair the National Commission on Homeland Security (The Gilmore Commission). The Commission issued five annual reports, three of which were completed prior to the 9/11 attacks. In 1999 the first sentence of our first report described terrorism as a “genuine threat.” We stated that a national strategy to address the threat was “urgently needed.” In 2000, we said the danger of a terrorist attack in the United States was “a serious emerging threat.” Our third report was essentially completed before the 9/11 attack and set out the major initiatives necessary to protect the country.
Now, eight years later, the American people are entitled to a report on how far we have progressed on these initiatives. First, the Commission urged that a national response plan put emphasis on local responders and enabling states to be ready for an attack. The federal government has a key support role in a national emergency but their real duty is to get planning and resources to the local response community. However, the Hurricane Katrina response underscored federal responsibility. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security asserts federal predominance in what should be a state and local response. Where do we stand on local preparedness? Is it also time to assess whether the Department of Homeland Security is the best vehicle for organizing the national response to terrorist threats and natural disasters.