Ten years ago this month, NASA and the world lost seven brave explorers when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry. This was a devastating loss for the families of the astronauts, for NASA’s important work, and indeed, for the entire country. While the Department of Homeland Security was not stood up until March 1, 2003, the Columbia disaster was the first event to which the fledgling agency responded. I recently spoke with the first DHS Secretary, Tom Ridge, about lessons learned from the Columbia accident and what it taught him about how the nation responds to unforeseen circumstances; in this case, debris falling across the country from high in the atmosphere. My interview with Secretary Ridge was first published on Defense Media Network.

Interview With Tom Ridge: The Columbia Accident – Defense Media Network

Time has a way of sneaking up on you. As parents, you see this most of all with your children. “How could she be a teenager? I just picked her up from preschool.”

The same holds true on notable dates and somber anniversaries. We remember where we were and what we were doing when the news – like a thunderbolt – struck us. When one of those notable anniversary dates comes up on us, we often remark: “It can’t be that long ago.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve looked at the calendar a lot, and it truly doesn’t seem that long ago in terms of the accident that brought down the Space Shuttle Columbia and claimed her seven-person crew. In truth, the world is a vastly different place from what it was on that heartbreaking February morning.

There is little dispute that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in response to the 9/11 attacks but few people realize that the first major event that the department had to deal with had nothing to do with terrorism. It was in fact the Columbia accident. Then-Secretary Tom Ridge had been in office barely a week (he was sworn in on Jan. 24, 2003), when he got word early Saturday morning, Feb. 1, from advisers, news reports and then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe about debris falling from the skies over Texas and Louisiana.

Read the full interview.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More