- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

The District is searching for a qualified candidate to build a homeland security team and report to former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, director of the president's newly created Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, but the region is already working plans of its own to deal with emergency preparedness.
The latest incidents of biological terrorism at the Capitol, at Baltimore-Washington International airport and several post offices around the region have peaked the interest of federal officials, who are closely monitoring the increasing number of anthrax cases in the D.C. Metropolitan area.
"The deaths of two Brentwood postal workers are likely due to anthrax," said Mr. Ridge, Republican, who made it clear during a press conference yesterday that he would be working closely with the District and surrounding jurisdictions on emergency plans, once his office is up and running.
"I am hoping that the new Office of Homeland Security will lead to a constant regional communication that should include the federal government," said at-large D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz during a recent meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times.
In an Oct. 10 letter, Mrs. Schwartz, who also chairs the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, asked for Mr. Ridge's input with a newly created task force that will develop a new regional emergency response plan.
"The recent events demand urgency for developing an emergency response plan for the region. I am directing that this process proceed as quickly as possible and be as comprehensive as possible," wrote Mrs. Schwartz, a Republican.
She wants emergency planning to begin immediately and has scheduled the first meeting of the task force for Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
The lack of communication among federal government agencies and local jurisdictions about traffic problems and street closings following the terrorist attacks prompted COG to request a briefing on emergency preparedness issues once every six months.
"We requested that we be briefed at least every six months to keep emergency needs fresh in people's minds, and it will give elected officials an assurance that they will be ready to respond," said Michael C. Rogers, COG executive director.
Although the council of governments always could have been briefed on how agencies deal with regionwide emergencies, it had not considered having regularly scheduled briefings until after the terrorist attacks. Regular briefings will keep the region alerted to dealing with new threats and procedures for evacuation, biological incidents and changes in traffic patterns due to road closures, Mr. Rogers said.
"This is a lesson learned from Sept. 11. I just don't want future COGs to not be unaware of these issues," Mrs. Schwartz said.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is a 43-year-old regional organization of Washington area local governments, which meets monthly to discuss policy on all aspects of public services, law enforcement and transportation. Founded in 1957, the independent nonprofit agency is made up of 17 local government members from jurisdictions surrounding the District, members of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures, and from the U.S. House and Senate.
Mrs. Schwartz will chair the COG task force with vice chairmen John Mason, mayor of Fairfax City and chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board and M.H. Jim Estepp, Prince George's County Council member, former fire chief and chairman of COG.
"These two men, I feel, are the best qualified because they have expertise in two of the most important aspects in emergency planning: transportation and public safety," Mrs. Schwartz said.
She met with the vice chairmen yesterday to discuss the agenda and recommendations for revisions in creating a new plan and building the task force staff.
Officials from every level of government in the metropolitan Washington area will be asked to serve on the task force or "at least weigh in [with] some form of opinion into the plan," said Mr. Rogers.
Top officials from the emergency management agencies, transportation departments, public safety and public health agencies already meet monthly within COG.
"All of our emergency plans for the District and surrounding regions, which were created in the 1970s and revised in the early 1980s, worked, in and among themselves on Sept. 11. But what didn't work was our regional coordination and communication between agencies," Mr. Rogers said, giving details from the emergency feedback report from the terrorist attacks.
"It's time for all of these entities to come to the table at one time. That is why COG makes the most sense because we have been meeting under the council for over four decades," said Mrs. Schwartz.


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